Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shiso Tasty

Shiso—like basil, mint, thyme, oregano and sage—belongs to the mint family; and, like all the herbs listed above, it has its own unique flavor. Some people that I work with describe it as being “like mint.” It’s not. It tastes like shiso: a strong, slightly bitter flavor with a little fruitiness at the end. Chances are, if you have ever eaten at a sushi bar, you have probably come across it at some point.

I don’t really like it. It has its place, certainly, with good Uni, or paired with pickled plum, but it isn’t something that I seek out. Other people I know will eat it like it’s popcorn. I suppose my taste buds just aren’t as mature.

It is a hard ingredient to incorporate into a dessert, which is why I havn’t used it thus far. While shopping around the other day, I found strawberries for $1.50 per pound, and knew that it was time to bring strawberries back to the specials menu. It has been a long winter, using the tart, flavorless off-season berries, so I was excited to be able to feature them at the forefront of a dessert. I also knew I had a place to use shiso.

I think people often pair strawberries with basil because they are both in peak season around the same time, and basil is a delicious complement to strawberries. The basil brings a certain spiciness to the party that balances out the strawberries, while it is sweet enough to still feel like a dessert item. Basil, however, doesn’t have much to do with sushi. I wanted to marry the shiso flavor with the strawberries in such a way that it was a major flavor, without masking or over-powering the other components.

Of course, the first thing that jumped to mind was a Strawberry-shiso sorbet. The idea seemed promising enough that I came up with what seemed to be a decent recipe, and tried it out. It was too sweet and the shiso flavor didn’t really come through, but it was worth a second try. After some trial and error, I ended up with a Strawberry, Shiso and Buttermilk Sherbet:

Strawberry+Shiso+Buttermilk Sherbet

Yield: ~ 2 liters

750g Strawberry puree

360g Sugar

400g Buttermilk

50g Water

5-6ea Shiso Leaves, washed and picked

1) Warm buttermilk just enough to completely dissolve the sugar

2) Combine all ingredients, thoroughly blend, and pass through a fine mesh sieve

3) Allow to chill in the refrigerator until it reaches 40°F or below

4) Process in an ice cream machine and allow to harden in the freezer for at least 2 hours

That was a good start. By this point, I had most of my dessert worked out. I was going to do a play on strawberry shortcake, with the sherbet, some macerated strawberries, and buttermilk biscuits, but it needed something more.

It was the perfect time for me to use another ingredient that I have been waiting for the opportunity to use. Soy lecithin, among other things, is really good at making foams. It can simply be added to a liquid and then frothed with an immersion blender or other frothing device, and you have foam. The beauty of the foams are that they can add a lot of flavor without adding a lot more “stuff” to eat. At the end of a meal, you should still be able to finish your dessert without feeling like you’re going to explode. Foams can pack a lot of flavor into literally no bites. As an added bonus, the shiso and buttermilk foam added a nice splash of green and an extra hit of shiso to the plate.



  2. how do you create the strawberry crisp (pictured above)?