Beef, Elements of A.1. - An Alinea Recipe

A rather big one for change. The recipe calls for 18 parts to prepare. It is, however, not overly complex or complicated to prepare. And it tastes absolutely awesome.
Beef, Elements of A.1.
To understand the dish, let’s first look at A.1. If you are from the US or Canada (or, to a certain extend, the UK), A.1. is familiar to you as a somewhat off-center steak sauce. If you are from the rest of the world, not so much. ;-)

A.1. is a steak sauce produced by Kraft Foods. It has a rather long, but apparently not overly successful, history, which you can explore on your own.

It is of note here that the sauce itself is not used in the recipe at all. So why the title? Quoting from Wikipedia:

"A.1. Sauce includes tomato purée, raisin paste, distilled vinegar, corn syrup, salt, crushed orange purée, dried garlic and onions, spice, celery seed, caramel color, and xanthan gum."

If we strip the fillers from this list, we are looking for tastes of tomato, raisin, vinegar, orange, garlic, onion, spice, celery seed and some undefined sweet aspects. Which we will all find in the final dish. Hence the name. Again, tipping my head to the chef.

Side note, as always, the original calls for salt at almost any step, which we simply leave out. Salt can come at the last stage, if necessary (and the experience so far has been, it never was missing).

Another side note, the recipe requires veal stock, there is a separate recipe for that if you don’t want to buy the overprices crappy stuff from the supermarket. If you are not in the mood for making your own, don’t buy veal stock, rather look for bone broth. Kettle & Fire is a good staring place.

So, let’s get started. Before you get started, please read to the end. Trust me.

Part 1: The dehydrated stuff

Grant Achatz loves dehydrating stuff. Really. Hardly a recipe without some sort of chip or leather of some sort. So, for anyone wanting to get into Alinea cooking: Get a decent dehydrator. And no, leaving the oven door slightly open is not an option.

Today, we dehydrate tomatoes, garlic, onion, orange zest, red pepper and ginger. See where those A.1. flavors will be coming from?

The original recipe jumps around quite a bit, so I will try to order things here by how much time they need to dehydrate. Since conveniently all dehydration is done at the same temperature, you can just start, and add trays to the dehydrator one by one.

We get the dehydrator started, spray 6 tray with nonstick cooking spray (I have to admit I start falling in love with this stuff) and get going.

First, the tomatoes. To get rid of their skin, we make a small x cut at the bottom, put them in boiling water for a couple of seconds and immediately cool them in ice water. We want to get the skin off, but not cook the tomatoes, otherwise they will be difficult to slice. Then we just dehydrate the thin slices. Easy, peasy.
Blanched Tomatoes

Next up, bell pepper. We core, seed and clean up the bell pepper and then try to skin it. Without the application of any heat, this is rather tedious. A very sharp paring knife is quite useful here. Then we cut squares and dehydrate them as well. However, my squares didn’t stay square. While drying, the lost their shape and become somewhat inverse diamond-ish in shape. Since we didn’t expect a Michelin Guide Inspector, no worries. Keep all leftover pepper pieces for later.

On to garlic. The original asks for elephant garlic, which I can’t source here, so we stick to regular garlic (and after the de-stinking treatment coming up, I doubt that there is that much difference). De-stinking goes like this. First, we peel and slice the garlic (a truffle slicer works great here). Then we put the slices in milk, bring to a boil, strain. Repeat three times. Why boil in milk? It gets rid of the bitter flavors and the stink. Feeling science-y? Knock yourself out by reading Areerat Hansanugrums Master Thesis on The Effect of Milk on the Deodorization of Malodorous Breath After Garlic Consumption. Why do we repeat it 3 times? Simply because we don’t want to let the garlic get too soft by heating it for an extended time. Then on to the dehydrator. And yes, we waste 600 ml of milk by doing so. Don’t like that? Well, you could always treat yourself to some garlic milk, if that is your thing.
Dried Garlic And Tomato

The onion, ginger, and orange zest will all be candied.

For the onion, we start by slicing very thin rings. We used the meat slicer here with good results, but a mandoline or a sharp knife and a steady hand should also work. Do not peel the onion completely, but leave the dry skin attached at the bottom, this keeps the onion from falling apart. Cut equatorial here, otherwise you won’t get ring. The rings will fall apart by themselves, just pick about 30 that look nice and round and are not too small. The original recipe calls for only 8, but they taste good, and you still spend using an onion for almost no usable part. Pour some hot sugar/water solution over them, let steep and dehydrate.

The ginger, again, gets peeled and thinly sliced. We used a truffle slice, a mandoline works as well, a knife can be a bit tricky. Then the ginger slices are candies in a water/sugar solution, this time while adding some thermal energy (aka heat) to enforce softening of the ginger. And off into the dehydrator. Keep remaining, un-candied ginger pieces for later use.
Dried Onion and Ginger

Last, the orange zest. Using a vegetable peeler, we peel the orange in long strips. The white stuff, called pith, is a no-no. Then we cut nice, thin stings from the zest and candy them as well. Just so it doesn’t get boring, are different technique is used here. The zest is boiled in a small quantity of water/sugar solution, then strained. Like with the garlic, this is repeated 3 times. The reasoning behind this is that we want to incorporate as much sugar into the zest, without softening it too much. And that fills up our sixth and last dehydrator tray and we can take a small break before moving on to the sauces.
Dried Orange Zest

Part 2: Rib Eye

Ah, here comes the food waste again. The original recipe asks for 1800g rib eye, which is then portioned into 90 g portions. Since the recipes are for 8 persons, that makes 8x90 = 720 g. Leaves 1020 g. For which the book recommends to “save scraps”. Right. We didn’t have a large cut of Prime rib eye in the freezer, but we had this:
Kobe Rib Eye

A nice piece of Kobe Rib Eye. Kobe, not Wagyu. It’s nice to live in a first world country. The meat gets cut into rectangular portions for the pictures, but the remaining parts taste just as nice. A short sous-vide treatment ensures the right degree of doneness and that was that.

Let’s move on to the purees and sauces!

Part 3: Chive tips and puree

Aside from the fact that the original recipe calls for way too much sauce, this step is pretty easy. We cut off some chive tips, blanch the remaining chives, puree them with water and reserve them in ice water to retain the beautiful dark green color.

Part 4: Spicy Vinegar Sauce

As is the case most of the time, we have to adjust the amount of agar agar and skip the salt, otherwise this is child’s play. Toast all spice and cloves, infuse water and vinegar with the spices, add gellant to make pudding like substance.

Part 5: Red Pepper Reduction

The original recipe asks for 6 bell peppers to extract 500 ml of pepper juice, however, when we juiced the peppers, after coring and seeding, we had about 600 ml after 3 peppers, so measure before cutting up too many of them. Also, use the leftovers of the dehydrated pepper squares. The juice is then reduced to a thick liquid.
Red Pepper Sauce

Part 6: Raisin Puree

Boil raisins in water, strain. Repeat 3 times. Blend. Done. Ok, ok. Maybe you need to add a little water while blending. But that’s about it. And yes, the puree in the picture is not super smooth. I noticed. I just didn't care.
Raisin Puree

Part 7: Potato Puree

The chef as staff to peel hot potatoes. We don’t. Therefore, we peel our potatoes before cooking them. The obligatory sous vide treatment before we mix in the fats, butter and heavy cream in this case. And we get to use a gadget that not even the chef uses in the book: A passe-vite. Look it up.

Part 8: Potato Strips

I don’t have a fancy Japanese Rotary Slicer. The ones I bought were crap, and I threw them away after getting a nice electric spiral slicer for vegetables, that can make all sorts of pasta-like things out of potatoes, vegetables or fruit. What it can not do, however, is slice a potato into thin sheets. Which is what we need here. So, using a vegetable peeler, we sliced the peeled potatoes into somewhat thin slices (Thank you, Christian!). The result was not perfect, but pretty decent. Again, no Michelin Inspector in sight. The potato sheets are then cooked in the oven for a short time in beef fat. The beef fat doesn’t add too much flavor, but makes the sheets stay somewhat in form when plating.

For the next two parts, we left the Alinea recipe by a good margin, once for logistics and once for (blissful) stupidity.

Part 9: Grapefruit Puree

The original recipe asks for a puree of bitter orange that involves sous vide cooking of the fruit. We were unable to source bitter oranges and chose grapefruit instead, and by the time we did, cooking them sous vide for 3 hours was not an option. So, we improvised; and the result was awesome. The peeled grapefruit gets cooked with sugar and oil, when is blended and reduced to a thick sauce. Slightly sweet, slightly bitter, beautiful to look at.

Part 10: Anchovy Sauce and Strips

First, the strips. Carefully remove the anchovy fillets from the glass container they probably come in. We found four nice looking ones, cut them lengthwise and trimmed them to look pretty. Those we put back in the glass container to keep them in oil until time to plate. Then we weight the remaining ones and the scraps from trimming and blend them with an equal amount of butter. And here is where things went wrong, and yet oh so right. The idea is to reduce 500 g of veal stock to about 30% and add FIVE grams of the anchovy butter to that. I didn’t read that part right. I started out with 1000 g of stock, reduced it by 90%, making it much more intense. And then added the whole anchovy butter. 120 g. The result? Oh, since you ask, only about the best fish sauce ever. This stuff is just pure bliss. Put that on anything (the leftover potato puree?!). If, however, you want the original, 500 g stock, 5 g butter.

Part 11: Ginger Juice

Shortly before the final preparations, juice ginger, using also the leftovers of the ginger chips.
Ginger Juice and Red Pepper Reduction

Part 11: Assemble and serve

Assembly here has two challenges, time and temperature. If you have a plate warmer, use it. There are two things that need to be done right before plating, and they have to be done in parallel, so an extra set of hands, or better two, if you want to parallelize the plating as well, is really useful. We need to deep fry one end of the potato strips, and grill the meat. Since it is the middle of winter and we are using Kobe, we opted for searing the meat in a steel pan instead. Makes no difference.

The plating is rather straight forward, but it really, really helps to look at a picture and have that part of the recipe in front of you (or have someone read it out aloud, otherwise you lose quite some time. Enjoy!
The Plated Dish

Part 13: The Recipe

  • Nonfat cooking spray
  • Pastry bag
  • Squeeze bottles
  • Juicer
  • Dehydrator
  • Sous-vide cooker
  • Vacuum sealer
  • Plate warmer
  • Food processor
  • Blender
  • Meat slicer
  • Rotary slicer
  • Mandoline or truffle slicer
The Dry Stuff
2 large Roma tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
2 large garlic cloves
600 g skim milk
1 small white onion
100 g water
50 g sugar
75 g ginger
100 g water
50 g sugar
1 orange
200 g water
10 g sugar

Spray 6 dehydrator trays with nonstick cooking spray. Set dehydrator to 60°C and start heating.

In medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Fill medium bowl with ice water. Cut X in skin of blossom end of tomatoes. Blanch tomatoes for 45 seconds. Transfer to ice water. Using paring knife, peel tomato and discard skin. Cut tomatoes crosswise into slices 2-3 mm thick. You want about 20 nice looking slices. Arrange slices in single layer on first prepared tray. Dehydrate until brittle (ca. 4 hours), turning tomato slices after 2 hours. Reserve in airtight container.

Core and seed pepper, cut off ends and remove any ribs. Quarter along ribs lengthwise and remove skin, removing as little flesh as possible. Cut into 1.3 cm dice. You want about 30 – 40 nice looking squares. Arrange squares in single layer on second prepared tray. Dehydrate until brittle (ca. 4 hours), turning pepper squares after 2 hours. Reserve in airtight container.

Using truffle slicer or mandoline, slice garlic cloves lengthwise as thinly as possible. Transfer to small saucepan, add 200 g of milk, and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat. Strain through chinois and discard milk. Repeat 2 more times with remaining milk. You want about 30 – 40 nice looking squares. Arrange slices in single layer on third prepared tray. Dehydrate until brittle (ca. 4 hours), turning garlic slices after 2 hours. Reserve in airtight container.

Using meat slicer or mandoline, slice onion as thinly as possible. Gently separate slices into rings, discarding any broken or uneven rings. Put 20 round rings in a small container. In small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, dissolving the sugar. Pour over onion rings and let cool to room temperature. Arrange rings in single layer on fourth prepared tray, making sure that the rings keep their round form. Dehydrate until brittle (ca. 4 hours), turning rings after 2 hours. Reserve in airtight container.

Peel ginger. Using truffle slicer or mandoline, slice as thinly as possible. In small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Add ginger, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat. Arrange slices in single layer on fifth prepared tray. Dehydrate until brittle (ca. 4 hours), turning slices after 2 hours. Lightly crush slices, if too large. Reserve in airtight container.

Using vegetable peeler, remove zest from orange in long strips, avoiding pith. Cut zest lengthwise into even strips 2 mm wide. In small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Place zest in separate (very) small saucepan, add just enough sugar solution to cover and bring to a boil. Strain through chinois and discard liquid. Repeat 2 more times with remaining sugar solution. Arrange zest in single layer on sixth prepared tray. Dehydrate until brittle (ca. 3 hours), turning slices after 2 hours. Reserve in airtight container.

Rib Eye
1000 g rib eye steak, about 3 cm high

Cut rib eye into rectangular shapes, about 90 g each, retaining the cut off fat. Transfer vacuum bag and seal on highest setting. Do the same with the remaining pieces, not the fat. Cook en sous vide at 57º C for 20 minutes. Transfer bags to large bowl of ice water to cool for 10 minutes. Remove from ice water. Reserve in bag with portions in refrigerator, snack on the remaining pieces.

In small saucepan, render fat from scraps over medium heat. Strain through chinois lined with coffee filter. Discard solids and reserve liquid fat in warm place.

Chive Tips and Puree
1000 g water
25 g salt
100 g chives
50 g water

Fill large bowl with ice water. Cut 24 chives to within 5 cm of tip. Fold tips in paper towel and reserve in ice water. Bring 1000 g water and salt to a boil. Blanch chives for about 5 minutes. Transfer to ice water to cool for 5 minutes. Drain chives and place in blander with 50 g. Blend chives on high speed to consistency of sauce. Pass through chinois into squeeze bottle and reserve in bowl of ice water.

Spicy Vinegar Sauce
1 g whole cloves
1 g allspice berries
125 g water
6 g sugar
100 g white wine vinegar
2 g agar agar

In small, dry skillet, toast cloves and allspice for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Grind in spice grinder to fine powder. In small saucepan, bring water, sugar, vinegar, and ground spices to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 20 minutes. Fill large bowl with ice water, and set small bowl inside it. Strain vinegar mixture through chinois into another small saucepan and whisk in agar agar. Boil for 1.5 minutes, whisking constantly. Strain through chinois into bowl set over ice water. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until set and very cold. Transfer to blender and blend until smooth. Pass through chinois. Reserve in covered container.

Red Pepper Reduction
3-6 red bell peppers

Core and seed peppers. Juice pepper pieces in juicer, extracting about 500 g juice. Strain through chinois into small saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Skimming away foam, reduce juice until it coats back of a spoon. Remove from heat. Pass through chinois into squeeze bottle and reserve on countertop.

Raisin Puree
150 g raisins

In small saucepan, combine raisins with water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Strain through chinois, discarding water. Repeat 2 more times. Transfer raisins to blender and blend on high speed until completely smooth. Add water as needed. Pass though chinois into bowl. Reserve in covered container.

Potato Puree
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (450 g)
100 g butter
100 g heavy cream
1 g salt

Peel potatoes, put potatoes in vacuum bag and seal on highest setting. Cook en sous vide in large pot of water at 88° C, for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are tender. Just before potatoes are ready, cut butter into 2 cm cubes. In medium saucepan, bring cream to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly to prevent scorching.

Remove potatoes from bag. Measure 400 g potatoes or adjust butter and cream amounts. Pass through passe-vite into saucepan containing cream. Incorporate butter into potatoes 1 cube at a time. Stir until completely emulsified. Take care not to break emulsion by overheating. Add salt, transfer to plastic pastry bag and store in large bowl with warm water. 

Potato Strips
1 large russet potato
30 g liquid beef fat (from earlier step)

Preheat oven to 150° C. Line sheet tray with parchments. Peel potato and trim ends. Using Japanese rotary slicer, cut potato into long, even sheets. If using vegetable slicer, cut potato in pieces so that vegetable slicer can cut the whole piece. Cut sheets lengthwise into strips 4 cm wide and 35 cm long. Discard scraps. There should be 8 strips. Brush prepared sheet tray with beef fat. Lay sheets flat on prepared sheet tray and brush with beef fat. Bake, turning once, for about 6 minutes until opaque. Transfer sheets to silicone mat, let cool to room temperature and reserve covered with damp towel.

Grapefruit Puree
1 grapefruit, peeled and seeded
50 g sugar
50 g grape seed oil

Peel and seed grapefruit. Separate segments. Combine grapefruit, sugar and oil in small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to blender and blend until completely smooth. Pass through chinois into small saucepan. Reduce until liquid covers back of a spoon. Transfer to squeeze bottle and reserve on countertop.

Anchovy Sauce and Strips
90 g anchovies
60 g butter, room temperature
1000 g veal stock

Remove anchovies from container, reserving liquid. Pick 4 intact fillets, half lengthwise and trim to about 1.3 cm wide and 7.5 cm longs. Reserve trimmed fillets with liquid in original container.

Weight anchovy scraps and remaining fillets. Combine with equal amount of butter in food processor and to smooth paste, stopping to scrape down sides of work bowl if necessary. Pass through coarse sieve.

In medium saucepan, bring stock to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and reduce until it coats back of a spoon (about 150 g). Slowly whisk in anchovy butter. Fill in squeeze bottle and reserve in bowl of warm water.

Ginger Juice
1 small hand ginger (75 g)

Shortly before assembly time, peel ginger. Juice ginger in juicer, using up scraps from earlier. Strain through chinois. Measure 40 g ginger juice. Reserve in squeeze bottle. At this time, also remove meat from fridge and let come to room temperature in vacuum bag on countertop.

To assemble and Serve
1000 g canola oil for deep frying
black pepper

Heat oven to 50°C. Heat grill to highest setting. Line sheet tray with double layer of paper towels. In medium saucepan, pour oil to depth of 8 cm and heat to 165°C. Immerse 7.5 cm of one end of each potato sheet in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on prepared sheet tray. Season with pepper and reserve in oven.

Assure that potato puree and sauces reserved in warm water are still warm, adjust water temperature as needed.

Pat beef slices dry with paper towels and grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Alternatively, sear on high heat in pan. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, spoon 3 dollops of potato purée on warmed plate, spacing them about 5 cm apart. Drape potato strip over dollops, raising and depressing it in several places to create small wells. The fried portion should rise off one end of plate.

Working quickly, place following on potato strip and plate (spoon some of sauces into wells):

  • 1 anchovy strip
  • 2 tomato chips
  • 3 or 4 garlic chips
  • 3 or 4 orange zest strips
  • 3 or 4 dried red pepper squares
  • 1-2 onion rings
  • 3 or 4 ginger chips
  • 15 g chive puree
  • 15 g spicy vinegar sauce
  • 15 g red pepper reduction
  • 15 g raisin puree
  • 15 g grapefruit puree
  • 15 g anchovy sauce

Place beef under elevated section of potato sheet. Garnish with 3 chive tips. Drip ginger juice over assembly.