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10 May 2012

Mussels jelly-dome à la nage Asiatique

Moules aux Algue-Frites
Here we go with the second installment of the seaweed saga.

In the past episode , I introduced you to the seaweed tasting experience I did for a recipe competition I entered; the theme of the competition was indeed seaweeds.
They provided us with quite a few samples, mostly dried and just a couple fresh.
I do prefer when seaweeds come in their dry form, since the whitish coating on them is actually a natural concentrate of many of their savory compounds. It is easier this way to get the seaweed flavors into things without the need of cooking them longly.

For the competition, we were asked to submit two recipe and even though only one had to be based on an infusion, I just didn't find seaweed textures inspiring enough to make it the center of dish that wasn't a salad.
Naturally, being OCD about my recipes, I do like the control and the possibility offered by producing a nicely flavored liquid that will be turned into something chewable or a sauce or even left as is.

What I liked the most about the seaweeds I tasted is that their flavors is often pretty sharp and well defined.
Of the various seaweeds at my disposal, two were the ones that impressed me the most for their striking flavor profiles and texture. The first one is the sweet Dulse seaweed that was the base of the pannacotta in my first post, the second was the Irish moss.
Its appearance is completely different from all the other specimens in my possession. With its frilled border and tree like appearance it does look like a burgundy coral branch. Its smell is strongly reminiscent of the sea shore and so is its persistent flavor.

From the first time I put a piece of it into my mouth, I immediately pictured myself eating freshly steamed mussels, sweet and briny.
The inspirational swatches-board was set: mussels and French traditions (the competition is being held in Nantes, France), the last requirement of the organizers made the puzzle come together.
Aside a dish based on an infusion, we had to crisp-up the seaweeds in second appetizer dish. The most straightforward way to do so is by frying them naturally; I bet many of you have tasted that addictive Korean snack made of Nori seaweed fried and packed into crispy strips as addictive as potato chips with more of a somewhat fluffy/bubbly texture to them and reminiscent of fried calamari.

So, to recap, we have got a mussel-like seaweed to use and the need for fried seaweeds, in other words, "moules frites" (mussels and French fries); a typical dish of Belgium, part of Germany and as well of the French alps area.
Once clarified the cultural reference, only the flavors needed some playing with.
The basic garnish of many mussel dishes is often a persillade, a mixture of finely minced parsley and garlic that offers that spicyness and herby background that very well compliments the sweet mollusks.
I still felt the need to include a small reference to Asia since that is what the crispy fried seaweed reminded me of. I had already decided that the main component of the dish would be an agar jelly of an Irish moss infusion, the sauce of the situation would be the component carrying the Asian element.
Traditional mussel dishes are usually accompanied by a richly flavored broth that asks only for some fresh baguette to be enjoyed at its best; I chose then to use a court-bouillon as sauce for my dish. Spiced up with star-anise, the slightly thickened court-bouillon would then carry that Asian notes that I wanted to include.

The cleanness of the main components and the fatty richness of the crispy seaweeds still needed something to make them coexist in the same dish.
The anise-bouillon that served as nage to the dish had something Provencal about it, thanks to the fennel seeds in it (no Noilly-Prat in the house, I am sorry guys) and this sparked the idea for the garnish that should serve as link between the components: orange poached celeriac dices. By chance, the poaching liquid got a bitter note from the orange zests in it, that really worked greatly with the freshness of the celeriac flavors and helped giving dimension to the dish as well as making the fried component acceptable.
Seaweed Chips
But how do you fry dried seaweeds? Thanks to a little experimentation, I found out that you need to have a little moisture in them, but not too much or the oil starts exploding on you. You simply have to quickly dunk the seaweed in water and pat the water excess out right before dunking them in a pot of 170C neutral-flavored vegetable oil.
Again, the seaweeds that gave better result flavorwise, were the Wakame and the Irish moss itself. While the Wakame got the typical bubbly appearance of the Korean snack, the Irish moss was unusual in its behavior: it could be fried fully hydrated (but patted dry) and shriveled up quite a bit when frying forming nice bundles. I found it useful to fry this seaweed in little bunches into an immersed metal sieve (to make them easier to retrieve).
The fried Irish moss also developed a distinctive flavor, somewhat meaty that went very pleasantly with its unusual crunchiness. To keep up the texture play, I decided to fry both fresh specimens: the sea lettuce and Nori seaweed. These are extremely thin seaweeds, you can literally sea-through them; when fried they resulted in an ethereal crunchiness that felt very pleasant. For these delicate seaweeds, try not to exceed an oil temperature of 170C.

The dish was almost ready, it needed just a few more garnishes: a few drops of walnut oil to remind the diner of the fried-seaweed nuttiness and a little of fleur de sel de Noirmoutier. The latter is a marine integral salt from France with a small grain structure that makes it somewhat sweet to the tongue.

Mussels jelly-dome à la nage Asiatique with crispy-fried seaweeds and orange poached celeriac

Ingredients (serve 3 as appetizer):

Irish moss infusion:
  • 100g water 
  • 20g dried Irish moss, cut into small pieces using a scissor 
  • agar-agar (0.3% of final infusion) 
  • locust bean gum (0.03% of final infusion), optional 
  • 1/2 teaspoon rounds of thin parsley stalks 
  • Lemon zest 
  • 1 teaspoon 
  • dry white wine
Court bouillon:
  • 1 cup water 
  • 2 parsley branches 
  • 1 medium garlic clove 
  • 1 small piece celeriac (ca 5g) 
  • 1/6 cup white wine 
  • 1 small star-anise 
  • 1 small piece of mace 
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns 
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds 
  • 1 long peppercorn
  • 3 g dried Wakame, chopped 
  • lemon juice, to taste 
  • salt 
  • Xanthan (0.1% of final court bouillon weight)
  • Small dices of celeriac poached in orange juice and orange zests 
  • Fleur de Sel de Noirmoutier 
  • Walnut oil
Fried Seaweed:
  • Mix of dry seaweeds including Wakame, Sea Spaghetti, etc Hydrated seaweeds including the Irish moss from the infusion, laitue de mer, etc


Let's prepare the infusion.
In a small bowl combine the chopped chondrus with 100g room temperature water. Cover with clingfilm and place a weight on top to keep the seaweed immersed. Let the infusion develop for 6 hours.

In the meantime lets prepare the court-bouillon. In a small pot combine the water with all the spices and vegetables but not the seaweed. Bring the broth to a slow simmer covered and cook for 15 minutes covered. At the end of the cooking add the Wakame and let the broth come to room temperature covered. Taste for seasonings and add salt and lemon juice as needed.
Strain the court-bouillon through a fine sieve pressing down the solids. Weigh the resulting broth and prepare 0.1% of this weight in Xanthan gum.
Using an immersion blender, combine the broth with the Xanthan; cover with clingfilm and let rest in the fridge until all the bubbles will have subsided (roughly 24h).

Drain the chondrus infusion through a fine sieve pressing well on the hydrated seaweeds, use a double-layer cheesecloth to help squeezing as much out of the seaweeds as possible.
Weigh the resulting infusion and prepare 0.3% of it in agar with a touch of locust bean gum (roughly 1/9th of the agar amount).
Transfer 1/3 of the infusion in a saucepan and add the agar-locust bean gum mixture to it. Stir and bring to a boil to ensure agar hydration. Take the hot infusion out of the fire and add the rest of the cold infusion, the white wine and the minced parsley stalks to it stirring very well to combine. Spoon the mixture into hemispherical molds, sprinkle a little lemon zest on each and let gel at room temperature.

When ready to serve, heat up the court-bouillon to roughly 60C with the gelled chondrus-domes; separately heat up the celeriac cubes in their orange juice and prepare the seaweed fries.
Heat some canola or peanut oil to 175-180C. Quickly dunk the dry seaweeds in cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Pat dry also the hydrated seaweeds.
Fry the seaweeds quickly in the hot oil and let them drain onto paper-towel.

Place the warm dome in the middle of each serving plate, surround with the nage and some celeriac cubes. Pour few drops of walnut oil on the dome and then sprinkle a little fleur de sel de Noirmoutier on it. Serve with the seaweeds fries sprinkled with some fleur de sel.

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