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February 21, 2007

Ravioli without borders, Part II: Liquid mango ravioli with coconut foam and toasted rice

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Inspiration is everywhere in Toronto.  The dish that inspired these mango spheres with coconut foam and toasted rice powder is a dessert Rachel and I have eaten countless times, Salad King's mango sticky rice.

Salad King is one of Toronto's most popular Thai restaurants.  Nestled just off Yonge Street, it's a popular hangout for student and office worker alike, who fill every last seat around Salad King's gleaming stainless steel cafeteria tables to devour some of the best cheap eats in town.  I'm partial to the panang curry and Thai basil noodles; Rachel reserves a special spot in her heart and stomach for green curry.

For years, we've finished our Salad King meals with our favourite dessert, mango sticky rice.  It's a charmingly simple, almost rustic dish: just some savoury steamed rice, sweetened coconut cream, and ripe mango, a perfect send-off before the brisk trip home on a cool night.

After eating this dish for the umpteenth time, I began to toy with the idea of deconstructing it.  It's not as easy as it sounds.  There are only so many ways to reconfigure rice, coconut milk, and mango.  As my interest in molecular gastronomy blossomed, my exposure to ever more ingenious ways to deconstruct flavours and dishes made reinterpreting the coconut and mango elements a less daunting task.  For the coconut I turned to my trusty iSi cream whipper, having already made a decadent coconut espuma for el Bulli's piña colada, although I adapted a different foam, which includes heavy cream, from El Bulli: 1998-2002 for this dish.

I knew I wanted to revisit spherification after my first experiment with liquid pea ravioli.  It's a technique that captures the imagination, though not necessarily the approval, of food lovers everywhere, and the explosion of flavour it provides is ideally suited to the brightness and sweetness of mango.  This time I even had the advantage of actually having el Bulli's recipe.

What I didn't have, however, were two key ingredients: sodium citrate and mango.  Obviously mango, which literally grows on trees, is easy to find, but the recipe calls for frozen mango puree, which is damn near impossible to find.  I had almost abandoned hope when help arrived in the form of Jenn Stone, the inspired chocolatier behind Toronto's legendary JS Bonbons.  Without her, this dish would have never happened.

As many of you may know, sodium alginate and calcium chloride are the two key ingredients in liquid ravioli.  Sometimes, however, a third player is necessary with acidic foods like mango.  A pH below four inhibits the formation of a skin, and no skin means mango goo, not ravioli.  Enter sodium citrate, which increases the pH of the mango and sodium alginate mixture, making ravioli possible with acidic ingredients.  When I first considered mango ravioli, this was a very difficult ingredient to find.  That is no longer the case.  I got my sodium citrate from L'Epicerie, though it is also available from Terra Spice Company.

Having settled on my coconut and mango elements, I still lacked a rice component to my dish, and no great idea had presented itself to me for months.  My eureka moment came, fittingly enough, while thumbing through my copy of David Thompson's, Thai Food, considered by many to be the definitive book on Thai cuisine in any language.  Rachel and I had made his chicken larp before -- a spicy and refreshing salad of finely minced meat wrapped in a lettuce leaf -- and we were both struck by the ground roasted rice powder that is used to both bind the meat and season the final dish.   It adds a distinctive toasted, almost popcorn-like fragrance that we both love.  Why it took me so long to realize this is the rice component I'd been searching for, I don't know, but it was finally time to assemble my dessert.

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The combination of mango, coconut, and toasted rice is ambrosial.  Thanks to a generous amount of heavy cream, the coconut foam is over the top -- luscious and rich.  Ripe mango is one of the brightest flavours I know, but what makes it so special is that its acidity is balanced by a heavy dose of natural sweetness.  The ground toasted rice is much more than a garnish, as it deepens and mellows the two-note intensity of the coconut foam and ripe mango, while adding its own unmistakable fragrance.  It's so good, Rachel and I found ourselves adding more and more powder every subsequent time we made this dessert.

Admittedly, pairing mango and coconut is not especially novel, even in the context of molecular gastronomy.  Neither is mimicking an egg, a visual conceit that is obvious to anyone who has ever seen an egg yolk, like Wylie Dufresne at WD-50 and Ferran Adria at el Bulli.  Tired cliché or not, I use it because it makes for a fun presentation.  When I served this dish to a couple of friends, it elicited an expression of disbelief and then a chuckle, especially after piercing the "yolk" and watching the mango erupt across the coconut foam and down the egg cup.

Reimagining an old favourite has been the best kind of learning experience.  I've made new connections around Toronto and practiced a challenging technique.  Best of all, I've gained a broader perspective on how ingredients interact, with the bonus of a cool new dish.  But I will always have a soft spot for the original. 

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Comments

McAuliflower

Ooooo! This is sooo ripe for an April Fools Day showing :)

that runny 'yolk' is quite splendid

bea at La tartine gourmande

Wow, this is quite something! I would have swore it was an egg! You are mastering this art, aren't you? It is splendid!

I too own this Thai book and was reminded that I have so far not cooked too many things because some ingredients are harder to find. But as a coincidence, I dug it out two nights ago to make a soup!

bea at La tartine gourmande

Wow, this is quite something! I would have swore it was an egg! You are mastering this art, aren't you? It is splendid!

I too own this Thai book and was reminded that I have so far not cooked too many things because some ingredients are harder to find. But as a coincidence, I dug it out two nights ago to make a soup!

Brilynn

I miss Salad King! I really like the golden tofu curry.

That presentation is awesome, I love it. It made me think of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry puts the pez dispenser on Elaine's leg and she's can't stop laughing at the piano recital... yeah, like that.

Jillian

This is so very cool. I love your egg cups.

Nicole

I love this!! I have a little whisk that matches your egg cup. I love it!

Ruth

Fabulous photos and a great concoction.

By the way, I too love Salad King - who doesn't once they've eaten there?

Freya

I could not spot the difference between this and a real egg and in fact was overly loud when I realised it was MANGO AND COCONUT! It looks so good and I love the egg cup too!

Jeanna

Great photos! I love both Mango and Coconut.

Monika Korngut

Great conconction. Amazing. And I love the presentation. I have these cups too, never realized how photogenic they can be!

All the best,

Monika Korngut

Susan from Food "Blogga"

True, coconut and mango may not be novel, but the marriage of the flavors is superb. Good choice on the whimsical presentation.

Y

Great idea with the toasted rice!

Helen

Don't tell Mr. Tartelette but I think I am in love with your egg...As always, I am really impressed!

Ari (Baking and Books)

When I first saw this photo I thought it was an egg for sure, but now that I know it's mango 'yolk' with coconut - cool!! I agree with McA, this would be such a great April Fools dish.

Pille

I like the fun set-up!!

loukoum°°°

Waouh! Amazing!
I already tried to do some mango liquide ravioli but it didn't work: I get mango ravioli but no LIQUIDE ravioli and it's strange because I just used sodium alginate and calcium chloride but no citrate... ?!
And in France it's more easy to find frozen mango puree... so I think I'll try again with this recipe.

Thanks a lot. Without you and your post about your liquid pea raviolis I would have never do some too.

Susan in Italy

Mango and coconut sticky rice is one of my favorite desserts. With toasted rice and lots of actual cream in your coconut, does you dish taste anything like the original or is it a whole different animal?

Helen

Hey there! ABout the danish recipe, I got so worried I took out the measuring spoons. 14 gr. of active dry yeast comes out to be 1Tb and 1 Tsp, which would be 1 1/2 of yeast. Hoepe it is clearer.

J

hi rob, i just love how you manage to el bulli-se virtually anything that has the good fortune to cross your plate ;) the humour of the presentation is out of this world too!

Ian

I must have walked by Salad King a hundred times and never noticed it was there. I will definitely have to check it out. Thanks!

BTW, did you get that egg cup at the St. Lawrence Market?

Elle

I love that this looks like soft boiled eggs!

You left a comment on another blog about Red Velvet cake being a chocolate and beet cake in the South. Have you seen a recipe? If so, could you e-amil it to clachman at ix dot netcom dot com? I'd be ever so grateful.

rob

McAuliflower, I think food with humour is completely underrated, so I like the way you're thinking.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Bea. You should no, however, that there's a lot of hit and miss creating a good ravioli. I can't wait to see your post about the Thai soup.

Brilynn, you mentioned Seinfeld, and a couple of my friends immediately caught on to your reference. I'm a little too slow for that, apparently.

Thanks, Jillian. It really is a wicked egg cup. I always chuckle looking at that ridiculous face.

Nicole, I never realized how much chicken-themed kitchenware is out there. I have to admit, I am a fan.

Ruth, Salad King is, in my opinion, easily one of the top cheap eats in Toronto.

Freya, I'm glad you were fooled. Your reaction is precisely what I was aiming for.

Thanks, Jeanna. Mango and coconut is a classic.

I'm glad you like the dish, Monika. I hope you take your egg cups out for a spin in the near future.

Susan, you can never really go wrong sticking with tried and true combinations, though updating them is a challenge faced by all cooks.

Thanks, Y.

Helen, your secret is safe with me.

Ari, each time I read about fooling another person, I become even happier about the result.

Pille, thank you.

Loukoum, je suis heureux d'avoir t'aidé avec tes raviolis de petit pois. Pour répondre à ta question, il faut utiliser de sodium citrate (je m'excuse, je ne connais pas le mot français) pour faire des raviolis avec des ingrédients acide.

Susan, this is different, I think. The coconut cream is noticeably fattier in both taste and texture. Also, the rice isn't really sweet at all; it's a very mellow toasted flavour. The mango is really the only consistent flavour. Beyond taste, of course, the texture is not even in the same ballpark.

Applying el Bulli techniques and ingredients is a fun way to play with a dish, J. It also presents some fun challenges. I'm glad you found humour in the presentation too.

Ian, Rachel got the egg cups at Kitchen Stuff Plus at Eglinton and Yonge. Before buying one, however, you must get yourself to Salad King.

Thanks, Elle. Are you sure I'm the person who commented on Red Velvet cake? Your comment is the first time of ever heard of it.

Linda, The Village Vegetable

this is absolutely adorable and the photography is absolute perfection!

Gourmet

Rob!!! You make me crazy!!! This is wonderful... ;-)

mr.ed

There's a Thai restaurant in our neighborhood that serves a desert of mango and sticky black (purple) rice. What ingredients are in with the rice I don't know, but it's sweet and yummy. I'm outa here for some now!

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