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Cooking with "Modernist Cuisine" (Part 1)


Chris Amirault
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You need 100g in each of two siphons to do the whole batch: my plan at the outset was to only carbonate half of them, since I only have one siphon. And even then you wind up with about 70g of leftover liquid. So I reserved 100g for the carbonation step, and am using the other 100g + extra 70g as my attempt #2, which actually works out quite well, quantity-wise. But I'm remembering now why I ended up blending the hell out of it: the calcium lactate is having trouble dissolving. But this time I turned my brain on, and have not yet added the xantham gum, so I can mix to my heart's content.

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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So, in a recipe that calls for 40 spheres, I managed to make nine. Still... nine spheres! This is my first spherification attempt, so I'm sort of proud of the things, really. This is unlike any other cooking I've done. I had to play around a bit with the amount of xantham gum to get them to hold together and to sink properly because it clumped up on my when I first added it. Then, it turns out that it takes a bit of practice to get the stuff to scoot into the alginate bath without surface tension holding it to the top. But... nine! They are carbonating now.

Here's a preview of what they look like (basically like greenish egg yolks):

DSC_8450.jpg

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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So, in a recipe that calls for 40 spheres, I managed to make nine. Still... nine spheres! This is my first spherification attempt, so I'm sort of proud of the things, really. This is unlike any other cooking I've done. I had to play around a bit with the amount of xantham gum to get them to hold together and to sink properly because it clumped up on my when I first added it. Then, it turns out that it takes a bit of practice to get the stuff to scoot into the alginate bath without surface tension holding it to the top. But... nine! They are carbonating now.

Here's a preview of what they look like (basically like greenish egg yolks):

DSC_8450.jpg

It's so beautiful!

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Pickle prep. Slicing a European cuke (no kirbys at the store) to 4 mm on the Benriner:

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Pickle brine. One of the great things about cooking with this book is that EVERYTHING is scaled to weight, so you just dump, sprinkle, tare, next:

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Brine heated, cooled, dill added, and everything sealed up:

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ETA: the brine called for caraway seeds, which I lack, so I subbed in yellow and brown mustard seeds, which I love.

Edited by Chris Amirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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For the modernist fried chicken, the two birds:

DSC00011.JPG

The recipe calls for the leg and thigh meat, with the upper bone removed, as well as extra chicken skin to wrap up the exposed meat:

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Made some SV breasts, stock and paté with the rest.

Brining for 5h:

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About to pull them out and give 'em the meat glue treatment. And I will confess that "meat glue" gives me shivers. Wish me luck.

Chris Amirault

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So the idea here is to wrap the meat entirely in skin and then to SV and fry it. To make the skin and meat stick, you need transglutaminase, the aforementioned meat glue. In preparation to apply the Activa, I put down some wax paper and got out the gloves -- the latter just to make sure the right meat got glued. Forgive the mediocre photos:

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Weighed out the Activa and got a small strainer so that it was more evenly applied:

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It was kind of tricky figuring out exactly how much skin to cut, but, I figured, there's no such thing as too much fried chicken skin, so I just halved the whole pieces. Laid out everything flesh up:

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Activa applied:

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The thighs & legs wrapped with the extra skin:

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Bundled them tight with plastic wrap for their overnight in the fridge:

DSC00017.JPG

Chris Amirault

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Oh, and the cheese:

DSC00026.JPG

Lots of cheese there: cheddar and two kinds of aged gouda. And it melts into the beer and water and sodium chloride and iota carrageenan like buddah. (As long as there's no rind.) Once melted and smooth, into a pan:

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Once it had cooled to room temp, I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge for grating tomorrow:

DSC00039.JPG

Chris Amirault

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Don't have the book yet so this lazy cook has to ask: why firm up and then grate the cheese, instead of using it directly as the yummy smooth melty stuff without firming up afterwards?

I was wondering the same thing. (I mean, there is the fun of making your own block of processed cheese, I grant you that. :wink:) The texture in the pan was a bit more grainy than I had expected, so perhaps something happens when it firms up in the fridge.

Chris Amirault

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So that others may learn from my many mistakes, here they all in all their glory. I hope to look back on this post one day from a position of great spherification knowledge and shake my head at my past foolishness.

As I mentioned above, with the first attempt I used a blender to do the final mixing, including the xantham gum. The calcium takes a while to dissolve, so I wound up blending for quite some time, and because of the viscosity added by the xantham the bubbles were held in suspension. The end result was that the liquid floated in the bath:

DSC_8339.jpg

For batch two I used a hand whisk to combine the ingredients, and I didn't add the xantham until the calcium was dissolved: this worked much better at making sure there were no air bubbles. But this being my first spherification attempt, and having not read the book closely enough, the first attempt with the new batch was better, but still not right. I was sort of pouring the liquid into the bath from a short height...

DSC_8363.jpg

So it sort of floats on the surface, with the surface tension being enough to keep it afloat (barely):

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Here's a side view of that effect:

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Looking more closely at the book shows the flaw in this technique, so attempt two (which actually works) was to actually try to release the liquid under the surface of the bath by sort of dunking the spoon in and rotating it. Here is that sequence...

DSC_8384 (1).jpg DSC_8385 (1).jpg

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And the sphere beginning to take form

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I don't have a good spoon for this so I had to use a strainer and a regular spoon. The spheres are removed from the alginate bath:

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And then rinsed in water twice to stop the gelling:

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They are stored in an additional amount of the filling ingredients (minus the xantham gum and calcium)

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The carbonation is achieved with a ISI Thermowhip and three charges of nitrogen (one to purge the container and two to charge it). Five hours in the fridge, and you have carbonated mojito spheres, like so:

DSC_8461 (1).jpg

That's served in a glass of tonic, because I wasn't sure what else to do. All told this was a fun experiment, but there are a few things I would change if I were to make it again. First, I think I'd make them smaller: I was using 10-15 mL of fluid per ball, which is about the size of a small egg yolk. I think that was too big, and that 5-7mL would be easier to eat. Second, I'd like to make the skin thinner: these seemed more resilient than necessary (though maybe the carbonation is hard on them and the thicker shell is needed for that). Finally, I need to come up with a better way of serving them: they don't pack enough flavor punch to be dropped into tonic like this. I think maybe serve them alone, on a small spoon, as a sort of amuse bouche.

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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Like a mojito :smile:. Which is to say, the modernist-y ingredients and techniques didn't affect the flavor. I generally like my mojitos with a more acidic punch, but I wanted to follow the recipe to the letter the first time I made it. I'm not sure what effect increasing the acidity will have on the gelling.

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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Quick update: the chicken is now bathing in brine #2 (vodka, water, baking soda) for 3h before 2h in the Sous Vide Supreme and the final high-temp fry. Pickles look good.

The cheese spent the night in the fridge and didn't quite firm up into something quite grate-able, so I stuck it in the freezer for a bit.

Chris Amirault

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Oh, I had a story and a thought.

Story: I was emptying the dishwasher and found that there was a gummy residue on the cheese grater. "Egad!" I thought. "Am I risking poisoning my family with meat glue or some other chemical?" Nope: turns out it was my wife's fault: as she was making her creme anglaise, she didn't scrape the bottom of her slurry dish, so it was coated with deadly.... corn starch. :huh:

Thought: We have friends coming for dinner, the ones who usually benefit from the latest experiments (and who loved that steak up-topic). And I was just realizing that, to get ready for dinner, I have to (1) drain pickles; (2) cook elbow pasta in water and stir in cheese, and (3) pat dry and fry the chicken. I should get the whole meal to the table with, what, ten minutes of final cooking. Which is to say, many of these MC recipes are fantastic for dinner parties (or, yeah, restaurant service).

Chris Amirault

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Getting ready for an afternoon of cooking -- and the vodka was an ingredient, not a personnel lubricant:

DSC00002-1.JPG

After a night tightly wrapped in the fridge, the Activa-ted skin adhered more tightly to the thigh than the original skin did:

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Into their bags with the vodka, baking soda, and water combination. I assumed that they wanted an 80 proof vodka:

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Yes, it's a bag-intensive recipe, this one. Those spent three hours in the fridge while I turned to getting ready for the mac & cheese. All in one pot, too:

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The frozen cheese grated very nicely indeed -- for the first couple of minutes, after which I got the curd effect that Chris Hennes mentioned above. Didn't matter, in the end; I think curds would be fine:

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For texture atop the mac & cheese, I pulled some challah bread crumbs when I made some little toasts for the paté we served as an appetizer:

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There was a moment when the fry oil was hitting 425F with two pieces of meat in there and the macaroni was boiling away when things seemed a bit close to the edge:

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I mean, surely, the idea of putting the macaroni, water, and salt into the pan, turning it on high --

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-- then dumping in the cheese when the pasta was al dente --

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-- surely this couldn't work. But, yeah, it sure did (ignore the slightly overbroiled breadcrumbs):

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Meanwhile, the chicken? Here it is, fresh out of the fryer:

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Dusted with freeze-dried buttermilk, some pepper, bay leaves, and thyme:

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The modernist feast as the dinner bell rang:

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Looks pretty 21st century, doesn't it?

Report and comments in a sec.

Chris Amirault

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Comments on the three recipes from MC.

The pickles were very tasty, and I'll be using that brine and method again. I'm not sure what I gain from sealing the cukes and brine in a vacuum bag, however, so I may go back to the jar-with-glass-thing-that-keeps-the-pickles-under-brine. Maybe when I get a chamber vacuum I'll give it a go again.

The chicken was pretty amazing. While preparing the brine, I was surprised at the lack of any flavorings save booze and salt, but the method puts a piece of extremely juicy flesh with a portion of very crispy skin in each bite -- and no bone to avoid. The buttermilk powder is a real stroke, adding a tang to the coating that I can't imagine getting otherwise. In addition, cranking the oil up to 425F, though a bit scary for someone who's stuck around 375F most of the time, was absolutely the right thing to do: 4 minutes with one flip in the middle and that skin was perfect.

I do think that I would squeeze out the accumulated liquid in the skin-wrapped thigh more carefully before frying; some released over the oil creating a small explosion. Given the importance of the meat quality, I'd also use the best chicken I could find. (These were Whole Foods generic, not free-range, and you could tell.)

As for the mac & cheese: it was both the best and the easiest I've ever made. No gloppy sauce, remarkably intense cheese flavor (you get the "flavor release" concept when you eat it), and the pasta absorbs it thoroughly. There was a moment when the mac & cheese was boiling away while I got distracted, and I rushed over to it thinking, "It must have broken." Nope. It's hard to imagine ever making it any differently again, though I think I'd swap out some of the gouda and add more cheddar out of preference.

In short, three for three.

Chris Amirault

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I think that if you have a chamber sealer and have something you want to keep submerged, sealing it up seems like a pretty good solution to me: I do it when curing bacon to keep the cure as close to the belly as possible, I'd think it works the same for pickles, no?

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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yah, i dont quite understand vac packing the cukes in the brine...

The reason to do it is that most vegetables have at least some air pockets in them, and by putting it in a vacuum you force the air out and brine in. This speeds brine penetration.

In the case of an apple, which most people would think of as having fairly dense flesh, you can actually double the weight by vacuum packing.

I don't think we measured the density of cucumber, but they float, which means that their density is less than that of water. This means they must have air in them. In fact, that is you you must put a weight on them to brine them in a jar.

This site says the density of pickles (after brining) is still only 0.665 grams/cc.

So that is why we use vacuum packing. However, I will also admit that once you have a chamber style vacuum packer in your kitchen, you use it for everything - it is very convienient.

That said, I am sure that if you put them in a jar with a weight it will certainly work. You may find that you will need to increase the time, or slice the cumcumber a bit thinner if you do this.

Recall that the amount of time it takes brine to penetrate scales roughly as the square of thickness, so slices that are half as thick will brine in about 1/4 the time. That is because it is a diffusion process.

Nathan

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