Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fruit & Vegetable Compression

Over the past few years, several cookbooks have hit the shelves detailing the techniques of "sous-vide" cookery. Although this is a huge topic of it's own, I want to address one of the simplest techniques that can be applied using a vacuum sealing machine: compression. This is not really an accurate term to describe what happens, but for the sake of familiarity, I will address it as such. Certain vegetables, like cucumber and tomato, and certain fruits, like watermelon and apple, are very porous, with thousands of hollow little cellulosic bubbles of air. Their textures are light and sometimes crisp. The compression technique simply employs vacuum sealing these foods with a flavored liquid. No cooking is required, just vacuum sealing! What happens inside is not really compression. All the air in those porous cell walls is EVACUATED from the fruit and the bag by the vacuum created. The liquid in the bag then floods into these cells and creates an entirely new texture; an opaque persimmon sealed with lime and salt becomes translucent; a crisp slice of watermelon sealed with olive oil becomes dense and substantial.
This first picture shows a very interesting crab apple from Queener Fruit Farm in Scio, Oregon. It is enormous in size, larger than a red delicious apple, with a russet skin and a beautiful, marbled red and white flesh. Tommie & Peter say it is called the Russian Giant Crab. It's not terribly delicious in the raw, but it does maintain it's beautiful color when cooked. That got us to thinking about how we might transform it into something delicious.
We peeled the crab apple and sealed it in a bag with some of Tommie's apple cider, lemon juice and salt. After about 20 minutes, all of the once porous cells have filled with liquid. The once light, crisp and bland flesh is now bright, succulent and flavorful. Now, we can use it to create interesting contrasts of texture and flavor to garnish duck breast with buckwheat noodles and porcini. The last picture shows the garnishing ingredients of Spitzenburg apple, curled green onion, calendula, and compressed crab apple with red currant preserves.

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