Poached kabocha squash with caramelized-honey ice cream and lemon-mastic granita
Poached kabocha squash with caramelized-honey ice cream and lemon-mastic granita Credit: Julia Thiel
MasticCredit: Julia Thiel

The Chef:
Jeremy Brutzkus
(Longman & Eagle)
The Challenger:
Courtney Joseph (Takashi)

The Ingredient: Mastic

In Greece one name for mastic is “tears of Chios,” a reference to both the island where the resin is produced and the shape of the dried droplets­­, formed when farmers carve incisions in mastic trees that allow the resin to seep out onto the ground and harden. Legend has it that in the 16th century, during the Ottoman reign of Chios, mastic was worth its weight in gold, and by order of the sultan, the penalty for stealing it was execution. It was used as a chewing gum and breath freshener—especially favored by the sultan’s harem—as well as a snakebite remedy, filling for dental cavities, food preservative, antibacterial and antifungal agent, and flavoring for certain foods.

Mastic is still a common ingredient in the Middle East, where it’s used in desserts including ice cream, cakes, pastries, Turkish delight, spoon sweets (preserves eaten with a spoon), puddings, and bread, as well as liqueurs and nonalcoholic beverages. Pastry chef Jeremy Brutzkus of Longman & Eagle, challenged to make a dish with mastic by Courtney Joseph of Takashi, says the ingredient has a “light juniper, piney flavor . . . slightly tannic, with a little bit of bitterness to it. It’s unique.”

Because mastic isn’t water soluble, Brutzkus said, he had to incorporate fat into the dish somehow. He considered making ice cream or custard, but deemed both “too easy.” Instead, he used the mastic in multiple components of a honey-themed dessert: poached kabocha squash, lemon-mastic granita, honey “chicharron,” honey pudding, caramelized honey ice cream, honey foam candy, and pine nut powder. “Basically I was trying to figure out how to carry the flavor into the other ingredients. Honey was a seamless flow into the musty, kind of piney flavor of the mastic,” he said.

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To incorporate the mastic into the dish, Brutzkus first pulverized it and cooked it into a syrup with sugar and water. “If you heat it, it’ll turn it into almost like a piece of tar. Translucent tar,” Brutzkus said of the mastic. “It won’t dissolve into the syrup; it’ll basically extract some of the flavor out of it, and then you end up with a chunk of mastic that binds up on its own.”

He strained the mastic out of the syrup before combining it with butter, honey, and vanilla paste to make a poaching liquid for the kabocha squash. Once he’d added fat to the liquid, he was able to add the chunk of mastic back in and emulsify the whole thing so that he’d have actual mastic in the dish rather than just the flavor. The granita was mostly mastic syrup, combined with water and a little lemon juice and zest and flavored with vanilla bean and star anise.

Most of the honey elements of the dish incorporated various starches, gums, and powders usually associated with molecular gastronomy. Caramelized-honey ice cream was thickened with xantham gum, honey pudding with agar. A honey “chicharron” was honey, vanilla, water, potato starch and maltodextrin cooked down to a paste, smeared on a Teflon mat, dehydrated in the oven, then deep-fried. Brutzkus called them “little pseudo-pork rinds . . . it has that same texture and bubbled look, but you taste the honey.” He also had a variation on honeycomb, a classic confection made with honey and baking soda, that he called honey foam. To finish, he created a pine nut powder to echo the pine flavor of the mastic.

Tasting the dish, Brutzkus said, “It came together nice. [The mastic] adds kind of a bitter undertone, which I like. It adds a nice hit of bitterness to the squash, which is kind of unctuous and well-rounded in terms of texture and weight of flavor. And then the other components are just kind of bright and fresh, outside of the caramelized components. They bring a nice sweet/savory/wintery kind of feel to the dish.”

Jeremy Brutzkus
Jeremy BrutzkusCredit: Julia Thiel

Who’s next:

Andrew Brochu of the Aviary, challenged by Brutzkus to make a dish with milk jam. “Essentially it’s a form of dulce de leche,” Brutzkus said, but instead of starting with condensed milk, you cook down fresh milk and sugar until they caramelize. It “leaves room for interpretation,” Brutzkus said—among other possibilities, there’s the option of infusing the milk with another ingredient.

Poached Squash

One kabocha squash
200 g butter
250 g mastic syrup (recipe below)
75 g honey
5 g vanilla paste
½ g salt
1 g lechitin

Peel and deseed squash and cut into strips. Place in cryovac bag. Put all poaching components in Vitaprep blender, blend until emulsified. Add to squash. Vacuum seal, place in a pot of cold water, bring up to 200 degrees, and poach until tender.

Granita disks

500 g mastic syrup
250 g water
5 g lemon zest
30 g lemon juice
1 vanilla bean
3 star anise

Bring ingredients except lemon juice and zest to a boil. Turn off the heat add juice and zest. Let sit for 20 minutes. Pass through a tamis and freeze on sheet pan.

Honey “pork rind”

60 g potato starch
5 g maltodextrin
1 g vanilla paste
21 g honey

Mix starch and maltodextrin. Bring water, honey, and vanilla paste to a boil. Add starch mixture. Mix over heat to cook until translucent. Spread a quarter inch thick on Teflon mat. Cook in a convection oven at 250 degrees for 30 minutes. Fry in beef fat at 400 degrees. Dust with sugar.

Honey pudding

135 g honey
300 g water
6 g vanilla paste
4 g agar

Add all to Vitaprep. Blend on high for five minutes. Add to a pot, bring to a boil, and cook for two minutes. Pour into a half hotel pan. Chill until set. Puree until smooth in Vitaprep. Place in a pint deli container.

Pine nut powder

200 g pine nuts
75 g dextrose
500 g maltodextrin
1 vanilla bean

Toast pine nuts. Scrape pulp from vanilla bean. Add all to Robocoupe (or food processor), blend until homogeneous.

Mastic syrup

15 g powdered mastic
350 g water
350 g sugar

Bring water and sugar to a boil. Add mastic powder. Cook one minute and pass through a tamis.

Honey ice cream

700 g honey
200 g glucose
500 g sugar
2,000 g milk
1,900 g cream
5 vanilla beans
2 g salt
7 g xantham

Cook honey, glucose, sugar to a dark caramel. Infuse milk and cream with vanilla. Deglaze caramel with milk mixture. Divide by three and blend each with third of xantham. Add all back to one container, blend with immersion blender until homogeneous. Process in ice cream machine while hot.