butternut squash macro

Man, o man do I love butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, delicata squash… you get the point.  When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes at family dinners was an acorn squash, halved, filled with butter and brown sugar, and roasted until soft and sweet.  It tasted like candy, but technically qualified as a vegetable – a loophole that I still enjoy exploiting.

During my recent, steamy love affair with my pressure cooker, I’ve discovered that it does fantastic things to squash.  For example, last week, Jethro served THE BEST butternut squash soup I’ve ever eaten – pressure cooked, of course.  There are two fundamental benefits to pressure cooking, as opposed to roasting, squash:

  1. Speed.  Fork-tender squash takes 15-20 minutes in the pressure cooker, rather than 30-45 minutes in the oven.
  2. All-Over Tan.  Put another way, the pressure cooker achieves deep, even browning on all surfaces, with a significantly reduced risk of burning.  Let’s explore that more…

One of the best tricks I’ve learned from Modernist Cuisine is that adding 0.5% baking soda (by weight) to things you’re about to pressure cook results in fantastic caramelization.  The baking soda increases the pH of the food, which allows the Maillard reaction to take place at the the relatively low-temperature environment of the pressure cooker – typical Maillard reactions start around 310F, but a pressure cooker operating at 15 psi only reaches about 250F.  That means that you get deliciously-sweet, browned squash without running the risk of accidentally scorching your squash.

Also, pressure cookers brown more evenly than ovens.  Think of your oven like a cheap tanning bed, with lights above and below the subject (in this case, food).  The top and bottom of the food is exposed to a lot of light and gets nicely tanned.  The sides, however, remain pasty-white because they’re mostly in shadow. The environment inside a pressure cooker, however, is more akin to bathing in a pool of self-tanner.  The heat and pressure generated by the steam come from all sides, and as a result, your cubes of squash are beautifully browned from every angle, not just the top and bottom.

If you’re ready to drink the Kool-Aid, here are some pressure cooked squash recipes to get you started.

Basic Pressure Cooked Squash Recipe

  1. Remove the skin and seeds from your squash and cut into evenly-sized 1” cubes.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of liquid to your pressure cooker.  I recommend centrifuged squash water (thanks Jethro!), chicken stock, or other flavorful liquid.  Water works fine, too.
  3. Toss your cubed squash in .5% its own weight in baking soda.  You can eyeball this measurement – about 1/2 tsp. of baking soda for 2 lbs. of squash.  Add the squash to the pressure cooker.
  4. Pressure cook for 20 minutes.  Remove and season to taste.

Pressure Cooked Squash Soup Recipe

  1. Follow steps 1-3 above.  For extra richness, add butter or duck fat to the cooking liquid.
  2. Check after 20 minutes.  Pressure cook an additional 10-20 minutes if the squash isn’t tender enough to fall apart yet (cooking time will vary by species).
  3. Using an immersion blender, puree the squash until smooth, adding additional liquid to reach the desired consistency.
  4. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, roasted garlic, nutmeg, maple syrup, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider, tarragon, ginger, or whatever else suits your fancy.

Go wild with variations.  Add other stuff like apples or canned pumpkin or bell peppers or carrots or leeks.  I promise it’ll be good.

[BTW, the picture above is an acorn squash, uncooked.]

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waffle ice cream in chicken skin cup

Ah, chicken & waffles.  Having grown up in Los Angeles, I’ve made a few late-night pilgrimages to the famed Roscoe’s House of Chicken’n Waffles, and every now and then, I get a craving for crispy fried chicken alongside a lightly toasted waffle.  But other times, my desires are a little more unsavory (pun intended). So, in a recent [epic] Jet City Gastrophysics jam session, we came up with the above: waffle-flavored ice cream served in a crispy chicken skin cup, with maple syrup. 

The first step is to make a neutral ice cream base infused it with waffle flavor. Jethro took on the challenge and nailed it.  He used a standard ice cream recipe (6 egg yolks, heavy cream, sugar, ice cream machine, etc) except for three variations:

  1. He toasted up 6 Eggo waffles and soaked them in the milk after it had been brought to a simmer.  After 30 minutes he pressed the milk/waffle goop through a sieve.
  2. He replaced half the required amount of sugar with maple syrup.
  3. For good measure he threw in a chunk of butter to give it that waffle flavor.

chicken skinnedNext, we needed to make a chicken skin cup.  So, I skinned a chicken (it was already dead).  We thought that an intact chicken skin was fun to play with, so we gave it some time in the spotlight, as you can see on the left.  With a little Activia, we could have done a Silence of the Lambs dish (it puts the Hoisin on the skin, or else it gets the hose again!) but we decided that we’re probably on enough FBI watch lists already. 

I removed as much of the fat as I could from the inside of the skin, making sure not to accidentally create any holes.  Using a 4” biscuit cutter as a guide, I removed a circle of skin to eventually form our cup. 

With the waffle cone maker preheated, I crisped the skin until it was golden brown, but still slightly pliable.  I immediately placed the disk on top of an inverted stainless steel condiment cup, then pressed another cup down against the skin to form it into a bowl shape.  We waited for the skin to cool down, and lo and behold, it held its form.

One scoop of ice cream and some really excellent maple syrup later, we had an incredibly satisfying dessert that tastes exactly like chicken and waffles.  Unfortunately, it was a little unwieldy to eat in that form factor – the cup was too big to take in one bite, but not quite brittle enough to shatter at the tap of a spoon.  So, we (including Eric, via Skype) brainstormed an alternate presentation. 

 

chicken skin and waffle ice cream with coffee

We decided that the dish would be easier to eat as a single bite served on a waffled chicken skin wafer.  Eric actually suggested making a coronet from the chicken skin and serving the dish as a miniature ice cream cone, but we were feeling impatient.  So, I fried another piece of skin and broke it into shards.  We also garnished the dish with espresso powder, as it seemed a fitting compliment to the breakfasty flavor of the waffle ice cream. 

Ultimately, we determined that the best presentation of this dish would be to cast the ice cream into a miniature waffle mold, served on a waffled chicken skin wafer, topped with maple syrup and perhaps even a miniature dollop of espresso whipped cream.  We’ll save that for round 2.

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brioche with pea butter and sv egg 690

We had friends over for brunch last weekend, so I pulled out an old standby: brioche with a 64°C egg, maple syrup, pancetta and pea butter.  It’s my version of French toast, you know, because of the toast part.  I’m not trying to sound snooty when I say this is “as simple as can be” because you do need a sous vide machine and a centrifuge to make it.  However, provided you have those tools, the recipe brain-dead easy.  When I was growing up, we used to go for brunch at a diner that made “sweet pea guacamole” served alongside a Tex-Mex omelet.  I loved the notion of having peas with breakfast, and once I discovered centrifuged pea butter, that was even more reason to work it into the dish.  I’m sure there’s a “green eggs and ham” permutation of these ingredients, too; if you find it, please share.

Total kitchen time: 10 minutes + 3 hours centrifuge time + 1 hour sous vide time
Makes: 4 servings

  1. Make pea butter by blending 4lbs of thawed peas until smooth, then centrifuging at 1500 RPMs for 2-3 hours. 
  2. Cook 4 eggs sous vide at 64°C for one hour.
  3. Meanwhile. cut 4 slices of brioche, about 1” thick.  Toast on a flat-top grill with copious amounts of melted butter.
  4. Fry up 8-12 slices of pancetta.  Pro tip: frying pancetta in a waffle cone maker keeps it from curling up.

To assemble, top the toasted brioche with an egg. Pour over pea butter and warmed maple syrup.  Finish with slices of fried pancetta. 

[Thanks to the Estevez family and my wife Rachel for helping me make a mess in the photo above]

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