Apparently, I don’t like wasabi. Who knew? Not me. I know now though, oh yes, I do.
I don’t eat sushi, y’see, so I don’t really encounter much wasabi in my quotidian existence. I’ve also somehow made it 32 years and three months without ever tasting horseradish, so I have no basis of comparison. La nonna and la mamma didn’t really use much horseradish in their cuisine, go figure.
Although I have smelled horseradish, and thought that shit was fucking foul. So I supposed I could have jumped to that particular flavor conclusion.
But I get ahead of myself. You don’t even know what you’re looking at. Well, okay, right this second you probably know; you’re looking at a picture of some jalapeño. I mean in general. I’ll tell you, and then you tell me if I was stupid to try it in the first place based on the title alone: lamb in a turmeric and wasabi “white” sauce with pistachios. Quotation marks mine, because who in the hell adds turmeric – which is a saturated marigold – to a sauce yet insists that the sauce is white? The same person who thought up this demented dish and then wrote it up: Babette de Rozieres, in the book Creole.
I haven’t used this cookbook in over two years, although the last dish I used it for, Creole seafood risotto, was delicious if unorthodox and somewhat confusing methodologically. If you weren’t reading TNS back in the day I encourage you to read that entry for an amusing story about a scotch bonnet pepper, a needy Golden Retreiver and a penis. You’ll have to see for yourself how it all ties together! In any case, the risotto was good, the picture of this dish looked good, I was still feeling a bit Paschal and I’d never used wasabi in anything. And the Smackdown is about trying the new, is it not?
Fuck the new, that’s what I say. That’s what you have taught me, Babette. To fear the unknown. Thank you.
I’m getting ahead of myself again.
The dish started with some perfectly innocent chunks of lamb stew meat; I would tell you what cut, but I can’t since Fresh Direct didn’t tell me, they just sold me “lamb stew cubes.” Somehow, you’re supposed to “sear” the lamb over low heat to seal in the juices without getting any color on the lamb, which might actually be nuttier than insisting that a bright yellow sauce is white.
I see that Babette will be inspiring me to put lots of words in quotation marks this evening.
I went with cooking the lamb over low heat until most of the pink was no longer immediately visible. Then I chucked in some onion, garlic, jalapeño, bay, and thyme, along with salt and pepper “to taste,” because I’m totally going to do a taste-check on some raw-ass lamb to see if it’s well-seasoned. I covered the pot and left the lamb to simmer its its own juices for the better part of an hour, and puttered around making some rice and getting my mis en place together for the sauce.
I art-directed this bowl of ingredients just for you. Some creme fraiche and an egg yolk, just in case the roux that would eventually be made didn’t thicken things up enough. A pinch of turmeric. And a GIANT PILE OF WASABI.
Three whole tablespoons, to be exact. To be fair, I don’t actually know if that constitutes a giant pile of powdered wasabi. I’m just assuming it’s a lot because (1) it used up the better part of the jar and (2) when you don’t like something, even a molehill seems like a mountain. I’m just saying, three tablespoons looks like a lot, and it irrevocably commits you to loving or hating this dish.
I also got out the butter and flour for the roux and juiced a few lemons, giving my lamb cubes and rice a stir every now and again. When 45 minutes were up (cue foreboding music), I made my roux, scooped the lamb out of its pot and added the lamb juices to the roux to form the base of the sauce. I don’t know if you’ve ever seem lamb cooking juices, but being white is not found amongst their many fine qualities. Meaning the sauce started its existence thick and decidedly brown, so I honestly don’t know where this “white” business came from.
I’m just saying.
I’m also saying that maybe, just maybe, the roux + creme fraiche + egg yolk combo is maybe perhaps the tiniest bit of overkill in the thickening department. After all, it’s not as though the lamb produced cups and cups of juice, so the roux was more than up to the task of tightening it; in fact, it was overly thick and not unlike brown library paste. Still, I mixed in the creme-egg-wasabi mixture and then the lemon juice. And then some warm water, to turn what ended up in my pot from a solid to a sauce.
Babette, you might want to rethink the fundamentals of this sauce a bit.
I’m just saying.
[HERE IS WHERE PHOTO OF SAUCE IN POT WOULD GO IF IT HADN'T TURNED OUT SO BLECH LOOKING. BUT IT DID, SO YOU GET A CAPTION INSTEAD.]
If the consistency of the sauce wasn’t enough to give me pause – which it was, but let’s pretend otherwise – the smell that wafted from the pot when the wasabi really got an opportunity to meld with the hot liquid was more than up to the pause-creating task. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really enjoy being able to feel each individual hair on the inside of my nose tremble. Or maybe I would like that if the odor causing the trembling was a pleasant one and not that of hot wasabi and lemon juice.*
Oh Babette, I do not like the divisive relationship with my OWN NOSE inspired by this sauce.
*Hot Wasabi is going to be the name of my Shonen Knife tribute band.
Still, I tasted it…and immediately disliked it. Intensely. I dipped the corner of a piece of lamb in, though, and found that somewhat palatable. Hoping against hope that this would be one of those whole-better-than-sum-of-parts dishes, I made myself a bowl. Rice, lamb, sauce, chopped pistachios.
(Not the one in the picture. That bowl, I made and gave to Brian. Mine was considerably less sauce-drenched.)
I was wrong, I was oh so very wrong. This dish was exactly the sum of its parts, and that was exactly the problem. As Brian put it, “I like chocolate chip cookies and I like barbecue, but I don’t want to eat them together.” (Although I contend that if you smoked a chocolate chip cookie, he would eat it and enjoy it.)
The tang of the creme fraiche didn’t go with the wasabi. The turmeric was masked entirely. The wasabi-lamb combo just tasted like horseradish-y lamb. There was no moment of revelation when everything comes together in that perfect bite. Even Brian, who likes very disgusting things and finished his whole bowl, voted this a thumbs down.
Thus ends my one and only encounter with wasabi, and it will most likely remain my only encounter. And I? Am okay with that.