It starts, “Mom, you have to try what I made for you.”
“I’m going to serve you a bunch of things. Like eight.”
“Oh, that looks good. Are those cubes of beef?” I ask.
“Yes. Beef. Eight kinds of beef.”
And now it begins.
*Que dramatic, suspenseful ,building, orchestral music, heavy with violins*
…and a wordless visual introduction to the documentary that is:
BEEF: SERVED EIGHT WAYS
We all know that our own personal interests rub off on our kids. After all, they are being heavily exposed to whatever we heavily spend our time on. In my case lately that has been ‘Chef’s Table.’ It seems that Nathan attached quickly to what Magnus Nilsson, head chef of the restaurant Fäviken in Sweden, said in his interview, “You’re going to sit down for two-and-a-half hours in my restaurant. I’m going to give you 30 courses.”
It was then no surprise when, after 10 minutes of quietly mastering his cutlery in the side yard, He presented me with a foam tray containing many square-ish cuts of mud. “You get to do a taste testing!”
This isn’t video from prepping this particular meal, but it does give you a pretty good idea of how he goes about it. There is another video at the end of this post where they talk about the specifics of each of their dishes for a chopped style competition.
So it had been established that there were to be eight tastes, each beef, with different flavors. “So tell me about this first one.”
“It is made with crushed red peppers.” That may seem a little crazy for a 5 year old to pull out of his
butt mind but around here crushed red peppers, and other chili seasonings and pastes, are used regularly. He has trained his eye to look out for them when trying our food and would obviously think it prudent to include such a staple in any meal he would present to his mother.
“Hmm,” I say as I pretend to eat this decadent mud. “Nice heat! What about this second piece?”
“That is made with milk. …And water. Because the other one was so spicy, this one has milk.”
“Very clever. And the third?”
“Sweet red peppers.”
The forth was discovered to be made with “Juice and water: hot, spicy, red pepper juice. And milk. 1%.”
For the fifth I suggested, “Hmmm, this one is tangy!” For that he needed a little bit of help. I suggested maybe it had been made with mustard or vinegar, to which he agreed.
The sixth piece of beef had a very defined flavor which he boldly stated, “Salt. Just salt.” I rather liked the command this simplistic seasoning choice portrayed. It reminded me of the top chefs who choose quality meats, season them minimally, and cook them just to perfection so their natural flavors can show through. Or the use of specific ingredients, such as a particular type of salt, to force the taster to slow down and analyze what is really going on in their mouth. Nathan then added, “Whale. It’s Whale salt. They call it that because it’s a big piece, like this leaf,” and he held up a raspberry leaf.
The seventh, I swear, came straight from his mouth, and struck me dumbfound, “Parmesan cheese and pepper.” Where did he pull that from? Perfect flavor pairings!
And finally for the last he decided it was “Tart,” but had no more details to give. Having gotten way more out of this simple playful exercise than I could ever have imagined I let it go with that. (I had of-course made notes along the way, knowing very quickly that I planned to recreate these ideas with a real plate of food.) Several hours later he added that the last one was “tart from tartar sauce.”
So there I had it, (and an excuse to use bullets in this post,) the menu for my next dish, inspired by Nathan’s own words:
Nathan’s Beef Served 8 Ways
- Crushed Red Pepper
- Milk and Water
- Sweet Red Bell Pepper
- Red Chili Pepper Juice, Water, and 1% milk
- Tangy Sauce – Mustard and Vinegar
- Just Salt – Whale Salt
- Parmesan Cheese and Black Pepper
- Tartar Sauce
MY QUEST became turning these creative, but rather flat flavor ideas into tangible sauces that would look creative, taste great, and be distinct from one another. I also wanted them to run together nicely as a single course.
I already had ideas flowing for individual sauce plans, and for a brief moment I thought about rearranging the order of some of the pieces. Perhaps something based a little off the Kaiseki model. This was first introduced to me through Chef Niki Nakayama. …again on ‘Chef’s table. In it/through it foods are served in a very particular order; a sashimi dish, followed by a simmered dish, then a grilled dish, then a steamed dish, then a fried dish… as much as I really like this idea and may try something like it later (with some more research of course) that philosophy is also based off off the Japanese ‘sozai wo mamoru,’ which means ‘to protect the ingredients.’ Since I am neither making Japanese food, nor striving to protect any particular ingredients I just scrapped all that and focused on what was already a challenge… these darn 8 flavors, all on beef.
Note: I am, in fact, lucky that I skipped all that “Kaiseki” stuff considering that I now know there are as many as 19 parts to a proper Kaiseki meal!
So moving on to what to do with each one.
#1 – Crushed Red Pepper
To simply roll the meat in red pepper would be both explosive to your mouth and ironically very flat at the same time. I played around with crisp fried garlic in olive oil with crushed red peppers. It was good, but Andrew felt it wasn’t ‘great.’ I then reduced red pepper flakes and balsamic vinegar… “Closer. Warmer. Better,” to quote Jack Black… We both agreed it needed a third dimension. After bouncing around a few ideas; “cinnamon!”
A balsamic reduction with red pepper flakes and cinnamon.
#2 – Milk and Water
I did take some creative license. I believe that if a child says milk and you use heavy whipping cream you are ‘still on the same page.’ I pulled this idea briefly from a meal that Nathan and I made a little while ago where we made our own butter, but also a whipped cream. And what is known for going well with red meat? That’s right. Red Wine. Other than the fact that I over shook the first batch of cream and it separated, this recipe was both quick from my mind and quick to make.
Sweet red wine cream.
#3 – Sweet Red Bell Pepper
If you’ve read many of my posts at all, you know: I love roasted red peppers. Without trying to reproduce the flavors from the first two dishes but also liking the idea of each flavor pulling from others before… of maybe just heavily influenced by the red wine *wink*… To make something both sweet and savory, I decided to combine some blended roasted red pepper, red wine, and balsamic vinegar.
Roasted red pepper, red wine reduction with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
#4 – Red Chili Pepper Juice, Water, and 1% milk
Obviously I’m not going to stir crushed red peppers into water to make juice. (I already did that with ‘jelly juice’ when I was 7. I’ve moved up in the world now.) No, I actually whipped out the juicer, de-seeded about 5 fresh red chilies and juiced them. To my surprise, the first batch wasn’t very spicy. I figured it could be the state of the peppers or maybe it’s that I took out the seeds! So I tried leaving them in. You know what happens (at least with my juicer) when you leave the seeds in? They shoot all over the kitchen and make a total raucous! Seedless it is! Now I know he specifically said, “Milk. 1 percent,” and I thought it was very cute, but cute doesn’t cut the mustard… or in this case the red pepper juice, so I again went with heavy whipping cream. Garlic and salt brought more dimension and cornstarch with the cream made it a perfectly thickened sauce.
Red Chili and Garlic Cream Sauce.
#5 Tangy Sauce – Mustard and Vinegar
This one was/is a pain in the butt. Leave it to me to suggest a flavor I don’t even like! (Mustard – the condiment. I loath it. *Bleck!*) I do, however, like to use mustard powder as a flavor boost in a lot of my sauces, soups, and dishes. The problem is that I want this to be a mustard based sauce and by itself, the mustard powder doesn’t work very well. No matter what I do, even if I get rid of the ‘bitter,’ it still turns out gritty! And I REFUSE to make a mustard sauce by starting with any of those nasty condiments! One thing I did do with great pleasure and success was to have the daycare kids try difference combinations of a weak mustard broth and several herbs/spices to see what they liked best. The winning choice, over dill seed or soaked coriander, was fennel seed. Although I liked my final sauce, Andrew felt the whole fennel seeds where the wrong texture. I used heavy whipping cream [again] as a thickening agent, as well as an attempt to tone down the bitter and grit of the mustard. It wasn’t awesome, but not terrible either.
Heavy Whipping Cream and Mustard sauce with fennel seed, apple cider vinegar, and honey.
#6 Just Salt – Whale Salt
I loved this suggestion, as I said before. I wish I’d had some black Hawaiian salt on hand! immediately, and especially after Nathan talked about ‘whale salt that is big like a leaf,’ I wanted to create a ‘sheet’ of salt to serve. It was in fact the first of the 8 recipes I started working on. I chose Himalayan salt for it’s pink color, and mixed 2 tablespoons of course salt with half a cup of water, in a small frying pan over medium heat, until dissolved . Next I poured it into a parchment lined pie pan and let it sit in the oven at 250 degrees until enough water had evaporated to make a thick sheet of salt. From this I could pick out a nice piece of whatever shape and size I wanted. The best part is that whatever didn’t get used I simply crumpled back into the container for the next use.
I also played around with 1 teaspoon eat dissolved in 1/4 cup of water. Keeping the temperature at 250 kept it from curning, but it did yellow a little. The sugar does help tone down the intensity of the salt, so it isn’t a bad idea
Then, interestingly enough I googled ‘whale salt’ just for giggles. I think I was curious if there was anyway to draw salt out of whale blubber or some other traditional way of harvesting. Instead I found out that there is a wild humpback whale that has been under watch for almost 40 years, named?… You guessed it, Salt.
So for this recipe the salt may not have been derived from muktuk but I was able to select a nice whale size piece for plating. So there it was:
Just Salt. Whale Salt.
Are we there yet?
#7 Parmesan Cheese and Black Pepper
Similarly to the ‘just salt’ idea the workings for this one came to mind more instant than instant. I still have no idea what reference Nathan had in picking parmesan cheese and pepper but I immediately know how I wanted to present it. When I was in high school, when Andrew and I were dating, my mom got really excited to discover that one could fry cheese into a crispy chip-like snack. But not all cheeses. Only hard cheeses like parmesan. All these years later and I have never forgotten this golden treasure of culinary creativity. I hand cracked some smoked black pepper with a mortar and pestle for this recipe, got a large skillet nice and hot over medium high heat and added the two ingredients. The key is to make your pan hot enough to crisp the bottom of the shredded cheese, but not so hot as to burn it, and if you try to peal off your cheese crisp too soon you risk mushing it into a pile instead. Done properly and you’ll have a salty crisp treat like no other:
Smoked Black Pepper and Parmesan Cheese Crisp
#8 Tart – Tartar Sauce
Knowing only our family’s classic bush recipe for tartar sauce, simply mix mayo and relish, (two things I despise more than almost any other! See #5), I quickly opened good ‘ole google. According to wiki it seemed a common and good choice to go with mayo, capers, gherkins, lemon, and … ?Tarragon? Some how I swear I heard ‘tarragon’ when Andrew read the list to me. Maybe he was looking on some other page? Either way, that was what I wrote down and that is what I used. Yes, I hate mayo, but I didn’t want to mess with coddling eggs or using aioli *curling lip, bobbing head, and rolling eyes* <—I refuse to jump on that band-wagon! Anyway I used mayo, I admit it. I mixed it with fresh lemon zest and finely chopped fresh tarragon. I decide to use the gherkins, chopped, with a few dismantled capers (non-periel, if that matters) over the sauce.
Now I know that serving it this way may seam like a deconstructed version of the sauce, and it is well know, at least in our house, that ‘deconstructed’ simply means “you can’t hack it,” but I chose to place the gherkins and capers on the top, instead of mixed in, for both visual and flavorful reasons… and it worked! It was wonderful! I will definitely use this recipe again. Andrew did mention that he would have really liked it on fish instead, (which is just amazing for him to say at all since he doesn’t go anywhere near anything from the water), and he is right, but Nathan gave me ‘instructions’ for beef 8 ways, not fish.
Now, as a side note/bunny trail, Andrew was excited about ‘tartar sauce,’ thinking it was a French sauce. (As you know we are learning french as a family and he is all gaw-gaw over France and French things.) In a way it is, as that is where it is first seen in cook books as ‘tartare,’ but the sauce is said to have originated from the traditional flavors of the Tartars of the central Asian steppes. I was excited about this, having been rather sure of myself, that it indeed had originated with the Tartar people. Why does that matter to me? When we traveled to Kazakhstan most of the people we worked with were Kazakh, and while most of the people in Kazakhstan as a whole are actually of Russian decent, the beautiful sweet neighbor girl, (who spoke 5 languages already and was working on French and English) she however, was of Tartar dissent, and I have never forgotten her. And that is why I call this sauce
Tartar Dina: Mayo, lemon zest, tarragon, gherkins, and capers.
So what do I have to show for all this hard work? THIS–> [not so] beautiful plate of [mostly] delicious ‘Beef Served 8 ways.’ To be honest, this ‘project’ pretty much kicked my butt, but I think it was well worth it. Nathan got to see his creative play come to life, I got to let my creative juices simmer, and I actually came away with a few recipes worth writing down and keeping. So thanks for going on this [26 hundred word] journey with me, and until next time, Sweet Salutations!
I’ve added the recipes that I felt were worth reproducing to this site. I linked them throughout this post, but here is a list for your convenience. Let me know, in the comments below, what you try and how it works out!
This is the second part of Nathan and his friend preparing their meals for competition.
I look a total mess in this last video, but the kids worked so hard to prepare their meals, say some pretty cute things, and did the filming themselves, so I will put myself (and my dignity) aside, just for the sake of your entertainment: