23 June 2014

Food Lab 29: Sushi

The inspiration for this Lab was the terrific reports I'd heard about a new Japanese market here in DC: Hana Market. I knew we had to make a field trip, and I figured we'd figure out what to do once we did. As we were all standing in the tiny, crowded dragon's cave of riches that constitutes Hana Market, oogling all the goodies and trying to not buy it all (which was made significantly easier by the fact that Chef Spouse and The Executive Committee had confiscated mine and Mad Kitchen Scientist's wallets, and no, I am not joking), it quickly became apparent: sushi!

After a brief detour to the Maine Avenue fish market, we returned home with this:

It's an absurdity of Japanese goodness!
We cracked into the Japanese snacks - sriracha peas, something we dubbed "Japanese Chex Mix" (only WAY more delicious), my very favorite salty seaweed snacks, seasoned baby octopus, and various delicately-flavored jellies - and started planning.

I should mention that we've made sushi before, the year our New Year's Eve theme was rolled items. The Executive Committee and Mad Kitchen Scientist traditionally throw a big New Year's Eve party, and Chef Spouse and I go over early in the day to help them prep. We usually have some sort of obscure theme, and that year, Chef Spouse and I cranked out a shitload of passable but far from transcendent veg maki. We clearly needed to make another run at this.

Step one: make sushi rice.

Step two: make dashi.

Step three: cut up all the gorgeous veg we bought: napa cabbage, daikon radish, green onions, cucumbers, avocado

Step four: cocktails! Chef Spouse came up with something we dubbed the Lychee Ricky-san

2 parts gin
1 part lychee juice  (drained from the canned lychees)
1 part simple syrup
1 part yuzu juice
1 lychee nut

Chef Spouse also played around with using a ponzu sauce we'd found (light in color and more citrus/vinegar than soy) in the drinks, but couldn't quite get the drink to balance.

I also prepped the lovely Japanese eggplants we'd purchased for this application to which I added some tofu and made with the dashi broth, not water and dashi bouillon (what do I look like, an amateur?), and, when I finished up the leftovers for lunch today, sriracha, because EVERYTHING is better with rooster sauce.

While we were waiting for the rice to cool so we could pour over the vinegar and sugar sauce, we decided we needed some miso soup. Mad Kitchen Scientist whipped up:

Our dashi broth
White miso
Steamed shrimp
Fresh tofu from the market
A little shredded napa, green onions, and daikon
A little soy sauce

Then, just before serving, each bowl got a quail egg cracked in. Yes, Hana had those too. Told you it was a dragon's cave of riches.

Thus fortified, we were ready to roll some sushi. We tried:
  • Yummy Teriyaki fish we found at the market (maybe sardines? unclear, but FULL of umami) and cucumber
  • Crab, avocado, and carrot
  • Salmon with shredded daikon we'd lightly pickled in the leftover octopus marinade
  • Shrimp, avocado, and matchstick daikon

We then took another brief break to enjoy the sushi and the lovely day. Lesson: it's hard to roll the sushi tightly enough for it to stay together without squashing it, although I definitely did better this time than that New Year's party.

We had also purchased two kinds of prepared wasabi, and a chunk of fresh wasabi root. Revelation #1: fresh wasabi is WORLDS better than the prepared stuff. No contest. It was amazing. It's pricey, but totally worth it if you can find it. The flavor is spicy rather than just hot, subtle and earthy. Wowza.

Then it was time to make nigiri. I formed the rice pillows, and Chef Spouse cut the fish (tuna, salmon, and halibut). Slicing it thinly enough proved to be a bit challenging. Mad Kitchen Scientist also opened some of the clams and slid them, raw, onto the rice pillows and dusted them with a little furikake.

One thing that Chef Spouse noted was that, while the fish we'd gotten was beautiful and fresh and looked and smelled great, somehow, the fish you get a good sushi joints seemed move flavorful. Damn restaurants. Bogarting all the best stuff.

 By this point, it was getting close to the start of the US/Portugal World Cup match, so we made a "festival" (Mad Kitchen Scientist's term) of sushi to eat while watching the match.

This lab was more about trying to improve technique than labbing per se, and I definitely feel more comfortable handling the sushi rice at this point, and Chef Spouse definitely got better at cutting the fish as he went. As Mad Kitchen Scientist observed, perhaps the most useful lesson to take away from this (other than the sheer awesomeness of Hana Market) is that the best way to learn a cuisine might be to find a market that's an authentic source, go buy a bunch of stuff, and commit yourself to working with those ingredients for at least a week, forcing you to think outside the (bento) box a bit.

01 June 2014

Easy Chocolate Truffles

Yesterday, we learned how to make truffles.

Don't get me wrong - Chef Spouse already knows how to make truffles.

He makes amazingly delicious truffles from a super-secret recipe that was given to him in STRICT confidence and with several conditions on the serving thereof for purposes of, and I quote: "sexual blackmail."

They rock.

They're also a bitch to make - time consuming, many ingredients, and quite finicky about precise temperatures and handling.

We were dining with our friend Chef Terry recently. He brought truffles for dessert, and he and Chef Spouse got chatting about making them. Turns out, Chef Terry knows an easier way. So we gathered yesterday for him to show us.

Chef Terry's truffles use precisely three ingredients:

220 g. of heavy cream
283 g. of 60% cacao Ghiradelli chocolate chips (plus more to enrobe your truffles)
About 1 Tbsp. of your flavoring agent (which in our case was amaretto)

Heat the heavy cream on the stove in a heavy bottomed sauce pan until it just starts to bubble, like so:

Remove it from the heat, pour your 283 g. of chocolate chips into a glass bowl, then pour over just enough of the warm cream to cover, thusly:

Let it sit for about 30 seconds to start the melting process, then whisk gently in one direction only and drizzle in the rest of the cream SLOWLY. All this "gently" and "slowly" business is to keep you from splattering melted chocolate and cream all over yourself and your kitchen. Unless, you know, that's your thing.

Then add your flavoring agent and whisk in. It should look like this when you're done:

"Hey!" you might say. "That looks just like ganache!" That's because it is. And at this point, if you happen to have a cake standing by and have changed you mind about making truffles, you can pour your ganache over your cake and be on your merry way.

Let's assume, though, that you want to continue your truffle adventure (or you have no un-iced cake handy). The next step is to cover your ganache tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest. Get the plastic wrap right down on the chocolate - you're trying to create an air-tight seal. Now comes the hard part: let the ganache rest at room temperature for at least 6 hours, preferably more like 24. The longer you wait, the easier the mixture will be to handle.

To form your truffles, you have two options: if you let the ganache rest more like 6 hours, you'll pipe them. If you let the ganache rest more like 24 hours, you'll scoop them.

Either way, you then want to let them set up for a few hours before enrobing them. You can shorten that by popping them in the fridge, but even then, they need at least an hour.

To enrobe, pour more of your 60% cacao chips into a glass bowl and microwave them for about 30 seconds. Stir gently, then hit them again for another 20 seconds or so. Stir gently, and test the temperature with an actual candy thermometer. You're aiming for about 101 degrees. You're tempering your chocolate (which Serious Eats explains really well, if you're curious). Short version: it's all about crystals. Once the chocolate is at the right temperature to do the right things to the crystalline structure of the cocoa butter in the chocolate, you'll be able to cover your truffles with a coating that will turn shiny and make them relatively shelf-stable.

The way you do it is pretty simple, but also kind of messy. You need chocolate on your hands, and then you drop the truffle center into the bowl, and gently toss it between your chocolate-covered hands to fully coat it. Wear gloves.

Then simply deposit them on your parchment-paper lined cookie sheet until the chocolate sets up and enjoy!

Oh - and all that "extra" chocolate that you drip onto the parchment paper in the process of doing this? Basis for your next batch of truffle centers.