Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lesson #14: The Chicken or The Egg... or Both


Recently, I was in awesome NYC, with a wonderful friend, having great conversation, drinking fabulous Bellinis, eating a delicious meal.... well..... mostly.

I love eggs.  I love poached eggs... especially because they are so hard to do correctly.... and when done perfectly, the white surrounds the liquid creamy yolk like a cocoon waiting to show off the beautiful transformation inside.

But what is this trend with putting a poached egg on or in everything?

on an English Muffin= Good
on a Frisee Salad with Bacon Lardons= Heaven
in Crystal Clear Chicken Consommé = What The F--k!

Why, Oh why, would you take one pain in the ass technique like making clear chicken consommé and taint it, cloud it, and completely destroy it with another pain in the ass technique like making a perfectly poached egg?  I ask the kitchen gods to strike down a lightening bolt on any chef caught doing this to me again.

Take, for example, the above photograph which I took in a skills class at The Culinary Institute of America (where I currently work as a Chef Instructor).... see how the consomme's were served in wine glasses to assess clarity?  Imagine how each student would have gasped at the thought of my breaking a poached egg into their project, which took them and hour and a half to complete... I don't think I would have won Instructor of the Year.

Let me explain why this trend really fries my eggs...

To poach an egg:
Water at no more than 180 degrees Fahrenheit
enhanced with white vinegar or wine to help coagulate the protein in the white of the egg
dropping the freshest egg you can find (unless egg drop soup is the goal cuz old eggs will just disintegrate)
into perfectly swirled water (right in the middle if the vortex you have created by swirling)
keeping fingers crossed that the egg white will surround the yolk and hold together
and then knowing when to take the egg out

(i'm sweating just thinking about this amazing feat)

now... take something like making a crystal clear chicken consomme:

mix together cold chicken stock, tomatoes, ground chicken, egg whites, carrots, celery onion, wine, some herbs and spices.....carefully, bring this mixture to a boil while making sure nothing sticks to the bottom
once the mess of ingredients congeals and looks like  a big meatball, simmer for and hour and then strain the mixture using a ladel and some cheesecloth.
If you are lucky, it will be clear.  If not, start over.

the science behind this is fascinating....
the proteins in the egg white and the ground chicken unwind from the acid in the tomatoes and the wine   Once the temperature reaches above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the proteins will start to wind up tightly and gather with them all the particulates of fat and other matter suspended in the chicken stock.... it really is amazing.

I tried very hard to think of other things that I wouldn't mind eating with a smathering of broken egg yolk.... one of the only other things I came up with was Bi Bim Bop, a Korean specialty where a bowl of rice and various meats and vegetables is topped with an egg.  Some may say a poached egg, some say a fried egg, and still others say a RAW egg in which the heat of th dish would cook the egg...

I vote for the last option, as I have been to a very authentic Korean Restaurant in Fort Lee, New Jersey called So Kong Dong... The reason i ended up here was that my mom FINALLY got a chance to go eat there with someone after my dad, who would not step food in the place because of how it smelled like like kim chi (he was a soldier in the Korean War, you see), had passed away.  It was practically one of the first I did with my mom after his funeral.

We were the only non Koreans waiting inline at the joint (a good sign of culinary authenticity)... when we sat down we ordered Kalbi Ribs...
My mother, bless her heart, noticed that almost every other table around us was brought an egg for each person, which was placed on the table in front of them.  My mother thought were being jipped for one reason or another by not having been brought an egg (her idea of prejudice).
So she sternly asked our server to bring over an egg.  She looked at my mother strangely but brought one over anyhow.
Being as hungry as my mom was, without a thought, she was ready to eat what she thought was a hard boiled egg.
Before i had a chance to open my mouth and say anything, she firmly cracked the egg on the table.  The RAW insides splattered all over my face.

Needless to say, I have not been back to So Kong Dong.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lesson #13: Slurp, Crunch, Swallow... If You Can

Best enjoyed with, or most likely, after many, many, many beers.... this is Balut.... the fertilized, half formed fetus of a duck or chicken, considered a "delicacy" that has been called "the treat with feet" or "the egg with legs".  The heart of culinary darkness.  

Now, I have eaten chicken feet at the finest dim sum restaurants....I have eaten raw eggs... I have even joked about the trend of "micro" everything in the finest restaurants by having the disturbing desire to try preparing baby ducklings after seeing a row of them follow their mama, asking my friend and fellow chef if he thought "Microducks" would taste good and sell in my fine dining restaurant.

But Balut?  I tried it.... I really really did.... I just, well.... couldn't finish it.

Balut is considered Street Food in Southeast Asia... a form of "Dirty Water Hot Dog" as you will.... which, if you are a man, and on your way to visit a lady friend, is the utmost form of Viagara you can ingest.... or so they say....
The same has been said of deer penises and bird's nest soup, as in the $100 bowl of soup one can purchase of a "Nest of Sea Swallows with Venomous Snake and Chrysanthemum Petals"...  Uhhh... yeah. 

Back to Balut...


1) Take a fertilized duck or chicken egg (Preferably 19-21 days, old enough to be recognizable as a furry little creature)
2) Soft Boil It (the somewhat formed bones stay somewhat crunchy but somewhat tender)
2) Bury it in sand to keep in warm (i mean, why on earth would you eat a cold 1/2 fertilized egg anyway?)

3) Hold the balut upright and, with the underside of a spoon, make a crack at the top of the egg.
4) Chip away pieces of eggshell with your fingers
5) Pierce the gauzy membrane
6) Inspect the "broth"... this is amniotic fluid.
7) Tip the egg to your mouth and suck out this fluid
8) Continue removing the eggshell.... You may then see an undifferentiated mass of stuff...slightly runny, with veins running through it...
9) Dip the stuff in the salt and eat it
10) Find the fetus.  Pick it up by the head, dip it into salt, and pop its little legs in your mouth.
11) Chew the little beak, feel the tiny feathers on your tongue... try and swallow.

12) Drink lots and lots of beer.
13) Enjoy! (oooohhhh lucky #13)

Superman had Kryptonite.... I, a mere human,  have Balut... 


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lesson #12: Its All Gravy From Here...

After the festivities of last week's Thanksgiving Holiday... I would like to thank the world for the most delicious part of it all....the liquid gold we call GRAVY.

did you know that the origin of the word itself is due to some bad handwriting?  Ahhh yes... someone somewhere was writing something down and someone, someplace else, could not read it correctly.... for those of you that know me and have tried to decipher that which I call my handwriting, this can be a somewhat common thing.  I should have been a doctor.

So the story goes like this....

The first appearance in English of the word gravy was in a cook book.  Way back in 1390 in a recipe for “rabbit in gravy” that reads (now here you need to know that a coney was a “rabbit,” so Coney Island was Rabbit Island)

"Connynges in Grauey - Take Connynges..and drawe hem with a gode broth with almandes blanched and brayed, do therinne suger and powdor gynger"

Sounds pretty yummy (if you can understand it)....But this word... gravy....if we are to understand this recipe correctly, infers that the gravy this rabbit is braising in, is comprised of almonds and powdered ginger..... two things that if mashed into the broth, would, in fact, thicken the liquid to a consistency other than that of water.... think of how so many liquids are thickened other than by roux or cornstarch.... with nuts (as in white gazpacho), with  bread (which is called a Panade), with flour, corn or potato starch (as in the above example of PORK BRAINS IN MILK GRAVY (excuse me, sorry... ummm... I must go vomit now... afterwards, which, I will die of cholesterol from ingesting just 2/3 a cup of it...)

But in this case, unless they had some sort of Archaic Vitamix Blender to puree the mixture to a smooth consistency, this liquid would have been GRAINY.....

Although it appears that the word Gravy has not changed in meaning at all since it first surfaced was before that, a result of poor handwriting, or a bump in the paper being written upon by the quill of a feather...

This was a time before printing presses, which were not invented until 1440 in Germany... so recipes and almost everything else for that matter, were hand written (thankfully not by me or else we would be speaking gibberish) 

Take for instance the eye exam you get at the optometrist.... while it would be fabulous if the first line was in fact "gravy", I’m sure you’ve squinted at a letter or two trying to determine your 20/20 eyesight.... or maybe a doctor’s prescription and wondered “is that an N or a V?”  This must have happened with recipes concerning gravy because the French word was grane, meaning “full of grains,” or “nicely spiced”  
Just like the almondy gingery concoction whose recipe you can follow above (contact me with any questions)

We now know that many English words came to us from French and lots of those appeared in English as a result of the Norman Conquest when the English aristocracy was replaced with an invading French aristocracy  (oh, so long ago in 1066).
French knights sat around living off the fat of the English land and telling their underlings what they wanted for dinner.  So many of the food words we now have in English, a disproportionate number, come from French.... perhaps why some things we eat sound so much more romantic than they really are....

Gravy is one of those words.

So drink up... with your mug held steadily under the gravy fountain and lets give thanks... CHEERS!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lesson #11: Farty Foods


I am writing today about a subject close to my fart... I mean heart.

If i asked you to tell me what the fartiest food was that you have ever eaten what would you say?
Mexican cuisine?

Or how about, as the above Patient-Teaching aid suggests....  SOUFFLE?
Seriously?  Is that because it is it is filled with air?  made of eggs? or because it is so snooty a food that one must fart at the fact that you need to order it at a restaurant before you have decided on your main dish, or even the bottle of wine you will be drinking?

You know.... in some cultures, farting is considered a respectable way to thank your host for the food you have just eaten.  I am not talking about the culture of incontinence....  people with incontinence seem to be embarrassed, as there is actually a host of products out there in the Flatulence-Absorbing Underwear market.  Carbon Filtered Farts (say that ten times fast), as you will.

Farting is so revered by society (negatively or positively) that In 2008, a farting application for the iPhone raked in nearly $10,000 in one day. There are 6 different farting applications for the Palm Pre

The more nitrogen rich and sulphur rich the food is that you are eating, the more your farts will stink.  And don't try to tell me that your farts smell like roses or like Chanel no. 5....
Anyone, and i mean ANYONE who eats beanslentilsdairy productsonionsgarlic,scallionsleeksturnipsrutabagasradishessweet potatoespotatoescashewsJerusalem artichokesoatswheatyeast in breads cauliflowerbroccolicabbage, brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables will pass gas, but for different reasons.  

-Beans make you fart because of how we digest them... the bacteria in our digestive tracts work hard to break them down.... BUT:

Beans Beans
they're god for your heart
the more you eat them 
the more you fart
the better you feel
so eat your beans at every meal

-Cruciferous vegetables... well that's another story... They are high is Nitrogen and they not only increase flatulence, but also the smell.  And, why are they called Cruciferous?  The petals of the flowers produced are thought to be "cross-bearing" or look like a cross.  Maybe that's why they make you fart.... did they have to bring religion into this whole farty mess?

-Lactose rich foods like ice cream, cheese, etc.... well the farting associated with this is due to the human factor....  if you are lactose intolerant, it's all your fault... and you CAN be blamed as the one who cut literally cut the cheese.

-And starches... well did you know that rice is the only starch that does not cause flatulence?  not sure what else to say about that other than it surely does cause constipation.... not sure which is worse...

On another more political note.... would you consider not eating certain foods because of the environmental impact your gas has on the environment (not the mocro climate of your home, but the entire world, people!)?  For me, the answer is no... i cannot imagine, as Sir Paul McCartney suggested  "Meat Free Mondays" to reduce greenhouse gasses... can't he stick to making awesome music, being knighted, and having to give away his fortune through divorce?

I found the Facts on Farts directory online that you may appreciate for all your inquiries regarding the who (well, that would be everyone), what (you know it when you hear it or smell it), when (anytime), where (anywhere... well maybe not under the sheets), and why (oh... the many, many, many reasons) of farting.... .  Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lesson #10: How to Shoot Your Food


With a camera, I mean...

In lieu of my last post regarding shooting food, I thought I would take another approach...

ahhhhhh..... Food Photography.

For the last few months, I have been taking more photographs of my food than ever before, which is funny considering that I have ALWAYS taken pictures of my food since I began in this industry.

I was enlightened to the fact that there are companies out there who take advantage (in a good way) of the fact that there are chefs like me who like to have memories of their creations by way of the photograph.

I do food photography for a Bauscher Tafelstern, a company that makes fine porcelain china for high end restaurants.  the fancy shmancy plates you would be afraid to use at home.

It is true that we eat with out eyes first..... so it seems fitting that putting beautiful food on a beautiful plate would double your pleasure.... except when the food on the plate is NOT really food at all... but rather some chemical incarnation that resembles food.    Take for example the above photograph of ice cream.... unless the photographer was in a chill blaster while shooting pictures of this crazy cone, there is no way that ice cream would have stayed put... without a drip or drop of ice cream on his lens...
I have heard that Crisco makes wonderful "ice cream" when needed to last under the hot lights of the studio.
mmmmm a mouth full of crisco, now, doesn't that sound delicious!

Or how about the cover of Gourmet where drawing a picture of food was the only option?  For all you know, that may actually be a wisp of cigarette smoke that they drew considering that up until the last couple of decades, it was common place to have cigarette ads in every food magazine, as a reminder that you WILL need a digestive after eating what is being sold to you as 'food'.

And Gel Cookery?  mmmmm.... gel.

While I was a Chef Instructor at The Culinary School of the Rockies, a man dropped off cartons upon cartons of old magazines he had been collecting since the 1960's... there was Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food Arts (even the November 2002 that I was in!), Chef magazine, Pastry Arts, and many many more.

I thought it would be interesting to have my students do a project on Then and Now of culinary magazines... and wouldn't you know, many of them chose the differences in food photography then and now... it was Funny to see how much food has changed, but also to realize that until we had all the chemicals we use today for shooting food, that what we were seeing was probably, actual food!  go figure.

The photographs above are of some of the food i have shot for Bauscher...
the Ballotine of Rabbit?  (it COULD have been a chicken leg... i'm just sayin'.....)
the Fried Green Tomatoes?  (cold as cold could be... and not crispy any more)
the BLT?  two day old bread you could knock someone out with.

there is nothing that my archaic FujiFilm Digital camera wont make look good... IF it is on Macro.... otherwise, the pictures ain't worth shit.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lesson #9: Duck Season... Rabbit Season....

ok.... so for those of you that don't know... and I take much of the responsibility for this since I have not written a blog post in months.... I am working as the Executive Chef at The Elk Creek Ranch in Meeker, Colorado.
Where in the Hell is THAT you ask?  Let's just say it is g-d's country out here.... a playground for the
uber-rich who like to not only enjoy the best flyfishing in the world, but also some of the best hunting that exists.

It is interesting to me, though, how easy it is to laugh at the fact that here I am, in a place that is owned and visited by the likes of the Waltons of Wal-Mart, Jack Nicklaus the Guru of Golf, and other heads of industry.... (like the guy who invented the anti-caking compound that is in every bag of shredded cheese and grout that every person who eats cheese or remodels homes would use....)  and they want nothing more than to get dressed up in camouflage, paint their faces, hide in the woods at 4 in the morning, and shoot things....

I suppose the advantage I have is that I get to cook some of these animals that they shoot, whether I like it or not.... and it is a great learning experience for me.... as in I have learned that Elk that has just been killed is gross and tough since the meat has not had a chance to break down yet, and grouse (a type of pigeon) is NOTHING like duck and needs tenderizing, in the form of pounding and soaking in buttermilk, to make it palatable.

But nothing compares to cooking an Antelope tenderloin not a degree past rare for one avid hunter who videotapes his kills... After I watched the video, I then had to go cook the very animal I had just seen struck by an arrow.... and cook it barely past the stage it had been in before it was killed...
I made a plum gastrique to accompany it.  It was the same colour as the meat...
Very very dead.  I mean RED.

I am not a huge fan of game meats other than Lamb or Duck, as I am Jewish and growing up we only ate Lamb Chops because, and I swear this is true, my mother would only allow us to eat one form of pork, bacon, as all other forms of pork she believed were the reason we had financial difficulties in life (I am not joking).  But there is something so sanguine about the taste of game meats that does not resonate well with me.

Game meats, according to the USDA cannot be sold unless farm raised, which is oxymoronic since the term "Game" refers to the fact that it is a wild, non-domesticated, animal.  So, in my place of work, I can only serve the kills to the guests who killed it.  And, they don't feel badly, so why should I?

Truth be told....i am waiting for rifle season to get into full swing.... then I will learn the art of cooking food the way it was meant to be... killed and eaten.... FARM to TABLE in its true sense!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lesson #8: How to Beat the Meat

gyrchefAmigoChino1Giant Kebab in Paphos, Cyprus at Xmas 2008gyrfish

Call it what you will: Gyro, Döner Kebab, Churrasco Turco, Tarna,  (i do, actually, dare you to say any of these out loud in front of other people, especially those of you who don't know a foreign language) ... but where I come from, rotating meat on a spit that is cut by a hand-held Skilsaw, served wrapped in a flatbread, with salad and sauce, is called Shawarma... i mean, what else could it possibly be called? 

And just like the confusion that looms over the Submarine/Torpedo/Hero/It's-just-a-f--king-sandwich Sandwich... everywhere you go it's called something else.  Personal favorite?  Taco's al pastor... excuse me, but no taco truck I have EVER seen has any al pastor that I have eaten that was shaved off the spit with an electric knife.  Waaaaaaay to complicated.

I was inspired to write this post because I have been recently been living down memory lane, and as happens in my life so often, these memories are riddled with my Jewish heritage.  Not that shawarma is a Jewish food in any way (it's Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, or in the  case of the picture above, apparently Mexican as well!) .... people have been eating meat on a stick roasted over fire since fire was invented.  But it is Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare, and food in these parts seems to always blend together no matter what you call it.  Too bad religion is not the same.
Just check out this link and look at all these different versions of meat on a spit that exist in the city of Chicago alone! 

And by the looks of the photos above, it either looks like if you serve Shawarma for a living you will either end up a hunched over Quasimodo from years of trying to beat the size of your meat, or else you will have a lot of fun.  See all the fun hats you can wear???!!!  I am personally a fan of the street knife-bearing bandanna-wearing Mexican.  
And if a dancing kebab is not for you, and you cannot muster up the excitement the pizza chef seems to have for slicing up his meat, how about a fish sandwich?  

For those of you who are looking for the greatest metaphor for life, you MUST watch this video about living life through the eyes of a Shawarma  

Moral of the story?  Life's a bitch and then you die.... by way of burning fire and sharp objects.

About Me

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Napa Valley, California, United States
I teach Culinary Arts