Tattoo Face first wraps his salmon in bacon and cooks it in a steam convection oven. This gently heats the salmon’s core to the desired temperature without causing the protein to denature. As a result, the fish stays extremely tender; the judges continually point out how much the dish glistens. Afterward, he finishes it in a Salamander, which is really just a fancy name for a broiler. Sure, it can achieve higher temperatures than a regular broiler — it can also distribute the heat more evenly — but at the end of the day, it’s still just a broiler. Plus, the dish doesn’t look remotely broiled at all when it was all said and done, but I guess that’s more a knock on the animation than anything Tattoo Face is responsible for. Or maybe the writer just wants to squeeze in a fancy-sounding equipment without really using it. Finally, a dollop of salmon ice cream — yes, you read that right — sits next to the bacon-wrapped salmon. The cool, creamy addition supposedly heightens the heat and umami punch of the main component. All in all, it looks like Tattoo Face has whipped up a standout dish, right?
Honestly, I don’t like using thermal immersion circulators or steam convection ovens in general. Yes, the meat comes out tender, but I don’t like the mouthfeel that results from these cooking methods. I don’t like my cooked salmon looking and tasting as though it’s practically raw. But of course, this show is set in Japan. That country is full of sushi lovers, so I’m sure Tattoo Face’s dish is right in their wheelhouse. On the other hand, although I do like sushi as well, I just prefer my cooked fish to feel a little more… cooked. It’s simply a matter of preference. In any case, I also think the name of the dish is a bit of a misnomer. Can you really call this a confit? Yes, he did submerge the salmon in olive oil, but they were also wrapped in plastic. And I don’t think he cooked the salmon long enough to call it a confit. Nothing is being preserved. Again, it just feels like the writer is throwing in a food terminology for the sake of sounding knowledgeable. The layperson wouldn’t question it. Still, what’s with the flame part? Sure, maybe Tattoo Face is a master of knowing the desired digital temperature, but that’s a far cry from actually mastering heat and flame. Cooking directly with fire is its own beast.1
Opposite Tattoo Face, Ryo puts together a coulibiac. Yeah, I had no clue what it was at first either. Yo, just because I’m a foodie doesn’t mean I have an encyclopedic knowledge of old-ass French dishes. And for good reason, too. Look at all the damn starch in his dish! Luckily, if you look up coulibiac on Google, you’ll see that the real world counterpart has a higher ratio of protein to starch. I don’t know why J.C. Staff drew such a tiny piece of salmon and made the grain layer so thick. But whenever the judges and others take a bite, it’s always the most perfect morsel. Where did all the grains go! Ryo’s secret weapon, however, is a spinach crepe hidden between the grains and brioche shell. The crepe has also been seasoned with bacon… unevenly. The episode makes a big deal about how the dish delivers an umami punch thanks to the imbalanced seasoning. I’m not gonna comment, because I don’t have enough experience with this sort of “technique” to really say if it works or not. Yeah, I understand the idea of not mixing up the runny egg in my rice. I’m not convinced, however, that the same idea extends to spices.
In the end, it appears as though Ryo is the only non-Yukihira challenger to achieve a victory against Central. For now, anyway. I’m not excited about either of these dishes — the salmon ice cream is probably the least appetizing-looking morsel — but at least I got to see some cooking. Hopefully, there isn’t yet another set-up episode next week, and we can just dive back into the cooking.
1Just a small tangent about cooking with fire. It may sound simplistic at first, but it’s actually a very interesting and involved technique that rewards curiosity and patience. Let’s say the embers are uneven at first, so you have to experiment. You mix in some ash to bring the embers to balance, but how much ash? Even when you achieve the desired heat, you have to place the protein at just the right distance so it doesn’t dry out or end up being fried. Meanwhile, the embers and ashes are imparting flavor. It’s not neutral like say steam from a steam convection oven. You have to decide what sort of ember and ash to use. Plus, cooking with fire is not just limited to open heat. You might want to bury things in ash. Or maybe you want to cook something in a wood oven. What type of wood will you use? There’s also cold-smoking, hot-smoking, so on and so forth. Anyone can be told that the protein needs to be a certain temperature, punch a number into a thermal immersion circulator, and let the equipment do the majority of the work. Cooking, however, is an artform, and there’s a beauty in a true chef being able to control the embers when slow roasting a well-aged protein.