I haven’t tackled a big recipe in a while, so it was time to consult The Work and give it a shot. I was having guests over and thought the Hungarian Beef Goulash from Volume Five would do the trick. And as usual, it was a lot of work and all sorts of unseen problems presented themselves. From procuring ingredients to equipment breakdowns, timing issues and even a poorly focused camera (as you’ll see – sorry about that), this one barely made it through. But made it through it did.
I had quite a bit of BBQ sauce from the barbeque I went to last week. I even brought it to another barbeque, but still had leftovers. What to do? A quick look in the book and I found a recipe that uses the sauces: pulled mushrooms. It’s like spaghetti marinara except they’re mushroom noodles in BBQ sauce. Why of course it’s like that. Plus the recipe was inspired by Ideas In Food. Since I had recently met Alex over at Scott’s a few weeks back, it seemed fortuitous. Time to head to the Asian grocery store.
Concerning kitchen design, I ended up at a party last weekend and saw quite a home kitchen setup. As you can see, they built a custom space for their Rational combi oven. Also notice their Sous Vide Supreme, Pacojet, and Vitamix. Both extreme and extremely cool.
I threw a big dinner party last weekend. Well, six people total (including our culinary teammate Scott), but seven courses. I totally brought it. But then I was brought down: three of the courses totally sucked. The pea consommé? At the last moment I overdid it with the cinnamon oil – it tasted like a bad scented candle. The Thai beef curry broth was watery and the beef over-tender. The sous vide vegetables were mushy and lifeless. Man, was I embarrassed. But one of the courses did come through: my deep fried chicken feet. Good thing, too – they took the longest to prepare. I don’t know if I was redeemed, but at least I wasn’t damned. In the end, fowl became friend.
I’m reading (and cooking) through that massive tome that is Modernist Cuisine, and am currently at Book Two: Techniques And Equipment, Chapter Eight: Cooking In Modern Ovens, Section One: Cooking With Moist Air. It is here they put their first sentence that is entirely in italics: “Humidity governs the temperature at which food actually cooks“. This is an important point, and helps understand why things are cooking the way they are, down to your particular oven and location. This is covered in Book One on the physics of heat and water. The basic takeaway is that transferring heat from air into food is more even and efficient when water vapor is condensing onto cooler food. For example, onto a roast chicken. Let’s observe.
Last week, Next Restaurant released its first in what I assume will be an endless series of digital cookbooks featuring the recipes of all the courses of each incarnation of the restaurant. They are currently in the midst of their third iteration of the menu, called ‘Childhood’. Prior to that was a ‘Tour of Thailand’. And before that, the opening salvo to their concept, ‘Paris, 1906′.
Why Paris in 1906? Kinda random, right? No, not for these guys. As they state in the opening of their iCookbook:
Cesar Ritz and Auguste Escoffier opened the Ritz Hotel in 1906. A new upper class thrived; visiting the Ritz, along with restaurants such as Maxim’s, became something more than just dinner. Part fashion show and part social scene, the restaurant was now the entertainment.
Paris, 1906 — Escoffier at the Ritz was an easy choice as our opening menu at Next.
Ah, Escoffier. As Heston Blumenthal said, “We eat how we eat because of Auguste”. They decided to go boldly into the future by acknowledging the past. I, too, have a fondness for what I jokingly refer to as Industrialist Cuisine. And there is one dish on their menu in particular that exemplifies the restaurant as entertainment theme circa 1906: Caneton Rouennais à la Presse. Why? Because they used a big old brass contraption to press an entire duck to get at its juices. Entertainment, indeed.
So a few weeks ago I totaled a gorgeous hunk of foie gras while attempting to make WD-50’s famous Knot Foie. I failed the first step – making a traditional foie gras terrine, and then in my second step – trying to make my leftover foie stretchy to make a knot. I referenced my copy of Larousse Gastronomique, the CIA’s The Professional Chef and the Internet to make sure my first attempt at a foie gras terrine was the right one. But I decided in order to get the exact internal temperature, I should use my combi oven.
The title of this dish is misleading. I mean, how easy is it to steam broccoli in a combi oven? Set the settings, put it in, wait a few minutes. No, that would not be satisfactory in the least. We’re trying to do something different here. And certainly, so are the authors of Modernist Cuisine. Turns out it is better to call it Broccoli Three Ways. Or The Broccoli Trinity. Power Broc Triple Threat, perhaps. With our humble plant from the cabbage family, we are going to not just steam it, but fry it and pickle it as well. And throw some cured fatback on top for good measure. OK, now we’re talking.
“Modernist Cuisine” is not for most home cooks.
– Michael Ruhlman
“[Modernist Cuisine] looks cool and would be fun to flip through,” he said. “But I don’t need to spend six hundred dollars on a cookbook — I already know how to cook.” This led to my next question — in his opinion, were these techniques even appropriate for the home cook? “Sous vide is great for cooking vegetables and meat,” he replied. “But home-cooked meals are home-cooked for a reason. They’re meant for the home.”
– Domestic Divas
The truth is that this stuff is for the pros.
– New Yorker
Man, do these people bore me. How uninspired. How defeatist. How sad, pathetic, and totally lame.
0 To 60 in 90 Days
I started to cook in December 2009 – about 18 months ago. I had no knife skills, didn’t know anything about Anthony Bourdain or Iron Chef, much less Mugaritz. My refrigerator was empty save for old condiments. I didn’t even notice the front right burner on my stove was larger than the others because I had never used it.
But once I started, I got way into it. Within weeks, I had discovered avant-garde food. By February 2010, I had ordered my first ‘molecular gastronomy’ kit and contacted Scott and Eric to form Jet City Gastrophysics. By March, I spherified my first liquids. By August, I made the red cabbage gazpacho from The Fat Duck. And in October, just 10 months later, I began cooking from Modernist Cuisine, which wasn’t to be published for another five months. I used their PDF excerpt.
After I tackled the ham and cheese omelet last week from Modernist Cuisine, I was ready for the next step: their infamous striped mushroom omelet. I had to go online and to four grocery stores to collect the ingredients necessary. About $75 later I was ready to go. This had better be a good omelet.
The recipe calls for several preparations: a brown chicken jus, which goes into a mushroom marmalade, a mushroom puree and the omelet base. A scrambled egg foam was also made, but I ran out of N2O chargers for my cream whipper. So the sous vide scrambled eggs sit sealed in my refrigerator until I can go to the store and pick some up. We’ll skip that step.