I have mulling this one over in my head for a while now. I have been thinking of ideas for simple appetizers, or even an amuse bouche that had the flavor intensity that I love with autumn, but a really clean light taste.
Sage is one of my favorite autumn herbs. Rich, deep, but yet floral, and sometimes with almost a citrus undertone to it. It adds this lovely almost smokiness to dishes, and really gives a certain robustness. Cook some with a little proscuitto and butternut squash, and have the basis for a lovely little quick pasta dish that just shouts fallen leaves, dew, and scarves.
I wanted to use sage in a different light texturally however. I have chewed through many a chiffonade of sage, but wanted something different. Something a little lighter, and not so obvious. Having the sage as an infused oil is just perfect here. It is light, very clean tasting, but has the flavor intensity of sage I love, just knocked back a little bit. And the color. Holy cow. Just this deep, rich robust green. It looks like I just pureed grass. OK, that doesn’t sound too good..hmm. To lighten the flavor a bit of the oil, and to increase the green color, I added some parsley to the mix. I cannot however take credit for the method of making this oil. That is squarely down to Thomas Keller. So I might have come up with sage oil, but it is his method of blending, straining and refining that honestly made this oil what it is… bloody tasty.
That leaves hibiscus salt. Sounds a little bit poncy doesn’t it. Hibiscus salt is often used in Spanish cooking as a finishing salt. It is a bright, light, slightly floral tasting salt that has a wonderful vivid color. The flavor isn’t too intense – it just seems to lift a dish a little bit. You can buy the stuff either online, or I am sure at some decent grocery stores or specialty shops. I decided to have a go at making mine, and it turned out pretty decent. The stuff you can buy in the shops might be a stronger flavor, since I think it is made using fresh hibiscus flowers.. but it has been so long since I tasted bought hibiscus salt, I cannot be 100%!
So what is the idea of this dish? Well.. take some of the thinly sliced tuna. Dip it in the oil, and then ever so lightly in the salt. Scoff it down. Rinse and repeat. Light autumnal flavors just spring from this one. The ahi is light, smooth and creamy. Herbal flavor comes from the oil, and a wonderful salty kick gets punched in from the salt. This really was just wonderfully light and fresh.
In my mind, you could quite easily make this with kona kampachi. In fact, I reckon it would be much better with it. The clean white flesh of the kampachi would certainly be a vivid offset to the hibiscus salt, and the sage oil.
So, there you have it. If you want an amuse or appetizer that can be prepared a day ahead, and requires no effort at all on the day. This is it. Heck, you could even lay down some of the sage oil on a large plate, put the fish on top of that, and sprinkle (ever so lightly) with the sage oil, and let people just pick at that.
As mentioned above, the method for making the herb oil has been adapted from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook.
Yellow fin tuna, sage oil, hibiscus salt
1/2lb yellow fin tuna, or Kona Kampachi
1.5 cups of sage leaves
1.5 cups of flat leaf parsley sprigs
1 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of hibiscus flowers (dried – find this at good grocery stores)
2 tablespoons of really good quality sea salt (fleur de sel)
kosher salt (quite a lot..)
Start the day before you need the oil. Fill a large pan with water, and add to this 1/4 cup of kosher salt for every quart of water. Get it boiling vigorously.
Prepare an ice bath. Put the sage leaves in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then straight into the ice water. This will keep their bright color. Do the same for the parsley leaves, but for only 10 seconds in the boiling water.
When the leaves are completely cold, drain them, and dry the best you can on paper towels. Roughly cut them up with scissors.
Put these in a blender with olive oil. Blend on medium for a minute, then high for two minutes. Make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot. If it does, remove from the blender, cool, rinse out the blender, and blend again. Blend for another 4 minutes on high.
Pour this mixture into a bowl, cover, and put in the fridge for 24 hours to intensify the flavor.
Put a double layer of cheesecloth over a bowl, and secure with an elastic band. Pour the herb/oil mixture onto the cheesecloth, and let it drip through into the bowl. Don’t push it through, or you will cloud the oil and get bits in it. Discard the cheesecloth and pulp when done.
To make the hibiscus salt. Put the dried hibiscus in a pestle and mortar, and grind until fine. Add in the salt salt, and grind to a fine texture. I find that a coarse grind is really odd with the smooth texture of the fish. Store this flavored salt in an airtight container.
Thinly slice the tuna just before serving. Serve with the oil and hibiscus salt.