Finally winding down from an early winter self-imposed bit of craziness. We've had back to back events, mad dashes to SF, cooking for Bon Appetit, dealing with a tax mistake made 6 years ago and trying to get the home office organized.
First a few hearty thank yous are in order. To the GM, thanks for being supportive, for doing such an excellent job with our son and for ignoring the massive mess in the office. I am working on it. To Alex from Ideas in Food for the methocel and the advice. To Brett from in praise of sardines for taking the time from trying to get his own place opened to help me serve the masses at Fort Mason for ZAP fest.
So what's Haddock doing with methocel you ask? About 6 months ago a local winery asked if we would pair with them for the Good Eats & Zin portion of ZAP fest. Sure, I said, no problem. 1st mistake. Not only was the event the day before the 8th anniversary of the restaurant opening, it was also the day before I had committed to cooking for a bunch of media people from The Chronicle, Sunset Magazine and Bon Appetit.
What to serve? The idea of a warm terrine sounded really good. I had been doing enough reading to know that there are food gums out there, agar agar for instance, that hold a gel when heated. My farmer pal assured me he'd have plenty of lamb's necks near the time of the event so I told the ZAP coordinator we'd be serving a Warm Lamb's Neck Terrine. 2nd mistake.
I go blithely along knowing that I need to test the concept and as the event approaches I ask Alex for some advice. You need some methocel he says, along with a little gelatin to mold the terrine initially. My understanding of methocel is that it is a thermo-reversible gel, meaning it gels when heated as opposed to gelatin, which gels when cooled. He is kind enough to send me some. In this county receiving white powder, labeled meth is usually good for a little jail time but we were undetected.
After I talk with Alex I try a test batch. 2% gelatin, 1.25% methocel by weight to the weight of the broth. The terrines are being formed in 1 oz plastic souffle cups and are going to be steamed to bring them up to temperature. They seem to work but are a little rubbery. In accordance with the info I got from Alex I decide to back the gelatin down to 1.8% and the methocel to 1.1%.
I make 800 of these. 3rd mistake, but ZAP said 800 portions. The event is on Thursday, we've decided to leave Wednesday so we're not frazzled and stressed out trying to get make the 2pm load-in. I borrow some ice chests from a local charter boat. In the meantime my farmer pal has also brought us a pig so I'm busy doing the hams and sausage as well.
Tuesday evening. Terrines are in the ice chests, the pig is dealt with. Clothes are packed, my event checklist has been checked twice. I bring a few terrines to try at home. Heat them up and....nothing. No thermo-reversible gel. Just a cup full of lamb broth. After freaking out I think, "Maybe it's the electric stove we have at home." I decide to head back to work to try a few more. Same result. I heat them past what I know is the gelling point for this variety of methocel and zip, nada, zero.
More consultation with Alex the following day and I try melting a few down, and really shearing them in the blender to incorporate the methocel. Same results. So I've got 800 portions of cold terrine to try to serve. The problem is they're a little fatty, which when warm is perfect but when cold and gelled isn't.
Looking around the walk-in I see a box of frisee and many pounds of leftover mashed potatoes. A new dish, Lamb's Neck Terrine with Paprika Gnocchi and Frisee is born. After mixing 35 or so pounds of gnocchi dough I look at the mixer and am nearly crying thinking about rolling all these gnocchi, particularly because I don't have that much room in the car and so will have to put them all into just a couple of boxes. I envision a lump of giant gnoccho by the time I get down there and start serving. I call Brett to see if he thinks we should try to roll the gnocchi there. No answer, and I realize it would be ridiculous to try to roll the gnocchi in SF so I start making ropes.
Now while the GM claims that if there is a difficult way to do something I will find it, I am actually an old hand at trying to find the easier, softer way. I spy my sausage stuffer. Will the gnocchi dough pass through? Yes, it does. Eureka, here's the silver lining. I've found a way to make a mass amount of gnocchi. They're turning out quite well.
800 portions later, we're on the road at 5:30. Of course, just as we were leaving, one of the refrigerators goes out.
The event itself was a breeze thanks to Brett. The 2pm load-in was way too early, but I found good parking and Brett and I strolled around the marina and I got to hear about the tribulations of opening in SF. The gnocchi did indeed clump up a little, but the dish worked well. One wine writer said to the winemaker, "I was skeptical when I tried the dish but the pairing is perfect", and then proceeded to ask me how I thought of the concept for the pairing.
Hmmm....., long story.
I left Brett at about 8:15 so we could hit the road. I had to be at the restaurant at 9am to prepare for the media lunch. We still had about 400 portions left. Live and learn.
The lesson learned? To thine own self be true. While I will still play around with some methocel, the actual dish was a much better representation of who we are as a restaurant.