Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of whipping up a real feast. The occasion was the birthdays and wedding anniversary of my brother and his wife, which all fall on the very same day in November. Because of our current work and child schedules, Su-Lyn and I don’t find the time to entertain as often or as dramatically as we used to. But for this dinner, I decided to go all out.
The menu consisted of seven courses, as follows: uni encased in tomato jelly; slow cooked prawns with scrambled egg and crab roe; foie gras with roasted figs and bocconcini; roasted bone marrow over porcini risotto; charsiu pork medallions with roasted brussel sprouts, spaetzle and pomegranate seeds; Japanese short rib curry; and matcha tiramisu. Several of the dishes were concepts I had been pondering for weeks. While others, like the marrow and risotto, were ideas inspired by what was available when I did my grocery shopping the day before the dinner.
In the past, when Su-Lyn and I had more time, we used to enjoy testing out new recipes, refining them a couple of times before unleashing them on guests. These days, however, we’re always running out of time. (In fact, it’s gotten so bad that a few weeks prior, when hosting some food journo friends visiting from the UK and realising that we weren’t going to have the time to prep the meal, we convinced one of our invited guests–fortunately a chef himself –to cook the whole meal for us… but that’s another story which I’ll write about in a few weeks.) So to make a long story short, we simply don’t get the chance to test recipes anymore. And since the majority of dishes for my brother’s and his wife’s birthday dinner were new things I’d come up with, I simply had to cross my fingers and hope they’d look and taste as good on the plate as they did in my mind.
In addition to my brother and sister-in-law, two other couples joined us. And everyone brought lots of wine — the highlight from a night of highlights was probably the 1969 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva that my sister-in-law’s soon-to-be brother-in-law brought with him. I think, in all, we opened 8 bottles of wine that evening, and ended the night sipping some 1998 Suntory Single Cask whiskey I had carried home from Tokyo this past September.
The meal, thankfully, was a success–obviously enhanced by good wine and conversation. At the end of the night, I asked Su-Lyn which was her favorite dish. She said she liked the uni and tomato jelly the most, which was really cool because it was the dish I was, in some ways, the most stressed out about.
I don’t know how or why I thought up the idea of trapping a tongue of uni inside a rectangle of tomato water jelly. I guess I figured that the flavors of sea urchin and tomato would work really well together. I also really liked the visual idea of serving a clear or semi-clear jelly with this bright orange tongue encased inside it. It was simply a dish I wanted to try making. And hoped that my guests would enjoy it. Fortunately, the dish came together really well and paired gorgeously with a lovely cult red Burgundy that one of our guests brought. Having made this once, it’s a dish I’ll definitely make again when entertaining.
While simple in concept, and simple in ingredients–uni and tomato, plus a few other things is all this really calls for–the dish does take a while to prepare (because of the tomato water) and is expensive (because of the uni). But if you have the time and the bucks, give this a whirl.
For the tomato water jelly
12 Japanese tomatoes
2.5g agar powder
8-10 nice large, super-fresh tongues of uni
optional addition which I used: doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
zest from 1-2 calamansi limes
Make the tomato water.
If you know how to remove the skins of tomatoes easily do so. Otherwise, don’t bother. Cut into quarters and then puree with a blender or stick blender. Pour the pureed tomato into a cheesecloth, gathering up the edges so you can tie the tomato puree inside a nice tight parcel. Quickly place the parcel inside a large pot and tie off the ends to a wooden spoon that can lie flat across the top of the pot. You want the parcel to be hanging about halfway down the inside of the pot. Clear or semi-clear liquid will drip from the cheesecloth parcel into the pot. This is your tomato water. Place the pot into your fridge overnight. The next day, hopefully all the liquid would have been extracted from the puree. Strain the liquid into a measuring jug. Salt to taste. For this recipe, we’ll use 300ml of the tomato water. Keep it chilled.
Prep your silicon mold by placing it on a metal tray that can fit in your fridge. Then sprinkle the calamansi zest inside 8-10 of the rectangles. Then place one tongue of uni, upside down, inside each rectangle. If you are using doubanjiang, spread just a tiny smear on the underside of each sea urchin tongue.
Pour 50ml of the tomato water into a small saucepan. Add the agar powder. Bring this to a boil while stirring/whisking frequently. Then lower the temperature to a simmer and simmer for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour this back into a measuring jug with the reserved 250ml of tomato water. Use a stick blender to blend the liquids quickly and evenly.
Gently pour the tomato water solution into the rectangles, covering the uni. Pop this into the fridge for at least 6-8 hours.
When ready to serve, gently flip the mold over and carefully ease the jellies out one by one onto plates.
Photo taken by Henry Hariyono and generously shared here.