Confectionery, Dessert, eggs, Fruit, Random Thoughts

It’s so cold in Alaska.

There’s a certain WTF quality of pre-1980s color photography that automatically makes the food of that era look gruesome. We’ve all seen the evidence. A certain percentage of the internet is devoted to the horrors of post-WWII cuisine, whether it’s the recipe cards of the 70s, cookbooks, or the horrors of gelatin. Many of these websites even mock retro food by actually preparing and eating it.

The famed Betty Crocker Recipe Card collection.

The famed Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library.

It was only a matter of time, given the attention-whoring properties of the internet and the perpetual ironic stance a certain sector of the population has adopted, before people would express their ironic detachment by engaging directly with the object of their detachment and posting accounts of these amusing encounters on the internet. This is an interesting phenomenon, as it places the practitioner in proximate, intentional contact with the subject of derision and scorn, for the specific purpose of reinforcing and publicly expressing those feelings. It isn’t just interesting, it’s perverse – and ironic as well. I hate goat cheese, for example. To me it tastes like teabagging an unwashed goatherd. But you don’t see me ordering roasted beet and chèvre salads or digging into great oozing wedges of crottin to prove that point. I stay away from things I don’t like.

My husband is fond of relating a story from his boarding school days of a number of guys who, rallying around a shared disdain for heavy metal, would spend hours on end hanging out in each others’ rooms, listening to heavy metal, playing air guitar and throwing devil horns. I once heard a piece on NPR about a group of friends who took up bowling as a form of amusement based on a shared belief that bowling is a particularly gross relic of the Happy Days era. They would regularly visit bowling alleys, wear the shoes, roll the ball, drink the PBR, the whole thing. “That’s great and all,” the raconteur observed, “but when all is said and done, you’re actually bowling.” Point, game, match. Is it really worth walking into an elevator in a public building carrying a single bicycle wheel, wearing knickerbockers, a newsboy cap, and a curling, waxed handlebar mustache (this is a true story), just to make the point that anachronistic clothing looks kind of insane today?

When it comes to actually cooking and eating retro foods as part of an exercise in mockery, one of two possibilities exists. Either the cook cannot be trusted to make and serve something he or she truly believes is delicious, calling his or her judgment into question, or the cook secretly craves the food in question but is afraid to admit it for fear of losing valuable sophistication credentials. It’s got to be hard for the urbane foodie who aspires to know the origins and living conditions of every heirloom pig that ends up as chops in the market, and makes a point to know the difference between the foodways of Tuscany and Umbria, to admit to a fondness for hotdish, or the old-fashioned meat lasagne made with those ruffle-edged Creamettes noodles, or crock pot meatballs in barbecue sauce. Here’s the thing, though. Put those items on a table at your next party alongside some expensive locally sourced baby vegetables and see which one goes first. The answer may surprise you.

Baked Alaska “Egg”

Baked Alaska is one of those desserts you almost never see on menus, although it has made the rare appearance during the last few years on the menus of a certain type of restaurant, usually the kind that serves expensive versions of meatloaf and fried chicken. By the time I learned about it, when I was a kid riffling through my mother’s Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library in the mid 70s, it was already well on its way out of fashion, discarded as a midcentury relic in favor of pineapple upside-down cakes and crêpes Suzette. But the prospect of a baked dessert that somehow maintained a cold ice cream center was irresistible. To my six year-old conception of the world, it sounded like magic. “American Classics” card 15, “Individual Brownie Alaskas,” displayed a fetching mound of candy-pink peppermint ice cream atop a brownie layer, frosted with pillowy meringue tipped golden from the oven, a slight wedge removed as proof the inside remained frozen. “Seasonal Favorites” card 2, “Orange Baked Alaskas,” was even more glamorous, a hollowed-out orange capped in swirling meringue, encasing orange sherbet. “The first Baked Alaska was created at famous Delmonico’s restaurant in 1867 to honor the purchase of the new territory,” the card recites. How did they do it? Was it both hot and cold?

The beauty of the Baked Alaska.

The beauty of the Baked Alaska.

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The easy way to make Baked Alaska is to buy a pint of ice cream, put it inside or atop something insulating (like a layer of cake), freeze it rock solid, frost it thickly with meringue and pop it in a ragingly hot oven. But then you’re left with all the egg yolks, and have to make pudding or something to use them up. Rather than doing that, why not use the egg yolks to make the ice cream for the Baked Alaska? And then make the entire thing look like an egg?

Assemble the Baked Alaskas by freezing a small sphere of passionfruit sorbet (the yolk) inside vanilla ice cream (the white) in spherical molds. Once frozen hard, place the spheres inside a baked meringue shell and top with piped-on meringue. Be absolutely sure there is no gap in the margin between the meringue shell and the meringue topping; you want to insulate the ice cream completely from the hot oven air. Bake at 500F/260C for about 2 minutes or just long enough to brown the meringue somewhat. This sounds an insanely hot oven temperature, but the goal is to blast the outside meringue so quickly the interior ice cream does not have time to heat up.

Ready to come out of the oven.

Ready to come out of the oven.

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Recipes for each component are below.

Rich vanilla ice cream

Usually, I prefer ice creams without egg; to me, the egg yolk lends its own flavor and competes unfavorably with the taste of the cream. But egg-enriched vanilla ice cream is a pretty good thing; it’s really more like a frozen crème anglaise. If using for Baked Alaska rather than just eating on its own, you must make this at least one day in advance and probably two.

1 1/4 c superfine sugar
2 tbsp bourbon smoked sugar
2 c heavy cream
1 1/4 c whole milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 egg yolks, reserving whites for meringues below
scant 1/4 tsp smoked salt

Combine milk and cream. Separately, whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt until thick and lemony ribbons form.

Heat milk and cream with vanilla seeds and pod; bring to 180F and steep 10 mins. Strain.

Temper about 1 c milk/ with yolk/sugar mixture and whisk slowly back into the milk. Return to simmer. Cook custard to 180F until mixture coats back of spoon.

Cool in bain marie. Strain through fine chinois into ice cream maker. Process and then freeze hard.

Passionfruit sorbet

This is stupidly easy to make if you have access to a supermarket with a Latin foods section. Get yourself a bag of fruit pulp (Goya is the most commonly available brand) and spin it into sorbet.

Because fruit lacks the fat necessary to a good mouthfeel, I typically add gelatin to my sorbets. You don’t need much – this isn’t going to be a gelled pudding, after all – but the gelatin adds a little body and a slightly creamy consistency to the finished product.

1 14-ounce bag of Goya passionfruit pulp
3/4 c sugar
2/3 c water
2 leaves gelatin, silver strength

Bring the passionfruit pulp, sugar, and water to a simmer. Stir frequently to ensure the sugar has dissolved.

Soften the gelatin leaves in cool water and squeeze out. Whisk into the fruit base.

Cool in bain marie. Strain through fine chinois into ice cream maker. Process and then freeze hard.

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Vanilla ice cream encasing passionfruit sorbet spheres in a plastic mold.

Vanilla ice cream encasing passionfruit sorbet spheres in a plastic mold.

Meringues

This dish uses meringues in two ways: as an insulating base for the ice cream center, and as a pillowy topping. Obviously, since meringue is not stiff enough in its uncooked form to support the weight of the frozen ice cream center, you must bake some meringues first and let them dry out. If you don’t want meringues for your base, you can bake génoise or something similar instead.

Prepare the meringue in two stages. Half the egg whites go into making meringue bases; the other half should be reserved in the refrigerator and beaten just before baking the Alaskas. While you can beat egg whites and hold them for a short time, they tend to weep liquid (syneresis) if held too long under refrigeration.

Baked meringue shells

2 egg whites (75g)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
75g each superfine (caster) sugar and powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

Oven 250F/120C.

Allow the whites to reach room temperature or warm slightly by whisking in a warm (not hot) water bath. Add the cream of tartar. Combine the sugars in a bowl.

Whisk the egg whites using a balloon whisk or a stand mixer until soft peaks form; slowly add the sugar in increments, whipping the whites until they are firm and glossy but not dry. Transfer with a silicone spatula to a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.

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Pipe onto a silpat-lined baking sheet in rounds approximately the size of the ice cream balls, with a lip at the top to hold in the ice cream. Bake for one hour; then turn off the heat and allow them to rest in the oven with the door closed to dry. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Hold in a tightly sealed container with silica gel packs for up to a week. Do not refrigerate.

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Meringue topping

2 egg whites (75g)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
35g superfine sugar

Allow the whites to reach room temperature or warm slightly by whisking in a warm (not hot) water bath. Add the cream of tartar. Whisk the egg whites using a balloon whisk or a stand mixer until soft peaks form; slowly add the sugar in increments, whipping the whites until they are firm and glossy but not dry. If you like, transfer with a silicone spatula to a pastry bag fitted with the tip of your choice. (this is optional; you may simply use a flat or offset spatula to apply the meringue instead).

Note that this meringue is fluffier and less sticky than the meringue for the cookie base.

Note that this meringue is fluffier and less sticky than the meringue for the cookie base as it contains far less sugar.

Note that the meringue topping will not be completely cooked because it will not reach a high enough overall temperature during the final baking. If salmonella or other pathogens are a problem for eggs in your area, consider using pasteurized egg whites instead.

Note: This post was brought to you by the Creative Cooking Crew:

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Breakfast, Cocktails, eggs, Latin, Midwest-y, Pork Products, Random Thoughts

Your medium western states.

When I was growing up in Milwaukee in the Seventies, my city was the epicenter of American prime time television culture, what with Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley and all. The interesting thing is it came by this fame not for displaying its contemporary charms, but by portraying a sort of idealized vision of a Fifties-era Milwaukee, evoking a sagging nation’s fondness for its own better days. If you doubt the prominence of Wisconsin in Seventies pop culture and its use as a nostalgic prop, I submit to you that, twenty years later, Fox set That Seventies Show not in New York or San Francisco or Southern California, but in my home state. As viewed through the lens of television, the whole idea of Wisconsin is like standing in one of those bathrooms with a mirrored shower door opposite a mirrored wall. You can stand there and watch yourself traveling backwards through time into infinity.

Fairly or not, in any case, the Midwest as a whole has come to represent the situs of not only American nostalgia but a sort of anti-progress, looking backward at our past as though into the endless regression of those reflected mirror images. Is it true – that we stand still while time eddies around us? Does it matter? Which brings me to South Dakota, where I recently spent a week driving around with a colleague, another transplanted Midwesterner now living on the east coast.

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Here’s the thing about living in the city: it can turn you into a glutton for novelty and status. You get to the point where you always order the one unfamiliar item on the menu, which you have scanned for words like tripe, foraged, and hay-smoked to ensure the chef, like you, has been doing his homework. Securing a cronut comes with bragging rights, until that sudden moment when they’re so over, as over as cupcakes and salted caramel, fodder for copycatting on mommy blogs and the Starbucks bakery case. You watch that Portlandia episode with an expanding sense of unease, like, are you this ridiculous? Maybe you are this ridiculous.

None of this is an issue in rural South Dakota. Your dining options are basically limited to truck stops and taverns, and you had better like beef, or you’re shit out of luck. One night during our visit, we ordered grilled ribeyes, which came with a trip to the salad bar. “You first,” I gestured to my colleague. He returned a few minutes later with a frosted glass plate of iceberg lettuce and what looked like macaroni salad. “Don’t get too excited,” he cautioned me in his low-key Michigander way, as I stood for my turn. Nestled beside the bowl of rust-tinged iceberg lettuce in the salad buffet was something I thought could be creamed mushrooms. For one demented moment, I even thought it might be edible soil folded into mayonnaise. I took a big spoonful. It turned out to be crushed Oreos folded into vanilla pudding, which, I learned the next day, is called “cookie salad” locally and may be varied by substituting other cookies or candy bars for the Oreos, and Cool Whip for the pudding. “That sounds great,” my husband said later that night, when I gave him the post-game over the phone. “Not as salad, though.”

This is the kind of food that makes sophisticates on the coasts cast knowing glances of pity and scorn on their Midwestern associates. And plant foods are not the strong point of rural South Dakota at end-of-winter, based on our visit. But the ribeyes were deeply marked from the grill, rimmed in charred fat, and mine was the perfect medium rare I’d requested. The macaroni salad turned out to be a very good potato salad, the potato grated into long shreds and bound lightly in mayonnaise. Beers were icy, served in frosted mugs. Cookie salad notwithstanding, our dinner was the kind of thing – like grilled cheese or meat lasagne – most of us love when we’re not trying to keep up appearances. Sometimes moving forward is less important than standing perfectly still.

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Breakfast Egg

A good breakfast is a lot like a good dinner in the rural Midwest. It’s inherently retrograde – probably taking you back a couple of decades at least – and delivers total familiarity, not intellectual demands first thing in the morning. Maybe you deploy a few tricks here and there – your eggs are cooked in a water bath, your sausage is house-made – but always in the service of improvement, not novelty. Like Steve Austin. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was. But also like Steve Austin, the perfect modern breakfast still basically looks like the breakfast you remember.

When I was a kid, I figured out pretty early that I could do almost anything I wanted during weekend mornings if I was quiet enough not to wake my parents. This awareness inevitably led me down one of two paths: slice upon slice of white sandwich bread, toasted one at a time and immediately spread with thin curls of cold salted butter; or eggs, either scrambled with slices of American cheese (one per egg), or beaten and poured into a swirling vortex of chicken bouillon until just set, like a fluffy, poached, chicken-flavored omelet. Both were eaten watching Super Friends while sitting cross-legged on the kitchen counter; both were always followed, once my parents came down a couple hours later, by what I liked to call “second breakfast.”

What follows is a modern breakfast interpretation of one of my favorite second breakfasts, over easy eggs with maple-y sausage links and bacon, toast on the side. The yolk should run somewhat; you accomplish this by cooking the egg until only the white is set, chilling, and wrapping the chilled egg in sausage. If you let the egg come to room temperature before frying, you probably will end up with a set (if soft-ish) yolk.

Transglutaminase is not strictly necessary. It binds the protein in the pork to that in the egg white, but you can achieve a pretty ok effect by rolling the eggs in flour. The downside to flour is it can form an unappetizing pastelike substance when it combines with the moisture in the pork, so use only the merest coating. And if you don’t keep quarts of bacon fat around the house, pretty much any vegetable oil will do, though your eggs won’t taste all that bacon-y.

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For the eggs:

6 large eggs, at room temperature
Egg carton

Prepare an ice bath.

Bring 3000 ml (3 liters, about 3 qts) salted water to a boil. Carefully add the eggs. Cook just at the boil (not a rolling boil) for 4 1/2 minutes. Remove with a skimmer and deposit in the ice bath. Once the eggs are just cool enough to handle, tap lightly all over to form shallow cracks, including at both ends. Allow the eggs to rest in the ice bath under refrigeration at least 3 hours. This allows the eggs to cool but also permits water to penetrate the cracks and loosen the shell.

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When ready to coat in sausage, remove the shell. Store the eggs upright in an empty egg carton lined with clingfilm.

For the sausage:

700g/1.5 lbs pork shoulder, quite fatty (2:1 ratio shoulder to belly if a fatty cut of shoulder is not available)
2 1/4 tsp smoked salt
2 tbsp maple sugar
1/8 tsp pimentón
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
leaves from 3 sprigs thyme
1 clove garlic, peeled

Cube the pork shoulder and season with the salt, sugar, pepper, and pimentón. Freeze briefly and then add the thyme leaves and thinly sliced garlic. Grind through a small die. Cook a test quenelle and add seasoning if necessary.

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To fry:

2-4 slices bacon, depending on thickness
4 g transglutaminase (Activa RM)
4 c bacon fat
1 c flour
1 egg, beaten with 3 tbsp water
2 c panko

Set the bacon slices on a rack over a quarter sheet pan and bake at 150C/300F for 8-15 minutes (depending on thickness) until the bacon, including its fat, is just cooked but not browned. Reduce heat to 82C/180F and continue to dry the bacon until crisp, about 3 hours. Not browning the bacon is important, as browned bacon will burn once fried later. Drain well on paper towels, cool, and grind to a powder. Combine with the panko. Up to this point, you may store the panko blend tightly covered for several days in the refrigerator.

On a large square of clingfilm, spread about 75g (around 3 ounces) sausage in a thin (about 3 mm) layer large enough to cover the egg evenly once completely rolled. Note: You should do a test run to get a sense of the size of the sausage layer before proceeding to the next step as mistakes cannot be undone without an adverse impact on texture.

Sprinkle transglutaminase over the sausage surface in a thin layer (about 1% by weight, so just over .5g per egg). Place an egg in the center and gather the clingfilm upwards, covering the surface of the egg with sausage. Twist to enclose completely and form into an ovaline ball; repeat until all the sausage and eggs are gone. It is best to place these in a muffin/popover tin as you work so they remain round while they chill. Chill for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.

Set up a standard three part breading station and heat the bacon fat to 163C/325F. Unwrap the sausage-covered eggs as you are ready to fry. Ensure the sausage is well attached to the egg; dip in the flour, the egg wash, then the panko-bacon mixture. Fry on each side for about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm with rye toast for dipping in the runny yolk.

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Bonus: Michelada

On the way home from South Dakota, I stopped at O’Hare. I never complain about laying over in O’Hare because I can stock up on Garrett’s cheese corn and have molletes at Tortas Frontera. This time, I added a cocktail to my routine. The bartender was kind enough to put it in a to go cup so I could use it to take the edge off my flight. Midwesterners are so thoughtful.

I’ve consumed many a michelada, but this was by far the best. I attribute it to the extra lime I requested. If you like drinking with breakfast at weekends, this is better than bloodies – more refreshing and far less drunk-making. I have no idea if this is how Frontera makes micheladas, but it tastes right.

Tajin* or Valentina fruit seasoning (Note: these are both dry seasonings of chile, lime, and salt and are pretty much the same. Excellent on melons, mango, and papaya. Substitute a chile salt)
One 12-ounce Negro Modelo or similar; Corona or PBR will do in a pinch
1 tsp or so Valentina hot sauce (specifically)
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 shakes Maggi
Juice of two limes or one really juicy, large lime
Optional: between 1/2 and 1 shot tequila (NOT silver or blanco, and nothing really expensive)
Several ice cubes

Moisten the rim of a pint glass and dip in a plate with a shallow layer of Tajin.

In the glass, stir together the hot sauce, Worcestershire, Maggi, lime juice, and tequila if using. Add the ice cubes. Slowly pour in about 1/3 of the beer and stir gently just to combine. Add the rest of the beer. Drink with more lime.

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*Note: The Tajin bottle bears an interesting warning:

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Further note: This post was brought to you by the Creative Cooking Crew:
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eggs, Italian, Pasta, Random Thoughts

Adaptation.

Despite what many people think, watching shows about cooking, even great shows about famous chefs, isn’t the same as cooking or knowing how to cook. Early this year, up in Philadelphia, my husband and I stood outside the Ritz-Carlton chatting with one of the valets while waiting for our car. He told us about watching the cooking shows – Top Chef, The Great Food Truck Race – and laughed that he used to tell Chef Jennifer Carroll, then-just departed chef de cuisine of 10 Arts and onetime Top Chef competitor, that he felt like almost a pro himself after watching the shows, that it was practically the same. “No, it isn’t,” I replied. “That’s exactly what Jen used to say,” he told me, getting my door.

It’s true. You can’t learn to cook just by watching TV, and even our Ritz-Carlton valet conceded that he mostly had heard of things like shiso but had no idea how they tasted, and knew that risotto is supposed to be runny, not stiff, but couldn’t make it himself. Top Chef is great, but you can’t learn to cook by watching it. If you choose the right show, though, you can actually learn some useful things from TV, like how it looks to dice an onion like a pro, or sear a piece of meat, or make a sugar cage. In case you haven’t had the pleasure, the Great Chefs television series back in the 80s and 90s on PBS featured chefs in their restaurant kitchens, cooking at their stations as though they were talking you through the dish just before service. There was no faux-home kitchen, no excruciating banter, no mugging for the camera, no corny catch-phrases. No BAM, just great technique and superb cooking. They did have some appallingly and catchy theme tunes – “Great chefs, great cities, great food – lovingly prepared by the best” – and the most important chefs in America at the time, both established and up-and-coming. I never missed an episode if I could help it. This was the age of the VCR, and I taped episodes to watch after work, rewinding to watch a chef brunoise a carrot, peel and concasse a tomato, mount butter into a sauce, sear a pork chop before finishing in the oven, and then trying the same from my outdated Minneapolis kitchen.

The enduring lesson of Great Chefs is that fundamentals are essential to good cooking. You can’t adapt a classic dish to personalize it, or make it modern in a way that makes sense, without good technique. Any one of the chefs featured on the series could peel and turn a bushel of turnips in the time it takes most people to dice a five pound bag of potatoes. I don’t golf – never took to it – but in cooking, as in golf, practice pays off. Once you know what you’re doing, you can turn to old favorites and give them your own flair.

Linguine, “guanciale” belly, fried poached egg

I learned about New Orleans by watching Great Chefs long before I ever had the opportunity to visit the city. PBS was a superb tour guide, taking viewers through the kitchens at Commander’s, Brennan’s, La Provence, and the other temples to gastronomy of the day. Years later, in the early 2000s, I traveled regularly to New Orleans on business and dined at the likes of Acme and Herbsaint, Central Grocery and Bayona, banh mí joints in the afternoon, August or Cochon at night. This last September, I took my husband for his first visit, during an engagement to speak at a seminar on food and the law hosted by the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

On our last night in the city, we dined at my favorite NOLA restaurant, Herbsaint. The same dish drew both his eyes and mine: “Housemade spaghetti with guanciale and fried poached egg.” We surmised this was an adaptation of spaghetti alla carbonara, and although that was clearly its inspiration, the kitchen had taken it a few steps further. The most interesting quality of the dish, to me, was that it tasted a little like sour cream and chive potato chips – in a good way – but it also seemed that the eggs are coated in ordinary breadcrumbs, not, say, potato chip dust. It seemed to me that the pasta sauce might not be the simple egg and cheese mixture of the classic carbonara, but a cream sauce incorporating garlic, which combined with the fried egg for the chive/chip taste.

I generally don’t like to imitate restaurant dishes, but this one was too good to pass up. When we returned home, I cured some pork belly in the manner of guanciale since I didn’t want to wait to order pork jowls. After about a week of curing, I fried the belly into small crisp cubes, made a simple garlic parmesan cream, and poached a few eggs before coating in panko and frying. We don’t have a pasta extruder, essential for producing housemade durum wheat pasta, and frankly homemade dried pasta usually isn’t as good as the kind you buy in the store, so I just used regular bronze die-extruded linguine from Montebello. The resulting dish is creamy, salty, crisp, and savory, reminiscent of the classic carbonara, but adapted to a modern palate.

With the exception of the pork-curing step, you can execute this dish from start to finish in the time it takes to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta – in other words, about 25 minutes. To be on the safe side, if you are not accustomed to handling poached eggs, I recommend you make a few extra in case you overcook, or the egg falls apart, or you inadvertently break the yolk while breading or removing from the frying oil. All are possibilities. Eat the mistakes on toast or atop grits, with cheese.

1 c heavy cream
12 cloves garlic
1 egg yolk
1 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and black pepper

4 oz guanciale or unsmoked bacon

12 oz dried linguine

4 eggs
1/2 c AP flour
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water
1 c panko
chives
black truffle salt

Combine the cream, peeled garlic cloves, and cheese in a saucepot and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes and then transfer to a vitaprep or blender. Blitz until smooth, adding the egg yolk halfway through (if using a lower powered blender, push through a chinois). Set aside.

Garlic-parmesan cream.

Cut the guanciale, bacon, or what have you into batons. Fry in a hot pan until crisp and golden; drain and set aside the crisped batons. [Note: a recipe for guanciale follows]

Pork belly cured in the manner of guanciale.

Poach the eggs in simmering water. Remove carefully with a slotted/perf spoon and slip into an ice water bath. Prepare a clean kitchen towel.

Poaching eggs.

Cooling eggs in ice water bath

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add your pasta. Meanwhile, pour oil about 1″ deep in a small shallow pan, and bring to 350F. Set up a three part breading station. As your pasta cooks, dry the eggs on the clean towel and then bread the eggs (use your hands, not a spoon or tongs as they will be delicate). Fry on both sides. This step only takes a minute or so. Drain on paper towels set over a rack.

Fried poached egg.

Retherm the garlic parmesan cream and drain the pasta. Toss the pasta and reserved guanciale batons in the cream, season with truffle salt, divide among four plates, and top each with minced chive and the fried poached egg.

Pork belly in the style of guanciale

Pork jowl can be hard to find, although a good butcher can get it to you. Rather than go out of your way, try curing pork belly in the manner of guanciale. Although the result will be fattier and less meaty, you can substitute it for guanciale in recipes that call for it, like carbonara, or amatriciana. Not traditional, but close enough.

This is a relatively quick and low-maintenance process that does not involve a subsequent air-drying process.

2 lb pork belly, skin removed
100g kosher salt
50g granulated sugar
5g TCM/pink salt
5g juniper berries
15g black peppercorn
8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6 branches thyme

Crack the juniper and peppercorns coarsely. Combine the dry ingredients. Coat the belly well in the cure.

Dry cure.

Coated in cure.

Place the coated belly in a plastic sealing bag with the crushed garlic and thyme, double bag (to avoid leakage), and refrigerate for about 7-10 days. Turn the bag over once a day to distribute the cure and the expelled liquid.

Remove from the cure and rinse. At this point you may firm up the belly by placing on a rack in a 180F oven for about 2 hours, or simply refrigerate or freeze for immediate use. If refrigerated, use or freeze within a week.

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Chicken, eggs, preserving, Quick Meals, Sandwich, Southeast Asian

Chicken tonight, Part 2

Recently, in response to the sausage burger post, a reader asked whether I plan what I’m going to cook every day, or just throw something together. This is where I admit that I’m not a morning person. It’s all I can do to get out of the house in one piece every day and menu planning just doesn’t happen. Sometimes we stop at the market on the way home from the office and I decide what to make based on what looks good that day. Other days, though, it’s a trip into the reach in freezer.

One night last week, my journey into the reach in yielded a vacuum package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. These types of small boneless cuts of somewhat fatty meat are what I like to call “pre-sausage.” You can dice them while they’re still frozen, and run them through the meat grinder. The fact that they’re frozen is a boon, not a curse – frozen cuts yield a better ground product, at least using home grinders like the KitchenAid attachment – so you can dispense with thawing time. Once ground, you can season and patty them right up. Within 35 minutes of our arrival home, we were eating these burgers, with Vietnamese flavors of pickled carrot and radish, mint, and chili sauce, influenced by the delicious Vietnamese sandwich, báhn mi. Not bad for an impromptu weekday meal out of the freezer.

Chicken burger, carrot and daikon pickle, sriracha mayonnaise.

Chicken burgers “báhn mi”

You may wonder why I have added whole egg and panko to the chicken before pattying and cooking these burgers, since I never would recommend any such thing for a beef or pork sausage-type burger. Here’s the thing – I find that ground chicken cooked in a patty without any binder tends to form a somewhat solid puck. You need a little extra fat to keep things moist.

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large egg
3 tbsp panko
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Vietnamese fish sauce
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
vegetable oil

4 soft buns
1 c carrot and daikon pickle, from below recipe
4-8 butter lettuce leaves (depending on size), washed and dried
1 c mint leaves, washed and spun dry
1/2 c cilantro (coriander) leaves, washed and spun dry (optional)
1/2 c sriracha mayonnaise (from below)

Freeze the chicken thighs until solid (but not rock-hard), and cut into 1″ chunks. If you’re using product straight from the freezer, let them thaw just slightly before cubing and grinding so they’re not like chicken boulders. Season with salt. Grind the chicken through a medium die.

Combine the panko and white pepper. Sprinkle the fish sauce over the chicken and add the panko mixture and egg. Mix with your hand until combined, but do not overwork.

Form four patties on a plate or cutting board. Do not stack, since these burgers will be very soft.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Use a large spatula to transfer each burger to the hot skillet and brown on the bottom side. Flip the burger over, cook until golden brown, and reduce the heat to the lowest setting to permit the burger to cook through. Remove the pan from heat. Burgers should have a moist texture and hold together well.

While burgers cook, toast the buns on a sheet pan, cut side up, under the broiler until just golden. Spread both halves of each bun with sriracha mayonnaise. Place a chicken burger atop each bottom bun, top with carrot and daikon pickle, lettuce leaf, and a generous quantity of mint leaves and coriander (if using).

Carrot and daikon pickle

2 large carrots, shredded
1 medium daikon, shredded
3/4 c filtered water
3/4 c distilled white vinegar
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt

Bring 1/4 c each of the water and vinegar to a simmer with the sugar and salt, just to dissolve. Add it to the other liquid and combine well. Pour the vinegar-water mixture over the daikon and carrot in a nonreactive, sealable container and refrigerate at least two hours. You can leave the vegetables in the pickling liquid for a week or so. If you don’t have two hours – say because you got home late from work and you’re starving now – let them pickle at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Sriracha mayonnaise

I’m not going to be one of these people who says “You must make your own mayonnaise! Don’t ever use mayonnaise from a jar!” because I live in the real world. People who flog home cooks to make their own mayonnaise every time they need a couple of tablespoons are prone to other ridiculous pronouncements, like “pesto must be made using a mortar and pestle,” and similar impractical nonsense. House-made mayonnaise is delicious, I do prefer it to the jarred product, and I do often make my own, but not always. For starters, it doesn’t keep that long. Unlike commercial product, made with pasteurized egg, a higher acid content, and, let’s face it, preservatives, house-made product will keep about a week. I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat much mayonnaise, jarred or house-made. Unless I’m feeding a crowd, house-made mayonnaise and aioli often go to waste, and I hate to waste food.

So if you need to use a jarred product, go ahead. Widely available products like Duke’s and Hellman’s are fine. Delouis Fils makes the best jarred mayonnaise I have tried, but it is more expensive and not as widely available. You can freshen up any jarred product with a few drops of lemon juice.

Having said all that, here’s the truth about making mayonnaise. It’s easy. Egg-based emulsions like mayonnaise can hold a ridiculous amount of oil before they begin to break – that is, before the oil separates. Harold McGee, food scientist extraordinaire, famously once emulsified one egg yolk with 100 cups of oil. (He added water to increase the ratio of oil to water-based product to 3:1, but that esoterica is not going to help you make mayonnaise you actually want to eat). Generally, though, 3/4 c oil per egg yolk provides a good guideline. The presence of mustard – which also contains lecithin, an emulsifier – helps stabilize the emulsion, as well as lending a piquant taste. If you have a strong arm, you can whisk the mayonnaise by hand, but I feel a more stable product emerges from the blender or food processor.

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
large pinch salt
large pinch sugar
3/4 c sunflower or grapeseed oil (you can substitute up to 1/4 c of this with an equal quantity of olive oil)

Additionally, for sriracha mayonnaise: increase sugar to 1 tsp; 3 tbsp sriracha (chili sauce)

If preparing by hand, whisk together all the ingredients but the oil. Otherwise, blitz them in the blender or food processor until combined.

If preparing by hand, begin whisking in the oil, one drop at a time at first, and then more quickly in a thin stream (I find it helps to use a squeeze bottle to control flow). Otherwise, with the food processor or blender running, drip in oil one drop at a time, and then a little more quickly. Once the quantity of oil is equal to the quantity of egg yolk and other liquid, you should have a fairly stable emulsion – you will be able to tell because the mixture will be somewhat thick and not show any signs of separation. At this point, you can stop adding the oil drop by drop and increase the volume to a thin stream or even add the oil more quickly.

If making the sriracha mayonnaise, stir in the sriracha until well-combined. Cover and hold under refrigeration.

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eggs, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Science

Çılbır.

I’m just going to come out and say it. I love eggs. As a kid, I used to go crazy for soft boiled eggs – with salt straight from the shaker – and sunny side up eggs. My dad is a terrific egg cook and liked to scramble eggs for us, adding just a dash of soy sauce for savor, or a drizzle over the sunny side ups. When I cooked eggs on weekends – usually getting up and heading downstairs to watch cartoons before anyone else was around – I liked to scramble up to half a dozen eggs, throwing in a slice of American cheese per egg and a few grinds of black pepper, and eat them with multiple slices of buttered toast, while sitting on the kitchen counter next to the toaster. Good times.

I’m not putting away six eggs at a time any more – or doing a lot of the things you can get away with as a kid, to be frank – but I would if I could. I love eggs. Hen’s eggs, duck eggs, quail eggs – they’re all good. Soft-boiled, hard-boiled, sunny-side up, over-easy, low temperature, poached, tortilla … All good.

Eggs are endlessly adaptable because, among living foods, they possess a unique physical structure. Egg yolks contain cholesterol, fat, and lecithin, which permits them to emulsify liquids, as in aïoli or mayonnaise. Egg white albumin contains about forty different proteins, and the long protein strands denature on cooking and aeration, causing them to solidify. This characteristic permits egg whites to lend structure to dishes, whether they’re the main ingredient, as in meringues, or the silent partner, as in quenelles.

Egg yolk and white solidify at different temperatures, yielding the classic poached or sunny-side up egg with a runny yolk. For me, those are the best ways to eat eggs – I like that perfectly cooked white and the rich, decadent, warm yolk, as good as any sauce or salad dressing. For me, the absolute best flavor with poached or fried eggs is brown butter, spooned over the eggs while still bubbling hot. In Turkey, there’s an egg dish called çılbır, involving poached eggs, served on yoghurt, with paprika butter spooned over all. You wouldn’t think that eggs and yoghurt would be good together, but they are. Good for breakfast, dinner, any time.

Modern çılbır

Modern Çılbır

This is an updated çılbır, featuring less yoghurt and combining dried mint with the traditional paprika. That combination, added to sizzling butter, is a classic Turkish finish for the tiny meat dumplings called manti. Use dried mint, not fresh. To facilitate eating every last bit of the brown butter and runny egg yolk, I have served it on toast.

Now, about poaching. Most recipes call for adding some distilled white vinegar to the poaching water for the eggs. The science behind that instruction is sound – acid causes egg albumen (the white) to coagulate, resulting in a more reliable poached egg. I don’t use vinegar, because I don’t like the faint pickled taste it imparts to the egg and the slight skin that forms on the surface. And anyway, if you maintain an appropriate water temperature, you don’t need the vinegar at all. Poach the egg any way you can, and use vinegar if you like, but I’ll give my instructions below.

Instead of poaching the egg conventionally, you can cook it @ 62C/143.5F in an immersion circulator for an hour. Start the eggs at room temperature, not cold. This yields a less firm white than conventional poaching, but it’s completely set and the yolk will be runny. If you want, you can increase the temperature to as much as 64C/147F for something closer to a soft-boiled egg.

4 eggs
4 slices rustic white bread, sliced 3/8″
1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp dried mint leaves
1/4 c unsalted butter
sea salt
drained house-made yoghurt, or Greek yoghurt

Toast the bread on both sides under a broiler or in a toaster. For a tighter presentation, use a 3″ biscuit cutter or ring mold to cut the bread into circles first. [In the photos, I dispensed with this step.] Save the outer portion of the bread for eggs in a hole or for use as croutons or breadcrumbs (you can store them in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for weeks).

Heat unsalted butter in a small saucepan; when foamy, add paprika and crushed mint leaves. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs or controlled temperature cook @ 62C for an hour. To poach eggs my way, bring a small saucepot of water, filled about 2″ deep, to the point that steam rises from the surface but the water is not visibly bubbling. Crack each egg directly into the water, or into a small prep bowl – those tiny glass bowls that hold about 1/3 cup are perfect – and pour it into the water. Don’t cook more than two at a time. Using a slotted spoon or a wire skimmer, such as one might use for frying, turn the egg from underneath, taking care not to disturb the water too much. You can form the egg into a fairly nice sphere if you turn it every 10-15 seconds. Don’t raise the heat. As long as the water is steaming on the surface, it’s definitely hot enough to poach. Continue poaching until the white is no longer clear and lift it out with the slotted spoon/wire skimmer.

Blot dry the poached egg using a kitchen towel and place on toast. Drizzle with paprika-mint brown butter. Season with sea salt. Spoon yoghurt over top.

A perfectly poached egg.

Poached eggs/brown butter/fried sage

4 eggs
4 slices white bread or brioche
dozen sage leaves
1/4 c unsalted butter
sea salt
optional: black truffle

Cut a 3″ circle from slice of bread with biscuit cutter or ring mold; toast both sides of the rounds under a broiler or in a toaster. Save the outer portion of the bread for eggs in a hole or for use as croutons or breadcrumbs (you can store them in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for weeks).

Heat unsalted butter in a small saucepan; when foamy, add sage leaves and fry until crisp.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs according to the instructions above, or controlled temperature cook @ 62C for an hour.

Blot dry the poached egg using a kitchen towel and place on toast rounds. Drizzle with brown butter. Season with sea salt and fried sage; shave just a little black truffle over if you’re using it.

Poached egg, toast, sage brown butter.

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eggs, Pasta, Seafood

Surf.

The sea urchin, like its relatives the sand dollar and the starfish, has what biologists call “five-fold symmetry,” or pentamerism. Although you’d never know from its spiky round exterior, the sea urchin shares this characteristic with many other living things. Don a pair of thick gloves, cut one open around the middle, and you’ll see – like the petals of a flower, or a star anise, or the seeds of an apple around the core, five gonads, called corals or roe, radiating from the center.

Sea urchin, opened with roe*

The roe, known as uni ウニ in Japan, has a rich, creamy texture and a savory, slightly sweet taste reminiscent of the ocean, butter, and toasted hazelnut. It ranges from ochre to bright orange, depending on the variety of sea urchin, the time of year, and its location home at the time of harvest. How do you know which sea urchins contain the roe? Well, even though sea urchins are either male or female, the roe of both is edible.

I have texture issues with certain foods, and uni is one – I love the flavor but have had problems from time to time with its pillowy, marshmallowy consistency and slick membrane. So I had a thought – why not process uni through a tamis, or drum sieve, to achieve a perfectly smooth purée, and incorporate it into pasta or risotto?

The pasta dish came together pretty intuitively. You wouldn’t want to obscure the flavor of the uni, but you would want to pick up the nutty taste with a little acidity. In sushi, the vinegar in the rice would serve this function. Here, I used lemon juice. To accentuate the creaminess, I added – well, cream.

A little caviar – paddlefish is nicest, but whitefish will do in a pinch and I used it here – finished off the dish, along with smoked salt and chive.

Spaghetti, uni

4 oz spaghetti or linguine (dry, good quality)
two dozen uni
3 tbsp heavy cream
juice of 1/2 lemon or a little more, to taste
sea salt
smoked salt (I like Halen Môn from Wales)
Pondicherry pepper, or freshly ground black pepper
minced chive
2 tsp caviar

Purée the uni by pressing through a tamis with a rubber scraper. Store the resulting purée in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Bring a pot of sea salted water to boil; add the past and drain once just al dente. Reserve a few tbsp pasta water. Perform next steps immediately upon draining.

Add the cream to pan. Bring to simmer and turn off heat. Add uni and a large pinch of salt and whisk just to combine.

Add pasta and toss to coat. Squeeze lemon over all and toss; taste for seasoning. Add additional lemon juice and/or smoked salt. Finish with pepper and chive.

* Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gonadi_Paracentrotus_lividus_riccio_di_mare_adventurediving.it.jpg

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