Today I would like to introduce a special guest poster, Lucy Lean. She is the author of the new cookbook, Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food. Lucy is the mom to two beautiful kids and lives in sunny California. Her new cookbook is a collection of over 100 reinvented comfort food recipes from today’s top chefs. Without further adieu, here’s Lucy to share one of Michael Mina’s favorite recipes.
Michael Mina’s Chocolate Panna Cotta from Made in America is a simple yet sophisticated recipe that has replaced my usual go-to recipe for chocolate mousse. Unlike traditional chocolate mousse, there is no raw egg in this recipe — so it’s safe for young and old to eat. My kids love making this with me and then after a four-hour wait, when the magic has happened and the pudding has set, they love to tuck in.
I first ate at Michael Mina about five years ago. I flew up to San Francisco from Los Angeles for the night to join my best friend Amelia and her husband who were visiting from England. The creative menu, excellent service, and stunning room blew us all away. Plate after beautiful plate of ingredients, each “done three ways,” was served—every dish more tempting than the last. I remember feeling so full after dinner that it hurt; my eyes were definitely bigger than my belly. Michael Mina has recently relocated his eponymous restaurant to the space that was previously the restaurant, Aqua, where he began his illustrious career in San Francisco over twenty years ago.
Born in Cairo, Egypt and raised in Ellensburg, Washington, Mina fell in love with cooking at the age of fifteen, working as the garde manger in a local restaurant. Formal training followed at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park with weekends spent honing his talent in Charlie Palmer’s kitchen at the upscale Aureole in New York City. With his bold restaurant concepts, this Michelin-star chef has certainly built upon San Francisco’s reputation as a world-class dining destination. In 2002 he partnered with Andre Agassi to found Mina Group, which has since opened eighteen restaurants, scattered across America.
Mina gives us his recipe for chocolate panna cotta, perhaps the most effortless dessert to make ever, proving that even the fanciest of chefs can turn their attention to something supereasy. I was struck by how similar the recipe for panna cotta (which means cooked milk in Italian) is to early American recipes for blancmange, a milk dessert that is
thickened with gelatin so it sets. The recipe is a cross between a chocolate pudding and a milky Jell-O.
I love the breezy, chatty voice of Marion Harland in Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea (1875), in which she includes an early recipe for “Chocolate Blanc- Mange” in her chapter “Fancy Dishes for Desserts.” Nineteenth-century cookbooks are full of recipes for jellies, blancmanges, custards, and creams. These wobbly creations are a lost art of wonderful translucent colors and subtle flavors, most often set in whimsical molds and then turned out. In The Ladies Receipt-Book by Eliza Leslie (1847), there is a recipe for “Chocolate Blanc-Mange” that calls for “four calves’ feet, or eight or ten pigs’ feet.” She goes on to say that you can substitute “Russian isinglass.” And people think molecular gastronomy is something new? Thank goodness for modern packets of dried gelatin.
I love whipping up a batch of chocolate mousse based on an Elizabeth David recipe but this eggless custard, panna cotta, gives a similar chocolate fix and is foolproof. You can get fancy and serve it in pretty glasses or keep the presentation simple and turn out the dessert onto a plate, once it’s set up. Either way, enjoy the wobble.
Michael Mina’s Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta
From Made in America, Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food, by Lucy Lean
1/2 pound milk chocolate
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon gelatin powder
1 1/2 cups cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fleur de sel, for garnish (optional)
1. Gently melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water; the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.
2. Pour the milk into a pot and sprinkle the gelatin over the cold milk. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
3. Add the salt and pour the mixture over the melted chocolate in the bowl. Mix with a silicone spatula until smooth.
4. Add the cold cream and mix until completely incorporated.
5. Fill four 6-ounce glasses two-thirds full with the panna cotta mixture.
6. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.
7. Just before serving, top with a little fleur de sel.