Categories
Desserts Dinner Party Fusion Index Meats Poultry Soups Vegetarian Vietnamese

Mother Peach

[one_half][L]ost in my incessant praise for David Chang has been a quiet appreciation for the deft hand of Tien Ho, former chef de cuisine at Ssäm Bar. Erin and I recently traveled to New York together for the first time in years, ostensibly to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. That we might also sample as much food as humanly possible from the Momofuku empire was, of course, a serendipitous byproduct. Giddy as we were about sampling the litany of dishes that brought fame to The House That Chang Built, the highlight of our tour emerged from a place we least expected: an understated lunch at Má Pêche, where Ho is currently chef and co-owner.

A tidy summer roll mating grilled pork cake with a narrow breadstick sported measured contrasts in temperature and crunch, an interplay we’d come to expect from Ho’s Ssäm Bar lineage. The prix fixe also starred an exceptional cold-smoked chicken, striking our palates with richness and stealthy precision. Our meal was punctuated by miniature bricks of cereal milk panna cotta and Chang’s version of culinary crack. An elegant meal with simple flavors and a keen eye to balancing sweet, bitter and tart.

Is Má Pêche the best restaurant in Midtown? Probably, no. But the 60 minutes we spent there were, for us, unthinkable luxury. There we were, in this city we knew like a college roommate, our daughter in capable, loving, 3000-miles-away hands. A quiet meal in the middle of a workweek that wasn’t, with no appointments to keep and no place in particular to be. It was the briefest taste of a life we’d had, one that we’ve mourned losing, while acknowledging the bleary-eyed exhilaration that comes with having lost it.

So when tasked to create a “Luxury Dinner Party” menu, I devised a home cook’s tribute to Tien Ho, inviting dear friends (and Mission Bay It Couple) Caleb and Akua. This is what we ate.

* * * * *
FRIED PICKLES

This course is perhaps more Noodle Bar than Má Pêche, and was inspired in large part by a wonderful post by Kelly at The Meaning of Pie. I’ve always adored fried pickles, and was struck by the use of panko to enhance the difference between the dry and wet varieties of crunch. My contribution to this dish was the replacement of kosher dill pickles with an assortment of Asian pickles—something I’ve been curious about, but have never seen done. I used thinly sliced takuan and two different types of kimchi: baechu (napa cabbage) and oi sobagi (stuffed kirby cukes). I also used pickled shiitake mushrooms, made with a recipe from Momofuku.

To more easily appreciate the effects of deep-frying, I also plated raw versions of these pickles. I served two dipping sauces: a “ghetto salad dressing” (mayo mixed with a splash of soy sauce) and a “ghetto rouille” (mayo mixed with a squirt of sriracha). My mayonnaise of choice was Japanese kewpie.

Notes I would definitely make this again. The deep-frying mellows out the heat and raw garlic of the kimchi, as well as the saltiness of the pickled shiitakes. A high-sided, cast iron saucepan is a convenient and economical tool for deep frying small portions of food while minimizing splash. Lead time here is minimal. The pickled shiitakes are optimal if made a week in advance, but perfectly delicious when eaten immediately.

Wine opened Franck Bonville “Brut Selection” Blanc de Blancs Champagne. For the early portion of this menu, I was looking for a beverage with crispness and acid to cut the oil from the deep-fried dish and the rich terrines that would follow. A sparkling wine made sense to me, and this Champagne was an economical and well-received choice.

Music cued Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, Guided by Voices.

* * * * *

BÁNH MÌ CLUB

A bánh mì sandwich was the anchor point for my menu. For starving graduate students such as myself, the $2.50 bánh mì is a dietary staple and gustatory wonder. Classically, it consists of an airy baguette made with both rice and wheat flour, toasted, spread with mayonnaise and topped with pickled carrots, cilantro, sliced jalapeno, and (typically) a mix of terrines. As was the case with my bo ssäm post, I was compelled to make this dish after reading asian jewish deli’s assessment of it. Like Phong, I was completely taken with the pickled daikon radish. I had always thought of daikon as the boring, bland stepsister of the Korean mu radish. But cured with Momofuku’s vinegar pickle master brine, it brightens inordinately, revealing an astonishing amount of fragrance and verve.

It’s always a risky choice to mess with perfection, but I felt that taking some minor liberties with Tien Ho’s masterful interpretation of this sandwich (from Momofuku) was necessary to incorporate it into a five course meal. My key modification was to to make this sandwich a miniature triple-decker, using pan-grilled toast made from a loaf of sour batard from Acme. I also added some parma prosciutto, crisped in an oiled skillet, to mimic the bacon element of a more traditional club sandwich.

A note on portion size Even a small sandwich (as pictured here) is tremendously filling, particularly in the context of a multicourse meal. I presented it this way to accommodate the notorious appetite of a 6’4″, 205 lb, basketball-playing scientist. For mortals, I recommend a single tower, using toast points roughly 2″ square.

Preparation As is the case with the pickled shiitakes, both the daikon and carrot pickles benefit from a week of curing. In a pinch, however, overnight is better than nothing. The sandwich contains both a chicken liver terrine and ham terrine, which need to be made at least a day in advance. I advise also taking into account the amount of time it takes to locate 4 lbs of fresh ham. In San Francisco, it’s not so difficult. Often only available during the holidays elsewhere. Terrines and pickle recipes can also be found in Momofuku.

* * * * *

PEACH GAZPACHO

My favorite course of the evening served three purposes. First, as a nominal salutation to Má Pêche (“mother peach”) and Momofuku (“lucky peach”). Second, to bid a fond farewell to this year’s peach season, which was extraordinary. And functionally, I wanted to give my guests a breather from the assaulting richness of the surrounding courses. I managed to scavenge the last gasp of peaches last week from the Kashiwase Farms fruit stand, home to the most remarkable stone fruit ever to have crossed my jaded taste buds. I got about a dozen, cherry-picking the best 3 for my soup. This dish was cribbed directly from Daniel Humm’s Go-To-Dish segment on Chow’s fantastic new series. Humm’s soup is predictably stunning.

Notes Child’s play to execute, but really demands exceptional peaches. If your peaches are crunchy, mealy, or odorless, don’t try it.

Wine opened 2007 Vigneau-Chevreau “Cuvée Silex” Vouvray Sec. This dry chenin blanc was originally selected to pair with the next dish. The lady being dry, and the Vouvray being a rather promiscuous partner, we opened it. It worked surprisingly well with the creaminess of this soup.

Music cued Quarantine the Past, Pavement.

* * * * *

GA RO TI

I would have loved to replicate that smoked chicken I had at Má Pêche, but adding a cold-smoking step to my prep list was just not in the cards this time. I did feel that, given careful management of portion size in this menu, chicken was the correct protein for this course. Not excessively heavy, and in no danger of disappearing among its counterparts. I was looking for something simple and bold, and looked no further than this traditional Vietnamese roast chicken. Like The Ravenous Couple, I opted for cornish hens, a longtime favorite of Erin’s. I served halves of the cornish hen, seared off in a cast-iron skillet and drizzled with a pan gravy described as Dipping Sauce in the referenced post.

I did choose to serve this with tomato rice, forgoing the fried egg and adding a liberal punch of ground sumac, a tip I picked up from fellow blogger Jean at Lemons and Anchovies. The sumac provides acid, aroma and texture to the rice, and takes the dish very slightly to the left of faithful. I hesitated to include the rice, thinking that adding a starch might be  bit much for an already loaded menu. However, this is definitely one of those cases where it’s better to cut portions than courses. The tomato rice was an unqualified hit, devoured by Caleb and reminiscent of jollof rice from Akua’s native Ghana.

Notes The halved birds can be cooked in advance and held at room temperature until the final sear. In the interest of accuracy, I used a mixture of white and black pepper in the marinade, as the recipe specified. I’ve since concluded that I dislike white pepper, whose aroma tends to unpleasantly dominate anything I have seasoned with it. I am apparently not alone in this opinion. I recommend sticking with black pepper (preferably tellicherry). I used the same master brine from Course 2 to make the pickled beets that I’ve shown on the plate. In retrospect, the beets look exactly like takuan, and I may opt for a different color next time.

Music cued High Violet, The National.

* * * * *

LEMONGRASS GRANITA

To finish, I wanted something both refreshing and fragrant, and had in mind a sorbet or granita made with lemongrass. I adapted this recipe from Epicurious.

3 stalks fresh lemongrass, outer leaves discarded and root ends trimmed
3 C water
1/2 C fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
juice from 1 lime

Trim lemongrass stalks of tougher, dried portions and thinly slice. Simmer sliced lemongrass in water, covered, for 5 minutes. Add mint and simmer, uncovered, for about a minute. Remove  from heat and add sugar, salt and lime, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Purée mixture and strain through a chinois, discarding solids. Correct for salt and lime. Chill the filtrate, covered, until cold (this can be done quickly by immersing your mixing bowl in icewater) and freeze in an ice-cream maker.

Notes This dish can be served immediately as a sorbet. If held in the freezer, its texture will become more crystalline, allowing it to be served in the form of a granita. Garnish with a mint or basil leaf, if desired. The aromatic components of this dish are volatile, so it is best consumed within 1 – 2 days.

* * * * *

As if on cue, Esme arrived from a classmate’s birthday party shortly after we finished dessert. Our luxurious dinner came to a close, and we stood, rapt, as our daughter regaled us with tales of princess outfits, bouncy houses, and cake.

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Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Korean Meats Seafood

Bo ssäm (roasted pork butt wrapped in lettuce)

[one_half][I] grew up eating a fair amount of salad. Not that I particularly liked it back then. The way my mom always made it, it had tons of raw onion, which was a bit overwhelming for my kid palate. But salad was a fact of life in our household. My father once said, in his characteristically unselfconscious way, It’s like greeeease for the body. (Thanks, Dad.) But there were times when my mom, rather than make a salad, would simply set out a plate of romaine lettuce alongside what my sister and I refer to as “ghetto salad dressing,” or soy sauce mixed with mayonnaise.

We would most simply dip the lettuce in one of the sauces and have at it. Other times (and this was particularly the case when we had a leafier lettuce, like red leaf lettuce) we would get all fancy and stuff the lettuce with rice, meat and kimchi before slathering on some ssäm jang and sending it down the hatch.

I always thought my mom just did this, as she sometimes admitted, because she was too lazy to make salad dressing. (Hell, sometimes she couldn’t even be bothered to put the soy sauce in.) I had no idea that the thing we were eating had a name, that it would one day become one of the most fashionable dishes in New York, and that it was called ssäm.

* * * * *

My sister was recently in town, and was flying solo for the first time in years. As much as I love my two nieces and brother-in-law, I was eager to have some alone time with my big sis. In particular, I was tremendously excited to think about what might go down in our kitchen during Daisy’s visit. In the past, she’s always taken the lead with cooking. And people who know what’s good for them generally let that happen. Like the classic play drawn up by Doug Collins: Just give the ball to Michael, and everyone else get the f**k outta the way. But this being Daisy’s first visit to SF since the genesis of Babychili, we naturally discussed who might be the alpha cook during her stay. In particular, I had planned to host a dinner party for my sister and her Bay Area friends, as well a few of my foodie locals. We diplomatically agreed that it would be a collaboration, but for whatever reason (Boredom? Fatigue? Morbid curiosity?), Daisy more or less handed me the reins.

By now, you know that I can’t take a shit without going off on how great David Chang is. Ever since reading about it in asian jewish deli, I had really been wanting to try the Momofuku bo ssäm, and predicted (accurately) that it would be an uncontroversial choice for our dinner party. Non-Koreans, Non-New Yorkers, and those unfamiliar with the cult of Chang may fairly ask: What the fuck is a bo ssäm? As I mentioned above, ssäm refers to food that’s wrapped in something, usually lettuce. Bo ssäm is a popular dish in Korea that consists of lettuce wrapped around boiled or steamed pork belly, kimchi, and inexpensive oysters (sometimes spiced to mask their dodginess). It is typically consumed with some cheap-ass beer and some cheap-ass, freezer-cold soju. (In Korea, craft alcoholic beverages are best left to others—the Japanese, for instance.) Make no mistake. Bo ssäm is some delicious-ass anju, or drinkin’ food.

Tip: grapefruit masks cheap liquor.

Leave it to Chang to seriously dress up this classic bar-food dish by stepping up the quality of all of the ingredients: Slow-roasted pork shoulder instead of boiled belly. Oysters suitable for a raw bar. Sauces tweaked to be richer and bolder. Heck, you can even forgo the cheap booze and rock a nice riesling. If you’re in NYC, you can reserve this much sought after dinner for 6 – 10 people at Ssäm Bar for $200. Or, you can (quite easily) make it yourself. And that’s what we did.

* * * * *

DINNER

First course was a classic ceviche that I started the previous night (at about 10PM, intending to have a late-ish dinner and forgetting that it needed 4 hours to marinate).

The second course was also a bit of a bonus: I had asked for volunteers to supply oysters, and our good friend Caleb was more than happy to oblige. The thing is, I never told him how many to bring. Another beautiful thing about preparing this meal at home: At Momofuku, the bo ssäm dinner comes with a dozen oysters. For the same number of people, we had four dozen.

Oysters were purchased from legendary SF fishmonger, Sun Fat Seafood. Their home page charmingly reads:

*** Good news for Oyster Lovers.  We are currently had a varieties of oysters.

Yes, u haz! Caleb brought a dozen of each:

Beau Soleil (CAN)
Kumamoto (CA)
Hama Hama (WA)
Coromandel Bay (NZ)

We shucked and ate the first 2 dozen, and left the remaining oysters for our main.

Daisy was in charge of the third course, which consisted of 50 of her ridiculously delicious pan-fried mandu. We at this with David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce, which, as many of us agree, makes virtually everything taste better.

Then came The Main Event. A 7-pound pork shoulder from Magruder Ranch that I slow-roasted and served with bibb lettuce, rice, and four garnishes: kimchi (that I bought from First Korean Market), puréed kimchi (a first for me), ssäm jang, and, of course, ginger scallion sauce. What really put this over the top, however, was the oysters. To demonstrate, I carefully loaded a lettuce leaf with rice, pork, and a sprinkling of each condiment. As I readied a meaty, teardrop-shaped, Hama Hama oyster belly, our friend Cecil exclaimed:

You put that on TOP of the pork?
Yes.
Oh, DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!

A silence fell over the room, soon to be replaced by sounds of lip-smacking and swooning. The assembled bo ssäm was an insane marriage of umami and acid, creaminess and crunch, sweetness and salt. People actually stressed over whether there would be enough pork (there was, barely). To call this “the best bo ssäm of my life” doesn’t do it justice. This was flat-out the tastiest dish I’d eaten in a long, long time. My sister called me a “genius” for the overall success of the dish. I wish I could take credit for it, but the truth is that it’s absurdly simple to make.

* * * * *

Bo ssäm
from Momofuku

the pork
1 whole 8- to 10-lb bone-in Boston pork butt (skin off)
1 C granulated sugar
1 C plus 1 T kosher salt
7 T light brown sugar

In a roasting pan that snugly fits the pork shoulder, rub a mixture of the sugar + 1 C of salt all over the meat. (If you’re into this sort of thing, you can see footage of Martha Stewart getting really into rubbing down a pork butt.) Discard any excess sugar and salt, cover meat loosely with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but ideally overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F. Pour off any liquid that has accumulated around the pork, and cook the meat, fat side up, for around 6 hours until fork-tender (it took mine 8 hours to reach this state). During cooking, baste the meat with pan drippings every hour. When done, remove pork from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Immediately before serving, rub pork all over with the brown sugar + 1 T salt and cook in a 500F oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized and formed a beautiful, pig-candy glaze. Serve pork with

the accompaniments
at least 1 (but possibly 2 – 4) dozen raw oysters, shucked
1 C kimchi
1 C coursely puréed kimchi
1 C ginger scallion sauce
1 C ssäm sauce
2 C high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice, cooked
2 or 3 heads of Bibb lettuce

ssäm sauce
1 T ssäm jang*
1/2 T gochujang*
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed oil

*Ssäm jang is a relatively thick paste that (along with gochujang) can be purchased at any Korean market. Typically, this paste is diluted with water or oil. Chang’s version of the sauce gives it added heat and acidity.

Eating instructions: Grab a lettuce leaf. Wrap around any combination of meat and accompaniments. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Dessert was strawberries with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. (Thanks, Cecil!)

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(Yes; Caleb is wearing a SpongeBob band-aid.)

The fabulous Miss Akua.

riceandwheat shrinks from the paparazzi.

Her husband, however,

… does not.

Food sis and food bro.

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Categories
Dinner Party Index Korean Meats Sous Vide

48-hour short rib

[one_half]”A very important thing to realize is that tougher or fattier meats always have better flavor; this is why osso buco and the short rib are so delicious and filet mignon will never be found on a menu where I am chef.”
—Mario Batali

[I] almost cried when I saw that Pó bear was on my side in this ongoing debate I’ve been having with my sister over the merits of filet mignon. She’s a fan. I just don’t get it. I put filet mignon right up there with pork tenderloin and boneless, skinless chicken breast as cuts that just don’t have what I’m looking for when I’m in the mood to eat meat: what my friend Gene calls The taste of victory. Give me a shank, a shoulder, or a thigh any day. [Tender or lean] vs. [tough or fatty]. One way or another, people tend to fall into one of these two general camps, even if they don’t know it yet. Don’t think so? Go ahead and check out what your coworkers are ordering at the taqueria. There will almost certainly be a contingent that’s hell bent on getting carnitas. Then there’s the steamed/grilled chicken people. The ones who are planning to work out later. In my observation, rarely does one side order from the other’s menu (my sister, being a notable exception, associates freely with both).

Then there’s the short rib. A true crossover meat that appeals to both the carnitas and the “fresh mex” crowd. How has this become the case? Have the tender/lean-meaters simply never seen what uncooked short ribs look like? I believe the answer lies in the undeniable deliciousness of the short rib. If you’re going to make an exception, have a “cheat day,” whatever you want to call it … grilled, marinated kalbi is likely to be near the top of your list.

Short ribs have been present for a disproportionately large fraction of my favorite food moments to date. I grew up going to Korean church picnics, so that’s many pounds of kalbi consumed right there. I also have a special affection for Alice Waters’s Braised Beef Short Ribs with Gremolata, my favorite recipe from the oustanding Chez Panisse Café Cookbook, and one of the first really great meals I prepared myself. So my jaw dropped when I saw this post from asian jewish deli about short rib pastrami. Which he put into a reuben. Holy fucking shit. I think about short ribs a lot, but this never occurred to me.  I knew immediately that I had to have it.

As it turns out, my St. Patty’s Day dinner for Erin was long overdue. I had promised her corned beef. Why not corned short ribs? In a reuben? For a dinner party? Regular visitors to this space may have gathered that I also started to become obsessed with sous vide cooking at about this time. In deciding whether or not it was worth setting up my own sous vide rig, I wanted to cook something where the technique would make the most extreme difference. Consensus, and Thomas Keller, seemed to point to short ribs as the real game changer. Why? The general principle here is that you can select a temperature at which the connective tissue (e.g., collagen) dissolves. Given enough time at said temperature, meat gets softer, because the muscle fibers can no longer adhere to each other as well. However, this process can occur at temperatures below what’s necessary for browning. Such temperatures can be stably maintained with an immersion circulator, or any number of alternative setups for sous vide cooking. With tougher cuts of meat like short rib, cooking with this technique can result in degrees of tenderness generally not associated with medium rare doneness.

So there it was. A near-perfect storm of circumstances compelling me to cook short ribs really low and really slow. It was as if The Island wanted me to do it. So I did. Four times.

* * * * *

Attempt #1: The Keller way

Before spending 4 – 5 days curing and then attempting my reuben for strange dinner guests, I wanted to give sous vide short ribs a test run under lower-pressure conditions. For my first pass, I went straight for the Thomas Keller method, as I could best determine. I considered getting his book, Under Pressure, solely for this one recipe. However, reviews seemed to indicate that much of the book was focused on practical details that were only relevant for professional kitchens. So I consulted The Google, and found this post by sousvidegeek, which references Keller’s book. From it, I inferred that the ribs were simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked for 72 hours at 56C. As I am wont to do, I seasoned the ribs three days in advance. After sous vide’ing, I seared the ribs in a very hot cast iron skillet, deglazed the pan with residual liquid from the plastic bag, and made a simple pan gravy with butter, shallots and red wine.

I’ll confirm that you’ve never had short ribs (or anything else, for that matter) quite like this. If you are accustomed to cooking thinly sliced kalbi on a grill, you might expect medium rare short ribs to have a gradient of doneness from the outside in, along with a fair bit of toothiness. In my case, aside from the seared exterior, the meat was uniformly pink and medium rare. It was not quite fork-tender with this preparation (I needed a knife), but the meat was extremely tender, much like a prime rib. I do not (as others might) assert that this format is superior to the non-sous vide forms. But it is undeniably different, in a way that you kind of have to try to believe.

The flavor of the sous vide short ribs was also novel to my tongue. When braised, short ribs typically assume robust, rich flavors. When grilled, kalbi-style, their beefiness melds seamlessly with the sweetness of the marinade. But with the Keller treatment, the flavors were strikingly subtle, and almost smoky. Ironically, more filet mignony than I’d like to admit.

I would say the only real disappointment I had with this dish was the state of the tendon. For kalbi eaters, I’m talking about the delightfully crunchy sleeve of connective tissue right up against the bone, otherwise known as “the best part.” The part that Americans tend not to eat. With the braised version, it’s decadent and slightly molten. Alas, the 72 hour short rib tendon is still tough, and tenaciously adhered to the bone.

My reservations notwithstanding, I knew there was some serious potential here, so I proceeded to

Attempt #2: The reuben (and the runaround)

At this point, I was ready to give the short rib reuben a shot. Or, as I ceremoniously posted to my Facebook status: “Let the corning begin!

What is a boneless short rib? First order of business was to get my hands on at least 5 pounds of boneless short ribs. I wanted to make pastrami the normal way (smoked) as well as sous vide (smokeless). I figured 2.5 lbs of each was the minimum to justify the effort. Here’s where things can get a bit confusing if you don’t know precisely how to identify what you want. I first asked the butcher at my local grocery whether this quantity of boneless short ribs was easy to come by.

Oh, yeah. Boneless short rib is also called a brisket. We do that all the time. There are a few 12 lb briskets sitting in the deli case right now.

Uh … no. I think? I mean, brisket isn’t short ribs, right? Wasn’t that the whole novelty of making pastrami out of short ribs in the first place? That it wasn’t brisket? But I wasn’t confident about it, so I smiled, said I’d think about it, and went straight home to consult the wikipedia entry on short ribs. Sure enough (at last according to the cartoon), brisket is in the breast area, and not at all contiguous with the ribs. The next morning, I called back, spoke to a different butcher, and was politely reminded how many years that particular employee had been a butcher (fifteen), and that, yes, boneless short ribs are the same thing as brisket. I had also contacted several specialty butchers, the first of which had this to say:

Sure. That’s the top of the chuck, and we’ve got … LOTS of chuck.

Huh? I’m certainly no expert, but even I can plainly see that the top of the chuck is basically right behind the head, i.e., nowhere near the short ribs. Now I really thought I was losing my mind. I did some further internet trawling and found this excellent article on CHOW that identifies the different possibilities for short rib (none of which, incidentally, is brisket). What specialty butcher #1 meant to say was “bottom of the chuck.” That made more sense.

Okay, without further laboring the point, the take-home message here is that if you want boneless short ribs with the same meat they use to make kalbi, you ask for “boneless short ribs from the short plate.” That was the magical combination of words that made my request unambiguous to all four butchers I spoke with. As it turns out, unless there is some special at Costco or something, most butchers will simply charge you for the rack, bones included, and offer the cut the bones off for you. If that’s what you end up doing, by all means keep the bones! You could leave them on, you could use them for stock, you could prepare the tendons separately, etc. I opted for 5 lbs of boneless meat from the bottom of the chuck, also called a chuck roll. I did this knowing that the meat was leaner (and likely tougher) than the short plate, but that it would be full of flavor. The meat was sourced from the Five Dot ranch, and I didn’t have to pay for the bone weight. It was cut into 6 strips, roughly equal in size, about 1.25 inches thick. Whew! First task complete. The rest was easy, by comparison.

Why doesn’t the picture look like a reuben? In my previous post about the reuben dinner party, I referred to my dish as A modern, disassembled reuben. I consciously avoided using the term “deconstructed,” because that term, as I understand it, implies some degree of fidelity to the spirit of the original dish. My intent here was reinterpret the dish, using similar elements but arriving at something else entirely. I would say that I had mixed success.

The meat I corned all five pounds of the short ribs using Michael Ruhlman’s recipe from Charcuterie. One modification I made was to weigh out the salt. I found that 10 oz of Morton’s kosher salt per gallon is considerably less than 2 cups. I then rinsed the meat thoroughly, vacuum sealed half of it and put in the freezer (for use later with treatment #4). The other half was vacuum sealed with some pickling spice, onion and celery, and cooked sous vide for 48 hours at 60C. To make it a “pastrami,” I coated the cooked meat with a freshly ground, 1:1 mixture of coriander seeds and tellicherry peppercorns. Inspired by David Chang’s 48 hour short rib, I subsequently fried the meat in about a pint of 365F grapeseed oil in a 10″ cast iron skillet for 3 minutes per side. The point here was simply to sear the outside of the meat. But as you can probably see in the picture above, I way overcooked it. It came out well-done, which essentially negated the 48 hours of sous vide’ing. I think this happened for a few reasons:

  1. Chang’s recipe is for shocked or refrigerated meat. The length of frying is to get the middle warm but not cooked. I was pressed for time, so I took the meat straight from the water bath, patted it dry and fried it warm.
  2. Curing the meat in the corning brine appears to affect the texture of the beef. It definitely emerged from the brine firmer than it was pre-corning. This likely contributed to the firmer texture in the cooked product.
  3. Chuck roll is significantly leaner than the short plate, which is presumably what Chang uses. The cured, lean (firm) meat thus accounts for more of the total volume and mass of the cut.

On the positive side, it was still pretty awesome, as you might imagine deep-fried corned beef would be. Light and crunchy on the outside, somewhat tender (though not nearly fork-tender) on the inside. All the spices I used were ordered fresh from World Spice. I believe that using fresh spices had a profound impact on the flavor and aroma of the meat.

The rest In case you’re curious about the other elements on the plate, I made my own steamed buns so that I could add caraway seeds and do a play on rye bread. I used this recipe here, adding 2T of caraway seeds. The buns were fine, and the caraway seeds did add sweetness and fragrance. But I’d just as soon buy buns from an asian market, since they’re cheap and just as good. Instead of Russian dressing, I made a classic aioli, to which I added sriracha for color and heat. One can probably imagine how that tastes, and suffice to say I’ll be making it again. I also did a braised sauerkraut, which I was unhappy with. I’ve yet to make a cooked version of sauerkraut that isn’t bitter, and would appreciate any suggestions/recipes from people who have.

All in all, I thought this was fun and turned out reasonably well, but it was not the most amazing thing I’ve made. Couldn’t figure out how to plate this attractively, since there wasn’t a broad palette of colors to work with. And there were lighting issues with the photo, etc. I went back to the store and bought some normal short ribs for

Attempt #3: Chang wins

The photo at the very top is my prep of the 48-hour short rib from Momofuku, which, as you may have guessed by now, was my favorite preparation of the four. Apologies to Amy Kim for not trimming the scallions. I don’t know what I was thinking. Actually, I had no plans at the time to blogify this. If I had, I probably would have strained the sauce a little better, as well. But as they say, the proof of the pudding’s in the eating, and I did plenty of that here. The texture was exactly what I had hoped for—a very superficial, crisp exterior and pillowy interior. The flavor of the meat, as in the Keller prep, was simultaneously delicate and rich. The kalbi marinade provides just enough sweet without overpowering the ribs, and is complemented nicely by a light dusting of Maldon salt. This is what sous vide cooking’s about, folks:

48-hour short rib
adapted (more or less identically) from Momofuku

1 1/3 C water
5 T usukuchi (light soy sauce)
4 tsp apple pear juice
1 1/4 T mirin
1/2 T Asian sesame oil (i.e., with pictures of dragons)
5/8 C sugar
5 grinds black pepper
1/4 small onion
1/2 small carrot
2 scallions, whites only
1 garlic clove

4 pieces bone-in short ribs (5 – 6 oz each), trimmed of any silverskin and cut into individual ribs
grapeseed or other neutral oil or rendered pork or duck fat for deep-frying

To make the marinade, combine all ingredients (except the meat and oil/fat) into a small saucepan and rapidly bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, and cool in the refrigerator. Next, vacuum seal each rib with 1/2 C of marinade. I did not salt the meat in advance, though I see no harm in doing so. Ziploc sous vide bags are pictured above, but you can also get by with normal ziploc bags, as described here. Chang recommends double bagging them; the degree of anal retention is up to you. If you do double bag, I’d recommend putting water (or if you’re paranoid about leakage, marinade) in the outside bag so that you don’t have a pocket of air insulating your meat. Cook for 48 hours at 60C.

When the ribs are done cooking, immerse the intact bags in ice water. Note that the bags will be holding a fair amount of heat, so it helps to have LOTS of ice and a large reservoir of water. Ideally, you want to cool the ribs quickly and refrigerate until you’re ready to use them.

When you’re ready to roll, liberate the ribs from the bags, reserving the braising liquid. Strain the liquid and reduce over high heat to about a cup.

To finish the ribs, remove bones and trim off the tendons and any chunks of fat. Notably, the bones here slide right out (same ribs I used for the Keller protocol). So that 5C difference in cooking temperature does make a difference. Try to trim such that the large faces are relatively flat, and the thickness is uniform. I reserve the tendons and remnants and fry them, but that’s up to you. Heat grapeseed oil in a cast iron skillet about 1/4″ high to 365F. The goal here is to brown the outside of the meat and get the inside warm, but not to cook it further. You don’t want the oil to get too cold, so for a 10″ skillet, I’d do one or two ribs at a time. As for the timing, you need to determine by trial and error. Chang recommends 3 – 4 minutes on each side. This really depends on how thick the cut is. Odds are, your pieces will not all be of the same thickness, so to be on the safe side, I’d recommend that you try the first rib at 2 – 3 minutes a side, based on thickness. I feel that you get a lot of information out of that first rib, and from there, it’s easy to correct the cooking time.

In the book, Chang gives very explicit instructions on how to plate and what garnishes he uses. I didn’t have all of that stuff. I did have the scallions (blanched for 10 seconds in salted water and shocked). Be sure them to trim them to avoid ridicule and unsightly roots. I did not have/make pickled carrots, braised daikon or mustard seeds, so I quickly pickled a kirby cucumber. Slice thinly and toss with a 3:1 mixture of sugar to salt to lightly coat. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, and it’s ready.

Serve ribs, sliced, over a couple tablespoons of reduced braising liquid and any garnishes. Immediately before serving, lightly dust ribs with flaky salt like Maldon or Diamond kosher salt. Luxuriate.

* * * * *

I had almost forgotten about my 2.5 lbs of corned short ribs in the freezer when our friends Reid and Mary invited us to their housewarming/barbecue, which was to feature both a smoker and a grill from the venerable Old Smokey. Perfect opportunity for

Attempt #4: Going primitive

OK, this isn’t a sous vide prep. But it does qualify as slow and low, though it’s by far the quickest and highest temp treatment of the four. I was very interested to try a traditional pastrami made with this cut of meat. So Reid took the ribs that I sealed off in #2, coated them with the same coriander/peppercorn mix, and cooked them in an electric smoker for about 3 hours at 104C. By the end of the 3 hours, we were pushing on quite a bit past Esme’s naptime. So I was off in a corner entertaining her with Neko Case songs, desperately trying to stave off the inevitable meltdown. An excited Reid came by to give me the heads up:

You might want to go over there and check out your handiwork.

Several people were huddled around the three strips of Five Dot chuck roll pastrami as Matt sliced it into thin wafers. Raquel was already waving one of these pink wafers between her thumb and forefinger, and hounding me about its contents.

What kind of meat is this? What part of the cow has this flavor? It’s pink! Why is it pink? There’s so much FLAVOR!!! What is that? What does that mean?

It went over well. Three people asked for the recipe, including one labmate who just two weeks earlier had dismissed my choice of corned short ribs as “foodie nonsense.” He’s now a believer. My verdict? It was the most flavorful of the four, but the least tender. It had roughly the texture of a flank steak, done medium. As much as I like the lower temp preparations, there’s a deepness and structure to the flavor of the meat that you can only get with browning and smoke. I’ll definitely do this again, but with meat from the short plate.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Well, let’s see … She was asleep for preparations #1 and #3, and a little overtired when #4 was ready to eat. So I only have the well-done reuben meat to go on. She mostly wanted to try it because it was also what her new friend Naya was eating.

Daddy, I want that red thing.
You mean what Naya’s eating?
Yeah. Mommy said I could have more.
Do you like it?
Yeah. It’s too crunchy. It’s grown-up food, I think. Are we going to have ice cream?

She also liked the buns, though she prefers them white (no caraway seeds), with turkey and cheese.

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thomas keller sous vide short rib

sous vide pastrami reuben

vacuum sealed short ribs in marinade

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Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Soups Vegetarian

Chilled english pea soup, made with pea shell consommé

[one_half][S]mall details often tell you a lot. For instance, you can usually tell someone’s really into clothes by checking out their accessories. Shoes, socks, belt, watch. Someone who doesn’t care will figure, No one’s looking at my socks. On the other hand, are they kinda funky? Like in a cool way, not an odiferous way? Yeah. Didn’t happen by accident. You kind of have to go out of your way to buy funky socks. That’s someone who’s not capable of letting it slide. Same goes for food. When I’m at a restaurant, I know the kitchen is totally geeked out when they send out an absolute killer soup or salad. Doesn’t happen all that often, actually. Sure, if you’re going high end and paying at least eighty bucks for your meal—it better be good. But what about a more casual spot, like a neighborhood restaurant, or a bistro? How many lentil soups have you had where you honestly thought, This is the bomb… ? Whenever that happens (and for me, that was perhaps once), I’m really excited about the rest of the meal, because I know that kitchen’s too proud to send out another fucking chunky, flavorless lentil soup with carrots.

Given my opinion of soup-as-window-to-a-kitchen’s-soul, perhaps it was a bit ambitious for me to decide, on the day of my (already overly ambitious) dinner party, to add english pea soup to the menu. I had originally bought the peas for a salad, but was concerned that most of the peas would simply accumulate at the bottom of the bowl and then be eaten separately from the greens, or not eaten at all. Then I remembered this cool post on Eatfoo about making a consommé out of pea shells. I wanted to try that, so I decided to wing it with a soup recipe and see how things went. Had I ever made soup before? Of course not. OK, my first post was about soup. But I think Korean soups are a different animal. I mean, to my knowledge, no one makes creamy, pureed soups in Korea. If so, those people have not immigrated here and served said soup to me.

At some point that day, I had what I thought was a pretty good soup. Then I thought, You can never add too much sour cream. Apparently you can. Just barely. I had to make a judgement call as to whether it was OK to send the course out. It didn’t taste awful—it was just out of balance. I hadn’t bought enough peas, so the flavor kind of disappeared in all that sour cream. I went back and forth about this, but ended up serving it. Here it is—this pale, pathetic-looking thing:

Reactions were decidedly mixed. Marc says he liked it. Bernadette ate the whole thing, but didn’t comment. I knew I would get an honest opinion from Naya, their nine-year-old son. Eh. It’s so-so. Thanks, kid. That’s actually the answer I needed, but understandably did not get from the grown-ups. But I knew there was a great soup in there. I tasted a glimpse of it during prep, and I felt certain I would have to go back and try it again.

* * * * *

The week after my dinner party, I was on a mission to find more peas. I knew they wouldn’t have any at my local grocery, so I turned to  The Mission Bay Farmers’ Market, which has been a welcome addition to our culinary wasteland of a campus. It’s small and doesn’t have the most exotic ingredients, but does have reliably good produce. I make it a point to stop by every Wednesday to take a break from endless meetings and benchwork. What I found weren’t the prettiest shells I’d ever seen, but the peas themselves were fresh, and still a bit sweet. This time I bought 4 lbs, to make certain that I wouldn’t run out.

Last spring at around this time, Erin made the Zuni Cafe’s Pasta alla Carbonara, and was excited to have found fresh english peas for the occasion. A couple things stood out to me about that experience: (1) In this context, the fresh peas tasted pretty much the same as frozen peas. (2) For a one-and-a-half-year-old, Esme was pretty good at shelling peas, and seemed to really enjoy doing it. She’s always been a busy kid. I try to allow my daughter to “help” me cook whenever I can. She insists on pouring the dry oatmeal into her bowl before I microwave it, wants to have her hand on the measuring cup as I add water, etc. I thought she would get a kick out of helping shell peas again, despite likely not remembering the work she did last year. So I let her have at it.

At first, she was shelling like a champ. She’d sometimes miss the peas in the corner of the pod, but went about her work at an impressive clip. She particularly liked throwing the empty shells into the large mixing bowl, where I had been collecting them. So much so, that she eventually just started throwing intact pods in there. I had to gently distract her, so that I could go back, fish out the good ones (which was not trivial), and finish the job.

* * * * *

A worthwhile decision to make, though I didn’t see any mention of this in any of the recipes I read online, is whether to use your peas raw or cooked. To some extent, it depends on the freshness and age of the peas. If they are mostly on the small side and are tender, juicy, and sweet, I am very much in favor of using them raw. I like being able to highlight the more delicate flavors that elude us for 3/4 of the year. If the peas are more mature, large enough to fill most of the volume of the pod, or are at all starchy, you probably want to cook them. Either method will yield a fine soup, and a good portion of the flavor will come from your shell stock, which you can’t get from the frozen section. Cooking them accomplishes two things. First, it improves the yield of the recipe. Unless you have an extremely powerful blender, a purée of raw peas will leave behind a significant amount of pulp. This will accumulate in your strainer and less will make it into the soup. Secondly, cooking, even a little bit, tends to mellow out the flavors. Raw peas can be a bit grassy-tasting, but a quick blanch can take that edge off. A superficial benefit to cooking the peas is that (as long as you don’t overcook them) you can get more vibrant color. Something to keep in mind is that any amount of cooking begins to summon the richer, split-pea flavor that is for the most part absent from fresh snap peas, english peas, etc. The longer you cook, the bigger role that family of flavors will play, so it depends on what you want.

Let’s start with the consommé.

English pea shell consommé

about 4 lbs fresh english peas in the shell
water
kosher or sea salt

Make sure to pop a couple of the pods open at the market and taste the peas. They lose flavor rapidly after picking (and even more rapidly after being shelled). Ideally, you want peas that you would have been happy to eat raw. I’ve made this with young, immaculate shells as well as the slightly wizened shells pictured here. I couldn’t tell a big difference, so don’t be put off by discolored shells. Remove peas and reserve. (You may want to enlist a small child to help you with this.) Rinse shells thoroughly. Go through the spent casings and discard any obviously rotting or excessively dirty ones. If there are a lot of woody stems attached to the end of the pod, as there were here, I would go through with a pair of scissors and cut those off. For really young pods, this isn’t really necessary.

In a large stock pot, barely cover the cleaned and trimmed shells with water and bring to a boil, optionally adding about 1/2 tsp of salt. Immediately lower heat and simmer for 20 mins. Remove from heat and strain solids. At this point, the stock will be dilute and very lightly colored. Reduce at medium-low heat until the stock becomes golden and intensely flavored. For me, this happened at about 1/4 to 1/3 of the original volume. (You can mark the original level with a rubber band on the handle of a wooden spoon to track how much you’ve reduced the stock.) Periodically taste the stock and add salt, if desired. Be careful not to add too much at the beginning, since the stock will continue to become more concentrated. You can cook it down quite a bit more, if you want. In the Eatfoo post where I saw this recipe, David reduced the stock by 20-fold. Yowza!

Starting from 4 lbs of peas, this made 6 – 8 cups.

Incidentally, this consommé would be a fantastic vegetarian option to use as a stock for my kong namul guk recipe. For the soup itself, I consulted quite a few recipes, but ended up essentially adapting the Chilled Pea and Tarragon Soup from Bon Appétit.

English pea soup

about 1 lb of shelled english peas (I didn’t weigh them, but I think 4 lbs of pods yielded about 4 C of peas)
2 T butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
salt
4 C english pea shell consommé
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 T heavy cream
2 T sour cream
freshly cracked black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until bubbles subside and sauté shallots at medium heat until tender, but not brown (about 3 mins). Add consommé and bring to a boil. Add peas and salt and boil until peas are bright and just tender (no more than 3 – 4 mins). Remove from heat and add to blender along with tarragon, both creams, and several turns of black pepper. Purée until smooth (do this in small batches if you have a small blender—safety first!) Correct seasoning and strain through a fine sieve or chinois. I prefer not to force the contents through the mesh, because then you end up forcing fibers through that you were trying to strain out on the first place. If it’s going too slowly, you can tap the sieve and/or use a spoon to stir and redistribute the unstrained fraction. I can’t resist eating the pulp, but you can also just throw it away. Allow soup to cool and serve chilled or at room temperature. If desired, garnish with fresh tarragon and some sour cream. If you use heavy cream, as I did for the top photo, it creates a “slick” on top of the soup, which you may or may not find disturbing.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Try as I might, I could not convince Esme to taste the soup. She may have had flashbacks to her first experiences with solid baby food. Puréed peas were the first thing that she absolutely hated. My mom got such a kick out of watching Esme grimace with disgust (and perhaps a sense of betrayal?) that she kept feeding it to her to elicit that reaction. Esme does like frozen peas, however. Not just peas that were once frozen. She likes them straight out of the freezer.

Esme, do you like these peas better, or frozen peas?

Frozen peas. But these are pretty good, too. They’re too crunchy.

Did she like the fresh peas enough to eat more than a few? Hard to say, really (see left).

* * * * *

The Ben rating

So Erin and I recently went to this cool restaurant in the Mission called Schmidt’s (as in Christiane Schmidt, of Walzwerk). They sell these light-as-air pea pancakes that beautifully juxtapose deep-fried crunchies with peas so fresh I find myself wondering whether fryolator is their natural habitat. Anyway, after all this, I saw a pea soup with lemon and mint on their menu. I had to order it and check out the competition.

All’s I’m saying is that the head-to-head score is Ben/Esme: 1, Christiane: 0. Not even close, actually. Though I’m sure she’ll come back to haunt us in the braised red cabbage category …

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Categories
Dinner Party Essay Index

Judges’ Table

[one_half][P]erhaps the part of Top Chef I enjoy most is the awkward bit of melodrama that occurs in the last 5 – 10 minutes of each episode. You know, when Padma sends the Elimination Challenge winners back to the stew room to summon “some of your colleagues.” Accompanied by a doomsday gong and some uber tense music, the judges proceed to chastise and infantilize the bottom performers of the week, often eliciting unironic tears. I particularly like the character Tom Colicchio plays—He is simultaneously flabbergasted, disappointed, personally offended, and silently outraged at, for example, a contestant’s decision to pair peanut butter with tomatoes. My wife really has a difficult time watching it, in the same way that she has trouble with Curb Your Enthusiasm or the original version of The Office. But for me, this is pure psychocandy. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But I can’t not watch. Erin and I will often joke with each other:

Did you taste it before it went out?
Did you make the sausage yourself, or is it from Whole Foods? [disappointed eye-roll]
Well. The flavors were good, anyway.

When we say these things to each other, it’s always in good fun. But there are times, particularly if I’ve spent a lot of time on a dish, that I feel like I’m standing in front of my own judges’ table. And not for the winners.

* * * * *

I love cooking for dinner parties. I love everything about it: the menu composition, the shopping, the planning, the mad dash to get each course out … I’m a bit sloppy and slow as hell, but I do feel like these are the rare times that I really try to push myself to do something extraordinary. I used to play it safe, and only choose dishes that have a LOT of latitude. Like braises. I mean, how exactly am I going to screw up cooking fatty meat really slow? But at some point, I figured that if I’m going to try something that’s a bit out there, a dinner party with close friends is one of the lower stress environments to try it. Worst case, they’re probably still going to like you. Plus, they’re generally willing to cut you some slack for being an amateur and free. But it’s still stressful to me. After all the shopping, the anticipation, the prep … it’s a little deflating to screw things up. On top of that, dinner parties are usually hard to schedule, and there’s never enough time. Now that I have a kid, I feel the added pressure of trying to execute efficiently while the limits of my wife’s patience are being repeatedly tested by my two-year-old daughter. But it usually works out. And when it does, it’s very satisfying. The stress is also part of what makes it fun.

So when Erin asked me to cook dinner for her new friends the Javiers, I was all over it. Yes! I’ll make those braised short ribs! No … I’ll make corned beef! No! I’ll do corned short ribs … Wait—I’ll sous vide that shit!!! Over the course of a week, I went from suggesting a main dish that I’d made successfully a bazillion times, to a three course meal (increased to four courses while I was at the farmer’s market on the day of service), that involved baking (which I hadn’t done since my home ec class in 7th grade), and many other things I’d never tried before. Here was the menu:

Yam greens with blood orange vinaigrette

Chilled english pea soup, made with pea shell consommé

A modern, disassembled reuben: sliced “smokeless pastrami” (corned short rib cooked for 48h @ 60C, coated with crushed tellicherry pepper and coriander seeds, and pan-seared); steamed sourdough bun with caraway seeds; sauerkraut braised in apples, juniper berries and gin; cave aged gruyere; sriracha aioli

(above paired with a Dogfish Head 90 min IPA)

Toasted marshmallow milkshake

Couldn’t stop thinking about it. I actually had too many ideas and had to edit down to the menu above. I was completely stoked to try all of these things. Right up until about 2 hours before service, when it finally hit me. I have NO IDEA what I’m doing. I was fairly certain that everything would be edible, but I quickly realized that I was a bit out of my depth in terms of gauging how well things were going. What were the dishes going to look like? What if they didn’t taste amazing? How would I react? Should I have chosen more courses with recipes? Then, the bone-chilling realization: These people don’t even know you. Which means the “friend exemption” doesn’t apply!

As it turned out, the meal was, in fact, edible. Some of the elements were downright tasty (the beer for example, was sublime). But it was not—at all—the amazing meal that I had imagined. I definitely made what were, in my mind, pretty obvious mistakes in execution. So if this were Restaurant Wars, I might be going home, even without a team to compete against.

Fortunately for me, our guests were (and are) an extremely gracious, lovely family. We had a fantastic time, and they seemed happy enough with the food. Additionally, I can now do what TC cheftestants can’t: Go back and rework every dish to my satisfaction. So over the next several posts, I’ll be telling you how I went about making things right with most of these courses. Not sure if I’ll do that salad again, since I can’t find those particular greens anymore, and my mistakes were somewhat trivial (not enough acid, not enough tasting). But if you want to make a great salad, you can start with Spinach with Marcona almonds, Beemster, gremolata & walnut vinaigrette, if you haven’t made that yet.

Coming up (today, in fact, since I made you wait so long for this one): Chilled english pea soup, made with pea shell consommé

To be continued … [/one_half]

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