“I hate mint.”
I had a sinking feeling as I drove out to my friend Louis’s house that he was one of those. Mint Haters. I can’t keep my friends’ predilections strait. Me, I’ll eat almost anything, so I forget about the cilantro-haters, the mint-haters, the fish-haters. Or at least, I can’t remember who’s who. I thought I was bringing a special surprise treat to end our feast. Better luck next time.
I look forward all year to suppers on Louis’s screened porch. He is a close friend, so there is never any fussing. And he is always honest. I count on him for that, even when it’s not convenient. The other night he picked up some fish and a couple of lemon cucumbers. All he asked of me was to bring along some herbs from my garden, and we would figure out dinner when I got there. I’ll have to fill you in on the recipe later, when I nail it down, but it involved tarragon. A lot of tarragon. Now, you’d think a mint hater would also be a tarragon hater. You would be wrong. In truth, it was lucky that Man of the House was out of town. We missed him, but he is fan of neither fish nor tarragon.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of milk from Catherine’s cow. What’s lovely and old-fashioned about that milk is that it has several inches of luscious, thick cream floating on top. I could just shake it into the milk and drink it defiantly, but instead I saved it for making a batch of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
So many flavors, so little time. Traditional ice cream is basically custard sauce with flavorings. Once you’ve nailed down the custard sauce, it’s easy and fun to improvise on the flavors. To make the sauce, you need to separate eggs. Apparently this is too much to ask of you. (The Boston Globe discourages publication of recipes that require this task.) Would you really balk at the prospect of separating an egg? I don't think so. But just in case, here's how:
First lesson: separate the eggs. If you are new at this, here's how: Break an egg by tapping it on the counter instead of on the side of the bowl. In the side-of-the-bowl method you risk breaking the yolk and/or dispersing little shards of shell where you don’t want them (and thereby encouraging contamination). So gently tap the side of the egg on the counter. Hold on there cowboy, you are not trying to smash the egg to smithereens. Now, hold the egg over a bowl and with your two thumbs, prise the shell open. Let the white dribble into the bowl as you pour the yolk back and forth between the two halves of the shell and drop the yolk into a separate bowl. The best way to retrieve bits of shell and/or unwanted yolk (if you are using the whites for meringue, for instance) from a bowl of whites is with the edge of an empty eggshell half.
The second lesson here is tempering the eggs when you make the custard. You don’t want scrambled bits of egg in the custard, so instead of dumping the yolks into hot liquid, you gradually beat a little of the hot liquid into the yolks and THEN pour the custard back into the saucepan and cook just until the custard coats the back of a spoon. If you want to be more precise when you are learning how to do this use a thermometer. Stop the cooking at 160°. Too much heat will also scramble the eggs, so go slowly and stir constantly.
Lecture over. Back to the ice cream. Louis, being a good sport agreed to a wee taste. I love it when I surprise people and change their minds about something.
“This isn’t mint ice cream! At least, it’s not like anything I’ve ever tasted (e.g., green and overly sweet.) It’s so fresh, so natural, so subtle!”
Did I mention how good a friend Louis is? Yet I trust he would not lie just to save my feelings. The proof is in the eating: we polished off all of it and I’m not telling who ate the lion’s share.
The snappy yet subtle flavor of this ice cream is coaxed from fresh mint leaves infused in hot cream. This process invites invention. Think of the leaves of other herbs like lemon verbena, Thai basil, regular basil, rose-scented geranium or lavender flowers. Put a little romance in your ice cream, that’s why you bought the machine, isn’t it? This flavor probably should be called mint chocolate shard ice cream: the chips are not little rocks of chocolate, but flat slivers that melt in your mouth.
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (makes about 1 quart)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 cups fresh mint leaves, torn in pieces if they are large
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
4 ounces (1 cup) chopped bittersweet chocolate
1. Combine the cream, milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan (2 quarts or larger), and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat, stir in the mint leaves and set aside for 1 hour.
2. Return the cream to a simmer. Set a fine-meshed strainer over a bowl and strain the cream, pressing on the leaves with the back of a wooden spoon to extract every drop of minty goodness. Discard the leaves.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with a whisk. Set the bowl on top of a damp paper towel or dishcloth to stabilize it, and gradually pour in the hot liquid (about 1/4 cup at a time) whisking constantly. When about half of the hot cream has been added, return it to the saucepan with the remaining cream.
4. Stir the custard constantly over medium-low heat until it coats the back of a spoon, about 160° on an instant read thermometer. Strain the mixture (again) into a bowl to catch any little bits of egg that may have solidified. Refrigerate until very cold, 4 to 6 hours or overnight.
5. Line a small, flat tray with parchment or waxed paper. Make sure it will fit into your freezer.
6. Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water. Pour it onto the paper-lined tray and spread it in a thin layer. Freeze until firm and brittle.
7. Churn the ice cream mix in an ice cream maker according to directions.
8. When the ice cream is frozen but still slightly soft, remove the chocolate from the freezer. Break it into pieces with your hands and then roll it up in the paper and crumple it to break it some more. If it becomes soft, return it to the freezer for a few minutes. Add it to the ice cream and churn it for about 1 minute, until the chips are mixed into the ice cream. Pack in a storage container and freeze for several hours, or until the ice cream is firm enough to scoop.
P.S. If you are feeling too lazy for this (it is summer, after all, you needn’t be ambitious) try this frozen yogurt