Archive for June, 2011
It’s been a while since I cooked a meal for the blog, so when a leg of lamb arrived at my doorstep (care of the lovely folks at the American Lamb board), I took that as a sign that I should get my ass in the kitchen. I’ve been on a carrot kick all spring, and I’ve made several variations of the caramelized carrot soup from Modernist Cuisine. It occurred to me that the deep, sweet flavor of pressure-cooked carrots is not too dissimilar from that of a beef demi-glace (the thick, rich sauce that restaurants often serve over red meat). This is undoubtedly the quickest demi-glace you’ll ever make, and I’ve gotta say, it’s fucking amazing. Vegetarians will throw a parade in my honor.
Thinking about demi-glace also got me in the mood for bone marrow. I’ve seen a few faux marrow preparations in the past and I always find them amusing. However, a big part of the appeal of roasted bone marrow is its decadent, gelatinous texture. For my version, I decided to use a section of leek as a fake bone and achieve a convincing marrow texture by pressure cooking leek and onion, then setting it in a fluid gel. The result was quite a bit darker than roasted bone marrow, but the richness and texture were spot-on.
For the recipe, keep reading…
If you were lucky, your eighth grade science teacher demonstrated the surprising effect of plugging a pickle into a household power outlet. The pickle glows bright orange for a few seconds, then starts to smoke and smell like burning. The phenomenon is caused by the electricity exciting the sodium (salt) in the pickle, causing it to emit light.
I wondered what other foods I could get to glow, so I tested pickled asparagus, limes, grapefruit, apples, hot dogs, sauerkraut, bacon, ketchup and soy sauce. Keep reading to see the results.
The pickle worked like a charm, of course. Pickles are brined in a high-sodium solution until the salt is distributed throughout the interior of the pickle. When I turned the power on, the pickle flickered and hissed a very menacing hiss, giving off the same orange glow as the sodium lights that line most city streets.
I was hopeful for the acidic foods like pickled asparagus, lime and grapefruit. Although those foods don’t have very high sodium, for some reason I assumed that they’d still produce a similar reaction. I was wrong. The high voltage did heat up all of those foods in short order, but they barely produced a spark. Apples, however, neither got hot nor sparked at all. The next time I need to shield myself from a lightning strike, I’ll hide under a pile of Red Delicious.
I did get some sodium activity from hot dogs and sauerkraut, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the fireworks display from the pickle. The bacon also produced very few sparks, but interestingly, it began to cook after only a few seconds of power. The bacon fat sizzled and smoked and after a minute or two, the bacon started to take on a cooked appearance. Given that the ends near the wire connections were singed and black, I decided not to make taste testing a part of this experiment. However, if I found myself trapped in the basement with only an extension cord and a week’s supply of uncooked bacon, I’m confident that I could MacGyver my way through breakfast.
Given that the saltiest foods appeared to produce the best results, I reached for two of the highest-sodium condiments in my pantry: ketchup and soy sauce. The ketchup lit up instantly, bubbling and smoking while it zapped away. After a moment, I could smell the caramelization of the sugars in the ketchup –it was the same aroma you get from frying tomato paste. Next, I dipped the wires into a bowl of soy sauce and flipped the switch. If you had any doubt about how much sodium is in soy sauce, let the video above set the record straight. More than any other food I tested, the soy sauce produced a startling reaction.
So what was the point of electrocuting my food? We use electricity in all sorts of ways to indirectly heat our food: electric stovetops, ovens, crock pots, toasters… all of those devices heat up metal coils which radiate or conduct heat to the outer surface of food. Passing electrical current through food heats it internally, warming the food itself instead of warming a heating coil. This technique could potentially allow us to precisely control the internal temperature of food for sous vide-like cooking without the water bath or the time spent waiting for heat to travel from the outside of the food to the core. It also has the potential to create surprising new flavors, or caramelize foods in new ways. It’s also just really fucking cool to play with.
Note: This experiment is easy enough to recreate if you take a few safety precautions. If you don’t already know what those precautions are, though, I wouldn’t recommend that you give this a try – you’ll probably die in a very painful and embarrassing way.
Even if you managed to find an inexpensive solution for cooking sous vide at home, it used to be the case that you were still on the hook for a vacuum sealer, and the $150 FoodSaver was the de facto appliance for the job. Sure, for short cooking times, you can immerse a zip-top bag in water and force out most of the air, but that strategy doesn’t let you safely cook-then-chill foods for reheating later. Furthermore, as the small amount of remaining air expands in non-vacuumed bags, they tend to float to the surface and cook unevenly. However, Ziploc recently introduced a line of vacuum seal bags that use an inexpensive hand pump and achieve nearly the same results as that pricey FoodSaver. Read on for my head-to-head test and conclusions…
Last night I had the pleasure of getting together with Brian Canlis (of Canlis Restaurant) to shoot some food. Brian and I are both pretty enthusiastic about the subject, and the release of the Canlis Spring menu provided a great opportunity to photograph a handful of Chef Jason Franey’s stunning dishes. The best part, though? Not letting the “props” go to waste.
I have to say, I was very impressed with the artistry and complexity of each dish. They look great in photos, but they’re even more impressive in person. Canlis may be an old school establishment, but Jason Franey’s food is about as forward-thinking as it gets.
[I don’t have actual descriptions for each dish from the Chef, so I’m leaving the captions intentionally simplistic]
Below: Duck egg
Foie Gras, Rhubarb and Celery
Halibut with Artichoke
Tuna Crudo, Sashimi and Tartare
As you may recall, last week’s peas + centrifuge experiment resulted in three stages of pea: pea solids, pea butter and pea water. This week, I’ve found a use for all three components in my recipe for Pea Ravioli. The picture above shows three of the delightfully green little pasta pouches splashing into a “sauce” of pea water. Inside each is a dollop of pure pea butter, shown in the photo below. Note that this is the natural color of the pea butter. It’s amazing stuff, and hopefully that shot will give you a sense of its wonderful viscosity.
To make the pasta, the first thing I needed was pea flour. I’ve seen pea flour used as a substitute or partial-substitute in baking recipes before, so I figured it should work fine for pasta as well. I spread the pea solids into an 1/8” even layer on a silicone baking sheet and dehydrated it at 135F overnight. Amazingly, the pea solids lost at least 2/3 of their mass and volume. I guess a few more Gs in the centrifuge would have helped expel the remaining moisture.
I ground the dehydrated pea solids in two stages: first, I dumped them into the Blendtec and let them whirl on high for a few minutes. It produced a pretty fine powder, but I decided to do a second milling in the coffee grinder (which I don’t use for coffee). The final texture was finer than cornmeal but not quite as fine as flour. The photo below shows the pea powder at substantial magnification. The total yield from 3lbs of peas was 200g of pea powder.
Next, it was time to make the dough. I had no idea what the properties of pea flour would be compared to wheat flour, so I approached making pea pasta like making gluten-free dough… except I added 25% all-purpose flour. The dough finally came together after adding one egg + one egg yolk, about 6g each of xanthan and guar gum, roughly 150g of water and 75g of olive oil, plus a little salt.
I’m not providing an exact recipe since I eventually gave up on precise measurements and just kept adding stuff until the dough looked right. When I could finally get it to pass through my pasta roller on the 4th setting without breaking apart, I called it good and stamped out a few ravioli filled with pea butter. The pasta was delicious and had the unmistakable, pure, vibrant flavor of peas. Unlike most ravioli, the flavor wasn’t just in the filling. The dough itself packed plenty of pea punch. The addition of a soft cheese, like a mild goat or perhaps even a creamy brie would certainly be welcome for the filling, if you’re longing for a little something extra. I didn’t try cooking the pasta directly in the pea water, but that might be a delightful flavor boost as well.
I’m also planning to try a pea version of matzo ball soup (a childhood favorite) made from balls of pea dough and served in a pea water broth. If you’ve got other ideas for dishes with extreme peaness, please leave ‘em in the comments.
Pea butter is one of the primary reasons I was compelled to put a laboratory centrifuge in my house. It is an iridescent, velvety substance produced in miniscule quantities by spinning peas at high G-forces. It’s also one of the most vivid flavors I’ve ever tasted, and I needed to make it at home.
The existence of pea butter was unearthed by the Modernist Cuisine team, using a centrifuge the size of a washing machine. My cooking compadre, Jethro, was the first kid on the block with a home-sized centrifuge (if you’re single, or have a basement) and did a great write-up on his pea butter experience back in February. Jethro whipped frozen peas into a powder, then centrifuged them for 5 hours. Contrary to his technique, I found that I was able to extract roughly the same yield of pea butter by blending thawed peas into a liquid and spinning it for 3 hours. I believe the reason is due to Brownian Motion (see the explanation on the eGullet Centrifuges thread).
I also decided to try the same technique with corn. Corn and peas are both wet and chewy, they both contain starch, and they’re both really sweet. After 3 hours of spinning at 1500Gs, I couldn’t detect a corn “butter”, per se, but I did get a thick, milky corn liquid that was extremely flavorful and rife for culinary applications.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be hunting for ways to use these centrifuged components. Check back for recipes that will spin you right-round.