Honestly, I didn’t mean for my dish to get so complicated… really. I wanted it to be simple, I mean we’re talking water here. But while drinking water is easy, eating water requires high concept. In researching Chinese New Year food, I read that many of the traditional dishes are “edible puns” where the name or shape or symbol of the food is a homonym for the holiday’s good wishes. I tried to incorporate this concept in a number of ways — as bites that tasted of the sea (Blue Point oysters on the half shell), accompanied by foods that had the word “water” in them (watermelon and watercress), as well as water where it was unexpected (soup ravioli) and the Chinese symbol for water drawn on the plate with edible ink (squid).
The idea was that after the oysters and ravioli were eaten off the half shells, the liquid from the pickled watermelon rind and the salad would “deglaze” the Chinese symbol for water painted on the plate with squid ink which would contribute a briney richness to the dressing, and you’d be “eating water” literally, like this:
Whew… way overthought, and completely unrealistic that I could have pulled it off without enlisting everyone’s help. Thanks!
Regarding the pickling — I was concerned with traditional pickling methods that I would basically have one shot at getting it right, and if it sucked, I wouldn’t have enough time for a do-over. Poking around the interweb, I found a couple of examples of using vacuum to accelerate the pickling process. Using a commercial-grade vacuum chamber, or a 60ml syringe, or a home vacuum food-saver. I played around with the syringe technique at work, and ended up bringing home a (clean and unused) suction canister, and rigged up the hand vacuum pump that I normally use to bleed hydraulic brake lines on the motorcycles. I separately pickled fresh watermelon dice in lemon juice, salt, sugar and cayenne for the oyster garnish,
and the thinly sliced watermelon rind (to keep the shells level) in white wine, raspberry vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander and star anise.
Regarding the soup ravioli: These were a riff on Chinese soup dumplings (xiao long bao). The traditional recipe uses pork and is way complicated; I was looking for something simpler. I wanted a savory seafood broth, so I started with clam juice, and simmered it with fresh tarragon, fennel, anchovy, a drop of liquid smoke, a splash of white wine, and some cayenne. After straining, I added unflavored gelatin, and chilled it solid. I made fresh squid ink pasta (why? … well, we now have 500g of squid ink, what else do you suggest I do with it?) and used a cappelletti stamp which seemed like it would make nice little bite-sized black pearl pillows similar to these green ones. I practiced a few times the day before, and realized that making the ravioli without spilling the broth would be the biggest challenge of my plate.
Regarding the pairing(s). The easy choice would have been to pair with plain water. The thought crossed my mind, and I even contacted ReidA to see if he had any of those ultra-pure Tasmanian Cape Grim bottles left. He didn’t, so I decided to make my own watermelon seltzer water. I have a rig set up sort of like this one, so that was easy. But water? C’mon, we’re drinking water? So then I had the idea of ice wine, incorporating the water theme again. My concern was that while conceptually it fit the water theme, it might be too sweet to pair with the dish. So at the last minute, I picked up a bottle of Viña Godeval which uses the Godello grape, is comparable to Albariño, and was described as pairing very nicely with seafood and shellfish.