Saturday, May 10, 2008

Gingko Nut Custards

The Ginkgo Biloba is a tree with an ancient lineage. It’s a living fossil, like a crocodile or the remarkable Wollemi Pine. 270 million years old it is, and that people, commands respect. Reputed to improve the memory, the green fruit, or nut, of the female tree is highly prized by both Chinese and Japanese cuisines. Julie told me that she has watched families in New York gather the stinking fruit from the pavement. Having smelt it walking around The Gardens during her stay, it’s not a task that excites me very much, I have to say. Lazy, I know, but there you go. Better by far is finding a net of gingko nuts, as I finally did, in the fridge of an excellent Asian grocery.

Shell-bound, the ginkgo is shaped much like an almond; one end rounded, the other tapered to a point. Paler and thinner-skinned, with a strong, pungent smell. Once freed, the fruit itself is a little rubbery. Not quite what I was expecting, but interesting, nonetheless. The recipe that follows uses just three and this is, I think, ideal for an untrained Western palate to begin with.

Served in tiny Japanese tea cups, these barely-set custards shudder in a very luscious way. Not sure about you, but I have days when little bowls of this sort of restorative thing are very, very welcome. Wholesome, but light. Smoked tofu adds depth and complexity to the girly-ness of it all, but originally, I made this with about 60g (2oz) of salmon belly cut into small cubes, just as Holly Davis did. It made an extraordinarily good custard, gentler and even more delicate. The earthier grounding of smoked tofu however, feels somehow right for autumn. Play as you like. Best of all, it’s quick and simple. It is surprising just how much liquid two eggs will, tremulously, set. I didn’t expect this to work at all. Lovely stuff.

Steamed ginkgo and mushroom custards – makes 6

Adapted from a Holly Davis recipe. I’ve looked, longingly, at this recipe for years, but never found the nuts. If they elude you, this, I promise, will not suffer their omission in the slightest. I wish I’d made them sooner.

8 dried shiitake mushrooms, destalked
A thin slice of smoked tofu
3 ginkgo nuts, shelled OR 6 almonds, blanched and slivered
2 free-range eggs (best you can afford/find)
½ cup of mirin
1 ½ tablespoons of shoyu, tamari or soy sauce
4 spring onions, white and an inch or so of greens, sliced
A little of green tops of the spring onion, finely chopped

You will also need:
A bamboo (or similar) steamer
A wok
6 Japanese/Chinese teacups, each of about 80ml (1/3 cup) capacity

Soak the shiitakes in freshly boiled water for 1 hour. Soak the tofu separately in cool water to cover at the same time. Drain the tofu, pat dry and cut into tiny dice.

Drain the mushrooms, reserving 1 cup (250 ml) of the liquid. Place the mushrooms in a small saucepan, cover with water and simmer until tender. Scoop out and squeeze gently when ready. Slice caps very thinly. Rub the skin from each ginkgo nut and boil in the same saucepan for 10 minutes. Drain well and slice each into 6 pieces.

Whisk eggs, mushroom liquor, mirin and shoyu together in a bowl until well combined. Divide evenly between 6 teacups and gently arrange the mushrooms, nuts, tofu (or salmon) and spring onions in each cup.

Carefully place the cups in a bamboo steamer. Pour a little water into the base of the wok, bring to a simmer and balance the steamer on top. Place the lid on and steam for 10-12 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes, then serve garnished with spring onion greenery.

The gorgeous, inventive Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska is this week’s host of Kalyn Denny’s Weekend Herb Blogging.


Wendy said...

A savoury custard? I've never heard of such a thing. I'm highly intrigued. Is the taste of the ginko nut similar to anything? I've never heard of it before.

Lucy said...

It's so hard to describe, Wendy. I've spent the last four hours trying to work that, in words, out. Bitter, like an unripe nut is the closest (and hardly helpful) flavour I can approximate it with. The savoury custard is bloody good though. If you feel unwell, or slightly sad for yourself, this sort of thing will, well, sort you out, ASAP.

Kalyn said...

What a fascinating recipe. I've only heard of ginko in pills, never seen or even heard about eating the nuts. Great post!

Ricki said...

This is stunning, and sounds tasty besides. I've never seen gingko in its natural form--how lovely they are! I'm imagining the taste of a peach pit nut--that bitter? But the custard would be a nice softener to any bitterness, I'd guess. The dish seems a bit quiche-like (sans crust, of course).

Laurie Constantino said...

Savory custards are amazing, but I've never seen or tasted a gingko nut. Now I'm curious, so must start the gingko hunt. Great post, as always.

Simona said...

What an intriguing recipe! And the photos heighten the curiosity. I particularly like the one of the final result. I have never seen gingko nuts.

Susan said...

When I first saw ginko nuts, I thought chawanmushi. Adore its gently wobbled delicacy, and how the ingredients poise suspended in the custard. A smashing little brunch dish. I've had it with the tiniest shrimp and drops of lemon oil...and the ginko nuts.

winedeb said...

Like Wendy, I have never heard of gingko nuts. Custards, yes, and this one looks and sounds lovely. Great photos Lucy, as always.
And the shots of your autumn finds are terrific! By the looks of those apples...crunch and juice!

Lisa said...

This is new to me. I never fail to be impressed by your creativity. Improve the memory you say? Perhaps I should eat these everyday :)

Rosa said...

This looks stunning, Lucy! I love the gingko biloba tree for the name and the beautiful leaves, but never knew the nuts were edible. I'll be making this custard, with or without the nuts!

maybelles mom said...

yum, I have eaten this in Asia, but I never thought about making it. I don't think I could get lotus nuts...

maybelles mom said...

oops, i clicked send before I checked my comment, ginko nut, I mean.

Callipygia said...

I love chawanmushi, but never thought to actually make it. Something bout the effort of teacups, steaming and the overall delicacy of the dish. Your recipe inspires me. Mighta been the salmon belly, how not to dive into that?

Christina said...

I see Asian families here collecting fallen gingko nuts. I've never been tempted to try them because the smell of them rotting under the tree is enough to make me quite nauseated; however, your recipe may make me rethink that position. If only I can find them before they begin to turn. . . .

Lucy said...

Thanks Kalyn - it's an unusual flavour, but the health properties are wonderful!

Exactly, Ricki, spot-on flavour-wise. Very quiche like and now, of course as I can't leave well enough alone, I'm trying to work out a version made with silken tofu rather than eggs...

Thank you Laurie - what a fabulous round-up you did! Good luck. It took me years to find them!

Simona, they are worth a trip to a large Asian grocery just to experience the unique scent if nothing else!

Susan, that delicacy is so very becoming. I wish, I really do, that I'd made them sooner. Lemon oil. Tiny shrimp! God, how luscious...

Oh, Deb, those apples...cruncy indeed! Yes, gingkos are an oddity for Westerners. But worth the effort to track them down.

Lisa, I think I need to eat bucketloads of them a day. My memory feels as though it's been shot to pieces;-) These are very sweet, served in their tiny teacups. A good entree for open-minded company.

Rosa, the leaves are so beautiful. I had a friend who grew a bonsai of the plant and it was the best specimen of its kind I've ever seen. Hope you enjoy!

He he, Maybelles Mom! If you can't find them really, don't worry about them tasting any less for the omission. Float anything you like on top; they're very easy.

Calli, chawanmushi sounds far more lyrical. Salmon belly? Bloody marvellous stuff.

Yes, Christina, the smell. Mmmm... It's hardly an appetising thought. I wanted to collect them, too, but well, the smell hardly inspired confidence. They are used in far greater quantities as desserts. Though not quite that brave yet, I'm working on it!

Suganya said...

I have never had gingko nuts. Sounds exotic.

purple goddess said...

Ginko nuts sighted over the weekend in random Asian grocers in Melboune suburbs of Springvale and GLen Waverley, if anyone's interested.

I got some with theis recipe in mind..

Will report back!

Lucy said...

Hey, PG - excellent news! Mine were from the Asian grocery next to Vic Market and I'm so pleased to hear they're more widely available.

Hope you enjoy these. They're a little, um, 'on the nose' the gingkoes, but worth the effort to locate, I reckon.