Razor Clam and Parsley, Horseradish and Mussel Juice

Here’s one from Noma that didn’t turn out according to plan. I think the flaws were about 80% pilot error and 25% bad directions. Yeah, that adds up to 105% flaws. Since fail is more instructive than win, and since this is the single dish that most influenced me to cook from Noma, I’m going to go into a lot of detail about this one. I’m a little sheepish about this, since it’s not going to be that interesting to most of you guys and gals, but I figure someone out there someday is going to want to know how not to screw up this dish.

I’m talking about “Razor Clam and Parsley, Horseradish and Mussel Juice”. It’s supposed to look like this:

Fresh, jewel-like, and ethereal.

Aaaand… here’s what we ended up with:

Not quite as elegant.

Here’s what happened.

Horseradish Snow: This was the most successful element of the dish. It was easy to follow – milk, buttermilk, fresh horseradish, salt, lemon juice, cornstarch, freezer. Since I don’t have access to a Pacojet (think: machine that shaves frozen goods into atom-sized ice particles) I froze the mixture in an ice cube tray…

…and hoped that the Vitamix would turn it into something other than slush. And it worked pretty well (my abysmal plating skills notwithstanding). If I have one criticism of this recipe, it’s that the cornstarch is a little too apparent. In any case, this was light on the palate, and a bracing contrast in texture and flavour to the rest of the dish.

Mussel Juice: I blogged about the first part of this recipe in the epic prep post. Flavour-wise, it turned out better than I could have hoped for: saline, fresh, full of umami goodness – not at all fishy or funky. Where it (okay, I) fell down was at the end of the recipe, where I was supposed to patiently refine it into a crystal-clear essence that would evoke pristine Northern seas. I ended up with a cloudy, murky pond. Redzepi had instructed me to allow the frozen block of mussel juice to defrost in the refrigerator, through a fine cloth, for 12 to 24 hours. I freaked out a little over timing, let the block of jus defrost part-way on the counter, then totally lost my $hit and passed it through coarse cheesecloth. Lesson learned. This flaw, I know how to correct.

Parsley Gel: Actually, more a spinach gel with parsley.

You take your baby spinach, blanch it, and shock it in ice water. Do likewise with your parsley. Now, chunk it into the blender with mineral water (erm… is it supposed to be sparkling, or still? Redzepi doesn’t say. I went with sparkling, because… hello, bubbles!)

So far so green.

And then I Vitamixed the bejesus out of it. In retrospect, a few seconds probably would have been better. Your Nomnivores are still learning their way with the Vitamix, a blender that, rather than shredding things, dispatches thousands of tiny stormtroopers to disassemble the molecular structure of everything that stands in their way. Perhaps more important than blending technique, though, would have been post-blending technique. In other words: the liquid should’ve been allowed to settle, and the clear, green happiness on top should have been used in the next steps.

Back to reality. The opaque, Ghostbusterish slop was poured into a pan… (am I alone in thinking there’s the silhouette of a calamari in that pan?)

With some gelatin leaves.

A couple of months ago, I thought myself very edumacated for knowing that leaf gelatin was qualitatively different from powdered gelatin. Now, having done some additional book learnin’, Redzepi’s instruction to use 7g of leaf gelatin sounded imprecise. What strength of gelatin was I supposed to use? Gold? Silver? Bronze? 200 bloom? 160 bloom? Truly, I was beset with first-world problems. So, I went for the gold. That also might’ve been a mistake.

I poured the fluid out into dishes that I’d carefully levelled out in the fridge (I didn’t completely geek out and use a level, or even an iPhone level app, so stop picturing that) to a depth of 2mm (nor did I use a ruler – I used a toothpick as a dipstick, and eyeballed the measurement.)

Here’s what the gel looked like half an hour later:

I was going for a transparently green stained-glass window, and ended up producing… a mini-putt field of astro-turf. Worse, it was at once soft and brittle: even gently moving it caused it to fracture. There was no question of rolling it around anything.

Dill Oil: Same idea (blanch, shock, drain, blend with oil). Same mistake (over-blending, no resting). Same result (murky emulsion rather than the emerald green oil that was left in the bowl the morning after the dinner.)

Razor Clams: Here, I have to thank Chef C and Pantry Chef J for going to heroic lengths to procure the ingredient. Yours truly searched high and low, and was told “those are out of season.” C&J braved the wilds of the suburbs, and at last, in a huge Asian supermarket, found 8 little razor clams alive and wriggling in the bottom of their tank.

Truthfully, when I shucked them, they seemed… sub-prime. Not sub-prime like a 2008 mortgage, and certainly not funky smelling, but not exactly full of that just-plucked-from-the-sea brightness. Anywho, since they were alive and kicking, and I was in thrall to the image of this dish, I persevered. I duly vac-packed them and froze them for 24 hours to tenderize them.

The final mistake occurred during plating. I misinterpreted Redzepi’s (vague, but in retrospect, obvious) instruction to mix the mussel juice and dill oil in a 10-1 ratio. Rather than gently mixing them with a fork, I made like I was doing a vinaigrette and shook it all up into a light green sauce.

People didn’t overtly hate it, and some people liked some elements, but it was a pretty clear flop – especially given the many stand-out plates that the evening held in store. Aside from the technical lessons I learned from this experience, I think I came closer to learning to be an ingredient driven cook who knows when to change course on the fly, rather than someone obsessed with recreating the image of a perfect dish.