December 29, 2008

Chef Challenge III: Morels

A couple weeks ago when Dad got his annual deer I brought the liver into work with me for Chef who made staff meal out of it. What started out as a one time thing quickly snowballed into what I hope is a regular event whereby I bring in a ‘secret ingredient’ and Chef has to create something out of it. In the second week I followed up on the venison theme and brought in a couple chops. This past week, in an effort to bring in something other than venison, (although I could have continued that one for a while, we’ve got lots of it in the freezer) I brought in morels. They were picked and dried this past Spring in my backyard, the same place Dad got the deer. I have an interesting backyard.

Whereas venison can logically be made into an entrée since most entrées are based around a protein, it takes a little more effort to turn morels into the star of a dish. Not that they don’t deserve it though, I love morels. And although their flavour is wonderfully earthy, I’m sure part of my love for morels comes from childhood memories of hunting for them with my parents. We would go to the same spots year after year and Dad and I would always have to first acquire the perfect ‘morel stick’ to help us find the well camouflaged mushrooms. Once I found a morel I would call out to Dad to come see it and he would hand me his smooth silver pocket knife to cut the morel off at the base. I would then cup the morel in my hands and bring it up to my face to take a deep breath, convinced that once I had the scent of the morel, I could find more of them. But I digress, back to the challenge!

The finished dish consisted of a piece of halibut topped with diced morels and bacon, rolled up in thinly sliced beet painted potatoes, (beet powder and veg stock were combined to create the paint) cooked in duck fat, served with a morel cream sauce and garnished with a morel tuille and morel jelly. In order to make sure the morel featured prominently, Chef used it in four different ways:

1- Morel Jelly: Created by steeping morels in water and using the resulting liquid along with some veal stock, sherry and agar agar to create a firm morel jelly which could then be cut into cubes and used as plate garnish as well as in the morel cream sauce.

2- Morel Cream Sauce: A combination consisting mainly of morels, fennel, onions, cream and the above mentioned morel jelly.

3- Morel and Bacon filling: A small dice of morels and bacon, used to top the halibut before it was wrapped in the potatoes.

4- Morel Tuille: To appease my need to bake Chef demonstrated how tuilles could be used in the savoury world. Finely chopped morels peppered a wavy tuille, made by using a template.

I can easily say it’s the first time I’vc had morels used in so many different ways all on one plate. I’m pretty lucky to be working in a place where the Chef is willing to take the time to teach me new things. You might even go so far as to say he likes to teach, but if you ask him, he’ll probably deny it. He wouldn’t want anyone to think he’s becoming a softie in his old age. He’s got to act tough if only to keep the dishwashers fearful that they might lose their jobs at any moment. Chef can keep up the act as long as he wants provided he continues to teach me new things because if he’s willing to teach, I’m keen to learn. My only concern is that Chef will make good on his word to bring in a secret ingredient for me to deal with. As I’ve said before, indecision reigns supreme with me and being forced to think up a dish on the spot is never an easy task. It may very well borderline on torture, which I probably shouldn’t admit since last time I posted about not liking something, (namely shucking oysters) I found myself staring at a case of them the next day…


8 comments:

Baking Soda said...

This is so elegant! What a wonderful composition! (Interesting backyard for sure...)

Mrs. L said...

Wow, that looks amazing! And I love all the ways the chef used the morels. I'd only be able to do one thing...eat them.

Maria said...

Morels grew wild where I grew up. We used to go mushroom hunting every spring. It was so fun. I miss those days!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I love the look of those beet-painted potatoes, and would love to know more about that.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Interesting backyard? There's an understatement!
That is an incredible plate of morels!
Happy New Year!!

Madam Chow said...

I love your posts, and the morel tuiles are giving me all sorts of ideas. All I have in my backyard right now are squirrels!

Imafoodblog said...

This sounds like it belongs on Iron Chef. The morel jelly is pretty cool, I would like to try to make that. Thanks for sharing!

Seattle Tall Poppy said...

Holy hell! That dish is awesome. I'm so glad you wrote about it...can't wait to try some of these components.