29 May 2017

Food Lab 39: Burnt Sugar

Because Mad Kitchen Scientist and The Executive Committee have been providing long-term shelter for a homeless Big Green Egg, we've gotten pretty good at making real smoked barbecue. What we haven't done - at least not until this weekend - is played around with sauces.

According to the rather informative Wikipedia article on the topic, there are several major types:

  • A basic vinegar sauce (East versus West Carolina coming down to: does it include any tomato products or not) - recipe from Garden & Gun's The Southerner's Cookbook
  • Memphis/Kansas City - tomato products, sugar, vinegar, spices - recipe from same
  • Texas - still uses tomato products, but thinner, with meat drippings and/or smoked flavors (plus, in our case, bourbon) - recipe from the Reata Cookbook 
  • South Carolina - the famous mustard-based sauce - recipe also from The Southerner's Cookbook

We skipped the Florida sauce, which is similar to Memphis, only with tropical fruit added, and the Alabama sauce, because mayo does NOT belong in barbecue sauce.

Mad Kitchen Scientist procured the squeals (pork shoulder and ribs), and Chef Spouse and I procured the squawks (chicken and duck).

The pork shoulder went into the Egg and the ribs went into a low, slow oven early in the morning.

When Chef Spouse and I arrived, after making us a round of juleps, he spatchcocked the birds while The Executive Committee and I started on the sauces.

Here's the thing about barbecue sauces: aside from the Texas version, which had to simmer for two hours pre-bourbon and one more hour after, they make up in no time. The vinegar sauces you just mix. The Memphis style sauce cooked for about 20 minutes, and the South Carolina mustard sauce only cooked for 10. In short, there is NO reason to buy that bottled shit from the grocery store.

The shoulder came off the Egg after several hours to finish in the oven.

Meanwhile, Mad Kitchen Scientist upped the heat in the Egg and on went the birds. We did make a tactical error: the duck should've gone on before the chicken. Although it was up to temperature on the instant read thermometer at about the same time as the chicken (remembering, of course, that duck doesn't need to get as high), it hadn't really had enough time to break down its tougher connective tissue or render as much of its delicious fat as it needed. (So they kept the legs and we brought home the breasts, which we sliced up and quickly seared in a hot pan to top an entree salad for dinner the following night, which worked great, and the smoke flavor was outstanding.)

Finally, the ribs came out of the oven, we painted them by thirds with the Texas, Memphis, and South Carolina sauces, and they finished on the Egg, too.

The vinegar sauces really are just vinegar, salt and pepper, a little ketchup (or not), and hot red pepper flakes. They're intended as dipping sauces, but we all felt that they might make better marinades - and that they'd also benefit from the addition of some fish sauce, which of course, basically turns them into nuoc mam.

South Carolina mustard sauce:

1 tsp vegetable oil
1 generous TBSP grated white onion with liquid
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. French's yellow mustard
1/2 c cider vinegar
1/4 c honey
2 TBSP brown sugar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp celery seed
1 tsp hot sauce

Heat the oil to medium in a medium saucepan. Saute the onion and garlic briefly, add all the other ingredients, raise the heat until bubbles starts breaking the surface, stirring frequently, simmer for 10 minutes.

Memphis sauce

1 1/2 c ketchup
1/2 c Sriracha
1/3 c cider vinegar
1 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP Ancho chili powder
1 tsp dry yellow mustard
3 garlic cloves pounded to a paste (use your mortar and pestle)
2 generous TBSP grated white onion with liquid
2 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP smoked paprika

Combine everything in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring frequently, simmer for 20 minutes.

Texas sauce

1 1/2 c ketchup
1/3 c tomato sauce
3/4 c Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 TBSP allspice (too much - probably cut to about 2 tsp)
1 TBSP dry yellow mustard
1/2 tsp cayenne (next time, I'd probably go more like 1 tsp)
1/3 c white wine vinegar (I'd probably replace with cider)
1/4 c lemon juice
1 1/2 TBSP garlic powder
3/4 c  brown sugar
1/4 c white sugar
2 c water
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 TBPS black pepper

Combine everything in a large saucepan, simmer two hours.

Bourbon variant

After the initial two hour cook, add 1 c. bourbon and another 1/2 c. brown sugar, simmer for another hour.

With regards to the thicker sauces, all of us had low expectations of the mustard sauce, but it turned out to be my favorite. My second favorite was the Memphis style, mostly because we replaced the Heinz chili sauce the recipe called for (which is really not very spicy) with Sriracha. Now we're talking! The Texas sauce was good, but we all felt the recipe used too much allspice and the version we used DIDN'T call for drippings, so we didn't use them, and I think it would've been better with.

Of course we needed something to eat all this delicious smoked meat on, so I suggested homemade potato rolls. I used to make potato bread all the time, but I've moved more to French bread and rustic loaves that use sourdough, have long rise times, and form their own gluten structure so don't require being cooked in pans. Potato bread - or rolls - basically consists of brioche to which you've added cooked potato. It really is delicious, to the point that Mad Kitchen Scientist thinks he may replace his traditional holiday milk rolls with something like this.

We did have some veg too - in addition to the home-pickled cabbage (red and white variants) shown above, Chef Spouse has lately been obsessed with crispy (aka deep fried) kale. He keeps trying to do it on the stove top at home, and I keep pointing out that that is highly dangerous because of the amount of water in kale, and that it really needs to be done in the deep fryer. Two problems there, though: one is going through the hassle of getting out and setting up the deep fryer, the other is that you're going to have to change the oil after. We were about due to change the oil, though, so we brought the deep fryer along. I was right, of course, and one of the key things to note is to load the basket with kale, get it into the fryer but not down into the oil, PUT THE LID ON, and then lower the basket. Much safer.

We also started something that won't show up for another month or so (not homemade sausage again, and no fair guessing), so you'll have to check back later to find out how that turned out.

04 April 2017

Food Lab 38: Dolce

A few weeks ago, Mad Kitchen Scientist and The Executive Committee were at their neighborhood trattoria. As the dessert cart rolled by, they were inspired by what they saw (and by a recent article in the Washington Post on making cannoli from scratch) and proposed Italian desserts, aka "dolce," as our next lab.

We started out with a pretty extensive list: profiteroles, semolina cake (torta della Nonna), cannoli, biscotti, and tiramisu (with homemade madeleines as the base, natch).

Day of, we realized we needed to scale back a smidge, so we went with biscotti, torta della Nonna, and cannoli.

Let me start with the biscotti. I make biscotti all the time. In fact, when Mad Kitchen Scientist proposed it, he was a little sheepish, because he knows I don't really need the practice. But The Executive Committee loves it, and he doesn't regularly make it, so he wanted a quick workshop.

2 c. flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 large eggs

If you want a chocolate base - and I often do - go with 1 3/4 c. flour, 1/2 c. cocoa powder, and 5 TBSP butter.

3/4 c. "chunky" flavorings (nuts, dried fruit)
1/2 - 1 tsp appropriate extracts (vanilla, almond, anise, etc.)
1-2 Tbsp appropriate herbs/spices (lemon or orange zest, lavender, thyme, etc.)

You can flavor the base pretty much any way you like. We went with hazelnuts and blood orange zest. I usually do chocolate with almonds, or plain with pistachios and dried cherries. But really you can use any flavors you like.

You think they look good? You should've SMELLED them!
I think this recipe, with butter, is superior to those without. It may not be as "traditional," but the dough is much easier to handle than egg-only biscotti.

You form two "logs" and bake at 350 for 35 minutes, rotating your baking sheet once. Then you cool for ~10 minutes, cut into 1/2 inch slices and bake again at 325 for 15 minutes, flipping your cookies over once.

The great thing about biscotti is that, since it's pre-stale due to the double baking, it keeps pretty much forever.

For the torta della Nonna and the cannoli, of course we had to kick it up a notch and use homemade ricotta cheese. Every time we've tried to make cheese prior to this, it's been a disaster. Sounds like an excellent lab project! And this time it worked! I think that's because ricotta is really easy (seriously - this is the recipe/process we used, and it could not be more simple) and we weren't trying to do 14 other things at the same time. Also, we were only one cocktail in, which may have helped.

Check it out! Cheese!
Speaking of cocktails, we had done a mini-lab about 6 weeks ago where we informally messed around with making homemade bitters. We had planned to do a full-on bitters lab, and then realized we were missing some key ingredients that you seem to need to order online. So we made simple grapefruit bitters and lavender bitters.

That second featured prominently in a Chef Spouse-d-up version of an Aviation. I love me an Aviation any time: gin, lemon, maraschino, float of Creme de Violette (which gives it it's lovely color). Keeping to our "no egg white left behind!" motto, Chef Spouse added the extra egg white generated by our other activities and topped it off with a bit of the lavender bitters. 'Cause we're fancy like that.

First round, side view
First round, top view

For our torta della Nonna, we used Little Baker SF's recipe, replacing 1/2 c. of the all-purpose flour in the pastry with semolina flour and omitting the raisins in the filling. You probably could make the pastry in a mixer, but super-pasta-maker Chef Spouse followed the instructions and did it by hand:

Mad skillz, he has dem
Meanwhile, I worked on the filling. It's a little bit like making pate au choux, where you're looking for the filling to get smooth and pull away from the sides of the pan and then you get it off the heat quick because it's ready. We *did* push the ricotta through a fine sieve, and I guess if we were REAL Labbers, we'd have made TWO cakes to see if it made a difference, but we didn't have enough homemade ricotta for that.

The pasty was super easy to handle - lots of fat and we'd replaced some of the regular flour with semolina, as I mentioned above, so no toughening gluten problems, and the tart pan had a sharp enough edge that I was able to get a neat edge just by pressing the dough against the edge of the pan and removing the excess. Of course we added the almonds to the top.

Pretty pretty!
Which brings us to the cannoli. I will tell you, making cannoli by hand is a labor of love (otherwise known as a pain in the ass). The funny thing is, although we were inspired by the Post article, we didn't use their recipe - we used the one at AllRecipes.

The dough is easy enough to bring together, particularly if you use a food processor to chop in the butter (NOT SHORTENING - why would you NOT use butter in dessert, yo?) before you add the liquids. It didn't need to be kneaded anywhere near 10 minutes, and in fact, you should NOT do that because you're not trying to create a strong gluten structure. Just the opposite, as you'll see in a minute.

You also ABSOLUTELY do NOT want to run the dough to your thinnest pasta roller setting, at least not if you're using the Kitchen Aid pasta roller. Number 4 of the 7 settings - the midpoint - was correct, and yes, we know because we labbed that. Chef Spouse, the aforementioned pasta master, took care of the pasta rolling duties and found that he did have to handle the dough gently or it would stick and bunch up.

Then I cut the circles, then he wrapped them on the forms. Two tips there: one, be generous with your flour sprinkles when handling the rolled-out dough. It helps the fried cannoli slide off the forms more easily. Two, do NOT get any of the egg white you're using to seal the cannoli edge on the forms or you will NEVER get the fried cannoli off - well, at least not without shattering them.

Ready for the fryer

Mad Kitchen Scientist handled the frying, and worked out a technique using tongs, a chop stick, and an oven mitt to manipulate them in the hot oil and get the cannoli quickly off the forms. Which is another tip: you need to get a hot cannoli off the forms immediately or they start to stick. And then The Executive Committee would wash and dry the forms so we could start over, because you need perfectly clean forms or, once again, the cannoli stick.

Out of the fryer

Did I mention you can only fry about 3-4 at a time? And did you notice that we had an assembly line going that involved all of us? Also, once you're rolled out the dough once, the gluten gets activated and you can't roll it again without a fridge rest to get it to relax. Of course, on the first pass with all dough, we ended up making about two dozen cannoli and still had half the dough leftover, so you get plenty from the recipe. By that point, we were tired of rolling and cutting and sealing and frying and draining and washing and drying, so we decided that the rest of the dough could definitely be tightly wrapped and frozen to roll another day. Plus we wanted to EAT the stuff we'd made.

The rest of the homemade ricotta that was leftover from the torta della Nonna went into the cannoli filling. We skipped the chocolate bits, but we DEFINITELY added the Cointreau (and some heavy cream, because the homemade ricotta was a little drier than commercial).

Of course, we accompanied our dolce with grappa and espresso. You can tell we were at a quality joint by the accompanying lemon peel, or so Mad Kitchen Scientist says, and since we were in his house, I wasn't about to dispute him.

Bella, bella, bella!