Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Beet Salad, with a Twist

Beet salads. When I dine at a decent restaurant, particularly in fall or winter, I usually go for the beet salad if there is one on the menu. Beet salads done right are absolutely phenomenal. But in truth, this fall/winter, I got a little beet salad'd out. They seemed to get stale, unimaginative, yesterday's news, blah. Perhaps I just saw a few too many of the usual suspects; some greens, some roasted beets, some blue cheese, and yadda yadda yadda, a $10 beet salad. We can do better than that, can't we? So for the Valentine's Food Night, I thought I'd try to turn the fun-meter up a few notches past "the usual". Let's see what happened.

Blue Cheese, Maldon, toasted almond, preserved lemon, blood orange vinaigrette

As you can probably surmise from the photo... there is a little dollup of "something" in the middle of the plate. We'll get to that in a bit. But first... beet chips! The texture of beets, beets, and more beets can get a little monotonous, no? I can remember one beet salad I had this winter at a restaurant that was so infiltrated with beets that... A). I wasn't hungry anymore after finishing it, and B). I was SO SICK of that roasted beet texture after finishing it, I didn't eat another beet salad.......


Anyway, beet chips. I used the ever present yellow handheld mandoline* to shave some thin slices of raw peeled red beet. Next I got a small dutch oven of peanut or other high heat oil hot - round about 340ish degrees. Toss in the beet chips, I think I did about 5 or 6 chips at a time. Trying to fry too many simultaneously will lower the temp of the oil too much, and you'll get oily, greasy, lame chips - which have to rank between stale triscuits and spoiled milk on the fun-meter. Yuck. Turn the chips a few times in the oil, and remove the chips from the oil when they stop bubbling.** Transfer to a drying rack of some kind, immediately salt them, let them dry and cool completely - then test. They should be crispity-crunchity. If not, mess with your oil temp, your frying time, your beet slice thickness, hell change your underwear maybe if you think it'll help.

* I'll stop harping on this little tool after this, but it really is my favorite kitchen gadget. I use it for potatoes, cucumbers, chiles, garlic, shallots. And yes I realize it is a uni-tasker, and no I don't care, Alton.

** It is pretty amazing how much smaller in diameter the chips are when they come out of the oil. I'm assuming from the water that is expunged from the beet by the hot oil? Alton - any input here? No? OK, anyway, keep that in mind - if they go in the size of a manhole cover, they'll come out the size of a quarter. And hey, don't limit yourself to round chips. Go CRAZY and cut them into strips before frying. Use the chips/strips to garnish tortilla or other soups. Put them on green salads. In your kids lunch. Go ahead - do it! The Beet Police won't find you - you're too smart for them. Whatever you do, if you make beet chips... make lots. You'll want lots and lots of beet chips. Lots more than pictured below. Trust me here, mkay? Swell.

So now, we have our beet chips. Those were done ahead of time. As were the toasted almonds.* As was the preserved lemon. As were the beets themselves - roasted in a 425 degree oven, then cubed up and reserved for plating. About all that was left to do was throw together a blood orange vinaigrette using the blood orange "carcases" that remained from the supremes that were used in this dish.

* Do not, I repeat NOT, walk away while toasting your nuts in the oven. Do not multi-task. Do not go to the bathroom, take a phone call, or water your plants. Maybe it's just me, but I absolutely cannot toast nuts properly in an oven and do anything else at the same time other than take in air. Nuts burn easily and quickly and without remorse. Consider yourself warned.

Oh yes, there is one more thing to the dish isn't there. That little-something that is sitting atop a beet chip at the center of the plate. That little something is......... wait for it......... BLUE CHEESE ICE CREAM!!!!

Fear not though! It worked really, really well in this dish if I do say so myself. And actually there were other selfs at Food Night that said the same. Namely distinguished guest Matt, who said he had blue cheese ice cream one other time (at a restaurant that shall remain nameless, but rhymes with La Belle Tree), and he indicated that Food Night's presentation of blue cheese ice cream was superior. Somewhere, I picture the impossibly nice Tim McKee grinning (as pictured) and saying "I'm sorry, what? I couldn't hear you, my James Beard Award was clogging my ears, can you repeat whose blue cheese ice cream was better?". So yeah, anyway, I was pleased all the guests seemed to think the blue cheese ice cream was deece.

A big key in a successful blue cheese ice cream experience is exercising a little restraint. Nobody, not even me, wants to dive into an entire bowl of blue cheese ice cream the way you would Rocky Road or Mint Chocolate Chip. Please. A tablespoon sized scoop of blue cheese ice cream sitting on a nice crisp beet chip fit the bill nicely.

Also, when you make blue cheese ice cream (which I know you are going to run out and do) spend a little coin on a good quality, creamy blue cheese. You only need a few ounces, so get a good one. Of course the ice cream recipe I used comes from the brilliant David Lebovitz, who I'm going to dub the "Official Unofficial Ice Cream Czar of Food Night". I know David will be thrilled. Look - see below? That's David being "thrilled"... I hope. Either way, ALL ice creams made at Food Night are either verbatim Lebovitz recipes, or are my creations inspired by Lebovitz recipes.

And let us not forget one of the perks of making your very own blue cheese ice cream; leftovers! That means, you can get yourself some high end balsamic vinegar, some little ramekins, and top a dollup of blue cheese ice cream with yummy balsamic. Place this fabulous combination of flavors in front of your wonderful guests WITHOUT telling them what it actually is... and watch the hilarity ensue as their eyes say "Mmmmm, vanilla with chocolate sauce", and their mouths say "NOT SO MUCH"!!!

So, you now have all the components needed to make the above dish. Plate the dish as you see fit. The composition options are limitless. And if you have a stray pickled tomato or two, as apparently I did, I'm sure the beets would be happy to have them along for the ride.

Up next - a more conventional dish that was so freaking amazingly fantastically good... scientists have decided to add a new element to the periodic table in honor of this dish. It will be called "Deliciousonium", and will have an atomic weight of infinity.

So, check back, you obviously don't want to miss that.

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