Archive for May, 2011
Have you ever wondered what happens when you subject shelf-stable emulsions from your local grocery store to 3,000 times the force of Earth’s gravity using a centrifuge? Yeah, me too!
I chose three different types of emulsions: mayonnaise, salad dressing, and canned soup. [I also tested spaghetti sauce, but one of the test vials exploded mid-‘fuge, so the results were inconclusive]. For each emulsion, I centrifuged two popular brands to note their differences in separation after an hour at 3,000 RPMs (equivalent to 3,000 Gs in my centrifuge). It is important to note that an emulsion that separates under these conditions does not indicate a better or worse product, simply a stronger or weaker emulsion. The goal of this experiment was not to determine which brand you should buy. The goal of this experiment was to spin a bunch of shit at extremely high G-forces and see what happened.
- Best Foods Real Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise, as it turns out, is a pretty strong emulsion. This brand showed a slight separation visible at the bottom of the vial, but more or less held together. If I spun it for longer, I wonder if I would have ended up with a layer of egg and a layer of oil…
- Miracle Whip – This was the strongest emulsion I tested, showing no signs of separation whatsoever. I personally can’t stand the stuff, but for those of you who are fans of this mayo alternative, rest assured that it is highly acceleration-resistant.
- Kroger Zesty Italian Dressing – If you’ve ever made an oil and vinegar salad dressing at home, you know it’s naturally prone to separation. This brand separated easily leaving perfectly clear oil at the top, vinegar in the middle and solids at the bottom. +1 for “just like mom makes”, especially if your mom makes it from a bottle.
- Kraft Free Zesty Italian Dressing – I chose this product because, on the shelf, the emulsion looked extremely stable – all of the solids were held in suspension, which was likely for marketing reasons. Although all of the solids separated out, the liquid phase didn’t clarify at all. It seems the people at Kraft have found a way to make oil, water and vinegar extremely fond of one another.
- Kroger Chunky New England Style Clam Chowder – I expected that the chunky solids would wind up compressed at the bottom of the vial, but I was surprised to discover that the soupy part of the soup held intact. I guess Chef Kroger (cough, cough) must have been very careful with his roux when he made this particular can of soup.
- Campbell’s Select Harvest 98% Fat Free New England Clam Chowder – As you can see, there was some significant separation in this sample. My guess is the light-colored top layer of thin, watery liquid has something to do with the low fat claims on the label – diluting soup with water would certainly be an easier way to make it “healthier”.
As I said earlier, this experiment was more about messing around than testing a hypothesis. Speaking of messing around, what substances would you like me to try spinning? The centrifuge is still my newest toy, and like all toys, I’m eager to fill it with unusual liquids.
Did you know that you can cure meat at home using nothing more than a wine refrigerator?
This was my first attempt at meat curing, and I’d say it went fantastically well. This project was inspired by Matt Wright and his insanely beautiful blog, WrightFood. Matt has some serious curing experience under his belt, and offers detailed recipes and techniques for home curing. For this project, I followed his recipe for Duck Prosciutto (recipe is towards the bottom of the post).
The recipe calls for curing duck breasts in salt for 24 hours before hanging them up to cure at 55F with 60% relative humidity until they have lost 30% of their original mass.
Although I’ve got big plans in my head for building a high-tech curing chamber (one day), I also remembered that I had an unused wine refrigerator sitting in the basement. Nothing is sadder than an empty wine fridge, so I decided to repurpose it for a bold new mission. The fridge has an adjustable temperature setting for champagne, whites, reds and long-term storage. Luckily for me, one of those settings corresponds to 55F. I didn’t bother measuring the humidity in the wine fridge, but I reasoned that it would have to maintain a reasonable humidity level to keep wine corks from drying out. The fridge also has a small fan, which is great for circulating the air inside and a desirable condition for curing meat.
My friend and soon-to-be culinary school grad, Eric Rivera, invited me over last weekend to check out a few dishes he was working on. I decided to bring my camera gear to try to capture a few shots that he can use for his portfolio in the future. What emerged were some exquisitely beautiful platings and, if I may say so, the best food photos I’ve taken to date. The shot above is Eric’s version of a potato salad. The flowers and greens came from his garden and his local foraging journeys. Click through for some pretty stunning dishes from this rock star chef.
Halibut cheeks with cauliflower puree, capers and sorrel.
Ling cod with cauliflower puree, English peas, leeks and purple pickled asparagus.
Same dish, different shot.
(Above and below) A grape tomato concasse.
And just for the hell of it, a pickled shallot.
After seeing how well this shoot went, I’ve also decided to make myself available for hire. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in having your food photographed.
I don’t have a lot experience shucking – I find it awkward and a little dangerous to go jabbing a blade into an oyster’s crevice. So, it’s a good thing I can use liquid nitrogen to do the work instead. Nitro-shucking, or cryoshucking, is the process of opening the shells of mollusks by dipping them in liquid nitrogen then allowing them to thaw. Due to a process which I cannot (yet) explain, this quick freeze causes the shells to release way more easily, often just by sliding them off with your finger.
When my friend, Becky Selengut, local private chef and distinguished author of the cookbook Good Fish, announced on Facebook that she was getting her shucking knife ready for the bounty of oysters at her book release party, I jokingly suggested that we cryoshuck them. She said “sure”.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit master bladesmith Bob Kramer’s knife making workshop in Olympia, WA. Bob’s culinary knives are the most coveted in the world, fetching thousands of dollars each. Although Bob’s lends his name to a production line of Shun knives sold by Sur La Table, this workshop is where he crafts his one-of-a-kind masterpieces that are sought after by chefs and steel fetishists everywhere.
Part of the allure of Bob’s knives is the elaborate Damascus pattern he achieves in the blade by pounding together layers of different types of steel. Much like making puff pastry, Bob flattens and folds the steel layers on themselves, pounding them with power hammers, until they are fractions of a millimeter thick, with up to 10,000 layers in the width of the blade.
In the video below, Bob gave us a demo of making a Damascus slab out of a length of steel cable. If you like surf-rock metalworking montages, you’re gonna love this. Many thanks to Bob Kramer for the tour, and for expert knife sharpener Bob Tate for making this kick-ass tour happen.