Forget the presents, the suspiciously cheerful man in the red suit and the inescapable warbling of Mariah Carey. Christmas is all about family and friends. And food.
What better way to celebrate all that is good in life than sharing the best produce with those nearest and dearest to your heart? It's a philosophy that underpins much of what Stomachs Eleven is all about - our roving dinner party club that takes turns to host a meal at their home.
Huevas de maruca salted ling roe
Our annual Christmas dinner inevitably ends up in the home of Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin' and there is no doubt that it is always their meals that we look forward to with gastronomic glee. Pig Flyin's cooking prowess knows no bounds, but it's not the calm and organised manner in which he approaches complex dishes that impresses me most - it's the generosity in spirit by both Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin' which leaves me indebted in gratitude.
Foie gras macarons (orange shells) and porcini macarons (cream shells)
"We're so disorganised this year! We haven't even decided on the menu" says Mrs Pig Flyin' only two days beforehand. And yet we approach the dining table with a collective gasp as we spy the plate of macarons sparkling with gold dust.
We're not told what flavour they are. "See if you can guess!" Mrs Pig Flyin' challenges us. There's a moment of thoughtful silence, interspersed with the occasional sigh and appreciative murmur.
The orange macarons, we realise, are sandwiched with foie gras, whipped with a splash of Pig Flyin's favourite whisky and a little bit of butter. The cream-coloured macarons have been filled with mascarpone combined with porcini powder - and a little butter of course.
The shells are still sweet, but the savoury fillings provide an interesting twist on the usual 'dessert' macaron. We also nibble on slices of huevas de maruca, salted ling roe that is a common snack in cevecerias, or beer and tapas bars in Spain. Pig Flyin' brought back a large piece of this on his recent trip to Madrid after first trying them in a small ceveceria in Seville. They'd sat alongside churchgoers who'd attended the morning service, eating the salty morsels with boiled shrimps and beer.
Foie gras mousse and spiced beetroot jelly
Our amuse bouche comes in squat glasses (they're actually tea light holders! Mrs Pig Flyin' admits with a laugh) that holds a base layer of beetroot jelly spiced with cloves and cinnamon. A cube of foie gras is covered in a snow drift of puffed amaranth and baby cress. I love how the beetroot provides sweetness and a touch of acidity against the richness of the foie gras, and the delicate crunch of amaranth contrasts with the foie gras' buttery softness.
Miniature vegetable gardens
In the centre of the table is a collection of miniature vegetable gardens, each different in composition and all plated with immeasurable patience by the artistic Silvrlily. These are an unashamed copy-cat version of the bespoke vegetable garden dish at Becasse, using both cooked and raw vegetables that include:
- white radish
- red radish
- yellow beetroot
- candy striped (target) beetroot
- orange carrots
- yellow carrots
- purple carrots
- enoki mushrooms
- celery shoots
- cress shoots
- baby cucumbers (homegrown in the garden)
- cucumber flowers (homegrown in the garden)
- fennel flowers (homegrown in the garden).
Miniature vegetable garden
The 'soil' is a Noma recipe made from hazelnut meal and Guinness. Beneath the soil is a layer of herbed yoghurt.
We all take ages deciding which garden to eat, and there's a lovely sense of childlike exploration as we poke and prod our way around the plate.
Tuna tartare with crushed pea salad
The G-Man had gifted Pig Flyin' with the Cumulus Inc cookbook and requested he include one recipe in his Christmas dinner. We're presented with the tuna tartare and crushed pea salad, cubes of soy and balsamic marinated tuna that have been plated in picture-perfect similarity to the book.
Tuna tartare with crushed pea salad recipe from the Cumulus Inc cookbook
Seven bird consomme with earl grey tea
"There are seven birds in the consomme," Mrs Pig Flyin' says with a laugh. "We counted!"
We lean in closer with shock as she lists them all. "We have chicken, duck, goose, quail, pheasant, guinea fowl and squab. That's seven!"
Apple wood smoked squab breast and confit squab leg with seven bird consomme
The heady aroma of the consomme is worth savouring for a moment or two, an alluring sweet saltiness that whets our appetite. Squab, or young pigeon, is often looked down upon as undesirable, but the flavour and texture is worth exploring, like a slightly gamier and leaner version of duck.
Pig Flyin' has smoked the squab breast with apple wood chips, the legs cooked confit in duck fat. They rest against a disc of polenta, as tiny snippets of enoki mushroom float lazily in the golden-hued broth.
Beef two ways with caramelised saffron carrot puree and pomme puree
Beef two ways is a celebration of sub-prime cuts of meat that don't often make it to the dining table. On the left is a roasted tri-tip, a small triangular muscle found at the base of the sirloin. It's served with a vanilla jus which provides an interesting sweetness even though no sugar was added to the sauce. The meat is plump and juicy, and melts in the mouth like wagyu.
On the right is a red wine-braised short rib, extraordinarily tender and deliciously sticky. Purees of carrot and potato are luxuriously smooth.
Duck fat potatoes
Whole roasted head of cauliflower
Sides are duck fat potatoes and - my personal highlight - a whole roasted head of cauliflower that is nutty and crisp at the edges. The cauliflower is baked at 200C for about an hour, with dollops of butter added towards the end of cooking to encourage browning. It's such an easy but tasty dish and one I'm definitely going to recreate in future.
Spooning on mini balls of strawberry
If there's one dish I can claim some contribution to, it's the pre-dessert. Pig Flyin' hands me the world's tiniest melon baller and a punnet of giant strawberries. I give up halfway, covered in strawberry juice carnage, and Silvrlily takes over and scoops out the most perfect orbs.
Peach jelly and strawberry pearls
The shot glasses look like miniature pints of beer with froth foam on top. They actually hold white peach jelly - made from fresh peaches - covered in a layer of mascarpone and rosewater cream. The tiny pearls of strawberry add freshness with baby sorrel leaves providing a little tartness.
Chilli pate de fruits
The petit fours include chilli pate de fruits. "Chilli is a fruit!" Pig Flyin' reminds us. These homemade jellies are a treat - providing a gentle crescendo of heat beneath the coating of sugar crystals.
Gorgonzola and honey macarons
We're not told about what flavour is inside our dessert macarons, but one bite and it's a revelation of blue cheese. The filling has been made from gorgonzola dolce whipped with pepper, salt, a drizzle of honey and a small amount of butter for texture. The shells have been tinted green so beside the chilli pate de fruits they present a festival duo of red and green.
Blowtorching the meringue on the peanut butter parfait
I've left the main dessert for last because, this, my friends, is what happiness is all about.
Peanut butter parfait with banana caramel
Who can resist a little blow-torched meringue? I can barely contain my excitement as my spoon dips past the meringue and meets layers of salted peanut butter parfait sandwiched around a centre of banana caramel.
The banana caramel, Pig Flyin' explains, is made by dropping mashed banana into hot caramel and adding a little butter and cream. It's the kind of dessert that you could imagine Elvis eating with gusto, although this only leads me to crave strawberry jam and a little caramelised bacon too.
I hope your Christmas is as sweet as this peanut butter parfait! Here's to joy and good tidings to you and your loved ones, near and far. Happy feasting!
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Stomachs Eleven Christmas dinner 2010
Stomachs Eleven Christmas dinner 2008
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12/23/2011 01:10:00 am