It’s time for summer fun, summer vacations, and summer food. To celebrate the beginning of the season, Tribeza has organized an event, the Summer Solstice Chef’s Table Series from June 27 to June 29, to showcase menus inspired by this time of year. At eight different Austin restaurants, guests will have an opportunity to dine with the chef and enjoy special dishes created just for this event. Trio is one of those participating restaurants, and Chef Todd Duplechan’s menu will include poached gulf shrimp with watermelon curry and a masa cookie, warmed loch salmon with braised market vegetables and lemon aioli, and bacon wrapped lamb loin with heirloom squash and black garlic custard. I had the opportunity to stop by the kitchen at Trio, talk with Chef Duplechan about the Chef’s Table dinner, and watch as he showed me how to prepare the poached shrimp dish. We talked about the Texas heat, spices and chiles, what grows locally, and he taught me a few interesting cooking techniques along the way.
Here in central Texas, Chef Duplechan likes to cook what grows nearby, and that fits with his idea of creating a new southwestern cuisine. He says “there’s more to southwestern cuisine that blue corn chips.” Rather than taking influence solely from Mexican cooking as most southwestern dishes do, his creations brings together elements of cooking from various hot weather climates around the world. By taking cues from Southeast Asia, his dishes have a lightness that’s especially welcome during our hot summer season. A perfect example of how these ideas come together is this poached shrimp dish. The shrimp are from the Gulf and as many of the other ingredients as possible were procured locally.
Next, we talked about the shrimp. These were big, fresh, gorgeous ten per pound, Gulf shrimp. They had been shelled, deveined, and skewered to make them straight. They were going to be oil poached but not in plain oil. This was one of those cooking tips that’s genius, that adds so much flavor, and that I never would have thought to do. The oil had been treated like a stock. The shrimp shells and some of the same spices used in the curry had been cooked in the oil and then strained out before the oil was used to poach the shrimp. I tasted the oil before the shrimp were placed in it, and it was so flavorful I knew the shrimp were going to be phenomenal. To gently poach shellfish in oil, the temperature needs to be no higher than about 125 degrees F. Duplechan checked the temperature and maintained the low heat by pulling the pan with the oil off the heat when the temperature climbed too high. He explained the good news about poaching shellfish is that you have a long window of doneness. You can watch as the shrimp turn from translucent to opaque white, and you want to pull them from the oil before the opaque-ness reaches the center of the shrimp. They’ll finish cooking from residual heat once removed from the oil.
One last element for this dish was a masa cookie. Masa is a typical southwestern ingredient, but it was given a new twist here. It was baked into a tuile after being mixed with sugar, and ground coriander and mustard seeds. No water was added. The dry mixture was spread on a baking sheet, and as it heated in the oven, the sugar melted and the tuile formed. The big, thin cookie then easily broke into pieces. It was a sweet, savory, corn-flavored bit of crunch.
The dish was plated with a layer of arugula, then the watermelon curry, the shrimp were pulled from the skewers and placed on the sauce, the masa cookie was broken into shards which were strewn about, and last, a little drizzle of the poaching oil was added. My reaction upon tasting the finished dish was a wow. That was perfectly cooked, juicy, plump shrimp, and all those wonderful flavors in the watermelon curry accompanied it nicely. The fresh, bright flavors and slight edge of heat, the mix of textures with the crisp masa cookie, and the lightness of it all made a stellar combination. And, this is just one of the courses offered at Trio for the Chef’s Table Series.
For more information about the menus, the locations, and the opportunity to sit and dine with some of Austin’s top chefs, see the Tribeza site.