How to Eat a Magical Bird’s Nest

I made this salad for the Air Course of the The Garden of Alchemy Dinner. You can see the whole menu and photographs of the event in this post. It would also be a auspicious dish and useful spell to perform for the ringing in of the new year!

photo by Erin K Orr

For the Shallot and Cellophane Noodle Nest

Ingredients

  • a large quantity mild high temp oil (like canola or sunflower). See note in the noodle section!
  • 1/2 pound of shallots, peeled, thinly sliced and lightly salted (this makes enough for 6 servings)
  • a 1oz bundle of cellophane (aka mung bean thread) noodles for each person PLUS EXTRA in case of error.
  • salt

Directions for the Shallots

This can be done up to a few days in advance

  1. Fill a deep saucepan 2/3 full of oil. Heat the oil over hight heat until it reaches 285 degrees (Fahrenheit) . A tester slice of shallot should fizz and float within seconds.
  2. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally until about half of them have become golden (10-12 minutes). Turn the heat off and let them reach a deep golden color in the cooling oil. When they are a golden brown color fish them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and strain them on a wrack lined with paper towels. Taste and season with salt as needed. Once they are cool, you can store them for a few days in an airtight container. If you have any dehydration packs handy throw them in!
  3. When the oil is cool, strain it through a dry fine mesh sieve into a large glass jar. The oil will have a delicious shallot flavor. You will use it to fry the noodles for this salad and then save the leftover to fry everything you eat for a while!

Directions for the Noodles

This should be done an hour or so before the guests arrive

  1. Set up a rack over a paper towel lined baking sheet, right next to the stove. Gather oven mitts, tongs, the noodle bundles and the extra oil within reach.
  2. Put the oil in a tall skinny pot ( I use an asparagus pot). You need enough oil to fill the pot to 6 inch depth with an additional 4-6 inches of space above that to be safe. Also, you need to have enough oil to have the same amount left on the side. It is important to reserve some oil in case your oil gets too hot. Adding more oil is the quickest way to cool it down! If at any point the oil is so hot that it starts to bubble over, turn the heat off, add more oil to cool it down and move the pot to a cool element.
  3. Heat the oil over high heat until it is very hot. A tester noodle should fizz and puff up instantly. If the noodle stays clear at all, it is still too cool!
  4. Using a pair of long tongs, hold the noodle bundle so that you are holding it from the two sides that are farthest away from one another (most bundles are oblong). Place the noodle bundle into the hot oil, keep hold of it with the tongs while it puffs up and applying gentle pressure to make it more round and less oblong. If the oil is hot enough it should be entirely white and puffed up within seconds. Drain on a rack over paper towels and proceed immediately to the next noodle bundle. If you work quickly your oil will maintain the perfect heat to cook 6-10 noodle bundles. I suggest making a few extra in case one of them falls apart when you are plating.
  5. Carve and push a little indentation into the center of each noodle nest. They will be quite delicate so start slow! Sprinkle the finished nests with salt.
  6. When the oil is cool, strain it through a dry fine mesh sieve into a large glass jar. The leftover is still usable as long as you have strained any bits out.

For the Goat Cheese Mousse

This can be made a day in advance and will make twice as much as you need for 6 people, but whipping a small amount is annoying. Just eat the delicious leftovers on eggs or crackers or with crudite or by the spoonful. It is a very, very good topping for confit carrots or roasted sweet potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 2 chevre (soft, sharp goat cheese)
  • salt and white pepper to taste

Directions- Whip the mascarpone and goat cheese until it is light and fluffy. Season to taste. Keep it cold until it is time to plate.

For the Pea Shoot and Golden Berry Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 oz pea shoots per person
  • 6 golden berries* per person (*aka poha, cape cod gooseberry or groundcherry)
  • 1/2 cup agave or runny honey
  • 1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup white rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Rinse and dry your pea shoots, taking care to keep all of the stems and shoots going the same direction to make plating easier later.
  2. If your golden berries still have husks, remove them. Rinse the golden berries thoroughly. Golden berries have a sticky coating that becomes a bit slimy when rinsed. Get as much off as possible and pat them dry.
  3. whisk the agave or honey, toasted sesame oil, white rice vinegar and salt together. Season with pepper to taste.

For the Quail Eggs (optional)

  • three quail eggs per person

Bring a pot of water to a near boil. Gently add the quail eggs. Let them boil for three minutes then rinse them in cold water. Keep in the fridge until using.

photo by Erin K. Orr

For Assembly

  1. Place each nest on a plate and festoon each one with about 1/2 cup of the fried shallots.
  2. Take a bundle of pea shoots (about 1 oz) with all of the stems facing the same direction. Swirl it in the sweet sesame dressing and place them stem side down in the center of the nest. Coax them to fan out in a radiating design. Symmetry is not so important!
  3. Dollop 1 and 1/2 Tablespoon of mousse into the center of each nest.
  4. Toss the golden berries in the remaining sweet sesame dressing to coat. In each nest, place five berries in a circle around the edge of the mousse, with the last 1 in the middle.
  5. Add the quails eggs to the side if using and serve immediately.
  6. Instruct the guests to break the nest and try to get a bit of each element in each bite!

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