I’ve previously mentioned my obsession with the Sepia Cookbook by Martin Benn. Of all the cookbooks I’ve purchased in the last 12 months, it’s the one that has inspired me the most to get into the kitchen and play. Play with recipes, ideas and techniques. And find ways to use these inspirations in my own food.
These days, I tend not to try and recreate whole dishes from cookbooks. What I like best is finding a technique for a component that excites me and in using which I can imagine new ways to make the food I serve family and friends more delicious, interesting and (visually) appealing. Benn’s book, to me, is a treasure trove of such ideas. From prawn skin (thin sheets made from vacuum packed prawns that are pounded out and steamed) to egg yolks, slow-cooked in clarified butter, and puffed pork skin tossed in nori salt, the ideas have inspired me to create new dishes or adapt old ones. Of course, I should say that Benn’s cuisine, which pulls ideas and inspirations from Japanese and Modern European cuisines, also appeals to my own palate. If I wasn’t such a big fan of this kind of Modern Japanese-French cuisine (for lack of a more accurate term), I probably wouldn’t have been so turned on by his book (and my recent visit to his restaurant). But I am. And so his recipes really spoke to me.
One of the techniques that Benn is most fond of is the use of jelly. He uses it both as the base on which he builds his dishes as well as toppings that add specific hits of flavour to components of his plates. A jelly is also an innovative way to add a layer of flavour to a dish without having to introduce an additional sauce.
While the Sepia cookbook has several jelly recipes, the one I will share is Benn’s soy and wasabi jelly. It is probably the simplest of the jellies in his book to make, with countless applications. Also, once you’ve mastered this, you can easily create any number of flavoured jellies so long as you maintain the suggested ratio of liquid to gelatine and agar powder.
I’ve used this specific soy-dashi-wasabi jelly on a number of dishes, the two pictured in this post included. The first dish is a custard made with eggs and crab stock, topped with picked crabmeat tossed in a light ponzu dressing, with ikura. A layer of this jelly gave the lightly seasoned dish some wonderful hits of umami. The second dish is a confit of ocean trout with a warm soybean and hijiki salad, pommes Anna (which you can’t really see in the photo), and a dashi butter sauce (another Benn recipe). When consumed together, the jelly, the fish and the dashi butter played off each other wonderfully.
I will admit that the visual appeal of placing a thin wobbly jelly over dishes or certain ingredients is what first got me playing with these. But as I’ve tasted how they can lift and transform dishes, I have come to appreciate them in new ways. I hope you take the time to try this out. It’s fun and delicious. And what more could you want from something you cook?
Soy, Dashi and Wasabi Jelly
125 ml (4 oz) dashi
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated wasabi
20g (3/4 oz) soy sauce
5g (1/8 oz) mirin
0.75g (3/100 oz) gold strength gelatine leaves
0.85g (3/100 oz) agar powder
Pour the dashi into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the wasabi, cover, and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Pass the dashi mixture through a fine chinois and then season with the soy and mirin.
Spray a 24 x 18 x 2 cm tray with baker’s spray and wipe over with paper towel. Soak the gelatine in iced water until hydrated. Pour the seasoned dashi into a clean saucepan. Mix in the agar and bring to the boil over high heat. Boil for 5 seconds then remove from the heat. Squeeze out the excess water from the gelatine and stir into the dashi mixture. Pour this into the tray and leave to set at room temperature. Once set, store in fridge until required.
When using, cut into whatever shape you need.