Chef Shaun Rankin cooks a delicate dessert of strawberry panna cotta from fruit grown on the island of Jersey, home to his restaurant, Ormer. Michael Raffael reports
Before it became a restaurant standard, panna cotta was known as crema cotta. In its original form, it’s a Piedmontese recipe of cream and alcohol – rum or some other eau de vie. It owes its popularity to the River Café, Carluccio’s and, by association, Jamie Oliver, all of whom adapted it, improved it or gave it a new twist.
Whereas all these chefs set the cream in a ramekin or dariole and then turn it out, Shaun Rankin, chef-proprietor of Ormer restaurant in St Helier in Jersey, pours the mixture into a soup bowl and lets it set, which achieves a softer, more delicate texture.
Perhaps, without knowing it, he is closer to the dish’s origins. The earliest references to panna cotta suggest that it was devised by a Hungarian cook living in the Langhe district of Piedmont. No food historian has proved this, but Hungarian cuisine is now famed for its fruit soups.
Rankin’s take, made with Jersey strawberries and set with very little gelatine, has a more delicate texture than the moulded versions. To lift it from a trattoria-type dessert to one adapted to his Michelin-starred restaurant, he decks it out with textures of strawberry and accompanies it with a pistachio macaroon.
Make the panna cotta fresh every day (for each service when busy). It only takes about an hour to set.
Make the pistachio macaroons in batch sizes of eight or scale up – they will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.
Prepare the basil gel and strawberry purée ahead of service. Ditto the vac-packed strawberries. Freeze the crème fraîche ice-cream.
Chop and dice the other strawberries during plating.
All Ormer’s desserts are £9 on a menu that’s centred on à la carte dishes. Customers can order a couple of starters, just a main course or even a single dessert. Gross profit on this dish will fluctuate according to the price of the strawberries, but is between 70% and 80%.
- 3 leaves of bronze gelatine
- 400g strawberries, freshly puréed
- 70g-80g caster sugar
- 325g whipping cream
Soak the gelatine in water until softened (1). Warm the purée and sugar in a pan to dissolve the sugar (2). Firmly squeeze out the excess moisture from the gelatine and stir it into the warm purée so that it dissolves. Take the pan off the heat. Cool the mixture, then stir in the cream (3-4).
Pass the mixture through a sieve (5-6) and then pour into eight soup bowls or similar, to a depth of about a centimetre. Leave in a chiller cabinet to set for about one hour.
Leave the fresh panna cotta uncovered by film and it won’t form a skin. Don’t leave it in a cold room where it can pick up other unwanted flavours.
The dessert includes several other strawberry preparations, as follows.
For the thickened strawberry purée, stir about two dessertspoons of Ultra-Tex into 150g of lightly sweetened strawberry purée. Ultra-Tex is a tasteless, modified starch made from tapioca that thickens without heating. When the purée has a piping consistency, pour it into a small confectioner’s piping bag.
For four portions of the vac-packed strawberries, put four strawberries, half a dessertspoon of caster sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice into a vacuum sachet and seal under full pressure. Double up for eight servings.
Strawberry panna cotta, basil gel, candied pistachios and crème fraîche ice-cream with a pistachio macaroon
- 15g approx basil gel
- 100g set strawberry panna cotta
- 10g approx strawberry purée
- ½tbs approx candied pistachios
- 1tsp diced strawberries
- 1 quartered vac-packed strawberry
- 1 halved fresh strawberry
- 20g crème fraîche ice-cream
- Basil leaves
- 1 pistachio macaroon with strawberry purée
Pipe four coffee-spoon-sized blobs of basil gel onto the panna cotta and onto the side of the dish (7). Repeat with the strawberry purée.
Sprinkle the candied pistachios over the panna cotta and add a small pile of diced fresh strawberry (8).
Arrange the quartered vac-packed strawberry on the plate and then the fresh strawberry (9).
Finish with a quenelle of crème fraîche ice-cream and decorate the basil gel with small basil leaves (10).
Serve the pistachio macaroon on a separate plate, alongside the panna cotta.
Coat 250g shelled pistachio nuts in egg white and then toss them in caster sugar. Spread them on a Silpat mat and bake at 150°C for about 45 minutes, turning them over from time to time.
Lemon and crème fraîche ice-cream
Combine 500g crème fraîche, 240g Jersey milk, 300g sugar and 80g lemon juice. Pour into a Pacojet and freeze.
Blanch 100g basil leaves, refresh, and then process with two tablespoons of water. Pass the liquid through a sieve without forcing the pulp. Thicken the liquid with enough Ultra-Tex for a piping consistency. Fill a small confectioner’s piping bag with the gel.
Strawberry-filled pistachio macaroons
Makes 8 pairs of pistachio macaroons
- 110g egg whites
- 150g granulated sugar
- 7.5g titanium oxide (optional – to hold the pistachio colour)
- 150g icing sugar
- 150g ground almonds
- 2tbs (heaped) pistachio paste
Whisk half the egg whites until well risen but not stiff. Boil the granulated sugar to 116°C. While whisking the whites, pour in the sugar in a steady stream and continue whisking to form firm peaks of Italian meringue.
Mix the remaining ingredients together with the rest of the egg whites (1) and divide into two.
Incorporate one half into the meringue and then fold in the rest (2).
Pipe 16 discs onto a Silpat sheet on a baking tray (3) and then rest for three hours. Tap the tray on a work surface so the macaroons flatten evenly. Bake for 12 minutes at 180°C and then store until needed (4).
Sweeten 60g strawberry purée and thicken it with enough Ultra-Tex for it to hold its shape when piped.
Sandwich the macaroons in pairs with the strawberry filling (5).
‘Grounded’ is a word that springs to mind when describing Shaun Rankin. Setting aside the TV appearances, the Yorkshire-born chef is very much a Jerseyman by adoption. He arrived on the island 20 years ago as a demi chef de partie at the Relais & Châteaux Longueville Manor under its head chef Andrew Baird. Since then, his career has been intertwined with the island, its producers and its restaurant scene.
Rankin worked there for a year before heading to Australia. “When I returned,” he recalls, “I brought the excitement of a developing cuisine and quickly rose to be Andrew’s sous chef. He and I were at the forefront of encouraging and supporting the island’s producers.”
After five years, the Lewis family asked him to open a sister restaurant, Sumas, in Gorey harbour. He accepted but delayed the project by going to Chicago for a year and spending that time in the kitchens of Charlie Trotter.
Rankin’s next move away was to France, but he returned to open Bohemia (now in the hands of Steve Smith), where he won the Menu of the Year Catey in 2005. Bohemia is where he developed his own distinctive style: “To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think about it. How do I define it? Very simple! It’s ingredient-led – only the very best is good enough. Link that with understanding combinations of flavours and textures and that’s what permeates all my cooking. We don’t overcomplicate things.”
After earning his star at Bohemia and facing the cameras for Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen, he reinvented his approach to fine dining by opening Ormer in 2013. It’s an all-day restaurant with a terrace, an upstairs bar and an adjoining deli. “It reflects how I am, but it also reflects the way I view the Jersey market,” he says. “We’re trying to bring a little bit of London to the island, but not too much. We’re very corporate-led, so when customers bring their clients in, whether they’re from Chicago, Zurich or Japan, they’ll feel at home.”
Monday to Friday, the business community in St Helier doesn’t want to dine in town on their days away from the office, he concedes. His television persona then has helped to fill the restaurant: “The more I can get in front of a TV audience, the more bums on seats I’ll get. And that’s what it’s all about, making the business work.”
It’s not, on an island of 100,000 inhabitants, a guarantee of commercial success and Rankin is more than happy that Ormer is breaking even after two years. It hasn’t prevented him from looking further afield. He is booked in to supply the food and beverage management at 12 Hay Hill, the about-to-open club in London’s Berkeley Square, and next year he’ll launch his restaurant in Mayfair’s Flemings hotel.