Fourme d'Ambert Parfait on Sauternes Jelly
While any new cookbook causes a considerable amount of excitement around here, few follow up that tingly sensation of new-book euphoria with one of pride. Well, there was that one of course, but in terms of the weighty-hardback, luscious-photo and impressive-coffee-table-adornment kind of pride, the book which arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago from Singapore was a first. Of course my feelings may have had more than a little to do with the fact that I happen to know two of the marvellous people that worked on it. But more on that in a minute.
Most of you who are regular foodblog readers will probably already be familiar with the name Justin Quek. He has, after all, been taking the blog world by storm thanks to the recent release of his first book, Justin Quek: Passion and Inspiration. It didn't take me more than a few pages to understand what all the fuss is about. Justin Quek, who currently lives and cooks in Taipei but originally hails from Singapore, draws upon years of training in top kitchens across Europe and Asia to create his signature cuisine. I've been trying to think of a good analogy for it, and so far the best I can come up with is what you might find on your plate if you hooked up Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller and Chen Kenichi to a mad scientist's brain-scrambler and then asked them to cook you dinner; chances are you'd get something creative, classic, exotic, a little bit playful and of course mindblowingly delicious. Even more amazing is how well Justin pulled things off in this book, since there is always a danger that books by restaurant chefs of this caliber will be beyond the capabilities or means of the home cook. Justin, however, negotiates this potentially tricky territory beautifully; while many of the dishes do feature expensive luxuries such as caviar, truffles and foie gras, there are just as many recipes that rely on everyday ingredients imaginatively put together: roasted duck with celery root puree and honey & raspberry vinegar sauce; braised pork belly with oriental spices and port wine; salad of grilled watermelon and roasted cherry tomatoes. The other thing that makes this book stand out, and which to me is nearly as important in a cookbook as the recipes themselves, is how deeply personal it is. Instead of the clinical, characterless books often written by chefs just interested in showing the world how they do what they do, Justin's book delves into why he does what he does, with delightful stories of his childhood, culinary training and early professional life, and profiles of some of the people who have influenced him along the way. It's a book as good to curl up and read as it is to cook from (or just salivate over - which I can't help but do with such gorgeous photos!).
But now for the best part. Justin wasn't helped in this endeavor by some anonymous cadre of ghostwriters and editors, but by two of the blogosphere's most famous names: Tan Su-Lyn, the book's highly talented co-author, and her husband, Aun Koh - better known to us all as Chubby Hubby - who helped with many of the logistical aspects of the book. This wonder couple never ceases to amaze, do they?
Unfortunately the book is not yet available in Europe or North America, and although I feel a tiny bit guilty for recommending a book so highly that most people will not be able to get their hands on right away, hopefully I've helped to whet your appetite for the day it does hit your local bookstore. And if it doesn't, well, perhaps Aun and Su-Lyn won't mind throwing a sleeping bag on their floor for anyone who wants to fly into Singapore for a night to pick up a copy! ;)
Fourme d'Ambert Parfait on Sauternes Jelly
Source: Adapted from Justin Quek: Passion and Inspiration
Serves: Justin says 6, but unless you're serving this as part of a large tasting menu, I would say 3 or 4. To be safe, I doubled everything.
Notes: This lovely little recipe appears in Justin's 'cheese course' chapter, and shows how a couple of carefully-chosen ingredients and a little imaginative flair can transform something utterly simple into something worthy of the most elegant meal. Although I stuck to Justin's recommended cheese and wine for this dish (the French blue cheese Fourme d'Ambert and a luscious young Sauternes), I would imagine that you could have equally delicious results substituting another creamy, mild blue cheese (perhaps dolcelatte or Saint Agur) and any dessert wine you have on hand (Muscat comes to mind, or even an icewine).
1 gelatine leaf
20 grams (just under 1 oz) Fourme d'Ambert cheese
100ml (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoons) whipping cream
1 slice of white sandwich bread or brioche
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (if using sandwich bread)
For Sauternes jelly:
150ml (scant 2/3 cup) Sauternes
10 grams (1 tablespoon) sugar
1 gelatine leaf
8 seedless grapes, sliced
arugula, for garnish (optional)
Make the parfait ahead of time. Soak the gelatine leaf in cold water and set it aside. Place the cheese and 1 tablespoon of the whipping cream in a bowl and whisk over a bain marie for 2 minutes, or until the mixture is well blended (I melted them together in the microwave). Remove the gelatine leaf from the ice water and squeeze it dry before mixing it into the cheese and cream mixture. Whisk until dissolved, and allow to cool.
Whisk the remaining cream until soft peaks form. Fold it into the cheese mixture and transfer to a container. Refrigerate for 3 hours, or until set.
Next, make the Sauternes jelly. Soak the gelatine leaf in cold water and set it aside. Bring the sugar and Sauternes to a boil in a saucepan. Add the grapes and simmer for 10 minutes (I skipped this step, instead adding the grapes as a garnish). Remove the gelatine leaf from the water and squeeze dry before stirring it into the wine mixture. Spoon a thin layer into the bottoms of 4 soup plates and refrigerate to set.
Dice the sandwich bread and sauté it in the butter until golden (since I was using brioche, I skipped the sautéing and toasted slices of it instead). To assemble the dish, dip a dessert spoon in some water and use it to shape a quenelle of the parfait. Place one quenelle in each bowl atop the jelly, and top with the sautéed bread or toasted brioche and the sliced grapes (if you've left them out of the jelly).