Maybe I’m crass, but when I think bladder, I think pee.
When the bladder comes up in conversation, it’s usually in the context of “my bladder is going to explode, please pull over” or “ouch, don’t sit on my bladder, I just drank a liter of Coke.” It’s rarely: “Mmm, you know what would be delicious? Puffing up the bladder of a pig and cooking a chicken in it!” If someone said that to you, you might stare at them, mouth agape, wondering how quickly you might get to the nearest exit. Yet, at some point before I arrived at the NYT 4-star Michelin 3-star restaurant Daniel on the Upper East Side, the visiting chef–another Michelin 3-star chef, Chef Eric Frechon from The Bristol in Paris–made that very statement. And no one recoiled in horror; in fact, they helped him do it.
First some background: Chef Daniel Boulud (the Daniel behind Daniel) invited Chef Frechon to cook at his flagship restaurant to celebrate both of them getting their three Michelin stars. Here they are talking to the crowd:
Chef Frechon brought along his crew from The Bristol and Chef Boulud, in turn, invited the media. At this luncheon, there were placecards for Florence Fabricant and Christine Muhlke of The New York Times, heavy hitters from Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine and then, well, me.
I felt a bit out of place in such austere company but I was quickly set at ease by my table mates: to my left, Rachel McLennan, part of the P.R. firm that brought me, and to my right Pamela Parseghian of Nation’s Restaurant News. Both were easy to talk to and non-judgmental as I pigged out and got slightly tipsy at one in the afternoon.
The food, from the get-go, was pretty spectacular. The first course was Cauliflower Mousse with Red Onion-Sherry Gelee with Haddock Foam (in French: Gelee D’Oignon Rouge Au Xeres, Ecume de Haddock):
This had the smoked fishiness of whitefish salad but was far smoother and more refined and perfectly balanced with the other components, particularly the gelee.
Next was: Scallop and Oyster Tartare, Curried Lemon Whipped Cream (in French: Saint-Jacques Et Huitres, Tailees Au Couteau en Tartare, Chantilly “Citron-Curry”):
This was pretty amazing: you cut in and there, inside that shell, were cut up raw oysters and scallops. With that lemon whipped cream, it was a lovely, decadent and yet refreshing plate of food, maybe my favorite of the whole meal.
Then there was Oven Baked Cod, Watercress Jus, Lemon Butter (Cabillaud: Epais Cuit Au Plat, Jus De Cresson De Fontaine, Beurre Citron):
This was nice, if a bit gimmicky with that foam (not every plate needs foam on it in the 21st century), yet sightly forgettable, especially since the next course was…
Now before you’re truly disgusted, I’ve done some serious research (I Googled “chicken in a pig’s bladder”) and came across a list of superstar chef Marco Pierre White’s favorite dishes of all time, one of them being this very dish which he attributes to legendary chef Fernand Point. Here’s what Chef White has to say:
“What Point did was genius: putting a chicken in a pig’s bladder with truffles under the skin and port, Madeira, Armagnac and truffle juice.”
The article goes on to explain: “The bladder poached in water insulated its contents but stretched and swelled up like a balloon so that it was taken to the customer’s table looking like a football, where it was punctured and the chicken carved. Setting aside the dramatic aspect of the dish, using a bladder is exactly the same principle as modern sous-vide cookery: the flavours are retained and amalgamated during cooking.”
Are you convinced? Well the inflated bladder picture probably didn’t convince you, but how about this finished dish? Its official title: “Bresse Farm Hen, Chicken Liver Parfait, Green Asparagus, Black Truffle.”
That’s a horse of a different color, ain’t it?
The taste was really lovely, a golden shower of flavor (haha, just kidding…sorry), surprisingly subtle; the truffle, of course, elevated it to that finer sphere of fine dining. And then, on the side, they brought a consomme made from the chicken and even more truffles:
This was even better than the chicken: a potent elixir of chicken and truffle that, in its weird simplicity, revealed the true talent of this Michelin 3-star chef.
What’s left to say after you eat chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder? What’s left, for that matter, to eat?
Well, there was this nice pre-dessert dessert of Pink Grapefruit, Campari Sorbet, Hibiscus Gelée, Almond Meringue:
I loved how the bitterness of the grapefruit and Campari played off the sweetness of the Hibiscus and the almond.
And then, another show-stopper, a chocolate globe. Specifically: Nyangbo African Bittersweet Chocolate Globe, Liquid Cocoa Center, Crisp Tuile and Gold Leaf Sorbet:
And here it is after they opened it:
It’s almost futuristic, isn’t it? And yet it tasted as good as it looked; almost like the most rich, intensely flavored chocolate ice cream of your life.
Finally, to gild the lily, this plate of little bites:
And believe it or not, those little bites–especially the salted caramel macaron–were as incredible as everything that came before. This was a knock-out luncheon, and it was all over pretty fast–they made sure all the working writers who came to “work” by laboriously studying the food they were eating–could be back at their desks by 2 o’clock (lunch started at 12).
I left Daniel buzzed, elated and very, very full. I felt like I’d consumed one of those meals A.J. Liebling might’ve written about in his day, the stuff of legend. And now, if I’m ever playing a game of free association where one person says a word and I respond immediately with another, I’m pretty sure if they say “bladder” I’m going to say “yummy.”