Friday, March 13, 2009

Stealing soup

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of dining at restaurant Olo (corner of Rikhardinkatu and Kasarminkatu). Clearly, the place is aiming for a Michelin star or two, but despite this the atmosphere is relaxed and even a slob like me was made to feel welcome. (read what Toby Young has to say about starred restaurants here.) The food is modern Scandinavian, and the four course surprise menu we had was quite awesome. The first course took the prize for me; a deeply flavoured mushroom soup with a poached egg, some kind of mushroom ragu and herbs. What really blew me away was the egg. The consistency was such that the spoon nearly fell through it by its own weight. Silky, smooth and totally homogeneous. Now, I've poached an egg or two in my days and can positively state that there is no bloody way you can get the bastards to come out like that by normal poaching procedure. Reproducing this egg has thence become a slight obsession for me.

I'm fairly confident that the general procedure is slow-poaching. This would involve poaching the egg in an even-tempered water bath for quite some time in order to coagulate the white and yolk to the same degree. The following questions arise:
  • What should the temperature be?
  • Given the temperature, how the hell do you implement the water bath?
  • What container to use? In the shell, some kind of sous vide?
Egg whites, it is said, begin to coagulate at 60 C, whereas the yolk requires some 65 C. Some instructions call for a temperature of 62.5, i.e. smack in the middle. Doesn't make much sense to me, since I want the yolk coagulated for sure. After some experimenting I've come up with the following:

Slow poached eggs

Preheat the oven to 66 C. Take some cling film and lay it out in a square. Apply a thin layer of oil to the center using a paper towel. Carefully crack the egg and pour it on to the oiled part of the film. Gently lift the corners and form a container with as little air in it as possible. Twist and tie. Place the eggs in a suitable pot or casserole with enough water to cover. Warm on the stove until temperature reaches 66 degrees (use a digital thermometer). Place the whole thing in the oven and poach for around one hour. Make sure the temperature stays constant and check the consistency of the eggs before you take them out. Carefully remove the cling film. Done!

Having the eggs somewhat nailed I then decided to have a go at reproducing the whole dish. I'm fairly happy with the result, but of course it's a far cry from the original. Here it is:

Mushroom soup with poached egg
(serves 6)

You will need:
  • 6 eggs
  • 400g mushrooms (Portobello or ordinary white ones)
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 1 leek, white part only
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 potato
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 7 dl chicken stock
  • 1 dl white wine
  • 2 dl double cream
  • ~50 g butter
  • fresh thyme
  • chives
  • 2 bay leaves
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp finely grated parmesan
  • white pepper
  • salt
Poach the eggs as described above. Keep them in the water bath until ready to serve, reheating the water if needed (keep below 60 C).

Chop one of the onions and the leek coarsely. Dice the potato. Slice the mushrooms and two of the garlic cloves. Heat some butter in a casserole and sauté 3/4 of the mushrooms over medium to high heat until liquid has evaporated. Add onion, leek, potato, bacon and garlic and sweat until onions are translucent. Add wine, stock and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Simmer covered over low heat for around half an hour. Add cream and bring to a boil. Remove bay leaves and bacon and puré until smooth. season with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Set aside and allow flavors to mix and develop.

Preheat oven to 200 C. Sauté the rest of the mushrooms in a pan over medium to high heat until dry. Halfway through, add 1 finely chopped onion,1 finely chopped clove of garlic and some thyme. Draw from heat and season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper (and splash of lemon juice). Place in an oven-proof tray and roast in 200 C for 8 minutes or until mushrooms have acquired a darkish color. This procedure really intensifies the flavor of the mushrooms. Chop the roasted mushroom mixture finely.

In a mortar, combine thyme leaves, chives, good quality olive oil, the grated parmesan and 1 grated clove of garlic. Process until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

To serve:

In a soup bowl, place a good tablespoon of the roasted mushroom mixture and perhaps 2 tsp of the herb pesto on top. Carefully place the egg on top of this and ladle hot soup around until the egg is nearly covered.

Blockwork Orange

First trip to the legendary Rocklands, South Africa. Needless to say, the focus was on bouldering, so shooting video had about as high a priority as visiting museums. Consequently, a lot of the material was obtained by balancing the camera on top of a sweatshirt on a small boulder and pressing 'rec'. Now and then we'd get ourselves together and get a few more angles and the occasional close up, but all in all we ended up with a pile of classic shaky-cam holiday footage. We decided to put together a little flick anyway.