Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Ending and A New Beginning

 I apologize greatly for my negligence in posting lately - things have been busy.  I strive for one or two posts a week, but had to take a break last week because of my hectic schedule.  In any case, I am back with your final emulsion (and likely the most difficult).

As in my own life, I am about to end one portion and begin another, this process will be both the ending of the emulsions, and the beginning of the next set, the five 'mother' sauces, as (secondly) defined  by great French chef Auguste Escoffier*.  Now, these sauces might strike you as some kind of 'foodie' endeavor, the kind of thing that pretentious folks like myself sit around and expound upon to prove their knowledge of esoteric food lore - but, give them a chance.

Let me expand just a bit.  Having these five 'mother' sauces in your cooking repertoire, that is, being able to make them without pulling out a recipe or cookbook, will make your life so much easier.  You can take these mother sauces and add to them in so many ways, and if you do cook by cookbooks, you will start to notice that many recipes are based on one of them (and you will then understand the use of the moniker 'mother').  They have fancy, Francophile names, but all are both delicious and not terribly difficult.  So, without further ado, I give you the end of the emulsions and the beginning of the mother sauces, Hollandaise.

Liminal Hollandaise
- 1 part egg yolk (1 yolk)
- 5 parts butter (absolutely real butter)
- 1 part lemon juice or another acid**
- Seasonings
As you will see, we are using the ratio method again.  With egg yolks, it can be a bit difficult, so let's say a good standard ratio is 1 egg yolk, 5 tablespoons / 15 grams of butter, and 1 splash of lemon juice/acid.

You will also need your trusty whisk and double boiler for this one.  Even more so than the polyvalent pudding, temperature is essential here.  Too hot and your egg yolks will scramble and your sauce will be chunky.  Too cool and you will not get a good emulsion.  No wonder they make those crappy powdered Hollandaise sauces!  Don't be afraid though, as a true Hollandaise is a thing of near-sexual beauty, which envelops you in its smooth textures while at the same time exciting you with its tangy acidity.  Perhaps I have a prurient mind, but you will see for yourself when you taste the first bite.

To make your Hollandaise, begin by melting your butter, you want to have it still liquefied, but not too hot when you add it later on***.  So, melt it and let it sit, so as to cool its head a bit while you undertake the rest of the process.  You have a short break now to catch a cup of coffee or Campari with white wine (depending on the time of day) to fortify yourself for the whisking that is ahead.  You really need to be 100% on point here, so if you are feeling a bit unsteady from a night of heavy imbibing, you may want to grab some toast with chicken livers or a grilled veal kidney to fortify your nerves.

Now, combine your yolk and acid in the top part of the double boiler.  Whisk them in a gentle way over very lightly simmering water.  You want to heat the yolk up a bit, but absolutely not to cook it. Also, furious whisking will surely break the spirit of your yolk - it gathers up a great deal of courage, employing all of its lecithin to enable your sauce to thicken, so one hardly wants to beat that courage down.  After a short bit, your yolk should get a bit lighter in color and will thicken a bit, this is the yolk's finest hour, so don't miss it!  Turn off the heat under the boiler.

In the same way as with the other emulsions, dribble just a small amount of your butter into the warmed yolk and whisk in an intentional kind of way (not furiously as with the other, less delicate emulsions), adding more butter as the sauce allows.  Nothing should be pooling on top, or looking like it might separate.  Whisk until all the butter is incorporated, and you should have a very smooth, yellowish sauce, season to taste and keep just a bit warm until you are ready to pour it over your eggs Benedict.  If your Hollandaise seems a bit chunky, take note of the fact that you cooked it a bit too hot and strain it - it is still fine to use.  Also, taste it and tell me if I am wrong about the sex thing.

- Béarnaise: Replace the lemon juice with 1 part reduced vinegar, shallots, and tarragon
- Choron: Add 1 part tomato puree with the lemon juice to the yolk.
- Vin Blanc: Add 1 part fish stock and reduced white wine instead of lemon juice
- Bavaroise: Fold horseradish, heavy cream, and thyme into the final product
- Crème Fleurette: Fold Crème Fraîche into the final product
- Dijon: Add 1 part Dijon mustard to the yolk and lemon juice
- Maltaise: Add zest and juice from a blood orange to the yolk instead of lemon juice.
These are just a few, and should give you a good idea of how versatile a mother sauce is!

* Antonin Carême listed four at first, but Escoffier's list is better and has better sauces.
** Some folks like to use reduced vinegar with water, but lots of acids will work here - see the derivatives!
*** A certain Food Network chef advocates adding cubes of cold butter to the warm egg yolk so that you don't break the emulsion, but this is too much in the spirit of convenience for me to possibly advocate.  If you learn to make a Hollandaise with this method, you may as well just go buy it from the store in powdered form.  Harsh, right?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Polyvalent Pudding

The term 'pudding' is one that usually brings a thick, sweet dessert to mind, one that can take on a variety of forms - unfortunately the most common form is now a powder that you pour out of a box, mix with milk, and heat.  Possibly, it even brings little plastic cups to mind, as these seem even more ubiquitous than the powdered variety with the kids these days.

However, a 'pudding' can be savory as well as sweet, and early 'puddings' were actually something more like a sausage, often being boiled or steamed in something like a sheep's stomach.  Or take the oft misquoted quotable "The proof (aka 'test') of the pudding (usually truncated here and quoted as 'the proof is in the pudding)"  it should have "is in the eating" tacked on the end - meaning that one can only fully test something if one experiences it*.  I include this quotable partly because I didn't know what it meant up until two hours ago, but also because I think you should take it literally when it comes to your puddings. Learn to make a pudding that is not from a box, and even one that is not thickened with cornstarch and you will prove your pudding and yourself.

Polyvalent Pudding
- 4 parts milk (at a minimum, use whole milk, but half & half or heavy cream is even better!)
- 2 parts sugar 
- 1 part cocoa powder (easier to blend, and be sure it is unsweetened - don't use hot cocoa mix)
- 0.5 part flour
- 8 parts egg yolk
- Additional flavorings (Vanilla, cinnamon, be creative!)
As you can see, I have adopted a ratio-based ingredient list here - I find that easier than doing all the metric/standard conversions, and it actually makes things much easier for you if you want to reduce or enlarge the process.  So, in case it looks a bit confusing, for you users of standard measurings, think of the ingredients in terms of cups first - 4 cups of milk, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of cocoa power, 1/2 cup of flour, 8 egg yolks.  This will make about 10 servings, but halving is really easy now!  2 cups of milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, 1/4 cup of flour, 4 egg yolks.  A little math, but so much easier.

Also, you'll note that this is a sweet, chocolate pudding.  For a vanilla pudding (or another flavour that does not involve chocolate) up the flour to 1 part, and be a bit more liberal with your sugar.  In the future, I may do a savory pudding (maybe in another entire animal post - you can make a great blood pudding!).

So, to start things off, add your dry ingredients to a bowl and either sift or gently whisk to combine them thoroughly, then slowly add the milk while whisking, being sure that no clumps are left to surprise you when you eat it later (nothing can wreck a polyvalent pudding like a little uncooked flour bomb!).  Save a small amount of your milk or cream for later, and separate your eggs now - they need to be a bit on the warm side.

Set up a double boiler, or simply a metal bowl set over a gently simmering pot.  Don't try to do this without this kind of setup, you will do an excellent job of scorching your pudding instead of proving yourself and your pudding.  Be sure that the water is only gently boiling, and add your mixture from before to the bowl or the top of the double boiler.  Heat gently, stirring almost constantly until the mixture is hot, test it by touching it to your lips, it should be just at the point where you would need to wait a second before eating, it will take somewhere around 12-15 minutes. Don't let it boil!

Now, whisk your egg yolks with a bit of the leftover cream or milk and bring them over near your hot mixture.  Using the skills you have cultivated from your previous emulsions, very slowly add a bit of the hot mixture to your egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Continue adding your hot mixture until the egg yolks are blended, and they feel relatively warm to the touch.  You can now pour this mixture back into the mixture on the top of the double boiler.  You need to be careful during this step, for if you add the hot mixture too quickly, or don't whisk enough, you will have scrambled egg yolks on your hands.  

At this point, heat the blended mixture thoroughly, stirring constantly for something close to 45 minutes (You may want to snag a small glass of grappa to sip on during this time to keep yourself from growing too unsteady).  Keep an eye on things, as it should start to thicken.  You don't want things too gloppy, so pull it off the heat earlier if it looks thick in a satisfactory kind of way.  You can add a small knob of butter during this time  if you would like - it gives your pudding a wonderful richness.  You can also add some shaved chocolate bar during this time to add more chocolate flavor and thickness.  When the perfect thickness is achieved remove it from the heat, add any flavorings you would like,  decant your pudding into serving bowls** and chill it for 1 to 24 hours, depending on how cold you like your pudding.

I would suggest starting with this chocolate pudding before trying another flavor.  You can also just take the cheater's way out and use a mixture of equal parts cornstarch and water, with no flour or egg yolks.  Your pudding will be far less demanding, and will get thick after only a few minutes of cooking, but ask yourself, "Do I really want to be that kind of person?"***

If you make it this far, you will understand that true pudding is a test, it requires you to prove yourself at a few junctures, and once you have you can truly say "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" while you enjoy it topped with some crème fraîche.

* You know, like when you tell someone that they shouldn't take Ambien while operating an industrial drill press and they say "Dude, don't knock it until you've tried it."

** If you like skin on top of your pudding, cover them with plastic wrap while chilling them.  

*** No, you do not.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Incredible, Edible Raw Egg Mayonnaise

 Raw eggs have gotten such a bad name.  Some of this is with good reason, as industrial egg-production centers haven given raw eggs a very bad name with scary Salmonella and all. So, practicing a bit of food safety with regard to commercial eggs is not a terrible idea (actually it is not a bad idea in general) - but by food safety I don't mean bombing your kitchen and body with antibacterial cleansers because a dot of raw egg touched your finger and a part of the counter.  The hilarity of spraying a concoction containing who-knows what (because few actually list their ingredients, or if they do, they disguise the most noxious ones), out of a possibly aerosol container could keep me laughing longer than a broken chip basket given as a gift. What I do mean by food safety is common-sense stuff that you already do, so I won't list it.

Today will be a good way to gently place yourself into the world of using and eating raw eggs.  You can do it through a wonderful emulsion (see the last post for more on that), commonly called mayonnaise.

Raw Egg Mayonnaise*
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup / 240 ml oil (this can be any type**)
- a gentle throw of salt, sugar, and dry mustard
- a gentle splash of lemon juice and/or vinegar

The jingle, "Bring out the ----man's and bring out the best!"  would be better rephrased by replacing "the best" with "the worst" in the world of mayonnaise.  The mayonnaise that you can make at home with a couple of ingredients will be far superior (maybe not the first time) to anything that comes in a shelf-stable container.  By making your own mayonnaise you can 
1) ensure that superior ingredients are used
2) Actually know what those ingredients are
3) Start putting mayonnaise on everything you eat because of its beautifully chirpy taste.
All of these are worthy reasons to give this process a try.  
First, get your egg yolk separated from the white.  If you would like to drastically reduce the likelihood of Salmonella in your eggs, don't use the eggshell to separate the egg - use your hand or a egg separator (totally unnecessary, but good for those who don't like the feeling of egg).  Put it into a bowl with the dry stuff, and whisk the egg yolk while adding a splash of the acid element (lemon juice or vinegar).  This acid addition is your Salmonella insurance. Make sure all of the parts sans the oil have gotten to know one another in a truly intentional way.

This mixture is the philosopher's stone to your mayonnaise alchemy - it effects the transformation.  

Now, as with your bottom-rung dressing, add your oil, a few drops at a time, whisking heartily while doing so (also remember to grab a liverwurst and toast along with a whiskey sour beforehand as this involves a good bit of whisking).  Gently add more oil in an intentional kind of way, whisking all of the time, and never allowing the mixture to become clumpy-looking, or having oil pool on top.  Add and whisk until you get the white peaks of a beautiful mayonnaise, and all of the oil is gone.  Do not give up on this step, as the lead of cheap oil will become the gold of mayonnaise if you persist.  You can also do this in a blender or mixer to do this, but ask yourself - "Do I really want to be that kind of person?"***

Sometimes, the alchemy can be disrupted, and you can be left with a disgusting blend of whitish globules swimming in oil.  If this occurs, all is not lost - simply get a new egg yolk, whisk it, and add the globby mixture to it as you would oil in the first instance.  Things should come together for you.  

Finally, taste your mayonnaise, and adjust it as you would like.  Mayonnaise is a good place to practice flavoring - add acid for more chirp, sugar if things are a bit too chirpy for your taste, and anything else you would like (such as the classic "chipotle mayonnaise" or "wasabi mayonnaise" - for some reason having either of these on a sandwich in a restaurant  seems to  up the price by like 3 dollars).

* Consuming raw or undercooked foods can open your eyes to a new world of eating that many in the food establishment think you are too stupid to discover for yourself without contracting a food-borne illness.  

** The very best mayonnaise is made with olive oil.  However, this is one instance where I would suggest getting the hang of the process with a cheap oil and moving onto olive oil after you know what you are doing.  

*** No, you do not.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Break for Emulsion

In reflecting on the series of "Entire Animal" posts, I felt it was reasonable to take a break - hopefully returning to them in the future.  The posts were taking me a long time to compile, and I feel as though my readership might benefit from a respite, and a return to more comfortable pastures of eating.  

Hence, I will be going with a different series - emulsions.  These take considerably less effort to procure, produce, and are typically items that you would eat on a regular basis (I was all ready to run my post on tongues too!).  So, over the  next week or two, you will all have the chance to work on your emulsifying skills.  We'll start simple.

A Bottom-rung Dressing
- 3 parts Oil (Olive is best, and you can use the coveted Extra-virgin variety here)
- 1 part Vinegar (Whichever is your favorite, but stick with one not made from petroleum, i.e. white)
- An emulgent (more on this below)
- A creatively restrained blend of herbs and spices
An emulsion, for the uninitiated, is a blend of two liquids that under normal circumstances, do not blend.  Very simply here, when you pour oil and vinegar  into a jar, they separate, the lighter oil on top and the vinegar on bottom.  You can shake the jar and the oil will, for a short time, become emulsified, but when you let it stand for a bit, they separate back out.  This would be a very unstable emulsion.  What we'll make today is a bit more stable, though things will eventually separate out if left undisturbed.

So, your very best friend in the emulsion is your whisk.  The whisk is a beautiful tool, shining wire hoops bubbled out on top with glorious airspace between them.  If you have a crappy whisk, invest in a nicer one, one that feels right in the hand.  Your emulsions will thank you.  

On to the dressing.  Salad dressing is a great example of a prolefood.  The lowest common denominator are those packets that you add to a cruet with vinegar and oil.  These are mostly salt, and mostly overpriced.  The bottles at least can approximate the correct emulsficatory technique, but are still overpriced, and often use cheap oils and vinegar.  When you make your own bottom-rung dressing you can add to and use the highest or lowest quality oils you would like.  This is just a starting point, be creative in your endeavoring.  

Start by measuring out your oil and vinegar.  The ratio is 3:1 (oil:vinegar), so you can make as much or as little as your would like.  For your first emulsion I would suggest a Goldilocks approach, just right.  Don't start too small (e.g. 3 Tbsp to 1 Tbsp), but 18 cups to 6 cups is a bit too large.  Shoot for the middle road.  Put your vinegar into a easily held bowl.  

Now, for your emulgent.  You can make a dressing with only vinegar and oil, but if you add an emulgent, or a emulsificatory helper, things will hold together more easily and for a longer period of time.  The triumvirate of emulgents are: mustard (preferably dijon), honey, and egg yolk*.  Choose one and add it at something like a 3:1 (vinegar:emulgent) ratio.  Each will give the dressing a different kind of character, and all should be tried.  Whisk the emulgent and vinegar together with any flavorings you'd like to add**.

The actual emulsification is a kind of magical process, and will produce a end result that is vastly superior (and vastly cheaper) than the garbage that passes for dressing at the store.  To emulsify, get your vinegar mixture going with the whisk (be vigorous here, you may need a Campari and white wine, along with a slice of pheasant & trotter pie to keep yourself from getting too unsteady during this process).  Add just a drop or two of the oil*** and keep whisking, it should blend in nicely.  Add the oil, falteringly at first, growing more bold as time goes on - but never stopping your vigorous whisking.  If oil seems to be pooling on top of your mixture, stop adding it and really lay into the whisking until it disappears.  Once all of the oil is added, the mixture should have an opaque look to it (the color will depend on the vinegar you used).  Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. 

If your mixture quickly separates into oil and vinegar, the oil was added too quickly.  Your hand must be patient and calm when adding the oil.  Sloshing the oil in haphazardly will result in a poorly emulsified dressing.  All is not lost should this happen - try adding a bit more emulgent and really whisking it  - it may find itself and come together.

* Do not fear egg yolks.  The vinegar you are using is plenty acidic and will make the Salmonella that might be dwelling on your yolk very unhappy.  I have been making dressings emulsified with egg yolk for years and have yet to become sick from one.  The dressing emulsified with egg yolk will have a richness and body that will be unrivaled.

** Flavorings can be in many forms.  Just remember that any liquid additions should be balanced with the vinegar so that a good ratio is maintained (e.g. if you want to add lemon juice, or a fruit juice don't add it in excess of the vinegar, reduce the vinegar to compensate).  Dry or solid ingredients (roasted garlic, YUMM-O) don't require this kind of fussiness.

*** You may want to invest in some kind of squeeze bottle or other cruet that allows you some modicum of control over the flow of oil.  I use a nice, food grade bottle like those that they use for ketchup at your local hot dog stand.  Makes a big difference.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Entire Animal: Step 3

The liver has long been recognized as an important organ.  Even in Hesiod's Theogony (8th century BCE) we can read about hapless Prometheus:
Prometheus he [Zeus] bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew as much again every way as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day. (521)
One interesting bit of trivia here is that the liver is one of the few organs which can actually regenerate a bit, so maybe the ancient Greeks knew a bit more than we think.
The picture above is of an artifact known as the Liver of Piacenza. It was found in Italy in the 19th century, and is covered with the names of Etruscan deities - it was likely used by priests that practiced haruspicy (hah-ruhs-puh-see), or divination by means of liver examination (other entrails were also examined).

So, let's get into the wonderful world of larger livers

The Large Liver
- 1 Liver from a calf, ox, pig, or lamb
Liver has long been the thing of revolting dinners, jokes, and is still disallowed in my mother's home*.  Clear your mind of these stereotypes and get yourself a liver.  First and foremost, the liver of a larger animal is a gorgeous organ.  It is glossy, has a bit of a squeak to it, is wonderfully smooth in texture, and if it is from a happy animal, a kind of burnished red colour.  Liver has been consigned to the tables of dour Englishmen, even by supposed offal-lovers! This is quite unfortunate, especially because liver can really put the wind back in your sails after a taxing day.

Most folks are really grossed out when they realize that the liver, like the kidneys, are filtration organs, hence your eating the organ exposes you to lots of foul impurities.  It is for this reason that I cannot stress enough the importance of obtaining your livers from a reputable source.  The supermarket just won't cut it here, and I promise you that the benefits reaped from a happy animal will be substantial, especially in terms of taste.

Finally, the possibility hypervitaminosis A (overdose).  I wouldn't really worry about this factor, as you have a greater chance of giving yourself hypervitaminosis A with the crappy multivitamin supplements than by eating liver**.  In fact, a lot of folks are probably a bit deficient in this Vitamin, as the form in carrots and other plants is not as easily converted by the body as the forms in liver and egg yolks (yet another reason not to engage in low-fat/cholesterol diets).  

Liver Principles:
- Get your liver from a good source, look for shiny, reddish-brown livers.  A good liver has a squeak not unlike shoes on a gym floor.  Liver is a great, inexpensive way to add some meat to your diet. 
- If the impurity factor, or taste factor bothers you, try this:  soak your livers in lemon juice (or some other acid) for a few hours, giving them a rinse before preparation.  You can also try milk/buttermilk.  I like lemon juice, because it tenderizes the liver, and leaves a nice chirpy flavor after cooking.  
- Liver lends itself best to quick cooking.  Slice into medallions or longer pieces and sear in a hot pan with some butter or olive oil.  Grilling is also an excellent preparation, though slicing a bit thicker, as well as careful monitoring is in order.  Liver can go from velvety and tender to mealy and unpleasant somewhat quickly on the grill.  The less you cook your liver, the better it tastes.
- Mushrooms and Onions seem to have a kind of natural affinity with liver.   Being that both of them prefer hiding hearkens back to the haruspex being amazed at the unveiling of the liver and the revelations it would bring.   Don't be afraid of adding a delicious sauce like Hollandaise, Mayonnaise, or a beurre blanc/noisette as the richness pairs well.  Liver has enough strength to cut through bold flavours.  
- Liver, if prepared correctly, will not stink up your house.  When you overcook liver and volatilize all the impurities, it certainly can.  Another reason to lightly sear your liver (and soak it).

*Whenever mom was out of town, my father would gleefully bring home a slab of liver to cook with onions. 
** If you happen to be in a situation where you have killed a polar bear, husky, or other arctic mammal - the liver would be one thing to avoid as they tend to have very high Vitamin A content and can cause problems.  Otherwise, if you eat a varied diet, hypervitaminosis A probably won't be something you need to worry about in the least.  You might also take a break on your multivitamin (if you do take one) when eating liver.