Toasted black sesame seeds give this Italian classic a nuttier flavor
December 5, 2019

Black sesame panna cotta (Kim Sunée)
Black sesame panna cotta (Kim Sunée)

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of cooking with 10 creative and talented Alaska chefs to help support the Alaska Food Policy Council. We served up an incredibly diverse range of flavors, from local yak with Vadouvan-spiced squash and cured salmon with fermented bird’s eye chile to rhubarb and cava granita and fermented black currant ice cream with candied sea lettuce. My contribution was a panna cotta, an eggless Italian custard, which got a kick of color and flavor from black sesame seeds.

The recipe is adapted from my cookbook, “Everyday Korean” co-authored with Seung Hee Lee. You can make the base recipe with just vanilla if you prefer but the sesame adds a hint of nuttiness. It’s light with the right amount of jiggle. No need to fear unmolding the panna cotta, it slips out easily enough, but keep in mind that you can also serve this right out of the dish. Black sesame seeds, basically white sesame seeds with their hulls intact, impart a subtle, nuttier flavor than the white seeds. Toasting the seeds is essential and also imparts a smoky color, so garnish with more seeds and something bright for the holidays, like these orange blossom cranberries or sugared currants, slices of pear or kiwi, or a swirl of passion fruit coulis.

Black sesame panna cotta

Makes 8 servings

1 cup whole milk

2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean (optional)

1/4 cup (plus more for garnish) black sesame seeds

1. Prepare eight (1/2-cup) ramekins/small bowls or ten (4-ounce) mason jars by lightly greasing with softened butter or spraying with canola or olive oil spray; wipe out excess oil or butter gently with a paper towel.

2. Pour 1/2 cup of the milk in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over. Let dissolve about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a dry pan, toast sesame seeds over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally. You might see some steam depending on how damp the seeds are. When the seeds make popping noises, turn off the heat. Let cool in the pan.

3. Combine the cream, sugar and the remaining 1/2 cup milk together in a saucepan. Stir in vanilla extract or, if using, split vanilla bean, in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into the saucepan. Crush toasted sesame seeds using mortar and pestle or clean coffee grinder to create a loose paste and add to the milk mixture in the pan. Bring the milk mixture to a medium simmer and stir until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let sesame and vanilla steep 10 to 15 minutes. Bring mixture back to a simmer and stir in gelatin-milk mixture and stir until dissolved, about 2 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large glass measuring cup with spout and then divide mixture evenly among ramekins. Let cool slightly, cover, and chill in refrigerator at least 6 hours and up to overnight. To unmold, run a sharp knife around edge of ramekin and place a serving plate over the jar, gently unmold, using tip of knife to coax out the panna cotta as needed.