Portion/Yield:Makes 1 x 30cm sheet (serves 6–8)
We both have special affection for Spain. It’s a country that has exceptional food, brilliantly jaw-dropping innovative chefs, as well as fantastic architecture, art, produce and wine.
A few years ago, Mr P was very privileged to receive an invitation to visit Barcelona and to have dinner at El Bulli, which was then ranked the best restaurant in the world (El Bulli has since now closed, but for us it will always remain the best, such is the legacy they left in our hearts). This was the kind of invitation that a person never declines. I was envious but not upset because I knew the value of this invitation.
Mr P had a fantastic time in Barcelona, and he visited the famous but secretive door No.7 where all the ground-breaking work and development for El Bulli takes place, plus a visit to La Boqueria and plenty of wonderful wine bars and food shops.
On his return, it was fantastic to listen to his experiences and it sounded truly amazing. Food that you could see and taste (but which dissolved as soon as it touched your mouth, so there was nothing to chew on and just the taste left in your mouth), herbs that gave you electric shocks and all sorts of mad things. It seems that the food had its own intelligence and played with your senses and mind. Mr P said that you would not expect to enjoy every single one of the thirty-eight courses, as some of the ingredients and textures were challenging, and some were not to his taste at all, but the overall experience was priceless.
The kitchen brigade seemed to be countless, there were so many people working there (reportedly there were 2 staff for each diner, which is pretty impressive stuff). Apparently there were only 5 full-time chefs and the rest were all volunteers wanting to work there for the experience – that is true dedication indeed!
The dining room layout was simple, with heavy floral embroidered chairs, which is very Spanish and homely. So much so that it reminded me of my mum’s front room back home, which had very similar seat coverings.
There was something truly unique about this experience, it was an amalgamation of old and new; science, emotion and perception without pretentiousness, and a very well-balanced act. However, there must have been enormous pressure on Ferran Adrià’s shoulders to maintain that level of performance each year and produce food that was more increasingly dramatic and inventive. I take my hat off to him and his team, as it cannot have been easy to come back year after year and deliver outstanding results time after time.
I wonder what triggered his thought processes? Did he imagine the dish first or did he take a scientific approach by discovering the technique and then turning it into a dish? Wow, all these questions erupted in my mind when I looked at the photos and menu. There is something rather seductive about the presentation of most of the dishes – I think his head must have been a pretty wild place to be in… crazy!
The thirty-eight course menu adventure started at 8:00pm and did not conclude until 2:30am the next day…
The menu reads as follow:
sugar cane: mojito – caipirinha
handkerchief (the recipe that we made was inspired by this course)
grape tea and cassis
potatoes in tempura
icy – cookies
‘Joselito’ ham and ginger canapé
truffle of truffle
tatar of marrow
cockles with yuzu
soya milk with soya
sea anemone with te trout roe
pinenut shabu – shabu
prawn two firings
sweet potato moshi with persimmon sorbet
puff pastry of pineapple
Mr P literally bounced around the room when he related his tale of his experience at El Bulli, which left us with no option but to try and make a dish from one of the four El Bulli cookbooks that we have but barely understand. This would be my poor substitute for Mr P’s experiences. So, the result was our own take on his ‘handkerchief’ course. It turned out brilliantly and in true El Bulli-style, we served it in the simplest but most elegant manner we could think of, and here it is…
Ingredients & Method
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil or peanut oil
- 50g popcorn kernels
- 140g liquid fondant (see Chef’s Notes)
- 100g liquid glucose
- 100g (shelled weight) shelled unsalted peanuts
- sea salt, to taste
Put the oil and popcorn kernels into a large saucepan over a high heat, cover the pan with a lid and heat until all the kernels have popped. Once popped, remove from the heat, season with salt and let the popcorn cool completely.
Place a silpat or a sheet of non-stick baking paper on a large baking tray.
Weigh the fondant and glucose into a medium, non-stick saucepan and melt over a moderate heat, then increase the heat and boil until the sugar mixture reaches 160°C (use a sugar thermometer to check this). Remove from the heat and pour the boiling hot sugar onto the lined baking tray, then leave to cool completely at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Dampen the peanuts with a sprinkle of water and dust with salt, then spread the nuts over a baking tray in a single layer. Roast in the oven until toasted but not too dark in colour, about 6–8 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave the roasted peanuts to cool completely, then lightly crush them using the pulse setting on a blender or using a pestle and mortar.
Meanwhile, pulse-blitz the cooled popcorn in a blender to make it into snowflake-like pieces. Break up the cold and set sugar mixture using a rolling pin and then powder the sugar pieces using a very powerful blender such as a Thermomix.
Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark 3. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper and sprinkle half of the sugar powder evenly onto the prepared baking tray. Bake it in the oven for 3 minutes, then remove and sprinkle over the crushed roasted peanuts and popcorn snow. Scatter over the remaining sugar powder and then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and forms a clear crisp sheet incorporating the popcorn snow and crushed peanuts.
Remove from the oven and let the wafer cool completely. It will be super fragile, so snap it into serving-sized pieces and serve as a canapé (alongside something like duck liver pâté, or caviar, if you dare!) or use as a garnish/decoration on a dish.
Liquid fondant is an ingredient used by professionals and it can be bought (by trade or non-trade customers) from catering suppliers such as http://www.infusions4chefs.co.uk/fondant-1kg/?page_context=search&faceted_search=0
Use the sugar powder as the foundation and then adapt the recipe flavours to suit your needs. I think that pistachios instead of peanuts would be delicious and very colourful. You can make this either as a savoury or a sweet wafer. For a savoury wafer, add a sprinkling of wasabi powder or curry powder to the sugar mixture with a pinch or two of sea salt (crushed spices, such as crushed coriander seeds or fennel seeds, could also be added instead of or as well as the peanuts).