When It All Goes Wrong – Making Your Food Pop Part 5

Amuse bouche of avocado, kumquat, green onion, jalapeno, mint

So I came home with some kumquats, and, in the mood to just play with a fun ingredient, set about creating an amuse bouche.  I never meant it to be part of this series, but that’s how it worked out.

If you aren’t familiar with them, an amuse is just what it sounds like – a single bite meant to amuse the palate before a meal commences in earnest. They are one of my favorite forms to experiment with because there is room for great creativity when you aren’t constrained to make something you would want a big portion of. The flavors can be bolder, richer or more unusual.

And in this case, I totally failed.

Without much conscious thought, I was applying exactly the concepts I’ve talked about in this series of articles. I made an avocado “soup” which had plenty of fat, and a drizzle of Mandarin olive oil sealed the deal. The kumquats provided acidity. Green onions, jalapeno, and mint added crunch and brightness, and flakes of my beloved Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) rounded out the pattern.

And it sort of sucked.

Why? Although I had all four components, they were totally out of balance. The avocado puree was so rich, it coated your palate and pretty much obliterated everything else. The other ingredients seemed lost in a sea of creaminess.

So the point is, it isn’t enough just to include salt, acid, fat and crunch and assume you will make a great dish. There has to be an appropriate balance, where each component can be appreciated. One may be subtle, and another bold, but not to the point of overpowering the whole composition.

That doesn’t apply only to fancy-pants amuse bouches, either. Think of a humble green salad with vinaigrette. The greens provide the crunch, while the dressing should have a good balance of oil, vinegar and salt. When that balance is achieved, it is refreshing and delicious. If the vinaigrette has too much oil or vinegar, or the whole salad is overdressed, that appeal is lost.

So how would I have fixed this dish? A good approach using the same ingredients would be to use kumquat juice as the “soup”, and tiny dice of avocado as part of the garnish. The sour juice would hit your palate first, and the avocado would offer a soothing counterpoint.

Oh well. Here’s to mistakes, aka learning opportunities.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, January 28th, 2010 in Miscellany, Theory and Rants.

9 Responses to “When It All Goes Wrong – Making Your Food Pop Part 5”

  1. Reply
    January 28, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    I think amuses have gotten totally out of whack for the reasons you describe. classically they were always something a touch salty or a touch sour- to not just amuse the palate but to excite it, literally to make the mouth water and get your body thinking it’s time to eat to make you appreciate even more what was to come. they would not have been based on something fatty, since that only serves to tire the palate. now chefs interpret it as a fancy little dish, and they try to fancy it up with all sorts of inappropriate things. I ate at a certain Seattle French restaurant in which they serve a platter of several amuse, including a demitasse of soup based upon foie gras. luxurious perhaps, but totally inappropriate.

  2. Reply
    January 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for explaining what an amuse is. Is it served just in a spoon as in the picture here? It’s not a part of our cuisine. So I don’t know much about it. But as you say, we alwayslearn a lot through our experiments. And the picture above is still so stunning!

  3. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 28, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    @zerrin – An amuse isn't necessarily served in a spoon; it could just as well be on a bit of bread or right on a plate with a small fork, or even a shot glass. But the spoon presentation is very popular. Some folks make special "amuse bouche spoons", but they are the soup spoons used at many Asian restaurants work great and are available very inexpensively.

  4. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    January 28, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    @Paul – "a platter of several amuse" ?!? I agree, that just seems wrong for any sort of traditional French meal. Taken to the extreme, you can have a meal that is essentially nothing but a series of amuse, like the 30+ courses you would have at Alinea or El Bulli. But in the context of a "normal" meal, it sounds both too precious and too filling.

  5. Reply
    January 29, 2010 at 4:52 am #

    And the great thing about experimentation is learning from them and making small changes to improve, in the process you learn a lot about the ingredients and your style and technique!

  6. Reply
    January 29, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Thanks for posting your failures too–these happen to all of us and they can be so useful!

  7. Reply
    January 29, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    Hi, take it easy, we all fail sometimes. I just re-tweeted this post. If you like, connect with us on http://TASTEandSHARE.com

  8. Reply
    January 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    It seems to me that the five ingredients you chose for your amuse each have such a distinct personality that they would inevitably clash. everything was pulling in a different direction. Perhaps if you had limited the palate to two main players like kumquat and mint, and then filled in with supporting players (like chopping them up and tossing them with some couscous and then rolling it up in a lettuce leaf and drizzling it with a kumquat infused simple syrup) you would have had a hit.

  9. Reply
    January 31, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    There has to be a way to make this amuse bouche work, flavor combination sounds amazing! I would try mixing cream cheese with a lot of mint and kumquat juice and top it with a tiny dice of avocado, green onion and jalapeno pieces.
    I posted a very similar amuse bouche spoon recipe not long ago. My avocado cream was served with grapefruit and crab link to ow.ly

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