"That's why I'm really proud of what we did here," he said over his cup of sake. "I'm proud of the big things, but I'm also proud of the little things we routinely did well. Do you know what made me most proud in the meal I served you? The Wagyu beef. It was perfectly cooked."
"The advantage of sous vide," someone said.
"But it wasn't sous vide!" Dufresne said. "That's the thing. It was cooked in a pan. And it had no gray on it! Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how much work that takes? Turning the beef every seven or eight seconds ... And so that question you asked me before, about food and music -- that's my answer: a perfect piece of Wagyu beef cooked in a pan that comes out without any gray on it. It might not be 'When the Levee Breaks,' but it's definitely 'Achilles Last Stand.'"
Let's start with the premise. Anybody who's ever grilled in their backyard with an overbearing uncle can tell you that if there's one rule about steaks that gets bandied about more than others, it's to not play with your meat once it's placed on the grill. That is, once steak hits heat, you should at most flip it just once, perhaps rotating it 90 degrees on each side in order to get yourself some nice cross-hatched grill marks.
The idea sort of makes sense at first glance: flipping it only once will give your steak plenty of chance to brown and char properly on each side. But the reality is that flipping a steak repeatedly during cooking -- as often as every 30 seconds or so -- will produce a crust that is just as good (provided you start with meat with a good, dry surface, as you always should), give you a more evenly cooked interior, and cook in about 30% less time to boot!
Although honestly, I eat and cook steak a lot less than I used to. Burgers too. A belly full of steak just doesn't feel that good anymore, gastronomically, gastrointestinally, or environmentally. I'm trying to eat more vegetables and especially seafood. Actually, I'm not really trying...it's just been working out that way. I still really like steak, but it's almost become a special occasion food for me, which is probably the way it should from a sustainability standpoint. ↩
The Theory: Seasoning is a thin layer of oil that coats the inside of your skillet. Soap is designed to remove oil, therefore soap will damage your seasoning.
The Reality: Seasoning is actually not a thin layer of oil, it's a thin layer of polymerized oil, a key distinction. In a properly seasoned cast iron pan, one that has been rubbed with oil and heated repeatedly, the oil has already broken down into a plastic-like substance that has bonded to the surface of the metal. This is what gives well-seasoned cast iron its non-stick properties, and as the material is no longer actually an oil, the surfactants in dish soap should not affect it. Go ahead and soap it up and scrub it out.
If you're at all interested in cooking at home, you've likely got one of Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbooks on your shelf: Jerusalem, Plenty, and Ottolenghi. I don't cook much myself, but from everything I've heard from friends, this guy is a wizard with vegetables. Now Ottolenghi is out with a new cookbook: Plenty More.
Yotam Ottolenghi is one of the world's most beloved culinary talents. In this follow-up to his bestselling Plenty, he continues to explore the diverse realm of vegetarian food with a wholly original approach. Organized by cooking method, more than 150 dazzling recipes emphasize spices, seasonality, and bold flavors. From inspired salads to hearty main dishes and luscious desserts, Plenty More is a must-have for vegetarians and omnivores alike. This visually stunning collection will change the way you cook and eat vegetables.
According to testing by the folks at America's Test Kitchen, you should not be thawing out your frozen steaks before you cook them. Mind. Blown. Into. Tiny. Pieces. Sweep. Me. Up. Pls.
Conventional wisdom holds that frozen steaks should be thawed before cooking, but we wondered if steaks could be cooked straight from the freezer. Cook's Illustrated Senior Editor Dan Souza explains our cooking experiments.
They also apparently more-or-less deep fry their steak? Is that a thing that we should be doing? (via digg)
Tom Scocca wonders why recipe writers don't tell the truth about how long caramelizing onions really takes.
Onions do not caramelize in five or 10 minutes. They never have, they never will-yet recipe writers have never stopped pretending that they will. I went on Twitter and said so, rudely, using CAPS LOCK. A chorus of frustrated cooks responded in kind ("That's on some bullshit. You want caramelized onions? Stir for 45 minutes").
As long as I've been cooking, I've been reading various versions of this lie, over and over. Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh: "Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions turn a medium-brown colour." The Boston Globe, on preparing pearl onions for coq au vin: "Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden." The Washington Post, on potato-green bean soup: "Add the onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown."
In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee notes that there is a liquidy part of the egg white and a viscous one. If you let the liquidy part drain, before poaching, you will have a beautiful poached egg. (People tell you to put vinegar or lemon juice in poaching water -- this does nothing in my experience.) The problem was, my perforated spoons were so shallow the egg always wanted to jump out. No longer. The deep bowl of The Badass Perf spoon easily contains even a jumbo egg, as well as heaps of beans, vegetables, and pasta.
Galactic Empire™ Cupcake Decorating Kit - "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Jedi Kitchen Council devised a powerful new way to spread fun through the galaxy. Jedi Master pastry chefs created this extraordinary collection of tools..."
Sandwich Cutters with Vintage-Style Tin - "Transform your Jedi's favorite sandwiches into high-energy fuel for lunches, snacks and parties with Millennium Falcon™ and Darth Vader's TIE fighter™ sandwich cutters. Created by the Jedi Kitchen Council to celebrate the Rebel Alliance's victory over the evil Empire, these cutters are fun and easy to use -- just press and cut." [The "Vintage-Style Tin" is actually, how you say, a metal lunchbox.]
Pancake Molds - "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a Jedi Kitchen Master used the Force to create three pancake molds in honor of his favorite galactic hero and villains: Yoda, Darth Vader and a stormtrooper. Use these molds to add whimsy and fun to your next pancake breakfast." [The Vader pancake looks a lot like Hannibal Lector in his mask.]
What, no Jar-Jar Binks Home Preserves Kit? (thx, meg)
This blog post and accompanying videos show you how to preheat your frying pan to the precise temperature at which your food won't stick. It involves waiting until a small splash of water in the pan forms a single mercury-like ball that floats (literally!) around the pan. Too hot and the water will disperse into smaller balls; too cold and it'll just boil off instantly.
The water "hovering" over the stainless steel pan like mercury happens due to the phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect. You can read more about it on wikipedia, but the basic idea is this: at a certain temperature known as the Leidenfrost point (roughly around 320F for water, but varying with surface and pressure), when the water droplet hits the hot pan, the bottom part of the water vaporizes immediately on contact. The resulting gas actually suspends the water above it and creates a pocket of water vapor that slows further heat transfer between the pan and the water. Thus it evaporates more slowly than it would at lower temperatures. At the proper temperature, a similar effect happens with the food you place in the pan, preventing the food from sticking.
This is possibly the best kitchen tip I've ever heard. (thx, jim)
The big difficulty with sous vide cooking at home is keeping the cooking temperature constant. Traditionally that has meant expensive emersion circulators with built-in heaters, although the price is down to $450 for the Sous-Vide Supreme. If only you could find something that insulated the water so that it stayed at a uniform temperature while cooking...
Fill up your beer cooler with water just a couple degrees higher than the temperature you'd like to cook your food at (to account for temperature loss when you add cold food to it), seal your food in a plastic Ziplock bag, drop it in, and close your beer cooler until your food is cooked.
Oh, and it'll work on camping trips as well (as long as you take your thermometer along).
With traditional cookery, when you are exposing your meat to temperatures much hotter than their final desired temperature (say, cooking a steak to 130°F in a 550°F skillet), timing is crucial. The center of your steak is getting hotter and hotter, and it's your job as cook to take it off the flame at precisely the moment that it reaches the desired final temperature. Miss that precise moment, and dinner is ruined.
The beauty of sous-vide cooking is that since you are cooking your steak in a 130°F water bath to begin with, there is absolutely no chance your meat will ever get above that temperature. Guests are an hour late? No problem -- leave the steaks in the water bath, and they'll be exactly the same an hour later.
Meg and I took a Thai cooking class today at Baipai Cooking School on the recommendation of my friend Darby (thx, Darb!). Since cooking is her thing, Meg's got the full write-up with photos. They pick you up at your hotel, you spend 4 hours cooking (part instruction, part hands-on) in a small outdoor kitchen (there were about 8-10 other people in the class) tasting as you go, you eat the meal you cook, and then they drop you back at your hotel. All for around US$35 per person. We made pad thai, tom kha gai (chicken & galangal in coconut milk soup), fish cakes, and tab tim grobb (water chestnut in coconut milk). Very fun and highly recommended.
Although the sandwich was named so after an 18th century British Earl, its invention dates back to a rabbi who lived in the first century B.C.. In my short history, I've eaten more than my fair share of sandwiches and while I can't consider myself a true connoisseur, the humble sandwich is one of my favorite things to eat and the ultimate in comfort foods.
The keys to a good sandwich are the three Bs: bread, balance, and...ok, there's only two Bs, but they're important. Aside from the main ingredient (turkey, tuna, chicken salad, etc.), the bread has the power to make or break a sandwich. The first thing you taste when you take a bite is the bread, so it had better be good and it had better be fresh.
Balance, or how the various parts come together to make a whole sandwich experience, is even more critical than the bread. Too much meat and the sandwich tastes only of meat. (The "famous" delis in NYC are big offenders here...the amount of meat in their sandwiches is way too much. These are sandwiches for showing off, not consumption.) Too much mustard and you overwhelm that beautiful pastrami. The mighty sandwich should not be a lowly conduit for your mustard addiction; why not just eat it straight from the jar? If you've got a dry bread, add a slice of tomato, a little extra mayo, or save it for tuna or egg salad. If you've got a lot of bread (a Kaiser or sub roll, for example), you'll probably need more of everything else to balance it out. Make sure the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the sandwich. You should get a bit of everything in each bite...it's a BLT, not just an L on toast. If the sandwich maker is doing his job right, you should be able to taste most of the ingredients separately and together at the same time.
Here are a few sandwiches I've enjoyed over the years. I haven't included any of the ones that I regularly make for myself because they're pretty boring, although IMO, they're right up there with any of these.
In college, when my friends and I got sick of eating on campus (and had the money to do so), we'd venture across the street to Zio Johno's, a little Italian place with good, cheap food. At first I just got the spaghetti or lasagna, but one time I tried the Italian sub they offered and I was hooked. The key was the super-sweet sub roll; my measely $3 was enough for both a savory dinner and sweet dessert at the same time. I've never found anywhere else that uses bread that sweet.
I've lived in NYC for three years now, but I haven't run across a steak sandwich that rivals the one I used to get on my lunch break at The Brothers' Deli in Minneapolis. Fried steak, fried onions, and cheddar cheese on a Kaiser roll with a side order of the best potato salad I've ever had.
Surdyk's (say "Sir Dicks") is an institution in Northeast Minneapolis (say "Nordeast"), the finest liquor store and cheese shop around. They also had good croissants (say "Qua Sawn" or "Cross Aunts") on which they put fresh ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Mmm.
There's nothing I like more than a good BLT, and Specialty's in San Francisco has one of the best I've had. Secret ingredient: pickles. Also, they didn't toast the bread, which I usually frown upon, but it worked well anyway.
As for New York, I don't live close to any good delis, but when I worked in Midtown, I used to zip over to the food court below Grand Central and hit Mendy's. Their chicken salad is top-notch; the chicken is good quality and it isn't overwhelmed by the mayonnaise. I'm usually not such a fan of rye bread, but their rye (it's a light rye) is fantastic and goes very well with the chicken salad. The salami is good too. I usually have half a sandwich with a cup of their chicken noodle.
Do you have a favorite sandwich? Know of any good NYC sandwich spots I should check out?
 Although Meg has been making this warm garlic potato salad lately that is a serious contender for the top spot.
Some great tips on grilling. "And if you think this takes a lot of time and concentration, you're right. There's time enough for socializing later. Do you want to grill an excellent steak or not? Okay, then. Concentrate."