I’m beginning to think that the authors of Modernist Cuisine are evil. No, I’m not talking about the whole patent troll brouhaha. I’m talking about the recipes. Surely they are out to kill me. Why would I say such a thing, you might ask? Well, let me ask you: have you ever made their corn bread? No? And how about their bacon jam? I see. Let me try to explain.
The sun is beginning to take a new angle into the kitchen window in the afternoon now. The sun isn’t up super early and isn’t down super late. Yes, summer is waning and autumn will soon be upon us here in Seattle. I figured I better do up some BBQ before all the heat and sun left the area for an extended vacation down south of the equator (ever been to Argentina in February? Lovely.). And I thought I might as well make a side dish too – corn bread fit perfectly. I flipped to Book Five, Page Seventy-six of The Work and began to make my meal.
The Underbelly Of Cornbread
It starts out very promising: get about six ears of corn, and cut the kernels off of them. Ooh, this is going to be fresh and delicious. Probably even healthy. This is something that I can feel good about cooking.
But no. They had to be evil. The second ingredient: butter. The third ingredient: lard. 250 grams worth. Over a half pound of fat to melt into a pan and let the corn saute in for twelve minutes. I don’t think there are enough Weight Watchers points to cover this step alone.
I didn’t have any lard on hand, but as any good Southerner would, I collected bacon grease from my cooking escapades and had it sitting nearby the stove to use as needed. And I needed it. A lot of it. So, in the spirit of Anthony Bourdain: You want your food porn? Here’s your fucking food porn:
And from there, I dumped the bright, sweet fresh corn kernels into a hot pool of bubbling fat, and let the devil do his handiwork.
The next step took me 25 minutes. Why? I believe I was misled by the recipe on this one, although the photos in the book tried to assist me.
2. Puree in blender
3. Add sauteed corn
4. Pass through fine tamis to remove kernel skins (optional).
I took some milk, cream and eggs (more fat, anyone?) and pureed them in my Vitamix. Next I added it to the corn, and strained it all through a tamis. Which took forever. Using a wooden utensil, I smashed the corn pulp against the mesh over and over, busting open all the kernels so their corny mush could fall through to the creamy fat goodness below that had already strained through.
The picture in the book however, shows the corn sitting in the blender, partially blended. I was supposed to blend the corn in first, breaking up the corn skins, then push it through the mesh. The instructions certainly did not indicate that clearly. If I had taken the time to look at the photos, however, I would have seen that that was what they intended. Evil, I tell you.
A brief note about the tamis. A tamis, or drum sieve, is a snare drum shaped kitchen utensil with a fine mesh on one side so it can be used for fine straining. The recipe calls it an optional ‘refinement’. Well, I want to be refined. Why not? I thought I would just go pop down to a local restaurant supply store to grab one.
But no one carries it. Dick’s Restaurant Supply and Bargreen Ellingson didn’t even know what I was talking about. I sat in my car and thought perhaps I should do a little shopping by phone before heading into traffic. City Kitchens? No. Sur la Table? No. I already had bought the ingredients, and didn’t want to buy it online and wait for it.
I knew what the problem was: I had to go beyond where white people went shopping. I drove over across Dick’s to Dong Vinh Restaurant Supply.
I asked if they had a tamis and described it. The woman behind the counter zipped down an aisle and said “Sieve?” Ah, yes. None of the boxes had been opened so she took out a pair of scissors, cut open the tape on one side, and pulled out a tamis. I grabbed a couple of loaf pans for good measure. Seattle, you pulled through for me once again.
SLow Cookin’ Dough
Next up I mixed up all the dry ingredients: flour, isomalt, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and chopped thyme. The quantity for thyme? “To taste”. What does that mean? I have no idea how it’s going to taste yet – it’s just sitting in a bunch of powder. OK, maybe I’m supposed to dip my finger in the dough once it’s mixed all together and guess from there. But still, made me smirk.
I folded in the corn porn goo and made my batter. Greased up my pans, poured it in, and stuck it all in the oven at 265 degrees for 20 minutes as directed.
And I got some seriously uncooked dough. Mm. That’s weird. I checked some other corn bread recipes on the web. They suggest 365 degrees for 40 minutes. Looks like I found an error. Why are they doing this to me? What have I done to deserve such treatment? And more importantly, is my bread now screwed up? I turned up the heat, and let the oven work its magic. And thank goodness, it did.
I remembered the next day that there were corrections to the text online at modernistcuisine.com. I wonder if they said anything about the corn bread recipe?
On pages 5·76 and 6·256, in the recipe for Corn Bread, steps two and three should be replaced with “Combine in blender with cooked corn, and puree until smooth.” In step eight, “Bake in 130 °C / 265 °F oven to core temperature of 88 °C / 190 °F” should read “Bake in 175 °C / 350 °F oven for 10 min, and then reduce oven temperature to 130 °C / 265 °F and bake to core temperature of 88 °C / 190 °F, about 20 min.”
Evil. I think I’ve made myself clear.
But in case I haven’t: the suggested topping. Bacon jam.
First I threw some isomalt, sugar, water and Grade B maple syrup (which I could only find at Super Supplements) together and melted it. Next, vacuum sealed up a couple of egg yolks and cooked them sous vide for 30 minutes at 66C/151F.
I fried up some bacon and put it aside, then melted down 100 grams more of bacon fat. Get thee behind me Satan!
You mix the eggs and syrup together first, followed by the melted fat, blending constantly to get a nice emulsion. I was using my immersion blender, but I was doing about half the amount of the recipe, so the blender wasn’t fully immersed, making it difficult. Then I realized this was a perfect job for a tool I hadn’t really used yet: my rotor-stator homogenizer.
Shearing The Fat
What is a rotor-stator homogenizer? Simply put, it’s a super blending device that looks like an electric screwdriver. In more detail, its rotor spins up to 35000 RPM, providing instant emulsions. In even more detail, the liquid is drawn into the bottom half inch of the homogenizer probe by the rotor, which is the part spinning at 35K RPM. The liquid is repeatedly cycled through narrow slits in the probe where it is rapidly sheared and disintegrated by slamming up against the stator, which is the metal sheath surrounding the rotor. Through a combination of extreme turbulence, cavitation and mechanical shearing occurring within the narrow gap between the rotor and the stator, emulsion is achieved. And so, my incarnation of evil – bacon fat sugar syrup – was created.
Finally, I added a little salt and minced bacon bits from the bacon I had fried earlier. They also give an option to use liquid caramel coloring to give the jam the “desired shade”. Don’t they know that it might cause cancer? Why do they want me dead? Why? I didn’t have any, and I liked the shade well enough, so the jam was done.
I brought the bread and jam over to my best friend’s place for dinner. Another friend made a pate. Yeah, no fear of butter in this group.
There was only one thing left to do. I sliced the corn bread. I slathered on the bacon jam. I put it in my mouth. I almost died and went to Heaven.
Bastards. Evil bastards.