Oyster Cleanser

This was probably one of the most difficult projects I’ve had to take on thus far, and it wasn’t for this website. It was a project I had to complete for Nowness.com, which is a online magazine that features work by people who contribute creatively to the fashion and arts. As always I was a bit afraid that I couldn’t deliver on my end, so I worked 3-4 times harder to make sure that they would be pleased.

The editorial staff were extremely pleasant to work with, and it was nice to also have them offer an idea. For once I was freed from thinking up a concept from complete scratch. Since this project would be posted during January (after the holiday festivities) they suggested I come up with a palette cleanser recipe. Palette cleansers are perfect for this time of year because everyone’s had their fair share of heavy food from Thanksgiving and Christmas parties.

It took me a couple of days to think of this idea, in the beginning I was completely stuck. I had no idea what I was going to do, and I knew they were waiting for me to reply back to their e-mail. After two days of being unable to reply the editorial staff had asked if I was still willing to take on the challenge, of course I was, but I just needed time. All of a sudden I thought of my favorite ritual of all time, eating oysters. But how I would take this ritual and spin it into something modern yet still classic, this was the question.  And how would I work in the palette cleanser angle as well? I’ve always been keen on taking classic ideas and giving them a twist, I don’t believe in inventing from scratch.

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As always the editorial staff over at Nowness did an amazing job of choosing shots, and I’m grateful they are letting me post my own version of this shoot. Since this is a blog format I can select more photos, doesn’t necessarily make it better, but here you’ll get to see a little more. Here we go.

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Whenever you want to take something classic and put a modern twist on it, you have to first break the original idea down, I like to just organize these elements and separate them just so I can figure out how to bring them back together in a new way. That’s exactly what I did, the ritual of eating oysters includes a splash of vinegary ingredients like a squeeze of lemon, hot sauce, maybe some mint. Then you have that cocktail sauce component which is mostly made of tomato sauce. This isn’t always served with oysters; actually, using cocktail sauce to eat oysters is not always proper, but I knew I could still use this component and turn it into something much more elevated. I knew what I’d do with this tomato based sauce, and this would become the cleanser component of the recipe. I’d use the classic method of boiling tomatoes for a long time until it turns into a crystal clear liquid, which we all know as tomato consomme. My most important problem solving element of this project was done. The cleanser aspect was going to be fulfilled with this consomme. But how I was I going to work in those other flavor elements? I knew I’d have to reduce and simplify. Below we have to start with many egg whites and tomatoes. This time I didn’t use any flavorings like herbs or onions to the consomme. I wanted the flavor to be very clean.

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Egg yolk and egg white separation. As always I highly suggest you save the yolks for mayonnaise.

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Slice your tomatoes and boil, after you boil you have to sift out all the residue until you get a smooth red broth.

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The last moment, pouring the egg whites into the boiling tomato broth.

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Instead of showing you direct action shots of the tomatoes being sifted out and boiled over again, I wanted to show you stages of this tomato going from fresh, to boiled, to crystal clear. First you have the fresh tomato, then it boils, then it turns into a sauce, then a red broth.. then it turns mildly yellow, and right at the end you drop in your egg whites to grab all the impurities. What interests me most about this process is that you can barely recognize what this is by the end of the process, you would never think that this could come from the tomato. Yet the flavor is out of this world. Even the flavor itself is a mystery, yes it does taste like a tomato but it really takes a while to figure it out.

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The process of making this consomme is quite laborious, but I still had to face the other flavors used when enjoying oysters. Like hot sauce and lemon, mint, and red onion. There was absolutely NO way I’d just put a slice of lemon into this cleanser recipe with mint and hot sauce, the elements would have to be both solid and liquid, turning these extracts into small caviar pearls would be the perfect solution, since the shot glasses are small the caviar would also work well visually. To do this I had to prepare tools and apply techniques used for molecular gastronomy.

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Two important ingredients, Calcium Chloride and Sodium Alginate. Each of these need to measured out on the scale, the alginate is used mainly for the extracts, and the chloride is used for the water bath. The chloride is what creates the caviar’s exterior once the alginate mixture is dropped into the baths.

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To make it clear to you what flavors I chose to use. Hot sauce, red onion extract, and lemon & mint extract. It was really important to use the freshest ingredients here.

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Here are the extracts after they have been mixed with the Alginate. This process is also very complex, as the alginate needs to be mixed first and they need to rest for at least an hour or two. It cannot be dropped into the bath right away. The alginate mixture is always bubbly at first because these mixing machines tend to also whip air into them as well. You can tell here that my mixtures are very smooth.

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After some meticulous work, the pearls are ready to go. These will garnish my cocktails, these flavors are again derivative of what you would encounter while eating oysters. It was very important to keep things recognizable and classic, but still new.

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All of the elements are now in order, all you have to do is compose. I added a little cucumber for extra freshness but you can choose to omit this.

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Oysters, consomme, vodka, cucumber, and caviar. Don’t forget to garnish with some fresh mint. You don’t have to add vodka of course.

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To serve for guests, you want to keep these cocktails cold for as long as possible. I created an ice block with shot ditches to hold the cocktails.

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Enjoy! Thanks for reading, more soon.

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