At home with Ferran Adrià: Cocinar en Casa, no, seriously..
by Pim under Uncategorized with 22 Comments
Thursday, July 21, 2005
I’ve recently come across a book that got me hooked -not from the first page- but from the very front cover. It was a picture of Ferran Adrià walking, looking ever so slightly morose, a grocery bag in each hand. The book is called Cocinar en Casa, Home Cooking, a collaboration between the famous grand wizard of elBulli and a Spanish grocery giant Caprabo. And since Ferran has famously proclaimed in many interviews that he used up all his cooking juices in elBulli’s kitchen and did no cooking at home, the photo on the front page was even more ironic than it was intended.
The basic idea is a semi home-made of sort, taking common foods from supermarkets and sprucing them up a little. Well, in this particular instance, quite a lot, since these ideas came from that amazing brain of Ferran Adrià. Whether you like the food or even agree with the approach at elBulli, it’s hard to not acknowledge that Adrià is certainly a genius – a mad one, perhaps, but a genius none-the-less. Here the genius is again at work, doing his thang on humble ingredients from a common supermarket. And, no, you’re not required to get a degree in Biochem or even a chemistry set to use this book, just a Sifon or two will do nicely.
There are some wow why didn’t I think of that moments in the book, like
a recipe for caramel foam that prescribes melting a pint of Haagen Daaz
icecream in the microwave then feeding the melted concoction into a
Sifon, et voila, caramel foam! What about frozen gazpacho
popsicles? Take canned gazpacho, pour into little cups, add popsicle
sticks, freeze. How much easier could this get? Or another one, for
Mojito para Todo el Dia, Mojito for all day – your ordinary everyday
mojito, with a sheet or two of gelatin, into the Sifon and out come a
foamy mojito. Keep the Sifon cool in the fridge and you can have
mojitos all day. Tell me if that doesn’t sound bloody superb to you.
And how about one for Super Pizza, take a simple store-bought cheese
pizza, then transform it with fresh mozzarella, basil, peeled cherry
tomatoes and olive oil, precisely applied with an eye dropper no less.
Pida una pizza y conviértala en una superpizza. You don’t even need to
speak spanish to understand that.
A few recipes probably wouldn’t work here in the US of A. The one for
a simple asparagus in vinaigrette, for example. Take a jar of
beautiful white asparagus, pour out half the liquid content, replace it
with good olive oil and vinegar, close the lid and give it a good
shake. There you have it, white asparagus in vinaigrette. The recipe
looks like it would work wonders on beautiful preserved white asparagus
from Spain. But would you really do that to canned vegetables you
could get at Safeway? I shudder at the thought. Even more cause for
concern are these recipes for various raw things. I don’t think Ferran
has ever seen the inside of a Safeway, let alone the fish or meat
counters, or he wouldn’t be telling us to do a salmon sashimi from
And then there are a few -a few- that are rather dubious
looking on their very own merits. The most famous -or infamous I
should say- is the recipe for the classic Tortilla Espagnole, the
spanish national omelette. Here the mad scientist Ferran prescribes
using bagged potato chips instead of potatoes -oh, pardon me, not just
any chips, but bagged potato chips fritas en aceite de oliva. The
classic tortilla espagnole recipe calls for cooking potato slices
slowly in olive oil, so I guess Ferran is trying to stay in that
spirit. Well, this looks so dubious I simply have to give it a try,
that tortilla espagnole à la Ferran. And while I’m at it I might as
well make a meal out of the book, no?
So that was what I set out to do yesterday. I picked three recipes.
The tortilla would be the starter, then the main course of chicken -
store-bought roasted chicken all dressed up in a simple sauce made of
dried fruits and bit of Sherry and Port – followed by a dessert of
apricots with honey and saffron.
The recipes offered up a bit of a challenge. The tortilla recipe
simply called for a medium bag of potato chips. Well, um, dear Ferran,
there was no such thing to be found at my local markets, nor could I
find one that was fried in olive oil. Geez, it was hard enough to find
a bag that wasn’t flavored with BBQ sauce, or sour cream and onion, or
honey dijon, or musquite, or whatever the heck it is people liked in
their chips these says. What ever happened to simple salted potato
chips? I finally settled on a bag of Kettle Chips, just as good a bag
store-bought chips as any, I thought to myself. Then, there was the
question of the chicken. Finding a whole roasted chicken in Santa Cruz
proved to be a bit difficult, but I finally found one, sitting properly
in a styrofoam tray, at Staff of Life. (Oh just hush about the name
already, didn’t I say I was in Santa Cruz?) Oh, right and there were
no dried cherries to be found – I needed them for the chicken – so I
bought some dried cranberries instead, that would give it a bit of a
North American twist I supposed.
Armed with my provisions, I set out to follow the recipes, just as
precisely as I could. That proved to be a bit of a problem too. How
many chips were in a medium bag I wondered, then decided that I
couldn’t be bothered and just used half the content of the large Kettle
Chips bag. Four eggs were whipped in a large bowl, then the content of
half the bag of Kettle Chips went in, all broken and crushed of
course. The recipe said to wait 5 minutes for the potatoes to soften up
properly. So I waited the requisite time. The potatoes still didn’t
look very soft to me, but Ferran said five minutes and who was I to
argue with him. So, the pan came out, – the smallest one I got, in
fact it was so small it wasn’t a pan at all, but a lid for another Le
Creuset sauce pan – then in went lots of olive oil and the eggy-chips
concoction. That was about it for the tortilla, now my attention could
turn to the chicken.
The recipe for the chicken called for first cutting up the chicken and
reserving the juices for the sauce. Um, what juice? My chicken was
nearly as dry as the styrofoam tray it came in. It was also rather
large. I’d bet it was at least a third bigger than its cousin that
Ferran was cutting up in the photo. Oh well, what was a girl to do?
So the chicken dish got made, with dried apricots and cranberries and
raisins and even some pine nuts. Oh, right, and a piece or two of
lemon rind thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t find any Sherry in
the house so I used Sweet Vermouth instead, close enough, really.
Then the simple dessert. I intentionally skipped the super delicious
farmers market apricots and got some rather pedestrian looking ones
from the store, to keep in the spirit of the book. The apricots got
halved, smeared with vanilla seeds scraped from a pod, and then
drizzled liberally with honey. A few strains of saffrons went on top
and the entire thing got wrapped neatly in a foil package, and in it
went in the oven for 10 minutes.
How did everything turn out, you asked? Well, let’s just say I’d stick
with the classic tortilla espagnole. If it ain’t broke, if it ain’t
broke, my friends. The chicken was quite delicious, though the lack of
juice from my chicken meant that I had precious few drops of sauce to
go around, particularly on the huge American bird. Next time I’ll just
add more liquor, that should do it. And then the dessert, the apricots
-and the gloriously golden, honey and saffron infused, sauce- were
served with vanilla icecream, store-bought of course. It was quite a
nice way of fancying up dowdy and tasteless supermarket apricots. You
really should try this at home.
I’ve got a few more recipes in this book that I want to try. Well, as
soon as I get myself an iSi Sifon I’ll play with some foam stuff for sure.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, you can order
this book directly from the restaurant. If you can’t make it to
elBulli, then perhaps this book will bring a little bit of elBulli to