Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gastronauts Chevaline Dinner, plus Tonka Beans

In December the Gastronauts hosted a Chevaline dinner at The Meat Hook. Chevaline, for those of you, like me, who don't read French means horse. Horse meat is not really to be found at your local megamart in the US, so some enterprising members drove to Canada to procure some meat for our meal.  I had tried horse once before in the form of sashimi in an Izakaya on Tokyo's Ginza district, and found it to be not bad at all. Surprisingly mild and lean; quite clean tasting.  The dinner here confirmed my initial impression from years ago.
As an interesting anecdote illustrating unintended consequences of stupid government meddling, a few years ago bowing to pressure from Animal Rights Groups, congress killed the US horse slaughter industry. (They did it in a back-handed fashion to boot.  They didn't have the balls to stand up and ban it outright, so they pulled funding for federal inspectors for the facilities, which of course killed them because by law they must be inspected to allow human consumption of the product.  What slimeballs.)  Anyway, the small industry died, but now with no way to get rid of unwanted horses, they are simply abandoned or sold for practically nothing to be crammed onto trains and shipped to Mexico to be slaughtered, a trip that by all accounts is much worse than had they been dispatched at a nearby, presumably nicer, US slaughterhouse. There was a recent conference in Vegas with the goal of figuring out how to revive the industry. To add insult to injury, us taxpayers have been paying to house excess wild horses in unideal conditions for the animals:
While U.S. slaughterhouses in the past processed primarily domesticated horses, the conference in Las Vegas will also discuss the thousands of mustangs the federal government removes from Western rangeland each year to keep herds in check.
The government has had difficulty finding adoptive homes for the wild horses. Last year, taxpayers spent $37 million to hold nearly 40,000 animals in corrals and pastures indefinitely
The folly of our government will be a recurring theme in this post.

Ok, on to the food. Here's what we supped upon:
Chevaline Dinner at

BROOKLYN KITCHEN

Lemon Tonkatinis
Tonka Bean infused Vodka

Chevaline Carpaccio
Pecorino and Tonka Aioli

Tartare de Cheval

Coeur de Cheval
Butter Lettuce, Black Truffle, Egg, Heart, Roast Shallot - Aged Sherry Vinaigrette

Red Wine & Molasses Braised Flank Chevaline
Winter Vegetables, Horseradish & Fried Parsnip

Pan Seared Chevaline Rump
Braised Escarole, Sweet Onion & Tonka Hollandaise

Frozen Tonka Bean Creme Brulee
Chocolate Black Pepper Wafer, and Poached Pears

My first introduction to the Tonka bean was in a cocktail, as Lemon Tonkatinis made with Tonka Bean infused Vodka were available as we entered.  Tonkas are a bean from South America (wikipedia) which have a unique and intoxicating scent, the strongest note is reminiscent of vanilla, but there are many other layers of aroma going on, almond, cherry, cinnamon...it's hard to put your finger on it.  As the night would show me, I am a fan; they are quite intriguing.
Trouble is that Tonkas are illegal in the US because they containing trace amounts of coumarin, a substance banned by the FDA in 1954 for dubious reasons.  Naturally, they only got around to enforcing it relatively recently, raiding Alina and their supplier in 2006.  The ingredient is popular in France and can even be found in Achatz's Alinea cookbook.  On another note of government silliness, coumarin is also present in comparable amounts in Nutmeg, as well as cinnamon and many other common foods.  It is the reason that Żubrówka, or Buffalo Grass Vodka, is banned from import in to the US.  (The recent appearance in the US of Buffalo Grass Vodka is reformulated and coumarin free, aka fake.)  You can apparently buy Tonkas here for use next time you need to cast a spell for love or money, but not to eat.

Our first course used both ingredients; the Chevaline Carpaccio was a good way to start as it really let the meat stand out and let you notice the difference between horse and beef.  It was as I remembered, lean and surprisingly mild flesh, nicely aromatized by the Tonka Aioli.
Next we had the Tartare de Cheval.  This was really tasty, and while I liked it more than the previous course, that was only because I in general like tartare more than carpaccio.  Even though I liked this more, I am more glad I had the carpaccio to try the meat in a less aggressively seasoned form.  This was many people's favorite dish of the night.

After they were plated on the island in the room where we ate, we received the Coeur de Cheval with Butter Lettuce, Black Truffle, Egg, Heart, Roast Shallot-Aged Sherry Vinaigrette.  Here, the heart was prepared sous vide for 6 hours until it became quite tender before being sliced thin.  The texture was clearly not a normal cut of meat, but less dissimilar than other preparations of heart I have tried.  Even the horse heart is mild, but still quite pleasant.
Next up was Red Wine & Molasses Braised Flank Chevaline with Winter Vegetables, Horseradish & Fried Parsnip.  This was ok, but I think suffered a bit because the horse is so lean.  The flavor was good, but more fat in the meat would have allowed it to keep from drying out some.
The Pan Seared Chevaline Rump with Braised Escarole, Sweet Onion & Tonka Hollandaise was good, but again I think would have benefited from some more fat.  Pretty comparable to filet mignon.  The Tonka Hollandaise, however, was out of this world.  I could eat a bowl of the stuff.  The hollandaise and the next course really showed off how Tonkas can play well in both sweet and savor dishes and bring its unique aromas to the plate, and thereby bringing the dishes to another level.
Shockingly, the Frozen Tonka Bean Creme Brulee with Chocolate Black Pepper Wafer and Poached Pears might very well have been my favorite dish of the night.  I know, a plate with no meat, and a dessert at that, being my favorite might be a first.  I was simply intoxicated by the tonka.  So familiar, yet at the same time such utterly new tastes.  I can see why tonkas are used in magic love potions.  In fact, I just clicked on that link above and ordered some to play with.  But in food for me, not magic.

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