FLAKED NEW ENGLAND COD TARBAIS BEANS, CHORIZO, ALMOND CLOUD
RISING ELOQUENTLY over a round hill surrounded by a cloud of Marcona almond foam, the ubiquitous cod is elevated to new heights. Though the Tarbais bean, whole and pureed, constitutes the lower layer of the dish, it doesn’t play the supporting role. In fact, the Tarbais bean is our star.
First brought back to Europe from the New World by Christopher Columbus, the bean quickly became a reliable staple for the waves of frequently famished populations. It was during the eighteenth century that it flourished in the foothills of the Pyrénées in southwest France, winding along the corn stalks near the city of Tarbes. Imagine, in 1881 the region produced more than six million pounds of Tarbais beans!
With the introduction of more intensive mechanical agriculture in the 1950s, the cultivation of the bean, which has to be picked by hand, diminished greatly, but gourmand farmers always kept a few furrows for their own use. We had to wait until 1986, when a group of farmers met in Tarbes with a local agricultural adviser. Brainstorming about their difficulties, they decided to reintroduce their beloved Tarbais bean to the world, positioning it as an artisanal and cultural delicacy.
Rinse the Tarbais beans with cold water until it runs clear. Cover the beans with the chicken stock and refrigerate overnight. Stud the onion with the cloves. Transfer the beans and stock to a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan; add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and bouquet garni. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a low, steady simmer; cover. Cook, occasionally stirring and skimming the foam that rises to the surface, until the beans are tender, about 4 hours. Season with salt in the final 15 minutes of cooking. Scoop and reserve ½ cup of the cooked beans for garnish. Continue cooking the remaining beans for another 45 to 60 minutes, until very soft. Pick and discard the vegetables and bouquet garni. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a blender and mix with enough stock to form a thick puree. Stream in the olive oil and vinegar. Pass through a fine-meshed sieve, season with salt and pepper, and reserve, chilled.
For the Cod Confit
In a nonreactive container, mix the salt, sugar, and zests. Add the cod and pack the salt mixture around to coat completely. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove the cod; rinse off and discard the salt mixture, then pat dry. Reserve, chilled.
In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the olive oil and sachet, cover, and warm over low heat for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the sachet; set aside.
For the Almond Cloud
In a medium saucepan, combine the almonds, butter, cream, and vinegar with 1 cup water and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, cover, and set aside to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain off the almonds through a fine-meshed sieve and return the liquid to the pan. Using a hand blender, dissolve in the soy lecithin.
Rest the cod at room temperature for 10 minutes and heat the prepared confit oil to 165°F. Submerge the cod in the oil and begin checking for doneness after 8 minutes by piercing the flesh with a cake tester. When the fish is easily pierced and the fillet shows signs of separating, remove it from the oil (the internal temperature should reach 135°F) and keep warm.
Heat the almond cloud liquid to 170°F. Position the head of a hand blender just below the surface of the liquid and mix to produce a light foam.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the bean puree. In a small sauté pan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer, add the reserved beans, and toss to warm.
For each serving, spread a spoonful of the puree into the center of a warm bowl or plate. Gently break the warm cod into large flakes and place 4 to 5 flakes on top of the puree. Arrange some of the whole beans with a few pieces of manouri cheese around the perimeter. Sprinkle the chorizo, tomato confit, capers, parsley, dried chili threads, and chopped almonds on top of the fish. Sprinkle with piment d’Espelette and spoon the almond foam on top to encircle the cod.