Smoked Cod Roe and Fennel Biscuits
Topped with some very fancy molecular gastronomy style 'parsley snow', and a few words about Seaspiracy
Welcome to another issue of Le Cordon Bong, a newsletter about recreating Michelin star meals at home. You can get in touch with me via the comments or by email. All of the previous content is up on the website (which I personally find to be a more enjoyable reading experience than the email format).
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Week 12, vol. 1
Setting the Table
Welcome new readers!
A delayed post this week due to some delays in ingredient sourcing (it won’t be the last time this happens with the Rogan cookbook). Big thanks to Moxon’s Fish for coming through with the smoked cod roe in the end.
And a big thanks to all of you cooking the recipes - here’s the Easiest Eggs Benedict sent in by Jess. Keep ‘em coming!
If you’ve been here before, skip ahead! For the benefit of first-time readers, write-ups are structured thusly: (1) Amuse-Bouche - the history and provenance of the dish; (2) Starters - an intro to the fancy Michelin version of the dish I’ll be cooking; (3) Main Courses - the actual cooking process; (4) Desserts - thoughts and conclusions on what worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, what tasted good; (5) Petit Fours - footnotes and references.
Side note: in the process of locating the ‘Taramasalata’ entry, I inadvertently flipped the book open to ‘Table Etiquette and Manners’, which spans 3 pages of very fine print, and includes such gems as:
“The hostess should never be complimented on the success of the meal, as this could possibly imply that one is surprised that it was good.”
“Lastly, the cheeseboard is rarely offered a second time (to take a second helping would indicate that you had not had enough to eat). This custom is, of course, deplored by certain cheese-lovers.”
Larousse is brief on the topic, offering just a traditional taramasalata recipe (milk, stale breadcrumbs, cod’s roe, lemon, olive oil, and onion) without additional commentary. Anyway, I would be remiss not to mention that traditional or “real” taramasalata, by the way, actually has more of a beige-brown colour, not the vivid neon pink seen on supermarket shelves. That’s because the supermarket products have added betanin (listed as ‘beetroot red’ on the ingredients list) to boost the pink hues, and create the impression that they’re made with a high percentage of fish roe (they are not).
On the subject of food that’s dyed - in case you haven’t already watched Seaspiracy on Netflix2 - farmed salmon is also artificially coloured via feed supplements, to mimic the natural pink-red colour of wild salmon that comes from eating krill.
Which like, I’m a little surprised this is still news to people, because it’s been going on for decades. Fun fact, in 2003, Hoffman-LaRoche (now DSM), which manufactured the supplement, gave out the SalmoFan™, a fan of swatches to help salmon farmers pick the colour they wanted to produce.
This week’s recipes from Rogan are relatively straightforward, even the molecular gastronomy techniques to make the parsley ‘snow’. It’s really just a fancy chip and dip starter.
I also just realised the trout I cooked for the main was farmed, so I probably ate a bunch of dye for dinner. Whoops.
Smoked cod roe
I started by peeling the leathery membrane away from the exterior of the smoked cod roe, and then (obviously) pushing it through a fine mesh sieve. While the recipes in Rogan may have been slightly simplified for the home cook, the mesh sieve is eternal.
The next step was to whisk together some cream cheese, add water, and then slowly drizzle in sunflower oil to emulsify the mixture. I was a tad overenthusiastic in beating the cream cheese initially, so the mixture was on the verge of splitting3 when it came to emulsifying the oil and water, but the emulsion gods were on my side today, and everything just about held together. A little seasoning with salt and lemon, and off it went into the fridge to chill and firm up.
At its core, this recipe takes a bunch of parsley, chervil and chives, blends them with a bit of water, and freezes the lot. But that would produce a frozen block of herb smoothie, which nobody wants, so Rogan employs a couple of little tricks to turn this into a soft, delicate sorbet that’s semi-stable at room temperature.
The first trick is dissolving a few sheets of gelatine in the mixture. It’s a common ice cream-making technique to inhibit ice crystal growth (smaller crystals = smoother ice cream). In this case, it’s also going to increase the melting point of the ‘snow’, so it doesn’t melt immediately when it’s grated and served over the cod roe mousse.
The second trick is adding some oil to the mix, which is gonna get in between the water molecules and similarly, disrupt ice crystal formation. The oil also helps to propagate the flavour of all those fresh herbs, because some flavonoids are water soluble, and others are oil soluble.
The recipe didn’t specify whether they should be whole or ground (which will result in a points deduction when I write my review). I figured biting into whole fennel seeds would be unpleasantly intense, so I ground them up. The rest of the recipe was very basic (flour, butter, milk, salt, mix it together, roll it out, and bake).
Well, that was a pleasantly surprising high food output / low cooking effort recipe, especially for a dish with a fairly gourmet aesthetic. Slightly regret not serving the cod roe on a dark plate for better contrast.
The Tasting Notes:
The cod roe mousse was a nice idea to keep the course light and refreshing, and the cloud-like texture was a great textural pairing with the visual effect of the snow.
One of my biggest pet peeves about fancy food is when the garnishes look great but taste of nothing, so I’m pleased to report the parsley snow delivered flavour in spades - sharp, herbal notes that melted in the mouth, and balanced out the fishy oiliness of the cod roe. Perfection. It was also a total joy to make, and a very slick technique to learn.
My expectations weren’t that high on the biscuits given how simple the recipe was, but they were actually very tasty, with lots of complexity coming from the ground fennel seeds that had gotten warm and toasty in the oven, adding another layer of herb flavours on top of the parsley snow. The snap on the biscuits was adequate, but not the greatest - which was mostly my fault for being too lazy to divide the dough across two baking sheets and roll it thinner.
I also cooked the Grilled Trout with Savoury Sauce from Rogan as a main, and… eh, if I’m being perfectly honest, the sauce tasted like a fresher version of the tomato sauce you get in tinned sardines, which I suppose is fine! But it really didn’t blow me away.
Overall, I thought this was a very reasonable recipe, and one I would definitely make again (although some friends have pointed out that what I consider ‘reasonable’ may be more than slightly displaced from reality).
Separately, I’ve been working on my Chicken in Beer and Malt recipe adaptation for the last couple of weeks and I think I’ve finally cracked it, so look out for that later this week! Until then, happy cooking!
Petit Fours (aka the footnotes)
Larousse is the definitive encyclopedia of French cuisine, first envisioned by the great French chef Prosper Montagné, and published by Éditions Larousse in 1938. The second edition was updated in 2001 by a gastronomic committee chaired by the legend himself, Joël Robuchon. It’s easily my most-used reference book, and a great gift idea for any serious home cook.
If you’re reading my newsletter, it’s highly unlikely you’re on the verge of giving up meat and fish anytime soon. But you’ve probably heard of Cowspiracy / Seaspiracy, and probably have friends who have watched it and proclaimed it’s put them off meat and fish for life. Which I think is absolutely fine - and I’m all for people watching these films and educating themselves on the different viewpoints surrounding the food industry.
That said, I would also encourage people not to completely take these films at face value, and explore some of the critical perspectives, because ultimately, almost everyone has an agenda to push, and we are all capable of being biased.
Here - are - some - other - sources - if you’re interested in reading more.
You can tell when an emulsion is about to split because it starts to get grainy and oily around the edges, instead of being silky smooth. In this particular recipe, the whipped cream cheese is acting as the stabiliser to bind the oil and water together, but by over-whipping, I introduced so many air bubbles that the whipped cream cheese itself was on the verge of collapse. Switching to manual hand-whisking slowed down the aeration, and I find adding a few drops of water is also a good way to save an emulsion that’s about to split.