Russian Fritto Misto with Cucumber Ketchup

On the heels of yet another recent trip to Pulaski, I went fishing with Captain Troy and came back home with two walleye. Walleye is the North American cousin of European pike-perch, a species found throughout Eastern Europe in places such as the basins of the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea. And so, my catch begged for an Eastern European recipe, such as… fritto misto.

Walleye


First let’s talk about cookbooks for a minute. After several months of hesitation, I finally broke down and bought Historic Heston, Heston Blumenthal’s most significant tome since The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. The two books actually have a lot in common: they’re stingy with recipes, inaccessible to most cooks, lavishely designed, and prohibitively expensive. (Don’t take offense, Heston, this is just how we love you 🙂 ) Other books that Blumenthal has published in between have left me somewhat unsatisfied. Heston Blumenthal at Home, though interesting, contains quite a few recipes that are either uninspiring or similar to some of his previously published ideas. And Heston’s Fantastical Feasts reads more like a construction kit manual than a cookbook. Entries such as “lickable wallpaper”, “edible gravestones”, and “sushi money wedge” are a bit more playful than I care for.

As I was leafing through the new book’s eight pounds, scavenging for Eastern European inspiration, I came upon a picture of bright green cucumber ketchup with dill. Vacuum chamber notwithstanding, the recipe was quite accessible, and illustrated the book’s fondness for fluid gels of all kinds. It also made the perfect accompaniment for something like a fish and chips, a classic revisited by Blumenthal in In Search of Perfection, featuring an outstanding crispy and airy fish batter.

So I decided to adapt both the cucumber ketchup and the fish batter, and make a Russian fritto misto. What on earth makes this Russian, you might ask? Fried fish, vodka batter, cucumber, tomato, eggplant, onion, and basil. I say it doesn’t get more Russian than this! And the cooked vegetables boast intense flavors that are worth trying even without the fish.

A problem with Blumenthal sometimes is that he’s not really worried about the yields of his sub-recipes. He can have you make 2 pints of cucumber ketchup to only use a few spoonfuls, or chop half a dozen shallots and use only a quarter, keeping the rest for the proverbial other recipe. I’ve tried to mitigate this a bit, although my recipe still makes a lot of ketchup. Just catch a lot of walleye or something.

To take part in the fluid gel zeitgeist, you will need Gellan F, which can be purchased here.

Russian Fritto Misto and Cucumber KetchupCucumber fabrication
Yields about 16 servings (cucumber juice and julienne)

3 large cucumbers, about 12 oz each

  • Cut the cucumbers into 3″ lengths. Trim the sides of each chunk to get perfect, thick  rectangular shapes. Reserve the trimmings.
  • Process the trimmings in a juice extractor, and pass the juice through a chinois. Reserve.
  • Cut the rectangular chunks into 1/8″ julienne with a mandoline, stopping when you hit the seeds. Reserve the julienne, and discard the hearts with seeds.

Cucumber gel
Yields about 16 servings

2.4 oz white wine vinegar
0.6 oz sugar
15 oz cucumber juice
4 g salt
4.5 g gellan F

  • Place the vinegar and sugar in a plastic container, microwave for about 15 seconds to dissolve, then let cool.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the cucumber juice with the salt to 194 F.
  • Transfer the cucumber juice to a blender, add the gellan, and blend for 1 minute at high speed. Transfer to a bowl, and let cool over ice water until the mixture reaches room temperature and is completely set.
  • Return the gel to the blender, add the vinegar mixture, and blend on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  • Pass through a chinois and refrigerate.

Pickled shallots
Yields about 16 servings

0.5 oz white wine vinegar
0.5 g sugar
0.5 g salt
1 oz peeled shallots, cut into a fine brunoise

  • Combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a plastic container, microwave for 10 seconds to dissolve, then let cool.
  • Rinse the shallots under cold water for 30 seconds. Drain, add to the vinegar mixture, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Cucumber ketchup
Yields about 16 servings

3.7 oz cucumber julienne
10.6 oz cucumber gel
1 oz pickled shallots
2 g dill, chopped

  • Chop the cucumber julienne into a brunoise.
  • In a bowl, mix the cucumber gel, cucumber brunoise, shallots, and dill. Refrigerate until cold.
  • This cucumber ketchup can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

Russian Fritto Misto and Cucumber KetchupBaked tomatoes and onions
Yields about 8 servings

18 oz tomatoes, cut into 3/4″ slices
1 oz olive oil
salt
black pepper, ground
10 oz peeled cipollini onions

  • Place the tomato slices into an oven-safe dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place the onions on a sheet of tin foil, season with salt, and wrap in the foil.
  • Bake the tomato slices in a 350 F oven for 1 1/2 hours, shaking the slices with a spatula every half-hour to prevent them from sticking. Reserve.
  • At the same time, bake the onions in the foil for 1 hour, and then reserve.

Sautéed eggplants
Yields about 8 servings

7.5 oz Italian eggplant, cut into 1/2″ slices
1 oz olive oil
salt
black pepper, ground

  • In a pan over medium heat, sauté the eggplant slices in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until brown on both sides. Reserve.

Vodka batter
Yields about 8 servings

4 oz white flour
4 oz brown rice flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp honey
6 oz vodka
6 oz club soda

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, combine the white flour, rice flour, and baking powder.
  • Mix the honey and vodka in a plastic container, then pour into the bowl, and mix on medium speed until homogeneous. Mix in the club soda on low speed, then immediately pour into a one-quart siphon loaded with 2 cartridges of CO2 (not NO2 — we’re not making whipped cream). Shake gently, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Assembly
Yields about 8 servings

canola oil, for deep frying
8 basil leaves
baked tomatoes and onions
sautéed eggplants
brown rice flour
vodka batter
salt
about 20 oz cleaned walleye fillets
black pepper, ground

  • Pour the oil in a deep-fryer, and heat to 375 F.
  • Deep-fry the basil leaves for about 30 seconds, making sure they are fully submerged. Drain on paper towels.
  • Cut the tomatoes, onions, and eggplants into 8 pieces each (depending on the size of your vegetables, it might very well be that you already have 8 slices of tomato, 8 onions, and 8 slices of eggplant). Dredge with the flour, dip in the batter, and deep-fry until golden-brown, proceeding in batches if necessary. Drain on paper towels, and season with salt.
  • Cut the walleye fillets into 16 pieces, then season with salt and pepper. Dredge with the flour, dip in the batter, and deep-fry until golden-brown. Drain on paper towels, and season with salt.
  • Serve the fried vegetables, fish, and basil in bowls lined with paper towels, with a side of cucumber ketchup.

Russian Fritto Misto and Cucumber Ketchup