Last week, I received this question from a reader:
“It’s only 16 days and 2 hours until the Super Bowl…Super Bowl recipe time?”
Normally, I like to respond to reader questions in the Answers section, but I’ll take this question up front this year. Why? Because my Packers are in the Super Bowl! I don’t like to brag, but Wisconsin women are likely both to profess interest in the game and to possess serious knowledge of the sport, so don’t act so surprised.
I’m not going to present you with recipes for fussy tenderloin canapés or sushi. This Superbowl could not be more steeped in tradition – Packers and Steelers? Green Bay and Pittsburgh? Titletown, USA and the Steel City? It calls for traditional foods. Start off with warming cups of beer cheddar soup, a Wisconsin classic, using two of my home state’s best-known products. Move on to fiery crispy sriracha wings – and don’t be put off by the multiple steps. You’re just brining the wings first to keep them moist before coating in a light batter and frying, and if you want to skip the brining you can. Finish off with bratwurst-flavored meatball sliders, which admittedly have a stupid but descriptive name, and provide the flavor of bratwurst in a cute little meatball sandwich.
Enjoy the game! Go Pack go!
Beer cheddar soup
It may surprise you to learn this, but the Wisconsin lowbrow classic, beer cheese soup, relies on sound food science principles for its smooth texture. When you place a crouton and grated cheese on top of onion soup and melt it, the cheese becomes stringy, but when you whisk that same cheese into a béchamel sauce and then add a slightly acidic liquid – like beer – before heating the soup, it becomes smooth. Why is that?
Cheeses that are neither extremely moist nor very crumbly tend to become stringy when melted because the casein (a type of dairy protein) strands become linked to each other by calcium ions in the presence of heat. Starch – as in flour or cornstarch – coats the casein strands and interferes with their ability to link with the calcium ions. In addition, the acid in beer or wine (or lemon juice or vinegar) interferes with the action of calcium, preventing it from connecting to the casein, a key reason why fondue is so smooth. Finally, large quantities of liquid keep the particles far apart, reducing their tendency to link. The tendency to stringiness is far less pronounced in crumblier cheese, so select an aged, crumbly Cheddar (which also packs better flavor). How will you know if your cheese is prone to stringiness? Try to break off a piece. If it breaks easily into a crumbly chunk, you have a crumbly cheese. If it is rubbery and flexible, it’s string-town.
one medium onion, small dice
one small leek, white and light green only, washed well and diced
one carrot, peeled and small dice
one stalk celery, peeled and small dice
4 tbsp Wondra or flour
7 tbsp butter, divided
3 c milk
1 tsp dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
a few dashes of hot sauce
1 large bay leaf
4-5 sprigs thyme, tied together
1 c chicken or vegetable stock, or water
1 bottle of beer, preferably not light beer
1/2 lb extra sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
optional: popped popcorn to garnish
Place a stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tbsp butter. When the butter melts and begins to foam, add the carrots and lower the heat slightly, stirring. Cook until tender and then add the remainder of the vegetables. Continue to cook until the onion is translucent and the other vegetables are tender. Add the remaining butter to the pot and heat until it begins to foam.
Add the Wondra or flour to the pot and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring, for several minutes so the flour loses its raw taste. The mixture will be like a paste around the vegetables- it will not be liquid. Add the milk slowly, stirring constantly as it comes to a simmer. It will thicken as it simmers. Do not let the mixture boil, or it will become less thick.
Add the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, hot sauce, thyme, and bay leaf, and then add the beer and stock, and continue to stir to keep the mixture smooth. Once it comes to a simmer, keep the mixture at a simmer for about five minutes.
Whisk in the cheese, keeping the mixture at a simmer, until the cheese all is incorporated and the soup is smooth. If the mixture is too thick, feel free to thin out with a little more beer. Serve in small bowls or cups and garnish with popcorn.
Crispy sriracha wings
Before we get started, I know someone’s going to ask, and the answer is no – you can’t bake these wings, at least not once they’re battered. If you want to bake the wings, dispense with the battering step, but I tell you – they’re not an everyday food, so you probably shouldn’t sweat eating a couple of them fried as nature intended.
The secret to crispy chicken is to fry at the right temperature, and to use cornstarch in the batter. Yes, cornstarch. If you’ve ever had Korean fried chicken, you know how crisp that fried chicken can get. This batter is half cornstarch and half all-purpose flour, because cornstarch on its own fries up too hard – obnoxiously hard. If you can find it, substitute potato starch (potato flour) for the all-purpose flour.
Use a frying thermometer and don’t overcrowd the frying vessel. If the oil temperature dips below about 330F/165C, your food will absorb oil and will become greasy. Fry in batches, and hold the fried wings on a rack set over a sheet pan.
2 lbs chicken wings, trimmed and divided into two pieces each, or purchase “buffalo wing” cut
1 quarts plus 2 c ice water
2 c water
1/2 c salt
1/4 c sugar or 2 tbsp honey
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 c each all-purpose flour or potato starch, cornstarch, and filtered water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp hot (not smoked) paprika
1 gallon oil (I recommend grapeseed or canola)
1 tbsp water
3 tbsp sriracha hot sauce, more or less, depending on taste
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp celery salt
1/4 lb cow’s milk blue cheese, such as Maytag or Point Reyes
1 c sour cream
1 c mayonnaise, either prepared or from this mayonnaise recipe
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
salt and ground black pepper
celery sticks to serve
If you are pressed for time, you can dispense with the brine. Lightly salt the chicken wings before battering. Otherwise, combine all the brine ingredients except the 1 quarts + 2 c ice water in a small saucepot and bring to a simmer. Cool down with a handful of ice cubes and add to the remaining ice water in a very large stockpot or hotel pan. Add the chicken wings. Brine for about 2 hours.
Combine the cheese dip ingredients except the blue cheese, incorporating until smooth. Add the crumbled blue cheese and stir just to mix. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Pour the oil into a large vessel leaving at least 6″ of space at the top (preferably more, especially if the vessel is deep). Bring the oil to 350F/176C. Meanwhile, combine the batter ingredients in a large, wide bowl. If the batter seems too thick and somewhat paste-like, add a tbsp or so more water to loosen it up. Drain the wings and spread out on a rack lined with a paper towel to dry on both sides. Discard the towel (or towels – you may need a few to pat dry).
Prepare the butter sauce: Place all the sauce ingredients except the butter in a pan and bring just to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add the chunks of butter and swirl the pan until the butter melts and emulsifies. If necessary, turn the heat back on the lowest setting while swirling to warm just enough to continue to melt the butter.
Add the wings to the batter and toss to coat evenly. Add wings one at a time to oil, using a wooden spoon to keep them separate as they first enter to keep them from fusing.
Cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Drain on a rack and repeat until you have cooked all the wings. Cool the wings slightly before tossing in the sauce – pour the sauce into a bowl and toss the cooked wings in the sauce. Depending on volume you’re preparing, send out some wings about 1/3 of the way through tossed in sauce and served with cheese dip and celery sticks.
I don’t usually go in for stupid food names, but this one happens to be merely descriptive. In case you want to make something more substantial and less snacklike, you can turn these into bratburgers by forming patties instead of balls, and frying them as you would burgers. Just be sure to cook them all the way through – being pork, you can’t cook them to rare or medium rare.
I’m providing two methods – a ridiculously easy method, and a more time consuming one. Use the ground meats for the easy method, but buy from a responsible source such as a butcher whom you know grinds his/her own meat. To make things really, really easy, dispense with my spices altogether and pick up the Bratwurst Sausage Seasoning from Penzeys – a company which, by the way, is based in my very own home town, Brookfield, Wisconsin. In Packerland. If that doesn’t say something about destiny, I don’t know what does.
1.5 lbs ground pork or pork shoulder
1/2 lb ground veal or veal breast [note: if you can’t find ground veal, you can use all pork in this sandwich]
one medium onion, diced [note: omit if you are using the pre-made Bratwurst Sausage Seasoning]
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c panko
1 3/4 tsp Morton’s kosher or 1 1/4 tsp Diamond kosher salt
1 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp celery seed
– OR –
2 tbsp Penzeys Bratwurst Sausage Seasoning
about 18-24 soft potato dinner rolls or 8 burger buns
whole grain mustard or spicy brown mustard
pickled red onion
Easy way: combine all the seasonings with the eggs and panko. Remember that the seasoning already contains salt. Pour evenly on the ground meats. Combine quickly, tossing rather than mashing, until evenly distributed. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning or salt and add more as necessary.
More difficult way: Obviously, you will be grinding the meat. Combine all the seasonings. Cut the pork and veal into about 3/4″ cubes and toss with the seasonings and diced onion. Spread the cubed meats and onion evenly on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.
Once the meat is firm but not solid frozen, grind the mixture using the coarse die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Pass it through again if you like a fine texture. Note – if you want to stuff these into casings at this point, consult my earlier post on sausages for instructions. You should add 1/4 tsp Prague Powder #1 (pink salt) to the seasoning mixture if you’re stuffing it. Combine the panko and egg and spread evenly over the ground product and combine quickly, tossing rather than mashing, until evenly distributed. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning and add more salt, nutmeg, white pepper, mustard, etc as necessary.
For sliders, form lightly into balls about 1 1/2″ in diameter. For bratburgers, form lightly into patties. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, film with oil. Fry the meatballs or burgers on one side until browned, and flip with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook through completely. Don’t overcook them, though – they need to be moist.
Serve with spicy brown mustard or grain mustard, and pickled red onion, on dinner rolls or burger buns. Many Upper Midwesterners consider ketchup an abomination with brats, but I won’t judge.
Imp ‘n’ Arn
I’ve never been to Pittsburgh – not to stay, anyway. I’ve connected through its fine airport several times and have passed through its southern suburbs on the way to Ohio on I-70. But I don’t know anything about Pittsburgh, other than its location, its association with several fine universities, and its close relationship to the steel industry. Recently, NPR ran a great story about Pittsburgh’s transformation from industrial city to tech center, and how this diversification has buffeted the city against the recession to some degree. Give it a listen – it’s a surprising story, if you used to think Pittsburgh = Rust Belt.
I do know one more thing about Pittsburgh, though. One of my brother’s college roommates, a great guy named Steve, was from Pittsburgh and from time to time, when my brother returned home on winter breaks from Cornell, he would occasionally refer to “Imp ‘n’ Arns,” usually with a Pittsburgher accent, especially if he and Steve were on the phone. It’s a shot and a beer, basically, so if you don’t have the Pittsburgh-specific raw materials, just have whatever.
Do the shot. Chase with the beer.