Monday, April 02, 2007

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

I am a good eater. I really am. I don’t need to be hungry to eat and enjoy my food and I will eat (or at least try) just about anything and everything. “Eww, that’s gross” is not in my vocabulary.

I was trained to eat when I don’t necessarily need or want to. There was no such thing as leaving food uneaten when I was little. All food on all plates had to be consumed, none thrown out, none wasted. Neither my cousin nor I were allowed to leave the table till our plates were clean. One day, desperate to get away from the table, my cousin stuffed everything left on her plate into her mouth… and kept it there. For hours. But her plate was clean! Do you see the brilliance of that approach? She was a clever 6 year-old. Now she is a very very clever 21 year old, but that’s a different story (she shares my love of piercing. It must be genetic. She rocks).

This eating boot camp made me able to eat whatever, whenever. It’s never too early or too late for me to eat. Like I said, I am a good eater. Quantity and timing of food consumption aside, I hold no preconceived notions of what should or should not be eaten. Thinking about what I am eating has never got into the way of my eating it… insides and outsides of various creatures alike. I can play the “what’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten” game for hours.

This weekend I made a dessert that is fit only for adventurous, non-prejudiced eaters such as myself: chocolate ganache with fruity olive oil and flaky salt, inspired by a recipe off my new favorite website, Chowhound. Chocolate, olive oil and salt. Weird, right? Maybe not entirely. The combination of sweet and savory is the trendiest thing. Salted caramel and salted chocolate are appearing on menus all over town and in every shop. Food blogs are screaming about sweet and savory combinations and the Boston Globe even ran a huge story on the subject a few months ago. The trendy person that I am, I had to jump on the salty bandwagon and try it for myself.

The chocolate/olive oil dessert is the simplest combination of four ingredients imaginable, which is why all four have to be of the highest quality. I used
Valrhona Manjari chocolate to make the ganache, topped it with red Hawaiian sea salt and poured my favorite olive oil around the chocolate island.

So what did it taste like? Puzzling and a little shocking. It was so out of the norm, so far outside what I am used to eating that I really didn’t know how to process it. It made me pause and think, staring at my dessert, trying to put the taste experience words. Hmmm...

Let me begin with the texture. The crunch of the salt crystals served to break up the richness and creaminess of the ganache and oil. The thin and runny olive oil coated each bite of the smooth, soft chocolate, simulating a chocolate truffle with a warm liquid shell and cool solid center.

And the taste… surprisingly harmonious, with each component heightening the flavors of the others. The salt took the
sticky sweet edge off the chocolate, allowing the chocolate flavor to deepen and stand out with all its subtleties. The oil stood its own ground with a completely separate flavor from the chocolate – in harmony, not in combination. In other words, each component of the dessert remained distinct yet enhanced the flavor of the others. Neat and thought provoking. Should you consider yourself a good eater, try it. Tell me what you think.

Chocolate ganache with flaky salt and olive oil (for good eaters only)

3 ounces chopped Valrhona Manjari chocolate, or any top quality chocolate, ~70% cocoa content
1/3 cup heavy cream
olive oil
Red Hawaiian sea salt, or any flaky salt of your choosing

1) Heat cream till almost at a boil
2) Pour hot cream over chopped chocolate, let stand for 2-3 minutes
3) Mix chocolate and cream till all the chocolate is melted. Rap the bowl on the countertop to rid the ganache of any air bubbles that may have become trapped during the mixing.
4) Place plastic wrap on the surface of the chocolate and refrigerate for about 2 hours or until set
5) Scoop out a modest hill of ganache, top with salt and surround with olive oil.
6) Set aside five quiet minutes.
7) Taste slowly and thoroughly.
8) Sit and think.

* It just occurred to me that Hawaiian salt really isn't flaky. It's more granular or crystal-like. Somehow, chocolate ganache with granular salt doesn't sound nearly as appealing. For the sake of aesthetics, I will stand by the misnomer.


JC said...

For hours? I thought you said she was clever! :D

I used to think I would eat about anything, but I don't think that anymore. On a trip to Taiwan I had to draw the line at diced duck intestine and fried chicken feet. But I did try snail for the first time there. And I don't think I could eat grasshopper or any other insect.

My latest misadventure was the salt licorice from Holland. Didn't like that stuff at all. But this dessert sounds intriguing. A more lowbrow version of the chocolate/salt combo might be chocolate covered pretzels, and I like those!

atp said...

I have a hard time appreciating the sweet and savoury combination for some reason. I'm not dead against it, I don't hold (m)any preconceived ideas about it - I'm just never completely satisfied with the results. I tend to prefer my sweet things sweet, and my savoury things...not.

There are of course a few exceptions to the rule. In fact quite a lot of them if I really think about it (bread and butter pudding, fruit cake with stilton and candied yams specifically springing to mind). Actually I've really confused myself now - I can only think of two sweet and savoury dishes that I really don't like: Chinese sweet & sour and chocolate spread on toast/bread.

I don't know what I think anymore!
Whatever, I'm definitely going to try this out - I'll let you know!

Ben Chen said...

I eat intestines, pig/chicken feet, cow stomachs, etc etc...however, I dunno if I could do the olive oil and chocolate. THAT IS JUST GROSSSSSSS.

Just kidding heheh, looks like it could taste good. I mean, fat is fat, and they put fat in chocolate like ALL the time.

Anna said...

JC - I totally forgot about chocolate covered pretzels. I love those things. I have to admit, chicken feet are the one thing I turned down. It wasn't the "gross" factor as much as not wanting to sit there spitting out little bones in front of a table full of people. Chocolate covered grasshopers are fun though. Try them!

atp - Mmmm Stilton! One of those giant rounds that y'all get for Christmas, over there, across the pond? With fruit cake? Yum. Sweet and sour chicken is nasty any way you spin it. The sauce is almost made with ketchup. Beh. Nutella on toast though... You can't not like that. Admit it.

Ben - I am still curious about the blood stuff you were talking about at the Chinese place at North Point. Is that right? North Point. Really want to go. I feel like eating chicken feet requires technique that I just don't have. I can totally see myself chocking to death. And that's just unattractive.

Ben Chen said...

Death is HOT. The blood tofu is delicious. Next time, you will taste the yumminess.

Chicken feet are good with beer, you might want to get the packaged ones from an asian supermarket and try them out at home first.

I don't think I could eat bugs...When I was in Beijing, someone tried to give me a fried scorpion on a stick. I was too chicken to eat that and too chicken to eat dog.

atp said...

The stilton and cake thing is a real Christmas tradition actually...a big slice of Grandma's boozy Christmas cake with marzipan and icing teamed with a slab of stilton cut fresh from the dark blue pot that it always comes in at Christmas. Delicious! I've always wondered why they put cheese in a pot for Christmas? Not that I'm complaining.

No really; Nutella I love, toast I love, but as much as I've tried to enjoy it (I try it a lot - I feel like I'm missing out somehow) I just hate it.

hollibobolli said...

JC sent me that salt licorice and it tasted like an old rubber tire. I'm a good eater - I'm going to try this. My favorite food in kindergarten involved snails, smoked oysters and I was whipping up sauteed mushrooms with wine in fourth grade. I don't think I've ever had the average palate. But no - I don't do bugs. And I've watched the people eat a grilled tarantula - the thought of that is what keeps me from ever wanting to end up in hell.

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