Ice-cream - weird and/or just a bit different

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"If you give someone a spoonful of this and tell them that it's crab ice cream, they'll recoil. But tell them that it's frozen crab bisque, and they'll eat it without a fuss. That's because we associate the title 'ice cream' with desserts, and this alone creates the barrier." Heston Blumenthal

It's a very wintry day today. Well the autumn leaves are clinging on desperately, so I suppose it's not quite winter. But it's cold - or what stands in for cold I suppose here in Melbourne. So to talk about ice-cream seems a little strange. But it's just that recently I have been conscious of weird flavours of ice-cream from here and there, so I thought I would look into it. And, of course, the first thing I find is that I am hopelessly out of date. They have been a fashionable trend for several years now, and have actually been around since at least 1768 when:


"M. Emy wrote the first book (L’Art de Bien Faire les Glaces D’Office) all about ice cream and ices. One of his recipes called for the addition of rye bread crumbs to a custard mixture, which was then strained before freezing ... Another of Emy’s recipes included truffles—not the soft chocolate delicacies but the fungi. A third was made with grated Parmesan, coriander, cinnamon, and clove and frozen in a mold to look like a wedge of cheese." Jeri Quinzio


Which sounds very modern. This was followed in 1885 by Agnes B Marshall's - The Book of Ices which included, amongst many others asparagus and spinach ice-creams. And I think I saw one asparagus ice-cream somewhere but not, so far a spinach one. Back then it was because:


"ice cream was essentially a frozen version of existing dishes known as creams and custards." Jeri Quinzio


So Heston Blumenthal, who you might think invented the concept, did not in fact do so. He is most famous for his Bacon and egg ice-cream as served at his restaurant The Fat Duck. A click on the title will take you to the recipe on the SBS website. I think it's the original one because it is extremely complicated and involves liquid nitrogen, which not many a home cook would have to hand. However, Heston himself to the rescue, because I think he gives a simpler version in his book Heston Blumenthal at Home, and the cook from What's Cooking had a go and turned out a pretty impressive copy. Even so I think you would have to be feeling adventurous because this was also not that simple. But it didn't involve liquid nitrogen. On the left Heston's wonderfully 'is it really egg and bacon?' ice-cream on the left and the What's Cooking guy or lady on the right. I'm guessing that Heston's bacon is not really bacon either - I think the base is marmalade. The What's Cooking cook however, has a French toast base, with real bacon on the top, though I think there is bacon in the ice-cream too. But actually a rather different dish with the same name. Heston's egg is the ice cream and is made at the table I believe with that liquid nitrogen.


Fishy ice-cream is also one of his specialities with a crab ice-cream (at the top of the page) and a sardines on toast sorbet. The sorbet is on the right of this picture - it's served with a Ballotine of mackerel. Heston suggests:


"Serve with melba toast to provide a pleasant textural contrast, and a little tomato to provide some acidity. A sprinkling of salt crystals and ground black pepper finish off the dish nicely"


Once again a hardy fan - The Big Fat Undertaking had a go. If you fancy having a go yourself - I'm sure you don't - read his blog on the whole process because it's really quite interesting, particularly his conclusion that:


"You need a good few bites to adjust yourself to what you’re eating and once you have the sorbet is gone."


Which rather confirms Heston's statement at the top of the page. It's a matter of perception and expectations, and naming as well.

And as to the crab ice-cream well Diary of a Foodie from the Gourmet website has a go. They don't seem to have made any attempt at associating it with crab as they dished it up. It actually looks quite tempting. And actually, Heston's version at the top is technically called Crab ice-cream with passionfruit jelly and is currently served with a crab risotto at his Fat Duck restaurant.


He's not alone in making fishy ice-creams though - I also saw reference to an oyster one, which seemed to be quite an old thing and a smoked salmon one too.


Heston, of course, has a multitude of other weird ice-creams. However, I think it is the bacon and egg one which may well have started the current trend. Indeed the current MasterChef competition here in Australia included a challenge from Heston himself to make a breakfast ice-cream. The competitors had to choose from a list of bacon, cornflakes, avocado, vegemite and tea. I tried to find pictures of their finished dishes but couldn't - so apologies. Although you can watch the episode on 10play although you will have to sign up to be able to watch it. I don't watch MasterChef but this was indirectly one of my starting points because the Coles Magazine had a feature on this particular episode and gave their version - in this instance a very yummy looking No-churn peanut butter ice cream with maple bacon, but then they are talking to an audience of cooks who definitely don't want complicated. We could all have a go at this.

I think I first came across the idea of a savoury ice-cream in a little book of recipes from Jill Dupleix called Summer Food, which was put out by The Age. It was called Gazpacho sorbet with cucumber and basil and it looked so delectable, and so classy and modern somehow that I made if for a dinner party once. My verdict - it was OK, but somehow didn't seem right. She also suggested that it would be "rather lovely served with avocado, rocket and walnuts - or dropped into a tall, well-chilled Bloody Mary" But then I don't do Bloody Mary's either.

It was just so unexpected. So to expand on the idea of needing several bites, here is Heston saying it's because our memories don't include savoury ice-cream - or in this case sorbet.


"But an understanding of the senses does not explain perhaps the biggest influence on the perception of food: memory ... But the impact of memory can also be manipulated: a common consequence of Alzheimer's disease, for example, is that sufferers often start eating foods that they previously wouldn't have touched because they have forgotten they did not like them. Memory can also be trained to accept previously unpalatable foods by subjecting it to repeated hits - a bite a day for a month should do the trick." Heston Blumenthal


Mind you I still remember the cucumber sorbet we were served at Vue de Monde between courses. A bowl of herbs came to the table in a beautiful stone bowl. The herbs were then frozen in a very theatrical fashion with that liquid nitrogen and topped with a spoonful of cucumber sorbet. Divine.


So maybe, alas I just stuffed up the tomato sorbet - or maybe I should get some liquid nitrogen. There are now kitchen blow torches for your crèmes brulées, so why not kitchen liquid nitrogen? No - not possible surely.


Whatever you might think of the concept of savoury/different ice-creams they are certainly all the rage. In America definitely and here too. For example today's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival newsletter featured a new bar called Hope St. Radio which is serving Fernet and Coke ice-cream.


What is Fernet you may ask? Well it's this Italian liqueur called Fernet-Branca which has some 27 different herbs and spices in it, including aloe, rhubarb and saffron and according to Dan Murphy's:


"it's thick, bitter flavour and spices, makes it something of an acquired taste."


Which is a bit strange considering they are supposed to be selling it.


But back to the savoury ones. There are literally hundreds of them. Everyone is busy out there coming up with new and potentially awful manifestations of the genre. I can't imagine what they are doing in Tokyo which always seems to be top of the outlandish with this sort of thing. Delish lists 51 of them - with pictures, though no recipes. Below are White Chocolate Habanero, Horseradish and Kimchi and rice but there was also

Roasted Tumeric, Candied Ginger, Goat Cheese Beet Swirl, Cardamom Black Pepper, Honey avocado and Sriracha. All American of course. Somebody, somewhere said that Horseradish was nice.

The British, though rather less radical than Heston, seem to like cheese in their ice-cream. Well, as one of them said - cheese is dairy too. Nigel Slater likes his on:


"a hot summer’s day, not to stuff into a cornet, but to spread on toast, to eat with slices of air-dried ham, or to sit at the side of a tomato and basil salad."


And here is his Goat's cheese ice-cream. Well it had to be Goat's cheese didn't it?

Stilton and cranberry was another one I found somewhere, but even Delia joins in on the cheese theme with Strawberry cheesecake ice-cream and Blueberry crumble fromage frais ice-cream


Ottolenghi doesn't have a cheese version but includes tahini in his Halva ice cream with chocolate sauce and salted peanuts.


And before we leave the savoury here is another one that I saw recently in a Guardian post Tarragon and olive oil ice-cream from Mark Diacono.

Olive oil featured in a few ice-creams here and there. One seemed to be flavoured just with olive oil which I would think would be just too greasy. But it's a whole genre of the savoury ice-creams that you will now find in magazines and foodie blogs everywhere.


"we’ve stopped viewing it as an alternative dessert and started to see it as something in its own right, a snack or starter; and because of the global spread of new flavours." Morwenna Ferrier - The Guardian


In Italy ‘gelato naturale’ are a thing – ice lollies flavoured with vegetables and herbs.


"Serve savoury ice cream as starter or in canapés, spooned onto melba toasts or oatcakes, or stuffed in vegetables like tomatoes. Alternatively, scoop into hot or cold soups. They also work well as a palate cleanser between courses, or as an accompaniment to meat or fish dishes, where the cool ice cream melting on hot food acts as a sauce." Sejal Sukhadwala - Love Food


But even the sweet ice-creams we have come to love over the last hundred years or so are morphing into slightly different and more adventurous flavours. Fruit is mixed with spices, nuts, liqueurs and cereals. Cakes and breads are crumbled in. Even the comparatively staid Delia joins in with Caledonian ice-cream - made with oatmeal and Rhubarb crumble ice-cream. Nigel Slater goes for rhubarb too. The oatmeal thing is taken up by Stella Parks of Serious Eats who offers Oatmeal cookie ice-cream. I couldn't find a picture of Delia's Caledonian ice-cream but I think the other oatmeal one would be similar. Then Greg Malouf gets in the act with Pear sorbet with prosecco, cardamom and lime - just a little bit different and no picture - and Donna Hay too with her Miso maple ice-cream with sesame coconut crunch which is just one of dozens of ice-cream recipes she offers, some pretty standard and some just a bit different and all looking glorious.

So obviously anything goes these days - so when the sun comes out again have a go at experimenting. Start small with a standard sort of ice-cream with a twist of some kind, even add something to shop-bought vanilla, and gradually work your way up. An ice-cream machine helps but Nigel Slater, for one doesn't think it's an absolute necessity.


And yes you can make ice-cream with vegemite. It's big in Apollo Bay apparently.

"Making Ice-cream is about as much fun as you can have when you're cooking." Nigel Slater

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