Now that it's no longer cool, making bacon is more fun than ever. We can focus on the flavor of the meat, the cure and enjoy the process rather than dwelling on the fact that we have the opportunity to make "the best bacon ever," which it was, but that's beside the point. The point is making bacon to your personal specifications because it's easy, approachable and truly delicious.
I looked at Honey Citron Tea on the shelves of H-Mart on our weekly visit for months, but did not dive in until I had a conversation with Shola who was working with a thick sweet yuzu tea. I made a small leap and figured his yuzu tea might be the same ingredient. We are quite happy to have made the leap. This stuff is marmalade by any other name. After a run in our smoker it becomes a pantry staple which is great on English muffins and even better in marinades.
This ham is incredible. We were fortunate to be introduced to it at Di Bruno Brothers on 9th street in Phillidelphia. It has now over taken our minds and palates and become a spark for a number of new and evolving dishes. To begin with it has an intense aroma, it smells like country ham at a carnival, rich and nutty, your mouth starts watering from the scent alone. The meat itself is buttery and almost melts in your mouth. It is redolent of that indefinable "piggy essence" that you only find in good hams. Is it actually nutty or is is perception? We really couldn't say. Much like the best iberico hams it is nuanced and layered with flavors that linger on your palate. It is also undisputably salty, an expected quality in country hams, it demands a bit of temperance. You can easily overindulge but that also means you savor each bite even more slowly.
It brought to mind smoked salmon. That is yet another salty, decadent treat. We love sandwiches made with crusty baguettes spread with fresh cream cheese and layered with smoked salmon or lox. We knew instinctively that this Surryano would be wonderful in a similar preparation. In fact the very next morning we scrambled eggs with onions and toasted a baguatte. Instead of cream cheese we added slivers of local butter and a a single layer of ham. Served together it was the breakfast of champions and stirred our imagination for even more ways to use this wonderful treat. Wrapped around black bass overnight for a light cure, infused into cream for a transcendent chowder, lightly draped over deviled eggs or filled with a cold cauliflower cream in the style of a beggar's purse. Taste it and tell us what you would do...
We have found a new favorite cut of meat, the pork skirt steak. The cut is rich, has some chew and texture and shows enormous potential. Today we played with the skirt steak from our half a pig. We cooked it sous vide and then sauteed it in whole butter. A quick pan sauce with Meyer lemon juice and an onsen egg just about finished the dish. A white anchovy disk we developed in our recent workshops provided crunch, seasoning and sharp acidity to this incredible cut of meat.
*we see that LaTienda offers Iberico Pork Skirt Steaks for sale, when they are not out of stock. Till then ask your local butcher to hook you up.
We have been working with a pig. One porcine preparation we adjusted was our cracklings. We used to simmer the skins or cook them sous vide but both preparations took too long. Yesterday we decided to pick up the pace. We put our skins in the pressure cooker with a bunch of other ingredients because at the time we were thinking about broth. Our first accomplishment was a smoked pork broth enriched with pork skins. Once that was made we realized that while we had captured the richness of the skins we had tenderized them at the same time in the pressure cooker. We pulled them out of the broth and gently scraped off the fat. Once the fat was removed and reserved for rendering, we dried the skins in the dehydrator. Once the skins were dry we fried them in rice bran oil because the fat had not finished rendering. We seasoned the cracklings with a blend of maple sugar, juniper berries and salt. The results were a delicious version of the cracklings we have made in the past but took a fraction of the time to prepare. That is what we call a good day in the kitchen.
Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food-writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than thirty food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?
I've always been drawn to food. I suppose that might seem obvious because I've built my career around a culinary hub. Looking back I realize that it was more than the pursuit of a good meal that drove me, more often than not it was reading about a good meal that would make my imagination take flight. I read cookbooks for the essays rather than the recipes. If the story struck a deep chord and the recipe seemed accessible I would take the next step and attempt some facsimilation of the dish. But most of my pleasure came from my imagination. I may not have always wanted to consume the meals that were described; but I loved being transported to another place by the description.
The many instances where I would be carried away by someone's food writing would lead me to pursue other essays or novels by the same author. Unfortunately, many times they would leave me cold. It was disappointing and it took me a long time to understand that people write differently about food. It is inevitably more personal than almost any other type of writing. You cannot separate the writer from the subject at hand, there is no real way to write objectively about the things we eat and drink, and that is what makes food writing so special. Food is a universal language. Whether or not the writer acknowledges what is happening, any story about eating and drinking and cooking is a glimpse into the writer's psyche. That is what has always fascinated me, that brief window into someone else's world that is translated into terms that I can relate to. Sky diving or playing tennis may be beyond my capacity to empathize with, but culinary experiences are always accessible.
Because of this realization I am almost never satisfied with my own writing. I went from being someone who confidently submitted the first draft of every essay and paper to someone who ponders the meaning behind each syllable and then teetering back towards writing quickly in order to capture an experience and then editing to be sure that the meaning is correct. I've learned to appreciate writers who can create prose that flows like water across the page and those who can paint vivid pictures with a few choice words. The very best writing always evokes emotion and those who write about food have an endless supply of material. This sometimes makes it difficult to separate the good from the great but when something you've read stays with you, for hours or days or years, then you know you've found a great writer, even if it's the only thing they've ever written.
For us the key to writing about food is transparency, being as honest about our experiences as we can. If we can't share fully then we try not to write about an experience at all. I would hope that this is part of what keeps our readers coming back. What I love about the internet is that it has made an abundance of food writing readily available. It may not all be good but most of it is true and heartfelt and inspiring. A Google search beats combing through bookstores for memoirs and novels with food-centric themes to find interesting writers. There's a world of inspiration at our fingertips and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to sift through it.
So I was on Martha Stewart radio one morning last week and by my own assessment it was a little bit of a disaster. They sent me a list of questions to be prepared for that seemed to cover some pretty detailed aspects of our melting cheese chapter. Terrified of sounding like a dummy I spent a fair amount of time memorizing my own material. I ended up getting overly technical answering questions and losing my audience in the process. I caught myself pretty early on and tried to salvage the end of the show but I'm not sure they understood my message. What it all boils down to when melting cheese is that low and slow is the way to go. Shredding works better than dicing because you end up with pieces of uniform size and shape that melt quickly and stirring constantly is imperative.
Our cheese melting chapter is chock full of information. We discuss the difference between melt and stretch, types of cheeses, why they do or don't melt and what actually happens when your cheese is melting. In a perfect world, one you can create in your home kitchen, you can make a creamy, beautiful macaroni and cheese with a few simple ingredients. Take your al dente pasta, remembering that it will cook further as you melt cheese onto it, drain it and return it to the cooking pot, being sure to leave a few tablespoons of the cooking water in the in the bottom, and set it over low heat. Add a generous knob of butter and stir to coat the pasta. Taste your noodles and add some salt if needed. Add the cheese one handful at a time, stirring each addition until it fully melts and before you know it you will have a perfectly creamy and stringy macaroni and cheese. Remove it from the heat as you add the last handful of cheese and once it melts, serve immediately.
Tonight we made ours with fusilli and the remnants of our cheese plate. There was gruyere, comte and Boucheron. Any combination will work as long as the cheeses actually melt. The texture will change depending on what cheeses you use but if you follow this technique the sauce will never break and the mixture will always be creamy and smooth. You can even reheat it by breaking it up and putting it into a pot with a few tablespoons of cold water and gently stirring it over medium low heat. If done properly it will never become greasy regardless of the type of cheese you use.
PS: After you've made this mac and cheese you will have a cheese coated pot. Fill it with cold water and let it sit while you enjoy your meal. Once the cheese has solidified you will easily be able to clean it off with a sponge (not a scrubby) thereby alleviating what is usually the most onerous step in the entire process.
This morning we woke to a frozen world, a thick layer of ice crusted over the remains of the garden. Aki took the opportunity to snap a few pictures of our rosemary, caught Han Solo like, in its frozen state. Irony is the images reminded me of Grant Achatz's spring thaw dish, eucalyptus. Clever how cuisine and nature can be woven so seamlessly together. While we did not clip our rosemary and allow it to thaw in a glass to taste the liquid, the ideas of freeze, thaw, and the in between state became highlighted. We also began to wonder, what if our frost was flavored? It could be flavored by what it froze upon, as with the rosemary, and by the type of liquid frozen. What if our frost was made of tea? What if it froze on wood? What if it were tequila and orange flavored? Now the ideas are flowing. Freezing liquid, ingredients frozen on, incredible flavors waiting to be released. The only question is what will happen next?
This chop is huge. We French the two long bones on one rack of lamb. We then cut off the second half of the rack and bond it to the back of the lamb with the bones. Once the double thick rack of lamb is intact we cook it sous vide. To serve it we re-therm it in a water bath then dip it into liquid nitrogen to freeze the exterior and then into a deep fryer filled with rice bran oil and smoked lamb fat to brown the outside. The result is worth the efforts.
We took a closer look at cooking beans in a pressure cooker. Instead of a pre-soak (yes lot's of literature recommends this even when using a pressure cooker) on the beans we opted on a twice cook, utilizing the pressure cooker both times. Our theory was to use the pressure to expedite the hydration of the beans and the twice cooking to remove any beany scum and intense, slightly off flavor, we could generate in a single pressure cooking. We put navy beans into our pressure cooker, covered them with water and cooked them for five minutes on low pressure. Once they were cooked, we strained them and put our beef, tomato, seasonings and the beans back into the pressure cooker. We cooked the beans a second time for 25 minutes. The result was the tastiest, tenderest and richest beans we have prepared. We did not need to sit in front of the stove, monitoring the flame and adding water. We did not need to season the beans heavily at the end. What we did have to do is enjoy the tastiest beans we have prepared pressure cooker or otherwise.
For those who are making their own vinegar, (we hope many of you are now) here is one we just started in our kitchen.
1200 grams live red wine vinegar (the procedure for making is in our book)
900 grams molasses
600 grams rye whiskey
25 grams caraway seeds
Put the vinegar, molasses, rye and the caraway into a large glass jar. Stir to combine the ingredients and dissolve the molasses. Put a loose fitting lid on the jar so that the vinegar may breathe. Leave it alone for at least three weeks.
We used a maccheroni rigate die for these noodles. They were delicious. But a recent visit to the candy store has us rethinking the shapes we can choose from. My vote is bucatini. What is yours?
Sea Urchin Noodles
485 grams whole eggs (9 eggs)
300 grams sea urchin
250 grams white miso
75 grams yuzu kosho
2000 grams semolina
Put the eggs, sea urchin, white miso and yuzu kosho into a blender and puree on medium speed. Increase the blender speed to high and puree for 30 seconds. Turn the blender off and strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Put the semolina into the pasta machine and turn it on. With the machine running, drizzle the miso mixture into the machine. Mix the dough for 6-7 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough after 4 minutes. It should begin to resemble course streusel. Squeeze the dough together in your hand. Break the dough apart. If it breaks cleanly the dough has enough hydration. If it crumbles add additional water in 20 gram increments. After the dough is kneaded, let it rest for ten minutes for ideal hydration. You can begin to extrude at this point as well.
It may look like an ordinary cake tester but it can be used for so much more than that. Although we love it for testing baked goods, we also use it for proteins. Insert it in the thickest part of your meat or fish for 5 seconds and then test the metal tip against the inside of your lip to see if you're properly cooked or need more time. Use it to pierce fruits and vegetables for brining or infusions. Stipple a cake while it's still warm, actually getting well below the surface, before dousing it with flavored syrup. Use it on vegetable casseroles or gratins to make sure they're cooked all the way through. Once you've got one you'll find yourself reaching for it every day. As with all good kitchen tools it's efficient, easy to clean and has multiple uses.
In working with a whole lamb we were able to capitalize on its many bits and pieces. Two nuggets of meat which are often overlooked are the inside skirt steaks. We cut them out, removed the silver skin and applied some activa to allow us to roll them into two thick roulades. Once the skirt steaks were re-formed we had two wonderful lamb rolls which, when cooked, tasted remarkeably like lamb hot dogs. The lamb skirt steak is often an after thought or perhaps a never thought. Yet, in seeing the amount of meat we were able to get from them, they are no more difficult to procure nor smaller to work with than a lamb tenderloin. Now we must ask where do we take these tasty bites?
The jalapeno and apple are peeled and julienned. They are dressed with olive oil and sea salt. We brushed the sea urchin with our maple vinegar. Finally a few flakes of smoked Maldon salt pique the flavors and add a savory aroma to complete the preparation.
Everything Lamb sausage
Double cut rack of lamb
Aromatic leg of lamb
Lamb belly pancetta flavors
Lamb neck block
Lamb neck roulade
Honey-mustard-miso saddle of lamb
Rosemary-lavendar-lemon shoulder of lamb
Garam Masala shoulder of lamb
Smoked lamb fat
Smoked lamb broth
Lamb skirt steak pinwheel
Lamb hangar steak roulade
over at the Huffington Post. We've got an informational slide show up over there for you to check out.
If roasting meat and fish on the bone produces tastier food, how can we make a more flavorful bone? We inserted this rosemary stuffed lamb bone back into a leg of lamb and bonded it in place with transglutaminase. The next step is to roast the leg of lamb with the aroma coming from the inside. The next version of this aromatic bone will have small holes along its length to facilitate releasing the aroma into the meat. Today we got so excited with the drill, Activa and the aromatics we did not look at the finer points of the process. It's a work in progress and one with amazing potential.
In the midst of our workshop today we developed these red mole noodles. They are inspired by our ideas and experiences with red mole. The noodles are fragrant, spicy, rich, and captivating. We tasted them with a quick sauce of butter and cheese and the arrival of a whole lamb tomorrow promises to provide fuel for even more delicious creative pairings.
Geoduck Clam Sauce
1000 grams/35.25 ounce/1 Geoduck
100 grams/3.5 ounces vermouth
75 grams/2.65 ounces green onion
75 grams/2.65 ounces preserved lemons
60 grams/2.1 ounces seedless jalapeno
70 grams/2.4 ounces parsley
20 grams/0.7 ounces garlic cloves
112 grams/4 ounces butter cut into small pieces
454 grams/1 pound roasted and hydrated linguine
Parmigiano Reggiano for grating
Bring a large pot of water to boil and have an ice bath ready. Place the geoduck in the boiling water for thirty seconds and then put it immediately in the ice bath. When the geoduck is cold, remove the skin from the siphon. Over a bowl, use a knife to free the clam from its shell. Catch any juices in the shell. Lay the clam on a cutting board and cut the siphon off the clam. Split the siphon down the middle and rinse it under cold water to remove any grit. Cut the siphon into section and place in a clean bowl. Remove the clam’s belly and reserve for infusing. Cut the rest of the clam into pieces and put it with the siphon. Stain any reserved juices over the siphon. Cut the belly into pieces and place it in a pot with the vermouth. Bring the contents to a simmer, cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep for ten minutes, then remove the lid and strain the juices. Cool the clam-vermouth juices down. Combine the cleaned geoduck with the green onion, preserved lemon, jalapeno, parsley and garlic. Grind these ingredients through the ¼ inch die on the meat grinder. Add any juices left to the ground clam mixture and stir in the chilled clam-vermouth liquid. Refrigerate the clam mixture for an hour to let flavors blend.
Bring a pot of water large enough to cook the pasta to a boil. Place a strainer over a bowl and strain the clam juices, reserving the clam meat and vegetables. Put the clam juices in a large pan. Bring them to a simmer and reduce by half. When the juices are reduced, whisk in the butter. When the butter is whisked in, cook the pasta in the boiling water for one minute. Strain the pasta and add it to the clam butter. Toss the pasta quickly in the clam butter and then add the clam mixture. Stir the clam mixture into the pasta and cook on medium high heat so the clam mixture just cooks through and the pasta is evenly coated with sauce. Serve the pasta in bowls with grated Parmigano Reggiano on top.
When we come across impeccable ingredients occasionally we hit a creative wall. How do you enhance something that appears to be perfect? The simple is someimes the most complicated to achieve.
We tasted this sea urchin and it was delicious: briny, sweet, and creamy with a firm texture that melted in your mouth. It had all of the things you look for in good uni. We did not let this deter our efforts to gild the lily. After tasting, we knew we could enhance the ingredient and improve the eating experience. We were looking for contrasting elements: acidity, salt, bright aromatics, textural and temperature contrasts. We were imagining our interpretation of the perfect sea urchin dish. That is what cooking is. Adding a personal touch to the ingredients at hand. The key is not overwhemling an ingredient by taking the personalization too far. In our first run with the sea urchin we seasoned it with jalapeno rings, Meyer lemon juice and zest, smoked Maldon salt and olive oil. This would have been beautiful all by itself but I was unable to resist adding more. I added a bed of homemade spaghetti dressed with chopped sea urchin, radish green puree and crushed red pepper. The addition of the pasta, well perhaps the fully dressed pasta took something simple and delicious and muddied the experience.
The benefit from this failure is that two dishes emerged. The first is the raw preparation with the original seasonings and the other is a work in progess, a light version of sea urchin carbonara with a silky, creamy sauce that speaks of the sweet flavor of the uni.
Where does the time go? Another decade almost gone and there's a world of possilities to look forward to. Our resolution is to believe. Believe in ourselves and what we're doing because anything is possible. Believe in the people around us so that they can do it too. Opportunites and inspirations are everywhere around us, we just have to be willing to reach out for them. We wish all of you a happy and healthy new year full of laughter, creativity and success.