Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Salting and Freezing Chicken

A question came up in the Poultry class the other week:
If you are planning to freeze the chicken, is it better to salt it for 24 hours first and then freeze, or is it better to salt for 24 hours after defrosting?
I was wondering that myself and decided to set up a little experiment. But first, let me give you some background on salting. Salting proteins far in advance (1-4 days) is a technique I learned from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. It has all the benefits of a wet brine (increasing tenderness and juiciness) without any drawbacks of a wet brine (spongy texture, slightly artificial flavor, and skin that burns, but stays flabby). I find this technique most useful on poultry and pork and got into the habit of always salting them in advance.

The question is how to proceed if the chicken will be frozen for a period of time and then defrosted? I saved the breast/wing roasts from 2 whole chickens my students cut up in the Poultry class and froze them for 2 weeks, then defrosted in the fridge for 2 days and cooked. One roast was dried, vacuum sealed, and frozen immediately. The other roast was salted for 24 hours in the fridge, then dried, vacuum sealed and frozen. The roast that was not salted before freezing was salted for 24 hours in the fridge after defrosting. Both roasts were cooked the same way.

After defrosting both roasts and getting them out of the vacuum sealed bags, I had a little discovery. The roast that was salted before freezing left way less liquid behind. The roasts were roughly the same size (if anything the roast that left more liquid was actually smaller because it was missing a wing).

I can't say I was surprised. There must be a reason why shrimp are often brined before freezing.

The one that was salted before freezing tasted a bit juicier, but it was hard to tell without having them side by side. We cooked them on two consecutive nights, and both were quite good. In other words, freezing chicken is not a culinary catastrophe like freezing lean fish. So, freeze away! If you can vacuum seal it, it will last longer. If you can salt it before freezing, it will be a tad juicier. As always, make sure you label everything in your freezer, or 3 months later you'll have no idea how long the chicken was in there and if it was salted or not.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Richard Bertinet's sweet dough 1.0

Remember the cool video I mentioned the other day, where Richard Bertinet demonstrated the 2 handed kneading technique for wet doughs? I hear it's called the French Fold. I doubt it's called that in France, of course, but at least in the English speaking world.

After applying this kneading method successfully to at least 3 yeast breads, I finally decided to try his recipe for the sweet bread dough. Unlike the lean doughs I've been working with lately, this one had some egg, butter, milk, and sugar. Some people compare it to a leaner brioche, but a good Pain de Mie (basic French sandwich bread) would be a better comparison. Even the leanest of brioche doughs would have at least twice as much butter.

Making this dough is a piece of cake, because the butter goes in right in the beginning vs. a real brioche that requires you to develop gluten completely AND THEN incorporate the butter piece by piece until smooth -- much more labor intensive.

  1. I didn't have whole milk, so used 1 cup 2% milk plus 2 Tbsp heavy cream
  2. He calls for 1/2 oz fresh yeast or 1/4 oz active dry. I used 4.5 g SAF instant, using Beranbaum's book to figure out this conversion.
  3. He calls for bread flour, I used King Arthur all-purpose (AP). It had plenty of chew for this kind of bread, so I would stick with AP.
  4. He calls for superfine granulated sugar. I used regular granulated sugar. In theory, you can make superfine sugar by running granulated sugar through a food processor, but it dissolved just fine and I didn't bother. All the sources I found on-line indicate that a cup of superfine sugar weights the same as a cup of granulated sugar. I find it hard to believe, because the superfine sugar has smaller granules thus it would be more packed in a cup. But unfortunately, the recipe didn't give weight for sugar. They just said 3 Tbsp, and I substituted granulated sugar without changing the volume amount.
  5. He calls for 2 tsp salt. I assumed it's table salt and doubled the amount since I was using Diamond Crystal Kosher.
Here is my formula
1 cup 2% milk plus 2 Tbsp heavy cream
4.5 g SAF instant yeast (about 1.5 tsp)
18 oz AP flour
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
2 large eggs

Other changes:
  1. He calls for 1 hour rise in the recipe (1.5 hour rise in the video). I let mine rise 3.5 hours because the kitchen was in the 60s, but I am guessing that 1 hour is still too short even on a hot day.
  2. I baked half of the dough with only 1 rise and a proof and the other half with 2 rises and a proof (second rise was retarded in the fridge over night). Not much difference.

It's a lovely dough, but not for what I used it. I used it for pirozhki (piroshki) -- Russian stuffed rolls. I was hoping it would be a much easier alternative to brioche dough I usually use. It's easier, but less tender and way leaner. I am guessing that if you crank up the butter and sugar a tad in this one, you might be able to get away with this sweet dough rather than brioche technique for pirozhki. I also shaped a few plain rolls, sprinkled with sugar. They were fine out of the oven, but too firm once cooled.

My best guess is that this dough would be fabulous for burger buns, tea sandwiches, and summer pudding. Of course, brioche burger buns are the ultimate indulgence, but in my opinion they are over the top. I like the beef and cheese to be the greasy stars of my burgers and don't want the fat content of the bun to overshadow them. On another hand, I hate the squishy supermarket buns that can't hold the juiciness of a good burger. But serving burger on baguette, focaccia, or any other crusty or chewy breads, just ruins it for me. I want a bun that is sturdy enough to hold the juice, but soft enough to bite through with no tagging and pulling. I am very particular when it comes to burgers :) But it never occurred to me to make my own burger buns. Even now the idea seems a bit nuts, and the only way I can justify it is to make a ton of these buns and freeze them individually. Starting a yeast dough project for 2 burger buns is slightly psychotic even for me.

And about that summer pudding... First of all, what is it? If you've never had summer pudding before, you don't know what you are missing. It's stale sandwich bread, layered in a deep dish with cooked summer berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, red and black currents). They are cooked in sugar and produce the most delicious syrup that soaks into the bread for a day or two under a heavy weight. Then you invert the whole thing onto a platter, slice, serve with whipped cream and think you went to heaven.

Here is a recipe, in case you want to try it. It's my adaptable of David Lebovitz' recipe from Room for Dessert book. Ignore the bread buying instructions in it. That bread is no longer available in Boston, but this sweet dough bread would be wonderful if you bake it in a large rectangular shape.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Salads that won't wilt

One of my students asked for the recipe of the salad I served in the recent Tender at the Bone (a.k.a. Meat) class last Thursday. It was a salad of cooked cannellini beans (I used canned) and green beans (I used the snapped haricots verts (slender and delicate green beans) from Costco. It's not much of a recipe, as much as a couple of cooking techniques thrown together:

Opening a can of beans
Sure you can cook them, but that requires planning in advance and in spite of what everyone says, I don't think canned beans taste any worse than home cooked ones. The liquid from home cooked beans is wonderful in soups and stews and the canned liquid sucks, but for a salad it doesn't really matter. So, open a can of bean, drain it in a colander, rinse under cold water and let drip a few minutes.

Blanching green vegetables
This one takes a little practice. Blanching means boiling in water (usually very generously salted) and then removing to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking as quickly as possible. It's a great way to cook any green vegetable: green beans, asparagus, snap peas, etc. The hardest part is not over-cooking them. After the first minute and a half, taste them every 30 seconds until they just start to loose their hard raw texture. They'll still be very crisp. Drain immediately, and dump into ice water. You have to act very quickly since every unnecessary second is over-cooking them. Here are some tips on blanching:
  1. Use lots of boiling water and lots of ice water to have full control of when the cooking process starts and stops (I use 4 quarts of each per pound of vegetable).
  2. As soon as the vegetable goes into boiling water, cover the pot to return it to the boil as quickly as possible. Once the water boils, you can uncover the pot.
  3. Never put your vegetables into boiling water until you got your ice bath ready.
  4. Never blanch more than one vegetable at the same time in case one is ready before the other. For example, the salad in the picture has blanched green beans and asparagus that were blanched separately. You can do that in the same water, but instead of draining the first vegetable in a colander, remove it with a slotted spoon, tongs, or using a colander insert (if you have one).
Lime Garlic Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (lemon juice will work too)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane zester or mashed to a paste with a knife
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk the juice, mustard, and garlic together. Add the oil in a slow stream whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Other nice additions
This is one of those salads, I can never make the same way twice. In Thursday's class, we used cannellini beans, blanched haricots verts, finely chopped celery and scallions (minced red onions or shallots work well too). In Saturday's class, I replaced cannellini beans with asparagus. Don't worry about the exact proportions of ingredients. You can improvise with this infinitely, just make sure you add enough salt, pepper, and dressing to make it good. Taste, taste, taste.

Here are some variations on this theme:
  • cannellini beans, celery, basil and/or cilantro salad
  • cannellini beans, radishes, fennel salad (shave radishes and fennel paper thin on a mandoline)
  • cannellini beans, tomato, basil salad
  • seared or blanched asparagus, tomato, feta salad
These salads are very forgiving since they don't wilt. They taste best served immediately, but will still be good a few hours later.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Natick Farmers' Market started

Natick Farmers' Market was open as of last Saturday, May 15. I knew full well that not much would be for sale at the first farmers' market of the season. This is New England, not California. Sure, there was something to buy -- pottery, baked goods, pasta, and other stuff I consider to be fillers. To me a farmers' market is all about the produce. I got almost everything available: scallions and asparagus. The only other thing was zucchini, but I already had those in my fridge. There was a ton of potted herbs for sale for people to start their gardens. I also picked up a fromage blanc from Foxboro Cheese Co. It was lemon honey flavored and fabulously tangy (like a strained ricotta with a serious tang, or a farmer's cheese with perfectly smooth texture). Yes, they are the same guys that sell raw milk at their farm, but unfortunately, it's still illegal for them to bring it to the farmer's market.

Asparagus was stunning. I seared some of it for Sammy (my almost 3 year old). That's her favorite way to eat "paragus." The rest, I shaved with a vegetable peeler into ribbons and dressed with a lemon mustard vinaigrette. If you've never had a raw asparagus salad, it's worth a try. When shaved thin, it's tender and juicy (though labor intensive). On a whim, I tossed some of those scallions with fromage blanc, rolled the cheese into balls and wrapped with asparagus ribbons. Of course wrapping a savory salad around a slightly sweet cheese is not the best idea, but a part of me wanted to really bite into that first farmer's market of the season. It was not very balanced, but splendid at the same time.

Asparagus Salad

1 Lb of asparagus
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Snap the woody ends of asparagus one at a time. Each will break where it starts to get tender. Place one asparagus spear on a working surface so that it's lying parallel to you. Shave into ribbons with a vegetable peeler from the trimmed stem end towards the tip, stopping about an inch from the tip. Reserve tips for some other use, like blanching or searing. Repeat with remaining spears and place them in to a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice and mustard together. Add the oil in a slow steady stream while whisking. Dress asparagus with about half of this dressing and a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper. Taste and add more dressing, salt, and pepper as needed.

Serving suggestions:
  1. Add any of the following for a more substantial salad: cooked white beans, fennel, radishes, thinly sliced cooked fingerling potatoes, scallions. You will need more dressing if you are adding more stuff.
  2. Serve as a side to a poached egg -- very classy!
  3. Wrap around a small piece of feta or goat cheese to make bite size bundles -- fun appetizer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A balanced look at farm-raised fish

This has been a sad year for printed culinary publications. Gourmet is no more, and Kenji Alt (my favorite food writer) has left Cook's Illustrated. But luckily, Kenji is still writing and he co-founded a fabulous site called Good Eater. When I started reading it, it was mostly for Kenji's Food Lab column published on both Serious Eats and Good Eater. As I have recently found out he is turning it into a book, and that's why he's been too busy to write for Cook's. But lately, I started reading some of Good Eater sustainability stories as well (that's the core of their site).

Although I believe that responsible food management is a very important issue, I hate the sustainability hype often created by mass media -- the scarier the better. There is rarely a discussion of the gray areas or any data backing these journalists' scare tactics. But that's what sells. On another hand, Good Eater presents sustainability issues in a way that even I can swallow: from a practical and often data based perspective. Their article on farm-raised fish was a breath of fresh air in the sea of the usual media panic. If you are interested in this issue, it's a very worthwhile read.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How is fish at H-Mart in Burlington?

Among the most frequently asked shopping questions in my fish class lately has been "How is fish at H-Mart in Burlington?" Unfortunately, I couldn't answer this question until now because I haven't been to H-Mart. But last week, I finally went, and have a report for you.

If you've never been to H-Mart, let me give you an overview. H-Mart is a chain for huge Asian grocery stores located all over the US. The first one in Metro Boston has recently opened in Burlington. It's been the buzz of the town ever since. It's a Disneyland of Asian Food with all the good and bad sides of Disneyland. In other words -- it's massive, impressive, but probably not the deepest cultural experience one can have.

Janet (my wonderful assistant that some of you have met in classes) and I went there early in the afternoon on a Tuesday to avoid the weekend crowds. We hear it gets a little crazy on weekends.

Since H-mart is completely overwhelming in its size and variety, let me give you a run down by department. These are not the only departments they have, but that's all I could take in during one trip.

Variety is huge and they carry a ton of whole fish. The quality varies widely. I saw stuff that's as fresh as New Deal or Marden's; and stuff that's as terrible as Stop & Shop and Trader Joe's. They carry lots of previously frozen fish and some of those species freeze terribly (like flounder). The prices are appropriate. The lovely fresh whole snapper was $7/Lb (New Deal and Marden's would be around $9/Lb). But the fish that was dirt cheap was priced so for a reason. Swordfish pieces were from the tail end with an awfully dark brown bloodline -- the sign that they sat too long. Tuna was magenta pink -- sign that it was previously frozen. On another hand, they had treasures like fresh whole whiting that looked good. There was a cheaper previously frozen version of it too that looked beat up. As always, there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to fish. You get what you pay for.

I got a whole red snapper and asked them to scale it since it looked like the guts and gills were already out. The guy shook his head in confusion and pointed at the sign above. Turns out he didn't speak any English and needed me to tell him what I want using the following options:

"1 - clean"
"2 - clean, remove head"
"3 - clean and fillet"

I wasn't sure if "clean" meant scale. Is trimming fins part of it? I tried to make gestures for scaling and he kept pointing at the sign. Finally, I said "one." He got to work scaling and trimming fins and did a very respectable job -- way better than most Whole Foods. Janet asked for her striped bass to be filleted, but he refused. He said it can only be one or two. Not sure if it's because the fish was on the small side (about 1.5 Lb). New Deal has filleted fish of absolutely any size for me before. It is also handy that I can ask a good fish store like New Deal and Marden's to save the head and bones for me in a separate bag so that I could make stock. Not sure how I could communicate this at H-Mart.

They also carry some salted fish that is very yummy grilled or seared. That's probably what I'd get next time since it's not available at other fish mongers. Or better yet, I'll learn to salt it myself.

Yes, I know -- you all want to know about sushi. Bad news for you my friends -- I didn't try it. I had every intention to try it, but they were not very forthcoming with information to say the least. I am pregnant. This doesn't mean I don't eat raw fish -- I eat it at reputable sushi restaurants, and prepare it at home myself. But I don't eat it at sushi buffets, or from styrofoam boxes (that's how it was sold at H-Mart) when I can't get any information about it. Normally, I would risk it, but not now, so I decided to get some info before buying it. I asked the lady giving out samples of salted fish which "sushi" fish have been frozen and which ones not. She assured me that all their sushi fish is "fresh." A large chain like H-Mart is required by law to have a HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) plan. In other words, all fish that are prone to parasites must be previously frozen to kill parasites. The fish they had on display for sushi were tuna, salmon, and fluke. She changed her story and said that maybe tuna and salmon were previously frozen because they have to be, but not fluke because it's "very local." That's complete ignorance. Tuna doesn't have to be previously frozen because it's not prone to parasites, but fluke definitely should be because it's very likely to have cod worm and anisakis.

I asked if there is someone responsible for sushi fish that I could talk to. She said it's impossible because he doesn't speak English, but he used to have his own sushi restaurant and knows what he is doing. To appease me, she found him and tried to translate for me. He wouldn't give me any answers, but wanted to know why I am asking all these questions. "What are you? An inspector?" he asked. I said I was a culinary instructor and simply need more information to be able to buy their fish for serving raw and to answer my students' questions. I asked if they'd be willing to tell me their supplier. I was guessing that their supplier already took care of freezing whatever was necessary for them. Most upscale sushi restaurants in Boston are supplied by True World Foods. They carry very reliable products. I have asked sushi restaurants about their suppliers before and most reputable ones were willing to share this information. H-Mark sushi guy got very upset. He said that I should either trust them or go elsewhere. Then he walked out on me.

I tried to get whatever information I could from a package. Tuna was priced at $13/Lb, so was salmon. While that's a reasonable price for decent quality salmon. It's way too cheap for decent quality tuna. The expiration date on some packages said "August 13, 2010" that was as of May 11, 2010. Obviously, that was a typo. But many packages said "May 16, 2010." Are they trying to tell me that I can serve this fish raw 5 days later? What I really wanted to know was when was the fish cut, defrosted, etc., but that info was not available.

Just for the record, New Deal and Marden's don't freeze their fish either. They are not selling them officially as "sushi" grade, but they are giving me lots of helpful information to make an informed decision about what I can and can't eat raw. Generally, Marden's guys are a bit clueless when it comes to parasites because they don't cater to sushi clientele. Carl at New Deal is much more knowledgeable. But these places tell you openly what they do and don't know. To deal with parasite risk, I buy fish for eating raw that are not prone to parasites (tuna, arctic char, hamachi, branzino). When I am not pregnant, I take my chances with fluke, but Carl inspects it in front of me. When stuff sits in a styrofoam package, I really don't know who inspected it and how well. I also don't have to worry about bacteria risk with New Deal and Marden's. They can tell me when the fish came in, when it was filleted, etc.

I am sure you can buy and eat their "sushi" fish raw without anything bad happening. But I like to know what I am buying, and I want fish that taste like great fish, not like supermarket sushi.

I haven't bought any meat here so can't speak for the quality, but variety is enormous if you are willing to buy stuff in bulk. They have skirt and hanger steaks, every part of the pig imaginable (from snouts to feet), frozen whole ducks and duck breasts (couldn't find legs), frozen pheasants, and all forms of offal. Nothing upscale (prime, dry-aged, etc), except for some marinated strips of Berkshire pork. Unfortunately, they didn't have it in any other form. The prices were not as good as Costco, but sometimes a little better than upscale butchers. Of course, at an upscale butcher, the skirt steak would already come trimmed and here you'll have to do the work yourself and buy 5Lb+.

The bakery had many tempting French Asian items. I was hoping they'd be of the caliber of Patisserie Japonaise in Brookline or the sadly closed Cafe Cakes. Unfortunately, they were nothing to write home about. The brioche studded with fruit and lightly glazed was of supermarket mass produced quality (you taste yeast, not butter).

Tons of variety and many Asian vegetables not available elsewhere. Many regular fruits and vegetables are sold in bulk at low prices. The quality varies a lot. Comparing this to Whole Foods seems silly (obviously H-Mart has more variety and better prices). Costco and Russo's would be more fair comparisons. The bulk items seemed very comparable to Costco in terms of quality and price. The Asian items seemed very comparable to Russo's. None of this stuff was comparable to California or farmer's markets in terms of freshness. I guess it's nice to be able to go to a Costco/Russo's hybrid and kill all birds with one stone.

The real gem here was the pantry. As you can imagine they have an insane variety of sauces, condiments, rice, etc. This stuff is not perishable and can easily travel anywhere. Unfortunately, I am the worst person to give you a report on the pantry since Asian cuisines are not my area of expertise. The pantry item I was trying to find was Vietnamese style fish sauce (most of the stuff available in regular supermarkets and smaller Asian stores is Thai style fish sauce). When I found the right isle, I was faced with 20-30 bottles of fish sauce and no one to ask for help. As always I was lost and couldn't figure out what to buy. I finally found a bottle that said made in Vietnam, but that's like buying a cheese that says "made in France." I really wished there was someone to provide guidance on the differences between these sauces. I guess what I really want is an Asian Formaggio's Kitchen. I realize the prices will be 3 times as much, but considering the fact that I buy fish sauce once every 2 years, I am fine with that. Basically, if you know the cuisine for which you are shopping and preferably some of that language you'd be fine.

In many ways, H-mart is like Costco. They carry from onions to electronics. It's the place to go if you know what you want (including specific brand). But it's not the place to go if you want to learn about a cuisine. Costco carries the brands and items that I need for the cooking that I do (King Arthur Flour, Buffalo Mozzarella, etc), and H-mart carries equivalent items for Asian cuisines that I don't know. As far as fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats go: I think H-mart is a wonderful place to buy these items compared to other stores in that part of Metro Boston area. None of those departments are the best of their kind in Boston, but they are all under one roof, so it could be a convenient one-stop-shopping place for North of Boston suburbs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A real croissant in Wellesley? Mai oui!

I am glad I am not a food critic. If I was, I would probably be dead by now. Not because of all the butter and cream I would consume -- occupational hazard of this dangerous profession. But because the restaurant association of Boston (if there is such a thing) would probably hire someone to assassinate me (or at least to send me very threatening letters). Since I like being alive more than dead, I stay away from posting restaurant reviews on my blog. But for a change, I have something positive to say, and it's about the most unlikely place of all -- Wellesley Bakery and Cafe.

They have no charm, no good coffee or tea, and mediocre lunch offerings, but they make truly fabulous croissants! They are not just good enough for the culinary wasteland known as Boston's Metro West. They are just good. Period. Shatteringly crisp on the outside, tender and buttery inside, and perfectly sized to produce the ultimate mix of crispness and tenderness in each bite. They are as close as it gets to a croissant in France.

"Well," you say. "Have you tried Clear Flour croissants?" Yes.
"Iggy's?" Yes.

And these are better?! Yes.

Iggy's are too huge and puffy. Once you eat the crispy curved edges, you end up with a big soft puff. It's a buttery puff, but still a doughy puff.

Clear Flour are better, but still not a perfect balance between crispness and tenderness. Until I tried Wellesley bakery, I thought Clear Flour was the best in Boston. They are really very good, even excellent, just still not quite the croissant that transports me to France.

I believe most people will disagree with my croissant evaluation. On a recent trip to San Francisco, we stayed a mere 5 minute walk from La Tartine Bakery. The line out the door for their croissants spoke for itself. They were huge (bigger than Iggy's), perfectly shaped (unlike somewhat uneven ones in Wellesley bakery), and served piping hot. They couldn't get them out of the ovens fast enough for the hungry hordes. I thought they were terrible. The inside was still soggy, the outside a bit burnt on the bottom, and in spite of the buttery flavor, the thing had no balance in textures, but that doesn't stop people from enjoying them. I saw a young woman dunking hers in a cup of hot chocolate, pulling out the poor soggy mess and biting into it with eyes closed in bliss. It felt like a highway car accident -- you know it's horrible, you know there is nothing you can do to help, yet you can't look away. A croissant is not a biscotti; it's not meant to be dunked. Its beauty likes in its structure and balance of textures, but for most people in the US, that's probably not what a croissant is all about.

So, I make no guarantees that you'll like Wellesley bakery croissants. I just think they are a rarity and worth trying if you want to get a feel for what croissants taste like in France. The cookies are excellent too.

Rye bread 1.0

If you are sick of reading about my bread experiments, I have a few words of hope for you. It won't be nice and cool in Boston for long. Soon the temperature will creep into 80s and I might come to my senses and stop this insane bread production. But if you are interested in artisan breads, you probably know that keeping a diary is crucial to improving your skills. So for the moment, I am using this blog as a diary for me to remember what I did, not as any means of helping you reproduce this at home, so forgive my abbreviations, lack of explanation, etc.

This is my first rye bread. Stupidly, I picked up the one type of rye flour available at the tiny Whole Foods in Wellesley. It's by Arrowhead Mills and as soon as I started reading The Bread Bible, I realized it's probably the wrong type. What I wanted was white rye flour and the one I ended up getting was whole grain. Here is what I learned about rye from the Bread Bible: less gluten than wheat, makes the bread a bit sticky, the bran might also bake it a bit bitter, so rye is often mixed with wheat. I decided to replace 20-25% of wheat with rye in Jason's recipe with Poolish version. Since I threw in a piece of old dough from a previous wheat batch, it was probably more like 20%, and still was a bit much -- a tad too cardboardy for me.

Here is the formula

AP -- all-purpose
DCK -- Diamond Crystal Kosher salt

Pate Fermente:

a small piece of dough left over from a previous wheat bread batch that I kept frozen.

12 hour Poolish:
100g AP flour
80 g rye flour
180g water
0.07g yeast

234 g AP flour
40 g rye flour
1 tsp yeast
4 tsp DCK salt
233 g water

To knead:
140g (5 oz) of flour -- rye made the dough feel stickier and I couldn't get away with 2 oz I used before. Next time, I should up the flour. It really doesn't need to be that wet. Huge holes is not what I am after in this bread.

I combined pate fermente, poolish, and remainder, and kneaded by hand. Let rise for 3.5 hours (more than doubled). Deflated, folded, shaped, proofed for 45 minutes in a proof box. Baked in a dutch oven. I forgot to separate a piece of dough, like I did for previous batches, plus this one was bigger due to pate fermente. So the loaf ended up huge and kept not baking through. I started the oven at 500. When the bread went in, I reduced to 425F. After 45 minutes, I reduced to 400F. 22 minutes later, I was only registering slightly over 200F and the inside felt sticky. I got the bread out of the pot and finished directly on a rack for another 20 minutes before it finally got to 210 and stopped feeling sticky inside. By that time, the crust got a bit burnt.

The inside had good chewy texture and good flavor (a tad cardboardy to my taste, but not bad).

I keep wanting more acidity and was hoping rye flour would give me that. Is there no way around this whole sour-dough starter business? I was hoping to avoid it because I don't trust myself to feed anything that doesn't make noise.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jason's bread 3.0 without poolish

Last time I blogged about Jason's bread recipe was version 2.1. What makes this one 3.0? Using only 2 oz for kneading instead of 4.4oz; using all-purpose flour instead of bread flour; and, baking in a dutch oven instead of on a stone with steam.

But this bread is absolutely identical to Jason's bread with poolish 1.0 that I just blogged about the other day with the exception that all the ingredients are mixed together right away instead of being separated into a poolish pre-ferment and remainder.

I kneaded the dough and put it in the fridge overnight. Kneading was a little easier since I could keep the flour on the outside longer than I could with the poolish version. I got the dough out the next morning and let it rise for 6 hours because the kitchen was in the 60's. It's unusually cold in Boston for May at the moment. Then I deflated, kneaded a bit and let it rise again for 1.5 hours. Shaped, proofed, etc, just like the other bread.

So, does poolish do anything for you? Not that we could easily tell. Unfortunately, we didn't have the breads side by side and it was not a blind tasting (we knew which was which). Jason thought non-poolish version was a tad chewier with a tad better flavor. I thought the poolish version was a tad chewier with a tad better flavor. But it was a very small "tad."

By the way, I picked up a good hand kneading technique by watching Gourmet magazine's video of Richard Bertinet making bread dough. I got this tip from the fabulous Bread Cetera blog.

Here is another picture of the crumb being held up to light. You see how it's uneven? Some parts are dense, some are super holey. My guess is I am not shaping right. Any tips on how to improve this would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Technique Videos

Helen's Kitchen YouTube Channel

WARNING: this index is not always up to date, please go to the YouTube link above for all the latest videos.

Knife Skills
Meat and Poultry

Friday, May 7, 2010

Jason's bread with poolish 1.0

To celebrate my fixed oven, I baked bread.

After messing for a while with baking my focaccia dough into shaped loaves (with mediocre results), I decided to go back to messing around with Jason's recipe since I've had pretty good luck with it before. This time, however, I decide to convert it to using a poolish. Pre-ferments have been one of the mysteries about bread baking that I still don't understand. Everyone swears by them, but they are often comparing apples to oranges. They are comparing doing 1 rise and a proof to doing a pre-ferment, plus 1 rise and a proof. Obviously, pre-ferment wins. But here is the mystery I am trying to solve. Is doing a pre-ferment, plus 1 rise, plus a proof somehow better than Julia Child's method of doing 2 long rises and a proof? Jason says no. As much as I'd like to trust him, I wanted to see for myself. So I converted his bread to a poolish version using Rose Beranbaum's instructions. Here is what I ended up with.

454 g flour (16 oz) + 2 oz to knead (57g)
3.2 g yeast (1 tsp)
4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
1 3/4 c water (413 g)

180g flour
180g water
0.07g yeast*

274 g flour
1 tsp yeast
4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
233 g water

According to Jason's recipe, you make a dough with all of the ingredients in the "Total" section up front. I ended up with the same total ingredients in the end, but first I mixed the poolish ingredients together and had them rise at room temp over night (about 11 hours). Then I added the "Remainder" ingredients to poolish (mixing dry things separately first). I kneaded by hand adding 2 oz of flour. This was a complete soup. Now that I am remembering better, Jason adds on the order of 4 oz when kneading (actually, I even found my notes on it on this very blog after finishing kneading. If only I read my own blog, life would be so much easier). Also working with poolish made it harder to knead since those ingredients were very hydrated already. But I survived. I let the dough rise for 3 hours, then shaped and proofed for 1 hour, slashed, brushed with water, and baked in a dutch over using Cook's Illustrated almost no-knead instructions. Since this recipe has a bit more flour than Cook's, I cut off a small piece of dough before shaping and froze it in case I decide to add it to some future batch.

I thought this was my most successful bread so far. Crust was fabulous (crackly, perfectly brown, but not burnt), but that was all thanks to using a dutch oven. The crumb was the chewiest I've achieved so far. I would like it even chewier, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. The flavor was good. I'd like more acidity, and thought that poolish would get me that, but it wasn't noticable. The holes were uneven. Toward the top of the bread, they were huge, towards the bottom very small. The picture shows this bread in the better light than it really was. This was one of the few pieces left after class, so I didn't have many picture options. It happens to have a pretty even crumb, but most of the bread had a way bigger variation in the hole size.

Generally I was elated. Then I gave Jason a piece...

Anton Ego from Ratatouille is nothing compared to Jason. Sure, Jason might be the most easy going guy when it comes to normal life things, but when it comes to bread, watch out. He took a bite... smelled the crumb... poked it all over with his finger... and said: "a bit wet. maybe too much water. maybe should bake a bit longer. the crumb is a bit uneven. see these dense spots, that's probably the result of flour getting trapped during shaping." But he didn't want to be too hard on me and added enthusiastically, "It's really not bad!"

That was pretty high praise coming from Jason. While students gobble up my bread and ask where I got it, Jason always knows when I got lazy and pulled the KitchenAid out or when I needed more steam in the oven. He tastes bread the way some people taste wine and it's thanks to his insightful comments that I am finally baking what I consider to be decent bread.

"What do you think of poolish?" I asked. "Isn't it chewier and with slightly improved flavor?" "Nope," said Jason, "it's the same as mixing it all together." I wanted to argue, but had no evidence. Last time I made Jason's bread was over a year ago, so I can't really say for sure that poolish did anything. I really wanted to make two batches so that we could taste them side by side, but between shopping and preparing for the class, I only managed to do one. I'll try to bake another loaf next week, Jason's way.

* Measuring 0.07g of yeast is a bit tricky. I used a tea scale that Jason got recently. It's very handy for measuring tiny amounts and if I remember correctly only costs $20. That's a great deal, since most scales of this accuracy cost over $100. The down side is that it is only calibrated for very small amounts, but I can live with that. I rarely need 552.02 grams of anything :) Why do you need so little yeast? That's because poolish needs to rise very slowly at room temperature. Ideally, 12-15 hours, which requires really tiny amounts of yeast. If you are doing a shorter poolish, you'll need more yeast. To learn how all this works, you need to learn about baker's percentages. The Bread Bible is a great book for that. If you don't have an accurate scale, I bet you can approximate 0.07g with a small pinch.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BlueStar update (after 9 months of ownership)

What? Another BlueStar update?

Unfortunately, about every 3 months I run into yet another problem that threatens to put an end to my use of the oven. I find it useful to keep track of these things both for the benefit of those in the market for a range and my own sanity.

It all started with a somewhat innocent problem of my glow bar (oven igniter) starting to die. The reason I knew this was happening was that the oven took longer and longer to turn on. Once it got to over 60 seconds, I knew I only had another couple of weeks of baking left. How did I know? I've baked in enough ovens to notice this pattern. My previous little Kenmore went through 4 glow bars in 8 years. The first time was bad because it died in the middle of a dinner party, but by the third time I noticed the pattern early enough to get it replaced a week or two before its final demise. I was sorely disappointed that the BlueStar glow bar lived only 9 months instead of 2 years, but consoled myself that at least it chose to die right before I went on a 2 week vacation.

April 3:
I called and e-mailed Eric at BlueStar immediately. It took 2 more calls to finally get it to ship.

April 14:
Vesco (my repair shop) got the parts and I scheduled them to come over the first day I was back from vacation (April 19).

April 19:
Vesco came over, took out the oven floor to replace the glow bar and told me that my oven bottom was falling apart and the back track fell off. They informed me that my oven was not safe to use and didn't want to put the new glow bar in until they got all the necessary parts to fix the oven bottom. That's kind of like going to see a doctor because you have a cold and finding out that you have pneumonia.

I contacted Eric at BS immediately. He replied asking for the inside color of my oven so that he can ship the correct parts. I keep contacting Eric daily to check on the status of my parts.

April 26:
Parts arrive at Vesco.

May 3:
Vesco came over. They took out the oven floor. It looked like 2 of the 4 rivots that were supposed to be holding the gas pipe to the back of the oven were missing.

Vesco installed the missing rivots. The oven floor was composed of 2 pieces: black on top (that's what you see when you open the oven) and silver colored on the bottom ( you don't see it unless you take apart the oven). The job of the silver colored piece is to distribute the heat evenly. It was attached to the black piece with 6 rivots in the front and 6 in the back. All 6 back rivots have melted away, letting the back of the silver piece drop down and direct lots of heat towards the bottom front of the oven.

the deformed metal pieces (bottom right of picture) is what was left of the back rivots

The new design of the oven floor is a bit different. The silver colored piece is attached to the black piece at the sides, not right where the heating element is. We are hoping that will prevent the rivots from melting.

I have a feeling that the melted hinges I got on my previous door were partially due to so much heat being directed at just that spot. Unfortunately, my new door has been exposed to the same problem for the past 2 and a half months. It's still opening, but not as smoothly as it did in the beginning. So, if you end up getting a new door, ask the technician to take apart the oven floor too to make sure it's still together.

Here is another anecdote. I was baking bread in the end of March and put my cast iron skillet on the oven floor to preheat for 20 minutes. The plan was to put ice-cubes into it to create steam when the bread went in. The handle of the skillet was positioned to the front of the oven so that I could get it out easily. As I reached to get it out, my oven mitts melted and stuck to it. Granted they were not in the best condition (the fabric had holes and the stuffing was exposed), I've never had them melt before. Unfortunately, there was no way to scrub the melted plastic off the skillet and I had to throw it away and get a new one. Luckily, cast iron skillets are cheap, though I'll miss years of seasoning I have accumulated on the old one. Still, it gave me some idea of what kind of heat my oven door hinges were exposed to.

The new oven floor and the new glow bar are now in place and the oven is operational. If you think that a month is too long to fix a 9 month old oven, I couldn't agree more. But keep in mind that the reason this story ended reasonably well (at least for now) is largely due to me having a direct contact at BlueStar -- his name is Eric, and he does his absolute best to solve my problems. I've heard of some people whose calls to the general customer support number are never returned. I feel your pain my fellow BlueStar cooks! If you need Eric's number, e-mail me. He is like Robert Parr (Mr. Incredible) of BlueStar :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Raw Salmon, Parasites, and Arctic Char

It's been a while since I wrote about eating fish raw, so I thought I'd give you a little update.

In the past, I thought that farm-raised salmon is safe to eat raw without freezing because the risk of parasites is almost non-existent. It turns out to not be completely true. The risk of parasites is relatively low in farm-raised salmon compared to wild salmon, but it's not non-existent. Farm-raised salmon is raised in the ocean in large cages. They are fed pellet food, which is parasite free, but there is nothing to prevent an occasional infected shrimp from sneaking into the cage and getting eaten by a salmon. So, what does this mean to all you sashimi and gravlax enthusiasts? It means that you might want to wrap your salmon tightly in plastic wrap, place it in a zip lock bag, and freeze for 7 days before using in uncooked preparations. This will kill any parasites. To defrost, place in the fridge for 24 hours before use. Luckily, farm-raised salmon is very fatty and can withstand freezing very well without suffering in texture (at least if you freeze for a very short period of time).

I would also like to bring another fish to your attention that I didn't write about in my first "Raw Fish" post -- arctic char. It looks like salmon only smaller, and tastes like salmon with a texture and flavor that are a tad more delicate. Since it's raised in land-based, closed-circle farming system, it's parasite free and can be eaten raw without freezing. Of course, it still needs to be very fresh to avoid bacteria risk, so you'll need to find a fishmonger that moves large volumes of char and is in control of when the fish gets filleted (the longer it's kept whole, the less bacteria will grow on the flesh). Char is absolutely luscious, low in mercury, environmentally-friendly, and retails for mere $11/Lb. That's a steal!

In the Boston area, I get my char from Captain Marden's. But I am sure there are other places that carry it. Make sure to ask how long ago it was filleted. If it's less than 2 days ago, I'd serve it raw, but more than 2 days, I would hesitate.

If you are not particularly squeamish and want to know more about parasites:

Cod Worm (FAQ about it)
Anisakis and Tapeworm