Sure, we have to make tough calls in the Food section.
How often do folks want to read about craft coffee brewing? Whom should we invite to our Nutella taste test? How many times should we tweak the Grilled Lobster Tails With Zesty Butter — purely for the sake of our readers?
About those recipes: We try to feature the ones our readers will want to make. Dishes that don’t measure up might be delicious and inventive, but there’s a hitch. Ingredients can be hard to source or out of season, or there’s a certain element of risk involved. The method can call for uncommon equipment or a whole lot of time and effort.
Or all of the above, which is where the spinning arrow fell in the matter of Daniel Giusti’s potato and onion gratin. He’s the former Washingtonian who’s at the top of his game as chef de cuisine at Noma in Copenhagen, profiled by Tim Carman in this week’s section.
As Tim reports, Noma chefs execute technique and plates that are unique and exquisite. (Search the article for “lumpfish sperm.”) But as we found out when Noma head chef Rene Redzepi visited Washington in December, a Noma-inspired creation can be replicated in just about any home cook’s kitchen. Check out the Charred Onions in Cheese Sauce that Redzepi came up with for us.
Giusti graciously offered a recipe to accompany his story, but we passed on it for some of the reasons mentioned above. Was it the right call? Certainly there are Food section readers who would have tucked into it with the appetite of a Danish brown bear.
So here it is. As soon as we get our hands on the pine branches, we’ll test it, edit it, photograph it and report back.
Gratin of New Potatoes and Spring Onions
250 mL filtered water
10 g dried kombu seaweed
Potatoes and Onions
6 potatoes (any variety of new potatoes, golf-ball sized)
10 fresh spring onions (golf-ball sized)
Pine branches (16 hand-sized pine branches, 8 in each package)
130g fresh bread, crust removed (white crusty bread, like sourdough bread)
25g roasted dried kombu seaweed
50g softened, unsalted butter
Combine dried kombu seaweed and water in a pot and cook at 60 C for 1 hr (using a thermometer, make sure that the temperature does not exceed 60 degrees as it will change the flavor). Take off heat, let sit for 15 minutes, then strain and let cool.
Potatoes and Onions
Soak pine branches for two hours in cold water (helps provide additional smoke). Shake off excess water.
Poke small holes in small/medium size potatoes and onions, keeping them separate. Lay out a large piece of foil, placing a few pine branches down to create one consistent layer. Place the potatoes in a single layer on top of the pine, and then repeat with a layer of pine branches on top (you should have three layers: two layers of pine branches with a single layer of potatoes in the midde). Gather the foil around the pine and potatoes, gathering and closing at the top to make a small package, making sure not to wrap too tightly, so there is space for smoke to billow within the foil package. Repeat with onions.
Place the foil packages directly onto the hot coals of a barbeque. Let sit until you see smoke from the packages and hear a popping sound, that will come from the pine as it chars. Keep the foil packages on the coils for about 20 seconds longer, before removing from the coals. Place the grate on top of the grill, and place the foil packages over the grate of a medium heat barbeque, and continue to cook until fork-tender (approximately 15-25 minutes). Potatoes and onions will likely cook within the same amount of time, depending on size.
Remove from barbecue, and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle. Using a pairing knife, take all skin and/or charred parts of both potatoes and onions. Discard pine, and charred skins.
Cut potatoes into ¼ inch slices and onions into quarters (wedges, lengthwise).
Roast the dried kombu seaweed at 165 C for 45 minutes.
Take fresh bread (crust removed) and the roasted dried kombu seaweed and pulse in a food processor until the texture is of standard coarse bread crumbs
Take the breadcrumb mixture, and fold in softened butter until fully incorporated. Set aside, refrigerate
Assemble cut onions and potatoes into a casserole dish in a single layer. Pour in the dashi so that it comes to about a third the height of the vegetables. Lightly season with salt (half the amount you would typically add). Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top. Bake in the oven at 145 C for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Allow to cool slightly, and serve warm.