Most cultures pride themselves on a particular food. They’ll say the ingredients are unsurpassed and the technique is uniform, almost military. Sushi rice and all of French food, for instance.
To get within a few yards of even touching a piece of mackerel, the sushi apprentice must spend years over a sink and running water, rinsing rice. French chefs also enjoy torturing the trainee, making him scrub potatoes or pluck chickens before even getting a whiff of “the piano” – or stove – according the biography of the late Bernard L’Oiseau.
All this is bound in a kind of national tradition and vocational pride; throughout the respective lands, rice and hollandaise are prepared in more or less the same manner, according to a grand rule book. In the States, ethnic variety mostly prohibits this kind of thing. Or maybe we just like to argue; neighbors war over the best hot dog, or cheese steak, and anyway, forced chicken plucking is probably a violation of labor laws. (But, slightly off-topic, so is a dishwasher salary in your average New York restaurant.)
We do, however, have a tradition of culinary fusion (some might call it dilution, others adaptation), to wit the California roll or spaghetti and meatballs.
The other day I whipped up a batch of blini from the French Laundry book, a tome that always makes me feel just a tad, well, French. And while blini aren’t necessarily French, whipping something to an unrecognizable smooth mush is. And so are canapés (note the accent mark).
Blini with caviar is classic, but as a plastic container of tobiko (the Japanese version) at Sunrise Mart costs 6 bucks I figured it would do. I also picked up a package of nori. Back home, with my little teaspoon measure and nonstick pan, I fried up the blini, tossed a few to the kid – sprinkled with sugar – and ate a bunch with sour cream, tobiko and a little crumbled nori for seaweed crunch.
As I polished off these tasty gems, spilling tobiko over the French Laundry book, I realized it was a moment of true culinary fusion. A little from here, a little from there and voila! Still, sushi rice is among my favorite foods; I’ll go tomorrow.
Blini w/ Sour Cream and Tobiko
Makes about 24 blini
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons flour
2-3 tablespoons crème fraiche
1 egg yolk
1 stick unsalted butter
salt and pepper
1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1 cup tobiko
1 sheet nori, snipped in thin ½-inch strips
- Add taters in a small pot, cover with cold water by a few inches and cook till tender.
- Remove and as soon as your fingers can stand it, run through a ricer or food mill.
- Measure out 9 ounces (this is a bit anal-it’s probably most of the potatoes), place in a large bowl. Whisk in the flour until combined then the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Then whisk in the yolk. (A wooden spoon works better, actually.)
- Hold the whisk w/ some batter over the bowl. It should fall in a thick ribbon and hold it’s shape when it hits the batter below. If too thin, add some crème fraiche. The batter holds for a few hours at room temperature.
- Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons butter. When hot, spoon 1 teaspoon of batter for each blini. It should take a minute or two on each side for them to brown. Let cool on a plate.
- To serve: lay a stack of blini on a tray accompanied by each of tobiko and sour cream and a pile of snipped nori.