Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hay, that's delicious

A few years ago I visited a ranch just outside of Seattle to purchase a bale of hay.  Spring had recently sprung and put me in the mood for farm fresh flavors. Sure, I could have picked up some fiddlehead ferns, fresh asparagus and some first-run Chinook salmon at the Pike Place Market to make a spectacular Spring feast without ever leaving town but that would have been too easy.  Remembering a gigot d'agneau au foin, or leg of lamb cooked in hay I had eaten in France several years prior, I decided that THIS was the farm flavor I was after.  Cooking food in hay is a centuries old technique and has recently had a resurgence of interest among experimental chefs.  In addition to working as an insulator that helps to regulate the temperature of the meat during cooking,  hay also, not surprisingly, imparts a very unique and delicious, grassy note to the foods that are cooked within it.

Since acquiring this enormous block of pasturage I've used it to make 3 legs of lamb, 2 hams, one rabbit, a knapsack of parsnips and a goose, yet seeing it again last week, still in my basement, I'd swear the bale has only grown larger.  Before spreading the remaining cubic yard of dried grass as mulch in my herb garden, I thought it would be fun to explore using the farm flavor in some less traditional ways. 

Like many foods with unique flavors, my first instinct is always to run it through my rotovap and see what comes out. The rotovap, as I mentioned in my post on kimchi, is an extreme flavor extractor that efficiently leaves one with a pure concentrate of the base ingredient.  "Raw" hay however, isn't excessively flavorful in its dried state (probably the reason why we feed it to cows and then eat the cow rather than just eat the hay itself).  Because of this, extracting the flavor of hay in my rotovap worked but it required 9 separate runs of the apparatus to get enough essence to be useful.  I did end up using my hay liquor on raw oysters (delicious), to flavor vodka (also delicious) and to infuse butter which was spread on fresh baked bread (ridiculously delicious) but these were all savory applications.  What about dessert? 

As I mentioned, extracting the flavor from hay using a rotovap is a time consuming process. It's also a process that giving a recipe for would be about as useful to most readers as if I suggested they launch the grass into orbit.  No rotovap, no hay extract.  My goal was to find a means of delivering as much farm flavor as possible while still using a technique that everyone has access to, in a delivery medium that everyone loves. I give you StrawVery Ice Cream.  

StrawVery Ice Cream

350g (1 1/2 cups) Heavy Cream
244g (1 cup) Whole Milk
150g (3/4 cup) Sugar
5g (3/4 tsp) Salt
6 egg yolks

Bring cream, milk, sugar, and salt just to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally. Lightly beat yolks in a large bowl, then add hot sweetened cream in a slow stream, whisking. 

Pour custard into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until a candy or instant-read thermometer registers 170°F and custard coats back of spoon, about 10 minutes

Hay, Water
Soak the hay in warm water to saturate.

Place wet hay in the bottom of a large cooking vessel.  A wok works perfectly for this.

Invert a vegetable steamer and place it over the damp hay. If your steamer has legs on the underside, remove them.

Fill a heat proof bowl with the ice cream 'batter' made in step 1 and place on top of the inverted steamer.

Invert a second, larger vessel on top of the entire apparatus and ignite the burner to smoke the batter.  Pure white smoke will start puffing from the union of the base and lid within seconds indicating that your rig is working properly.....or the successful election of a new pope.  Remove the lid every couple of minutes to taste the  'batter' and stop the process once the farm flavor has achieved your desired level of hay.

Freeze and churn the now hay-smoked batter using your preferred method and enjoy.

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