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Vanilla in savory cooking


Fat Guy
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I just received a copy of the book "Simply Vanilla: Recipes for Everyday Use," by Patty Elsberry and Matt Bolus. Patty Elsberry is the owner of the Arizona Vanilla Company and Matt Bolus is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef currently working at the Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He also happens to be eGullet Society member "dmbolus," who has been posting recently on the "make-your-own vanilla extract experiment" topic, which is how he and I connected.

I've been enjoying the book so far, particularly the introductory material that covers everything from the mythology of vanilla to basic instructions on how to make your own extract. And of course it's nice that we have access to chef Matt -- I'm sure he'd be happy to chime in and address any and all vanilla-related inquiries.

The most interesting aspect of the book to me, however, is the section of savory recipes that utilize vanilla. While I've long been aware of the lobster-with-vanilla combination pioneered (I think) by Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton, I've never given really serious consideration to vanilla as a versatile savory ingredient.

"Simply Vanilla," however, has all sorts of interesting recipes, and as with most books of recipes I think more in terms of idea-generation than actually following the specific recipes. For example, there are recipes for a spinach-and-mushroom pizza seasoned with a vanilla-and-herb infused oil and for "vanilla seared tilapia with shiitake infused basmati rice and sauteed Thai vegetables." This gets me thinking that the vanilla-mushroom combination is something I'd like to explore.

The book isn't from a major publisher, so I doubt you'll find it in a bookstore, but it is available from Amazon.

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In the past, I've done vanilla with foie, as well as tuna. I find that fresh vanilla adds an extra layer of not-expected flavor to many dishes. It is also one that I find to be quite compelling. Vanilla with saffron or curry is also quite good, as well as vanilla and black pepper.

-Chef Johnny

Edited by ChefJohnny (log)

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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Some interesting foundation items in the book are a vanilla-herb oil (vegetable oil infused with vanilla, garlic, rosemary, thyme and sage) and several variants of vanilla-infused vinegar (such as vanilla, lemongrass, cilantro and salt in rice-wine vinegar).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ferran Adria, In his Spanish home cooking show (not the molecular gastronomy stuff), presented a simple vanilla-parmesan pasta dish. The idea is simple: cook the pasta, add olive oil in a pan and scrape a vanilla bean in it, toss in the pasta and add a little bit of the pasta cooking water. Grate a little parmesan, stir and eat. I tried it and it is quite tasty... here's a picture of my first attempt at the recipe.

gallery_52525_4427_4778.jpg

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That really does look good.

The "Simply Vanilla" book has a couple of pasta recipes as well, though the Adria recipe is so elegant in its simplicity -- it's so simple it definitely would have qualified for inclusion in a book called "Simply Vanilla"!

I'm really going to need to do a bunch of savory cooking with vanilla in order to gain some perspective, because I'm just not yet psychologically able to break away from my identification of vanilla as a harbinger of sweetness. I'll have to take a few basic, simple foods and scrape some vanilla in just to see how it works: scrambled eggs, rice, pasta, vinaigrette, sauteed mushrooms.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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That really does look good.

The "Simply Vanilla" book has a couple of pasta recipes as well, though the Adria recipe is so elegant in its simplicity -- it's so simple it definitely would have qualified for inclusion in a book called "Simply Vanilla"!

I'm really going to need to do a bunch of savory cooking with vanilla in order to gain some perspective, because I'm just not yet psychologically able to break away from my identification of vanilla as a harbinger of sweetness. I'll have to take a few basic, simple foods and scrape some vanilla in just to see how it works: scrambled eggs, rice, pasta, vinaigrette, sauteed mushrooms.

Since I bought all those vanilla beans for the vanilla extract experiment, I am thinking a lot about using them in savoury dishes. One dish I would love to try is simply fried scallops topped with vanilla sugar... I have the feeling it might work. Otherwise I really like the idea of combining vanilla and mushrooms together.

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Vanilla scrambled eggs

Today I decided to get a savory vanilla baseline by adding some vanilla to scrambled eggs. I split one Tahitian vanilla bean and scraped the seeds into a small mixing bowl, and also put in some fleur de sel and fresh ground pepper.

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While the butter was melting . . .

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. . . I wondered whether I should have, instead of combining the vanilla with the eggs, added it to the butter in order to expose it to the heat a little longer -- would this somehow "activate" it? I don't know.

gallery_1_295_68597.jpg

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I was pleasantly surprised by the result. I mentioned above that I have (and I assume most of you have this too) a psychological predisposition to associate vanilla with sweet foods. I don't think my brain has really got a system yet for processing the flavor of vanilla when it's divorced from sweetness. Indeed, it's not really a flavor in the sense of something like cinnamon or nutmeg. It definitely made the eggs taste special and interesting, but in an unexpected way: it was like a flavor enhancer with interesting secondary floral aromas.

I went back to the "Simply Vanilla" book and noticed that the authors say the following in the notes on the savory entree recipes: "While you might not taste the vanilla in the dishes, vanilla enhances the natural flavors of just about any dish." My experience did indeed square with that claim.

Looking forward to more experimentation.

P.S. after scraping the pod I added the remains to one of my already-brewing vanilla-extract jars.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I want to make vanilla vinaigrette. I'm thinking it can't be too hard -- just add some scraped vanilla to a basic vinaigrette? I had an unforgettable dish at our county's best restaurant last spring: smoked salmon with orange vanilla vinaigrette and fried oysters on the side.

~ Lori in PA

My blog: http://inmykitcheninmylife.blogspot.com/

My egullet blog: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=89647&hl=

"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy."

- Julia Child

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Lori, in the recipe for vanilla-herb-infused oil in the "Simply Vanilla" book, they recommend heating the oil in a skillet, scraping the beans in, and then pulling it from the heat before the vanilla burns. I imagine this releases a lot of the flavors (it's why I was thinking, in my egg experiment, that I should have added the vanilla to the butter not the eggs). So you might want to do that with the oil for your vinaigrette. That's my guess, at least.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Funny I found this topic this morning...

I got some really nice local organic baby beets from the farmers market a couple days ago...roasted them last night, peeled them and cut them into quarters. Mixed them with sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, salt, and about a 1/4 of a vanilla bean, scraped.

Added some fresh pea tendrils and some ashed goat cheese...it really was wonderful.

Like it was stated, people associate vanilla with sweet foods, but vanilla itself is quite bitter, and of course the floral and earthy aromas matched nicely with the beets.

Might be a good thing to try for someone soon.

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Funny I found this topic this morning...

I got some really nice local organic baby beets from the farmers market a couple days ago...roasted them last night, peeled them and cut them into quarters. Mixed them with sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, salt, and about a 1/4 of a vanilla bean, scraped.

Added some fresh pea tendrils and some ashed goat cheese...it really was wonderful.

Like it was stated, people associate vanilla with sweet foods, but vanilla itself is quite bitter, and of course the floral and earthy aromas matched nicely with the beets.

Might be a good thing to try for someone soon.

That sounds really delicious!

~ Lori in PA

My blog: http://inmykitcheninmylife.blogspot.com/

My egullet blog: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=89647&hl=

"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy."

- Julia Child

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One dish I would love to try is simply fried scallops topped with vanilla sugar... I have the feeling it might work.

There are a couple of scallop recipes in the "Simply Vanilla" book. One is "pan-seared scallops with coconut rice and candied red pepper and cilantro salad." The basic idea is that there's a vanilla-based sauce that goes over the seared scallops at the end. The sauce is butter, vanilla, chopped ginger and salt. The scallops are seared in grapeseed oil and basted with butter, fresh thyme and lime juice. The other recipe is "shellfish trio in a vanilla-mint-citrus broth."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I haven't seen that book yet but I've been playing around with vanilla a bit lately too. I infused a container of fleur de sel with vanilla beans and also buzzed some with dried vanilla pods in a processor. The fine stuff from the processor is more aromatic at this point but without the nice texture of the unprocessed batch. I'm hoping that picks up more flavor over time. I haven't actually done much with either yet but I've got a few ideas in my head I want to play around with.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I think the "sweetness" of vanila's flavor works in a similar way to the sweetness of anise flavors: tarragon, fennel, star anise. I'm not saying vanilla is a substitute for those flavors, but I find that savory foods that go well with those anise-y ingredients stand a good chance of working with vanilla as well. So, it's no surprise that lobster works well with vanilla as well as with tarragon. I wouldn't be surprised if vanilla goes well with duck.

---

al wang

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Lori, in the recipe for vanilla-herb-infused oil in the "Simply Vanilla" book, they recommend heating the oil in a skillet, scraping the beans in, and then pulling it from the heat before the vanilla burns. I imagine this releases a lot of the flavors (it's why I was thinking, in my egg experiment, that I should have added the vanilla to the butter not the eggs). So you might want to do that with the oil for your vinaigrette. That's my guess, at least.

Thanks for starting a discussion on the use of vanilla in savory dishes-it is definately a popular technique right now.

This topic is so appropriate to a dish I had last Thursday in Las Vegas. I was at a private dinner at Guy Savoy at Caesar's Palace and one of the dishes we had was simply described as "Crispy Sea Bass with Delicate Spices." It was anything but simple. The sea bass was sauteed skin side down to make the skin so crispy it was the texture of potato chips.

When the waiter presented the dish at the table he described the sauce as a mixture of butter, ginger and vanilla! It was what I would describe as a Vanilla Buerre Blanc. The spices were a mixture of black pepper, Szechuan peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds. The waiter spooned a delicate fish fume over the Sea Bass. The aromas could best be described as the scent of tropical flowers-the subtle fish, the vanilla and the spices all combined in this wonderfully fragrant South Seas perfume. My skepticism over serving vanilla with fish quickly faded after the first bite. The sweetness of the sea bass was accented by the sweetness of the vanilla.

The dish was garnished with tiny shitake mushrooms and a julienne of "White Chard." I've cooked with Swiss Chard but I had never heard of white chard.

I'll post the full menu and more photos on the Guy Savoy thread in the Las Vegas forum, but in the meantime here is a photo of the Sea Bass and the vanilla sauce.

gallery_41580_4407_17048.jpg

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i've always been confused by the concept of what savory is and what it tastes like. taste sensations like sweet or salty are pretty obvious, but i've yet to read a really good explanation of what savory is.

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Steve,

You can also get the Simply Vanilla cookbook from our website, www.arizonavanilla.com for a better price than Amazon as we need to pay them commission.

Thanks for your sweet comments about the book. I'm sure you will have a lot of fun cooking with those recipes as much as Matt and I did.

I just received a copy of the book "Simply Vanilla: Recipes for Everyday Use," by Patty Elsberry and Matt Bolus. Patty Elsberry is the owner of the Arizona Vanilla Company and Matt Bolus is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef currently working at the Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He also happens to be eGullet Society member "dmbolus," who has been posting recently on the "make-your-own vanilla extract experiment" topic, which is how he and I connected.

I've been enjoying the book so far, particularly the introductory material that covers everything from the mythology of vanilla to basic instructions on how to make your own extract. And of course it's nice that we have access to chef Matt -- I'm sure he'd be happy to chime in and address any and all vanilla-related inquiries.

The most interesting aspect of the book to me, however, is the section of savory recipes that utilize vanilla. While I've long been aware of the lobster-with-vanilla combination pioneered (I think) by Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton, I've never given really serious consideration to vanilla as a versatile savory ingredient.

"Simply Vanilla," however, has all sorts of interesting recipes, and as with most books of recipes I think more in terms of idea-generation than actually following the specific recipes. For example, there are recipes for a spinach-and-mushroom pizza seasoned with a vanilla-and-herb infused oil and for "vanilla seared tilapia with shiitake infused basmati rice and sauteed Thai vegetables." This gets me thinking that the vanilla-mushroom combination is something I'd like to explore.

The book isn't from a major publisher, so I doubt you'll find it in a bookstore, but it is available from Amazon.

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An upgraded option of infused vanilla oil, is to mix the seeds with the oil and the fresh herbs. Let them cook for about 10 minutes until the herbs start to look light golden brown. Remove from heat and let it cool for about 20-30 minutes.

Strain the oil and pour it in an air-tight container.

USE THIS OIL FOR YOUR OMELETTS AND STIR FRIES.

This infused oil will give you the opportunity to add the garlic if you need it.

I use this oil A LOT in my dishes.

I want to make vanilla vinaigrette. I'm thinking it can't be too hard -- just add some scraped vanilla to a basic vinaigrette? I had an unforgettable dish at our county's best restaurant last spring: smoked salmon with orange vanilla vinaigrette and fried oysters on the side.

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i've always been confused by the concept of what savory is and what it tastes like. taste sensations like sweet or salty are pretty obvious, but i've yet to read a really good explanation of what savory is.

Great question. I only found one 'definition' of savory online that I thought came close in terms of food:

"Sweet and savory foods often complement each other at a dinner. A salad may have savory cheese and bacon bits, but may also include sweet fruit such as apples or strawberries."

I've always viewed "savory" as a European term used to describe salty dishes-as opposed to "sweet" dishes using any form of sweetener like sugar or honey. I'm finding in my travels to restaurants that a lot of chefs today are breaking the traditions of keeping savory and sweet separate and combing the two. Like in the dish I had at Guy Savoy-Sea Bass with Vanilla.

The flavor contrasts can sound odd, but if the combinations are right, the flavor sensations are incredible. It seems to work the best when vanilla is combined with other ingredients common to areas where vanilla is grown-like the dish Steve describes-"pan-seared scallops with coconut rice and candied red pepper and cilantro salad."

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i've always been confused by the concept of what savory is and what it tastes like. taste sensations like sweet or salty are pretty obvious, but i've yet to read a really good explanation of what savory is.

In my frame of refrence, savory is sort of that sensation you get when your mouth waters for real, nourishing food.

The dictionary definition is:

1.  Appetizing to the taste or smell: a savory stew.

2. Piquant, pungent, or salty to the taste; not sweet.

I am having trouble myself wrapping my mind around savory vanilla, as well. After the discussion on this thread, and after reading about the allegory to tarragon, I am suspecting that a hollandaise with vanilla substituded for tarragon (ala bernaise) and dumped over a nice fist full of asparagus just might work.

I need to look into this book.

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When I use "savory" as a culinary term I basically mean "not sweet." A single ingredient is usually either/or: sweet or savory. Sugar is sweet, salt is savory. Honey is sweet, wheat is savory. When you get into more complex items that have both sweet and savory flavors (honey-mustard dressing, bacon, carrot cake) then it becomes a question of either a strong center of gravity one way or the other, or the dish is both sweet and savory (I'd say bacon is savory, carrot cake is sweet and honey-mustard dressing is hybrid sweet-savory).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Anny,

I understand your dislike about using vanilla for savory dishes. However, you start knowing the properties of vanilla, then is when you start thinking the best way to use it.

I have not tried vanilla hollandaise yet. However, I have sauteed asparragus in vanilla oil or infused vanilla oil, for just about 3-5 minutes at medium-high temperature and they are great!

There are two things that would extract the flavor compounds of vanilla:

1. Heat

2. Alcohol (like in the extract)

One of the properties of vanilla, as stated in my cookbook, "Simply Vanilla" is to enhance the natural flavors of some fruits and vegetables. Sparragus is one of those vegetables that has natural sugars. When you sautee them, the heat helps open up those flavor and enhancer compounds to complement your dish.

I hope this helps.

i've always been confused by the concept of what savory is and what it tastes like. taste sensations like sweet or salty are pretty obvious, but i've yet to read a really good explanation of what savory is.

In my frame of refrence, savory is sort of that sensation you get when your mouth waters for real, nourishing food.

The dictionary definition is:

1.  Appetizing to the taste or smell: a savory stew.

2. Piquant, pungent, or salty to the taste; not sweet.

I am having trouble myself wrapping my mind around savory vanilla, as well. After the discussion on this thread, and after reading about the allegory to tarragon, I am suspecting that a hollandaise with vanilla substituded for tarragon (ala bernaise) and dumped over a nice fist full of asparagus just might work.

I need to look into this book.

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I like to keep it simple when trying to determine the difference between sweet and savory. I know this is not a text book deffinition nor the way most look at it, but put simply if a dish is for dessert, a sweet breakfast item (i.e. french toast, waffles, etc.) or is just a traditionally sweet dish then it is "sweet". Anything for lunch, dinner, aps, salads, soups, etc. are "savory". Of course any of these dishes main contain one or more sweet elements (such as vanilla) but are traditionally not sweet items.

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Hey Matt! Good to see you! :biggrin:

I like to keep it simple when trying to determine the difference between sweet and savory.  I know this is not a text book deffinition nor the way most look at it, but put simply if a dish is for dessert, a sweet breakfast item (i.e. french toast, waffles, etc.) or is just a traditionally sweet dish then it is "sweet".  Anything for lunch, dinner, aps, salads, soups, etc. are "savory".  Of course any of these dishes main contain one or more sweet elements (such as vanilla) but are traditionally not sweet items.

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Basic vanilla tasting

It occurred to me this morning that I've never actually tasted vanilla straight from the pod. I've tasted vanilla extract, but I imagine that flavor is heavily influenced by the alcohol and the process.

So, I split one of my Tahitian vanilla pods and scraped the little seeds into a small bowl. I then took a dab of the seeds on my finger and tasted them.

I was surprised to taste almost nothing. The vanilla had a decidedly recognizable vanilla aroma, but on the palate there wasn't much. A few seconds later, I got a tingling sensation on the tongue and a little almost black-pepper-like heat.

Trying to increase my chances of tasting something, I stuck a half of the pod in my mouth and sucked on it. Pretty much the same experience as before, but more tongue tingling and more of the vanilla floral aromas came up the mouth-nose conduit.

I then picked a few items from around the kitchen, split them in half, garnished one half with vanilla seeds and did a side-by-side tasting:

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That would be a slice of buttered toast, a red globe grape, a piece of Cheddar cheese (double Gloucester, actually), some leftover Vietnamese noodles from Saigon Grill, and a meatball.

The only place where the vanilla made an unequivocally positive contribution -- one I'd expect everybody to notice and approve of -- was on the red globe grape. It very much enhanced and deepened the flavor and sweetness of the grape, and added its own floral aromas.

The toast was also a little better with the vanilla, in that the vanilla had almost an MSG-like umami-enhancing influence on the butter. I think I might at some point try making a vanilla compound butter.

I couldn't even detect the vanilla on the cheese or the meatball. It might have done something with the noodles, but I wouldn't offer to prove that observation in a controlled blind tasting.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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