was a time when people would go to the butcher and get their meat ground to
order. Or they would buy the meat and take it home to grind themselves. As
ground meat grew in popularity butchers began pushing pre-ground meat on their
customers. This would speed the flow of people through the store by allowing
them to grind the meat in advance. In the beginning customers were suspicious.
They wanted to see their meat ground in front of them so that they knew exactly
what they were getting. Good butchers would grind meat daily to ensure
freshness. But as time went buy and butchers moved to supermarkets and then to
meat processing plants, the practice of buying pre-ground meat became standard.
the information on your label is key. Packages may be labeled hamburger or
ground beef. According to the USDA beef fat can be added to ground beef labeled
“hamburger.” Both categories can contain up to 30% fat and in American
supermarkets the fat percentages are clearly marked on the packaging. The only
additional ingredients allowed in your package of ground beef are seasonings.
No fillers, extenders, phosphates, binders or additional water are permitted.
There are safe handling labels that explain how to properly store, handle and
prepare the meat because ground beef is known to sometimes harbor pathogenic
bacteria, such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Campylobacter jejuni,
Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus. Ground beef contains more
surface area than whole muscle cuts so there is amplified opportunity for the
bacteria to multiply during storage. Safe handling instructions include
avoiding cross-contamination and cooking the meat until it reaches an internal
temperature of 71°C/160°F. This temperature is significantly higher than the
juicy pink medium rare that we enjoy for our burgers. We could roll the dice
and cook our pre-ground meat the way we like it or we could step up to the
plate and see about grinding our own.
grinders are fairly straightforward machines. Pieces of meat are fed through a
tube and pushed through a turn screw, which forces the meat through the cutting
plate, which determines the size of the cut pieces of meat. This means that you
can control how chunky or fine you want to grind your meat. After the blades
cut the meat it is pushed out of the grinder. The grinders can be electric or
manual. Some are free standing or you can purchase them attachments to other
pieces of equipment, like standing mixers. Which type you buy really depends on
how often you will be using it and what quantities of meat you plan to grind.
are good for more than just ground meat and sausages. It can be used to grind
vegetables for pickles and relish. Bologna and ham are ground to make excellent
salads. Certain cookie doughs are
put through the grinder to achieve the right shape and texture before baking.
Cooked meats are ground to make the basis for killer hash. Dried fruits can be
ground into a paste for use in cookies and cakes, think fig newtons. Cheese can
be put through the grinder for pimento cheese and its myriad variations. There is
a wide range of reasons to add a meat grinder to your kitchen.
if you only want to make your own burgers it’s worth the effort of grinding
your meat at home. For our first experiment we decided to grind half of our
meat one evening and leave it in the fridge overnight and the other half right
before cooking the burgers. We wanted to see how much of a difference freshness
would make. It’s safe to say that it made a big difference in the blind taste
test. We used classic chuck for our ground beef and right off the bat it had a meatier
flavor than we get from our normal pre-ground beef. As a matter of fact, the
difference was so significant that it made us realize how much of the taste of
our average burger actually comes from the condiments. Then we compared the two
different patties. We were both struck by the distinct difference between the
burgers. One patty seemed much more game-y than the other, unpleasantly so. The
meat was darker and seemed to have more earth and mineral notes. The other
patty had a cleaner taste, a sweetness to it that made the first burger seem unpleasant
in comparison. It came as no surprise that the first burger was made out of the
clearly has a big hand in this process. Oxidation is responsible for the
myoglobins in the meat turning red in the first place. Of course the longer
that the meat is exposed to air the more oxidation occurs, slowly changing the
color from bright red to grayish brown, just as when meat is cooked. Bacteria
already present in the meat begin to consume the glucose and proteins. The
by-products from this consumption react with the myoglobins turning the meat
yellow, brown and green. Another issue in the deterioration of ground meat is
lipid oxidation. Lipases are enzymes that hydrolyze triglycerides and
phospholipids. This process results in slime formation, sour flavors, the
production of sulfur gas, and color changes in the meat.
Commercial ground beef utilizes a modified atmosphere packaging to combat the effects of oxidation. Air is sucked out of the package and replaced by a blend of purified gases. The two most common blends are 80% oxygen: 20% carbon dioxide or 0.4% carbon monoxide: 30% carbon dioxide: 69.6% nitrogen. Carbon monoxide was approved for use in 2002 as long as it is not combined with oxygen. Another option is vacuum packaging that removes residual air. In both cases decreased oxidation of the meat improves the shelf life of the packaged meat products. Anti-oxidants are sometimes added to the meat to control oxidation. Nitrite in particular has an antioxidant, antimicrobial effect. It is often used in cured foods to retain a pink color. Nitrite can be applied to meat as a powder or as a gas.
Of course the easiest way to avoid all of these additives is simply to grind your own meat. The rewards absolutely justify the extra effort and in the end, that's all that really matters. Freshly ground meat just tastes better. And that's all we have say about that. This week we'll be sharing some of our favorite recipes using the meat grinder. Starting with our world famous butter burger recipe tomorrow...
A chawanmushi is a delicate balancing act in egg cookery. It is a custard in the simplest of forms. We enjoy using it to strip flavors and ideas down to the barest essentials. The custard pictured is eggs and clam broth. The clams on top are accented with jalapenos and celery. The result is a light and ethereal interpretation of chowder.
Taste and aroma are a tricky combination. A pungent, stinky cheese tastes much better than it smells, while a poorly made cup of coffee will still smell delicious wafting across the room. When we are forced to ingest bitter or unpleasant medicine we hold our nose to tamp down the flavor and when we are congested and stuffy food loses its inherent flavor when we consume it. This is because it is the odor molecules in food that give it its flavor.
Wine tasters are given lessons in how to evaluate flavors, to taste consciously. It’s an interesting skill and one that most people could benefit from learning more about. At a wine tasting the first evaluation is visual. Truthfully you can smell a great wine as soon as it is poured into the glass but we file that scent away for a moment while we absorb the appearance of the wine. We make judgments based on visual cues. For example an older red wine that is tinged with orange at the rim is probably past its peak, the flavors will be on the downward slope, becoming more delicate and ethereal rather than fruit forward and complex.
Next we smell the wine. We take a moment to swirl the glass to release additional volatile compounds. If we taste a wine that is too cold, we may cup our hands around the glass to warm it slightly, although that is a faux pas in the normal course of events. We evaluate the aromas, considering other familiar scents that they remind us of. Finally we sip, making a point of drawing oxygen in with the wine and swirling the mixture around in our mouths, loudly or softly depending upon our personalities, before swallowing and exhaling. The length that the flavor lingers in the mouth is directly related to the perceived quality of the wine. The process of oxygenating and agitating the liquid in our mouths allow more of the odorant molecules to rise up through our nasal passages. That final sigh stirs up the last of the volatile compounds and allows us to experience them without the distraction of the liquid and fully appreciate the flavors of the wine.
The tongue can only detect so many flavor components. Most people agree that the five flavors now are sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. The sensations in the mouth also determine temperature and irritation to the tongue and throat. The ability to perceive irritants is considered a chemical sense. It manifests as the sharp unpleasant reaction to ammonia or the tingle of heat from a chili. When food is presented to us the first thing we experience is usually the aroma. Even before the food is close enough to see clearly, in many cases we can smell it coming. Odor molecules travel through your nasal passage and mouth to your olfactory receptors, located at the top of your nasal passage. When you sinuses are congested the molecules can no longer reach these receptors and you lose your sense of smell.
For many animals smell is their strongest sense. It alerts them to danger, helps them locate food and then determines whether or not it is safe to eat, and detects pheromones in other animals. Although humans no longer need their sense of smell to survive, it is an integral sense in experiencing many of life’s pleasures.
Aromas are highly complex messages being decoded by our brains. We have millions of odor receptor cells with approximately 1000 different genes. Each type of odor receptor is specialized to identify a few specific scents. Each aroma is comprised of hundreds of different odorant molecules that each react with specific odor receptors. The pattern of receptors that is activated determines our perception of a scent. In 2004 Richard Axel and Lind B. Buck won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for determining how the olfactory system works and proving that we can identify and form memories of over 10,000 different scents.
Aroma and memory are intrinsically tied together. It’s amazing how evocative a scent can be. The aroma of corn on the grill takes us to the beach and the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven brings Thanksgiving to mind. In the old restaurant Bouley in New York, David Bouley had racks of apples lining the entrance foyer of the restaurant. The smell immediately awakened and relaxed people even if they were unaware of what was happening. It was a clever use of aroma and design.
Scents are created as volatile compounds, which are organic compounds that have enough vapor pressure to evaporate into the air under normal conditions. Heat causes the compounds to evaporate more quickly, which is why hot foods tend to have more flavor than cold ones. Many of these volatile compounds can be distilled in the form of essential oils. Chefs are beginning to work with food grade essential oils in the kitchen to enhance the flavor of their food. Commercial food processors are beginning to explore the idea of scented packaging to boost sales. Modern technology in the form of virtual aroma synthesizers are gaining popularity to test drive new flavors because aroma attraction has proven to be an accurate indicator of flavor preference and testers do not suffer the same level of sensory fatigue as they do when tasting a variety of new flavors.
Interestingly there is a new piece of equipment available to chefs known as the Volcano Vaporizer. We were given the opportunity to use one to see how it could benefit our culinary exploits. The vaporizer uses hot air to gently heat ingredients to the point where the essential oils are released as vapor. This vapor can be captured by the chef and used to infuse other ingredients with flavor through aroma. But don’t worry, you don’t need fancy equipment to use aroma in your cooking. It’s already there in everything in your kitchen. You just need a little imagination to help make your diners sit up and notice it.
Lavender Scented Fluke
2 fluke filets, approximately 18 ounces/510 grams
4 ½ cups/1000 grams water
5 ½ tablespoons/50 grams fine sea salt
Freeze dried pineapple
Fleur de sel
Extra virgin olive oil (we like Manni)
Trim the fluke of bloodline and remove any bones. Cut each fillet lengthwise, down the center and remove the coarse sinew, which runs along the mid-line of the fish. Dissolve the salt in the water. Place the fluke in the brine for ten minutes. Remove the fluke from the brine and pat dry.
Turn the Volcano Vaporizer on at 266°F. Lay the fluke fillets on a small metal rack and place them in a zip top bag. Seal the bag almost completely, leaving a corner open to put the tube from the vaporizer. Fill the chamber of the vaporizer with lavender and insert the extension tube into the bag. Run lavender aroma into the bag for five minutes, then close the bag and refrigerate the fish. After 10 minutes in the refrigerator, pull the fish out and repeat the infusion process. Do this one more time, for 3 total infusions. You may have to add more lavender blossoms to the vaporizer. After the third infusion let the fish rest in the refrigerator for at least a half an hour.
Alternatively, if you do not have a vaporizer, wrap each filet in a layer of cheese cloth. Sprinkle lavender blossoms on the top and bottom of the cheese cloth and then wrap each filet in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the fish for 2 hours. Unwrap one filet and smell it. If the lavender has permeated the fish unwrap the rest of the fish, otherwise re-wrap and let infuse for another hour. Once the fish is infused with the aroma of lavender, unwrap and remove the plastic and the cheese cloth, re-wrap the fish, and store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
To serve, remove the fillets from the refrigerator and lay on a cutting board. On a bias, thinly slice the fluke and arrange the slices on plates. Use a microplane to grate freeze dried pineapple over the fish. Sprinkle the fish with fleur de sel and drizzle with olive oil.
Our latest article is up on Popular Science. It explains how we use a whipped cream machine and a couple of hydrocolloids to aerate brie cheese. The technique can be extrapolated for use with other ingredients and the equipment is relatively inexpensive and low tech. Check it out and let us know what you think.
As grilling season commences, the pickle becomes so much more than a cucumber. Our latest article at Popular Science is all about this popular condiment. Check it out & let us know what you think.
After a brief hiatus we're back in action over at Popular Science. Our most recent piece is an exploration of ramps, one of our favorite spring delicacies, with a recipe for cavatelli to get you going in the kitchen.
Learning about how taste works may help us become better cooks. I know it certainly makes me think more about the combination of flavors and how they are received. In looking at umami and its reception some new paths may open up. Understanding allows for more questions to be asked and hopefully more delicious food.
Just a quick note to let everyone know that our latest article is up over at Popular Science. We're exploring the marshmallow and what gives it that special texture and structure. As an added bonus there is a recipe for our Szechuan Peppercorn marshmallows, a spicy treat that will add that special something to your holiday table.
Our latest article on xanthan gum is live over at Popular Science. Check it out and learn why this readily available ingredient is such a boon to cooks, whether they be amateurs or professionals.
Alex and I had a long weekend off to get married. We were working on Martha's Vineyard at the time and our wedding date in early June had been set well before we took the positions out on the island. Fortunately June is early season on the Vineyard and we were able to sneak off for three days to get hitched. We flew back in time for the rehearsal dinner, were married the next day, and had one day on our own before returning to work. For dinner that evening we went to Gramercy Tavern and had a tasting menu with wine pairings. It would have been a delightful evening no matter where we ate. We were doubly blessed because the much vaunted food and service lived up to our expectations that evening. At the suggestion of Paul Grieco, then the sommelier at Gramercy, I finished the meal off with a snifter of dark rum instead of cognac or Grand Marnier.
The drink was a revelation. To me rum had always been daquiris, pina coladas and later, rum punches. Although rum punches and a good pina colada will play up the character of dark rum, in all of these drinks it is paired with sweet fruit flavors and used as a partner and as an accent rather than as the main attraction. The dark rum that I was served that evening was an entirely different animal. It was smooth and rich, dappled with fruity and spicy notes, and ending with a lingering burn of burnt sugar essence. It started me on a never-ending journey to discover the best dark rums, which is on a brief hiatus at the moment, exploring the dark elixirs from various countries around the world. Fortunately as my interest has grown, so has rum's popularity, making it easier and easier to find new and interesting products.
When we decided to do an end of summer class at Astor Center, choosing two liquors to highlight was a no brainer. We went with dark rum and mezcal, two of our favorites, and two of the most flavorful drinking spirits out there. Their slightly heavier flavors would balance well with the gradually cooling evening temperatures and the rum was a natural for ice cream. (That way I could partake of a taste relatively guilt free.) We created an eggy custard base with milk and half and half and a generous helping of dark rum, in this case is was a an eight year old Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale. We let it rest for several hours to allow the flavors to meld and the rum to bloom and then we froze it in spheres in liquid nitrogen and rolled the balls in raisin dust. At home you can freeze this ice cream in any ice cream maker and simply fold in raisins at the end.
As for the mezcal, well that's another story entirely. You'll just have to wait for that one. In the meantime here is the ice cream recipe to keep you occupied and well fed while you wait.
Rum Raisin Ice Cream Spheres
500 grams milk
500 grams half and half
8 egg yolks
175 grams sugar
2grams fine sea salt
90 grams aged, dark rum
Combine milk and half and half in a large, heavy saucepan over medium high heat. In a blender, combine egg yolks, sugar, salt and rum. Turn the blender on low and then increase speed to medium. Once the dairy is simmering, turn the blender speed back to its lowest setting and pour the hot liquid carefully into the running blender. Pour the custard base back into the saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook to 165°F. Remove from heat, cover, and let rest for five minutes. Strain the custard base and chill it for at least four hours.
Pour the base into sphere molds and submerge in liquid nitrogen until frozen. Place frozen spheres in the freezer until ready to use. When ready to finish the rum raisin balls, loosen spheres from the mold and return them to the freezer while you prepare the raisins.
300 grams raisins
2 quarts liquid nitrogen
Pour liquid nitrogen over the raisins in a large bowl. Stir gently until the raisins are completely frozen solid. Strain out the excess liquid nitrogen. Place the raisins in a strong blender or Vitamix and process until powdered.
Pour the powdered raisins into a chilled bowl. Roll rum ice cream spheres in the powdered raisins. If the raisins start to melt, add a bit of liquid nitrogen to the bowl to keep them smooth and powdery. Coat the ice cream balls thoroughly with the raisin powder. Serve immediately.
We're pleased to announce the launch of Kitchen Alchemy over at PopSci.com. It's going to be a regular feature on the website where we explore the science behind the food in our kitchen. Of course we do that here too, the difference is that we will be going into a bit more technical detail in our articles over there. For this first feature we're discussing one of our favorite appliances, the pressure cooker. So if you've ever wondered what's actually happening to your food while it's in that pressure chamber, come check out Kitchen Alchemy.
Pectin is an indigestible soluble fiber which when combined with water forms a colloidal system and gels upon cooling. It has a wide range of uses. It can be found as a gelling, thickening or stabilizing additive in food, an ingredient in laxatives, a demulcent in throat lozenges, and a vegetable glue for cigars. Pectin used for cooking is divided into two categories, high methoxyl (HM) and low methoxyl (LM).
HM pectins are most commonly used to create jams and jellies. HM pectins require the presence of sugar and specific levels of acidity. The amount of acid in your base solution will directly affect the setting time of the pectin. HM pectins are further broken down into the categories of rapid set and slow set. Each subset is categorized by setting time and/or temperature. Rapid set HM pectins are often used for jellies that have ingredients suspended inside the gel structure, such as chunky marmalades or hot pepper jelly, while slow set HM pectins are often used for clear jellies like apricot or grape.
LM pectins simply require the presence of calcium to activate the gelling process. They are often used to produce low or no sugar jellies. Unlike HM pectins, LM pectins form thermally irreversible gels. Amidated LM pectins are treated with ammonia so that they require less calcium than conventional LM pectins to gel. They have a complementary relationship with dairy and are able to utilize their whey proteins as a source of calcium while also enhancing their innate capabilities for gelation, emulsification and the ability to produce stable foams.
Pectins are most commonly extracted from fruit, usually from apple pomace or citrus peel. These two sources are readily available for commercial production as by-products of the juice industry. Proprietary formulations vary from company to company, so when you purchase commercially produced pectin be sure to follow the guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
Here's a link sent to us from Alex Kentsis in Boston on how to make a thermostated water bath for sous vide for under $150. If anyone tries this, please let us know how it works out.
We get a lot of questions about how we create some of the more unusual dishes in our kitchen. The theory behind mozzarella gnocchi and warm foie gras terrine can be confusing unless you know about some of our secret ingredients. The tools we use to create some of these specialties are known as food gums. The term food gums sounds more ominous than the reality, in fact, most people have food gums in their kitchens. Cornstarch and gelatin are common examples of a food gum. These ingredients are used to change the texture and composition of different foods. Less common food gums which are often at work behind the scenes in restaurant kitchens are three that we use on a regular basis, carrageenan, methyl cellulose and hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose. For the purposes of simplicity I will group the last two together under the heading of methyl cellulose in this explanation.
In general there are four basic reasons to use food gums:
1) They are used to thicken products, such as the filling in a pie.
2) They are used to emulsify products, for example a sauce or a vinaigrette.
3) They are used to change textures, in food products that usually translates into a thicker or chewier texture.
4) They are used to stabilize crystals such as ice in a frozen product of sugar in a caramel.
Carrageenan is a obtained from the red seaweed family. There are three different types of Carrageenan, kappa carrageenan, iota carrageenan and lambda carrageenan. They each have different gelling properties and can be blended for use in different applications. Carrageenan’s most important characteristic for food preparation is the ability form different gels at room temperature from soft to firm. Once a gel is formed using carrageenan it is very stable and can be taken through a range of temperatures with no visible breakdown of the gel. In other countries it is often used to create puddings and other sweet desserts, an application that we have also applied in our kitchen.
Methyl cellulose is used to create what is known as a thermoreversible gel. The methyl cellulose hydrates in cold water, after which it is added to your food product and thoroughly dispersed. Like the carrageenan, methyl cellulose comes in different formulations that can be tailored to the desired final effects. Once you have the methyl cellulose thoroughly incorporated into your product it will gel when heated. For example, when we created our warm foie gras terrine, we de-veined the foie gras, incorporated the methyl cellulose, formed the individual terrines and then seared them. By using this product, we were able to create a dish that had all of the positive aspects of a terrine while still retaining the warmth and the texture of seared foie.
These are just a couple of the ways that we have utilized food gums in our cooking. Hopefully, this bit of background information will help people understand what they are and why chefs use them in their kitchens. We tried to keep this first post relatively simple, but feel free to contact us with any questions and we will expand upon this information as time goes by.
*This post has been edited to reflect standard terms for methyl cellulose instead of proprietary names.
I need to thank Joan Roca and Salvador Brugues for compiling, cataloging and testing sous vide techniques and publishing their works in the book Sous-Vide Cuisine. They have answered many questions in their step by step practical approach to the technology. This book was first published in 2003 in Spanish, and my poor linguistics allowed for rough culinary extrapolation. After several years of ad lib culinary development, it is a pleasure to have a researched guide with which I am able to solidify our own findings and be challenged to improve upon existing theories and activities. The book is well worth its $135.00 price tag. I have witnessed and taken part in many guessing games about sous-vide. It is a science, and this is the text book.
It began with pike gnocchi. Actually, it began with Wylie and his stand against mousses and the dispersion of flavors. Why make a mousse if the intitial ingredient is perfect by itself? So we threw spaghetti against the wall, well in our heads at least. How to express the delicate flavor of pike without altering or thinning its flavors with eggs and other ingredients as in traditional pike quenelles? In the same sense we did not want to waste the trimmed parts of the pike, the scraps which were bound for broth or the bin. The answer, transglutaminase. (The uses of this enzyme are far and wide, currently on the culinary fast track. We have been quietly working with the product for just under a year now and loudly sing its praises.) Back to the gnocchi. With the use of TG we are able to make a product with the the delicate flavor prophile of pike but with the texture and mouthfeel of gnocchi. Science is good. With the production of pike gnocchi, fish was utilized, flavor preserved and well we had a new dish; pike gnocchi with smoked tomato sauce and fresh mozarella cheese. We have continued to apply and adapt the gnocchi to other products to enhance dishes and reduce the waste of pristine products. Our current evolution are seen with diver scallops and their gnocchi.
In the dining arena from chef, to foodie to reviewer the current and even now fading starement is Foam is Dead!! The forward thinking Ferran Adria and those influenced by his culinary advancement began to use foams and thus aerations in many forms and applications. The presence of foam seemed to be everywhere and it became fashionable for the culinatti--those in the food industry looking to tear apart something to dismiss the needs, uses and essences of foams in the culinary arena...meanwhile they sat writing about the overuse of foam sipping on cappucinos or eating ice cream or enjoying a caramel macchiatto. Their computer keyboard keys are warn with the defamation of foam and other culinary trends for it seems to be the popular manner in which to become heard.
And Ferran may not have been the first. Think back to years ago and Alain Chapel with his cappucino of mushrooms, do we then dismantle Adria and Starbucks for culinary seconds or their use of foams?