Friday, March 30, 2007

A Real American Steak

Admiring the job we did cleaning this bone made me feel like an archaeologist after a discovery -- not only was it possible to buy good beef in Boston circa 2000 AD, it was even possible to make a fabulous steak on the grill.

For the past year, I have been in denial about the the fact that I have not been able to produce a great American steak. After all, I am no longer afraid of cooking meat -- even big roasts -- but a good steakhouse style steak still makes me nervous. Don't get me wrong -- I can quite successfully put a slab of beef on the grill and cook it to medium-rare. But just like a good burger, a good American steak is a much more elusive art than most people give it credit for.

First, there is the meat. None of my favorite cuts that are perfect for French bistro style steak -- hanger, skirt, or flat iron -- make a proper American steak. Oh no. For American steak, you need a thick and even cut of meat. Ideally, NY strip, Rib-eye, or Porterhouse (combination of a NY strip and tenderloin with a bone in the middle). These are all expensive cuts, so you'd expect them to be the most tender. But somehow, whenever I've tried to buy NY strip or rib-eye before, they've ended up grizzly and chewy.

Then there is the doneness issue. Not all medium-rare is created equal.

Medium-rare style 1: 20% of the steak is really well-done (the outside), then a 30% layer of medium-well, then a 30% layer of medium, and finally a 20% layer of medium-rare with maybe even a bit of completely rare thrown in right at the center.

Medium-rare style 2: 80% of the steak is evenly medium-rare and 20% on the outside is a quick transition from well to medium-rare.

I am a medium-rare style 2 person, and about a year ago, I learned to achieve that with my pan-fried steaks and large roasts: quick sear, followed by a rest period, followed by a long finish in a 250F oven.

In this method, the juices accumulating during the resting period and the long finish soften the outside crust. This makes a nice base for a quick pan sauce, and produces a wonderful sauced steak that will transport you to a bistro in Paris, but not to a ranch in Texas. For most food related things, I'd rather be in Paris, but when it comes to steak, I don't think any country does it quite as well as the US. So this week, I decided to go into completely unfamiliar territory -- I bought a porterhouse and grilled it.

I think I am slowly developing a real relationship with a butcher. Boston is not a meat town. There are many great places to get fish. But when it comes to meat, the pickings are slim. I've tried every place from a regular supermarket to the most expensive butchers, and I just couldn't seem to find a place that could put me at ease about meat until I discovered the Fresh Pond Market. It's a little neighborhood grocer that I wrote about recently. I've been having such good luck with their lamb and cheaper cuts of beef that I decided to stop chickening out and finally got one of those serious steaks.

Of course, the most reasonable thing to do with an unfamiliar cut of meat is to use a tried and true technique, but some strange and powerful force was telling me to preheat the grill even though it was a rainy, 40 degree day. I dried of my steak, sprinkled generously this almost 2 inch thick hunk of meat with salt and pepper, and took it to the grill that was preheated to high.

The plan was to imitate the "sear on high, finish on low" technique I use indoors, but now using a grill. As soon as the steak hit the grill, I covered it and waited 5 minutes before flipping (I did rotate it 45 degees after the first 3 minutes to make criss-cross grill marks). After flipping the steak, I turned the grill to the lowest possible setting and left it uncovered for 5-7 minutes to cool it off as much as possible. Then I covered the grill again, turned up the temperature just a tad and waited another 3-4 minutes. To test for doneness, I made a little cut around the center of the steak, but not too close to the bone, and peeked inside. It looked a perfect medium-rare, so I took it off the grill, drizzled with a little lemon juice and olive oil, and let it rest about 5 minutes.

Did it work?

"Mmm... this steak is as good as in Tulsa," moaned Jason when he took a bite of the strip part.

I couldn't dream of a higher praise. Being born in Texas and having grown up in Tulsa, Jason knows his steak and likes to complain about how hard it is to find in Boston.

In spite of the steak's weird shape and a combination of two totally different muscles (strip loin and tenderloin) being joined by a bone and forced to cook the same amount of time, the steak came out perfectly medium-rare in every single bite and almost rare at the bone. The strip had a good bite to it and tremendous flavor, but no chew. The tenderloin just melted in the mouth. Both muscles were bursting with juices. Half way through devouring our steak, I realized that here was yet another great dish I didn't bother to photograph. "Let's do it now," said Jason. I grabbed the camera, and snatched a few quick pictures while there was still some meat left.

When we got everything off the bone with a fork and a knife, we switched to teeth until we polished off the bone. There is really no better carnal pleasure than sinking your teeth into a perfectly grilled steak.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Mystery of the Skate Wing

Although I never made a particularly good engineer, I love systems. They have this amazing ability to make complex things simple and understandable in an elegant sort of way. Before you get worried that I am getting all geeky here on you, let me assure you that this post will only talk about culinary systems (you didn't really think I was going to write about operating systems, did you?). After I came up with my little system of fin fish personalities about 5 years ago, cooking fish became incredibly simple. I could buy and cook any fin fish with confidence even if I've never heard its name before. The rule of err on the site of under-cooking and remove from heat when some translucency remains in the center always worked. Any fish I tried to cook was moist and succulent. Any fish, except...

There is a little secret I've only hinted at before. There are two fish that don't fit into my system, and they've made me nervous for years: monkfish and skate wing. I hate to discriminate between fish, but these two creatures are just weird. What discouraged me even more than my failed attempts to produce quality monkfish and skate wing dishes was trying them in restaurants. Whenever I ordered one of them, they were dry. About a year ago, I had a monkfish epiphany. I tried a whole braised monkfish tail in a restaurant and I was hooked. This preparation goes against everything I've ever understood about fish cookery, but it works like a charm.

Last week I had a similar eye-opening experience with skate wing. We were having dinner at our favorite Boston restaurant, Ten Tables. They had skate on the menu and we decided to try it. I figured if I don't like David Punch's skate, I'll probably never ever like this weird fish. To my surprise, I absolutely loved it! The beauty of having dinner at the "chef's table" (a 2 person bar next to the open kitchen) is that I get to chat with the line cooks. David wasn't there that night, but his sous chef was very nice about answering my endless questions.

The cooking method wasn't surprising. They seared skate in a very hot pan in butter until it was nicely browned and crisp. What was interesting was that the skate was served "on the bone". Well, technically it's not a bone. It's cartilage that separates the top and bottom fillets. Cooked this way, it was much more moist than the boneless preparations. Tip number one: find skate on the bone and keep it that way.

My second question was about how much of that "silver skin" connective tissue to remove from skate's surface before cooking. What better way to find out than to ask the chef to see a raw piece of skate. He gladly obliged and showed me one of the portions ready for cooking. The skate was completely trimmed of all connective tissue to expose long strands of flesh. I am not sure why both monkfish and skate are sold untrimmed when they taste so much better trimmed. My guess is that it's too time consuming for a fish market to trim all this connective tissue. Tip number two: get that boning knife out and set to work.

The most important clue was the timing. The chef told me that cooking skate is just the opposite of cooking other fish -- the longer you cook it, the more tender it gets. "Well, within reason," he added. "You can certainly overcook it." Tip number three: don't rush your skate.

Hmm, so where do I find skate on the bone? Most fish markets sell it already deboned. But I have never paid attention to this strange little fish at the New Deal fish market. If anyone sells it on the bone, they do. The next day, I snatched the last piece of skate wing that Carl had. Sure enough it was on the bone and pretty well trimmed on one side. The other side still had the skin, which I removed before cooking. I worked on it a little more with my boning knife until it looked as clean as at Ten Tables.

I dried the skate well on paper towels and seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides. Then I preheated a cast iron pan on high until is was almost smoking and added a dollop of duck fat I had left over from teaching a French Bistro class the day before. In went the skate to sear until a nice brown crust formed on the bottom, 3-4 minutes. I regulated the heat so that it cooks at a lively pace without burning. After flipping the fish, I put the pan in the oven to finish cooking with a more even heat for another 3 minutes. Considering the whole thing was about 1/2 inch thick, that's ages. Normally, I'd cook a fish of this thickness for 4 minutes total. When I got it out, I poked the flesh with a fork to see if it was coming off the bone well. It had no translucency that I expect to see when I take the fish off the heat, but was very moist and came off the bone very easily.

Finally, it was a skate worth eating -- the texture was as good as at Ten Tables. I wish I wasn't lazy about flavoring and made a little pan sauce for this fish, but after teaching a 4 hour pasta workshop, I was tired. I served it on top of an asparagus sauce leftovers I had in my fridge, which was just an ok combination (too mild for this preparation). Next time, I'd throw some shallots in the pan after removing the skate. Deglaze with a little white wine and finish with butter and capers. Any sort of bacony side dish would be perfect too. Ten Tables served it with braised brussel sprouts and bacon. Yum!

I feel much better now that I can see some similarities between monkfish and skate. They no longer seem like exceptions, but like a different group of fish whose properties I can analyze and take into account when choosing a cooking strategy.

Here is what I've learned about working with them:
  1. Whenever possible, cook them on the bone. In both cases, the bones are huge and very easy for diners to remove.
  2. Trim all the connective tissues. They toughens up during cooking encasing the fish in a chewy sack.
  3. Cook longer than all the other fin fish. Hmm, actually, I wonder if monk and skate are even considered to be fin fish (probably not, because they are so different anatomically). I haven't cooked these fish enough to give you a clear formula like I have for other fillets and steaks (8 +/- 2 minutes per inch of thickness). My guess is that these guys take twice as long. When you test for doneness, wait for the fish to get completely opaque before removing it off the heat. If you keep them on the bone, the easiest doneness test is to see if they come off the bone easily.
  4. The only serious difference between monk and skate is that skate seems to be much better cooked with direct dry cooking methods, like searing, and monk is best braised -- first a quick sear and then finished on low indirect heat with some liquid.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Portuguese Sardines and Bean Salad

Ok, so I bit half of one sardine. But they were so good that I couldn't help stopping and taking a picture. What a lunch! And I have a really easy recipe for you guys this time. Find a can of good Portuguese sardines in olive oil. Open the can and enjoy :)

Now that the weather is nicer, my daily exercise is a walk to a little grocery store in the nearby Huron Village in Cambridge. When I shop for classes, I still have to drive to Whole Foods, but when I just shop for us, I love walking to Fresh Pond Market. I never know what I am going to cook until I start wondering the 3 little isles of this neighborhood grocer. It's so small, yet so full of great food -- my daily culinary inspiration in a nutshell. The other day, I was wondering what to get for lunch when I ended up in their canned fish section. How about sardines? I saw a couple of different brands and out of curiosity decided to get the most expensive one, just to see if it was worth it. $2.69 might seem like a lot for a 4 oz can, but when you take into account that it was the most expensive part of my lunch, it's not bad at all.

I tossed some beans with onion, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Then I opened my little can. These were the biggest canned sardines I've ever seen. There were only 4 of these huge, fat, glistening fishies in the can. And they were outrageously good!

Now can I ask a stupid question? How do they cook sardines long enough to get their bones completely soft without drying them out? I love grilled fresh sardines, but it's so hard to de-bone them completely before eating. I can easily butterfly them by removing the back bone, but the little pin bones are a major pain to remove and no matter how hard I try, there are always some left. Now this might be a crazy idea, but has anyone tried grilling canned sardines -- just for a minute on each side to give them a little smokiness and warm them up?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Swordfish for 40

Catering is not something I enjoy doing for strangers, but when it comes to family and friends, I simply love it. The event I am currently developing the menu for is particularly special -- it's the rehearsal dinner for my brother's wedding in the end of May. As it turns out, there'll be 35-40 people at this dinner, which is bigger than any event I've ever done in the past. The wedding is in Baltimore, so I won't have the luxury of my own kitchen or all my favorite stores. I am also part of the wedding party, so everything has to be prepared way in advance. And did I mention that I'll be 8 months pregnant? Ok, so maybe there are a few challenges here, but it wouldn't be fun otherwise, would it?

A braise is my usual fall back for large parties. Braised meat can sit in the oven for hours waiting for guests to arrive. It stays warm nicely once on serving platters and tends to be a huge crowd pleaser. The trouble is that a braise is not very spring like, which put me back to the drawing board. A roast? Maybe a leg of lamb? That sounded tempting, but I ruled that one out pretty quickly. Roasts are too time sensitive. I have a hard time producing a perfect roast for 10, let alone 40. I think caterers do them so often because big hunks of meat look very impressive. But since my goal is to make it actually taste good, I ended up getting back to what I do best -- fish. But for 40 people? All my favorite high heat cooking methods (grilling, searing, broiling) won't scale. And baked fish is just not that exciting.

That's when I remembered a trick I learned in Casablanca, the restaurant where I interned. We were catering an 80 people event and one of the courses was grilled halibut with oregano vinaigrette. I was curious how the chef will grill 80 portions of fish all at once. Of course, she was much more clever than to attempt something like that. We marked the fish on the grill in advance leaving it still raw inside. Then put all the fillets on baking sheets and popped them back in the fridge. At the time of service, the baking sheets went in the oven for about 8 minutes and we were done.

I did a dry run of this method the other day and it worked like a charm. I marinated swordfish in the morning for about an hour. Then marked it on the grill (about 2 minutes). You have to make sure the grill is extremely hot as you need the fish to brown fast. Since the swordfish I got that day was cut a little thin, I only grilled the presentation side worrying that I'd overcook it. If yours is cut at least 1 inch think, you can mark both sides on the grill. I let it cool, then covered and put in the fridge until dinner time. I removed the baking dish from the fridge for 30 minutes to let it come to room temperature. Then topped it with Bagna Caoda (Anchovy Garlic Butter Sauce) and baked at 450F for 9 minutes (that's about 10-12 minutes per inch of thickness as my piece was 3/4 inch thick). It turned out to cook longer than I expected (my usual estimate is 8 minutes per inch). I guess I rarely bake fish. Even when I finish in the oven, it's because I am pan searing or broiling and the fish is already in a hot pan. I topped the sword with gremolata (mix of chopped parsley, lemon zest, mashed garlic and salt) and served it to my quality assurance department -- Jason.

The sword was as juicy and flavorful as always and Jason heartily approved.

Now the question is where do I get 20 Lb of high quality sword in the Baltimore area?

p.s. no recipe today because all the components of this dish have already been posted on Beyond Salmon earlier. The recipe for Bagna Caoda sauce is part of the Halibut Basted with Bagna Caoda recipe. And here is a basic recipe for grilled swordfish. You can vary the flavoring in the marinade to suit your taste. Just make sure the marinade has plenty of oil to keep swordfish moist.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The frustrating life of a food blogger

Oh, the trials and tribulations of the food blogger's life. You make a great dish, but you didn't take a picture. Or you have a fabulous picture, but it didn't taste as good as you expected. The second one rarely happens. The first one happens so often, I got used to the never-ending frustration.

The current dish giving me trouble is pan-fried whiting that I made for dinner last week. I made it on Carl's (my fishmonger's) recommendation, and it was fabulous. The problem was that I had to serve it immediately (per his instruction) and didn't have a chance to take a picture. What? Don't all food bloggers get an extra serving just for the picture? Sorry to disappoint you guys -- nope :) This turned out to be such a yummy dish that I went right back to Carl in a few days to ask for more whiting. I thought I can take a picture if I make it again for lunch. During the day, the pictures go much faster and easier since I have good light. But he didn't have any whiting that day :( I am yet to hear from a reader that made a dish posted without a picture on my blog. If only food pictures weren't so much fun to look at, my life would be so much easier. So I guess I have to wait for whiting, and you guys have to wait for a picture and a recipe.

This is one part of food blogging that I absolutely hate. As Mark Twain said, "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." So are food pictures for me. It's something that I want to have taken, but don't want to take. Just imaging a crispy sizzling little fishy right there in front of you, tempting you with its tender juicy flesh. But instead of digging right in before it gets cold, you have to full around with aperture and shutter speed. Take 1. Zoom in. That's fuzzy. Maybe I should get my tripod. Take 2. That's better, but I need to approach it from a different angle. What's that weird shadow doing here? Man, now I need to adjust this stupid tripod. Take 3. No more weird shadow. But it looks dull. I need more glistening. Maybe if I move this lamp here... Yeah. Take 4. Ok, I think I am getting somewhere. Now how much fuzziness do I want? Should I make the tail fade away? How does that aperture thing work again? And so on.... As you can imagine, by the end of this torture the whiting is cold.

Well, enough ranting. If you want to read some of my normal writing, rather than my complaining, here are some stories I have recently done for culinate:

On Board -- a closer look at knife's best friend

Hands-on salad. I wanted to subtitle this one Il faut mettre la main a la salade, but culinate folks thought that I should stick to English. Now, I am just curious -- any ideas what this is a pun on?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

In the Ice Box

Dear HBO executives,

I’d like to pitch an idea for a drama that takes place in a butcher shop. I am writing to you as my last hope for reviving interest in the quickly disappearing art of butchering fish and meat. Surely, In the Ice Box can do for butchers and fishmongers what Six Feet Under has done for funeral home directors.

According to my estimates, at least 10% of the office trapped work force is dreaming of opening a restaurant, a wine shop, or a cheese shop. But I am yet to meet a man or a woman whose ambition it is to open a meat or fish market. Every time yet another Mom and Pop shop shuts down, my heart sinks in despair.

Why are we more concerned with the disappearance of penguins in Antarctica due to our fishing practices than with the disappearance of fishmongers? Trust me, there are fewer real fishmongers left than penguins and no one seems to notice. If we don’t act quickly, the only option left to us will be Whole Foods. Do you want to eat flavorless New Zealand lamb and buy fish fillets with scales for the rest of your days?

Our drama, In the Ice Box, starts with Jeremy Albert dropping out of Harvard medical school. He is a smart kid, but after a few years of dealing with medical establishment, he becomes disillusioned. As he is walking home with his cup of triple latte, he passes a butcher shop and is smitten with the butcher’s daughter, Amanda, arranging Colorado lamb chops and grass-fed rib-eye at the meat counter. Jeremy is desperate to talk to Amanda, but the $25/Lb price tag on those chops seems a bit prohibitive to a medical school drop out without a job. That’s when he notices the “Help wanted” sign. He bravely walks in, asks for an interview, impresses Amanda’s father, George, with his knife skills – that surgery rotation sure came in handy – and gets the job.

The next day, George sends Jeremy to Dan, the fishmonger next door, for some butcher paper (the business is going so well that they ran out). Poor Jeremy finds Amanda and Dan making out in the back room. Their passion is as red and raw as the bluefin tuna they are feeding each other.

Jeremy is crushed, but in a few weeks he learns that sex is the only thing that keeps Dan and Amanda together (that, and Amanda’s addiction to fatty tuna). From here, the possibilities are endless. I am sure your writers will make this drama into an Emmy award winner complete with a threatening acquisition by Whole Foods, an E. Coli scare, and sex on the butcher block.

Feel free to contact me any time to discuss the plot line and cast. I’d be happy to put you in touch with some of the few remaining fishmongers and butchers who can act as consultants for the show.

Sincerely yours,
-Helen Rennie

Monday, March 5, 2007

Trout fried in almonds

Do you sometimes get fascinated with a dish and make it constantly, only to forget all about it in a year? It happens to me a lot. With all the new dishes to discover, I find it hard not to let old favorites slip into a temporary oblivion. That's why I love it when Jason cooks dinner for me. He manages to make every old dish new again by digging up recipes I haven't made in years and making them taste even better than my memories. This Valentine's Day, he made me trout fried in almonds and as Julia Child would say, it was "perfectly delicious." In fact it was so good, that he inspired me to make it twice since Valentine's Day -- once for us and once for a One Fish, Two Fish class.

Serves 4

Fish substitutions: arctic char, tilapia, baramundi

4 white trout fillets with skin
1 cup sliced almonds
2 eggs
4 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 Tbsp herb butter, melted (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 250F.
  2. Chop sliced almonds in a food processor into small pieces. Pour into a plate.
  3. Beat eggs together until well blended in a pyrex dish large enough to hold a trout fillet.
  4. Season trout fillets with salt and pepper on both sides.
  5. Put 2 Tbsp oil in a frying pan and set on medium high heat.
  6. When the pan is hot, quickly dip both sides of 2 fillets into eggs, then into almonds, and place in the skillet skin side down. Cook until nuts are browned, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until nuts are browned on the flesh side, about 2 minutes. There is no need to test for doneness. If the nuts are browned, the trout is cooked (since it's so thin). If substituting thicker fish, you might have to finish cooking in 400F oven, so that nuts don't burn and test for doneness the usual way.
  7. Remove to an oven proof dish and keep warm in the oven while frying the second 2 fillets. If nuts burnt, remove them from the pan before cooking the second batch. Pour more oil into the pan if needed and repeat with the other 2 fillets.
  8. Optionally, pour 1-2 tsp of melted herb butter over each fillet before serving.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Yogurt Marinated Chicken

I dread the situations when students ask me chicken questions. I can tell you about sushi, making your own pasta, obscure cuts of meat, duck fat, breads of pork, weird vegetables, caviar, and truffles. I am not the right person to ask about chicken. There is really nothing wrong with chicken, I just don't crave it, and thus don't cook it more often than twice a year.

You might think I am exaggerating. Doesn't everyone buy chicken breasts at least sometimes? To tell you the truth, I can't remember last time I bought them. I think it must have been at least 2 years ago. If I ever cook chicken, I roast it whole. But last summer, I've discovered grilled chicken legs. They are so good, that even I get a craving for them at times.

Since I am not a chicken guru, I really don't know if this recipe is more complicated than it needs to be. Is marinating chicken in yogurt really necessary? Would just brining it in salt water work? I have no idea, and since I cook chicken twice a year, I don't want to mess with it. All I know is that this recipe produces the juiciest, crispiest, and yummiest chicken ever.

Since the recipe used to live only in my head, I could never remember how long to cook this chicken. I usually marinate enough for 3 days and the first day I always screw it up. The second and third days are perfect. Well, I got tired of eating overcooked chicken, so I finally decided to write it down.

Serves 4-6

8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken legs (skin on, bone in)
(I tried it with both and I prefer just thighs)

2 cups plain yogurt
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 inches ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup cilantro or mint
2 1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste (Please note that the original version of this post incorrectly called for 2 Tbsp of kosher salt. Thanks to Grace for testing this recipe and finding my mistake.)

Spice rub:
1 Tbsp coriander
1 Tbsp cumin,
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
2 tsp kosher salt (whether you need to add this depends on how salty your marinade was -- use your best judgment and skip if you are sensitive to salt)
1/2 tsp black pepper

Olive oil for grilling or broiling.
  1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Put chicken in a large zip-lock bag, pour in the marinade. Close the bag and refrigerate for 1-3 days.
  3. Remove the chicken from the marinade and dry well on paper towels before cooking.
  4. Combine all the spice rub ingredients together and rub all over chicken.
  5. Coat the chicken with a thin layer of oil.
grilling method:
  1. Preheat the grill to medium. Brush with a wad of paper towel dunked in oil.
  2. Place the chicken on the grill skin side down, cover, and cook until browned, 5-6 minutes.
  3. Flip, and cook covered another 4-8 minutes or until done. See the note about doneness below.*
broiling method:
  1. Set the oven to broil and place the rack 4 inches from the broiler.
  2. Wrap a broiler pan in foil and place the chicken in the pan skin side up.
  3. Broil until nicely browned, about 5 minutes.
  4. Flip, and broil until browned on the other side, about 5 minutes.
  5. Flip the chicken again, so that it's skin side is up. Turn down the oven to 425F, remove the chicken from the broiler and finish cooking in the oven for 2-6 minutes or until done. See the note about doneness below.*
*How to test for doneness: Start testing for doneness after 10 minutes of cooking for thighs and 12 minutes of cooking for whole legs. To test, cut into the thickest part of thigh avoiding the bones, and peek inside. The flesh should be opaque, but very juicy (the juices might have a trace of pink in them). You can also use an instant read thermometer, but make sure you are testing the temperature in the center of the thigh. With all the bones, it's kind of hard to know where the probe ends up, so it's a good idea to test in a few thick spots. For juicy, but cooked through chicken, you want to serve it at 170F. This means removing it from the heat at 165F. Let your chicken rest for 5 minutes after removing it from the heat. The temperature will go up another 5 degrees and the juices will be reabsorbed into the tissue.

Is this more than you ever wanted to know about testing the chicken for doneness? What can I say, I am a bit obsessed with doneness (no, I guess I am VERY obsessed with doneness). Interesting ingredient combinations are nice and all, but to me, the whole art of cooking lies in using the right amount of salt, and removing things off the heat at just the right moment. I believe that every food is perfectly cooked for only about 30 seconds (unless it's a braise). If you missed those 30 seconds, you missed perfection.