Beet Ice Cream by Chef Patrick Fahy, Blackbird Restaurant

My recent rhapsody of a beet dessert and the chef who makes it may have led you to believe that I am a beet enthusiast. Though that is true, I have to admit – beets and I didn’t start off so hot.

Beets, or beetroots as we called them, and I were formally introduced when I was in grade school. I remember vividly how it happened. Mom just came back from a trip which she had taken with a group of her friends to the North of Thailand to visit various sites under the management of the Royal Project Foundation.[1]

The moment I heard her come in, I ran downstairs in excitement just to find dirt-covered roundish, dark crimson, strange-looking bunch of some never-before-seen plant life on the kitchen counter. Mom’s face beamed with delight and her voice got all animated, “Look! Isn’t this exciting? We got beetroots!

Exciting? They didn’t even look like food to me.

To understand Mom’s excitement, you have to know that back then beets, being a cold climate produce, weren’t available at all in Thailand. They’re everywhere now. But back when I was a kid, it was practically unknown.

And this was one of the reasons my mom loved visiting the Royal Project orchards and farms: she got to bring home fruits and vegetables which we didn’t normally find at the supermarket. Problem was, we didn’t always know what to do with some of these things.

We didn’t waste too much time trying to figure out how to cook the darned things, though. Mom happened to be going through a phase wherein she prepared everything in her new sandwich maker — you know, the kind that simultaneously bakes and diagonally cuts your square sandwich in half. A lot of what my little brother and I ate back then were triangular, even things that should not have been triangular. Basically, if it fit into the sandwich maker, my mom made sure that was where it went.

As Mom stared at the fresh beetroots innocently lying at her mercy, I knew exactly what diabolical plan she was devising.

We could have grated up the fresh beets and make a salad out of it. We could, of course, have consulted one of the American cookbooks we’d bought from the various yard sales for ways to prepare this unfamiliar vegetable. But did we? No. We didn’t have to.

Since beets happened to fall into the it-fits-in-the-sandwich-maker category, their fate had already been predetermined. Attempting to turn the beets into savory sandwich filling, Mom peeled and julienned them up. I watched in horror as Mom sautéed the beets in a skillet with some butter and seasonings. She joyfully whistled her kitchen tune, “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music as she went. Standing there with beet juice dripping, trailing, and spattering everywhere I looked, My Favorite Things, at that very moment, sounded to me like Mozart’s Requiem Mass.

The grilled beet sandwiches were atrocious. We looked at each other and agreed those beets died in vain. Just as we tried to figure out what to do with a huge bowl of sautéed beets, we noticed Tofu, our mutt, was longingly eyeing the failed sandwich filling. I gave him a little bite and he gleefully ate it up, panting with anticipation. We ended up giving him the entire bowl.

So that’s how I stayed away from beets until I rediscovered them a few years ago in, of all places, Ukraine. In a cafeteria somewhere by the Dnieper river, I took a bite of beet salad thinking it was something else. To my surprise, I found it to be utterly delicious. That moment, beets and I reconciled.

The funny thing is, on the day I had beets for the first time (and was convinced it would be the last), I looked at Tofu gobbling up the disgusting beet filling and said to my mother, “Mom, only dogs would like stuff like that.”

Uh. Woof.

Beet Ice Cream
Recipe courtesy of Chef Patrick Fahy
Blackbird Restaurant, Chicago

Printable Version

5-6 medium beets, peeled and cubed
438 g heavy cream
750 g whole milk
250 g granulated sugar
4 g salt
30 g nonfat milk powder
325 g egg yolks

  • Juice the beets until you get about one cup of beet juice; set aside the pulp. (If you don’t have a juicer, blend the beets in a blender with just enough water to get the blades going; strain and save the pulp.) Let the juice simmer in a shallow pot over medium-low heat until it reduces to approximately 1/4 cup. Strain the beet juice reduction and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, gently heat the cream, milk, and sugar in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the beet pulp to the cream and continue to heat the cream mixture for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Put the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl and place it close to the cream mixture. Quickly whisk in 3-4 ladles of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolk to bring the temperature of the yolks closer to that of the cream. Pour the tempered yolk mixture back into the cream pot and continue to heat, whisking occasionally, until the temperature falls between 70 °C (156 °F) and 85 °C (185 °F).
  • Take the ice cream base off the heat and strain.
  • Since some of the liquid evaporates during heating, you need to add more milk to restore the original weight of 1.763 kilograms (1.438 g of cream-milk-sugar mixture + 325 g yolks). Once that is done, add the milk powder and salt to the ice cream base and mix well. Whisk in the strained beet juice reduction. Strain the mixture once more, if necessary. Then leave the mixture to cool in an ice bath.
  • Churn the ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze.
  • This recipe yields approximately 3 quarts of ice cream.
  • [1] The idea of the Royal Project Foundation originated from King Bhumibol of Thailand. It was part of His Majesty’s initiatives to help the tribal minorities around the area in northern Thailand to abandon the practice of opium farming which was detrimental to forest soil, forest ecology, wildlife, and water resources. These minority highland dwellers have been trained to grow crops suitable for the cold climate in which they live. In collaboration with the Thai government as well as both public and private agencies, the RPF has been operating since 1969.

    15 Responses to Beet Ice Cream by Chef Patrick Fahy, Blackbird Restaurant

    1. Rick November 2, 2009 at 10:23 am #

      Hey Leela…woof woof that’s funny, triangle sandwiches…the original home panini grill. Ice cream looks great.
      I have always loved beets (even as a kid) mostly pickled. Because of your Beets n Squash You, I was forced to re-introduce my family to beets last night, while the kids think pickled beets are tolerable at best, the roasted beets were eaten and even given the nod of approval of ‘hmmm not bad’, and “hey these are kind of sweet”. You know the kids are getting old when they start to like things like beets and turnips!

    2. 5 Star Foodie November 2, 2009 at 1:41 pm #

      How interesting that you started to like beets in Ukraine – we did eat them quite a lot there, especially with various salads. I’m working on an idea for the beet event, hope it comes out (wish me luck!). I love your beet ice cream!

    3. Phyllis November 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

      Beets are not something that I usually crave but I would make this ice cream just for the gorgeous color!

    4. doggybloggy November 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

      nice post – excellent ice cream – I guess I need to stop talking and get busy on my beet dish!

    5. indosungod November 2, 2009 at 2:59 pm #

      This beet icecream is lovely. I am not sure how grilled sandwich with julienned beets would taste.
      julienned or grated beets sauteed with onion, green chilies and seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves tastes really good awesome mixed with rice for beautiful purple beet rice or mixed with beaten yogurt for a side to a spicy rice dish.

    6. Brittany (He Cooks She Cooks) November 2, 2009 at 6:29 pm #

      I didn’t used to like beets either. Not until the last two or three years maybe. Now I am a huge fan and I’d love to try beet ice cream!

    7. pigpigscorner November 2, 2009 at 8:52 pm #

      hmm not a big fan of beets but I love the colour.

    8. Jenn November 2, 2009 at 11:14 pm #

      Beets and I have always had a weird relationship. I’ll have to give them another chance.

    9. Kathleen November 3, 2009 at 1:26 am #

      Ohhh the color is soooo beautiful!

    10. we are never full November 3, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

      i am absolutely in awe of the beauty of this. beets just make everything prettier. i would love to taste this and see how mellow the flavor is. beets have that natural sweetness that prob. work so well with the sugar and cream. i will prob. never make this, but i can dream about you inviting me over and dishing me up some!

    11. Juliana November 3, 2009 at 10:23 pm #

      Leela, this is so nice…too bad I do not own a ice cream maker 🙁
      Love the color and wish could try it. Nice nice pictures as well!

    12. Manggy November 4, 2009 at 3:33 pm #

      Ahahaha! I’m pretty sure this ice cream didn’t meet a similar fate- or at least, I hope it didn’t! I love the deep color 🙂

    13. Arwen from Hoglet K November 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

      It’s lucky you had your dog to finish off the beetroot! As a kid I only ever saw canned beetroot, mostly on hamburgers and salad sandwiches from the school canteen. Canned beetroot also features with our Christmas salads strangely enough. I’ve only recently discovered live beetroot with the leaves intact, and I’ve been excited about eating the leaves. You’ve got a beautiful colour for your icecream with them.

    14. Anonymous October 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

      325 grams of egg yolks? Why not just a # of egg yolks?

    15. Leela October 2, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

      Anon – Because everything else is written in metrics?