Inspired by an apple pie I used to eat when I was a kid that Ronald used to make. Ours is a little more grown up, including raisins cooked in Riesling, applejack (booze, not cereal) icing, and mascarpone gelato. Deep fried in pork fat just like the original.
Lots of people are doing lots of cool things with barrels these days.
Of course people have been doing cool things with barrels for some time: wine, balsamic vinegar, sherry. But some new fads have emerged of late that seem destined to join American food and drink culture permanently. Craft breweries are aging their beers in spent Bourbon barrels and any mixologist worth his mustache curl has had a negroni sitting in a barrel behind his bar at some point in his career. Some of my favorites are coming from Steve Stallard, proprietor of Blis right here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Steve makes a long line of really astonishingly good things to eat, including smoked roes from wild caught char and golden trout, to white truffle oil, to a growing cadre of things aged in spent Heaven Hill barrels.
Some notables are Michigan maple syrup, sherry vinegar, and now, hopefully soon, fish sauce. The fish sauce is from a company called Red Boat, which our faithful fans may remember from the pig tail post. Red Boat fish sauce is made on an island off the coast of Vietnam using very traditional methods. Black anchovies are caught, salted and aged in cypress barrels and the resulting liquid is bottled and sold. It is excellent. We’ve been using it for a few months at the restaurant and has made fish sauce one of my latest obsessions (I have to admit, I hadn’t had that much exposure to fish sauce and at first found it a little aggressive — but now I can’t get enough).
As it turns out, Steve knew about this great sauce as well and decided to put it into one of his barrels. He brought us some to try not too long ago which gave us the opportunity to sample them side by side and get a clear picture of the effects a barrel can have. The barrel aging tamed the salt and brought in a bit of sweetness. It brought the complexities of the wood: oak, vanilla, smoke, and of course Bourbon. The sauce morphed into something very different but still kept a sense of itself. The real struggle for us is how to use it. It’s one of those ingredients you wouldn’t always want to use in the way you might typically use a fish sauce, to deepen the flavors of a broth or soup or a salty punch to finish your Pad Thai. We feel compelled to leave it alone and really let it shine.
One way or another you’ll be seeing it around here a lot when it finally comes to market. Thanks again, Steve. You are truly a chef’s chef.