10 Mar 2017
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.
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.
Makes 6-7 crackers
590g water (3 cups)
90g tapioca pearls (1/2 cup)
9g squid ink (1 tsp)
Rice bran oil, for frying
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.
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
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.
For 4 servings.
1 hamachi filet, suitable for raw consumption
1 red pearl onion
For 4 servings.
4 puffed squid crackers
Daikon sprouts and borage for garnish, or other greens/flowers