During a recent trip to Seattle, I dined at Mistral Kitchen and had an absolutely delicious entree of lamb loin medallions with black olive caramel. This led to the inevitable task of duplicating the sauce at home, where I discovered just how easy it is to make. Some have said it’s a Catalan idea, but I’ve seen it accompanying all types of proteins and even dotting some dessert plates. The flavors are deep and interesting; earthy, slightly bitter from the olives and not particularly sweet, actually, although what sweetness is there helps to round out the flavors and add complexity.
I’ve experimented with this “sauce” and have found that it’s quite compatible with Provencal-type vegetables — eggplant, in particular — meats like lamb, beef, chicken and pork and adds interest to many vegetarian dishes. Or try it dotted on pizza or with pasta dishes. I looked at various recipes and the one I like the best is from David Kinch’s “Manresa” cookbook.
Most recipes — including David’s — call for olive puree/tapenade in a jar but I think it’s much better using flavorful pitted black olives pureed in a processor. I picked the tastiest olives (definitely use Nicoise and Kalamata) and took it from there. The Kinch recipe is part of his famous olive madeleines, which are often served to begin a meal at the Michelin two-star in Los Gatos.
The best olives to select are creamy, not too bitter and not too salty. In other words, the best-tasting black olives you can find. It’s easiest to buy pitted olives but if you can only find delicious black olives with pits, removing them is an easy process.
I often serve the black olive caramel with lamb and my favorite — if you can find it — is lamb tenderloin, which I grill. This lean, tasty meat gives you wonderful lamb flavors without having to hack off all the fat and bones from a chop. I buy it at Draeger’s markets, where three little tenderloins are tied together with a stalk of rosemary to make a low-fat package of meat.
Here’s my rework of the Kinch recipe, followed by his recipe for olive madeleines.
Black Olive Caramel
10 ounces flavorful pitted black olives
10 ounces sugar
3 tablespoons water
Puree the olives until smooth in a food processor.
(The recipe can be increased or decreased; the only thing that’s important is to have the same amount of olive puree as sugar. Adapt the amount of water appropriately.) Combine the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and stir until a paste forms. Place over high heat and cook without stirring until the sugar dissolves and starts to boil. After some time, the sugar will start to turn color. When the caramel takes on a light amber color, add the black olive puree and stir well. When it is completely incorporated, remove from heat and let cool. Reheat as needed. It’s great served as a little “smear” on a plate.
It keeps for a long time in the refrigerator.
BLACK OLIVE MADELEINES (David Kinch)
These sweet-savory madeleines can be used to accompany a savory dish or may be served as part of an unusual dessert. They are best served warm from the oven. This makes a lot of madeleines, so halve or quarter the recipe.
One recipe, black olive caramel (see above)
9 1/2 ounces unsalted butter
3 1/2 ounces almond powder
9 1/2 ounces powdered sugar
3 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour
8 egg whites
INSTRUCTIONS: Butter and flour madeleine molds. (Considering the recipe makes up to 50 madeleines, you may need to bake these in batches, depending on how many molds you have.)
To prepare the madeleine batter: Put the butter in a heavy small saucepan and place over moderate heat; cook until it starts to foam and turn an amber- hazelnut color. Remove from heat and cool the pan briefly by putting the bottom in a bowl of ice water. Strain the butter through a fine mesh sieve and keep warm.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl; stir to mix. Add the egg whites and warm butter and mix until everything is completely incorporated. Add the Black Olive Caramel to the batter; stir to incorporate.
Fill the prepared molds using a spoon or a pastry bag. Do not fill them completely as the batter will expand during baking.
Bake in a 375 degrees oven until the madeleines start to pull away from the sides of the mold.
Invert the mold immediately to remove them. Serve warm.
Yields 48-50 madeleines.
PER SERVING: 110 calories, 1 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (3 g saturated), 12 mg cholesterol, 59 mg sodium, 0 fiber.