Aren't food blogging events a wonderful thing? Despite the fact that with the sky-rocketing number of foodblogs, there is an ever-increasing number of events being hosted, I always find one that pushes the boat out a bit and challenges me to try something new. Jeanne's recent call to do a sweet/savoury swap for January's WTSIM, ie create a savoury version of a dish that is normally sweet or vice-versa, was one such event. Although many dishes like that have been permeating restaurant menus around the globe (the Fat Duck's snail porridge being a prolific example, but things like cheese soufflés have become very popular over the last few years), this way of turning a dish on its head is far more difficult than one might think. Believe me, I have tried some pretty horrific attempts in top-notch restaurants over the years, one that still makes me gag is Angela Hartnett's attempt of a chocolate soup - no wonder The Connaught is not under her helm anymore.
As I was tossing and turning ideas to challenge established taste experiences, I found myself wondering about the inherent qualities of sweet and savoury and found that, indeed, some traditional ways of cooking cannot be reversed effectively. Aforementioned chocolate soup was lacking the creaminess we connect with chocolate, for example, and was therefore tasting bland and quite odd. Like chocolate custard powder mixed into cold water. Many sweet dishes like custard are not that easily married with vegetables (although a baked jerusalem artichoke cheesecake was one of the things I'd considered giving a try). I had a baked potato chocolate tart at Hibiscus not long ago and felt that, flavours aside, the consistency put me off - it's like your taste buds scream "chocolate", but your tongue feels like it's eating potato mash... sending my brain into a somewhat schizophrenic state I could only bear for a couple of mouthfuls. I am not usually one to push a plate full of dessert away from me, but my fellow diners couldn't help but do the same.
With these past experiences in mind (and remember, the creators of those were professional chefs, not amateurs like me), I discarded each and every idea that came into mind until I remembered something I had wanted to try for ages. I guess choosing foie gras was an easy option, but I found this a very happy marriage indeed. I stewed the pears in sauternes and seasoned them with cardamom, stirred in some prunes for extra sweetness, then arranged a bite-ful each on ceramic spoons. They were then topped with creamy foie gras, smoothed over with a spatula and sprinkled with caster sugar - a quick, but close encounter with the blow torch and voilà: an unusual, yet delicious amuse-gueule that fit Jeanne's stringent rules, but didn't make my taste-buds go ballistic! If anything, they were screaming for more, more, more!!!
Foie gras and pear compote crème brulée spoons
3 tbsp butter
1 medium pear
1 pinch cardamom powder
4 tbsp Sauternes (or other dessert wine)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 soft stone-less prunes (chopped)
80 g bloc de foie gras
8 tbsp caster sugar
First, prepare the pear compote.
Melt 1 tbsp of the butter In a shallow, non-stick frying pan with a lid. Peel and core the pear and cut into 5mm dice. Fry the pear in the butter for a minutes or two, then add 2 tbsp of Sauternes, lemon juice and cardamom and stew, covered, for about 5 minutes or until very soft. Mash roughly, making sure to add all the remaining juices, which should be nice and caramelised. Stir in the chopped prunes.
Meanwhile, warm the foie gras in its container by placing it in a pot with hot water. After about 10 minutes, spoon out the warmed foie, place in a bowl with the 2 tbsp of melted butter and the remaining Sauternes and process to a smooth paste.
To finish off, place a heaped tsp full of the pear compote on a tasting spoon (I use these from Maxwell & Williams or Chinese soup spoons). Flatten out and smooth over a tbsp full of the foie gras mixture. To make sure that the top is completely flat and level with the rim of the spoon, use a spatula and run it along the spoon at a 45 degree angle, from the shaft to the tip.
Spread 1 tbsp of caster sugar over it and distribute evenly. Melt the sugar with a blow torch until it is nicely caramelised. Leave to cool and harden before serving it on individual plates, with toasted brioche on the side, if you like.