Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Butter Steamed New Potatoes

Butter Steamed New Potatoes
If you've never cooked new potatoes... well, I have to wonder what you are doing with your life... but I also need to point out that they aren't like regular potatoes. If they are truly new potatoes (i.e. freshly dug immature summer potatoes), and not just small potatoes, they will spoil like any other fresh farmers' market produce. You've got a day or two before they start getting soft and going bad, which is obviously not behavior you expect from potatoes. The good news is that they are so delicious... in my view a summer treat that rivals both tomatoes and sweet corn... that you can cook them in the most basic of ways and never be disappointed.

This is a recipe from Deep South Dish that, as you might expect from the title, involves quite a bit of butter... two sticks in fact. The key point in that regard, however, is that the vast majority of that butter ends up at the bottom of the pot, and only ends up in your belly if you want it to. They only deviation I made from the recipe was to simply halve the potatoes instead of peeling off a strip of potato skin in the middle... simply because it's easier and I figured a similar amount of potato surface area would be exposed to the butter. I found the recipe to take 10 minutes or so more than the listed 25-30, probably because my potatoes were on the bigger side. When picking I didn't do a great job tying to ensure uniformity nor did I correct this by quartering some of the larger potatoes, so I had to hover a bit at the end, removing individual potatoes as they finished cooking. So a little bit fussy.

On the other hand, these potatoes were fantastic... I probably could have eaten the entire pot. Butter and parsley is really all you need.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Anonymity of Restaurant Reviewers

In DisguiseI haven't done one of these "ZOMG! Controversy in the food world!!!" posts in a while, but the furor over Pete Wells dropping Daniel down to three stars while using a secret diner seemed interesting enough to make note of and comment on. You can either read the whole review or get a lengthy summary at Eater, but the gist is that restaurants know who Pete Wells is and what he looks like. Being that getting (or not losing) that star from a place like the New York Times means significant money to these restaurants, they work hard to identify when any influential critic sits down in their restaurant and make sure to give them an impeccable experience. In Daniel's case that seems to have risen to the level of preferential treatment, where Well's colleague didn't get nearly the same level of service that he did. [As a side note, the inverse of this is Yelpers seeking preferential treatment in exchange for a good review]

The first thing to note, as L.V. Anderson does, is that the inner workings of the restaurant reviewing process of four star restaurants (and $150+ tasting menus) is not exactly the biggest issue facing the food world. On the other hand, these kind of restaurants are the places most of us can only go once a year (at most) on a birthday or anniversary, and it's exactly the type of place where you need a professional reviewer. You can sift the wheat from the chaff in Yelp! reviews and check Chowhound threads easily enough for Saturday night's dinner reservation, but not so much when you are trying to choose between your city's finest restaurants (or even more challenging: another city's finest restaurants). The idea that said professional reviewer is getting an experience that you will never see definitely undercuts the utility of their review, and it's not a new thing to worry about: Ruth Reichl famously went in disguise and as herself to compare the experiences back in the 90's. In the social media age the idea that a prominent food critic could be truly an anonymous diner like the rest of us seems pretty far fetched.

The aforementioned L.V. Anderson thinks this means critics should stop pretending they're anonymous, but it's difficult to know exactly what that means. Surely Pete Wells making all of his reservations under the name Pete Wells isn't going to help (though I do like the idea of all New Yorkers making reservations under the name Pete Wells). I suspect that reviewers simply need to more explicitly employ secret diners to evaluate service: an anonymous New York Times employee gets a free dinner at a fancy restaurant and Mr. Wells gets a better idea of what the average joe will experience. We need people like Pete Wells to evaluate what's coming out of the kitchen, but clearly some other strategy needs to be employed to gauge service.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sweet Corn Chowder

Sweet Corn Chowder
I've been a very bad foodie in regards to farmers' markets this year, despite the fact that I walk by one every Tuesday on my way home from work. I don't know why really, maybe my 6 month obsession with my sous vide setup has been too distracting... or maybe just that I was in a bit of a cooking funk... but regardless, now (even in New England) we are in high summer when corn and tomatoes are all in season and it's pretty impossible to resist their siren call (and who would want to?).

Even though it's been in the nineties here for what seems like months, I still felt like corn chowder more than any other of the myriad ways you can prepare fresh corn. Thus I picked this recipe from Saveur somewhat at random. So I bought corn from a local farm - picked that morning, which is key for sweet corn as it starts losing flavor as sugars turn to starch as soon as it is picked. I also had some leftover baguettes in the freezer, so I made my croutons from that instead of pumpernickel... but otherwise made the recipe as written. Though looking at the recipe now I see that it called for 8 cups of fresh corn which translates into some where in the 10-12 ears of corn area, whereas I only bought 6 because... well, I'm not sure really... it's just what I had in my head as the proper amount of corn for corn chowder. I thought it came out great as it was, but it's hard to argue with more corn. It isn't very aggressively spiced... just a teaspoon of curry powder with salt and pepper, but I think that is to it's credit not it's detriment when dealing with fresh picked summer corn.

Takes a little longer to prepare than you might expect since you sweat the onions, celery, and garlic for 15+ minutes and then the corn for another 20 before finishing with a roux and 10 minutes of simmering... but you can be doing the croutons as this happens, and can probably get your corn shucked and off the cob while the other veggies are going... though I prefer a more leisurely mise en place approach.

Pretty simple and really good.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Food52: Steak with Arugula, Lemon, and Parmesan (Redux)

Steak Salad with Arugula, Lemon, and Parmesan

Back in October I posted about Food52's recipe for Steak with Arugula, Lemon, and Parmesan but where I shamefully overcooked the ridiculously expensive New York Strip in question. I hardly ever cook steaks, so it's not surprising but a little mortifying for somebody who has a food blog (though seriously do even the best chefs never make mistakes?). Though on the bright side, one of the reasons New York Strips are so expensive is that they are so tender that they still taste really good even when overcooked... and I really did like the simple flavors of the recipe. Being that I am now equipped with a sous vide setup, I figured I could try this recipe again and cook myself a steak without embarrassing myself.

New York Strip

Fortunately this turned out to be true! I did about an hour at 130°F, just putting some sliced garlic into the pouch with the steak after seasoning it with salt and pepper. I was a little worried that even in a hot dry pan that a couple of minutes of browning wouldn't provide enough fond to deglaze, but that fear ended up being unfounded. I did a minute a side and then held the fat edge to the pan for thirty seconds with tongs, and then just sliced it thin (no need to rest a sous vide steak).

Came out great, and would gladly make again... though only when I want to pay $20 for a steak. However, using sous vide, I would think you could use a cheaper cut like hangar, blade, or flat iron and still come out with pretty great dish. Hmmmm...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Homemade Chic-fil-A Sandwich [UPDATED]

Homemade Chic-fil-A Sandwich
Despite the fact that it's the height of farmer's market season... and that I should probably be making things with fresh tomatoes... I came into this week craving a chicken sandwich. Now, I'm not much of a fast food guy these days anyway (burritos excepted), but living where I do in Cambridge it's more complicated than you would think to get a simple fried chicken sandwich. So why not make my own?

The recipe that comes up at the top of the list is Kenji's at Serious Eats... which he developed for people boycotting Chic-fil-A based on their very public anti-gay marriage views. While I am very much in the marriage equality camp, the boycotting is pretty much moot since the nearest Chic-fil-A is like a 30 minute drive deep into the 'burbs (easiest boycott ever!). I just wanted a tasty fried chicken sandwich.

So obviously I'm no connoisseur Chic-fil-A sandwiches... thus how authentic this recipe really is means nothing to me... but lots of people seem to really dig the original so it seems a good place to start. I couldn't find boneless skinless chicken breasts in any size but FAMILY (so like a thousand of them) and instead purchased a pair of split chicken breasts (i.e. still got skin and bones) and did a little amateur butchering. Put the emphasis on amateur as I screwed up the first one, leaving the tenderloin on the bone and basically leaving myself only one cutlet where there should have been two. I rallied on the second breast, keeping everything intact, and did a decent horizontal cut of the de-boned breast to give two relatively evenly sized cutlets.

Looking at the comments, the major complaint about the recipe is the salt level, which I will have to echo. I left my chicken in the brine way too long (24 hours) so for that I can blame nobody but myself... nevertheless, next time I'd still do the quick 1 hour brine instead... which makes the recipe easier to do on a weeknight whim anyway.

Ignoring the salt issue, I thought it was a pretty aggressively spiced... lots of pepper... which was surprising for a mass market style chicken sandwich. Good though. I can't 100% recommend the recipe, but I bet with the quick brine it's a keeper... in fact I might give that a go this week.

Homemade Chic-fil-A Chicken Sandwiches - Attempt 2 Closeup

Made another attempt last night with a 1.5-2 hour brine and was very pleased with the results. I also think I did a better job with the flour, where you dribble in 3 tablespoons off beaten eggs and milk and mix with your fingers until you get the texture of "coarse sand"... which I didn't quite achieve the first time. Thus this time I think I achieved a much flakier coating. All-in-all, with the shorter 1 hour brine I'm very happy with the sandwich and it instantly becomes something you can whip up fairly easily on a weeknight with almost no planning.

Homemade Chic-fil-A Chicken Sandwiches - Attempt 2