Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Norman Hole

“Dessert is probably the most important stage of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table.”
- William Powell (1892-1984), American actor

            The way I see it, Thanksgiving is marathon, not a sprint.  The only way you can consume all that food is through careful strategizing and pacing.  Who wants to throw in the towel at Thanksgiving’s Heartbreak Hill?  That is a tragedy no Thanksgiving should witness, and thus, Omnieater suggests you take “le trou Normand,” or the Norman hole.
            Regardless of what you may be thinking (and if you are thinking that, then you really have a vivid imagination), the Norman hole is nothing to fear.  It simply refers to the French tradition of having a bit of Calvados as a palate cleanser in a multi-course meal.[1]  While I think a nip of Calva is genius, not everyone is into brandy – especially right before dessert.  But this does not mean you shouldn’t have a palate cleanser at Thanksgiving.  Most mouths just go into overdrive at multi-course meals, and everything starts to taste the same.  Save your taste buds from boredom.  Just trou it.
            These days, a trou Normand is a sorbet doused with Calvados.  As mentioned above, brandy is not to everyone’s liking, but I am sure sorbet is.  The key to a good “trou” is in its cleansing abilites – that usually demands some kind of alcohol or acid to counter all the fat lolling about your digestive tract.  Thus, the lemongrass mint sorbet.  It has the acidity needed to clear your plate, but it doesn’t muddle the flavors of Asian cuisine.
            And you’re going to need that trou.  Since I was tired of making pumpkin pie, I thought that a mousse of some sort mousse would be nice.  Pumpkin mousse?  That goes in the same category as the pumpkin latte.  Some things were never intended by god or nature.  Speaking of god, someone or something close to god thought up the chili-chocolate combination.  Although it has become quite trendy in foodie circles to put to the two together, it is for a good reason – it’s damn good.  On the basis of that, I thought I would put together a dark chocolate and chipotle mousse.  If you could have sex in a ramekin – this stuff would be it. 
            On that note, I have to go prepare my own Thanksgiving dinner – otherwise there will be a lot of thanklessness tomorrow night.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Lemongrass Mint Sorbet
Yield: 3 cups
6 stalks of fresh lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves and root ends discarded
3 c. water
1/2 c. fresh mint, cleaned and dried
1/2 c. sugar
1 lime, juiced
1/2 tsp. salt (use sea salt)

1.     Using the bottom end of a knife, pound the lemongrass stalks flat.  Slice pounded stalks as thinly as possible, discarding any dried parts (usually the top parts of the stem).
2.     Simmer water with lemongrass for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan.  Uncover, and add mint.  Simmer for 1 minute more.  Remove pan from heat, and add sugar, stirring until dissolved.   Cool for 10 minutes.
3.     Puree lemongrass mixture, lime juice and salt in a blender.  Strain mixture through a fine sieve, pressing hard on the solids to extract the most liquid.  Chill syrup, covered, until cold and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can freeze the syrup in a bowl until solid and then blend the sorbet in batches in a food processor or blender.  Freeze again in muffin tins (they will form a nice individual servings) and serve.

Dark Chocolate and Chipotle Mousse
            This recipe does not take long, but you can make it up to 2 days ahead of time, with the containers covered with parchment paper or plastic wrap.  I find that the mousse deflates a bit if you make it ahead of time, so if you can, avoid doing so.  If you are making it ahead of time, remember to take out the mouse at least 30 minutes before serving. 

Servings: 8
8 oz. (1/2 pd) of good bittersweet chocolate (up to 70% cacao), chopped (see note)
6 tbs. unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into tbs.
3 large eggs, separated (see note)
1 tbs. Grand Marnier
1 c. very cold heavy cream
1/8 tsp. salt (sea salt)
1 tsp. chipotle powder (see note)

1.     Melt chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring gently until smooth and completely melted. Remove from heat.
2.     Meanwhile, beat egg yolks until it forms a ribbon, about 2 to 4 minutes.  Mix yolks, Grand Marnier and chipotle powder into melted chocolate until combined and cool mixture until warm.
3.     Beat cream in a medium bowl until it holds stiff peaks.
4.     With clean (any trace of fat will prevent your whites from beating properly) beaters, beat whites with salt in a clean bowl until it holds soft peaks.
5.     Gently fold whipped cream, beaten whites into the chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined.  Serve immediately.
Note: This recipe uses raw eggs and therefore there is a risk of salmonella.  If you are not comfortable with this, then you are better off making something else for dessert. I recommend either Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or Callebaut for the bittersweet chocolate.  When you have so few ingredients, Hersheys is not going to cut it.   Chipotle powder can be found at Latino grocers, specialty markets, and at Penzeys Spices.

[1] I haven’t really sussed out the history behind “le trou Normand,” but I’m assuming it has to do with the region in which Calvados is produced (Normandy).  As to why it’s a “hole,” I will venture a guess:  once you’ve hit this point in a meal, you’re in deep.  Probably completely off base, but it was worth a shot.

1 comment:

  1. so, being your faithful reader from Normandy albeit living in Los Angeles, I can tell you the tradition originated at banquets/weddings/super long meals that last 7 hours straight.

    It's called "un trou" because the real good calva is something like 70% proof (the stuff we used to moonshine at home, not the weak apple-flavored water they sell in stores) and was therefore used to dig a hole in your stomach, to leave more room for more food.

    When I was a kid it wasn't right before dessert, it was after the main dishes (2 mains, we used to have, yes) and before the cheese.

    we also have "une eau chaude" after meals in my Norman family, i.e. hot water + calva and 1 teaspoon sugar. To help digestion.