Course 4 - Squid cracker, hamachi, avocado

After a sandwich and a soup course, it's time for something crunchy in the menu. Puffed crackers with assorted toppings have become incredibly trendy, at least in my vein of San Francisco, and the possibilities are almost endless - you can make puffed crackers from rice, tapioca starch, or tapioca pearls, flavor them with shrimp, squid, or crab, and top with anything from beef tartare to ceviche. Most of the cracker dishes that I've seen pair their topping with a creamy puree or sauce, so each bite is simultaneously crunchy, salty, creamy, and rich from the main topping. For this dish I chose a cracker of cooked and dehydrated tapioca pearls dyed with squid ink, topped with a hamachi ceviche and paired with an avocado puree.

I served these crackers in a gorgeous bowl from Heath Ceramics in SF, which provides an interesting contrast as opposed to a pure white plate.

Prepare the puffed squid cracker:

There's no way to escape saying it - this recipe is a huge pain to make. Tapioca is sticky stuff that will glue itself to your pots and tools, and generally makes a goopy mess everywhere. However, the end result of all the cooking, dehydrating, and frying is a crunchy, salty puffed cracker dyed pure black that's unlike anything your guests may have seen before. Credit for this particular recipe goes to Cooking with Mama Mui on YouTube.

Ingredients

Makes 6-7 crackers

For the crackers:

590g water (3 cups)

90g tapioca pearls (1/2 cup)

9g squid ink (1 tsp)

Rice bran oil, for frying

For the cracker seasoning:

Kosher salt

MSG

Shichimi togarashi

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 225F.
  2. Place the tapioca pearls and water into a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Transfer the cooked tapioca to a strainer and rinse well while agitating under running water. Then rinse it again. Seriously, rinse the crap out of it - you want to get rid of all the starchy gluey goop. Keep agitating the pearls and press them against the strainer with a spatula. Don't worry - the good stuff will stay in the strainer.
  4. Once you have a mass of well-drained pearls, transfer them to a bowl and combine with the squid ink. Mix well.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the tapioca squid ink mixture onto the parchment paper, spreading thinly and evenly with a palette knife or spatula. This can be a pretty arduous task, as the tapioca is sticky as all hell and prone to clumping. Be patient and you will be rewarded.
  6. Dehydrate the mixture in the oven until dry and not tacky to the touch, about four hours (check at three and half hours and periodically after). Remove and let cool. If needed, you can leave the dehydrated chip in the fridge overnight and fry when needed without a substantial loss in quality.
  7. When ready to serve, prepare about an inch of rice bran oil in a pot for frying to 375F. Break the dehydrated chip into roughly 6" x 4" pieces; exact dimensions and edges are not terribly important, it's okay and sort of rustic for each chip to be slightly unique. Make sure your pot is big enough for your chips, as they expand after frying.
  8. Prepare your seasonings of choice for the chips - I used equal parts salt, MSG, and shichimi togarashi.
  9. Fry each chip individually in the oil; it should take just a few seconds before the chip puffs up and is done frying. Remove to a paper towel and immediately season generously. Flip and gently tap to dislodge excess seasoning.
  10. Use immediately, or reserve until needed.

Prepare the avocado puree:

Avocados make for an incredibly creamy and luscious puree, a brilliant contrast against the crispy cracker and tender ceviche. This is my barely-modified take on the recipe from ChefSteps. The secret ingredient here is sodium bisulfite, which is used in a very small concentration to prevent oxidation responsible for browning, keeping the puree a beautiful bright green. I bought my sodium bisulfite (and many other modernist ingredients) from Modernist Pantry, and it came attached with a warning not to exceed 1.25% concentration by weight to avoid the possibility of an allergic reaction in some individuals. Not to worry - we're using a scant 0.1% by weight relative to the avocados.

One important note: I would not attempt this recipe unless you have a relatively powerful blender such as a Vitamix. The ChefSteps recipe suggests starting with 20g of olive oil, which I found was woefully inadequate, even with my Vitamix; I could not get the contents to take and blend properly without adding a bunch more oil, and even then it was a struggle. I recommend starting with 60g of oil here and liberally adding more until you reach the consistency you'd like. My other modification is the addition of the rice vinegar - everything could use some acid to perk it up.

Ingredients

Makes 2 cups (you will have extra, but it is difficult to make less)

627g avoacdo (3 whole)

60g olive oil, plus more as needed

4g kosher salt

0.63g sodium bisulfite

Rice vinegar

Directions

  1. Halve the avocados, remove the pits, make crosshatches with a knife and remove the flesh with a spoon.
  2. Add the oil, avocado flesh, kosher salt, and sodium bisulfite to a blender and blend very thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You may need to press the ingredients down with a tamper or scrape the sides with a spatula periodically; add additional olive oil as necessary.
  3. Season to taste with the rice vinegar and additional salt.
  4. Pass through a fine mesh strainer, and transfer to a squeeze bottle. If you use a funnel, it will take approximately a year to pass the puree through; try spooning directly in with a small spoon. Chill until needed.

Prepare the hamachi ceviche:

Ceviche is a nice-sounding name for this simple prep of raw fish with citrus juice, salt, and minced onions. I chose a nice-looking hamachi filet from my local Japanese market the day of serving, but there's plenty of leeway on the type of fish depending on what's available to you. Get the best-quality fish suitable for raw consumption* that you can, and things will work out fine.

*A note on consumption of raw fish: "sushi-grade" is an unregulated term in the US and does not actually imply anything about the fish. Fish to be consumed raw needs to have been properly frozen and stored to kill parasites - don't eat fish raw unless you trust the sourcing and handling of your market or purveyor.

Ingredients

For 4 servings.

1 hamachi filet, suitable for raw consumption

1 red pearl onion

Lemon juice

Fish sauce

Directions

  1. Peel and finely mince the red pearl onion; set aside.
  2. Cut the hamachi filet into slices, and then dice about a half-inch to a side.
  3. Mix the hamachi dice and minced pearl onion; season with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a few drops of fish sauce, to taste. Set aside.

To assemble:

Ingredients

For 4 servings.

4 puffed squid crackers

Avocado puree

Hamachi ceviche

Daikon sprouts and borage for garnish, or other greens/flowers

Directions

  1. Place some of the hamachi ceviche in the nooks and crannies of each cracker.
  2. Pipe 5 dots of avocado puree around the cracker and between the fish - you can be generous with it.
  3. Garnish with the daikon sprouts and borage flower. Serve immediately.

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