Thursday, 2 October 2014

Tonka -a missed opportunity

Seductively aromatic, somewhat toxic, and celebrated 
by many for its intriguing qualities

Where was I when everybody was talking Tonka? It seemed a culinary craze has passed me by. While modern haute cuisine worked overtime to add scents to our plates I must have been working hard at something else.What plonka could have bypassed Tonka? Perhaps it was my aversion to ever reading about the revival of cooking with hay and "Parfum de barnyard",when all one heard of was Grant Achatz's pillows of vapourized fresh mown grass and José Andrés bowls of smoke seeping from under hay brulée. I acknowledge that in "avant-garde cuisine" drama and novelty are important but the FDA in America considered drama can sometimes be deadly.How exciting is that?
Enter the Tonka bean, a flat, wrinkled legume from South America with a larger than life flavour that the US federal government declared illegal.(I have to say that on the two occasions I have used it I have experienced very vivid dreams,and on one occasion a mild nightmare,so be warned ) Nonetheless, somehow it has proliferated on elite menus. The tiniest shavings erupt like Arthurian legend in a myriad of mystical aromas.
Tonka beans are an unusual spice that you don’t see in everyday cooking, but have a very unique flavour. In all likelihood,this is probably the one most versatile ingredient you’ve never tried. Like vanilla, the flavour of the Tonka bean can be very complex, but can also be very subtle when it is used in a recipe – which means that it can be difficult to pinpoint the origin of those flavours unless you know that the tonka is in there.
The taste of the Tonka bean is linked strongly to its scent. Scents, I should say, as the Tonka bean has many at once. It does not come as much surprise that the fragrance of the Tonka bean, was once also used in the manufacture of perfume.One´s palate can register aromas of cherry, almond, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves with sometimes with hints of caramel and even tobacco.The Tonka bean has been adopted countrywide by the Portuguese as a flavour enhancer in Arroz Doce, Portuguese Rice pudding.
When served cold—say, in ice cream, the taste is like a vanilla caramel with dark honey. When warm, perhaps shaved (it's almost always shaved) over scallops, it moves toward spiced vanilla.
While the flavour has its own dependence, it adds a unique dimension when paired with chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and the like. Wrinkled and black in appearance, the inside of the hard bean is a dusty chocolate brown that can be applied to dishes in the same way as nutmeg; easily grated as needed.While the tonka bean has savoury applications (such as in certain regional French stews), its more popular applications are sweet:ice cream,  panna cotta, crème brulee, chocolate desserts, truffles and many other dishes.
With such a uniquely appealing aroma, one smell of a tonka bean will have you inventing recipes and imagining delicious applications for this underused ingredient.I would keep my eye out for the opportunity to try it if you haven’t encountered it before.It might not be common, but you won’t forget the flavour once you’ve had it.
Tonka bean panna cotta
makes 6 ramekins 

500 ml good quality yoghurt
500ml half and half mixture of single cream and mlk
225g sugar
1 teaspoon grated Tonka bean
4 leaves gelatine

 
Beat the yoghurt lightly with a fork until smooth and creamy.
Combine the cream and milk mixture, sugar and grated tonka bean in a pot over a medium flame until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is nicely warm to the touch.Remove from the heat. Dissolve the gelatine in 4 tablespoons of water and add to the cream and milk mixture. Stir to mix, ensuring the gelatine is completely dissolved.Beat in the yoghurt.
Strain through a sieve into the ramekins and chill for several hours or overnight until set.

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