Recipe: Farinata with Tomato-Braised Abalone
Chef: Matt Accarino
Restaurant: SPQR, San francisco
Cooking local abalone is definitely one of my favorite perks of living on the West Coast. While the mollusk was overfished years ago, entrepreneurs have managed to farm red abalone successfully, opening up opportunities for chefs like me who are always looking for another ingredient to champion. With abalone, it’s easy to get excited. Not only are they visually captivating, arriving at the restaurant in their large, decorative shells, but they also taste deliciously briny. Abalone are not hard to prepare. Like octopus or squid, you either cook it briefly or for a long time—anything in between will be tough and chewy. In this preparation, I choose the latter, braising it with tomatoes, capers, and garlic so it soaks up the flavors of the Italian coast. Alone or with pasta, braised abalone is more than satisfying, but I’m partial to serving it with farinata. Sold in Ligurian bakeshops, these thin, chickpea cakes are cooked slowly in wide cast-iron pans inside wood-burning ovens. Since I don’t have quite the same set-up in my kitchen, I’ve adapted the process for our kitchen, preparing and baked the farinata in a conventional oven instead.
Instead of abalone, you can use squid or octopus in this recipe. Because the weight provided for the abalone in this recipe includes the shell, use half the weight for squid or octopus. To finish the dish, I like to add small bits of dehydrated olives for an intense bite of salty flavor. I use Taggiasca olives, which are similar, though milder and rounder, than nicoise. If unavailable, nicoise or gaeta are fine.
2 cups chickpea flour
4 1/3 cups water
1 ea garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 turns black pepper from a peppermill
½ teaspoon chopped rosemary
20 each black olives, such as Taggiasca
10 pieces red abalone
1 tablespoon Wondra flour for dusting
1 each yellow onion, thinly sliced
To taste kosher salt
3 each garlic cloves
1 pinch dried chili flakes
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 can cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed well
1 each white anchovy, minced
To taste extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Wondra flour for dusting
5 each basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 each lemon
Lightly coat 1 (9- by 13-inch) baking pan or one large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick spray. In a blender, purée the chickpea flour and water. Pour the batter into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and place over medium heat. Whisk in the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to a paste, about 15 minutes. Stir in the rosemary, then pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Level the pan by tapping it lightly against the counter. Refrigerate the farinata, uncovered, until set, at least 2 hours or overnight.
With a 3-inch cutter, punch the chilled farinata into rounds, cutting as close as possible to limit the amount of trimmings remaining. You should have 6 rounds Blot the rounds dry between paper towels and refrigerate until needed.
In three lengthwise slices, cut the olive meat off the olives (see page 000). Save the olive meat for another use. To make the dehydrated olives, place the pits (they should still have some olive meat attached to them on the ends) in a dehydrator and dehydrate between 125-150˚F overnight. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 200˚F. Scatter the pits on a baking sheet and allow them to dry out in the oven for 2-3 hours. Once dried, remove the dried olive meat from the pits and chop, discarding the pits. Reserve the dehydrated olives for garnish.
Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Using a large pallet knife or kitchen spoon, pry underneath the foot of the abalone muscle to dislodge it from the shell. Spread the abalone onto a cutting board and score the muscle on one side with a ¼-inch deep crosshatch pattern. Cover the board with a large piece of plastic wrap and pound the abalone lightly with a mallet to tenderize the muscle.
Heat a thin film of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Season the abalone with salt and dust with Wondra flour, shaking off any excess. Sear until lightly browned on both sides, then transfer to a plate.
Wipe the pot clean with a paper towel and heat a thin film of olive oil over medium-low heat. Stir in the onions and a pinch of salt and sweat for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sweat for 1 minute, or until both the onion and garlic have softened. Sprinkle the chile flakes into the pot and sweat for a few seconds more to release the chile flavor Pour in the white wine and bring the pot to a simmer. Pour the chicken stock and tomatoes into the pot, return to a simmer, and stir in the abalone. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.
Braise for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the abalone slide off a skewer when pierced. Uncover the pot and cool for 20 minutes. Fish out the abalone pieces and slice crosswise into thin strips. Return the slices to the braise, then bring the pot to a low simmer and stir in the capers, anchovies, and sliced olives. Turn off the heat and keep warm.
In a large sauté pan with straight sides or a cast-iron skillet, heat 1/2 inch of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once a few flecks of flour sizzle in the oil, dust the farinata rounds in Wondra flour, shaking off any excess. In batches to avoid crowding the pan, sear the rounds until golden brown on one side. Using a spatula or fork, flip over the rounds away from you to avoid splattering oil onto your body. Brown the other side, then drain the farinata on paper towels and keep warm. Add more olive oil in between batches if necessary.
Return the braise to a simmer. Coarsely chop half of the chervil and stir it into the braise with the basil.
To serve, place 1 farinata disk at the base of 6 soup bowls. Divide the abalone pieces evenly among the bowls and spoon some braising liquid over the top. Grate lemon zest over each bowl. Slice the lemon in half, then squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into each bowl. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a few sprigs of chervil, and a sprinkling of dehydrated olives.