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Chris Hennes

Cooking with The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt

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I know several people around these parts have picked up a copy of J. Kenji López-Alt's The Food Lab, so I figured it was time to start cooking from it. 

 

Chopped Greek Salad (p. 836)

 

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This is an excellent rendition of Greek Salad, with great proportions of the various ingredients, and just the right amount of dressing. There's nothing Earth-shattering here, but it gets me off on a good foot with this cookbook.

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Chris,

 

I've learned a lot from Kenji and the Serious Eats website, and I'm really looking forward to learning even more by following your adventures here. Thanks for sharing them with us!

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Tonight I pan seared my filet mignon a la The Food Lab.  I "generously" salted the meat and let it sit on a rack for a couple of hours or more (while my eggs pasteurized and my mai tai did its thing).  Then in an oiled skillet I (I would say) shallow fried the steak until a nice crust had formed on all sides and the interior measured 123 deg F by the Thermapen.  He does not cook steak in a dry pan.

 

I let the steak rest ten minutes while I prepared the béarnaise and blanched the broccolini.

 

Initially I was disappointed.  The meat was more medium/medium well than medium rare.  Then as I got closer to the other side of the steak it was more towards medium rare.  A delight for my old teeth that have difficulty with most steak.

 

The real problem was that the steak was oversalted.  I should be able to compensate next time.

 

Note I did not follow The Food Lab method for béarnaise.  No point in using a blender that I don't even have when béarnaise can be made perfectly with a copper pot and whisk.

 

It took a couple hours and the better part of a bottle of Zinfandel but I finished the whole steak.

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Note I did not follow The Food Lab method for béarnaise.  No point in using a blender that I don't even have when béarnaise can be made perfectly with a copper pot and whisk.

 

 

 

 

It would be worth getting an immersion blender even if you were only going to be using it to make bearnaise\hollandaise\mayonnaise Food Lab style. It takes a task that traditionally takes ~20 minutes of hands on effort and reduces it to less than 1 minute of active time. All that and you get an identical product with much less risk of your sauce breaking during the process. About the only way to mess it up is if you get the butter too hot (or don't allow it to cool enough) before adding it to the cup. 

 

I just had a weekend brunch and was serving Benedict (though with Olympia Provisions recipe "Sweetheart Ham" that I just cured, HIGHLY RECOMMEND) and was able to spend time assembling everything up to the point of adding the hollandaise before I did anything more than melt some butter in the microwave and place the lemon, salt and yolk in a cup. 15 seconds with an immersion blender and the sauce was ready to go and perfect. There is absolutely no way I would go back to the old way. I got to spend more time with my guests and didn't have to stress that the sauce might break at the last minute and screw everything up. 

 

The other benefit is that we ran out of sauce because a few people were basically eating it on everything I served so I made another batch on demand less than a minute later. 


Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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It would be worth getting an immersion blender even if you were only going to be using it to make bearnaise\hollandaise\mayonnaise Food Lab style. It takes a task that traditionally takes ~20 minutes of hands on effort and reduces it to less than 1 minute of active time. All that and you get an identical product with much less risk of your sauce breaking during the process. About the only way to mess it up is if you get the butter too hot (or don't allow it to cool enough) before adding it to the cup. 

 

I just had a weekend brunch and was serving Benedict (though with Olympia Provisions recipe "Sweetheart Ham" that I just cured, HIGHLY RECOMMEND) and was able to spend time assembling everything up to the point of adding the hollandaise before I did anything more than melt some butter in the microwave and place the lemon, salt and yolk in a cup. 15 seconds with an immersion blender and the sauce was ready to go and perfect. There is absolutely no way I would go back to the old way. I got to spend more time with my guests and didn't have to stress that the sauce might break at the last minute and screw everything up. 

 

The other benefit is that we ran out of sauce because a few people were basically eating it on everything I served so I made another batch on demand less than a minute later. 

 

I have an immersion blender (just not a real blender).  It takes seconds to make hollandaise with a whisk once the mise is ready.  I doubt a blender speeds up the egg pasteurization much.

 

Though I have to hand it to you:  I confess I cannot cleanly separate two yolks and squeeze a lime in less than a minute.  Even with my beloved Hamilton Beach citrus press.

 

 

Edit:  P.S.  I don't have a microwave.


Edited by JoNorvelleWalker (log)
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I have an immersion blender (just not a real blender).  It takes seconds to make hollandaise with a whisk once the mise is ready.  I doubt a blender speeds up the egg pasteurization much.

 

Though I have to hand it to you:  I confess I cannot cleanly separate two yolks and squeeze a lime in less than a minute.  Even with my beloved Hamilton Beach citrus press.

 

 

Edit:  P.S.  I don't have a microwave.

 

 

 

 

The microwave is not necessary but does make it easier because you can consistently achieve the exact temp range you are looking for every time while paying no attention to it and there is no danger of browning\burning. 

 

So you can hand whisk a stick or two of butter into an emulsion in seconds but it takes you longer than a minute to separate two yolks and squeeze a citrus fruit? Also, lime in Hollandaise?

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I have made a few things from The Food Lab; all have been successful. First up, Pasta with Sausage and Red Sauce Braised Broccoli Rabe. 5421d127677414aafadc6a0c12812116.jpg

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Jamaican Jerk Rubbed Roast Chicken was a big hit. Next time, I will add more heat. I used a habanero from my garden, perhaps it wasn't very hot but the dish was very flavorful. ddf49fe799bfb36fb2b92b12050ada73.jpg

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A repeat of my experiment from the other night.  Roast potatoes, broccolini béarnaise, filet mignon al a Lopez-Alt.  This time I very lightly salted the steak, as opposed to "generously" as called for.  I let it sit on a rack for a few hours at room temperature to dry.  Much better.  The inside of the steak was perfect to my taste.  I pulled it when the interior reached 127 deg F.  I left the Thermopen in as the meat rested and the center came to a high of 135 deg F.  Though I must say I would have enjoyed a bit more sear on the outside crust.  And I was not thrilled with sputtering the kitchen walls, my clothes, and counter surfaces in grease.

 

But this is better than having a crunchy surface over dry, gray beef.

 

The conditions were not exactly the same.  In both cases the music was Schubert, but a different piece.  And the wine tonight was cabernet instead of zinfandel.

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Roasted Pear Salad (p. 793)

 

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We had friends over for dinner last night and I wanted something "just exotic enough" -- that is, something that everyone would like, but wasn't too much like salad from a bag. This fit the bill nicely. I decided to serve the pears warm instead of letting them cool, and I replaced the frisee with mustard greens (I can almost never get frisee here). The Hazelnut Vinaigrette (p. 792) is delicious on it.

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Glazed Carrots (p. 453)

 

DSC_1296.jpg

 

For our main course last night I served sous vide ribeye (58 deg C, final sear in a hot skillet plus Searzall) topped with the Blue-Cheese Butter Seasoning (p. 326), and these carrots as a side. Once again I was going for a recognizable, well-loved dish, done well, and these carrots delivered. As my guests pointed out, it's something of a revelation to have properly cooked carrots when you're used to them either raw or mushy, and the glaze added just the right amount of sweetness to please everyone. 

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Glazed Carrots (p. 453)

 

For our main course last night I served sous vide ribeye (58 deg C, final sear in a hot skillet plus Searzall) topped with the Blue-Cheese Butter Seasoning (p. 326), and these carrots as a side. Once again I was going for a recognizable, well-loved dish, done well, and these carrots delivered. As my guests pointed out, it's something of a revelation to have properly cooked carrots when you're used to them either raw or mushy, and the glaze added just the right amount of sweetness to please everyone. 

 

How long did you sous vide the ribeye? Really nice btw :)

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I don't know. It took about an hour and ten minutes to come up to 58C in a 59C bath, at which time I dropped the bath temp to 58C. We probably actually ate it about two hours later.

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Tonight was mushroom-marsala pan sauce, p 369.  Recipe followed as closely as I could.  To cut to the chase the result was pretty good.  But the soy sauce overwhelmed the marsala, and it wasn't budget quality marsala either.  If you make this omit the soy sauce.

 

Possibly Lopez-Alt was not accounting for Marudaizu.

 

And please cut down on or omit the tomato paste entirely.  It is not necessary.  Unless your taste buds were shot off in the war.*

 

My most memorable chicken marsala was decades ago from a restaurant in Eastern Maryland.  I ate there quite a lot while traveling on business.  They offered chicken marsala and duck al a orange.  It was basically the same sauce with different flavorings.  But it was so good.  By this standard The Food Lab fails the test.

 

 

*Credit to Tom Lehrer.

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Tonight was mushroom-marsala pan sauce, p 369.  Recipe followed as closely as I could.  To cut to the chase the result was pretty good.  But the soy sauce overwhelmed the marsala, and it wasn't budget quality marsala either.  If you make this omit the soy sauce.

 

Possibly Lopez-Alt was not accounting for Marudaizu.

 

And please cut down on or omit the tomato paste entirely.  It is not necessary.  Unless your taste buds were shot off in the war.*

 

 

What soy sauce did you use? (They vary from dark and pungent to sweet to light and airy to delicate to salty as hell etc)

 

In any case I believe "adjust for personal taste" is a common caveat for all recipes, I think?

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What soy sauce did you use? (They vary from dark and pungent to sweet to light and airy to delicate to salty as hell etc)

 

In any case I believe "adjust for personal taste" is a common caveat for all recipes, I think?

 

As I said, Marudaizu.

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As I said, Marudaizu.

Ah, OK, thanks. I missed that before. I am unfamiliar with this one although I've used the imported "Regular soy sauce" grade Yamasa stuff before.


Edited by huiray (log)

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I've been working on a few things.  I finally got a good smashed burger.  And tonight I again made chicken Marsala.  Inexplicably I omitted the flour, but thankfully the result was by no means diminished.

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Got my book yesterday.  Some interesting reading coming up.  The potato salad description adding the vinegar, salt and sugar in the water is something I would like to try.  I visited his website and there is an Erata section which I looked at and compared my book.  I must have a second printing because all the errors were fixed EXCEPT for the quick waffles on page 157.  According to the Erata page, it should be 1/2 cup buttermilk and not 1 1/2 cups.

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I seem to have lost the technique.  My last two smashed burgers were burnt and inedible (though I ate them anyway).  I'm coming to think my electric stove is hotter that what most people would call "medium" or "high".  From memory I recall he says to heat the pan on medium and then up the heat to high when the ground beef is added.

 

Instant charcoal.

 

My copy is first edition.

 

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I made the vegetable soup.  Meh.  Pretty ordinary.

Also made the coleslaw and we did not like the lack of crunch that results from pre-salting the cabbage so the salad is not watery.  

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45 minutes ago, Okanagancook said:

I made the vegetable soup.  Meh.  Pretty ordinary.

Also made the coleslaw and we did not like the lack of crunch that results from pre-salting the cabbage so the salad is not watery.  

 

I too like my coleslaw crunchy, and prefer to dress the cabbage at the last moment.  My coleslaw is not watery.  But I've found enough of use in The Food Lab to make the purchase more than worthwhile for me.  On a weight basis the book is a real bargain.

 

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Completely agree about not salting the cabbage.

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I completely love reading Kenji's work, but have had some disappointing results from some of his recipes. I have also had problems with his recommendations for high heat with my electric stove elements, like @JoNorvelleWalker. I tried this, and the first one was instant charcoal, like she said. I reduced the heat, and had better results, but still nothing to match his commentary or photos in the linked article. I was hoping for a magic solution to making pizza without running the A/C against the oven in our brutal summers. I will still read his stuff, but I'm going to take the recipes with a grain of salt. I also won't be buying his book, but I wish him much success with it. He is a passionate and interesting food writer.

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