Key Ingredient: Anna Shovers of the Publican turns chicory root Vietnamese 

The pastry chef makes a coffee substitute into ice cream inspired by iced coffee.

Chicory ice cream with coffee-chicory granita and fried tofu skins

Chicory ice cream with coffee-chicory granita and fried tofu skins

Julia Thiel

The Chef: Anna Shovers (the Publican)
The Challenger: Dana Cree (Blackbird)
The Ingredient: Chicory root

The chicory plant has been used for food and medicine for centuries: Horace wrote about consuming its leaves (known as radicchio, sugarloaf, or Belgian endive, depending on the variety), and various parts of the plant are believed to eliminate internal parasites, protect the liver, and cure upset stomach, constipation, and loss of appetite. The roots are often roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute. While this practice originally began due to coffee shortages, chicory root is still popular in parts of the south, especially Louisiana (unlike coffee, it's caffeine free).

Anna Shovers, pastry chef at the Publican, challenged with chicory root by Dana Cree (Blackbird), was already familiar with the ingredient. She's worked with it before, and the day before she heard about the challenge, Publican chef de cuisine Brian Huston had made Vietnamese iced coffee for the staff with a mix of chicory root and coffee. Shovers used that idea as a basis for her dish.

Chicory root has a bitterness similar to coffee, Shovers said, but it's more chocolatey and not as intense in flavor: "It's a little more mellow, a little more earthy."

Shovers made chicory ice cream with sweetened condensed milk (traditional in Vietnamese coffee), and then decided to keep going with the Asian influence. She made yuba, taking the skin that forms on the surface of gently heated soy milk and dehydrating it before briefly deep-frying it (this is also known as tofu skin). For an additional crunch, she used black Asian rice, puffed via a quick deep-fry. "You get these little crunchy rice crispies that hold up to water really well," Shovers said. "It does tend to look like maggots, so on a dish I try to manipulate them a little."

The puffed rice went into a disk with feuilletine (crispy flakes of very thin wafers), held together by caramelized white chocolate. Shovers buys the chocolate already caramelized, but said you can make it by baking white chocolate at low heat, stirring often, until it turns an amber brown. "It brings out this nice caramelly taste that you don't get from white chocolate. White chocolate's not very deep in flavor," she said.

Shovers also sprinkled burnt cinnamon around the edge of the plate—she likes cinnamon in her coffee—and made a coffee-chicory granita "to bring in another ice factor, something that wasn't as creamy." After placing a scoop of chicory ice cream atop the puffed rice and chocolate disk, she surrounded it with spoonfuls of the granita. "I was thinking a little organic nest for the chocolate," she said. In fact, it looked almost exactly like an egg in a nest.

"I think it's beautiful with the burnt cinnamon," she said. "With my art background, I have to draw everything out. In my head I get little garden scenes. It's more fun that way."

Shovers finished the dish by covering the ice cream with the thin, crispy yuba. "It tastes really light and airy, not too sweet," she said after digging in. "You get the creaminess first, and then you go back around for the icy coffee. It's not overwhelmingly a Vietnamese iced coffee dish, it's more just creamy and you get the light crunch. The black rice is almost a savory, salty flavor."

Who's next:

Leigh Omilinsky, pastry chef at Cafe des Architectes, challenged by Shovers to make a dish with chia seeds. Shovers, who eats the hydrated seeds every morning for breakfast, said, "I think it's a challenging ingredient because they don't really taste like much."

Chicory ice cream and granita with yuba and caramelized milk crunchies

Chicory ice cream
1400 g cream
1400 g milk
400 g egg yolks
550 g sugar, divided
6 g stabilizer
430 g sweetened condensed milk
Splash of vanilla
⅓ cup chicory (to taste)
1 t salt

Place the cream, milk, and vanilla in a pot, bring to a simmer. Whisk in the chicory, steep for 20 minutes. Add the sweetened condensed milk. In a small bowl, whisk together half the sugar, the stabilizer, and salt, whisk into the milk mixture, bring to a simmer again. Take off heat, temper with yolks and remaining sugar. Cook until thickened, strain, chill.

Coffee-chicory granita
2 cups fresh coffee (brewed with half chicory, half coffee grounds)
½ cup sugar

Combine all ingredients and place in a shallow tray in the freezer. As ice crystals begin to form on the edges, use a fork to scrape them down, back into the mixture. Scrape every 20-30 minutes until the entire tray is frozen, scraped ice crystals.

Yuba (tofu skin)
3 quarts of Silk brand soy milk
4 dehydrator trays, lined with parchment paper and sprayed with oil

Put soy milk in a pot and heat over low heat (2-3 on induction) until it begins to smoke (do not bring it to a simmer!). It will stay on very low heat throughout the entire process.

Using a fish spatula, carefully detach the sides of the skins as they start to form. Dipping the spatula in soy milk will help keep it from sticking. After about 10-15 minutes, you should have a thick skin. If it seems too thin to pick up, leave the skin to build for another five minutes. Detach the edges completely. Slip your spatula under the skin. Flip the skin onto the sprayed tray 'face down'. They will come off nicer if they are face down. Dehydrate for 30 minutes.

While the first tray is dehydrating, continue making skins. Be sure to pull the skins from the dehydrator once they are firm. They should not go longer.

Makes about 12 skins. The soy milk gives dark grey skins (light grey is fine) after about 10-12 times. Discard the milk and start over if necessary.

*This is a good project to do while working on something else.

Caramelized milk crunchies
400 g feuilletine
500 g Valrhona Dulcey Blond chocolate
100 g oil

Melt oil and chocolate in a bowl, over a pot of simmering water. Fold in feuilletine. Divide between two silpat mats, and place a piece of parchment or another silpat on top of the feuilletine mixture. Roll as thin as possible.

Chill completely, about two hours. With a biscuit cutter, cut out disks. Keep the excess for a crumble to put underneath the quenelles of ice cream.

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