This is a recipe that I have meant to get down to for ages now. It is of course the signature dish at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and features in the book Historic Heston, the much ordered Meat Fruit. The Meat Fruit shares similarities with the Wassailing dish as a chicken liver and foie gras parfait is encased in a mandarin gel and takes on the appearance of a mandarin. Clever and, if reviews are to be believed, tasty.
The recipe starts by taking shallots, garlic and thyme and a selection of alcohols which you are meant to marinate for 24 hours. I didn't have 24 hours so I placed all the ingredients in a pan and reduced until dry, what's left is an intense flavour of the mixture to add flavour to the parfait. Heston then advises you to place chicken livers, alcohol reduction and foie gras in one sous-vide bag, then eggs and butter in separate bags so using three bags in total, something which I couldn't see the point of. So with that in mind I bunged everything into the one bag, sealed it and bought it to 50C and guess what? When blended it worked like a charm. I'd definitely recommend this method.
The parfait mix is sieved and then placed into a terrine which has been heating in the oven at 100C. Heston then instructs you to place the parfait in a bain marie and cover with foil. I covered the parfait instead of the whole tray as it would be too much of a pain. The parfait then bakes for an hour.
I was a little worried when the parfait came out. It took around 50 minutes to get to 64C instead of an hour so it's worth checking before the hour mark. The appearance had me worried as the top seemed very brown and oxidised but after scraping a touch of it back it revealed a pink, set parfait light as a feather. Very impressive.
You can buy mandarin puree online but never one to take the easy route I decided to make my own. Using a part-recipe from Phil Howard at The Square for orange puree I scored the mandarins a few times and boiled 7 times with water heated from cold to boiling, draining after each stage. It's a fair while in process but easier and cheaper than buying puree online.
|Herb oil and final parfait steps|
The mandarin's then get blitzed in the blender and sieved to give a smooth puree, incidentally 600g of mandarin's got me 400g of puree. After that I set about combining olive oil, garlic, rosemary and thyme to sit in the fridge making the flavoured oil that's brushed onto the toasted bread.
Day two began with preparing the moulds for the parfait spheres. Taking the brown oxidised layer off the parfait revealed a beautiful pink pate beneath with a light texture but rich flavour, to be expected I guess with 300g butter and 150g of foie gras. The remaining parfait is scooped into half-moon moulds and frozen until firm.
It's probably best to leave your parfaits in the freezer for longer than the hour I left them in there for. Thinking my super-fast freezing freezer would have these bad boys set in no time, the parfaits were a little soft and delicate but just frozen enough when I took them out. On the plus side there was no need for a blowtorch as the halves came together effortlessly. Wrapped in cling film with a large cocktail stick through the centre to aid with the dipping process later it's back in the freezer for a little longer than an hour this time....
The mandarin jelly is up next with a few critical stages attached. I placed the mandarin puree in a pan and heated to 50C. An obscene amount of gelatine is added to the mix (39g I used, 3 packs!) and a portion of this mixture is infused with mandarin essential oil (I used orange essential oil) and paprika extract, or in my case, orange food colouring. I also added a touch of sugar to the puree as it had quite an overpowering bitter taste.
|Mandarin gel and dipping stage|
In the meantime I began making the bread to accompany the dish. This is completely up to you but Blumenthal recommends a decent sourdough. I fancied ciabatta so set about making one of the wettest dough's known to man, good job it makes the tastiest bread.
Once shaped its time to bake the ciabatta for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and crisp. A good indicator that your ciabatta is ready should be when the bottom is tapped (oi oi!) there should be a hollow sound. Don't be tempted to slice straight into it, let it cool to warm as the bread still goes on cooking while resting.
The time then came to dip the parfaits in the jelly, now hovering around 30C but setting around the edges. I blitzed the mixture with a hand blender (standard practice for fluid gel's at The Fat Duck) to ensure the smoothness of the gel. Amending gaps within the parfait spheres is easy as the parfait melts to the touch and ensures the round shape of what will become 'fruit'. I dipped each parfait in the jelly and placed in a polystyrene square to set. What follows is the weirdest thing, the gel set in no time (as the book suggests) but you don't realise until you touch it, its incredible, shiny and the smell of the essential oil makes it look like a convincing impersonation of an orange/mandarin. These then go into the fridge for 6 hours to de-frost the parfait before serving.
|Prepared Meat Fruit|
All that remains is to grill the bread after brushing with the herb oil and finish the presentation of the mandarins. I pressed my thumb into the top to create a spookily realistic indent when topped with a stripped thyme stalk looked like a fruit picked straight off the tree, this was starting to wow me. The toasted bread on the side completes the dish.
The dish blew me away visually, it'd be a great trick to play on someone who's a keen fruit bowl user. As far as pate and toast goes this is in the premier league, is it possible to go higher than this? I doubt it. The parfait was soft, light but incredibly rich, if you do decide to make this I would go easy on the salt, 18g seems far too much. The skin was remarkably similar to a mandarin one with incredible flavour and aroma from the essential oil. The oil on the fresh ciabatta toasts adds flavour and completes the dish. In concept it's simple but there is a lot of it, I'd be asking for a break before my main course if I ordered this. Saying that though I'd enjoy every last bit of it.