Friday, January 28, 2011

Japanese Castles, Life at Court and Chawan-Mushi silky custard


Snow, snow and more snow.  Why is it that this weather drives me into my imagination???  What better way to indulge an inner dreamscape than to watch Leonardo diCaprio in Inception. One of the brilliant things about the movie was the use of an architect’s dreamscape -- the film’s Designer Guy Dyas had lived in Japan and made a 60’ architecture scroll for the director (referencing Wright and Mackintosh among others) to provide the setting for an ex-architect’s dream construct… wonky but right. Let’s not forget, dreams can lead to creative breakthroughs in the real world – the film’s director, Christopher Nolan, had been dreaming of Inception since he was 12!

Inception’s homage to the golden rooms at Kyoto’s 17th century Ninomaru Palace set me off in a reverie about the palace and Nijo castle … a place I had visited a million years ago.

I have such a clear memory of those golden rooms and the smell of ancient cedar, but also of the "nightingale floors" (uguisubari) … and the delicate sound of a thousand chirping wooden flutes that came with each step in the corridors surrounding the Tokugawa’s rooms. To warn against assassins, intruders or even to ward off being surprised while sporting with a mistress or wife, the sounds were the gentlest alarms imaginable.

I am not alone in getting pleasure from this kind of reflection -- escaping into lost pasts and places has been done forever.  Six hundred years before Ninomaru Palace was even built, Lady Sarashina (born 1008CE) wrote Sarashina Nikki, one of the most famous books of Japan's golden Heian period (794-1185).  I discovered that her guilty pleasure came from reading tales and dreaming of living a romantic life like those in The Tale of Genji (finished by 1021).  She went so far as to posit that she could have been more spiritually fulfilled (a deeper sense of mono-no-aware – meaning poignant feelings and awareness of things) had she spent less time with her fantasies.  Strange, since it was those fantasies and her travel diary, Sarashina Nikki, that made her immortal and set her in the pantheon of great women writers of the glorious Heian age in Japan (Heian means peace and tranquility in Japanese).

That their work has been celebrated while the writing of the men of the period disappeared came in a lucky twist of fate.  “The Japanese writing system began to incorporate its own phonetic alphabets. Hiragana and katakana replaced the use of Chinese characters to represent some spoken words for which no kanji, Chinese character, existed. Women of aristocratic families began to use the new writing system, as they were not trained in Chinese like their male counterparts. As a result much of the literature written in Chinese by male writers of the Heian has been forgotten, while the writings of the supposedly less educated women, who could only write in their native script, have become some of the most famous works of literature in the world today.”

The golden Heian Period was also the height of the Fujiwara Age.  The Fujiwaras were a powerful family of regents who ruled for the emperor, leaving the nobility free to pursue a rarified aesthetic life. “So secure and beautiful was their world that they could not conceive of Paradise as being much different.”  Can you imagine?  But even these powerful regents had the souls of poets, Fujiwara no Michinaga wrote of his formidable position (albeit reflecting his relationship to the moon and not the sun--- a relationship reserved for the emperors) in his diary in 1018 AD:

This world, I think,

Is indeed my world.

Like the full moon I shine,

Uncovered by any cloud.

For women it was something of a paradise… they were educated, their voices were heard and their ideal man wrote poetry every day (and the ideal man quickly sent a "next morning letter" to the woman he romanced the night before reflecting their glorious time together) as we see in a passage from Tale of Genji:

“Being of an adventurous nature, he has still not married, and now at dawn he returns to his bachelor quarters, having spent the night in some amorous adventure. Though he still looks sleepy, he immediately draws his inkstone to him and, after having carefully rubbed some ink on it, starts to write his next-morning letter. He does not let his brush run down the paper in a careless scrawl, but puts himself heart and soul into the calligraphy. What a charming figure he makes as he sits there by himself in an easy posture, with his robe falling slightly open! It is a plain unlined robe of pure white, and over it he wears a cloak of yellow rose or crimson. As he finishes his letter, he notices that the white robe is still damp from the dew, and for a while he gazes at it fondly”

It is also during this period that Sei Shōnagon wrote the famous Pillow Book  --  a journal of the comings and goings at court and full of brilliant insights as well as humor and a good deal of cattiness.  It is a diary that anyone today can relate to.

Tale of Genji, calligraphy

You've probably figured by now that the most famous writing of the day came from Murisaki Shikibu’s Tales of Genji.  Various contemporary (as in turn of the second millennium) diaries are full of excitement about reading Tales of Genji… it was a real scroll-turner. It is considered the first novel and was written about the same time as the English Beowulf.  Needless to say it is incredibly sophisticated by comparison and reads like a modern romance full of love, sex (the hero did sleep with his stepmother who bore his son and passed him off as the Emperor’s own) and rousing adventure with the hero, prince Genji -- described as the most handsome man in the world and nicknamed "The Shining Prince".  Her own diary,  Murasaki Shikibu Nikki  is much like The Pillow Book, full of court gossip, sniping (she did not like the author of The Pillow Book at all) and intrigue and much talk of what was worn (good and bad- she was hyper-critical).  

The Rozanji Temple (built 978) was moved to her family’s estate and a tile from her original house (that was destroyed) is at the temple.  She is still much admired and emulated in Japan.  A thousand years after she wrote Tales of Genji people flock here to pay homage to her.

So, you all are wondering, how did they eat????

Naomichi Ishige, in his book, The History and Culture of Japanese Food  said that chopsticks came to Japan with rice in the 5th century.  By the Heian period, food was eaten with hands, chopsticks and spoons on individual lacquered-legged tables called zen in high society.  During large meals more than one table would be deployed per person for different courses.

 “The 10th and 11th centuries marked a level of refinement of cooking and etiquette found in the culture of the Heian nobility…. Court banquets were common and lavish; garb for nobility during these events remained in the Chinese style which differentiated them from the plain clothes of commoners.” 

Some fashions were odd by today’s standards.  Woman dyed their teeth black, shaved their eyebrows and softly re-painted them an inch higher, wore their hair straight and a yard or more long and had lips  painted like red flower buds.  They also wore 12 layers of clothing (the naked human form was considered very ugly) with colors and patterns that changed with the seasons… they were very beautiful robes by any standard.  A sumptuary law in 1074 reduced the layers to 5! A froth of fall silks must have looked like a celestial forest of fall leaves with its layers and patterns.

Men often shaved their eyebrows and repainted them as well. Although they sometimes did wear tiny moustaches and beards, they shaved the rest of their faces and wore their hair up.

What did they eat?  Emperor Temmu (631-686) in A.D. 675 banned meat eating and so it remained in the Heian period.  The diet consisted mostly of fish, grains and vegetables and very little fat was used.  In fact most oil was considered distasteful save for very expensive sesame oil that was used sparingly.

Ishige also wrote,  “Documents from the Heian nobility note that fish and wild fowl were common on the table along with vegetables. Their banquet settings consisted of a bowl of rice and soup, along with chopsticks, a spoon, and three seasonings which were salt, vinegar and hishio, which was a fermentation of soybeans, rice, wheat, sake and salt. A fourth plate was present for mixing the seasonings to desired flavor for dipping the food. The four types of food present at a banquet consisted of dried foods (himono), fresh foods (namamono), fermented or dressed food (kubotsuki), and desserts (kashi). Dried fish and fowl were thinly sliced (e.g. salted salmon, pheasant, steamed and dried abalone, dried and grilled octopus), while fresh fish, shellfish and fowl were sliced raw in vinegar sauce or grilled (e.g. carp, sea bream, salmon, trout, pheasant). Kubotsuki consisted of small balls of fermented sea squirt, fish or giblets along with jellyfish and aemono. Desserts would have included Chinese cakes, and a variety of fruits and nuts including pine nuts, dried chestnuts, acorns, jujube, pomegranate, peach, apricot, persimmon and citrus. The meal would be ended with sake.”

In The Book of Miso, William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi  reported, "In the epics of the Heian period, such as the Tale of Genji and Konjaku Monogatari, are found descriptions of all-night parties held by the court nobility in the Imperial palace.  A typical dinner consisted of seven courses, each served consecutively on separate trays.  Popular foods included abalone miso and red-snapper hishio, uri melons and eggplants picked in miso, and red snapper, carp or other sea foods lightly marinated with  miso sauces.  Both hishio and miso were also apparently widely used as table seasonings.  Among the palace women, miso was known as ko meaning "fragrance or incense" or higurashi meaning " a clear-toned summer cicada" whose song is said to be able to penetrate even the hardest stone.  Likewise the rich fragrance and fine flavor of miso were said to penetrate and season other foods.  For this reason, in the Kyoto area miso is still occasionally called mushi or bamushi meaning " insect or honorable insect".

Yusoku-ryori, an incredibly sophisticated seasonal cuisine that emphasizes all the senses is still practiced and is considered the haute cuisine of Japan… it was born in the Heian court and its strict rules come from that time.  A meal at the famous  Ryotei Kikunoi (you can see a meal presentation HERE) or 200 year old Mankamero will set you back hundreds of dollars but this style of restaurant is really where tasting menus were born and you'll get an idea of ancient Japanese cuisine when dining in these gorgeous places.

For me,  the months I spent in Japan were revelatory. Sadly, I have lost my ‘travel diary’ so I can’t share names with you… it was a long time ago.  The most extraordinary experience happened in Northern Japan where a journalist friend introduced me to a Living National treasure (人間国宝 Ningen Kokuhō) lacquer master.  I believe it was around Wajima.  His family had been making black and red lacquer for hundreds of years. 

I toured his workrooms and saw an ancient artisan painting faceted bowls that were carved so thinly that one could bend them before they were lacquered. Ancient wooden plugs were inserted in the bottom after the top was painted so they could dry on racks that were hundreds of years old (you can see this process HERE).  Then I was taken to a quiet, simply appointed room.  Various pieces of lacquerware were placed on presentation tables and I was to choose what I wanted to take. My price range had been discussed with my friend so no money was mentioned.  I choose 4 items and then was taken to lunch.  The items were beautifully packed when we returned.  And the lunch -- the lunch was sublime. 

We drove to an inn that overlooked a rocky, mossy creek and sat on a table that the lacquer-master’s great-great grandfather had made.  Some of the traditional lacquer dessert dishes had also been made by his great-great grandfather.  Both the table and the dishes had been worn (in the hundred odd years since they had been made) in such a way that the red lacquer layer and white clay layer had worn through creating a masterful sedimentary pattern… like modern art.  He shared an expression that has remained with me ever since… I cannot remember the Japanese for it but the English translation was “ time is the artist.”

The porcelain dishes used in the many courses were at least as old as the Meiji period (1868-1912) and they even used some Edo period (1602-1868) pieces.  All were chosen to compliment the food on the plate.  The most astonishing course was a Meiji dish with blue waves that had an edible roiling wave of white daikon ribbons, a violet sea of fish eggs and a shore of raw fish.  It was insanely beautiful as was the kimono of the server that was worth a king’s ransom (my friend told me later—it would have been rude to mention it at table).  She bent like a reed to serve with impeccable, impossible grace… I was astonished.

I thought I would share with you one of the dishes that I found so remarkable from that day and one that has been made in Japan for centuries… Chawan-Mushi (which means steamed in a tea cup).  It is a simple, briny custard of such innocent beauty… well, a swoon-worthy first mouthful will show you what I mean.  It is simple to make, and a comfort food to be sure.  You will forgive me (ごめんなさい-gomennasai)  for using an old Chinese stone bowl to make it… I don’t have the appropriate Japanese covered dish (you can’t steam lacquer)!!  My recipe is from Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz.  I have been using her Complete Book of Japanese Cooking for many years.

Chawan-Mushi, based on an Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz recipe serves 4

4 dried shitake or matsutake mushrooms (I got mine from Marx Foods)
pinch of sugar
8 small shrimp, split with shell
1 t sake
2 t light soy sauce
12-16 small spinach leaves
8 ginko nuts (optional)
3 eggs
2 cups dashi made from dashi granules (or stock/water flavored with Kombu seaweed -- it is the basis of umami!)
salt to taste

Soak mushrooms in warm water with sugar for 30 minutes.  Remove tough stems if necessary.

Put shrimp in stock for a few moments, then mushrooms.  Remove.  Add the spinach for 1 minute and remove… keep them warm

Stir the eggs to blend… do not beat…. They must not be foamy. 
Add to the stock with the soy and sake and combine gently.

Put a ginko nut at the bottom of each cup and pour the egg over them.  Cover each dish with foil (or lids if you have them) and put in a steamer rack over moderately boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes or until set with the lid of the steamer slightly ajar. Check them as temperatures vary... it is better to have the custard just set and not overdone.

Remove the foil (or lid), arrange the reserved shrimp and vegetables on the top of each one and serve. 

*you can change the ingredients as you will… I have used chicken, watercress and even steamed peas and shoots and it is always delicious.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!

At least Petunia loves the snow!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Castles, France and Chestnut Lentil Soup

It’s cold and damp.  The snow has been around since Christmas and I am ensconced on my sofa, still chilled through and through but with a head full of warm daydreams --  escaping the drear in spirit if not body. 

 Joseph Canteloube 1879 -1957
It happens every time I listen to Joseph Cantaloube’s Chants d’Auvergne (my favorites are Brezairola and Pastorelle -- you can listen here: Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne). It is truly transporting music from a composer who reverenced the songs of his homeland at France’s wild center, the Auvergne (which takes its name from the ancient Gallic tribe, Arverni, defeated by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago).  He collected the songs in the last 30 years of his life and the result is pure enchantment and so evocative of the place and Cantaloube’s love for it… you can feel his heart’s pulse in every note. It sets me to dream of France.

The Auvergne lies on the eastern side of an area known for incredible beauty and spectacular food going to the Dordogne and the Southwest -- places that rival Paris for sheer numbers of historical sites (including one of my favorites -- the 17,300 year-old cave paintings at Lascaux near Montignac).

Thanks to Anita for telling me about the underground majesty of Gouffre de Padirac... surely there must be a fairy kingdom somewhere in it's dark miles of streams and caverns.  For purposes of my daydream… I know you will forgive my vague, inclusive geography, won’t you??

Chateau de Montbrun, Limousin (Brangelina looked at it, since it’s for sale for 24 million)   

 Its castles (from the Latin castellum) are right out of dreams as well… they are the kind of turreted beauties with crenellations and pointed roofs that all fairy princesses call home.

The land around these castles is wild and fiercely beautiful --with the Auvergne mountains -- the Central and Eastern Massif Central and


the Western Massif Central--the source of the Dordogne river.  There is the vast, game-filled forest of Tronçais (home of the oak that makes limousin wine barrels for the finest vintages in the world),

Sioule River

and the river Sioule and the river Cher winding their way through the unspoiled forest.

Guery Lake

The Guéry, Servières and Pavin Lakes surround Le Sancy and the 80 dormant volcanos of the 25 mile long Chaîne des Puys (the highest being the Puy de Dôme provide drama and striking vistas for the region (Puy is the French word for volcanic summit from which the famous lentils take their name and get their fine taste from the volcanic soil).


Puy de Dôme    

But it is those magical castles

and  medieval villages

that keep my mind wandering there… wishing to be whisked from my snowbound doldrums into the never-never land of magical places where (in my imagination) it is forever temperate with sweet scented air… in a proper fairytale sort of way (guess you know where I want to take my vacation!).

Ah well, I can’t snap my fingers and materialize one of these castles like a sorceress, but I can conjure some magic for your kitchen. 

I had the recipe equivalent of a pleasant earworm thanks to a description of a soup that Diane at 2 Stews  had at La Régalade in Paris a few months ago.  She said it was a chestnut soup poured over a symphony of favorite flavors –– foie gras, cheese and chives (and I thought I saw croutons?). I set about to recreate it. Chestnut soup is a renowned specialty of the Auvergne region lush with famous forests full of chestnuts and game and nearby the epicenter of foie gras in Périgord (although Périgord now processes  IMPORTED raw materials from Eastern Europe and Israel as the properly raised local product cannot keep up with demand!)  I decided to use a version with a bit of game to it as they often do in the region and chose a cheese like an Auvergne product, Saint Nectaire --  a semi-soft, nutty-tasting, washed-rind cheese.

The recipe from La Régalade (via Gourmet Magazine) served as the basis for the “velvety emulsion” (the voluptuous Nigella Lawson makes a similar soup  you can watch HERE from The Caprice in London as well—sans foie gras), but I also took inspiration from some traditional Auvergne recipes.
The duck fat, smoked duck breast, chestnuts and foie gras come from D’Artagnan and there are links to order them.

Chestnut & Lentil Soup, inspired by foods of the Auvergne and La Régalade, serves 6

½ cup duck fat  
2 T butter
4 slices bread, cut into croutons (around 3 cups)
½ pound vacuum-packed chestnuts (or 1 ½ c cooked peeled chestnuts) 
3 T armagnac
1 smoked duck breast, skin removed, sliced thinly (around 7 oz) 
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
¼ c chopped onion
1 small celery root (7 oz), peeled and cubed
1 carrot (7 oz), peeled and cubed
4 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
1 c lentilles de Puy or French green lentils
8 c cold water
1 t salt
1/3  c heavy cream
3 ½ oz foie gras, cubed (if you can’t spring for the foie gras… try a  good creamy foie gras mousse) 
2 oz soft cheese, cubed (like a St. Nectaire from the Auvergne—I used Morbier but a brie type cheese would work too… sliced thinly to melt)
chopped herbs for garnish (few sprigs parsley and thyme & chives)

Slice and soak the chestnuts in the Armagnac for a few hours.

Heat 4 T duck fat and 2 T butter and sauté the croutons till crisp and golden and reserve.

Sauté the thinly sliced duck skin in the 2 T duck fat till crisp and reserve.  Sauté the shallot, onion, celery root and carrot in the same duck fat.

Make a bundle of the herbs and toss into the pot.  Add the lentils, 1/3 of the smoked duck in 3 big chunks and chestnuts, reserving the Armagnac.  Add the water and salt and cook 20-25 minutes until the lentils are soft.  Strain the soup, reserving most of the cooking liquid, and remove the herbs and the duck.  Puree the soup using the reserved cooking liquid as necessary and the heavy cream.   It will be creamier if you start with a small amount of liquid so that it can really be pureed. Add the reserved armagnac to taste.  The soup will thicken as it stands so keep the cooking liquid to add as needed.

Sauté the  reserved smoked duck in remaining 2 T duck fat, remove and keep warm.  Saute the foie gras gently to warm.

Put croutons, sliced duck, cheese and foie gras and herbs in bottom of soup bowl.  Pour hot soup over all and serve immediately

* I can imagine doing this vegetarian would be great. substitute a nut oil like hazelnut for the duck fat and skip the meat component.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!

Friday, January 14, 2011

St. Michael's Mount and Sea Urchin Souffle

 Do you know the story of Brigadoon?  It’s a tale about a place that re-appears every 100 years then dissolves back into the misty moors. The story was based upon a much older German work by Friedrich Gerstäckerabout the mythical village of Germelshausen that fell under an evil magic curse.  I do not know if this qualifies as an archetypal myth shared by our collective human unconscious, but the idea of magical places that appear and disappear through magic or the power of the viewer is fairly universal whether in Scotland, Germany or Oz.  I’ve always longed to be under the spell of just such a place.

 The island of St. Michael’s Mount, (like it’s older brother, Mont St. Michel in Normandy) is one such magical place and I was enamored the moment I set foot on its shores.  Access appears and disappears with the tides.

St. Michael’s Mount at High tide when the way is lost, Circa 1900

Low Tide when you can walk to the Mount.

The Beautiful cobbled way appears when the water recedes

The Top of the Mount

The Island itself begins with a myth of the Giant named Cormoran who lived there and stole the livestock of the village.  A local lad named Jack killed him by tricking him into a pit.  When the Mount was damaged by an earthquake in the 14th century, the grave of an 8’ tall giant was found and whispered to be the giant of legend.  On the Mount today there is a spot called The Giant’s Grave where Cormoron might be buried and the pit he fell in is also honored with a bit of signage.

Giant rocks dropped by Cormoran’s wife, Cormelian

There was a monastery on the site from the 8th to the early 11th century and more buildings were built in the 12th century but the foreign monastery (it was started by a Norman monk from Mont St. Michel) was suppressed in 1425 and sold to the St Aubyn family in 1659.   It has remained in their hands ever since and the head of the St Aubyn family now the titled Lord St. Leven.

If a castle can be called cosy, this is cosy.  The rooms are, for the most part not hugely proportioned. 

The View From the Mount is breathtaking

Mount Dairy -- does the shape look familiar?

Of course a household such as this must be fed.  This dairy building looks like a diminutive version of the kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey(that I wrote about HERE), although it is much younger than the Medieval Abbey version -- probably late 19th century.

I thought what with the beautiful rich cream that the island’s Jersey Cows would have provided the dairy and the Cornish seafood that is legendary… a dish combining the 2 would be the ticket.  I wanted something magical as befitting the place… a dish that would dwell in the mist between sea and land.  Sea urchin and cream… a favorite celestial combination in a soup that lives in my memory was the first thing that popped into my mind and sea urchins abound in the Cornish sea. I have already written of my love for urchin HERE, but then I became bewitched by another dish… sea urchin soufflé, fickle me.

Twenty odd years ago, a book came out called Jeremiah Tower's New American Classics that was conceived by a patrician fellow named... Jeremiah Tower!   You may not know his name, but you really should. He was one of the early chefs of Chez Panisse in Berkeley. He applied for the job with no chef experience after eating a berry tart that he liked there. With a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard, an encyclopedic knowledge of food, a brilliant creative mind and limitless self-confidence, he did much to shape the legend of Chez Panisse but left the restaurant to go out on his own in ’78. From there he opened Stars Restaurant in San Francisco and launched such chefs as Mario Batali.  He is now enjoying life in Mexico.  I do hope he writes more cookbooks!

I was reminded of this book a while ago and got myself a new copy (where the old one went, I do not know!).  It was as good as I remembered it to be.  One of the recipes that blew me away was one for sea urchin soufflé.  Tower had made it for James Beard the first time he cooked for him in the mid-seventies with great result: “… a wonderful ocean smell began to waft into the kitchen and best of all, the soufflé mixture had risen above the shells, puffy, pink-beige and beautiful.  I rushed them to the table.  Jim tried a spoonful. No word was said.  He looked up slowly, aware of the theatrical effect, rolled his eyes slowly, and said, ”My God, that is the best thing I have ever tasted.”  How could you argue with James Beard… he was not wrong.

This took a few trials. My sea urchin was as good as it gets from Catalina Offshore Products, plump and fresh… it was in the ocean the morning before it arrived!

The original 20 minutes was too long (it was originally cooked in urchin shells… this would be a substantial variable) and the extra egg white combined with the technique of placing them on a hot pan made the soufflés bubble over like a bad chemistry experiment as I hadn’t put collars on them.  I recommend the collars.  The additional egg white made the texture sublime. I read that the addition of a few drops of vinegar and a spoonful of egg white powder would make the soufflé more stable…next time!  The last effort really brought all the flavors and textures together and was exactly what I had imagined… an ethereal cloud of heavenly urchin.   Close your eyes and think of the magical Mount as your spoon glides through the creamed ochre froth of:

Sea Urchin Soufflé based on a Jeremiah Tower Recipe, serves 4

4 large sea urchins from Catalina offshore Products, roe removed (or 16 pieces of urchin) and pureed
2 oz. butter
2 T flour
1 c fish stock
2 egg yolks
2-3 egg whites (3 makes it lighter but less stable- the original recipe called for 2, I liked the texture better with 3)
pinch of cream of tartar
2 drops vinegar

Make the soufflé base by melting butter.  Add flour and cook for 5 minutes on very low heat. Warm the fish stock and add to the flour, whisking frequently for 15 minutes at a very low heat and skimming any scum that may rise.  Cool.

Heat the oven to 400º.  Some recommend a water bath pan of boiling water that comes 1/2-way up the dish as a way to make the soufflé more stable.

Stir the yolks and roe into the soufflé base.  Butter and flour 4-individual soufflé dishes (½ c) and make buttered collars for the soufflé dishes from foil for stability for the rise. Whip the whites with the cream of tartar and the drops of vinegar and fold them into the base and gently pour/spoon into dishes.  Cook for 12-17 minutes (do watch…oven temperatures vary) until slightly brown on top and serve immediately with madeira cream if you want to add a little more luxury.

Madeira Cream

¼ c heavy cream, warmed
2 t madeira

Combine and serve a spoon with each soufflé as you break into them.

Last, but not least, Madeira with Ambergris.  I have wanted to try this since I first tasted the Excellent Negus I made with vintage port and ambergris last thanksgiving (see that recipe HERE).   It was a life altering experience.  The scent from the warm wine and the ambergris was magic. And I thought it would be amazing with the soufflé…yes it was.

Thanks to my sage Madeira guide,  Mannie Berk with The Rare Wine Company , I had in my little paws on a 1900 D’Oliveira Malvesia, redolent of butterscotch, sandalwood, amber and the patina of exquisite old age.  I took a tiny bit, warmed it and grated (microplanes are the best) beautiful ambergris from Ambergris Co. NZ.  over the top.  It was everything I expected and more.   One of the magic qualities of ambergris, as I have told you before (HERE), is that it makes everything it touches a little more of what it is.  The quality of the wine was deepened and polished by the ambergris… the scent was transcendental.  It is like a duet of great artists… each voice compliments the other.  Should you be fortunate enough to try it… remember, the wine must be quite warm for the magic to happen… then stick your nose in the glass, inhale the perfume and glimpse the Empyrean for a few moments before sipping the divine nectar.

Madère d'Ambre Gris  for one

2 oz fine Madeira  ( I used a 1900 D’Oliveira Malvesia--- extravagant I know but do use a great Madeira from Rare Wine Company .  The terrifically priced NY Malmsey from the Historic Series would be good or a 1989 D'Oliveira Malvasia would be superb… with or without the ambergris!).

a few gratings of Ambergris from  Ambergris Co. NZ 

Warm the wine… it should be hot -- food hot, not anywhere near boiling.  Pour it into a glass and give it a lot of space… it is the scent you want to enjoy so only half fill the glass.  As you serve, grate the ambergris over the top.  Inhale for a few moments before you take a sip.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!