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Challenging Elements: Mead

Published on: May 20th, 2011

Photo by Joe Hodgson

Happy Noodle’s Executive Chef Sam Proia taught us this month that the mantra “save bees, drink mead” extends even to brining scallops in the age-old booze.

“I started thinking about bees and realized mead was the oldest alcoholic beverage, basically,” he said. “Then I thought about smokiness because you can use smoke to ward off the bees when you’re collecting honey or to calm them down.”

We challenged him to make a dish with honey wine, with only 24 hours notice, and he delivered mead-brined, cold-smoked sea scallops paired with a quinoa cracker, arugula and sliced asparagus. The deeply sweet dish left a savory, lasting burn with curry spices and dried chilis in its caramelized onion, date jam.

The pan-searing on the spongy scallop provided a bit of texture, and the jam carried just enough spice to balance out the caramel-sweetness of the scallop and onion. Add the light, ancient-grained starch and greens, and the dish developed a textural balance.

“I thought of a cocktail party, that this dish could be more of a canapé,” he said.

In his second plating, he served the dish as an hors d’oeuvre, guaranteeing the even better combination of dry and crunchy, and moist and chewy.

He’s been at Happy for two years, writing a menu designed around taste instead of its original Asian theme, and he’s cooked with wine, but mead was atypical, he said. Proia said Happy has come to borrow the spicy, sweet or savory elements used in Asian cuisines to cook whatever tastes good.

“You’ll see that in this dish because there isn’t really a defining Asian element, but also because Asian flavors are awesome to be able to utilize into any style of cooking,” Proia said.

And he chose well, searching among the few local meaderies to settle on a honey wine from Medovina Meadery in Niwot, a milder mead less like the overly strong, fermented honey available elsewhere.

“This wine, not everyone is used to it, but they’d probably try it now—it’s nice and warm out—if this was chilled and they had something warm to much on as well,” he said. “If you’re not a follower of honey wine, of mead, that would be a good sort of introduction.”
Agreed, chef.

For information, visit happynoodlehouse.com or call 303.442.3050. Happy is located at 835 Walnut St., Boulder.

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