Friday, May 30, 2008

Deep-Frying (Would You Like Fry With That?)

What can be said about deep-frying? Americans love it, it yields a super crispy exterior and a moist juicy interior. And unlike sauté and pan-frying, it's so easy a blind monkey can do it with just a little mechanical assist.

Easy is key. Lower-scale restaurants love the deep-fryer because it's simple to control, with virtually no education required of the cook. Lots of fast-food places almost completely automate their deep-frying. Everything is cut and prepped into precise portions cheaply off-site, the fryers are electronically controlled, and the minimum-wage slave doesn't have to think. It goes beep, it's done.

The training kitchen, however, is not set up like a McDonald's; the students have to be the machines that go beep. Thermometers in the deep oil are key at all times. Smaller items (like a stem of brocolli) fry faster at higher temps, bigger items (like a chicken breast with rib-cage attached) must fry slower at lower temps to reach doneness all the way through.

According to Chef, lard and tallow are far and away the best fats to deep-fry in. They make the crispiest food, leave the least amount of grease on the items, and they are reusable the most. However, people (vegetarians, Buddhists, health nuts) are afraid of it. Peanut oil is second best, but there are a lot of allergic people out there. Canola and vegetable oil (a blend of soy, corn, and canola) are popular and cheap, but are probably the least healthy, outside of the industrial artificial hydrogenated fats ("melfry" and "frymax" are two popular ones) that fastfood chains use.

Reusing deep-fry fat is fine, as long as it (a) is still light in color, (b) strained of all particles, and (c) is not used for other food items. Fish in particular will give its taste to oil, and anything cooked in it afterwards will taste fishy.

Proper french fries are "blanched" in fat -- 280 degrees is hot enough to render out moisture, but not hot enough to brown. Once the bubbles slow down, the pale fries are taken out and drained on paper. Then they are resubmerged in 350-degree oil and browned. Because the insides are dry, they won't get soggy once they cool a little.

First up: using a mandolin for the potatoes. Despite 8.5 hours of sleep, I was a bit tired and on my first stroke of cutting the potatoes my palm got two nicks from the blade -- there are lots of opportunities for a sleepy person to hurt themselves in a kitchen, I learned. (The cut didn't bleed, but left 2 little red lines.) Anyway, N was back on the team, and I assigned sauces and chicken batter to the three of them, while I prepped the fish beer batter (using nice New Orleans Abita) and fabricated the cod. I had a large fillet that again seemed to have thick skin, but I was able to pull it off without too much damage.

Once the mise was done, the rest of the day was spent putting items in the fat, watching them and the temp and taking them out, hitting with fine salt and getting them to Chef M pronto. Rather than every team work at one range, each range was assigned an item and we went around the room. We first blanched our fries and set them out on paper to drain. For all fried food cooked in this method, the way to tell doneness is a) the nice brown golden color, b) it floats, c) it bubble less because moisture is gone and d)the temp starts rising all of a sudden.

While the fries cooled, we used Standard Breading Procedure on the oysters, some with breadcrumbs and some with cornmeal. 2LG made the cocktail sauce we served them with, and Chef dug 'em. You really need to pop them in your mouth whole, because even though they taste great and oceany, a half-eaten one looks very much like breaded moose-snot.

We went back and quickly dipped our fish fillets in our beer batter and dropped them in the oil, then the blanched fries right on top. When everything floated and looked golden, we removed onto racks. Our batter was a bit too thick, and remained a little gluey on the inside, despite the fish itself being cooked perfectly. Chef M recommended just adding a little water to make the batter more manageable.

Broccoli was dipped in a thin tempura batter (corn starch and rice flour mostly), thrown into the oil and was done in literally 10 seconds. Served with a wasabi soy sauce, it tasted a bit overdone to me.

Last item up was the fried chicken. RH broke down 2 chickens into 10 pieces each, and N made the marinade, with had 8 different herbs and buttermilk, all puréed smooth into a nice green color. After marinating for an hour, it was dipped in flour, dipped back in the marinade, a second time in flour then into the oil. Due to its size, this item took the longest. The thing about deep-frying is that you must keep the right temp as long as possible; but, the more stuff you put in, the lower the temp goes...and you really have to crank up the heat fast to get back in the good zone. Too low and it'll absorb grease, too high and you make a scorched mess. Chicken was good, though not something anyone should eat every day.

Today was the first day that I rolled down the sleeves of my chef's jacket, as I kept on getting hit with hot burning splatter. That shouldn't be the case on Monday, when we leave the oil behind for a method more nutrition-friendly, grilling.

Blood pressure was 132/83 this morning. Long day ahead of me, with school, work, dinner out with B and her cuz, then the Bicycle Film Festival downtown....

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, good yogurt with honey and vanilla, banana, .75 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM TASTINGS: 10:30-11:30am, deep fried breaded oysters, deep fried beer-battered cod and french fries, deep-fried broccoli tempura, 1 bite of Southern Fried Chicken, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
The fish was absolutely puffy and delicious, the fries just crunchy and tender, the oysters surprising in their little pockets of ocean flavor, the broccoli bursting with flavor. By the time we got to the chicken, was feeling a bit queasy.

DINNER: 5pm, bread and white beans, tuscan panzanella, prociutta de parma, spaggetti al limone, 1 glass prosecco, water, vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Excellent dinner at Supper on 2nd St off Ave A, though the service is really surly. Interesting Northern Italian menu. The pasta was simply spaggetti in a butter/lemon sauce, with a hint of white wine. It sounds like it should be gross but just the right amount of acid makes the wheat of the noodles taste....wheatier.

EVENING SNACK: 11pm, lobster bisque with tortilla chips, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Not your typical evening snack, but I just got so hungry, guess the deep-fried morning wasn't as all-consuming as I thought. Needed to eat this before it went bad, and almost ALL the lobster meat of an entire lobster was in this portion.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pan-Frying (Canola-ola)

Pan-frying is like sautéing, also a dry-cooking method, except that (a) it's quicker because (b) it involves submerging an item half way in fat. The resulting food should have a crisp golden-brown exterior and a moist juicy interior. That interior is not grease: though coating can retain grease, the coating also acts as a envelope in which the item actually gently steams in its own moisture.

Typical coating is snazzily called Standard Breading Procedure: first, you coat the item lightly in starch (typically wheat flour); next, the egg wash (whole eggs made looser with water or dairy); then, finish by dropping into bread crumbs. Chef M showed us why it's important to have one wet hand to hold the raw meat and deal with the eggs, and one dry hand for the starch and the crumbs. If you mix them up, you end up with two breaded mitts.

Variation on SBP includes using different starches like corn, potato, and arrowroot. Switching out the bread crumbs with panko (Japanese flaked white crumb), nuts, coconut, or a combo is not unheard of.

Why SBP? Coating gives even color, holds in moisture for internal steaming, gives a crunch (and Americans love crunchy food), and adds extra flavor. Speaking of extra flavor, for coated items, seasoning with kosher salt is discouraged, as it'll stay on top of the food in uneven salt-pockets. Chef advises to use fine salt, only when the food is out of the fire and hot, so the salt dissolves into the food evenly.

Oil temperature is crucial: With sauté, use high heat and kept a close eye, to reach the appropriate doneness; for pan-fry, if the oil is too cold, you've created an oil sop, too hot and you're running a crematorium. Ideally 300-325, 350 degrees max for smaller quicker-cooking items. Chef M poo-poos using a thermometer, which is too delicate in a rough n' tumble kitchen and not dependable. He recommends throwing in a small piece of bread -- when it bubbles and turns golden, it's time to fry.

And fry we did. N was absent today, but RH, 2LG and I muddled through with our mise. The potato pancakes and crab cakes list of ingredients weren't too long, and the plantains, chicken, and veal required little more than breading. I set RH shredding the taters and onions for the pancakes, I mixed the slurry that the crab meat went into, and 2LG made the apple sauce for the pancakes and the mojo for the plantains. The chickens had to be suprèmes: chicken breast with the wing and bone attached. I broke down two chickens, took off the skins, and chopped off the end of the wing bones with the butt of my chef's blade. As with the first time I did this, it was more than a bit freaky to watch the bone bleed as I chopped into it.

Pan-frying is relatively easy, compared to sautéing. We got through our dishes pretty quickly. The tostones and crab cakes got high marks, as well as the potato pancakes. The veal was uneventful, but my chicken was a dud. I simply pan-fried it at a relatively low temp, with a panko crust for more even browning. I fried that thing a good 8 minutes on each side, but when Chef M opened it up, it was raw in the middle. I was falsely confident that it was done because it looked pretty and was cooking 15 minutes, but I didn't test it. To test, you can feel it (it should be firm, not mushy). More intrusive, you can jab it with a metal knife on the unpretty side and peek. The problem is that this will allow more oil into the interior, but it's a guarantee you're not serving a health-code violation.

Tomorrow, out of the pan, into the deep fry.

The blood pressure this morning was 127/91, better but not ideal.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, organic cheerios with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5
AM TASTINGS: 2 fried tostones with Cuban mojo sauce, 2 potato pancakes with a little apple sauce and sour cream, 1 large crab cake with avocado sauce, 2 bites of veal milanese with salsa verde, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
The plantains were good but weirdly bland. The potato pancakes were nice, but the recipe I use is better -- it ain't a potato pancake without matzo meal. The crab cake was over the top great, with lots of jumbo lump crab meat and not a lot of filler. By the time I got the veal out, wasn't very hungry, and it was a rather ordinary dish. The chicken, well, I wasn't touchin' that.

LUNCH: 3:30pm, Israeli salad, 1 beer, 1 piece of bread with butter, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5

DINNER: 7pm, lobster bisque with low-salt tortilla chips, large baby spinach salad, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Bisque was school-made and out of the freezer, really good though salty.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sauté (You Know I Got Sole)

Today's lecture was brief, basically a run-down of the recipes we would be making today, the third day of sauté. The sautéd spinach was simple -- a lot spinach, triple washed, salted, enough to crowd the pan to prevent the copious amount of water from splattering in the hot olive oil. Move around until wilted, then set in a strainer to get out the extra liquid out.

The Paillasson de Pommes de Terre is basically julienne potatoes (we used the mandolin for the first time today during mise prep) tossed in clarified butter, lemon juice, and salt. It is placed in a hot iron skillet with more clarified butter and allowed to brown into one big pancake. It is flipped once and if too thick, finished in the oven.

Dover Sole a la Meuniere (in the style of the hat maker) found us fabricating a whole sole, removing the head, then the skins and tail. It is dredged in flour then sautéed. The fish is removed and lemon supremes, whole butter and parsley is thrown in to brown a bit, then this pan sauce is served with the fish.

We sautéed a tranche of salmon, and served with a Salsa Verde (parsley, basil, garlic, capers, sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt, all pureed) that we finished during mise. Additionally, we cooked up a loin of lamb with a simple pan sauce using reduced lamb stock.

Today, mise went quick, with 2LG, RH and N coming up to me and asking what was to be done next when they finished their task. Neasy peasy, quick n' easy! N revealed that he too could not kill the lobster, and that he is a commis (unpaid helper) at Café de Artistes, where he preps the mise for the line cooks every weekend. I thought he was a bit of a goof with a little attitude, but he actually rocks harder than most kids in the class.

Chef demoed the Sole, then we went at it. My fish's skin kept on breaking when I tried to pull it off with my knuckles, and Chef observed I had an unusually thick-skinned fish. I did a 2nd and it went a bit smoother.

We all started with the potatoes, and they took a surprisingly long time to cook, maybe 25 minutes. RH and N were able to flip it in the pan, I copped out and turned it out onto a plate then slid it back in the pan. The sole looked quite elegant in the pan, and when presented to Chef M, he showed me how if it's cooked properly, the 4 fillets will literally fall off the bone with a little tug. Indeed, mine did, and the golden crust formed by the dredge made this light-tasting but flavorful fish something I want to cook for company -- it's a showpiece (well, for me, anyway!)

The salmon looked nice, but confirmed to me that it's taste is a bit of a boring note, overplayed and oversold. The lamb's preparation was simple sautéing and making a pan sauce, but the reduced lamb stock we used really kicked it over the edge in terms of flavor. I thought I had over cooked it on one side, with a thick caramelized crust that almost looked burned, but when sliced thinly it looked quite attractive, and Chef gave me kudos for getting the meat to proper medium-rare.

Tomorrow, deeper into the grease with pan-frying.

After class, I went down to God's Love We Deliver for my first volunteer shift in the industrial kitchen they use to pump out thousands of meals a day. At first I was put on a line assembling desserts, plopping a bit of pudding in a container, putting the lid on, placing on a tray, etc. Everyone was very nice and a bit on the grandmotherly side. Soon, a fellow student from my class showed up and grabbed me away to the the knife area, where 5 of us rough chopped potatoes and broccoli. Today I literally doubled the amount of broccoli I've chopped in my life.

In our group was Hillary Cruz, Miss Teen USA. She was oddly tan and strangely over-made up, but nice enough, even if she didn't quite know how to hold her knife correctly. We all chatted, and I asked her what was it that clinched her win for the crown. She said that it's probably because she's not a typical pageant girl. I told her I wished Britney Spears would have embraced her short hair when she had her break-down, to join in the fight against the tyranny of the uniformity of popular female beauty. (She had no witty retort.) She was on the Rachel Ray Show with Miss Universe and Miss USA recently, so what do I know? Oh well.

Met with Ilsa yesterday, we spoke about my fast and how I'm feeling, health wise. I'm starting to feel a little bit lighter, though I definitely don't look any different. Ilsa is a bit concerned about my blood pressure -- since cooking in school, it's become very explicit to me how much salt I'm taking in. This morning before breakfast, I read 132/100 , definitely not that great. Gonna measure the next few days before I book a check up.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, 3 buttermilk pancakes, .75 bowl, hunger 4/5
Wacked 2 in the freezer.

AM TASTINGS: 10:30-11:30am, 1 Paillasson de Pommes de Terre (1 bowl), Dover Sole a la Meuniere (.5 bowl), Tranche of Salmon with Salsa Verde (.25 bowl), Sauteed Loin of Lamb with Pan Sauce (.25 bowl), water, total 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Fullest I've gotten from class yet.

DINNER I: 5pm, large baby spinach salad, large piece of chocolate babka, seltzer, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5

DINNER II: 8pm, 3 sea scallops in pan sauce with short grain brown rice, small scoop of agave cashew vanilla ice cream, half glass white wine, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5
Used store-bought frozen fish stock, much better than the stuff in the tetrapacks. Didn't have clarified butter, so the butter solids browned a bit, but was still quite tasty. Nice to see I can replicate with some panache the stuff we're doing in class. The wifey was impressed.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sauté (Napoleon I am I am)

At the start of class, Chef reviewed the method of sauté and the method of making a pan sauce. In a modern kitchen, pan sauces take too much time -- the flavorful fond is trashed in favor of a ladle of pre-made sauce kept warm until needed.

Four recipes were up today: Pommes Persillade (sauteed cubed potatoes with garlic and parsley), Brined Pork Tenderloin with a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, Sea Scallops with Onion Compote and Sautéed Strip Steaks with Aguardiente (a funky licorice-flavored liquor). We were broken into new teams, and I got 2LG and RH again, with the addition of a fourth member: a kid with a lip ring who calls me "Bullwinkle" because my hair curls out of my commis cap. Let's call him Natasha.

First up was knife skills, particularly a medium-dice potato for Pommes Persillade (which will be on our practical this module.) If the potatoes weren't evenly sized, the browning would also be uneven. We all spent the first hour collecting our mise. On the board it said Potato, Garlic, and Parsley minced for Knife Skills. I finished my drills first, and went about collecting mise. When I get back a few minutes later, all three others in the team were mincing shallots -- way more shallots than we'll need. Once again, I step into supervisory role -- no one else was doing it. Natasha then nick-names me Napoleon. 2LG and RH immediately step into line, and N follows their lead. Yes, our mise is complete before everyone else, though N burns the carmelizing onions (not enough fat) and I redo it for him. N looks a bit sheepish, so I tell him that he's rocking -- he gives me a quizzical look and asks me why I said that? "Because despite the step back, we're ahead of the curve and totally rocking, thanks in part to you!" He continues to call me Napoleon, but with a little affection. It's easy getting 20- year-olds on your side!

I assigned different tasks while I sorted the mise: 2LG cleaned the scallops, N got the pork into the iced brine and into the fridge, RH got our liquors into squeeze bottles and roasted the red peppers. For the scallops and pork, the team puréed the sauces and placed them into bowls above the stoves to keep warm till we needed them. A round of cleaning, double checking the mise, a demo from Chef M how to do the potatoes and steaks properly, and we were off sauteing.

First up we did the potatoes. Getting those little cubes of starch evenly golden in clarified butter, hitting them with the garlic/parsley mix, then seasoning with a light hit of delicious little french fry cubes, garlicky and happy.

The scallops were surprisingly easy, first dredging them in a flour and cumin mix then sitting still in clarified butter in the pan for a few minutes on each side gave them a wonderful golden crust. The onion compote was a bit odd tasting, but Chef gave it a thumbs up. I look forward to making these scallops again for B, though perhaps with an interesting stock/butter/parsley pan sauce.

The pork tenderloin was trickier than I thought, especially considering that I've made myself pork tenderloin many times for myself and guests. After taking out of the brine, it's wetness splattered in the hot fat, and prevented a good fond from forming. After sauteing for a good 3 minutes on each side, the center was till too rare and had to be finished in the oven. According to Chef M, it was still a bit too pink in the middle but I thought it was perfect....I like more pork on the medium rare side, though that freaks some people out.

The steak I totally muffled, making my pan too hot and browning the surface too fast and dark while leaving the center of the steak a tad far from medium rare. There was no time to try it again, though I definitely now have a better feel for what is a too-hot pan and what is a too-cool pan.

After class, I attended a 1-shot seminar in butchering a whole spring lamb. The entire carcass was laid out in front of the room, with mirrors above so all could get a good look. Weird seeing it in one big animal-shaped portion, and even weirder seeing it become chops and loins and racks before our eyes. I know a lamb becomes about 50% trim, and here watching him toss pieces off left and right brought the point home -- our meat consumption is insanely wasteful.

After butchering, several pieces were grilled and cut up for us to taste the different flavors of the different cuts. As expected, the loin was soft and mild, and the shoulder was a bit tougher but 5x more flavorful. I definitely want to experiment was some cheap tough meats cooked long and slow...

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, banana, .25 bowl, hunger 2/5
A nap yesterday afternoon threw me off. Slept 6 hours, feel imbalanced. Only ate the banana so I wouldn't get too uncomfortable later.

AM SNACK: 7:30am, piece of french bread, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM TASTINGS: 10:30am-11:30am, .5 bowl of Pommes Persillade, .5 bowl of 2 sauteed scallops over onion compote, .5 bowl of sauteed pork tenderloin over roasted red pepper sauce, .25 bowl of steak in Aguardiente pan sauce, 2 cups water, total 1.75 meaty bowls, hunger 4/5
The brined pork was salty, everything else was seasoned with salt for the Chef's taste - very salty.

PM TASTING: 2:30pm, 4 small pieces of grilled lamb from various parts of the lamb, .25 bowl, hunger 3/5
The loin was tender but relatively mild. The chuck (shoulder) was pretty delicious, if a little tough.

LINNER: 5:30pm, falafel on whole wheat, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

EVENING SNACK: 9pm, half pint of vegan cashew milk ice cream, small left over pulled-pork sandwich, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
The cashew milk ice cream is made with agave, a low-glycemic sweetner. Got a lot of stuff do do this evening and am tired, hope it keeps me up a little.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekend Report (Fasted Food)

Early Monday morning, the scale reads 224. I'm a bit amazed by this, as I don't look much different, but I do feel a little bit stronger on the bike.

The laxative tea of Friday night was pretty gentle on my system. I was too tired from a day of yoga and volunteer orientations to let hunger keep me up. During the day Saturday, stayed in and did chores and homework. My mother in law came over and I prepped a bowl of onion soup for her, fried some whole wheat bread in butter with a little salt and chopped it in triangles and garnished the soup with it, after wiping the sides of the bowl (I didn't have any cheese on hand.)

The main thing I noticed from the fast, other than hunger, is a slightly starchy coating in my mouth that tastes kind of.....good. Mildly sweet, vaguely fermented like the smell of freshly risen dough.

UNBREAKFAST: 7:30pm, pint of 'lemonade', hunger 4/5
The pinch of cayenne gives it a little kick, and the maple syrup gives a nice woody overtone to the sweetness. Sipped it over 3 hours.

BREAK-FAST: 2pm, bowl of onion soup with 2 pieces wholewheat bread fried in butter, saltless saltines with good peanutbutter, 1.5 bowls, hunger 5/5
As B was napping, I was prepping some infused garlic olive oil for dinner when a drop got on my tongue. That just made me snap, and out out came the school-made onion soup, which was fantastic. Felt ferociously hungry after the soup, popped in about 6 crackers smeared with a bit of peanut butter. Still really hungry, but holding myself back from gorging, lest I bear the fury of a Nutritionist Scorned. Ilsa specifically told me to take it easy coming off this fast.

LUNCH: 3pm, 1.5 homemade pizzas, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Had two lumps of dough in the freezer, one I made with newly infused garlic olive oil, the other made with roasted tomato couli from school. Not quite as good as the wholefoods dough, but good.

DINNER: 7pm, pint of pork fried rice, shrimp egg roll, 2/3 of a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream, quart of water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Woke up from a 2 hour nap, feeling out of sorts and craving comfort food.

BREAKFAST: 6:15am, good yogurt with nuts, honey, vanilla, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5

AM SNACK: 8am, half a freshly baked homemade lemon muffin, hunger 4/5

11am, bagel with PB&J, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Free food on the Tour de Brooklyn was scant, but for an 18 mile ride, how much food do you really need?

PM DRINKING: 1pm, 2.5 pints of beer, hunger 4/5
After ride drinks with a few friends at Gowanus Yacht Club, nice outdoor patio. Haven't drunk this much in a long time, got somewhere between buzzed and drunk on a sunny holiday afternoon.

LUNCH: 3pm, philly cheese steak, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5
Came with a large side of fries that I pawned off on others. A while ago Ilsa made me cut out fries -- if I'm going to down a cheese steak after being told to take it easy after a 1 day fast, this was the least I could do!

PM SNACK: 4pm, cherry ice, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

DINNER: 8pm, 4 homemade lemon muffins with good butter, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
My lemon muffins are mighty fine. There, I said it.

BREAKFAST: 6:15am, organic chex with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5

7:30am, apple, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM SNACK: 9:30am, 2 donuts, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Fresh donuts from a farm stand in the dark heart of New Jersey while cycling. This place has a lot of fresh produce and other baked goods, but with the sun shining down on it so beautifully, it beckoned like a Donut Camelot.

AM SNACK: 10:30am, seaweed salad, seseame noodles, 1 small piece of toblerone, water, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
Bigger snack at the halfway point of the ride in Nyack. Food wasn't very good, way too salty, did not finish it.

PM SNACK: 1pm, 20oz of gatorade
Near the GWB, stopped by gas station to down this drink, definitely helped me keep my energy up.

LUNCH: 2:30pm, shrimp in garlic sauce with black beans and yellow rice, quart of water, 3 bowls, hunger 4/5
Ordered in.

DINNER: 8pm, asparagus, hummus and cucumber, half a cuban with kimchi and queso fresca, a few bites of rice ball and panzanela salad, water, 1 bowl, hunger 2/5
Dinner out in the 'hood with B, really nice to get her sick butt out of the house a little.