The World is Not Ready for Bacon Squash Caviar

Please allow this post to serve as an explanation of why I don’t harbor fantasies of working in a professional kitchen.

I could, with herculean effort, overcome the obvious:  you know, better shape, willing to work nights and weekends for barely a living wage, more deference to authority, and, you know, the whole “punctual” thing.  I could learn to endure the cuts and the bruises and the burn marks.  I could even get used to the Hammer Pants.

This much should be obvious if you have been around a while:   It’s all about the sloppy and the haphazard. In fact, It is often a small miracle that dinner even happens.

So the plan for tonight’s dinner actually came into being about a month ago.  Fellow Porkpolitan food bloggers invited me to be a part of Octobers winter squash-themed “Culinary Smackdown.”

Now, I do precisely one thing with winter squash.  Well, technically two things.  I cube it, salt it, oil it, roast it.  At this point, I either turn it into a soup, or I don’t.  If I chose the former, it becomes Rosemary Squash Bisque, with a supporting cast of pork products, vegetable broth, rosemary, cream, and the tender ministrations of my Cuisinart.

And I LIKE this soup. Maybe because I so seldom cook with rosemary and really only do winter squash twice every three years.  It’s always a surprise to taste something that seems both brand new and completely familiar. And each time, it just seems to get filed away until the ever-vague “next time.”

But this time… I thought about going a different way. At least for a garnish.

I am by no means a faddy person. And I have some misgivings about “molecular gastronomy,”  But as soon as I started thinking about the squash soup I started thinking about converting it into spheres. The first iteration of the idea was to serve the soup as little caviar-like balls, alongside some kind of blini.  Rosemary obviously pairs nicely with potato, and we eat caviar with… you know… so one thing kind of led to another.

But what SHOULD have happened next was several weeks of equipment sourcing (a better digital scale, for one), research, proof-of-concept analysis, and a slow, methodical escalation – different combinations of increasingly complex ingredients leading up to the “Main Event” this Sunday evening where everything goes exactly according to plan.

In other words, I’m not upset with myself that things didn’t turn out so well.   In fact, after a few tries, it turned out better than I thought it might.  The science basically held up: I submerged a liquid in a sodium aglinate solution and after a bath in calcium lactate, I kind of had a membrane and a gel.  The creatures below owe their hue to grenadine, and the membrane DID contain the liquid just enough to create a small “burst” of flavor. And too much gel.

But I think it’s my typical problem, and maybe I’m just reading too much into things.  I found myself this evening at a point where I look at my results and think, wow, that was an interesting idea, I think it would have turned out much better if you weren’t so sloppy.  In this case, you know, not waiting until the last minute and measuring your ingredients out and MAYBE having some idea what you were going to do.

I mean, I need to make this taste right and then I need to make it look right  I would have really liked for these to scream with flavor and for the bacon to be suspended inside and pick up just a ‘ding’ of resinous rosemary.  Perhaps another time.


Oh, the soup:

Rosemary Squash Bisque

2 medium spaghetti squash
1/4 C salt pork or 2 strips bacon
1 medium onion,  chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups milk or cream.  Do not use soy. (Yes, I’ve tried it.  Too cloying and sweet. – just omit the milk and you’ll have a hearty, tasty soup)
Olive Oil
1 T rosemary, minced as fine as practical

Preheat oven to 425

First, prep the squash.  Remove the top and bottom with a serrated knife in order to stabilize the squash, and then “saw” the rind off with a carefully considered mix of caution and violence. Use your chef’s knife to cleave the thing in two from top to bottom, and scoop out the guts with your melon baller.  Chop the “flesh” into cubes. Repeat.

Place the sqash cubes in your roasting pan, along with “some” olive oil and a three-finger pinch of salt. Give it a quick stir, and roast for about 45 minutes, stirring two or three times along the way.  The flesh should deepen in color, and you should see a little char around the edges.  About like THIS:

At that point, sweat your salt pork (or bacon) over low heat in your soup vessel with the heat at medium-low. Once fat has rendered into the pan, remove the pork product and save for garnish.

Place the onions in the pan, stirring, and cook until translucent.  Add the roasted squash, and stir for a moment.

Add the broth, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.  Add the milk, cream, and rosemary.

Dump the mixture (carefully!) into a food processor, and blitz until smooth.  Garnish,  tastefully or otherwise, and serve.

I don’t think Grant Achatz is going to be returning my calls anytime soon.  As long as I have soup, I can live with that.

13 thoughts on “The World is Not Ready for Bacon Squash Caviar

  1. i would totally try this. it’s never once ocurred to me to give molecular gastronomy a whirl, mainly because i’m afraid i’ll freeze off a digit or hurt someone.
    i’m lactose intolerant, what about the use of coconut milk (since soy milk is a no no)?

    • Hi Lan!

      The spheres were fun, but I still have no idea what I’m doing. And I’ve always been taken aback at the amount of energy one need expend in the name of creating just a little bit of food. And I could get into the whole “Separating flavors and tastes from their organic memories” thing, but that’s another yarn altogether.

      I have no problem with soy milk, per se. And in thinking about your issues with dairy over the past several recipes has sensitized me to exploring alternatives. That said, I think soy milk adds an almost metallic sweetness that CAN work in some things, but just doesn’t seem to fit here. But I’m more than willing to accept that it may be an irrational bias.

      Funny, you asked about coconut milk and I didn’t really have a good answer, but I checked out another of these posts… she made a very similar soup, but DID use coconut milk:

      So, live and learn.

  2. I would never have the guts to try anything with chemicals, even though Top Chef’s Marcel made it look pretty good. A good looking soup and a nice try on the caviar.

    Happy Halloween!

    • Hey! Thanks for stopping by.

      Your point as to the Top Chef guy’s effort is well taken. It’s sort of what I was driving at. He goes about things like a professional (I would assume) – pays careful attention to his craft, refining his efforts and planning out, at least mentally, exactly what needs to happen. I need more of that.

  3. Wow, I am quite impressed! Even if it didn’t turn out quite as you’d like, that’s pushing the Smackdown envelope, my friend! So the Colonel at Findlay Market carries those chemicals? Love your soup recipe too. And I agree, based on squash soups I’ve made, that you can have a hearty soup just by blitzing the squash and without adding milk. So glad you joined in the festivities!

  4. Hi Jeff, I loved that you went outside of your comfort zone to try this, good for you, that’s what these smackdowns are all about! Meanwhile, don’t be too hard on yourself, those of the “food as science” crowd experiment again and again and again….I, personally, don’t have the time or the patience! A for effort!

    I made a squash coulis with coconut cream based on my Thai flavored pumpkin soup recipe, turns out great. I also find canned milk will add creaminess instead of cream or plain milk. Having said that, if your lactose intolerant friend wants the creamy texture, no milk need be added, just put through a strainer several times and it will turn silky smooth.

    • Aww, thanks. I appreciate the advice. I liked the idea of being able to serve an intensely flavored little “sphere” of food atop something it naturally paired with, and, perhaps one day, I will try again.

  5. So very impressed with your talented attempts. I think working with different molecular producuts is the one thing that I miss about working with my old chef/first boss…we did some pretty crazy stuff…hello delicious beer foam! I’m so glad you joined in this month!

    • Wait… FOAM? I wanna make foam!!!!

      Hahah, seriously, thanks for inviting me, this was fun. I’ll be down for one again sometime.

  6. Thanks so much for joining this month! I’m so impressed with your scientific-ness. Is that a word? I’ve got a round-up posted and the winner announced on my blog!

  7. Thanks for your kind comments on my soup and sorry it’s taken me so long to get over here and check out your site. You are far more adventurous than I am. I see that “molecular gastronomy” stuff on the cooking shows, but somehow it’s just not me. However, it’s great to see someone give it a go. I would not have thought about spaghetti squash for soup, either, so great job all the way ’round!

  8. Jeff, very glad you joined in the Smackdown and even happier to hear you had such fun doing it! You are one of my favorite Cincy food bloggers. Your voice, your writing, your recipes, your foibles :) I am always happy to see a new post up from you. And you really wowed me with your dish! If you’re ever looking for a cooking partner to try out a molecular technique, let me know. Sometimes there is strength in numbers. And you wouldn’t need to straighten up your house for me :)

    We’ve got a pretty good group going here, if I do say so myself. This Smackdown thing had been going on for a while before I started my blog, but I was welcomed with open arms (and feedback) when I took the plunge. Now I’m doing my best to be the cheerleader for this friendly little contest, where I always get inspiration and great recipe ideas.

    Boxer as winner this time ’round is going to wait out the food-heavy holiday months of November and December for the next Smackdown and will let us know what the January challenge is when she takes the reins as host and judge in the new year. Sounds like she’ll also be hosting a virtual holiday party – either Xmas or New Years. Last year’s was the best NYE I’ve spent in a long time, and we all raised money for favorite local charities in our own quirky little ways. I’m officially welcoming you to check it out, although, as with the Smackdown, everyone is welcome and no official invites are required :)