Monday, March 30, 2009
Stainless steel gets used a lot, there is a lot of in the Saucykitchen. It is indestructible, easy to clean, can be thrown in the dishwasher. Stainless steel (pans and) utensils are non-reactive – they won’t change to the color of the things your cooking like tomato sauce or do things like cause cream to turn gray. For all the upside stainless steel, they are rather ruthless. At some point this year, I read something, somewhere about how stainless steel should never used making risotto because it breaks up the arborio rice and causes the risotto to get all sticky. I pretty much thought that was a kitchen tale, but I thought I would give it a try and despite my skepticism, my risottos have had a much better texture since I retired the stainless
As for the space-age materials, I own a couple silicone spatulas, used mostly scrape out bowls for soon-to-be-baked goods – cookies, doughs, etc. I don’t really use them to cook/stir. I don’t own any non-stick pans so the need for a soft plastic cooking utensil that won’t ruin a pan’s surface while preparing a meal. Rubberized plastic and melamine spoons and spatulas have largely been replaced by silicone in the last decade or so. The silicone can handle the heat, so they stay in the kitchen –and they can stay in the pan without melting. Silicone's predecessor, rubberized plastic had a habit of melting into things like scrambled eggs. Melamine doesn't melt, but it is hard enough to scratch cooking surfaces but quickly turns the color of the thing your cooking. Plus association with formaldehyde is enough for me to label the material useless in the kitchen.
Lately wood is winning the day. Which is amazing because wooden spoons are hard to clean (can’t go in the dishwasher), they break easy and I have a bad association with them: In my Saucyouth, wooden spoons were not so much for stirring but meting out parental justice one knuckle rap at a time. The wooden spoon came to symbolize authoritarian crackdown for minor breeches of discipline – talking back, not coming when called and like minded offenses. Part of my personal wooden spoon revival has something to do with getting a bit cranky in my old(er) age - longing to see adults tell teens to belt their pants or quit txtng people constantly - while menacing them with a wooden spoons.
That and practically speaking the risotto does work better with wooden spoons.
Friday, March 27, 2009
For those of you who desperately need food-blogging in your life, please feel free to check out the archives. For those of you in Portland, the PSU version of the Farmers Market has begun the 2009 season. Saturday Morning there will be kale, chard, on the produce front. Since it isn't quite even spinach season there are still plenty of items from the local foodshed: meat, seafood, cheese, bread, biscuits, nuts and wine.
You can learn more about the goings on by joining the Portland Farmers Market Group on Facebook and/or getting the tweets at twitter/portlandfarmers
Kansas City Airport seems like a good enough place to change planes, small, manageable and I swear I don't see a Starbucks. Time to board. Midway next.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The Mahon account of the birth of Mayonnaise turns up in a more than few books and dictionaries – because all the usual suspects are there – military action, nobility, an occasion worthy of celebration, my suspicion is piqued…Not to get all Howard Zinn about [stuff] but people were eating meat between 2 pieces of bread long before John Montagu, better known as the 4th Earl of Sandwich ‘invented’ his namesake food in the mid-1700s. Just as the Sandwich Islands not only existed, but were populated had a cultural identity long before Captain Cook named what is again known as Hawaii after his Sandwich lovin’ patron.
So, I respectfully disagree with my Saucycolleague on this issue. People were eating aioli long before the blander mayonnaise was popularized. The fact aioli didn’t appear in print until after Mayonnaise, means little. The Occitan dialects of the Southwestern Europe were spoken languages – some regional languages like the Basque didn’t have alphabets assigned to them until the late 19th century. French was (excuse me for this) the Lingua Franca - the language of commerce, court and records. Local patois such as Provencal, were, well, viewed as provincial, as were its foods and customs. The fact that no one wrote down the word aioli – ai meaning garlic; oli designates oil – doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Lack of a paper trail doesn’t apply to spoken dialects - That is like contending the English Pilgrims discovered squash because the Narragansett hadn’t written it down first.
Of all the Provencal/Catalan cooks over all the centuries with access to eggs, garlic and locally produced olive oil, makes it very (way) probable that at some point, someone figured out that eggs helped thicken garlic and oil into a sauce. This happened long before the Brits were repelled at Port Mahon. It is more likely when French aristocracy descend upon Mahon for its defense, they were exposed to aioli and took it back to Versailles as the sauce of Mahon – From there it was blanded up for to the sensitive Royal constitutions (or without value judgment: adapted for local ingredients). That is far more probable than cooks inventing a sauce in the heat of a battle, out of army rations.
As for Richard Olney saying ‘aioli is garlic mayonnaise’; that isn’t a declarative statement contending mayo came before the aioli. That too is how I would describe aioli to someone who was unfamiliar with garlic and olive oil emulsion. Escoffier was not a kitchen innovator, as much as a culinary taxonomist - he compiled and organized what was already existed, Carolus Linneaus in a toque. The fact that Escoffier designated mayonnaise a mother sauce, something neutral enough to be the base of other sauces, is actually another way of saying, mayo is devoid of personality.
While Charlie is wise to point out Caesar Dressing made from mayo is wrong – I attempted to give an example of a thick, rich egg bound salad dressing, doing so, I gave the impression that mayo is the base of Caesar, it is not, nor should be. The Olney quote about food processors and good olive oil is true, why buy the good oil if you are going to ruin by overheating and aerating it in a Cuisinart. As for the rest of it – Mayonnaise on Salmon? Maybe, possibly you can justify ruining the lowly potato with mayo but why destroy an expensive fish with a cheap ingredient? Then again everything you need to know about his affection for mayonnaise comes from his own voluntary admission that he adds mayo to ham sandwiches – a love whose name we dare not speak.
Here is a question for the next Cold Cut Chronicles – a good artisan sausage – does mayonnaise make it better?
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Saucyman has made his feelings about mayonnaise quite clear and it is not my place to dispute them. We all carry such predispositions with us and the reasons are many: there is no accounting for taste. I adore mayonnaise and ate Mrs. Hellman's (Best Foods brand on the West Coast) from the time I was a child. This brand had my mother's unquestioned allegiance. In this she stood in good company. James Beard, Jacques Pepin, Chris Kimball and a host of others have given it glowing mentions. No other brand has ever matched it and Miracle Whip, to my mind, is an obscenity. Mayonnaise was the sandwich spread that I used more than any other and I can report a spirited exchange with my ex father-in-law when he challenged my use of mayonnaise on a ham sandwich, an act which left him dumbfounded the first time he witnessed it, genuinely perplexed. I had done something completely unimaginable.
Years later, I would experience the joys of homemade mayonnaise and count it equal, yet quite different, in my affections to Mrs. Hellman. The first recipe that I used was from my now battered copy of THE JOY OF COOKING, revised by Irma Rombauer's daughter Marion. Two interesting details that escaped my attention until later were that one should never attempt to make mayonnaise during a rain storm (it does not work) and that mayonnaise was, at the time, 300 years old, a sauce created for a seafood dinner after the French victory over the British at Port Mahon- thus the name- in the mid-18th century. Apparently the sauce became so popular that Richelieu himself claimed responsibility for it. There is clearly the need for more research on all this but it appears that aioli and other regional varieties of mayonnaise came after, not before, the creation of mayonnaise. The venerable OED, it should be noted, does not locate the use of the word in print until the 1840's and describes its origins as French and otherwise unknown.
Richard Olney begins his section on aioli in SIMPLE FRENCH FOOD with a short sentence: "Aioli is garlic mayonnaise." His description of making aioli with a marble mortar and wooden pestle is memorable in its simplicity and his description of making aioli in a blender, unflinching:
"The blender has now invaded the Provencal kitchen...a blender aioli is lighter, air having been whipped into it, and the flavor is altogether different, the violence- how, I do not know- destroying the fruit of the olive oil; nor is the body voluptuously oily, as in the hand mounted product, but dry and flat." The question of mayonnaise clearly evokes strong feelings.
Escoffier calls mayonnaise a "'mother-sauce'" and sources many delightful and familiar sauces in the basic recipe. The use of it -and I am attempting to address Saucyman's closing words on alternatives to the use of mayonnaise- should be distinguished from the abuses that the "white death" wrought on his blossoming Midwest palate. I delight in a fine mayonnaise, mixed with fresh herbs and covered with aspic, on cold poached salmon; I am horrified by the notion of using it as a condiment on a hot dog. Until very recently, the idea of eating it with french fries turned my stomach and then I had superb Belgian-style french fries with garlic mayonnaise and was beside myself with the discovery of a new taste. To use mayonnaise in a Caesar salad is an unthinkable distortion of how the same or similar ingredients combine to make a proper end result. I think of children in the South- Eudora Welty spoke of this distant time- who would have contests over whose mother made the best tomato sandwich, home grown, on home made bread, with home made mayonnaise. The perfect summer lunch.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Apparently, in the previous post I gave the impression that Saucyman had some sort of anti-mayo basis. Two things: Yes, I do not like mayonnaise and my writing has improved to a point that I can convey an opinion without directly expressing it.
I could tell you that it is an emulsion; liquid and fat locked together in an unnatural state that is either an offense against our maker or proof positive the expression ‘like oil and water’ is a lie. But it isn’t like that- I like most emulsions, I just hate mayo. This animus towards mayonnaise is lifelong. As a saucyboy, I called it ‘white death’, making me not precociously ironic, but singling me out as the only Midwesterner who objected to processed soybean oil on white bread.
Mayonnaise is believed to descended from the noble aioli – a thickened sauce of eggs, garlic and olive oil that is said to have originated in Provence and/or Catalan. According to food historian Andrew Smith, mayo was not mentioned in domestic cookbooks until the 1880s. By 2000 Americans purchased more than 745 million bottles of the condiment. That is the type of growth that has only been matched by the expansion of the American waistline - so what happened to make mayo so popular?
The French, or more accurately the influence of French chefs helped promote mayo to the masses. Fashionable restaurants such as Delmonico’s began offering mayonnaise to customers. Mayo based sauces like tartar, countless special sauces, became popular and mayo became the go to ingredient for almost every kind of salad dressing made – think Caesar. It was bottling really helped mayo reach its ubiquitous pantry status. 1911 – 1912 saw the birth of Hellmann’s, first in wooden packaging, then a glass jar. About the same time, Schlorer’s and Gold medal mayo took to the jar. A little later Kraft’s Miracle Whip began sponsoring a radio show boosting the brands popularity and the rest is bland white history.
Learning how to extract flavor from your ingredients is the essence of cooking. Wrapping things in bacon, dousing them in hot sauce, salting them to death, pickling foods in acid/vinegar or slathering in mayo – all can stimulate and satisfy the taste buds but it doesn’t take talent – and that isn’t even my objection. People don’t need to be talented cooks, possess subtle taste buds or have exquisite taste to enjoy food…If I have some rare roast beef, bread baked that morning & aged cheddar; what does mayo have to offer that combination? Even if the bread isn’t the greatest and maybe the roast beef is a little dry, does mayo from a jar really help the flavor of anything or is it just convenient and customary? Everyone gets to answer that question for themselves but if I need to add a little fat and moisture to a preparation, I am going to think about sour cream, avocado, yogurt, garlic roasted in olive oil, mustard, horseradish, butter, tomato sauce before the thought of using mayonnaise ever comes up.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
If you ever get stuck at home, staring at an avocado – wondering what to do with it before it gets to squishy, the website avocado.org has 100s of ideas. The site is work safe, but be forewarned – they call for lots of jarred mayonnaise and well over half of their recipes are for different kinds of guacamole. Despite this treasure trove of guacamole variations none of these recipes replicate the first batch of guacamole I ever tasted: It was exurban Midwest in the late 80s - hair was big and ties were skinny - and a friend’s mom was trying this new Mexican dip she had read about in Family Circle Magazine. Since avocados were rare and prohibitively expensive, the magazine suggested substitutions – more of a mockamole really - a packet of taco seasoning, Miracle Whip and frozen peas blended together. The color was frighteningly correct but the taste was enough to make me believe I didn’t like guacamole for a long time.
Before delving into non-guac ways to use an avocado, there are some peculiarities about this fruit that is used culinarily as a veg. Understanding some of the unique properties of the avocado will help a cook make better choices in the kitchen. And cook, depending on how rigid you are with the definition, might not be the best word to describe for using the avocado in the kitchen. Because of an abundance of phenolic compounds, avocados turn bitter when they are heated. It is a rubber egg/evil custard type of flavor and smell that is an assault on the taste buds on par with frozen peas/Miracle Whip.
Besides containing a mother lode of phenols, the avocado is rich in enzymes. It is this enzymatic action that browns the flesh of an avocado quickly, but not all the enzymes are bad. The tree fruit is full of lecithin. Lecithin is a natural emulsifier; it is extracted industrially from mustard and soy as a binding agent for use in such commercial products as mayo and Miracle Whip. On a smaller scale, foods that are rich in lecithin can hold nearly endless amounts of liquids – for this reason you can add copious amounts of acidic liquids (all of which prevent browning) like the tomato, lime juice or vinegar to guacamole without it leaking.
And fat: 20-30% of the avocado is fat - slightly less than the fat content of cream. The fat content along with the presence of lecithin make the addition of mayonnaise a curious choice to for any recipe – avocados are the perfect binding agent, they should be used, as Alice Waters does with Chez Panisse’s Green Goddess Dressing, as a substitute for mayo – making dishes fresher, lighter, natural.
There are dishes where the avocado is a good fit – like substituting slices of avocado for fresh mozzarella in Caprese salad but mostly if you are going to use the avocado in your kitchen, play to its strengths – it is rich, will help bind foods together and is better served unheated – Instead of mixing canned crab with mayo and serving on an avocado half, try mashing half an avocado with crab, lime and maybe some wasabi. Use it as a substitute for mayo in deviled eggs. Use instead of mayo or butter on a sandwich. Or enjoy the half smoothie/half milkshake drink you find at Vietnamese restaurants of avocado blended with cream, milk and sugar. In science, the lack of heat is always cold - with avocados the lack of heat doesn't mean guacamole.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
For the last few millennia, cabbage has not been particularly esteemed in the Western world. This brassica, believed to be the progenitor of so many cultivated plants from cauliflower to Brussels sprouts, has lost some luster. The Egyptians,Greeks and Romans all revered this humble veg. The Egyptians going as far to use the plant in religious ceremony; while the Greeks & Romans thought the cabbage promoted good health and even protected against drunkenness. The latter is false but modern science has discovered the oxygenating quality that comes from the B vitamins stored in the plant does help ameliorate the effects of over-indulgence but all the cabbage in the world will not help anyone pass a Breathalyzer.
The cabbage of the Ramseses (I & II at least; possibly there were more of them), Aristotle and Caesar was visually (& possibly chemically) different from the modern one. Ancient cabbage would have looked more like modern kale - green leaves growing off of a central stalk. Wild cabbages with this formation can still be found growing around the Mediterranean. The contemporary 'drumhead' varieties were not mentioned until the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder wrote about this new cultivar, but most likely this was hearsay, the budded cabbage was a regional variety grown in Northern Europe - It wasn't until the Middle Ages that the leafy green cabbage had been replaced by the more familiarly shaped one.
By this time the cabbage had fallen out of favor - being thought of as little more than fodder either for peasants or livestock - when the gentry bothered to differentiate between the two. This could be because as cabbage evolved, it got stinkier. Beekeepers keep hives away from cabbage fields, vintners will not plant it near their vines -this might be superstition, wrapped in custom inside a prejudice but cabbage's one-two punch of sulfur and mustard oils (isothiocyanates)are a pretty heady combo. Whether the current cabbage is actually more pungent than its forefather is one for academic speculation but seeing how kale is less pronounced, that supposition does make sense. For the modern kitchen, cabbages are at their mildest in the cool months before they convert their starches to sugar. Which means, for all the obvious jokes about Irish cuisine and the inherent lack of it, boiling last autumn's cabbage in water to dissipate the the strong taste is actually being quite knowledgeable about ingredients and how to cook them.
Just as there a rush on avocados in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, the cabbage enjoys a similar turn in the produce spotlight - Around St. Paddy's Day recipes are featured in newspapers, grocers advertise its existence and in the new media bloggers blog about it - Guilty, but next year's holiday there is Guinness, green beer, the potato or whisky to choose from. Or if the customs of the day ever change from binge drinking and boiling stuff, Saucyman will be either to cover it for you.
Friday, March 13, 2009
First of all, they deep fry the smelt before eating it. Secondly, while you might think those who write menus would choose the pleasantly innocuous and purposefully vague "fish fry", the fact of the matter is Friday night Smelt Fries used to be as common as weeknight bowling leagues. Both have become a tad anachronistic, but the last time I was in the Motherland between Ash Wednesday and Easter a fella could still get a basket of smelt, cabbage salad and a long neck beer (For under $9.99 - all you can eat to boot) if he looked in the right place.
The Northeast has a tradition of public buildings dedicated to civics and learning - in the form of Town Assemblies, Lecture Halls and grand libraries. The public meeting areas in the Midwest were constructed on a more modest scale for insular communities - Fraternal Orders of Moose and Elk, religious auxiliaries like the Knights of Columbus and the organizations like the grange all offered like-0minded individuals a place of their own. While temples of thought, discourse and participatory democracy might be fine for Damn Yankees, Midwesterners used their outposts to well, drink, smoke, play cards and eat fried foods.
Late winter is smelt time. A large Catholic population either is or should be abstaining from meat on Fridays. That and being 1,000 miles from saltwater in any direction means the lowly smelt - a favorite for ice fishers is a perfect fit for the season of austerity. The freshwater smelt, A.K.A. the rainbow smelt is leaner than its ocean going or Columbia River cousins and actually is good for reasons other than bait.
The smelt is beheaded (Smiting Smelt), gutted and dipped in batter before it is deep fried (It would be fair enough to say the enterprising Midwestern cook vacillates between deep frying and topping with cheddar, but for the smelt, the deep frying works). A lighter beer batter or flour and/or corn meal whipped into egg whites is preferred to a heavy bread crumb dredging. The fish is cooked bones - which can be eaten- all served up unironically in a basket.
I'm not sure if I am getting old, soft or nostalgic but I kinda miss the smell of frying oil mingling in the air of church basement. Now if you'll excuse me I have an urge to find a game of euchre.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Previously, Saucyman has done the math on the cost of coffee, but today we start our periodic series on saving money by cooking at home with a post on how to brew better coffee.
For years I went out for coffee. I enjoyed the ritual of grabbing a cup on the way into work - 16oz, black, cardboard to-go cup, bring it to my desk and ease into my work day as I sipped away. On days off, sitting in the neighborhood cafe reading the communal paper took up an hour of each of my weekend mornings for dozens of years.
Now it is a very rare day that I don't brew my coffee at home. Maybe it was the dog, then later dogs that hampered my coffee getting habit - Fred, in particular, doesn't being tied up outside. More than Fred's whinny nature, poor service grates on me. Normally, I hate waiting in line under any circumstance but when 4 employees can't take care of 3 people queued up because one is oblivious to customers and is back-stocking the coolers, two are debating which ipod playlist to play for the cafe ambiance and the one dude actually near the coffee machine is more interested in talking to a young woman about his fixed gear bicycle. And while she might not be interested in the specifics of the equipment (bike) she definitely likes the packaging (skinny boy jeans with the cuffs rolled up, ironic t-shirt that covers some but not all of the body ink) - All four working in harmony to turn a 90 second transaction into a 12 minute ordeal - it is enough to keep me from walking in the door.
While I never frequented specialty coffee roasters/brewers for the service (maybe the scene - just a little), I happily paid for the expertise and equipment. After the quality of the beans the biggest factor that determines the quality of the cup is the temperature of the water the coffee brews at.
Roasted coffee beans have about 1000 different chemicals that influence the flavor of the brew. Many of these chemicals are in the form of oils. (The prized Arabica bean is about 16% the maligned Robusta beans are about 10%.) If the water is too hot, the resulting coffee will taste scorched, if steeped at too low of a temperature and the beans will seem more weak and insipid than a character from a Tennessee Williams play. But just right and your coffee is transcendent, memorable, a desire rather than a necessity.
The big professional machines produce hotter water and are designed to properly steep the beans - not to mention the coffee grinders are more powerful and precise producing uniformly ground beans. The average home drip coffee makers rarely get above 185 degrees. (On most machines the heating element warms both the the hot plate and the water line. An elegant design that results in heating the glass carafe too hot and not getting the brewing water hot enough for making coffee.) Wear and tear, build up of mineral deposits on the heating element and planned obsolescence all mean your personal Mister or Missus Coffee will never, ever brew coffee at 195-205 F needed to extract all the flavors form coffee beans.
So, what if you want the fully brewed flavor that comes with professional equipment without the long wait and expensive that are synonymous with high end coffee. Fortunately, the solution doesn't require an expensive drip coffee maker - a Melitta filter cone used in conjunction with your kettle can produce a damn good cup of coffee.
Grind coffee to a medium fine grind, a little finer than what you would ;d use for a drip coffee maker, place 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 80z of water in filter.
Heat water. The best way to measure temperature is with a thermometer. Boiling is 212 and usually a 30 to 60 second period removed from a boil will bring the water temperature to an ideal range. Place filter over your cup or carafe. Splash hot water over the grounds - similar to tea, this blooms/tempers the beans for the brewing process. Pour water over grounds 2 oz. or so at a time until your cup almost runneth over.
Even premium beans - at $14 a pound will yield 32 to 40 cups of coffee. That same amount of coffee would cost $60 at retail. And at the risk of sounding like the Sham-wow guy that is a savings of $46 every 2 to 3 weeks.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
No. Yes. Maybe, I could guess that gives me a 50% chance of getting it right. And that is pretty much what it would be, a guess - there is a difference between the two techniques but the terms are used interchangeably.
The preferred term in the Saucykitchen is scalloped. This isn't so much based on correctness as much as the nomenclature goes back to one of my favorite childhood dishes - Ham & Scalloped Potatoes. The odd part, now as an adult who always has cream, bread crumbs and cheese at the ready - ham and potatoes are still the only things that get scalloped in the Saucykitchen. Not even scallops get scalloped but occasionally, I do wrap the shellfish in bacon - kinda an all in one anti-Leviticus meal - and crisp it up under the broiler, or I gratin scallops.
Au Gratin, gratin, grantier, but not so much the 70's stab at high culture dehydrated and stuffed into a box O'Gratin, all denote the same cooking technique. Currently, the gratin family of names means to brown - usually under a broiler. Originally, the term referred to a cook applying his or her craft to produce the gratter, not unlike a brazier's fond or paella's socarrat - this flavorful, brown, crusty, goodness would be scrapped or en français; gratter('d)(?) from the pot and served as a choice morsel. Eventually, the term evolved to mean any browned crusty deliciousness found on food. Just as the word changed, so too did the did the technique for producing the gratin; long slow stove top/fireplace cooking was no longer needed with the addition of bread crumbs, butter, cheese and/or the intense heat from a broiler could produce the desired effect.
While gratin possess a fairly straight-forward definition with very precise etymology, scallop/escalloped suffers no such fate and the term is vague to the point of distraction. Julia Child, that Rosetta Stone of the kitchen, who translated classic French dishes into modern recipes, uses scallop to designate food prepared by slicing and cooking in a liquid. Usually this means cream or 1/2 & 1/2, although not exclusively - stock, broth, milk or in the case of Saucyman's Midwestern upbringing, Cream of Mushroom soup can all be used to aid the scalloping process.
In her first cookbook, Ms. Child went as far as to state that certain gratin dishes like potato dauphinoise contain scalloped potatoes. So, we'll follow Ms. Child's lead and say that any food cooked in liquid is scalloped and any preparation that has been finished under the broiler with or without cheese and/or bread crumbs is a gratin. Which means the dish I have been enjoying since I was a saucyboy, should be called Ham & Scalloped Potatoes au Gratin.
Thanks for bearing with the low posting week last week. The new hard drive has been installed and rumor has that is powerful enough to dim all the lights on the block when it runs at full capacity.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Food crisps/browns/undergoes something called a Maillard reaction at 250 f (120 C). This bit of kitchen chemistry is named after Louis Maillard, a French chemist, who in 1910, discovered a reaction between amino acids and sugar during the cooking process. The Maillard reaction is noteworthy for two reasons:
1) It is different than carmelization (the browning of sugar) which happens 365 f (180C). Foods with a low sugar content such as coffee, cocoa, meats all brown through the Maillard reaction.
2)The Maillard reaction creates 100s of new compounds; this along with the presence of amino acids develops a taste that is regarded as more complex and flavorful than caramelized sugars. For this reason, commercially manufactured foods, things colas, syrups and industrial soup/gravy aren't just sweetened, they are flavored by introducing alkalis, acids and salts to sweeteners to produce bolder flavors.
I mention all of this not so much to geek out on the science, but to help identify the waffle issue at hand. The temperature you need to crisp a floury food like a waffle is actually quite low, so you don't have to crank the temp up - the caveat here is if your first waffle was just right and your next few were lacking in the desired crispness, you might have wait for the waffle maker to warm up between waffles.
So if it isn't the heat, it must be the humidity, or at least the amount of liquid in your recipe needs to be adjusted - for moisture is the sworn enemy of crispness. And if you're wondering how can a recipe have too much liquid if you followed it exactly, well not all recipes are created equal - and if your retort to that is - I've used this one before or the author is trustworthy, well, sometimes the ingredients can be the cause of problems.
The issue could rest with the flour. There is a bit of kitchen Apocrypha that claims ambient humidity effects the level of moisture in flour. Maybe. Maybe if you stored flour in an open container in a 100% humidity environment - a sauna/a Pacific atoll/New Orleans - then maybe the flour would absorb as little as teaspoon of water per pound of flour from the air - maybe, not likely though. More likely is the type of flour being used. Cake & pastry flour need very little water, while a high protein flour, like bread flour, is very thirsty and will really drink up any liquid you put into it. Adding extra water or milk to make the consistency look right is ultimately dooming your potential crispness.
But it probably isn't the flour and since milk is milk, that really isn't the source of your woes either. An improvising cook might feel compelled to add a little more sugar to help brown things up. But this would be the wrong thing to do. Not only because crispness and caramelization casual in their association - it is because sugar is considered a liquid in cooking since it converts to a liquid as it heats. Unless you are going sugar crazy, the problem likely isn't sugar. The uncrisp waffles could be a result of butter; low grade butter contains more moisture than expensive high fat butters, but I'd bet the culprit here is eggy in nature.
Most recipes are designed to use large eggs - an egg that weighs about 2 ozs, sans shell. But not all eggs are equal in their largeness: The 2 oz. average is not for an individual egg, rather it is meted out over a dozen eggs. So with any given egg there could be extra liquid going into the waffle batter. And if you used an extra-large egg there could be as much as an extra 1/2oz. of liquid per egg going into a recipe.
In order to avoid spongy, uncrisp waffles, I'm going to throw you a couple ideas: Reduce liquid by a 1/4 cup. Make a waffle see how you like the taste and consistency - too dry or tough add a little more liquid. For extra, crisp insurance: Coat your waffle iron with a healthy layer of oil before puring in the batter. Oil transfers heat quickly and more evenly than liquids like a waffle batter. Oiling your appliance is like installing a little layer of insulation on the cooking surface.
So moderate heat, give the waffle maker time to heat up between waffles, reduce the liquids in the recipe and coat the waffle iron with a thin layer of oil. Each of things should make your waffles so crisp, the syrup will pool in the pockets rather than soak on in.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Idwal Jones' charming and accessible 1952 food memoir CHEF'S HOLIDAY describes a group of friends on a walking tour of the French countryside in a time where the concept of eating locally was not a reconstructed concept allied with movements and their attendant journals; it was a given, inextricably woven into the fabric of place. One particular meal remains seismic in its impact on my awareness. The wandering troupe stops by a village bakery one morning and buys a fresh loaf of bread which they split open and sprinkle with the local olive oil, a little vinegar and a melange of wild herb- garlic, onion, thyme- gathered from a nearby field. The loaf is wrapped in a fresh kitchen towel and packed away for lunch. My sandwich-obsessed mind snapped awake. Since then, I have never doubted that great sushi is about flavoring the rice, that a great plate of spaghetti is all about accenting the pasta and that pizza is ultimately about the crust. Somehow I had always had it backwards.
So its all about the bread. A great Italian cold cut submarine sandwich starts with the right bread, a long loaf with some substance, a consistent crumb, a bit of chew, with a nice thin, barely discernable crust, sometimes finished with a light egg wash. Commercially available sub rolls are simply too flimsy and fall apart as they absorb the oil and vinegar. They lack character. Long, heavily crusted artisanal loaves upset the balance of bite at the other extreme: too much crunch, an uneven texture, in other settings valued, but here resuting in pools of unevenly distributed oil and, well, the wrong feel in the mouth. In an oddly analogous moment, I am reminded of the Philadephia restaurant that recently marketed a cheese steak sub for fifty bucks: aged beef tenderloin, fine Italian cheese, carmelized onions and peppers and, oops, a crusty artisanal loaf. The customers rebelled, demanding the more common sub roll.
When I make an Italian cold cut sub, I lightly drizzle the bread with a little olive oil, a sprinkle of red wine vinegar and some fresh parsley and, perhaps, a little fresh oregano. I wrap it in in kitchen towel and let it sit for an hour or more.
The classic Italian sub has, as far as I have discerned, three layers of cold cuts, thinly sliced for maximum surface area and flavor. The ideal configuration includes both cured and cooked meats: prosciutto de parma or coppa, hot or sweet, depending on your disposition, a salami (genoa or Toscano) and a cooked cold cut, either prosciutto cotto, with it resonate flavors of rosemary and pepper or the more delicate mortadella, with or without pistachio.
This is decorated with roasted sweet red peppers, cured green olives or olive tapenade, thinly sliced onion, a little salt and freshly ground pepper and another dash of olive oil and vinegar. Cheese is optional. Thin slices of Asiago and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan are delightful. NEVER lettuce and tomato. Though it must be acknowledged that Molinari's in North Beach, San Francisco, uses oil-cured sundried tomatoes to great effect in their sandwiches. Saucyman superhero Mike McGriff delivered me a Renzo Special from Molinari's that sustained me through the recent San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair: hot coppa, prosciutto and sundried tomatoes with a basil infused olive oil. Local traditions are always the best.