Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pajeon Success At Last!

Recipe here. Never should have doubted Di.

Yay Bread!

Using this recipe and this mixing technique (the French Fold), I made some beautiful rolls and a braided loaf that was not quite as perfect. I was hoping the folding technique would make kneading feel less onerous, but I still got bored and frustrated at times. Perhaps with practice...

Also, the pastry chef at work and I have started a little series of cooking competitions with each other. Of course, as the first contest I proposed an item straight from the sweet side of cooking: cinnamon rolls. Needless to say, hers came out much better than mine, though I was pretty happy with my results and I learned a lot from watching her work (which was the whole point for me). Lessons learned: proof the rolls right up against each other and the walls of a pan to limit the outer surface area, which will get dryer and brown; put some brown sugar-cinnamon mix under the rolls so they get extra-gooey; baste with lots of butter that white glaze is important to the overall cinnamon roll experience. I actually preferred my bread to hers because it had a little chew, whereas hers was almost like cake. I used this brioche recipe, which I must try again, but only with a stand mixer: the dough took forever to mix, and was very stiff.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I like the technique shown in this Marco Pierre White video for making ginger batons palatable: simmer for a few minutes in water with a bit of lemon juice to preserve the ginger's color, then drain and cool.

Szechuan Green Beans

This doesn't taste like anything I ate in Szechuan, but it does taste pretty good...

Szechuan Green Beans
Serves 4 as a side. Feel free to multiply or divide

250 g Green Beans, rinsed and trimmed
6 g Sesame Oil (the roasted, strong, Asian kind)
16 g Unseasoned Rice Vinegar
24 g Yeo's Sweet Chili Sauce (or ketchup, maybe with a little sambal oelek or cayenne mixed in)
48 g Soy Sauce
25 g Chee Hou Sauce or Hoisin Sauce
5 g Ginger, grated
11 g Honey or Agave Nectar (if you're a vegan) or Corn Syrup (if you're a soulless corporation)
2 g Szechuan Peppercorn Oil; I got mine at a store, but you could make your own.
One or two drops Vanilla Extract
.13 g Xanthan Gum (optional in the extreme)

Bring a large pot full of well-salted water (the water should be salty like the sea) to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water or an extraordinarily large bowl or pot of very cold water nearby. Also have a spider or strainer handy. Boil the beans in the salty water for a minute or two or three until they taste how you want them to, texture-wise. Plunge them into the ice/cold water to stop them from cooking further. Let them chill out there for a while.

Combine all the other ingredients. You can do this with a fork or whisk, in a bowl. If you care about the oil and the water not separating, you can slowly emulsify the oils into everything else. If you're a real stickler for emulsion stability, you can put everything in a blender, put the blender on high, and shear in the xanthan gum until fully dispersed.

If the beans are completely cooled by now, drain them and toss them with the sauce. Refrigerate and serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pancetta: First Tasting

Tried my pancetta for the first time today. It's been drying in the fridge for about two and a half weeks. The outside constantly over-dried, so I ended up trying a bunch of methods to make it dry evenly. Covering the piece with parchment and rotating it frequently seemed like the best solution. It's now wrapped in plastic, so hopefully the moisture content will even out.

Predictably, I couldn't resist the urge to try the meat uncooked, but frankly it made for a pretty unpleasant experience. The meat was fine, though it had a too-strong nitrate flavor. The fat, on the other hand, was so chewy that I ended up spitting it out. No matter, just like with the duck bacon at work, rendering and crisping the pancetta brought out its porkiness and sweetness. I found myself looking a wider breadth of flavors, so next time I may dry-rub with spices, garlic, and herbs during the drying phase.

I'm interested to see what happens to the moisture level of the piece when wrapped, and with smoked bacon, Chinese bacon, and Lop Chong already sitting around, I'm also wondering what to do with so much cured pork...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pig Skin Braciole

Love it! Thank god for the internets, once again.

Pig Skin Braciole

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Great Dumpling Schism

There's a war on out there for the soul of the soup dumpling. No, not the kind with soup inside. The kind that sits in, or maybe floats on top of soup. But to start at the beginning...

Yesterday, as I was making fresh pasta for dinner (very satisfying, served with a super-hearty tomato and vegetable soup), I got lazy on my last piece of dough and decided to roll it into a very long thin log and cut it into tiny pillow shapes instead of the fettuccine shape I'd made the rest of the dough into. The pillows, about 1 cm on each side, proved impossible to cook thoroughly - the starch on the outside of the pasta hydrated, gelated, and swelled, keeping the interiors from hydrating. I wasn't surprised. I had been hoping to find a super easy gnocchi substitute in these pillow-shaped pastas, and when they failed, I had one of those moments where my mind runs in a bunch of different directions at once to try to solve a problem. One track was to make a dough with very hot water, to try to hydrate the flour before it is even shaped. Another idea was to make a leavened batter and drop it into the hot water to cook. Yep, dumplings. The other ideas were probably stupid, because I've already forgotten them.

Unsurprisingly, I'm not the first person to think of making leavened dumplings and cooking them in hot water or broth. In fact, Chicken and Dumplings is I guess pretty classic Americana, though I never ate it growing up. Too bad; I was missing out on a great culinary feud. This war is between supporters of two different shapes of soup dumplings: the sliders, or slicks, and the floaters. According to this book, the war is not based on lineage, not geography. Alton Brown agrees, and indicates that the two styles of dumplings have different roots in the Old World and are a epicurean manifestation of the Norman-Saxon conflict.

For now I've got to cuddle up to the floater camp because this whole jaunt is all about learning how to make light, fluffy leavened dumplings, not flat noodles. Alton's floaters are choux pastry, which is interesting and definitely worth exploring, but I'm looking to make a chemically leavened dumpling, not just the mechanically-leavened sort. According to that Appalachian Home Cooking book, you can get the fluffy sort of dumpling by gently simmering biscuit dough, but that's not exact enough information for me. This article has a recipe for something that sounds similar. From a whole different track and indeed a different part of the world comes the Czech/Sloval parená knedľa, basically a steamed yeast bread that is then sliced into 'dumplings.'

In the end, however, I want a super light, fluffy dumpling if possible, at least for the first try. Based on my experience with pancakes, light and fluffy means either baking soda to go along with the baking powder, or whipped egg whites. Naturally, there are plenty of recipes for buttermilk and baking soda dumplings like this one. Googling "egg white dumplings" returned this recipe and story of not-quite-success, which I think is worth a shot and some modification. Onwards to the tests!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Duck Bacon Results

At work on Saturday, I pulled the duck legs out of their cure and smoked them. Total curing time was 12 days, first in the Ruhlman/Polcyn basic cure for 5 days vacuum-sealed and then 7 more days in a mix of equal parts by volume white sugar and salt with added brown sugar, garlic, and whole coriander, allspice, and black peppercorns, this time in a normal ziploc-type plastic bag. After the first cure period, I thought they weren't fully cured, so I decided to do another week in a cure with the brown sugar and spices that I didn't have time to add on the first try. I didn't have pink salt on hand, so I didn't vacuum-seal the legs for fear of botulism, but from the interior color of the final product I suspect nitrite penetration was quite thorough after the first week.

After 12 days curing, the meat was quite firm, slightly translucent, and wrinkling at the edges. The legs got rinsed, patted dry, and left for an hour to air-dry in the walk-in while the smoker got going. I hot-smoked them over hickory for about an hour and a half, but I think the smoker was only producing good smoke for about 45 minutes to an hour of that time. First I turned the burners under the smoker (just a deep hotel pan rig we use at the restaurant) too low and then fat rendering from the legs dripped down onto the woodchips, effectively forcing me to abandon the smoker and finish the legs in a low (250F) oven for another hour or so. I gave the legs a sniff before I put them in the oven, and the level of smokiness seemed appropriate, so I wasn't unduly worried.

After the duck came out of the oven, I crisped up a few small pieces and it was FANTASTIC. The smokey flavor was perfect and well balanced with the intense meatiness and saltiness, with the brown sugar taking the delicious up another level. I was slightly worried about texture, since duck legs sometimes get a dense sponginess if not cooked long enough, but the texture of even the un-crisped meat is pleasant - dense and a bit chewy in a good way. With some crisped skin and fat thrown in - the ratio of meat to fat is also excellent - these legs are really a great eating experience.

I'm still trying to think of good ways to feature this stuff in our family meals - pasta carbonara and pizza are the only things that have come to mind thus far.

Fresh Whole Wheat Pasta

Inspired by all the fresh pasta making going on around me at work every day. In this case, meditative was the flip-side of tedious.