Charcutepalooza #6 taking on the Michelin Stars
I’ve been waiting six years for this. Six years ago next month I had my first experience of a Michelin starred dinner. We were celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary, which felt like a good enough reason to celebrate, and as I was a student when we got married, it was about the first time in our married life that we had some disposable income to splash out on such an occasion. Part of the meal was exquisite and unidentifiable at the time. It was the first time that we had been in a dining room where the waiters place the starched linen napkin on your knee; where the waiter refills your glass before you’ve finished; where the wine is kept away from the table but they still know which one is yours; where the waiters present your meal at exactly the same time as the other person; where the waiters explain the intricacies of each dish. We were a little intimidated so didn’t have the courage to ask what exactly was the barrel shaped item, who’s taste was so refined? We just couldn’t identify it with our uneducated palette (this was also the first time I ate and enjoyed broad beans). Our initial thoughts were roast potatoes but the texture was all wrong.
A number of months or maybe even years later I realised that the little piece of heaven on my plate at Whitley Ridge was in fact a boudin blanc, a fancy French sausage. Unfortunately, as I went to the website to get a link to for the blog, I discovered that the Whitley Ridge I have such fond memories of, that started my love of fine dining, is no longer there, so I will never be able to go back and sample the boudin blanc again.
I love to recreate dishes that I’ve eaten in restaurants, but until now, this one has been way out of my reaches. This months Charcutepalooza challenge is to stuff a sausage. I over achieved last month, and stuffed where it wasn’t necessary so this month I had to challenge myself further. The other part of the challenge was to stuff either an Italian sausage or poultry sausage. So here it was, handed to me on a plate, my opportunity to recreate the all hallowed boudin blanc from Whitley Ridge.
The other thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while is Sous-Vide cooking, or boil in the bag to you, mum, if you’re reading. With all this charcuterie making I treated myself to a food saver, so that I could store my meats without having to freeze, but the vac packed food is also the perfect set up for slow cooking in a water bath. I can’t quite stretch to a professional water bath but there are ways of improvising at home. For items that only require short cooking times it is quite easy to monitor the temperature of a pan of water on the hob.
So the centre piece of my Michelin inspired meal was the boudin blanc. I followed the recipe in the book, but instead of using chicken I used pheasant. This was to accompany the pheasant breast that was also to be cooked Sous Vide, so the meat in the sausage was primarily leg, with any other trimmings I could find on the carcass and from the breasts. Two pheasants yielded just enough meat for the full recipe.
Boudin blanc has the weirdest consistency of any sausage I have made to date. When I recreate recipes from a restaurant I usually have a pretty accurate guess as to what the dish contains but there is no way in the world I’d have guessed this one.
With the majority of the stuffing being milk and eggs it was incredibly sloppy. I can usually stuff sausages solo and often do it while Graham is out on his motorbike on a Saturday morning, but this was definitely a two man job.
The twisting of the links was also really tricky because the sausage was so slippery they just kept unwinding. In the end I had to give up and tie each one with string. A little more laborious than usual, but having fried off a dollop of mixture to check the seasoning I knew it would be worth it.
Onto dinner. I decided to follow the Michelin star theme, and combine it with Charcutepalooza, to create a six course degustation dinner and invited two friends over to share the experience. I love cooking and eating but somehow sharing it with friends makes it even better. There is one teeny, tiny problem though, since I started throwing Charcutepalooza dinner parties I now have a queue of friends lining up to be chief testers, I’m going to have to start doing twice monthly dinners to share the love fairly.
We started with an amuse bouche of salmon ceviche. Although not strictly cured in the same way I have been doing, it was salted briefly to draw out some of the moisture then ‘cooked’ in lime juice. This was then served with some finely diced chilli and fennel. A great start to a meal, the small spoon may look a little stingy, but it is quite a rich dish so actually much more than this and you wouldn’t be able to manage it and, there is another five courses to sample, so I wouldn’t want to fill up my guests with the first course.
The entrée was duck three ways. There was some smoked duck ham, served with a blue cheese cream (ricotta and Stilton, beaten together); a duck liver parfait; a portion of potted duck (duck confit stripped from the bone, combined with chopped pistachios and a little duck fat, compressed and chilled). This was an excellent way to show off my new found charcuterie skills. I think this dish will become a regular in our house, watch out for a post with the recipe for this one soon. The duck ham has a subtle smoked flavour, and for duck breast is incredibly moist, as per Rhulman’s suggestion it is also the perfect match for some blue cheese I found the blue cheese a little over powering when I served it straight, but mixed with Ricotta was just right. The potted duck is a great way to use up the duck legs that were the by product of the duck ham.
As I was preparing the evenings feast I realised it was a little heavy on meat so I threw in a winter salad of roasted carrots and parsnips with a beetroot dressing. However, I still couldn’t resist roasting the veg in duck fat. Considering this salad consisted of roasted vegetables, it was actually fairly light, and made me feel like I was cancelling out some of the duck fat contained in the rest of the meal.
Following the salad was the centre piece for the evening. The boudin blanc were cooked in the vac pack in a pan of water at 63 degrees centigrade for one hour. The pheasant breasts were bagged with juniper berries, thyme, garlic, crumbled bay leaf, port and olive oil. Weighing in at a mere 70g they only took 15-20 minutes in the water bath, and you could actually see the meat change colour as it was cooking, so there was no doubt when that was cooked. The boudin blanc was then gently pan fried in butter to brown the skin and was served with the pheasant breast, bread sauce, slow cooked cabbage, and a reduction of pheasant stock and port. Another satisfying dish that used all of the bird (well, apart from the head that I had to chop off and bin before I could reconstruct the rest of it, I’m not normally squeamish, but even I have limits!)
To take us through to dessert we had a shot of tomato sorbet, a palette cleanser to move from the savoury to the sweet dishes. I just couldn’t quite squeeze in the Charcutepalooza theme here, but I felt the meal would not be complete without it, especially if it was going to satisfy Michelin Star standards.
And finally, we finished up with a chicken cake pop to celebrate this months poultry theme. Now I ummed and aahed about putting a photo of my chicken online. I’m new to desserts and even newer to cake decorating, so wasn’t overwhelmingly pleased with the result (think 5 year old art class) but then I decided I needed to mark the occasion so that I can look back in years to come and see how much I’ve hopefully improved. And that is it, my six course Michelin inspired dinner was complete.
So how did it turn out? What was the best bit? Well, the sausage was exactly how I imagined it would be. Much lighter than your average sausage, due to the high milk and egg content, and exceptionally moist. It would be interesting to do a taste test, comparing the regular poached boudin blanc versus the sous-vide version. I’m sure I will give this a go in the next few weeks as I eat the leftovers. I think I will have the leftovers in the freezer for some time as they are pretty rich so you don’t want to eat more than one at a time. This means if you come over for dinner in the next few weeks expect to eat boudin blanc!