Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jacques Pepin Just Blew My Mind

...by boning a whole chicken in an awesome way.

I think I will run down to Whole Foods, get a chicken, and come right back and do just that.

Great Success!

Corn Many Ways

Inspired by a recipe from Under Pressure and a quote from The Flavor Bible, I took two ears of corn and made four preparations from them: cooked corn juice (what Thomas Keller I think called "Corn Pudding"), corn powder, cob stock, and husk stock. The corn juice was excellent, with a nicely coating (and totally adjustable) consistency and super corn flavor that needed no seasoning. I pureed the kernels and then pressed them in a paint straining bag to extract the liquid, then cooked the liquid for just 3 or 4 minutes in a pan until it thickened. I spread the pulp from the bag on a silpat and put it in a low oven for the corn powder, but it wasn't dried when I went to work, so I still haven't tried it. The cob stock was very corny on the nose, but lacked great corn flavor and was mostly just sweet. I used too much onion in the husk stock (half a small onion for 2 husks), so it ended up smelling like a New England Clam Bake, which wasn't all bad but grew tiresome quickly.

Chicken Ballotines

At work, I boned two chicken legs (badly), stuffed them with sauteed maitake mushrooms, dried cherries, pistachios, and panko (could've done without the panko), rolled them into ballotines, then poached them in our steam table (sous-vide style) at 140-145F for 2.5 hours. I ice-bathed one of them and deep fried the other. Slightly crisp, super super moist, a bit under-seasoned. Today I'm going to try deep frying the other from chilled to see if the stuffing comes up to service temperature.

I'd never boned and stuffed a chicken leg before, so this video was my guide.

Next stuffing: apricot, sage, some kind of nut.

Pistachio Semolina Crackers

Last week got great results with this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, so we made the same crackers again, but wanted to incorporate pistachios. Katie and I both had dreams of pistachios compressed by the pasta roller into beautiful emerald ovals, but it was not to be. Instead we ended up rolling the dough out to about the thickness of the pistachios, which luckily worked quite well. For a second batch, I pureed some pistachios with water, then mixed that into the dough, turning it a nice green color, then pressed more of the nuts into the rolled dough discs before baking.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I am not a clothing or cleanliness or anything else perfectionist. I am only a food perfectionist.

To me, making anything but perfect food is deeply disappointing. Obviously, that means I'm frequently (almost always) disappointed with my food. Whenever I taste something I've made, my attention inevitably focuses on the flaws as much as the successes. I might say "Good flavor, not great texture," when I'm really just thinking about the texture: how it is, how it should have been, where I went wrong, how it can be perfect next time.

Professionally, that means I taste everything on every plate of food that leaves my station, if it is at all possible, to make sure it's as perfect as I can make it. It also means that, though I never let it show externally, I rage inside whenever somebody shrugs "it's good enough" or serves food that's been sitting under the heat lamp too long, or commits one of a million peccadilloes that cooks and food runners and waiters are guilty of every day.

My perfectionism is also putting me in an uncomfortable spot career-wise (also, I feel like the word 'career' somehow cheapens what I hope is a journey towards knowledge, not professional advancement). My current kitchen is the great place that it is because everyone cares about what we're doing, and I'm no exception. I awkwardly left another restaurant an hour and a half into a trail last week because my chef called and asked me to come in and help solve a crisis brought on by our sous-chef caring too much about the job for her own health. I barely even had to think about that decision then, and I haven't regretted it since. So our level of dedication is not what holds us back from turning out incredible food all the time. The problem is that we're just not good enough to be perfect. To try so hard and still always fall short just about breaks my heart once every few weeks when I get to thinking about it.

Now I'm looking for a place where I can become a sick as hell killer cook. A place where they put out awesome food AND have a culture of perfection. One is not good enough without the other. I've trailed at a place where the cooks are super-focused and the chef inspects every plate before it goes out, and tastes many of them. I could see him boiling inside when someone handed him a salad with some yellowing arugula in it, and I identified immediately. Sadly, the food was very good, but not spectacular. Another place served what could be really excellent, exciting food, but the cooks lacked that perfectionist drive, and maybe the food that went out was all it could have been.

I'm still looking.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Early Low Temp Experiments

Finally riding the "Sous-Vide" wave.

Using just a big pot, a steamer insert as a riser, and an analog thermometer, I've started doing some low-temp (or low delta-T) work.

First experiment was, of course, steak in a bag. Got a small bit of beef tenderloin from Whole Foods (not great quality), put it in a Ziploc using the water technique in a bath that I started at 120F and let creep up to about 123F. I think it was in there for 1.5 hours or so. Interior temp was 120F when I pulled it out. Perfect, adjusting for the quality of the meat.

Next up was "Shrimp Sausage" - minced shrimp, shallots, and lime zest, seasoned with salt and wrapped up with plastic wrap into a log. Poached for 1 hour (probably unnecessarily long) at 135F (maybe unnecessarily warm).

At work, we have a steam table that I am working on calibrating. I think I got 125F down yesterday, but I left it overnight to be sure. I'd like to do a several-day braise of one of our lamb shanks.