Friday, December 23, 2011

the papa tomato said

Odds and ends:

Sous vide pig's foot Sous vide pig's foot
Sous vide pig's foot, deboned (the pile of bones was about the same size), with copious amounts of rendered gelatin.

Dried satsumas
Dried satsumas. As simple as slicing them thinly - most satsumas are seedless - and putting them in the dehydrator at 135 for a night, maybe a day, depending on ambient humidity. (Harder to do in the oven - set it as low as it'll go and leave the door cracked.) They come out crispy, both the sweetness and the acidity concentrated. You can eat them as a snack - it's hard not to - or drop them into tea or coffee.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm not going to talk about judy at all

I'm not going to tell you how to cook anything sous-vide.

You can deep fry without a deep fryer. You can roast coffee without any tools designed for roasting coffee. You can make pizza without a pizza stone. But there is a hard limit on how seriously you can approach sous-vide cooking without dedicated, specialized equipment, and even the "low end" versions of that equipment is either something you have to build at home, or sells for a few hundred dollars - more expensive than anything in my kitchen except the refrigerator, oven, and dishwasher. I don't have that equipment, so I can't even tell you how to use it if you do. I am not the guy for this. Do not come to me for sous-vide.

Most food safety guidelines are horseshit.

Sometimes the idea is to protect the producer - the poultry factory, for instance - from litigation by minimizing the impact of their dangerous practices on the consumer. There's nothing inherently unsafe about raw chicken, and rare to medium-rare chicken is common in most of the rest of the world - but I'm sure as shit not going to eat a raw drumstick from the major American poultry producers. That's a problem with their practices, though, not with chicken itself.

Sometimes the idea is to adopt universal practices that protect a tiny segment of the population. Raw shellfish is a good example. Despite the warnings on all those menus, raw shellfish results in an exceptionally small number of hospitalizations, almost entirely among the immuno-compromised and elderly.

Hamburger cooking regulations are a little from column A and a little from column B. The risk of contamination can be minimized through safe practices, and some jurisdictions have the fairly sensible requirement that you can only serve a rare hamburger if you grind your beef yourself on a daily basis.

A large number of food safety guidelines and squeamish attitudes are just fucking stupid. I mean, I made country ham in my loft - you know I have a low opinion of squeamishness, you know I'm not going to fall in line with the turkey-burning FDA on many issues.

Sous-vide safety guidelines are not horseshit.

I want to make that distinction very clear.

Don't listen to me about sous-vide cooking. Don't use me as your authority. The guys at Cooking Issues are the ones to listen to. The most I will do is tell you what I've done and affirm that I lived to see another day.

Sous-vide means "under vacuum," but when we refer to sous-vide cooking we're specifically talking about cooking things which have been sealed in a plastic bag and immersed in a low-temperature liquid, typically a water bath, for a long period of time. The specialized equipment is necessary because the liquid is held at a low enough temperature that it's hard to keep it at that temperature. Temperature fluctuations are undesirable in this kind of cooking, and conventional cooking methods are chock full of them. A difference of a couple degrees will totally change the texture of a sous-vide egg, for instance; meat is a little less finicky.

By "low temperature," we mean like 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit, like 48-70 centigrade, a fistful of kelvins. The undersimmer. Far less than boiling, less than you ever cook anything. I've been judging water temperature by how quickly the water starts to smart when I dip my finger in it - don't do that! For a lot of reasons don't do that. One, because I don't want you to fucking sue me. Two, because I don't know you, I don't know the life of your finger, what you need from it, whether you're a surgeon or some damn thing, I don't need that on my head. Three, because I have no idea how to tell you how to do it, I just know that I can dip my finger in at three in the afternoon, do it again at five, and tell you if it's gotten warmer or cooler. Call it experience, call it half-idiot cooking, just don't do it yourself unless you were already on that page before today. It's terrible science. Ghostbusting nonsense. Don't be ridiculous. Get the special equipment instead.

These sound like insanely low temperatures, right? These sound like temperatures that don't even count as cooking.

That's because we're used to ovens. We're used to 400 degrees. We're used to putting the broiler on to get the son of a bitch hot enough to make a pizza.

When you cook something in an oven, you're cooking in a dry medium, and as moisture on the surface of the food heats up, it evaporates, and the surface is cooled - just like sweating. Evaporative cooling is basic elementary school physics, science with its Keds on and a tooth under the pillow, you know this shit. Air is a terrible thermal conductor. Think about it, you know when you put the thermometer in that roast, that turkey, whatever, it's not fucking 350 degrees. You have to heat the oven much, much, MUCH hotter than the temperature you actually want the food to reach.

With sous vide cooking you don't.

That's what a lot of it comes down to. You put the steak in a plastic bag with a little liquid to help prevent any air from remaining in the bag, you get the air out, you drop the bag in a hot water bath. The water conducts the heat better than air. Eventually the steak reaches the temperature of the water.

It takes a long time. Hours. Days. Literally days, I'm not blowing smoke. In that time, less fat is rendered than in the oven, but more collagen is converted into gelatin. A staggering amount, really.

As it says in that Cooking Issues link, you want to bring the meat up to a hot enough temperature within the first four hours. To avoid botulism, which you do not want to fuck with. This is one of the strikes against attempting sous-vide without dedicated equipment designed for the task, because simply dropping the meat into the water is going to bring the temperature down, and anything too big is not going to hit the mark in four hours. Do not fucking sous-vide a turkey in your lobster pot, you will ruin everything for everyone.

I cooked turkey wings sous-vide for about 15 hours - again, don't do this without special equipment and knowing what you're doing - with a little butter, Vegemite, and sriracha. Turkey wings have a lot of collagen, and come out too tough if you bake or deep-fry them. You can break a tooth for Christ's sake.

But sous-vide, they were as tender as pulled pork. The juices that rendered out were so rich in gelatin that they were solid at room temperature.

Often you finish a sous-vide dish by searing it or torching it, because this style of cooking, like boiling or steaming, lacks any Maillard reactions. I cooled the wings and then deep-fried them to reheat them and crisp up the outside.

They were ridiculously awesome and I'm going to do it again a million times.

I'm cooking some pigs' feet sous vide. I might take some photos depending on what I decide to do with them, and I made some salsa that I think will go well in a taco. But don't you do it!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

we sea beans and we eat them

Sea beans are one of those things - like many kinds of berries or mushrooms, like ramps, even like some cuts of beef - which are commonplace and cheap for 5% of the population, expensive and rare or unheard-of for the rest. Unlike strawberries, which can be grown big and styrofoamish and trucked across the country, huckleberries or sour cherries are too fragile for commercial freight; ramps, sea beans, and many black raspberries grow wild and are foraged rather than being raised commercially. Sea beans, like many of these things, have the additional expense-adding strike that they are somewhat perishable - while they won't go bad in refrigeration very quickly, they won't retain their texture as long.


They are normally bigger than what I have here - these are "micro sea beans," especially small and tender ones.

So you have the people who can simply walk outside and forage them for free, or pay a token amount to someone who's already done so, and can't imagine paying premium prices for them nor why they would show up on the menus of "gourmet restaurants." And you have the big middle, who's never heard of them. And you have the small percentage of people, probably about as big as the first group, who love them but don't have access to them, and are sometimes willing to pay that premium.

The reason sea beans are available in such a small part of the world is made pretty obvious by the name: they grow by the sea (or salt marshes), especially in the north. While "sea bean" sometimes means "drift seeds," in edible contexts we're talking about species of salicornia, sometimes called samphire, glasswort, or pickleweed. The "bean" they resemble is the string bean, not the shell bean, and they have a snappy crisp texture similar to haricots verts.

I love them. They're crisp, they're salty - the full-size sea beans can be too salty - and they have a slight marine flavor like seaweed, but not as pronounced. The combination brings up a thousand memories and associations, mainly with the ocean near my grandparents' house when I was a kid. I never had sea beans there, but the taste is a lot like the smell of being at the beach.

For lunch I'm just having them as an accent - more than a garnish - with ddukbokki:

Ddukbokki, seabeans
Ddukbokki, seabeans
Ddukbokki is just Korean ricecakes - dduk - with hot sauce. "Ricecakes" is a misleading term in American English - they're thick, chewy, nearly-neutral-flavored dumplings made from sweet rice flour, which soak up whatever flavors are around them (in this case a punishingly hot pepper paste). I'll have a post more specifically about them at another time - they're terrific with chili.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I have to thank my fellow bloggers, as well as Marx Foods. In that fregola sarda dessert recipe contest, there were two polls - one by the general public, and an internal poll voted on by the contest participants and Marx staff. While the popular vote deservedly went to Zestybeandog, the internal poll came down to a two way tie between me and Adesina's Kitchen (both of us made fried desserts inspired by rice dishes, interestingly) - and rather than make us settle the matter with a knife fight as bloggers did under Nero, Marx gave us each a $100 credit.

I know I'll sound like a shill, but I think tossing an extra $100 in the prize pot like that is pretty pretty cool. It's not like we're talking about Coca-Cola or General Foods here, with a bottomless budget.

Anyway, I used my credit on a large quantity of the Israeli couscous I blogged about earlier, because that stuff was just damn good and Caitlin and I have a lot of ideas for things to do with it, and a small quantity of micro sea beans, which I'm not sure I've blogged about before but will after the weekend. The idea was to reinvest in the blog, in other words - use the credit to get stuff I can't find locally, so that I have that many more things to blog about.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

kimchi garlic bread

Chili and kimchi garlic bread

Kimchi garlic bread and chili.

I had had kimchi garlic butter in mind for a long time, because Skimkim sells a kimchi butter, but it really front-burnered when Caitlin responded so positively to the kimcheese I made. Kimcheese is like pimento cheese or Kentucky beer cheese, made by simply blending together sharp cheddar cheese and kimchi liquid - ideally you use well-aged kimchi liquid, so you get the pungency and deep garlic tanginess mixing in with the sharp cheddar.

I wasn't actually sure Caitlin would like it, since she doesn't like pimento cheese and I was seeing this as something similar. But it was a big hit and we've had kimcheese burgers a couple times since.

The kimchi garlic butter is the same basic idea. I chopped a bunch of fresh garlic, put it in a pan on low heat with a stick of butter, added some kimchi liquid, simmered until the liquid had cooked off (if you're not confident of being able to judge this, just pour the garlic butter into a measuring cup before adding the kimchi liquid, return it to the heat with the kimchi liquid, and stop simmering when it has returned to the original volume), and blitzed it with the immersion blender.

The garlic is much more pronounced than the kimchi pungency, which is just a supporting player here - partly because my kimchi is young, partly because garlic is simply a stronger flavor than cheddar cheese. But it definitely works.

bahn whee

Caitlin (who took the photos) calls this the Bahn WHEE. The idea started when I made fennel kimchi while making a big batch of many other kimchis, and once it was nice and fermented and pungent and garlicky, I said, okay, what shall I do with it?

A sandwich, I thought. A steak sandwich.
Banh WHEE (not actual name)
So I started with a steak and fennel kimchi sandwich. Then this weekend we made the rounds of some of our favorite places in Cambridge - Flat Patties for lunch, Hugo in 3D at Loews Harvard Square, a stop at Colonial Drug, then onto the T to Central Square for Central Bottle (cheese and guanciale), Flour (Boston cream pie to go), Toscanini's (ice cream - espresso lemon and wort for me - yes, wort ice cream! so amazingly malty - nocciola and khulfee for her), and Lotte (the Korean market).

The sandwich developed.

Banh WHEE (not actual name)
Surprisingly, the fennel kimchi, as garlicky as it is, didn't dominate. A Portuguese sheep's milk cheese I now forget the name of did - it was sheepy the way goat cheese can be goaty.

Banh WHEE (not actual name)

Boneless ribeye, seared, rested, and sliced;
links of linguica;
fennel kimchi;
sheep's milk cheese;
blanched, sauteed mustard greens;
daikon sprouts (very sharp and peppery).

Banh WHEE (not actual name)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

couche couche and apple confit

Couche Couche and Apple Confit.

Couche Couche and Apple Confit

Apple confit:

Peel and slice a bunch of apples up thin. Lay in a baking dish, sprinkle with rum and sugar, place a star anise on top, and cover with foil.

Slow-cook in the oven overnight at 200 degrees, for 10-12 hours.

Uncover and continue cooking at 300 until the liquid has reduced some, if necessary. Probably an hour or two, depends on the apples.

Couche Couche, 2 servings:

Mix together
1/2 cup cornmeal
pinch baking powder
pinch salt
just under 1/2 cup water

Heat oil or butter in a hot pan, add the cornmeal mixture, and let a crust form on the bottom. Break it up and cook for 20 minutes on medium to medium low, stirring occasionally.

This is a basic hot cereal, like oatmeal, so you want to use good cornmeal from a mill, not the supermarket stuff, or you won't taste anything.

fregola sarda doughnuts with saffron-grapefruit caramel

The good folks at Marx Foods have again sent me some interesting things to play with. The challenge this time was to take Fregola Sarda and combine it in a dessert with any two of the following: star anise, vanilla beans, or saffron.

Fregola sarda, saffron, star anise
Fregola Sarda is like Sardinian couscous - it's little irregular balls of pasta which have been unevenly toasted. So if there are more than four or five participants in this challenge, there's going to be a lot of conceptual overlap - there's only so many ways you can cook this, and we're all going to be drawing on a lot of the same flavors.

Dessert is not at all my specialty - I am the guy who uses transglutaminase to bond chicken skin to steaks, cures a country ham in my loft, smokes hominy for posole, makes six kinds of kimchi, I just don't play with desserts as often. I kept thinking, as you'd have to, of various "warm hot bowl of a thing" dishes - rice pudding, oatmeal, tapioca pudding, that kind of thing. But then I thought of calas - Louisianan doughnuts made with cooked rice.

Still didn't have anywhere specific to go with it, until I happened to be eating a grapefruit the day after finishing a huge project, and saw the ingredients on the table. Grapefruit. Calas. Saffron. Ohhh.

Fregola Sarda Calas with Saffron-Grapefruit Caramel

I wound up not using the star anise, so nevermind it being in the photo there, but I will say: Marx's star anise is far and away the best I've had. It must get stale easily in stores, because it never actually occurred to me before that I was using lackluster star anise. But this stuff is strong.

1/2 cup fregola sarda
1/2 cup cream
1 cup water
the seeds of 1 vanilla bean (slit it open, scrape them out)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/4 - 1/2 cup flour
pinch of baking powder

Heat the fregola sarda, cream, water, vanilla bean, and sugar together in a pan over medium-low to medium heat, until the fregola sarda has soaked up the liquid and become very tender. You don't want it al dente, you want it really cooked through and soft, without being mushy. Add a little more water if it gets dry; cook it a little longer on high heat if it finishes cooking and has some liquid left.

Let cool. You can infuse the cream for the caramel while it's cooling, and then make the caramel while the calas are frying.

Once it's cooled, add the egg, flour, and baking powder, preheat your deep-fryer to 365, and fry in small spoonfuls for about 6 minutes, flipping if necessary. Drain and serve with caramel.

1/2 cup cream
Tablespoon grapefruit zest
big pinch of saffron
1/2 cup sugar

Heat cream, saffron, and grapefruit zest on low heat and hold for 15-20 minutes while saffron and grapefruit steep. Strain cream.

Add sugar to pan, heat on medium-high and allow to caramelize, and then remove from heat, reduce heat to low, and add the infused cream. Stir to dissolve caramelized sugar. Return to heat. If you have a pourable sauce, then you're done. If the cream reduced too much while infusing or when you added it to the hot sugar, you may need to add a touch more fresh cream in order to dilute the caramel enough to give you a sauce instead of a hard candy.

The bitterness of the grapefruit zest and the saffron work with that of the burnt sugar; that's what brings everything together, and offsets the sweet vanilla chewiness of the hot calas.

Saffron-grapefruit infused cream; vanilla fregola sarda
Infused cream on the left; cooked fregola sarda on the right.

Fregola sarda calas
Cooked fregola sarda calas.

Fregola sarda calas with saffron-grapefruit caramel
Calas with saffron-grapefruit caramel.