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Cooking with Watson: Austrian asparagus and pigs' feet croquettes

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'Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson' is a collaboration between IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Once a week, as part of an ongoing series, we'll be preparing one recipe from the book until we've made all of them. Wish us luck.

"Austrian grilled asparagus." That should be simple. Let's see... Pigs' feet? Sous vide? Croquettes? Mustard "foam"? Damn it Watson!

Well, if the carrot pearls from last week weren't sufficiently weird for you, fear not. This week's recipe is the sort of thing that would send most casual cooks running for the hills. And to make matters worse, the title lulls you into a false sense of security. The first two steps in this recipe, that's theoretically for grilled asparagus, are to brine two pigs' feet overnight, then to cook them in a 162-degree water bath (sous vide) for 24 hours. Yes, 24 hours. Between the eight-plus-hour brine and the 24-hour cook, this is already the most time-intensive dish I've ever made.

Gallery: Cooking with Watson: Austrian asparagus and pig's feet croquettes | 40 Photos

Before we get to the pigs' feet croquettes, let's talk about the other elements of this dish. The grilled asparagus is just that: quickly blanched and char-grilled asparagus. Don't get worried by the "Austrian" part of the title; all you're doing is dressing the vegetable in a mustard foam once it's done. And while the word "foam" may have initially triggered some anxiety, I've got to say it proved to be unfounded. The "foam" is basically just a sauce made from milk and Dijon mustard that's processed with a blender. The spinach coulis is essentially the same: some spinach, oil, garlic and milk that is pureed within an inch of its life. Now, using the method in the cookbook, you won't get a very stable foam, but it will still be a tasty sauce to pour over your veggies. If you want something that looks a little bit more like what you'd find in a fancy-pants restaurant, and won't run all over the plate on you, try soy lecithin. Also, might I suggest using a regular blender for the coulis. I attempted to use my immersion blender and ended up with a tasty, but still sort of chunky sauce. The end result was more creamed spinach than coulis.

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The real surprising part of the dish, however, was the pigs' feet croquettes. For one, I've never cooked pigs' feet before and the idea of combining the flavors of pigs' feet and asparagus seemed a bit out of left field. That's especially true when the pigs' feet, most commonly associated with Southern American food, are seasoned with turmeric and mustard seed, a combination often associated with Indian cuisine. Chef James Briscione was definitely able to take the somewhat bizarre ingredient list served up by Watson and turn in a dish that is pleasing to the human palate. It's only the second recipe in the book, but it's already the first that seems to accomplish its goal of pushing chefs' creativity through cognitive computing.

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Not a single one of my taste testers was excited about this dish. The idea of pigs' feet croquettes did not sit well, but they were all converts after the first bite. The delicate Dijon sauce added considerable life to the asparagus. And the salty, pungent and slightly sweet meat that was rolled up tightly in each panko-crusted potato log added a nice balance to what could have easily been a brick of deep-fried starch. The only complaint is that pigs' feet simply don't deliver enough meat. Especially considering the amount of time needed to brine, cook and disassemble them. This is a collection of flavors that's going in my permanent kitchen playbook (thanks Watson; sorry about cursing at you earlier), but I'll definitely be swapping out the pigs' feet for ham hocks or pork butt next time.

Update: The original version of this story referred to the recipe as "Australian" instead of "Austrian" asparagus.

AUSTRIAN GRILLED ASPARAGUS

Pigs' Feet Sous Vide

2 cups water
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 ½ tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 pigs' feet

1. In a bowl, mix the water, whole-grain mustard, garlic, mustard seeds, fenugreek, vinegar, salt and sugar.

2. Place the marinade and the pigs' feet into a sous vide pouch. Seal and refrigerate overnight.

3. Cook the pigs' feet in a 162-degree Fahrenheit water bath for 24 hours.

4. Take the feet out of the pouch. Remove the bones and chop the meat, discarding any bits of tough connective tissue or cartilage. Reserve the strained cooking liquid from the pouch.

Pigs' Feet Croquettes

6 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pigs' feet meat, minced
½ cup Swiss cheese, grated
All-purpose flour, as needed
1 egg, beaten
Potato flakes or panko bread crumbs, as needed

1. Combine the water, salt and potatoes in a saucepot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the pieces are easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife.

2. Drain the potatoes, then let rest for 30 minutes.

3. Heat the mustard and fenugreek seeds with the oil in a small saucepan over low heat for two minutes.

4. Add the garlic and sauté over medium heat for one minute. Add the pigs' feet and cook for two minutes, stirring regularly. Let cool.

5. Rice the potatoes in a bowl and mix in the cheese.

6. Take a quarter of the potatoes and shape into a flat patty. Place some of the meat mixture in the middle, then roll into a log four inches long by one inch in diameter. Repeat until you have four logs.

7. Refrigerate the croquettes for at least one hour. Pass them through a standard breading procedure, rolling the croquette in flour, then dipping it in the egg and finally coating in bread crumbs/potato flakes. Deep-fry at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown.

Spinach Coulis

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup packed spinach
½ cup low-fat milk
Pinch of salt

1. Sauté the garlic in the oil in a pan over medium heat for about one minute. Add the spinach and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly.

2. Add the milk and salt, and simmer for about five minutes.

3. Blend and process until smooth. Reserve, and keep warm.

Mustard Foam

½ cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1. Heat the milk and mustard in a saucepan for two minutes, stirring constantly. Reserve.

Grilled Asparagus

12 large spears asparagus, stems trimmed
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and blanch until halfway done.

2. Drain the asparagus, drizzle with the oil and cook on a hot grill until done and nicely charred.

3. Remove from the heat and plate immediately.

To Serve

1. Transfer the mustard foam to a blender and process on high speed until foamy.

2. On each plate, spread a small amount of spinach coulis. Place three asparagus spears in the center and 2 croquette halves on the side. Top with the mustard foam.

This recipe and others can be found in Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson.

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