This recipe is for Christopher who has the distinction of being the very first stagiare in the Keyah Grande kitchen. We've had a few requests in the past but frankly we had no idea whether or not we could pull off having someone with us during the busy season and there's just not enough to do in the slow periods to justify bringing someone in. Everyone knows there are good stagiare experiences and then there are the ones where your treated like free labor and made to sit in a remote corner peeling peas or picking herbs. The good experiences are the ones where you are allowed to be a part of what's happening in a kitchen and really get a feel for the atmosphere and for the food. We didn't want to bring anyone in unless we could spend enough time with them to insure that they had a good experience. It's important to us that cooks coming through our kitchen are able to leave with some new information and get to play around with different ideas and techniques while they're with us. Christopher basically just wore us down. He kept emailing us until we finally let him come down to visit us.
It's good for us that we did. He was a breath of fresh air, full of curiosity and questions. He wanted to know more about fizzy fruit so we decided to make some. In discussions about which fruit would taste the best with carbonation we thought of orange soda and then the great tangerines that were in the walk-in. In order to put the tangerines on the menu we needed something to pair them with. I had tapioca soaking and Chris suggested using smoked vanilla with the tangerines and tapioca. The discussion that ensued led to using the combination of bourbon vanilla with smoked maple syrup to flavor the tapioca. We served the tapioca with fizzy fruit and today added a final garnish of micro tarragon. It was a dessert that managed to be familiar and surprising all at the same time.
Smoked Maple Syrup Tapioca
3/4 cup of small pearl tapioca
2 cups water
3 cups milk
3/4 cup of smoked maple syrup
1 bourbon vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of half and half or milk
1 cup of heavy cream
2 teaspoons smoked maple syrup
Soak tapioca pearls in cold water for two hours. Place soaked tapioca with any residual water in a heavy sauce pan with milk, maple syrup and salt. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook over low heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and fully hydrated. Taste the tapioca before pulling it off the heat. It should be springy and gelatinous and not crunchy or firm at all. Pour tapioca into a heat proof bowl, cover with plastic against the pudding and chill for a minimum of four hours. The tapioca will firm up into a solid mass.
To finish the pudding, turn the tapioca out into a bowl, add the half and half and gently fold them together with a rubber spatula to loosen and separate the tapioca pearls. Whip cream with a few grains of salt and the maple syrup. Fold the whipped cream into the tapioca mixture and serve.
*This makes a generous amount of tapioca pudding. If you're serving smaller groups you can just finish the amount of tapioca with half and half and whipped cream that you need for a meal and save the remainder of the base for another day. It should keep covered with plastic wrap against the surface for up to three days.