Archive for March, 2011
Popcorn can be boring. As much as I love butter and salt, and I do love butter and salt, shoveling greasy handfuls of soggy popcorn into my facehole gets old within a few bites. Luckily, we don’t have to rely on Orville and Redenbacher for the flavors we crave. Using tapioca maltodextrin, a modified starch with an amazing talent for dehydrating fats, we can create flavored powders from a wide variety of foods. In this recipe, we’re powdering duck fat to get all the flavor without the oily mess. If you’re a popcorn fan, don’t just stop here – you can use the same basic technique for blue cheese and hot sauce, smoked salmon and cream cheese, barbeque, white chocolate, or any number of other bold toppings.
Makes: enough to season one bag of microwave popcorn, amply
Total kitchen time: 15 minutes
- 40g rendered duck fat
- 25g tapioca maltodextrin
- 1.5g cornstarch
- 5g sea salt, or ultrafine salt
- 1 bag microwaveable popcorn – unsalted
- neutral oil in a spritzer, or 1 tsp. extra rendered duck fat
- Heat 40g duck fat in a skillet until it is completely liquid. Transfer to a medium bowl.
- Add 20g of the tapioca maltodextrin (reserving 5g) and stir to combine with a fork. Add the cornstarch and continue stirring. The cornstarch will help prevent clumping. The mixture should turn to a very light powder. If it is still a thick paste, add the remaining 5g of maltodextrin and continue stirring.
- If using sea salt, add 5g to a clean coffee grinder. Grind 30 seconds, or until the salt is very finely ground. Set aside.
- Pop the popcorn, following the directions on your microwave and transfer to a large bowl. If using an oil-free popcorn, spritz the popcorn with just enough oil to make it slightly sticky. If you don’t have a spritzer, drizzle over 1 tsp. of melted duck fat to barely moisten the popcorn.
- Add the duck fat powder and toss to coat. Add half the finely ground salt, then adjust the rest to taste.
This technique works best when powdering pure fats like duck fat or olive oil. For powdering other fatty substances like cheeses, you will need to increase your ratio of maltodextrin and combine with the other ingredients in a blender. It will turn into a thick, sticky goop, which you can spread thinly onto parchment and dehydrate in a low oven for a few hours. When it’s brittle, drop it into a clean coffee grinder and pulse until you’ve got powder! For an example, see the powdered cheese I made for my Most Pretentious Mac & Cheese Ever.
Interview By Jeth Rollins Odom
Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas of Chicago’s Alinea, named the best restaurant in the country, dropped by Seattle last week to promote their new book Life, on the Line. I was scheduled to do the interview but could not make it. I asked my buddy (and cooking pal) Jethro to fill in for him. Because Jethro is a more of a human being than a food blogger, a freewheeling conversation ensued, and they discussed everything from their book, hunting, and music to their newest projects about to launch in Chicago: a restaurant called Next, and its companion bar, Aviary.
Nick Kokonas: So, Jethro’s not a food writer, he’s subbing for a food writer.
Grant Achatz: Thank god.
NK: So you know what that means? Actual intelligent questions that we haven’t had.
So, any questions you don’t want to answer, just say “fuck you”, and whatever.
NK: You’re going to get like, twelve “fuck you’s”.
GA: Ah, come on…
NK to GA: By the way, I finally read that interview. Joe Satriani? That’s where you went with that?
GA: The guy can play guitar, man.
NK: Yeah, in ’84.
Nick, you were in a band. What instrument did you play?
NK: Guitar and keyboards.
What kind of style?
NK: I went to college in the late 80s/early 90s, so you’re looking at the Cure/REM thing, but you’re also looking at Firehose, more edgy stuff like their song “Brave Captain“. Standard issue of that era, but a lot of fun.
Concerning the book, I really liked how in the preface you start off with this really disturbing imagery of Grant peeling out his inner throat, which cuts to him giving this great speech crediting all the people he knows, and then the first chapter starts with him making Jello as a child.
NK: The reason we start the book out that way is that you know the outcome. I mean, there’s a picture of him on the cover. If he’s dead, this sucks, right? So, because he’s not dead, you know the outcome, so it’s important to get that up front, so here’s the highlight of the book, you get that the first second, and then we show you how we got there.
Why did you choose to write an autobiography while you’re both in your mid-30s?
NK: That’s his question, it’s not my autobiography.
What do you mean? You’re in there too.
NK: The only reason I’m in there too is that I’m the Everyman, so I give the opposite viewpoint, you know what I mean? I’m like the diner guy, y’know? The thing is that he can’t talk about his own food from the third person, right? I mean you can, but it’s kind of weird and awkward that way, so that’s why we did that.
GA: It’s a really good story, I think for one. First and foremost, I think what we experienced, and I say ‘we’ because he’s the one who really pushed the whole thing along, in terms of seeking out treatment. You know, people go through life, and they find themselves in situations of adversity whether it be medically related or something else. They don’t realize that the second, third, fourth answer is not the best one.
For the past year, I’ve been meeting with Jethro Odom and Eric Rivera several times a month to challenge ourselves to learn modernist cooking. We call ourselves Jet City Gastrophysics, a name that we use with a healthy dose of levity. Part of our mission has been to learn a new set of fundamentals – working with hydrocolloids and emulsifiers, cooking sous vide, using a centrifuge, spherification, using liquid nitrogen and dry ice, experimenting with transglutaminase (meat glue), making powders and mastering dehydration, pressure cooking, and a whole lot of deep frying. These techniques are being employed by a small but growing handful of chefs worldwide, but by very few restaurants locally.
For the past 5 months, our goal has been to craft a menu that lets us showcase what we’ve learned, and present a dining experience that is unique and distinct from anything you’ll find elsewhere. We’ve named this project our “Thesis Dinner”. Earlier this year, we got the official word that we would have the opportunity to host some very special guests in April (but more on that later). With an applewood fire lit under our asses, we presented the first run through of our menu this week to a small group of guinea pigs, none of whom experienced any form of foodborne illness (or vertigo). Below is a small glimpse at a few of the dishes we’ve been working on, with much more to come in the next few months.
Above: Shrimp Cocktail. Restructured shrimp on a sesame tuille with clementine, chili oil and grapefruit zest. Underneath is cocktail sauce for sous vide shrimp.
Fried Egg. Sous vide egg yolk on a cilantro stem nest. Hollandaise, Sriracha salt.
Duck prosciutto (care of Eric Rivera). Olive oil and edible flowers.
Take out Pho with Playful Accompaniments (not shown).
Sweet Sushi: lima bean gel, coconut rice, nori.
As a heuristic, I tend to avoid foods labeled as “vegan” because, in my limited experience, they tend to be poor imitations of their non-vegan counterparts. Sure, a tomato is both vegan and delicious, but I’ve never met a vegan pizza that tasted better than the paper on which they print Dave Matthews tickets. However, at my first visit to the Intellectual Ventures kitchen lab last summer, I ate a bowl of pistachio gelato, which I was later informed was (you guessed it) vegan! The gelato was smooth and silky, and unquestionably better than any lactose-free ice cream I’ve ever tried. And although the Modernist Cuisine book doesn’t wander into the realm of desserts, luckily for us, their pistachio recipe is their sole exception. I’ve substituted cashews for pistachios, but other nuts will work just as well. I’ve also simplified the emulsifiers called for in the book, which means you can find everything you need to make this recipe at a (finer) grocery store.
- 680 g water
- 210 g cashew butter (available in the nut butters aisle at Whole Foods)
- 102 g cashew oil
Note: I haven’t been able to find a bottle of cashew oil, straight up. Instead, I poured off the oil that had settled at the top of my cashew butter. Using this amount only yielded 1/5 of the recipe. You can sacrifice 4 more jars, or substitute the remainder with walnut, hazelnut, macadamia, peanut, or even safflower oil – just make sure the oil is unused, or your gelato will taste like french fries.
- 155 g fine baker’s sugar
- 22 g salt
- 2.5 g Xanthan gum
- 2.5 g Guar gum
Note: both Xanthan gum and Guar gum are available under the Bob’s Red Mill brand at finer grocery stores.
- Combine the water, cashew butter, cashew oil, sugar and salt in a food processor or blender. Blend until very smooth.
- Add the Xanthan gum and Guar gum and blend until combined, about 30 seconds. The mixture should thicken to the consistency of cream.
- If necessary, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Churn in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, break 2.5 lbs of dry ice into 1/2” pieces. Add the gelato base to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment installed. Mix on medium, then add the dry ice. Continue mixing until the dry ice fog has stopped. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer.
This gelato screams “cashews” and is delightfully salty. Now that you’ve got a reliable recipe for nut-based vegan gelatos, you can finally open that Fremont dessert shop you’ve always dreamed of… bongo drums and all.