Book Club – Nov 5th, 2009

The following is a guest post by Steve Hershman.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited (and to my surprise invited back) to several book clubs so I usually know what to expect. When I got an email Wednesday night that mentioned the possibility of having us “*shudder* order pizza” I was quite surprised. Of course Jeff never did order that pizza, yet this was still no ordinary book club.

I walked in to found Jeff reading a 1420 recipe for a parma tart to my fellow guinea pigs Alan, Rachel and Shimon. This parma tart was designed to be served at towards the end of a massive middle age feast – the type of feast that in a single meal filled the upper class of that era to the point where they could walk around with great stature looking “healthy” all the time. The first step in preparing this tart was to prepare the rich buttery crust.

With the glutton in all of us satisfied from the thoughts of that buttery pie crust, Jeff whipped out the chemicals so that he could appeal to the experimentalists in us (being personally composed of one part glutton to one part experimentalist, I was quite excited); it was time to play with spherification! A solution of sodium alginate, sugar, mint and green food dye was squeezed into a bath of calcium solution. When the alginate in the minty sugar solution contacted the calcium bath, it solidified creating a piece of minty spaghetti.
While beautiful in pictures, these spheres of sugar were not terribly satisfying to our hunger.

Jeff, being a gracious host, was prepared. One of the savory ingredients of the parma tart is duck legs. For our tart, Jeff had been confiting them for over a day so they were ready to go. As an amuse bouche, the skins from the duck were fried to create these duck lardoons. Pork skins eat your hearts out; Muslims and Jews everywhere rejoice!
If you don’t believe me, just look at Alan and Rachel enjoying them.

While the pie crust continued to bake it was now time to take our spherification exercise one step further – to the third dimension so to speak. Jeff had frozen some red colored sodium alginate solution into crosses. When these crosses were placed in calcium solution, a coating formed around them that preserved their shapes. Let me tell you, with neat tricks like these, I just can’t wait to read this book (hint hint nudge nudge)!

It was now time to finish the parma tart. It was the most savory thing I have ever eaten. Look at all that duck, cheese, sausage, pecans and oregano. All that’s missing is the egg filling and the top piece of crust.
After the tart came out of the oven, Jeff topped it off with some sugar. The recipe had called for gold leaf, but none of us missed it after taking a bite.

And thus concluded another successful book club; one so good as to be even worthy of a happy dance.  

Over and out – Steve

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