Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chicharrón - The Other Style

While I was doing research on fried pork skin, I noticed there are two basic categories, with any number of variations on each. The super puffy version, (I already covered here), and the less puffy more crunchy version. This time I'm going to deal with the less puffed, but crunchier, style. This will be more of an account of the different trials I did rather than a recipe.
The glorious piece of fat-back you can see pictured was my testing medium.
I cut out a few pieces, baked one, covered, at 250F for 7 hours, oil poached one at 207F for 7 hours and, water poached one at 207F for 7 hours.
After letting all of these cool, just like with the other style, you want to fry them in hot oil. I cut a slice off of each and threw them into 400F oil. The baked and water poached reacted about the same in the oil, they both created huge bursting pockets of steam, which if I didn't have a splatter guard, would have spewed oil all over anything within 3 feet. They did turn into crunchy fried pork, but the way to go is cooked in a fat (it pops less, but still use a guard).
So now that I have some oil poached fat-back I had to figure the best way to finish it. I trimmed off the meat because it was a totally separate layer in terms of texture and cooking time (it crisps before the fat). This left me with 1.5cm worth of fat sitting on top of skin. Being sure not to go through the skin, I made several cuts into the fat to allow oil to crisp in-between the cuts.

Frying the fat cut like this forces the skin and fat to curve and open, crisping the large section of fat. I enjoyed this result the most. I can't draw a conclusion on frying pork fat, skin and meat yet, but I know gently poaching pork fat and skin in fat, letting it cool, slicing it to increase the surface area, and then frying in hot oil makes a very tasty treat. Here is what it looked like.
 Plate it up!
Pork Fat-Back Chicharrón with Glazed Broccoli Rabe, Lacto-Fermented Beets, Rhubarb Compote and Lemon Zest

I am going to try this again with a section of pork belly, which has sections of fat and meat that are more intertwined than the stark contrast of layers from the back. This should prevent the muscle layers from being to dry and the fat layers from being to greasy, although I don't think fried fat-back, done this way, is too greasy.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Pickles (Lacto-Fermented)

I've been seeing pickles everywhere on Manhattan menus. It seems that the way to make it cool is label them house/home made and use vegetables the majority of people would not think of as pickles. A menu that reads, under the starter/appetizer/snack section of menu, "Plate of Seasonal House-made Pickles $10" is becoming more common. All of these are going to be made with some spices, salt, and vinegar. Most will probably include some sugar or something else sweet. As much as I love vinegar pickles, I decided to try and develop an easy way to ferment pickles at home with nothing more than salt, water, and the veggies. This method produces pickles that taste like the vegetables. Also, the flavor of the lactic acid that is produced is very different from the acetic acid in vinegar. This is not a new idea, but here is what I found works best.
Make enough brine for the amount of vegetables you want to pickle. They need to be covered in brine. Do this by making a 3.5 percent salt solution with room temperature water and salt (100g of water 3.5g salt). Then add to this brine 20 percent of the weight of the water in whey. Place your vegetables into a quart container(or another container you can easily prevent air from getting to the vegetables with) and cover with the brine. Take another quart container and place on top of the brine. Add enough water to the top quart so that the brine moves up around the top quart, but not so much as the brine overflows (look at these photos to see how the top quart limits the air contact with the brine and vegetables). Let sit for 36 hours at room temperature and then stir and taste. The longer you leave the vegetables out the more they will ferment. I've never gone longer than a week, and that was with garlic(it turned blue!)

Additional Comments:
After they generate enough acidity at room temperature, these pickles will keep for a very long time in the fridge.
I generate whey by curdling milk to make fresh cheese. The basic process is heat milk/cream with an acid until it curdles, then strain. The liquid is whey.
Straining yogurt is another easy way to get your hands on some whey. The yogurt may be your best bet if you make it yourself, because this whey will have active lacto-fermenting bacteria already in it.
The whole reason I add the whey is to make the brine a happy place from the bacteria and yeasts that I want to grow. They like the brine and lactic acid more than the bacteria and yeasts I don't want, and therefore flourish and wipe out the unwanted ones. Plus the bacteria are going to make lactic acid which is already in the whey. You could just add some lactic acid powder if you have that, it works just as well as the whey. You could even skip the fermentation process all together and just make a very acidic solution of salt, lactic acid, and water and put the veggies into it. It would be a more clean and pure tasting version of this pickle.
Now that I have a farm going, I use some of the extra pickle liquid from old batches instead of the whey. I have so much that I never use the whey anymore. The old pickling liquid works to ferment the new pickles very quickly, so your subsequent batches need to be checked on more frequently.
Depending on what vegetable you want to pickle you may have to cook it slightly. I think crunchiness is essential for a true pickle, so most are great raw (cucumber, radish, turnip, carrot), but others benefit from softening a little(beet, rutabaga, parsley root). Although, some may even enjoy these hard vegetables raw. Keep in mind that the veggies will soften slightly during fermentation (especially softer specimens like cucumber).
I pickle my cucumber with calcium rich gray salt in the brine so that the end result is crunchier, the calcium and other ions in this impure salt help maintain cellular structure and generate a firmer pickle.
Plate it up!
Lacto-fermented pickles and pork rinds
Clockwise from the top left: radish, turnip, heart of palm, carrot, cucumber, and parsley root.
Pickles, sunflower sprouts, yogurt, sriracha, fish sauce, and short grain rice
(I eat this a lot after service, and because its for me I don't make it so pretty)


Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I really enjoy mushrooms, but the fact that many of them live off of either decaying plants or dung makes me think twice. These creatures of decay are still dear to me, but I am definitely aware of how they are harvested or cultivated.  It gets a little tricky when you consider that different members of the fungus family grow differently, and therefore require their own unique handling concerns.
Morels are particularly difficult to clean because of the structure of their cap. Cutting and then soaking them in water is the only way to really get them clean. I decided to see what the effect of washing would be on these morels. I did three different trials: the first was just cut in half and brushed(no water), the second I cut, washed, and let dry for 3 hours on a cloth in the fridge, the last I cut, washed, and cook immediately.

Morels are great stewed or cooked in a liquid, but I figured I would sauté them and then lightly glaze with butter and excess pickled shallot liquid(just enough to prevent the butter from breaking and impart some flavor). I think cooking them this way gives the greatest chance of showing any differences in the cleaning process. I was also sure not to overcrowd the pan and get just a little bit of browning while sautéing(early signs of browning would be the stopping point for all of the trials).

Keep in mind I didn't just rinse the mushrooms quickly under water, I soaked them in water and let them sit. I then stirred them, changed the water, and did the same thing again, for a total of three times.
For pictures and comments on the cleaning process and pommes anna check out my picasa page here.
The results:
The brushed morels were gritty. However, they browned the fastest, about 50-60 seconds faster than the washed and dried and 110-120 seconds faster than the freshly washed. The freshly washed morels had exactly the same end texture as the washed and then dried mushrooms, but again, they took the longest to color. All of the mushroom had the same texture after cooking (although ignoring the grit to determine this was difficult with the unwashed). It seems to me that washing and then letting the mushrooms sit overnight, or a few hours, in the fridge is the best method, but washing and cooking immediately is just about as good.

So... plate it up!
Shallot glazed morels over crispy katahdin potato pancake

Thats how I would write it if I was avoiding using French terms, not that I don't like the French.

As you wish,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Danish Dough

Most of the time that I want laminated dough for something, I want danish dough. I usually do not what puff pastry, although I could be persuaded under the right conditions, and you can treat danish just like puff(and you can't treat puff like danish). Here is the recipe I have been developing. You can do a lot with this dough, too much to get into in this introductory post. I will try and refer back to it as I use up this batch, it freezes really well!
It is scaled out to the gram to eliminate guessing on how much moisture is in the dough.
Additional photos and comments are available here.
56g butter(melted) + 250g butter(cold)
106g eggs
270g milk
8g salt
7g yeast
603g bread flour

80g parmesan broth fat (explained in comments below)
250g pork lard
Mix the melted butter, eggs, milk, salt, yeast and flour in a bowl until it just becomes uniform, no need to knead too much. Let rest, covered, at room temperature for 3 hours. Fold the dough over a few times and then shape it into a ball. Chill for at least 1 hour in the fridge, or up to 3 days. Add the lard, parmesan fat, and cold butter to a pan and warm until they all melt (microwaving works just as well, be sure to stir a few times). Put into a container and let set up in the fridge. Once the fat is firm place onto a floured work surface and pound it out until it is about 2 inches thick. Place onto a floured tray at least large enough to hold a 1 foot square. Shape the fat into a 1 foot square and place in the fridge until it sets hard. Once the fat is shaped and set place the dough onto a floured work surface and roll into a slightly larger than 2 by 1 foot rectangle. Place the fat onto half of the rectangle and fold the rest of the dough over it. Pinch the sides and let rest for 30 minutes in the fridge. You have 0 layers at this point. Roll out another 2 by 1 foot rectangle, in the same direction as before(keep the top of the dough in the same place), and fold in half again. This creates 2 layers. Let rest for 30 minutes in the fridge and then roll out another 2 by 1 foot rectangle, in the same direction as before, and fold in half again. Now you have 4 layers. Let rest for 30 minutes in the fridge, and then roll out to a 3 foot by 1 foot rectangle, being sure to turn the dough 90 degrees first(the top before is now a side). Fold the ends into the middle and then fold in half (a 4-fold). At this point you have 16 layers. Left rest again for 30 minutes and then roll out to a 3 by 1 foot rectangle. Fold 1/3 of the dough towards the other end and then touch the unfolded end to the far side of the folded dough. There are now 48 layers of fat. The dough is ready to freeze or be used immediately.

Last night I rolled out this dough to 2 mm thick and made little baskets out of it. Check out this link to see how.
Plate it up!
This is one bite, don't nibble.
The fat trio I used was based on necessity and flavor. Usually danish is all butter, but I have a lot of lard and I needed cheese broth for another use. The broth came out great but it looked like this.
I wasn't about to throw away flavor like that, so I mixed it into the fold-in fat. It wasn't noticeable in the final result, but it may be worth trying 100%   fat from boiled cheese if I also laminated in some grated cheese and used some of the broth instead of milk in the base dough. Another time I hope.
You can rest the dough for longer in-between folds, but at least let it relax and firm for 30 minutes.

Keep pushing,