Sunday, July 20, 2008
It's Just Too Hot: Thai Coconut Granita
"Wait," you're saying. "Isn't that parsley?"
Yes. Yes it is. You see, the dog days of summer have settled in and made themselves at home, we're out of mint, and it's too damn hot to go outside and get more.
Summer presents several challenges for ambitious cooks, especially those like myself who don't have the luxury of central air. It's too warm to turn on the oven. Even boiling and pan-frying become skills performed only on a critical-need basis when it's 95 with soaking thick humidity. So then -- what to make? Looking at the kitchen equipment shelf, it occurred to me that the ice cream maker wouldn't give off any heat...
It came to me quickly -- a word that, even when mentioned, seems to lower the room temperature by at least a few degrees:
As I said, it was way too hot to go outside, so a trip to the store or the farmer's market for fresh fruit was out of the question. Rifling through the pantry, I found two lonely looking cans of Thailand-produced coconut milk, probably purchased for a curry a few months ago, when braising a shoulder of lamb for two hours still sounded like a good idea. The Pasta Burner and I have been trying to eat our way through our overstuffed cupboards for some time, so this was a win-win situation.
I had my fruit base. Usually, gelato calls for a cream and egg custard, cooked slowly over the stove and then cooled before being placed into an ice cream maker. However, do I need to remind you? APARTMENT = HOT. Very, very hot. As appetizing as standing over a stove with a spatula for twenty minutes sounded, I opted to go with a considerably more old-fashioned method.
My mother and father had always taught me to make ice cream and gelato with raw eggs. They claimed that this gave the ice cream a smoother finish, a fuller mouthfeel. I'm sure a few of you are a little squeamish on this point. Let me bring out some big, bad statistics for ya: There are an estimated 400 deaths, per year, in the United States, related to undercooked, egg-borne Salmonella. There are, conservatively estimating, 301 Million people in the US. This means that, you, as an egg eater, have a .00013 chance of dying from bad eggs. Factoring in that most Salmonella illness effects the very young and elderly, and that the majority of the 400 cases can be linked to specific mishandling of eggs (bad refrigeration, old eggs, etc.), you're dear reader, are probably safe. Even if you do get infected, a quick trip to the hospital, a saline IV and a week of antibiotics will fix you right up. The vast majority of salmonella-related deaths, even post-infection, are preventable.
So, do you have health insurance? Are you still with me? Okay! We're using raw eggs.
The recipe, all things considered, went together very quickly. I poured the two cans into a bowl, added a 3/4s of a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, two whole eggs, and one egg yolk. A quick whisk, and it was right into the ice cream maker. Done, and done.
Or so I thought. See, it was so hot in the apartment that the ambient temperature soon went to work on the frozen churning bowl. It became evident after about a half-hour that the mixture, while reasonable slushy, wasn't going to freeze.
I poured the colloid into a tupperware container, and resolved that the gelato would have to take a slightly different form.
Granita is a simple dessert, and a nice way to make a sorbet-like substance without relying on technology's helping hand. In short, the mixture that would be placed into the churning bowl is placed directly in the freezer, unfrozen, in a container. Every couple hours, you just go by with a spoon, scrape up the slightly frozen sections, mush things around a little, and then place it back into the freezer. By the end of the day, you'll have a foamy sorbet, peppered with refreshing flakes of ice, which lend the finished product a delightful, refreshing finish. It's a good thing to do over a long, hot day. Start in the morning, scrape every few hours, and by dinner time, you'll be all done.
Here now, the recipe.
Two 15 oz. cans Coconut Milk (not coconut cream)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Two whole eggs, and one egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients. Place in ice-cream maker and follow manufacturers' instructions for gelato. For granita, place in a shallow container and scrape the frozen surface of the mixture every two-three hours until entire container is foamy and firm. Serve with mint (or parsley, if there's nothing else around).
Anyway, in the end, I didn't get my gelato. But the granita was just as good, if not better. And to think! No heat needed. Well, okay. No additional heat needed. I really don't think we needed to get up to 96 Fahrenheit...
Music: Merv Griffin -- "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts":