You might say Chef Ryan Clark has a compression obsession.
Clark is among those of us who welcome the arrival of spring with enthusiasm. He fancies the lighter and brighter flavors of the season, and calls them the “perfect bridge” to summer.
But while compression can threaten the integrity of a bridge in an architectural context, it’s a complement to this bridge in a culinary context at the Casino Del Sol’s PY Steakhouse, 5655 W. Valencia Road.
Compression is a technique which enhances the flavor, color and texture of various foods by literally sucking the air right out of them. Foods are placed in small bags, and are vacuum-sealed to remove all traces of air. After that, Clark explains, science does the rest.
“Once these foods are completely absent of air, their cell walls start to shatter and break down,” said Clark, executive chef at Casino Del Sol. “This allows them to slowly absorb the actual flavor back into the foods in a way that introduces an entirely different experience altogether.”
Three of the four new dishes on Clark’s spring menu feature ingredients that have spent a good amount of time in the Casino’s compression chamber.
The Cow’s Milk Cheese Pot de Creme is a soft and spreadable cheese served with truffle honey and pork fat brioche. It’s then finished with local strawberries that have been compressed with aged sherry.
“These strawberries break down really well, eventually becoming a compote with a texture of marmalade or jam,” he said. “This compression brings together some bold flavors, a nice sweetness, and a little acidity to cut through the richness of the cheese.”
Clark also loves the way that pineapples respond to compression, as evidenced by its role in his Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin.
This new spring dish is served with cabbage, an Asian fruit vinaigrette, and a fermented garlic-chile sauce. But it’s the pineapple compression that makes the science sing.
“While compressing strawberries yields a jam of sorts, compressed pineapples are much more dense,” Clark said. “We compress the pineapples with Fresno chiles to marry a little sweet with a little heat.”
Clark told me that some vegetables compress just as well as fruits, and there are bags of beets that are regularly being suffocated in his kitchen.
His E&R Pork Belly starts with sugar and salt-rubbed pork that he smokes and grills until crispy. He then plates the pork with spring onions, pistachios, and compressed beets.
If compression isn’t enough science for this dish, its blood orange “gel” should do the trick.
This is not your typical shmear. Clark removes the zest and membranes from his blood oranges and cooks them down with sugar, vinegar, and an algae-based gelatin called Agar-Agar. The mixture is then chilled until it sets and pureed to produce a smooth and spreadable gel.
All this needs is a little fluoride and I think I’ve found my new toothpaste.
The fourth new dish on Clark’s spring menu, while none of its ingredients is compressed, is another good example of the flavors that he loves this time of year.
This dish is anchored by jumbo diver scallops and served with a carbonara-inspired risotto, pancetta, fresh peas and shoots, a black pepper-cured egg yolk, and lemon oil.
Yes, spring has sprung at the PY Steakhouse.
For steak lovers, Clark has taken special care to showcase some premium cuts, from a six-ounce center cut beef tenderloin to a 24-ounce USDA prime porterhouse.
But when you’re looking for lighter and brighter, try some of his new spring dishes that celebrate the science of compression. It just may take your breath away.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM