October 6, 2011
Mulberries and Mulling it Over
My Dad has a big mulberry tree in his goat pen. It's kept nicely trimmed from the ground up by the goats, but when the fruit are ripe, it's a race to beat the parrots to them each day.
I was just talking to my sister about mulberries this morning. I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't find any here at home, when I stumbled across some punnets at our local markets. Talk about cooking karma!
I snaffled some straight away... then wondered what on earth to do with them.
I didn't want to go broke buying enough to make jam or a pie, so looked around for inspiration.
As I let my eye roam over the fresh spring goodies, I noticed there were shades of purple everywhere! Huge purple cabbages with crinkly leaves, eggplants of all different shapes and sizes, artichokes with dusky edges, tall spears of asparagus with tips of green and mauve, and even pure purple potatoes!
It was a sign.
No sweet berry recipe this time, instead a Mauve Mulberry Medley of savoriness in a Marvellous sauce.
Mulberries aren't as sweet as blackberries, or quite as earthy in their flavour. They have a slight mild acidity that's nice for a change, but feel free to use blackberries if you can't get hold of any mulberries.
I want to play with this today. It's got a few techniques, and is quite cheffy, so please indulge me as I get it out my system for a while. I'll explain out the sauce , but I'm just going to give the basic outline for the rest of the plate. You should be able to make a puree and cook a steak, and if you don't- well just come along for the ride instead!
For veggies I chose those pretty little asparagus spears, and some gorgeous little baby artichokes.
I needed to ground the dish a little on the plate, usually I'd go a starch, but thought the creaminess of a cauliflower puree would work just as well.
The crowning glory of cheffiness for this dish is going to be purple potato crisps. Sticking up on top as more of a garnish than anything else, just 'cause they're pretty and purple too.
I needed to pick a protein first, I could have gone with venison or kangaroo, but opted instead for a nice piece of fillet steak. I picked a nice big piece, but for smaller portions I cut the meat in two and tied it with string to keep a nice round shape.
Steak should never be cooked straight from the fridge. It needs to come up to about room temperature first, it will cook more evenly as the heat penetrates the steak better when it doesn't have a freezing cold core. Even if you like your steak rare you don't want it seared on the outside, but cold in the middle. The fibres are nice and relaxed as well, not all tight, and I find the juices settle better during the resting time before serving.
Rub your room temperature steak with some high-smoke-point oil and season well with salt. Don't use olive oil for frying as it smokes really quickly, and I want a good sear.
Have a fry pan heating, you want it nice and hot. Cast iron is great for this, whether a griddle pan or not, or a metal pan that can go in the oven is good if you like your steak more well done. The reason for this is so you can pop the steak in the oven to keep cooking through gently once you've got a nice crust going over the flame. Cook steak until done to your liking. Don't forget to take off the string- I left it on BigJ's steak, and he had to pull it out of his mouth- a real restaurant NoNo!
Make a cauliflower puree by steaming it so it goes nice and soft, but not soggy. Puree really well with cream, and season with salt and white pepper to avoid little black flecks spoiling the look.It should be lovely and silky smooth.
The lovely fresh asparagus won't take much cooking at all. We want a nice crunch not flaccid limp veggies.
They don't need to be mucked around with much, just give them a basic clean up by pulling off the outer leaves, cutting off the top third, them steam them with the asparagus until softened.
Peel the purple potatoes and slice very, very thinly. A mandolin is great for this and nice and quick too. Fry them in about an inch of oil until nice an d crispy just like a 'real' potato crisp. Pull them out, season with salt, and drain on a rack.
Now the Mulberry sauce.
Start with 1 1/2 cups of good quality beef stock and reduce it down by about a quarter by boiling.
Add in a chopped shallot, 1/2 cup of port, a splash of balsamic vinegar -I just happen to have some Mulberry balsamic sitting in my pantry!, a good handful of mulberries, and reduce down by another third or so, squishing the berries now and then to release the juices.
Once the sauce is nice a syrupy, strain trough a fine sieve, mashing down to extract all the mulberry flavour. Put it back in a clean saucepan and taste for seasoning.
It should be tart but slightly sweet, with some acidity to it as well. If the flavour needs a bit of a lift, you could stir through a teaspoon of cranberry or redcurrant jelly to add a bit more sweetness.
Put it back on the heat and pop in a good spoonful of butter.
Stir or whisk through thoroughly to make the sauce rich and thicken it slightly. Add in a few more mulberries whole, we don't want to really cook them, but just heat through gently and keep their shape. Keep warm on a low heat.
OK. After all that, we're ready to plate up at last!
Put a puddle of puree in the centre of your plate/ bowl. We want it to be a bit wider than the size of the steak.
Place the steak on top gently, nestling it into the cauliflower.
Ring the steak with the asparagus spears or balance the asparagus leaning across the steak at an angle- very artistic.
Place the artichokes to the side
Drizzle the sauce over the steak, or around it, just be sure not to swamp the plate. The creamy cauliflower will be spoiled if it's covered.
Get your purple potato chips and stand them on top of the steak as a garnish. Use the sauce to help stick them on.
Get the whole mulberries from the sauce and place them with or between the chips for the final flourish of fanciness.
Whew! Thanks for sticking with me so far.
In a commercial kitchen, all this would be prepped far in advance. The steak would be ready trimmed and tied, the veggies would be prepped and pre-blanched, the chips would be ready to pop in the oil last minute, and the sauce would be ready to just finish off with the butter and whole berries while the steak finished cooking.
Doing it all from scratch is a lot of work, and I'll be suitably impressed if you're brave enough to go through with it all at once. It only took me about 1/2 an hour from start to finish, not bad for a meal for three- but then, I'm used to the fiddly bits!
All that's left now is to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour. I hope you enjoy it, and decide it was all worth while after all.
So Dear Readers, do you like mulberries,
and would you use them for savoury or sweet?