If you read much about food – restaurant reviews, foodie magazines, etc – you’ve likely encountered the notion of deconstructed food or rather deconstructed dishes. The idea is to take a familiar dish, take its basic ingredients, and re-imagine the dish by combining them into new forms, textures or combinations to highlight the ingredients in interesting ways while still honoring the idea, and more importantly, the flavors of the original dish. At their best, deconstructed dishes can be a revelation. At their worst, they are pretentious and can be a waste of good food.
My first, first-hand, encounter with deconstructed food was a “Caesar” Salad at Graham Elliot in Chicago. We don’t normally go to, or more accurately can’t afford to, eat a such places. They tend to be in major cities (Green Bay doesn’t make the mark), are hard to get a table at and are generally out of our price range. But we were going to be in Chicago, thought far enough ahead to get a reservation, and decided we would splurge on a dinner at G.E. were I started with his deconstructed “Caesar” salad.
What I had in Chicago was pretty close to what is shown above. The dressing was a smear across the plate, topped with a brioche “crouton” that was filled (a la cream puff) with Parmesan foam, topped with Gem lettuce (a mini head that’s a cross between butter lettuce and Romaine) and finally topped with a light grating of fresh Parmesan and a Spanish white anchovy.
This week we hosted a dinner party and I thought I would tackle a deconstructed dish as a part of the menu (actually, I ended up with two). Rather than follow Graham Elliot’s lead, I decided to let Thomas Keller of the The French Laundry be my guide. We’ve posted some deconstructed ventures before (Eggplant Parm: Deconstructed, Deconstructed Gazpacho and Deconstructed Ravioli) but none of those took on the challenge of transforming one or more of the dish’s components into something beyond what one might find in the original (a la Graham Elliot’s Parmesan foam). Thomas Keller’s version of Caesar salad does that by turning some of the egg found in a traditional Caesar dressing and the Parmesan cheese from the salad into a cheese custard (sort of a savory panna cotta).
He also changes some of the cheese into a crispy cheese wafer, adding a different texture to the salad.
Here’s what I ended up with.
This version presents the dressing as a puddle at the base surrounded with a drizzle of Balsamic glaze, a crouton made from a slice of baguette, a Parmesan custard, a Parmesan crisp, Romaine lettuce and shaved Parmesan. Mr. Keller include an anchovy in his dressing which I eliminated at the request of my better half (I added some good quality Thai fish sauce instead).
On the whole, an interesting “salad”. I don’t think I ruined any food. It certainly took a lot more time to reconstruct this deconstructed presentation that it would to just make a salad. The custard was quite good. The crouton was pretty crunchy. I’m glad I attempted it but probably never again.
I noted above that I tried two deconstructed dishes. The other was dessert – a sort of deconstructed Mound’s bar – coconut crisps, double dark chocolate gelato, coconut gelato and Belgian Chocolate Thins. Only the coconut crisps were made in-house, the remaining parts were from the store. It turned out well – a nice echo of the structure of the salad we started with – crispy discs and other components piled up.