by Nurdin Topham.
Recipe development for our Pestival menu, by Nurdin Topham – now Head Chef at NUR in Hong Kong
The juicy larvae of the wax moth simply blanched in water for a minute has a naturally sweet taste, but both the texture and appearance are barriers to consumption.
We pureed the larvae and passed it through a very fine mesh to remove the unpleasant stringy fibres. Once passed, we tied the puree into a roulade using cling film and poached it at 65˚C for 8 minutes.
The result had a delicate ‘insect’ sweetness that was not totally unpleasant, however owing to the lack of integral protein (about 10%) the purée did not quite set. The flavour was vaguely similar to a light sea scallop mousseline, a recipe from the classic French kitchen with the addition of cream.
We wondered, could we use this larva to create a super-light mouse – as an expression of the lightness of a moth and its pursuit towards the light.
We experimented with the use of setting agents and found a small amount of chicken puree incorporated in with the larvae worked most effectively, when blended with a little cream.
We began experimenting with flavour pairings and textures to accompany what was developing into a silky smooth mousse. The month was April and things were just turning into spring, so were thinking green – we tried raw cucumber juice with verbena, asparagus juice with pine oil, grilled asparagus juice, grilled cucumber juice, each time with an assortment of vegetable preparations, wild herbs and flowers. While the dishes looked attractive they lacked cohesion in terms of flavour.
Initially we worked with cream in the mouse; then we tried smoking some skyr, which didn’t work as its acidity produced a grainy split paste instead of the silky-smooth, just-set cream we were after. The smoke, though, was very pleasant. We continued to smoke cream with juniper wood which was delicious, interesting and rich.
Then we moved into a range of nut creams, and tested a few with the larvae. We decided finally on hazelnut as the best pairing with the wax moth larvae, and when smoked it really worked. The smoke, the nuts, and the delicate sweetness of the wax moths worked well with a simple mushroom sauce made from dried morels, a little mushroom stock, some hazelnut cream and infused with some lemon verbena at the end.
Click through to see some different iterations of the dish throughout the creative process:
Moth Mousse, hazelnuts & morels & ‘faux foie’
Yield: 10 x taster portions / 4
1. For the smoked hazelnut cream:
200g Hazelnuts, skins removed
400g Water, filtered
0.4g Xanthan gum
5g shaved Juniper wood & Polyscience smoke gun
2. For the moth mousse:
200g Wax moth larvae, blanched 5 seconds in boiling water, refreshed in iced water, drained and dried
200g Smoked hazelnut cream from the above preparation
75g Passed chicken puree* (passed through a very fine sieve)
2g Sea salt
5g Faux foie seasoning (optional, but recommended – recipe to come)
3. Morel & hazelnut cream:
100g Morel mushrooms, dried, rehydrated in 600ml water overnight
600g Chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced 1mm
60g Unsalted butter
60g Shallots, finely sliced 2mm
300g Smoked hazelnut milk
60ml Mead, dry not too sweet
10g Faux foie (optional)
3g Fresh lemon verbena
4. Morel crisp
30g Morel puree
30g Egg white
5g Koji extract (optional but excellent)
3g Faux foie (optional)
5. Ingredients to garnish and plate:
20g Unsalted butter
150g Fresh / rehydrated morels, small, well washed and dried
15g Dry mead
3g Lemon verbena, fresh leaves
10no Garlic flowers
1. To make the smoked hazelnut milk:
Blend the hazelnuts and the water together for 2 minutes on high power in the thermomix. Leave in the fridge overnight. Squeeze the liquid through a fine superbag to separate the pulp from the cream. You should be left with a yield of 440-450g. In a blender on high power incorporate the xanthan gum with the hazelnut milk.
Decant the hazelnut milk into a large bowl and cover with cling film. Using the smoke gun fill the bowl with juniper smoke and allow to infuse, covered for 10 minutes. Repeat this process to develop a pronounced smoky flavour.
2. To make the moth mousse:
In the chilled jug of a thermomix blender, Blend the wax moth larvae with 100g of the smoked hazelnut cream on full power for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the blender jug and repeat 3 times. Pass this puree through a very fine mesh you should yield 140g, reserve on ice.
Return the passed wax moth larvae puree to the chilled jug of the thermomix blender. Add the passed chicken puree, 100g smoked hazelnut cream and seasonings. Blend to achieve a silky smooth mousse.
Prepare a tester by wrapping 30g of the mouse mix in a cling film boudin and poach at 65˚C in a water bath for 10 minutes. Taste to adjust the seasoning. the mouse should be light and delicate with gently smoky flavour. Once satisfied with the seasoning wrap in cling film and reserve on ice until ready to cook.
*It is important to keep the temperature cool to ensure the mechanical action of the blade does not generate heat which could begin to coagulate the chicken protein, resulting in a grainy texture in the finished mousse.
3. To make the morel & hazelnut cream:
First make the mushroom stock: in a large frying pan, caramelize half of the sliced chestnut mushrooms in 30g unsalted butter until golden and crisp. Separately soften the remaining mushrooms in a dry pan. Strain the soaked morels, passing the soaking liquid through a fine mesh to remove any grit. Add the caramelized mushrooms and morel soaking liquid to the softened mushrooms. Simmer for 20 minutes, skim and remove from the heat and allow to rest for 20 minutes before pressing and passing the mushroom stock to extract all the liquid.
For the sauce, soften the finely sliced shallots for 8 minutes on a low heat until translucent, with no colour. Stir in the morels and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the hazelnut milk, boiled mead and mushroom stock, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemon verbena sprig, cover to infuse and allow to rest for 20 minutes before blitzing for 10 seconds with a hand blender and passing through a fine sieve. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding the faux foie if using.
4. To make the morel crisp
Mix the ingredients together and spread in a fine layer on a silpat mat. Place in a dehydrator at 55˚C for 5-6 hours until dehydrated and crisp. Break into shards and store in an airtight container, with a packet of silica gel to keep dry if available.
5. To garnish and serve
Poach the moth mousse boudins blancs as with the testers at 65˚C for 10 minutes. In a little unsalted butter, sauté the morel mushrooms briefly with a little sea salt and a splash of dry mead. Remove from the heat add a sprig of verbena, the faux foie if using and cover. Reheat the morel and hazelnut cream, blend to emulsify and lighten. Lift the boudins blancs from the water bath, cut to remove the cling film, portion and place the moth mousse in warm bowls. Spoon over the morel and hazelnut cream, top with the sautéed morels, morel crisp and a few small leaves of verbena and garlic flowers.