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Chris Amirault

Cooking with "Modernist Cuisine" (Part 1)

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Mac and Cheese (p. 3-387)

No, this isn't some kind of play on words, or a joke-recipe, or some kind of fascinating modernist creation. It's just macaroni and cheese. This recipe is a clear demonstration that while you can use modernist ingredients to create some really crazy stuff, you can also apply them to simply take a classic dish and make it better. And believe me when I say it: this version of mac and cheese is so vastly, clearly superior to anything I've ever had it is mind boggling.

There are two keys to the dish, both related to problems with the original: the first is that when you make a cheese sauce with a bechamel base, you have to use a LOT of bechamel, and there is a limit to how much cheese you can add before it breaks. This winds up diluting the cheese flavor, and is part of the reason I would never consider making a traditional mac and cheese with a really great cheese: its subtlety would simply be lost, and you'd gain nothing over using a simpler cheese. The second key is that not only does bechamel dilute the cheese flavor purely by volume, it also has poor "flavor release" compared to, say, carageenan: the book spends a great deal of time talking about this sort of thing, and it's very helpful for understanding why these techniques work as well as they do.

So, the modernist version of the dish does away with the bechamel base: instead, you make a small amount of a solution of beer, water, sodium citrate (to emulsify the cheese) and carrageenan (the thicken the sauce). You then melt a huge quantity of excellent cheese into it (I used Cabot clothbound cheddar and Roomano Pradera Gouda), in effect making your own processed cheese block. You chill it down until you literally have a block of processed cheese more or less the consistency of Velveeta, and then you shred it. The pasta is cooked in just enough water for it to absorb, and then the shredded cheese product is stirred in. You wind up with a mac and cheese the same texture as if you had used Velveeta: perfectly, flawlessly smooth. Except it tastes incredibly intensely like the best cheeses in the world! Perhaps you have gathered here that I rather liked the stuff. If this is "Modernist" then consider me modernified. Sort of. I did serve it with dry-fried chicken and steamed broccoli...

gallery_56799_5925_112393.jpg


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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It took about ten or fifteen minutes to make the cheese block. I chilled it for maybe half hour at room temp, and another half hour in the fridge. It was still not quite solidifed when I went to shred it, so I wound up with "cheese spaetzle" rather than "cheese shreds" but it didn't really matter. So call it 20 minutes of cooking total? Plus the chilling time? Faster than the bechamel method...


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I wanted to add a thought: I think that one of the keys to explaining the power of Modernist Cuisine is historical context. There are many "chemical" ingredients that we use all the time -- salt, baking powder, gelatin -- to make food better. Chris's post explains why these newer ingredients can do the same.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I wanted to add a thought: I think that one of the keys to explaining the power of Modernist Cuisine is historical context. There are many "chemical" ingredients that we use all the time -- salt, baking powder, gelatin -- to make food better. Chris's post explains why these newer ingredients can do the same.

This a challenging and exciting way of thinking about what "modernist cuisine" means. I will probably be the last member of the eG volunteer team to buy a Sous Vide Supreme, but this makes intuitive sense to me and totally bursts the intimidation bubble.

Who knew that a homemade block of velveeta would be the key?



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That mac and cheese looks amazing. I can't wait to start playing with these recipes.

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It seems we don't have Velveeta here in Spain --which I assume is good--, Chris, would you please describe the desired texture? Thanks!


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Chris, which carrageenan did you use? I don't have the proper one. Can you sub one for the other ?

Chris, this recipe calls for the iota carrageenan, and as I discovered writing the WIkiGullet article on the stuff, they are definitely not interchangeable.

It seems we don't have Velveeta here in Spain --which I assume is good--, Chris, would you please describe the desired texture? Thanks!

Yeah, you're not missing anything lacking Velveeta :smile: ... at refrigerated temperatures Velveeta has a very odd texture, squishy and rubbery, but the key is when you heat it its mouthfeel is perfectly smooth, and it doesn't break even at very high temperatures. The combined emulsification of the carrageenan and sodium citrate is pretty powerful. I took two quite grainy cheeses, and once melted and emulsified they were completely smooth, with no detectable grain, even heated to a near boil.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I saw the emulsified cheese mentioned on a post about the book (I think it was on Pop Sci) and was afraid it would require some sort of high-tech emulsifier. Glad to hear that the technique can be done with typical kitchen equipment.

I love the possibility of making a full-flavored cheese sauce that doesn't break or turn grainy. I've recently been experimenting with the starch + evaporated milk combo used by Kenji Lopez-Alt. I used a tiny bit of Xanthan and it worked like a charm. I'll have to try the Modernist approach to see how it compares.

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Well, it would allow you to make fondue with cheeses that don't normally work I guess, like this really aged cheddars and goudas. I also think that you can get better flavor release from some of the modernist thickening agents than you can from the starches typically used in fondue, but I don't have the book handy to check that table. Chris A, does the book mention fondue?


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Here are some answers to questions posed above.

Fondue is basically starch and alcohol/acid added to melted cheese to help stabilize the emulsion.

You can use emulsifying salts (sodium citrate or a phosphate) to do the same thing with no starch, and the flavor is (in our opinion) much better. Starch can have poor flavor release properties.

We do something similar for cheese sauce - we have a cheeze foam (homemade cheese whiz!) and of course the macaroni and cheese made this way.

You can also use various thickeners and gels to help with this (as discussed above we use a bit of iota carrageenan in our mac and cheese) to help texture. Xanthan certainly works, but it is mostly about thickening and most uses of melted cheese the thickness is not the issue - it is already thick but the problem is the emulsion splitting so it gets greasy.


Nathan

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Oh, and that cheese sauce went great on a potato and chorizo hash this morning, so it's not just for mac and cheese...

Did your cheese sauce ever reach grating consistency? I have kappa carrageenan and one from Xenex that contains kappa and iota - I made a firm block - but wouldn't be able to grate it - crumble it maybe.

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No, though I'm not sure it would crumble, either: it wound up the consistency of clay, even after an overnight rest in the fridge.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Well, it would allow you to make fondue with cheeses that don't normally work I guess, like this really aged cheddars and goudas. I also think that you can get better flavor release from some of the modernist thickening agents than you can from the starches typically used in fondue, but I don't have the book handy to check that table. Chris A, does the book mention fondue?

Yes, there is a parametric recipe chart on fondue in volume four (223).

This pdf index for the book is very handy, btw. Given the benefits of searching on a text string in a pdf file, it's more useful than the on e at the back of volume five at times.


Edited by Chris Amirault (log)

Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris Amirault

Chris Hennes

In this thread and others, discussions have been had about buying modernist/special ingredients. Let's start from the beginning. Either in your experience or from Modernist Cuisine, is there a recommmended list of pantry staples, like we already do with sugar, salt, pepper, various spices, et. al.? What are the priorty items, which are most shelf-stable and what are the ones that last longest on a counter or in a freezer? I know the kits are omnibus and probably are a good random selection. Which items do the kits miss that we should be acquiring and what are the unnecessary additions? Are there ingredients we should stock more of and others we could skip until a need arises? Yes, I know those regular spices I stock are based upon my preferences and what I cook, but I guess I am looking for a path through the wilderness.

Finally, are there local places you use if you are missing one item? I looked through Whole Foods and there are bits and pieces, but for the most part they are not a good alternative. Are most of the ingredients best and only available on line?


"A cloud o' dust! Could be most anything. Even a whirling dervish.

That, gentlemen, is the whirlingest dervish of them all." - The Professionals by Richard Brooks

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I read in a number of places about MC's workaround for not having a proper brick oven to cook pizza, consisting of putting a 1/4 inch-thick steel sheet and using it instead of a stone. Two questions about that: any steel will do it? would it work for baking bread?


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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The promised photos. First, a shot of the potatoes in the FoodSaver bags. They were all trimmed square; if I had been thinking, I would have grated the trim for hash browns at lunch. As I mentioned above, no water in the bags:

DSC00006.JPG

A note to the SVS owners: those bags were just barely too big for the SVS, so I had to get two long skewers, poke holes in the top of the bags, and let them sit slightly diagonally from the top. I learned the hard way that big bags lying flat are a nightmare for the temperature controls on the SVS for all obvious reasons.

Meanewhile, here are the steaks getting ready for the smoker along with some other items:

DSC00003.JPG

Post-cold smoke (~2h of apple smoke; never got about 50F in the smoker) and trimmed. I am seriously looking forward to using that smoked fat somehow:

DSC00007.JPG

I was working quickly -- the steaks were a bit warmer than I'd like -- and I got them into their bags with some black pepper, Aleppo pepper, kosher salt, and a knob of rendered beef fat:

DSC00012.JPG

Into my high-tech, super-expensive ice bath:

DSC00015.JPG

As I mentioned above, I SVed them at 56C, which was a bit warmer than I'd have liked for the steaks, but I was thinking about our guests. Here they are getting their last marks on a screaming hot grill that I'd sprayed with high-heat Pam:

DSC00018.JPG

All of this seems like a lot of fooling around just to cook a steak. Also, if you are going outside to use the smoker, why wouldnt you continue the outside cooking with a grill. it has to get hotter than your home range. Do you think all of this is worth repeating?


Edited by basquecook (log)

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted" JK

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Well, I've been cooking steaks for over 30 years, and my guests have been eating a lot of them. We all agreed that it was the best steak they'd ever had, so I'm going with, "Yeah, it was worth it."

Does that mean that a grill is a bad way to cook steak? Not at all -- and the MC book details how to think about that issue. But when it's 10F outside, it'd be hard to beat this method.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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No, though I'm not sure it would crumble, either: it wound up the consistency of clay, even after an overnight rest in the fridge.

So my mixed kappa and iota gave me about that same consistency. Means I don't have to order yet another molecular ingredient!

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