Sunday, June 05, 2005

the steve beater

Fish chowder with aioli (or, a study in the male ego; or, Saffron Scented Seafood Soup with Fennel and Aioli).

there is pain in that aioli ...

Preparation of Aioli…

B: “Steve, can you mix the eggs; use the electric or do it by hand”
S: “Sure thing, step aside little lady, I can do this by hand”
Steve starts beating. Holding the steel bowl awkwardly at an angle and struggling to make either a circular motion or a to and fro motion, in fact not knowing what motion to make.
B: [from the cellar] “I can hear that you’re not mixing correctly”
S: “You’re the cook – show me how”
Blanca demonstrates a very similar motion. As with most things, with the desired result
B: “OK, we’re ready for the oil, are you sure you’re ok?”
S: “Yeah, no problem, I’ve gotta learn how. Start adding baby!”
Blanca starts dribbling oil into the bowl
S: [inner voice] “Jeez, this is surprisingly sore, how much longer must I go on? I can’t ask Blancs, she does this everyday. Keep mixing Steve, I’m sure we’re nearly finished”
B: “MIX. FASTER. Stop holding the bowl at the angle, just MIX”
S: [inner voice] “It hurts. My arm is sore”
Steve’s face is red, his pace is visibly slowing. A strange whimpering noise is coming from behind his gritted teeth
B: [most likely feeling sorry and not wanting her husband to have a heart attack] “You’re doing great, this is going really well. Do you want me to take over?”
S: [weakly] “No I’m fine”
B: “OK, last phase, I can add more oil. Keep mixing”
S: “I want my mummy”
All pretence is lost
B: “That’s great, OK stop mixing”
Blanca has to coax Steve from his mixing. Gradually his arm stops moving and his jaw slackens. He hasn’t taken a breath in the last minute. He holds his head up high. Once out of sight his arm raises above his head, he holds it feebly with his left arm. He should have read the science before dismissing the kitchenaid.

The Science behind the Pain

You will remember there are (somewhat controversially) 5 mother sauces; brown, veloute, b├ęchamel, hollandaise and mayonnaise. Briefly, the former 3 are cooked with roux and the latter 2 are emulsions. Of the latter 2, mayonnaise is made from cold and hollandaise (made from butter) is cooked. Aioli with French / Catalan origin is really a variation of mayonnaise, the recipe that we used is as follows:

- 2 organic egg yolks
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp white sugar
- 150 ml sunflower oil
- 150 ml olive oil

Emulsion comes from the Latin “to milk out”, as McGee states, this can be associated with the fact that the end product will deflect the path of light through the sauce and thereby give a milky appearance. These sauces are formed by the mixture of two liquids that do not normally collide. The most common emulsions are made of oil and water; mayonnaise and milk for example differ in the proportion of oil (70% to 4%).

Oil and water, when mixed together will always separate in order to reduce their surface tension. These can be forced apart, but will naturally return to separated positions in order to again reduce the tension. Egg has the key role in maintaining this separation (we call them emulsifiers in this role). Since the 17th century, it has been recognised that egg yolk will surround the oil molecules and thereby reduce surface tensions.

To the preparation – the quantity and timing of the additions is key. Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. Place a bowl on a cloth to prevent slipping. First whisk the egg yolk, mustard, garlic, salt, sugar and lemon juice into a thick and creamy emulsion (of the water / fat content in the egg) and season. Mix both oils in a jug. Next add about one quarter of the oil drop by drop (dribbled) and beat vigorously. The timing here is important but simple – it is easier to separate “oil-in-water” if starting from a lower proportion of oil relative to water. At the point that your arm feels like it is about to fall off, you are ensuring that the oil is not rising to the top, but instead forming small droplets below the surface of the sauce. This is usually achieved where the volume of the oil is similar to the original water. What is happening is that the droplets have formed in such size beneath the surface that they in fact impede each other from rising to the surface and forming an oil pool. Taste and check the flavour – adjust as required.

You can then add the remaining oil in larger quantities (tablespoon amounts). The tiny droplets beneath the surface act as a mesh and breakdown the incoming particles to dimensions of their own size. The latter stage need not require as fierce mixing as the main purpose is to distribute the oil amongst the mix.

photo came blue ... not very artistic or appealing, but you get the drift ...

Aioli is a perfect companion for fish soup. We had family staying with us recently; joyfully we substituted a night of home cooked food for a night at some dodgy musical. Cooking from books for cooks volume the rest of the soup is fairly straightforward:

- 4 scallops
- 8 tiger prawns
- 125 g monkfish tail
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 onion chopped
- ½ fennel bulb chopped (diced)
- 1 small carrot, chopped
- 1 glass white wine
- 750 ml fish stock
- 2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
- 1 potato diced
- Large pinch of saffron threads
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
- Fresh dill for garnish

Warm the oil in a pan over med heat, add the garlic, onion, fennel and carrot and cook stirring until soft. Pour in the wine and reduce. Add the stock, tomatoes, potatoes, saffron, bring back the boil, then simmer until the vegetables are tender. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. While the soup is simmering make the aioli. To finish adjust the heat so that the soup is barely simmering. Add the fish to the hot broth and poach very gently for approx. 5 minutes. Ladle into warmed bowls, making sure the shellfish is evenly distributed (a slotted spoon is very useful for this).
Serve at once garnished with dill sprigs and heaped spoon of aioli.

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