I’m not the world’s biggest dessert eater, but lately I’ve been thinking about ice cream sundaes whenever I have a craving for sweets, probably because the excessive combination of ice cream, sauce, and crunchy bits is guaranteed to deliver the goods if only in terms of quantity and sugar. During a recent dinner at Alder, I finished my meal with a delicious carrot cake sundae (even though I don’t usually like carrot cake or white chocolate). This reminded me how great a sundae can be when it’s well done, which it rarely is. Indeed, it seems that in most restaurants one always ends up with either cheap or poorly formulated ice cream, Hershey’s-like syrup, or inadequate glassware.
So of course, this means it’s time for me to come up with my own Eastern Bloc version. I already had the plombir ice cream and the apricot sauce to get started, but I needed something crunchy. And chocolate. And more Food-Perestroika-worthy flavors! Baklava seemed like the perfect solution: it’s not something you’d expect in a sundae, it’s made with honey just like my plombir, and like the apricots it can be be found in the Caucasus (where there aren’t enough desserts in my opinion). For the chocolate sauce, I opted for a dark chocolate and black tea combination, on top of whipped cream laced with more honey. Honey, nuts, apricot, chocolate, black tea: the result is sweet, sour, bitter, not too alien yet not totally hackneyed, and quite addictive.
I’ve recently posted the last installment of my Azerbaijan Adventures, so it’s time to say farewell to the Caucasus (for the time being, at least), and look back at all I have distilled over the past three years.
Like a goat jumping over the snowy peaks of the Caucasus, I have traveled through Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and their respective renegade regions. In writing about my journeys, I intentionally left aside the most-traveled routes to focus on more extreme tourism, food, and cooking. I called them Adventures, although your humble main protagonists spent more time changing flat tires, dealing with hard-looking and/or corrupt customs officers, asking their way around in the middle of nowhere, and drinking local moonshine, than accomplishing any kind of crazy exploits.
A few month ago, I was announcing that this is a Russian food blog — and it worked. But, as you’ve certainly noticed by now, this is more than that. For example, this is also a Georgian food blog. The Georgia we’re talking about here is the Republic of Georgia of course, in the Caucasus; and I dedicated many posts to its food, its dishes, its cooking and its cuisine.
Seriously, Google, look at the top results when one queries “Georgian food blog”! The first one is an excellent blog that I encourage everyone to read (it’s in my blogroll), but it’s essentially about Estonian cuisine. The third one consists of 50 or so Georgian recipes, all posted in December 2007 (five years ago); it’s interesting, but it’s not exactly a blog. Which brings us to the second one, a single picture from the aforementioned recipes, re-posted on some other site; this certainly wins the Palme d’Or for lamest search result. And so on…
Like many parts of the animal not normally used in modern Western restaurants, lamb tongues are common in the Caucasus. You can find boiled tongues on the menu at Apsheron in Sheepshead Bay. This small and somewhat scarce meat cut owes its relative popularity to its pronounced lamb flavor and its unique texture that melts in your mouth. Nevertheless, it still suffers from a serious appearance problem: most people are not inclined to put into their mouth a tongue that does not belong to, say, their significant other.
This is where this recipe saves the day. Braising the tongues preserves their texture and flavor, but shredding them and reshaping them into a log makes diners forget what part they’re eating.
In order to bind the reshaped meat, I use transglutaminase, a “meat glue” that can be purchased here (it’s usually sold in large bags, but all you’ll ever need is a few tablespoons). However, you should be able to obtain a similar result with a beaten egg.
Braised lamb tongues
Yields 2 servings
1 lb lamb tongues (about 6 tongues)
5 oz fennel, medium dice
5 oz carrots, medium dice
5 oz zucchini, medium dice
ground black pepper
2 thyme sprigs
1 small rosemary sprig
1 cup white wine
3 cups lamb stock (or 4 cups water and 1 lb roasted lamb bones)
1/2 oz butter
1 tsp transglutaminase
Blanch the lamb tongues in salted boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and reserve.
In a pot, sauté the fennel, carrots and zucchini in olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. Add the pepper, thyme, rosemary, cloves and white wine, and cook until reduced by half. Add the lamb tongues and enough lamb stock to cover them, then bring to a simmer over high heat. Transfer the pot to a 200 F oven, and cook for about 3 hours, until the tongues are very tender. Let cool for 30 minutes.
Take the tongues out of the pot and reserve. Strain the cooking liquid, transfer to a saucepan and reduce over high heat to about 3/4 cup, so that it coats the back of a spoon. Whisk in the butter and let cool.
Peel the lamb tongues and shred them between your fingers into a bowl. Mix in the transglutaminase, then 2/3 of the reduced liquid. Transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap and roll tightly into a log, about 6″ long. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Reserve the rest of the liquid to use as sauce.
Remove the lamb log from the plastic wrap, and cut into 4 slices. Sprinkle both sides of each slice with Wondra flour, then sauté with olive oil in a hot pan until brown on both sides. Finish in a 350 F oven for about 5 minutes.
Serve 2 slices on each plate, with a bit of reheated sauce on top.