Ingredient Challenge Muscato Grapes
By Dennis Linden
Chef Timothy Au, Executive CheF.S.D. at Google Corporation’s “Caffeteria” at the company’s campus in Irvine, California, chose Muscato grapes as his INGREDIENT CHALLENGE
The chef’s Pistachio Crusted Halibut with Blush & Green Muscato-Endive Salad consists of three separate components, each with its own distinct set of flavors. The genius of the dish is that each of these segments stands alone and also pair perfectly together as three parts of a whole.
Several preparations are necessary to construct each component of this delectable dish. The recipe requires a double reduction, a perfect purée, roasting, baking, freezing, pulverizing, dehydrating, grilling and even some specialty knife work. For anyone who enjoys cooking, this recipe will be instructive and fun! So turn up the music, pour a glass of your favorite vintage and enjoy the prep, one process at a time.
Not familiar with the culinary level of Chef Timothy’s Google title “CheF.S.D”? It’s a bit of palate-in-cheek humor that mimics the corporate structure where his kitchen is located, albeit the relaxed Google approach; “F.S.D” or Food Service Director.
Muscato grapes are a seasonal taste treasure available during the months of August and September only. The variety is a cross between the Muscat grape and either the Thompson seedless (Green Muscato) or red seedless (Blush Muscato). The combination produces a super sweet seedless grape with a sugar content more on par with wine grapes than table grapes. You can substitute green and red seedless in this recipe during the off season; however, expect a slightly different flavor profile due to the lower sugar content in these varieties. Chef Timothy presents this unique grape variety in two forms.
First, the Blush variety takes center stage as the base ingredient of a savory reduction Jus plated under the halibut. Chef Timothy’s Muscato Grape & Lavender Jus is something special. This sweet-savory reduction pairs wonderfully with the pistachio encrusted halibut. The Blush Muscato produces a unique shade of purple that immediately draws the diner’s eyes to the center of the plate. In fact the colors in this dish are as numerous as the multi-flavors it offers! The jus contrasts stunningly with the vibrant greens of both the pistachio powder and parsley oil. This is one of those visually dazzling plate presentations that evokes surprised delight that is fun to watch when it is served to guests.
I must share one valuable Jus cooking tip that, admittedly, it took this writer several attempts to perfect. A good “nappe” is a balancing act in viscosity. The sauce should stick to the back of a metal spoon without dripping; yet, when you pull your finger through it, the spoon will stay wiped clean for a few seconds before filling in again. The best advice I can give is to think thin, but not too thin.
Another great tip in this recipe is the trick of freezing the pistachios before putting them through a food processor. Freezing is the key to pistachio powder, as the cold prevents the oil in the pistachios from clumping the nut meat, allowing for a much finer grain of powder.
The Muscato grape also appears in its whole fresh form, as the chef uses both red and green varieties to infuse color and sweetness into the endive salad component of his dish. In his Muscato Grape Salad, Chef Timothy successfully combines the sweet grape with the tang of Belgian endive and dehydrated olives, as well as the creamy richness of roasted fingerlings and the mildly nutty taste of Hon Shimeji mushrooms. These very different flavors are held together by the chef’s selection of supporting herbs as well as the Parsley Oil. Take note that the parsley oil, which runs through the entire plate, providing a flavorful connection to each component will require an overnight strain, so plan ahead.
The chef’s advice on how to prepare the Belgian endive for grilling is another great culinary lesson that should be shared: “When you remove the core, do not cut all the way through it; leave a slight core to maintain integrity of the head while grilling. Also shave the bottom to get rid of any oxidized portion and thin out the leaves on each head to a size that will fill one-third of the plate with no overlap.”
When plating, think of this dish as three small-plate portions. The combination of flavors will vary with each forkful, depending on how the dish is approached. Chef Timothy skillfully floods the palate with an array of individual tastes that seem to take turns capturing attention with every bite. This is one of the tastiest dishes this writer has had the pleasure of preparing for this feature. The delicious result defies description but deserves applause; except that would mean putting down one’s fork! Enjoy.
Pistachio Crusted Halibut with Blush and Green Muscato Endive Salad
Serves 4Ingredients - Halibut
4 - 6 oz portions Alaskan Halibut (center cut)
8 oz. Shelled Raw Pistachios
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Place pistachios in plastic bag and put in freezer for 1 hour. Place frozen pistachios in food processor and pulse until a powder is formed. Put powdered nuts into a dish. Season both sides of halibut with Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes (fish will sweat, which will adhere the nuts to surface of fish). Place fish bone-side against pistachio powder and pat down to adhere to surface. Sauté for 4 minutes in a hot, non-stick pan with olive oil, nut side up. Then bake in a 325° preheated oven for 3 minutes or until cooked medium.Ingredients -- Grilled Endive
4 heads Belgian endive
3 Tbsp. White Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tbsp. White Soy Sauce
¼ tsp. Crushed Garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt & pepperPreparation
Split Belgian endive from root to stem end. Core endive, combine rest of ingredients and marinate endive halves for 15 minutes. Grill cut side down until grill marks appear and crosshatch. Flip over and grill until al dente.Ingredients -- Muscato Grape Salad
¼ lb. Blush Muscato Grapes (cut in half lengthwise)
¼ lb. Green Muscato Grapes
(cut in half lengthwise)
2 heads Belgian endive (leaves sliced obliquely)
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut into quarters lengthwise
1 pkg. Brown Hon Shimeji Mushrooms (option = canned Straw Mushrooms)
¼ bunch Italian Parsley Leaves
(reserve stems for sauce)
½ lb. Fingerling potatoes
3 springs fresh thyme
1 fresh Bay leaf
2 Tbsp. Fresh squeezed orange juice
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper, to tastePreparation
Soak olives in water for 30 minutes to remove some of the salt. Toss in very light coating of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and place onto hot sheet pan in 325°F oven to dry, stir after 10 minutes, and stir every 5 until dehydrated; should take about 30 minutes. Trim off the mushroom stems, toss in olive oil and salt and pepper and place on hot sheet pan in 325°F oven for 15 minutes, stir half way through cooking process until a nice golden brown. Toss fingerlings with olive oil, and salt and pepper, place in pan with 3 thyme sprigs and 1 fresh bay leaf and cover with aluminum foil and roast in 325°F oven for 15 minutes, then uncover and cook in oven for 10 minutes additionally until tender. Toss all ingredients together in mixing bowl.Ingredients -- Muscato Grape & Lavender
1 lb. Blush Muscato Grapes
½ cup Red Verjus
1 cup Veal Stock
½ tsp. Lavender
½ Shallot, diced
¼ Fresh Bay Leaf
6 Parsley stems
1 Tbsp. Olive OilPreparation
Sauté shallots in olive oil until translucent, then add grapes and blister skin. Add red Verjus and crush grapes during cooking process and reduce until almost dry. Add veal stock, bay leaf, lavender, parsley stems and reduce until a “nappe” consistency is achieved. Purée mixture in blender until smooth. Strain and set aside to let all air bubbles subside and the sauce turn darker in color.Ingredients -- Parsley Oil
½ bunch Italian Flat leaf Parsley (blanched in salted water, shock in ice water and squeeze dry) <4>
¼ bunch Flat Leaf parsley (washed and dried) <4>
¼ cup Vegetable OilPreparation
Place all ingredients in a blender and purée smooth. Add more vegetable oil if needed. Place purée in cheesecloth and strain overnight.PLATING
: Using a rectangular plate, drizzle the entire plate lightly with parsley oil. On left one-third of plate make an “X” with the grilled Belgian endive; one half interior face-down / crossed with other half, interior face-up. On right one-third of place Muscato-Endive Salad. Pool jus in center of plate and lay halibut in middle of pooled jus.