I’m vastly behind on FRANK blogs…well, because we’ve been doing FRANK so often recently. And each one has truly been epic enough to deserve its own blog. This past April we celebrated our 2 year anniversary, and we decided to revisit the theme of our very first FRANK back in 2012…”The Egg.” We had chosen this as our first theme because the egg represents the origin…the beginning, and that first menu was lovely:
Of course, we’ve been at this for 2 years, and the scope of our menus and techniques has become broader, so we knew this new egg menu would have to be amazing. It took us a week to conceptualize it, but when it was finished, we were very, very happy: a tour around the world exploring how the egg is used in different cuisines.
For the amuse bouche, we kept it simple with a delicious soft scramble, served inside the shell. If you’ve never had a soft scrambled egg, you’d be completely and totally surprised. It turns out that, all these years, we’ve been cooking eggs at too high a temperature. Egg proteins begin to coagulate (or cook) at around 145F. But if you boil an egg, you’re dropping it into 200-212F water. If you poach it, you’re cracking it into water around that same temperature. If you’re frying or scrambling, your putting the egg into a 300-350F pan, or even hotter. But eggs want to cook at 145F, so our soft scramble (and most of the egg applications in this menu) were cooked at appropriately low temperatures, which results in a truly exquisite, custard-like texture. The eggs are still fully cooked…far moreso than an over easy egg or the runny, still-raw center of a poached egg…but they are soft, luxurious, pillowy, and delicious. A soft scramble takes place in a pan over low heat, gently stirring the eggs every few minutes for 30-45 minutes until they are set, but soft. And into this scramble, we added some wonderful, seasonally foraged ingredients:
This is the elusive morel mushroom, an extraordinary mushroom that grows only in the wild and cannot be cultivated. Morels appear in spring, just as the warm rains begin to fall, and morels grow in all 50 states, even Hawaii! But every morel eaten in the world was hunted down and picked by someone in the forest, and you either pay dearly for that (morels can sometimes fetch up to $100 a pound in upscale markets), or you find them yourself. In our case, we found them ourselves…though we had to drive a couple hours north from Dallas to get a decent harvest. (It was too dry here in north Texas, I found only 1 morel mushroom near my house this season.) Up in Oklahoma, however, the harvest was pretty epic due to their long, wet winter. We found grey morels, which grow in association with elm trees, blonde morels which grow with elm and juniper, both of which are fairly commonly found, and rare giant golden morels, which grow with ash trees. Morels are very special mushrooms and we were so excited to be able to share an ingredient we had foraged on the menu. To round out the flavor of the scramble, we also added wild onions which I foraged in the park behind my house. They are everywhere this time of year, and are delicious.
Then we wanted to throw our diners for a bit of a spin, by taking them to Japan, where they make a savory seafood custard called “chowan mushi.” I was first introduced to chowan mushi at an extraordinary Japanese restaurant in Phoenix called Hana. I was absolutely dumbfounded…the chef had to come out and explain to me exactly how he made it. It’s very rare to find it in the US, but it’s very common in Japanese households. And Japanese Americans who are familiar with our Easter traditions often compare eating their grandmother’s chowan mushi to an Easter egg hunt…as you dig down through this impossibly delicate, rich, savory custard, you come across little surprises: bites of tender scallop, little shrimp, tiny mushrooms. Chowan mushi begins with “dashi” which is a complex broth upon which much of Japanese cuisine is based. The mark of a great chef in Japan is his ability to make a perfect dashi with only a few basic ingredients, namely “katsuobushi,” which is bonito fish or skipjack tuna that has been fermented, smoked, dried, and then shaved…and “kombu,” which is a type of seaweed. A good dashi is rich but light at the same time, exploding with flavor, yet still delicate. And when you introduce eggs to dashi, they will set into a custard that is infinitely more delicate than the rich dessert custards we are familiar with in this country. Because there is no milk protein to form strong bonds in the custard, it sets into such a tender matrix that the custard basically dissolves on your tongue. And we introduced some very delicately poached bay scallops, some baby shrimp, fresh shiitake mushroom cooked in pork fat, wild garlic blossoms, and sauteed leek into the custard, so it was exploding with flavors and textures. We finished off the chowan mushi with a dollop of tobika caviar, which gave a delightful crunch and pop to the dish. And our diners just raved about it….it was probably the overall favorite on the menu and most of our guests had never experienced anything like it before.
For the next course, we headed to the UK, where the Scotch Egg was invented in a London bar and instantly because an iconic food there. Traditional Scotch Eggs are hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage and baked. Eventually someone started rolling them in bread crumbs and deep frying them, which improved the texture…but still, a hard boiled egg is a dead egg, boring and way too overcooked. In years past, I experimented with soft-boiled Scotch eggs, and had excellent results. You can check out my recipe here. But for a year, we’ve been serving our signature 63.5 degree egg at FRANK to rave reviews, so we figured we’d better experiment with turning that into a Scotch Egg. If you’ve read my blog before, you know what the 63.5 degree egg is and can skip to the next paragraph. As I mentioned, eggs begin to cook at 145F (which is 63 degrees Celsius), and we’ve learned that if you simply cook an egg inside it’s shell at exactly this temperature for an extended period of time, the egg cooks all the way through to the yolk, but at it’s PROPER texture, which is silken and custardy…a world away from the poached egg, which usually has overcooked whites, and undercooked yolks. We’ve found our favorite texture comes by cooking the egg at 63.5 degrees for an hour, but the resulting egg is so tender and delicate that we’d never be able to wrap it in sausage without breaking it.
We experimented by freezing the egg after cooking it. We weren’t sure if it would negatively affect the egg’s final texture, but it turns out that it doesn’t at all, so freezing allowed us to handle the eggs enough to turn them into Scotch Eggs. Of course, a plain old hen egg wasn’t interesting enough, so we went with guinea eggs. Guinea fowl are strange little birds that are often kept around the farm to ward off snakes and predators. They’re fierce and will rip a rattlesnake to shreds if they see one. But they range free, which means they hide their eggs, and by the time the farmer finds the nest, either they’ve hatched into chicks, or they’re too old to eat. Running down 20 guinea eggs per night for 6 nights was no easy task, we had a network of farmers all over the Dallas area chasing their guineas around and bringing us 4 or 5 eggs at a time. It was crazy. But worth it, because when was the last time YOU’VE eaten a guinea egg? Guinea eggs are small…about halfway between a quail egg and a hen egg, and they have VERY hard, thick shells with brown speckles all over them:
(The eggs we used in our epic Ode to the Egg anniversary dinner: at top left, guinea egg. Top right, quail egg. Bottom left, hen egg from our backyard flock of chickens. Bottom right, local duck egg. It had a slight greenish tinge to it…beautiful!)
So once the guinea eggs were cooked at 63.5C, and then frozen, and then shelled, we wrapped them in a housemade venison sausage which was a bit spicy and very hearty. (My neighbor Ron took the deer a few months before…about as local and foraged as it gets!) Then the eggs, still frozen, were coated in panko bread crumbs and deep fried for exactly 3.5 minutes at 300F. This allowed the venison sausage to cook through, but not to overcook the egg. Then we allowed the egg to sit for an hour or so to fully thaw using the residual heat from the cooked sausage. Then, just before plating the eggs, we stuck them under the broiler to crisp up the bread crumbs and just warm the sausage without overcooking the egg. A LOT of work, but the egg was exquisite, and everyone was so puzzled as to how we pulled it off when they cut into it and discovered this delicate white and yolk hiding on the inside:
We followed this with what is quickly becoming a traditional course at FRANK, a boozy cocktail sorbet. We take classic (or new) cocktail recipes, and turn them into a frozen sorbet to use as a palate cleanser between rich courses, and our diners can’t get enough of them. Just a few bites of intensely flavored frozen cocktail, but the trick for us was that we had to use eggs somehow. Many classic cocktail recipes call for egg whites to be shaken with the liquor, which lightens the texture of the final drink and gives it a lovely foamy top. So we chose the Pisco Sour, made with a Peruvian liquor called Pisco which is distilled from sugar cane in a way similar to rum…and we simply folded beaten egg whites into our sorbet after it was frozen, which resulted in a lovely light, open texture. We topped it with preserved lemon, which is lemons that have been fermented (or “pickled”) and still have a bright lemony taste, but also unmistakably pickle-like. They are absolutely delicious. Our diners loved the sorbet.
For the main attraction, we decided to give a nod back to our very first menu by doing another pasta carbonara with duck egg, but instead of the traditional Italian guanciale (a dry-cured pork jowl), we did an American-style smoke cure on pork jowls. Unless you live in the South, you probably don’t eat a lot of jowl. The jowl is the cheek of the pig, and it’s an extraordinary cut of meat. It tastes like bacon, but on steroids. The lean part is SO much meatier…the fat is so much fattier…it’s like a bacon steak. We used a wet cure on the jowls for a few days, then I smoked them to perfection, and the meat was truly epic:
We cubed up the jowl and crisped it in the oven, and folded this into the carbonara at the last minute. And while I’m on the subject of carbonara, this classic Italian dish is often bastardized in the US by chefs who think that the creaminess of carbonara comes from cream. So if you eat at the…gasp…Olive Garden and choose a spaghetti carbonara, it’s going to be a cream-based sauce, which is NOT traditional in the least. A true carbonara is pasta, pasta water, aged cheese (like Parmigiano-Reggiano), egg yolk, and some type of cured pig meat. For ours, we used the giant, thick, sinfully rich yolks from duck eggs:
To take it to an even more insane place, we placed sauteed ramps on the plate. Ramps are wild leeks that can’t be cultivated, and only grow in the spring in the American Midwest and Northeast. They are harvested entirely by foragers, and the flavor of a ramp is just explosive…like sweet garlic, but much more intense. We topped the whole thing with a quail egg. It was easily the best pasta I have EVER eaten.
We passed our homemade bread with the pasta course, and had a homemade butter on the table, like usual, but this butter was pretty special. It was “bottarga butter.” This came up in a brainstorming session late one night when Jennie and I were trying to think of a truly mind-blowing, epic butter for the table that was in keeping with the egg theme. Bottarga is a specialty product from Sicily and Sardinia, where they take the roe or egg sac of the mullet fish and dry cure it in sea salt. The sac dries out and the briny flavors of the eggs inside concentrate, and then you grate the eggs over whatever you’re eating, usually pasta. It is ruinously expensive and extremely difficult to find, but one of our specialty Italian stores in Dallas was able to get us some. So we folded bottarga into our butter and grated more on top, and it was pretty decadent.
Finally, dessert. We knew we wanted to do a frozen custard, which, in the US, simply means “ice cream” as virtually all our ice creams are actually custards. I really wanted to use goat’s milk from my local farm for the ice cream, but they had so many babies still nursing there that I had to go a little farther away to get good, high quality goat’s milk. I found it at the Hidden Valley Dairy in Argyle, and in the process discovered a really fabulous source for all sorts of fresh, local, small-farm products, from pork and beef to duck eggs and honey. So next time you need the freshest ingredients and want to support local families in the process, head up to Argyle for the afternoon and see what all they have to offer!
I decided to turn the goat’s milk into cajeta (pronounced “cah-HEY-tah”), which is a Mexican delicacy that’s basically like sweetened condensed milk, only made with goat’s milk. You cook the milk for hours over low heat until it concentrates and caramelizes. While I was researching cajeta, I found a regional variation on cajeta from the Guanajuato area, called “cajeta quemada,” where the milk is cooked almost to the burning point. Pastry chefs know that cooking sugar until just before it burns results in complex chemical reactions that break down the sugar molecules into all sorts of volatile aromatic and flavor compounds that are much more diverse and intense in flavor than ordinary sugar. (Ever had that delicious burnt sugar on top of creme brulee?) The same principle applies to cajeta, as the natural sugars (primarily lactose) in milk approach the burning point, they fracture into an explosion of flavor. So I stayed up all night stirring this goat milk as it cooked down, stopping it just an instant before the point that it would burn. I combined this dark, thick, rich cajeta with honey (also from Hidden Valley in Argyle) and egg yolks. That’s it. 3 ingredients, milk, honey, and eggs. Heat did all the rest. And no one believed me, because the flavors were SO intense and rich. It may…just may…have surpassed our Butter Pecan Ice Cream as the most popular ice cream ever served at FRANK.
We served the frozen custard with an “egg roll” or a little egg pancake wrapped around housemade mascarpone cheese, with some fresh rhubarb compote, shaved chocolate, candied pecans, and drizzled orange blossom honey all over everything. Our diners scraped their plates clean.
It was a dinner to remember, one of the most complex we’ve ever served, and we were so lucky to share it with 6 nights of amazing diners, some of whom had been trying to get into FRANK since we first opened 2 years before! We now have well over 4,000 people on our waitlist, and still have to utilize a random lottery to select who gets to sit at one of the 18 seats around our handmade table each night. We are so honored that our diners have ranked us on Yelp as the highest-rated fine dining restaurant in the entire state of Texas! We are currently the only restaurant in the state with a perfect 5-star rating from our diners. It humbles and amazes us when we think of the 800+ folks who’ve sat at our table, eating things like Japanese seafood custard or burnt milk ice cream for the first time, sharing these experiences with their new-found friends across the table, and enriching our lives by their presence and palates.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us come so far, and here’s to many FRANKs ahead!!