Watermelon ‘Tartare’ with Ginger, Yuzu and Coriander

Eddie  Shepherd

Eddie Shepherd

28th July 2011

Watermelon ‘Tartare’ with Ginger, Yuzu and Coriander

I began working on this dish inspired by a happy accident. I was experimenting with partially freezing carbonated watermelon on the anti-griddle for a project I was commissioned to do focused on cocktails (see pictures at the end of this post).

When I was finished with the watermelon I set it to one side on the countertop and then didn’t look at it again until the following day, when I did I saw it had become flexible and turned a deeper red colour with the distinct look of raw meat.

Tasting it, it had an intensified sweet flavour and unusual texture. This unexpected transformation and finished appearance intrigued me enough to decide to explore it further and then ultimately construct a dish around it.

It turns out I had stumbled onto a variation of a technique a few other chefs have been playing with - a similar effect to ‘compression’.

Several chefs, notably Thomas Keller, have been compressing melon (amongst other things) in vacuum machines to alter its texture and appearance.

Furthermore others were using a similar process to the one I was experimenting with, of freezing then thawing melon, to create an effect similar to vacuum compression. For instance Michael Natkin in his excellent post here. So it seems great minds think alike right!

I found in the end I got the results I was after by freezing then thawing the watermelon, squeezing out the excess liquid and then adding a final very short stage of low temperature dehydrations to intensify the watermelons sweetness.

The Finished product has a surprising raw meat like look, which is why I’ve nicknamed it ‘tartare’ here. I liked the idea of emphasising this interesting visual characteristic for my own amusement, reflecting the fact many vegetarian supermarket products are made to mimic meat products (burgers, sausages etc) or called things like ‘Chicken Style’, so this is my riff on that practice.

I somewhat provocatively hope that amongst vegetarians and meat eaters alike this raw meat look and name for a vegetarian dish will perhaps spark some debate. For me its entertaining and given the dish tastes very different to how it looks, I think its interesting to explore how much appearance plays a role in our expectations of a dish and experience of eating it. Though obviously I’m not exactly exploring that ideas subtly here, with a vegetarian dish that presents fruit like raw meat, but I will be genuinely interested to see what reactions this gets.

The process I put the watermelon through does more than alter its appearance though, it changes its texture, and the melon becomes flexible, denser and a little chewier. Also due to removing a fair amount of water from the melon, the flavour is intensified. It becomes sweeter and fruitier.

I’ve then paired the manipulated watermelon with a little yuzu (Japanese citrus) juice, to add a small punch of acidity. Then added stem ginger, scored with a hot knife for a hint of caramelisation, to add heat, freshness and sweetness.

I used a little fresh coriander leaf as a compliment to the other flavours and to give the bite a fresh herbaceous finish. Then garnished the dish with spirals of lightly ginger flavoured sugar work. These make an interesting visual finish for the dish I think, with their very neat, carefully produced look contrasting the natural, random shapes formed by the watermelon
Finally those delicate ginger sugar spirals also serve to add a little necessary crunch to the bite and then the dish is finished simply with a tiny pinch of Maldon salt to help the flavours really leap out.

The full recipe is below and I’d be interested to hear from veggies, meat eaters, chefs and amateurs alike on their thoughts about vegetarian foods that mimic meat and their reaction to my play on that with this dish.

Ingredients

  • One fresh watermelon - flesh cut into one centimetre thick wedges.
  • Two or three pieces of stem ginger in syrup (drained of the syrup)
  • Yuzu Juice
  • Fresh Coriander
  • Ginger Syrup –
  • 30g Fresh Ginger Juice (grate fresh ginger and squeeze out juice through a clean tea towel)
  • 5g Yuzu Juice
  • 70g Isomalt
  • Ginger Sugar Spirals –
  • 120g Isomalt
  • 50g Ginger syrup (see above)

Method

One fresh watermelon - flesh cut into one centimetre thick wedges.
Freeze the watermelon pieces in your freezer (ideally overnight).
Remove from the freezer and defrost slowly at room temperature in a single layer.
Now gently press out as much liquid as possible. Having been frozen, during which ice crystals form breaking the cell walls of the watermelon, it will now be flexible and easy to handle and squeeze without breaking.
Now finally place the watermelon pieces into a dehydrator set at 35C for two hours, turning the pieces over midway through.
These can then be stored in the fridge until you are ready to use them, and will be dressed with a little yuzu juice at the last minute and finished with a fresh coriander leaf.
Stem Ginger
Two or three pieces of stem ginger in syrup (drained of the syrup)
Simply cut thin 1mm slices of stem ginger then from these cut several 1cm squares.
Then heat a small knife, ideally with a blowtorch but a gas hob will do, until the knife is as hot as you can get it. Then carefully, gently press the hot knife to each squares of stem ginger a couple of times forming a criss-cross scoring effect (reheating the knife as necessary as you work).
The sugar in the stem ginger will caramelise where the hot knife makes contact and give each piece an extra layer of flavour.
Ginger Sugar Spirals
Ginger Syrup –
30g Fresh Ginger Juice (grate fresh ginger and squeeze out juice through a clean tea towel)
5g Yuzu Juice
70g Isomalt
Heat the ginger juice, yuzu and isomalt whilst stirring until the isomalt completely dissolves. Now keep this syrup at a very low simmer, gently bubbling, for around ten minutes until the liquid is reduced by about a third.
Ginger Sugar Spirals –
120g Isomalt
50g Ginger syrup (see above)
Preheat your oven to 140C
Place a sheet of silicon paper on a baking sheet, with another sheet of silicon paper cut to that same set to one side at the ready.
Heat isomalt and the reduced ginger syrup to 155C in a small pan occasionally stirring.
Now spread the hot isomalt liquid as thin as possible in a smooth motion on the silicon paper readied on the baking sheet. Then cover this over with the second silicon paper sheet.
Place the isomalt sheet in the oven for about two minutes until the isomalt is soft and pliable.
Now quickly go over the isomalt, sandwiched between the sheets of silicon paper, with a rolling pin to flatten it out to a 1mm thickness sheet.
Heat the thin isomalt sheet (still between its layers of paper) again in the oven for one minute until soft again then quickly cut it into 8cm long, 1/2cm thick strips with a sharp pair of scissors.
Allow the strips to cool then carefully remove the silicon paper from them.
Now a couple at a time place the sugar strips on a fresh piece of silicon paper back in the oven for about thirty seconds to a minute to soften again.
Then, while pliable, quickly twist each isomalt strip from each end, simultaneously gently pulling, to form spirals. Set these spirals to one side to cool, then store them in an airtight container along with a small wrap of silica crystals.
Note – it takes a bit of practice and time to get a feel for creating these sugar spirals but keep with it and you will get the hang of it, just don’t be disheartened if the first few to try don’t come out perfect there is a bit of a knack to it.
Plating up –
I’ve served this dish on a small fork as it is really a one or two bite dish.
Place two pieces of the prepared watermelon, folded or rolled, as you like, on the end of the fork. Then dress the watermelon with a couple of drops of yuzu juice.
Place a prepared, scored square of the stem ginger ontop of the watermelon.
Delicately place two of the Ginger Sugar Spirals crossing over atop the watermelon.
Finally finish with a few fine strands of sugar left over from creating the spirals, a single coriander leaf and a tiny pinch of Maldon salt.
Please do get in contact with your opinions about vegetarian foods that mimic meat and any reactions to my play on that here.