I’m getting really excited about the launch of my book – MADE IN AMERICA: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food – on October 4th. In an attempt to show quite how accessible and easy the recipes in the book are I am putting together a series of videos of me cooking from the book and today I’m happy to share the one I made this weekend for Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta from Michael Mina.
I first ate at Michael Mina about five years ago, I flew up from Los Angeles for the night to join my best friend Amelia and her husband who were visiting from England. The creative menu, the excellent service and the stunning room blew us all away. I remember feeling more full after dinner that night than ever before. Plate after beautiful plate of ingredients done three ways, each one more tempting that then last. Michael Mina has recently relocated his eponymous signature Michelin one-star and San Francisco Chronicle four-star restaurant to California Street, housed in the exact same location as the restaurant, Aqua, where he began his illustrious career over 20 years ago. Born in Cairo, Egypt and raised in Ellensburg, Washington, Mina fell in love with cooking at an early age working as the garde manger at 15 in a local restaurant, formal training followed at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park with weekends spent honing his talent in Charlie Palmer’s kitchen at the upscale Aureole in New York City. With his bold restaurant concepts, this award-winning chef has certainly built upon San Francisco’s reputation as a world-class dining destination and more recently he has been at the forefront of making Las Vegas a well respected dining scene as well. In 2002 he partnered with Andre Agassi to found Mina Group – 18 restaurants scattered across America later and Mina considers himself lucky to be doing something he is so passionate about.
Mina has given perhaps the most effortless dessert recipe ever, for chocolate panna cotta, proving that even the fanciest of chefs can turn their attention to something super easy. I was struck by how similar his recipe is to early American recipes for blanc-mange, a milk dessert that is thickened with gelatin so it sets. The recipe is a cross between a chocolate pudding and a milky Jell-o.
I love the breezy chatty voice of Marion Harland in Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea, from 1875, and she includes a relatively early recipe for Chocolate Blanc-Mange in her chapter Fancy Dishes for Desserts. She follows this with an additional recipe for presenting chocolate blanc mange filled with cream as a serving option. 19th century cook books are full of recipes for jellies, blanc manges, custards and creams. These wobbly creations are a lost art of wonderful translucent colors and flavors, most often set in whimsical molds and then turned out. Mrs. Lincoln writes in 1884, “Cornstarch and gelatin are often used but they are neither palatable nor nutritious without eggs.” She uses Irish Moss in her recipe for chocolate blanc-mange. In The Ladies Receipt-Book, by Eliza Leslie, 1847 there is a long receipt for Chocolate Blanc-Mange – that calls for ‘four calves’ feet, (singed but not skinned,) or eight or tens pigs’ feet.’ She goes on to say that you can substitute ‘Russia isinglass’. And people think molecular gastronomy is something new? Thank goodness for modern packets of dried gelatin.
We still have chocolate puddings, mousse, pot au crèmes and panna cotta. I’m a big fan of whipping up a batch of chocolate mousse based on an Elizabeth David recipe but this maybe better – definitely more straightforward and also no risk of uncooked eggs. Although the cream will definitely negate any good the chocolate is doing for healthy hearts this smooth creamy chocolate decadence is just too good to pass up.
In a book about comfort food it’s not very surprising to find a large proportion of the desserts to be chocolate based. With over 300 natural chemicals in cocoa beans it’s chock full of goodness: Antioxidents, improvements to cardiac health, lowering cholesterol. Chocolate may not be an aphrodisiac as people often claim; however it is a mood enhancer, boosting the release of the bodies natural antidepressant, seratonin, as well as endorphin levels. No wonder it’s comforting! Here we have a recipe from Michael Mina for the Italian chocolate dessert, panna cotta [cooked milk].
Michael Mina’s Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta – from Made in America
1/2 pound milk chocolate
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon gelatin powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
Fleur de sel, for garnish (optional)
1. Gently melt the milk chocolate in a large bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.
2. Pour the milk into a pot and sprinkle the gelatin over the cold milk. Heat over low heat for 5 minutes.
3. Add the salt and pour the mixture over the melted chocolate in the bowl and mix until smooth.
4. Add the cold cream and mix until completely incorporated.
5. Fill four 6-ounce glasses 2/3 full with the mixture.
6. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.
7. Just before serving garnish with fleur de sel.
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