Ryan McCaskey, chef-owner of the two-Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant Acadia, is amping up his summer menu with savory ice cream. We’re not talking about basil ice cream on your dessert, either.
It’s all about thoroughly conceptualizing, as well as sourcing the best ingredients, so your concoction has the best chance of…well, not being weird! For example, McCaskey, a skilled pastry chef, serves his whole-grain mustard ice cream with veal sweetbreads and sauerkraut — a thoroughly modern spin on classic German flavors. His lobster ice cream is made with fresh lobster from Maine, and if you’d like to take it one step further, his miso uni ice cream nails all its namesakes’ sweet-saline-creamy notes. In short: It can be done very, very well if you know what you’re doing.
Incorporating a savory frozen element into entrées provides both textural and flavor contrast, as all ice cream needs at least a little sugar in order to freeze up fluffy and smooth. The diner enjoys it two ways: on its own as the frozen element on a composed plate, and as a complementary “sauce” as it melts.
We asked McCaskey about his creative process, advice for the home churner venturing into the savory game, and what he’s slurping when uni ice cream isn’t on the menu.
Are the majority of your savory ice creams on the dinner or dessert menu?
I’d say dinner menu.
What was the first savory ice cream you ever made?
Years ago, I made a lobster ice cream. There was a famous ice cream shop in Bar Harbor called Ben & Bill’s. They had a lobster ice cream that was basically butter pecan with chunks of lobster in it. As a kid, I thought it was rather weird, but as I became a pastry chef, I thought about how I could make it better. More refined and subtle.
What are some general flavor rules you follow when creating a savory ice cream?
I just like them to be intense and pure in flavor. When dealing with something cold like ice cream, the flavor needs to be clear and defined.
Where do you draw the line?
I won’t do an ice cream that’s too weird, or for the sake of being weird. No clam ice cream! Or squid-ink ice cream.
If I suggested your lobster ice cream in a sweet brioche hot dog roll with candied celery, would that be where you drew the line?
No, that doesn’t sound too bad!
Does the acidity of something like balsamic reduction or whole grain mustard affect the freezing process? Does plating something like whole grain mustard ice cream with something like sauerkraut affect the way it melts?
It can. Too much fat also can be an issue. It took a while to do the whole grain ice cream. It was either too hard or melted too quickly.
Let’s do some word association: I’m going to name a food, and you name the savory ice cream that would work with it. None of these have to be menu-worthy; I’m just curious about your gut instincts.
Seared tuna: Roasted garlic.
Morcilla: Sherry vinegar.
If the home cook/ice cream enthusiast who’s proficient with an ice cream maker wanted to try his hand at savory ice cream, what’s the single most important piece of advice you could give him?
Adjust your ratio of sugar, fat and water content when making savory ice creams. It’ll be the difference between great and gross.
What’s your favorite non-savory ice cream of all time?
Strawberry! I remember it as a kid. When my parents wanted me to get sleepy, they’d drive me to the ice cream shop down the street. I’d get strawberry ice cream, then they’d drive around the block a few times. Next thing you knew, I was falling asleep! Still love it today.