Food for thought

(May 3, 2019) In order to justify a particular style of cooking, the notion of experimentation must come into play.

And as a chef deciphers the possibilities before him, the virtues of persistence must permeate his every move. But it is the degree of tenacity that determines the individual’s level of achievement.

This detailed extension of pursuit is what ultimately defines a chef’s point of view and level of success.

As someone who shows partiality to the savory portion of intake, I relinquish my prejudice and partake of sweet zabaglione whenever it comes my way.

If you are not familiar with zabaglione (za-bahl-YOH-nay), it is a dessert that consists of eggs and sugar, beaten over a pan of simmering water. As the yolks are heated, the mixture thickens, but not so much that the eggs coagulate and curdle.

The mixture is typically flavored with marsala, but like all things Italian, zabaglione is subject to regional interpretation.

Knowledge is based on specific details that further one’s comprehension. The lure of the kitchen must include a course in science if conclusion is to come to the forefront.

According to Harold McGee, “During the mixing and initial foaming, the elaborately nested spheres of foaming are unpacked for action. The wine’s acidity and alcohol and air bubbles all disrupt the yolk granules and lipoprotein complexes into their component molecules so that those molecules can coat the air bubbles and stabilize them.

“When the temperature reaches 120 degrees, high enough to unfold some of the yolk proteins, the mixture thickens, traps air more efficiently and begins to expand. As the proteins continue to unfold and bond to each other, the foam rises into fluffy heap of deliciousness.”

That is a lot to take but just remember this: the key to light zabaglione is to remove it from the heat just when the foam teeters on the cusp between liquid and solid. If you pass this point, the heat will produce a denser texture as the proteins overcoagulate.

This is very easily accomplished by attaching a candy thermometer to your pan.

When the final stage of the zabaglione reaches a temperature of 160 degrees, remove it from the heat and whisk for 1 minute. This allows the zabaglione to cool slightly and is at the perfect state for serving.

Zabaglione is traditionally made in a copper bowl over a water bath. The mixture thickens at such a low temperature that direct heat can quickly overcook it.

However, copper does impart a distinct metallic flavor to the foam, and some cooks prefer stainless steel or glass for this reason.

The ideal zabaglione is sweet, soft and evanescent. A perfect ending to a delightful meal.

The list of ingredients cannot be any simpler: egg yolks, sugar and marsala wine.

I am a fan of traditional zabaglione but a twist of lemon opens the door to a completely different experience.

Lemon zabaglione is a delicious variation of conventional zabaglione and makes this recipe a keeper. Enjoy!

Berry Mixture

Ingredients

4 cups assorted berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries)

2 teaspoons sugar

pinch of table salt

fresh mint as a garnish

1. Toss berries, sugar and salt together in a nonreactive bowl. Divide berry mixture evenly among 4 to 6 martini glasses. Set aside while making the zabaglione.

Zabaglione

Ingredients

6 large eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

½ cup dry marsala

1. Combine yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk until the color turns slightly pale.

2. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water (water should not touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, whisking vigorously, until mixture begins to thicken. The temperature should reach about 160 degrees. This will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Add lemon juice and zest. Continue to cook until mixture thickens again and reaches 160 degrees. This will take 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Add marsala and continue to cook and whisk until the mixture is light and creamy and reaches 160 degrees. At this point, you can raise the temperature of the heat slightly and again whisk until the temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove zabaglione from the heat and whisk for 1 minut­e.

5. Pour zabaglione over fruit in martini glasses and garnish with fresh mint.

Serve immediately.

Secret Ingredient – Tradition. “Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.”

– Lemony Snicket

* Two weeks ago, my article focused on the unveiling of Schaefer’s Splash and the festivities surrounding this event. Schaefer’s Splash is a mural at the entrance of th­­e National Aquarium which depicts the iconic picture of Mayor Schaefer in his Victorian-era bathing suit and me as the mermaid at the opening of the National Aquarium.

Ed Gunts interviewed me at the unveiling and wrote an article, “Baltimore’s Newest Work of Art Celebrates ‘Schaefer’s Splash.’” The feedback from this article has been overwhelming.

Mr. Gunts has written a second article, “Interview With a Mermaid: Deborah Lee Walker remembers her part in Schaefer’s famous seal pool swim.” You can google this article for a more detailed description of the grand opening of the aquarium.

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