Just when I think it might be nice to gnaw on a simple roast and gaze contentedly out the frost-paned window whilst puffing on a pipe wearing a sweater with elbow patches, THE DARK SIDE CREEPETH FORTH. The Dark Side has a voice and it sounds suspiciously like James Earl Jones. I’m at the butcher shop, fingers fondling an enticing slab of chuck, and The Dark Side says, “How the hell are you going to modernize a roast, Salty? You have a reputation to uphold- go buy some sustainable Ahi tuna and update Ahi Poke. It’s so tired with those boring wontons and gloppy salsa. Make it new, fresh and hip or I will chase you down the street with the giant roast you’re clutching and I’ll throw it at your head and it will land on your face and you’ll hereto forth be known as Roast Face rather than Salty Seattle. Do you really think Roast Face would be a good name for a blog? I didn’t think so. Now take off that nubbly sweater and those hideous rain boots, put on your big girl panties and a pair of stilettos, and feed me something clever.”
This is the kind of abuse I take from The Dark Side. Aside from “how did you do that?” the question I get asked most from readers is “what on earth made you think of that?” to which I now reply, “The Dark Side.” Don’t get me wrong- It’s great to be able to tap into the evil genius that is The Dark Side, it’s just that it has such a hold on me I can no sooner attempt to mash potatoes than The Voice bellows in my ear, “Aren’t you going to sous vide those first, bitch?” So I do, and they wind up being the best mashed potatoes ever to grace a plate (apologies, Robuchon) and so it goes, on and on until I can no longer distinguish the difference between The Dark Side and my own sick thoughts. I’m even starting to resemble James Earl Jones- I swear I’ve grown an inch and have begun to talk in a deeper voice over the course of the last year.
That’s how these cornets of ahi poke came to be. If you’ve never made poke before, this would be a fun (and gluten-free!) rendition to try. I will even let you leave out the mango caviar and Meyer lemon-lemongrass bubbles if you don’t feel like getting all molecular up in this piece. I suggest, however, that you add some plain old chunky funky mango just to be safe. The ahi poke is straightforward enough- all I did is update a recipe I created last year. Instead of making separate mango-avocado salsa, I spherified mango using sodium alginate and mixed the avocado directly with the tuna.
A tricky yet imperative aspect of this appetizer is the cornet. I am hardwired to believe that pairing ahi tuna with anything wheat-based will earn you a one-way ticket to foodie hell. Foodie hell is a domain over which Gordon Ramsay presides and it is full of stale cupcakes, ranch dressing, and arugula. There is no bacon, ice cream, or red wine in foodie hell. Since I didn’t want to wind up there, I made the cornets out of rice flour instead of all purpose flour. They were slightly more delicate to work with (read- I burned myself 15 times on the oven door when rolling them around cornet molds) but the end result is fabulously worth it.
When I started dabbling in powders, gels, hydrocolloids and the like, I wished there was someone I could turn to when I inevitably ran into minor difficulties with unknown (to me) techniques. I had to go it alone on many things since chefs who are well-versed in modernist arts are not exactly long-winded in their precision recipes. I learned quite a bit based on trial and error. Allow me to share with you my notes on bubbles aka froth, should you ever wish to create this plate-stunning substance.
Dappling a dish with bubbles is a great way to add a hint of flavor without overwhelming the main feature with saucy soppiness. I chose to infuse the ahi poke with Meyer lemon-lemongrass froth because I wanted a hint of citrus without it physically touching the tuna (thereby “cooking” it, as with ceviche). At first I thought of adding the lemongrass to the poke mixture and omitting Meyer lemon, but lemongrass is much better when it’s been infused, rather than forcing diners to gnaw on raw discs of it.
I realized bubbles would be the perfect application because I could get around the acid cooking the tuna as well as instill lemongrass flavor by steeping lemongrass in the water used to make the froth. You need a decent amount of liquid to make froth- enough that an immersion blender can successfully sink its blade into. Because of this, it would be somewhat wasteful and costly just to juice a bunch of lemons, and so the practice is often to increase volume by adding water. I’ve been dissatisfied with many froths in the past because the taste of the soy lecithin- which you add to stabilize the bubbles- is stronger than the watered-down liquid. By infusing water with lemongrass, however, I am able to achieve deep flavor that makes the bubbles taste exactly as they should- like Meyer lemon and lemongrass. Consider this when frothing liquid and be sure your mixture is fortified enough to add value despite being light as air.
One other thing to bear in mind when making bubbles is that you do not want to use the vessel that came with your immersion blender to mix the liquid, because it is too deep. Instead, put the liquid into a shallow, round container (not so much that it spills over when blended) and work the blender at the water line, so as to incorporate air into the liquid. This will encourage the bubbles to expand into bathtub-worthy foam. This also allows you to use a smaller amount of lecithin than you would if you were in a deeper container, which is good because you don’t want the taste of lecithin interfering with the intended flavor. Lecithin is tricky stuff. If you use too much you’ll have difficulty creating bubbles (since it weighs liquid down) plus you’ll wind up with residual taste. If you use too little, however, your bubbles will not stabilize. That, in a nut(ty?) shell, is all I wish I had read about frothing with soy lecithin when I began my study of bubbles.
When I finally relented and allowed The Dark Side to nosh on several ahi poke cornets, his soul-piercing baritone immediately shrunk ten octaves when he said, “thank you, sir, may I have another.” I berated him for calling me “sir” but he was too busy shoving poke in his yap to hear. If your dark side is anywhere near as voracious as mine, these cornets are a great way to stave off his hunger so he doesn’t chase you down the street foisting a roast on your face with the end result being that the world calls you “Roast Face” for all eternity.
For the cornets, I followed Thomas Keller’s recipe from The French Laundry (you own the book, right? If not a quick google search will yield the recipe) substituting rice flour for all purpose. I also added 1/8 tsp xanthan gum to help with binding.
For the ahi poke I used this recipe from the early days of SaltySeattle. It’s an oldie but a goodie. Halve it to match the amount of cornets in Keller’s recipe. You’ll still have a bit more poke, but hey, everyone likes having more poke! If your end-game is gluten-free, be sure to use wheat free tamari and hoisin (several brands are available gluten-free) in the poke sauce.
For the spherified mango caviar:
- 250 grams mango puree from approximately 2 food processed mangoes
- 250 grams mango juice
- 1.8 grams sodium alginate
- 1.3 grams sodium citrate
- 1 liter purified water
- 6.5 grams calcium chloride
- Place the mango puree in the cup of an immersion blender and add the alginate, incorporating fully. Add the mango juice and sodium citrate and further blend for 45 seconds. Pass through a strainer and refrigerate until ready to make pearls.
- Dissolve the calcium chloride in the liter of water. Drop mango puree in water bath with a caviar pipette or using a squeeze bottle. To save time fishing the caviar out of the water bath, you can drop them directly into a strainer that has been set in the water bath. You don’t want them to sit in the bath for long, as they will solidify the more they are immersed.
For the Meyer lemon-lemongrass bubbles:
- 250 ml water
- 2 stalks lemongrass, chopped into 1/4” pieces
- 100 ml Meyer lemon juice
- 2 grams powdered soy lecithin
- Bring the water and lemongrass to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and allow lemongrass to infuse and water to reduce down to about 150 ml- approximately 20 minutes.
- Strain out the lemongrass and pour the water into a shallow, round container that the immersion blender will fit into. Add the lemon juice and the lecithin. Working toward the top of the liquid, blend until bubbles form. Spoon the bubbles off to use as needed.
To assemble the ahi poke cornets, fill the cones with ahi poke then top with mango caviar and lemon bubbles.