Monday, September 30, 2013

RIP Marcella Hazan

Here is the NY Times obit. Her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking remains the Italian cooking bible in our home. I think it would be difficult to overstate her influence on Italian cooking here in the US, or on my Italian cooking personally. I've related the story here on how my mother became obsessed with Marcella Hazan while trying to perfect her rag├╣ bolognese... and how she transferred that obsession to Anna and myself by starting every discussion of Italian cooking with "Well, Marcella says..."

She will be missed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sous Vide Chicken Wings

Sous Vide Buffalo Wings
I'm not typically a huge chicken wings guy. I'll occasionally order them from a local place, but mainly because they offer tofu tenders for Anna when she's in one of her junk food moods... not because they are renowned for their wings. While I enjoy them, wings are messy and kind of a pain to eat, so more often than not I just don't bother. Certainly I had never thought to make them at home. But with all that said, the start of football season was upon us and I decided to go ahead and give them a try... if having a food blog is good for anything it's getting you out of your comfort zone and cooking things you otherwise wouldn't.

As is often the case here, my jumping off point was a recipe from The Food Lab wherein he advocates a low and slow fry (essentially confit the wings) followed by the traditional 400 °F deep fry. The idea being that the low temperature cooking will convert some of the collagen in the skin to gelatin without really cooking the meat very much (if at all). In the article Kenji makes a throwaway comment about maybe doing some wings sous vide in duck fat instead of this low temperature fry, but doesn't supply any time or temperature information. I was intrigued by this idea (as were many of his commenters) so I did a little research on my own.

Turns out that Modernist Cuisine at Home has a recipe for sous vide chicken wings. They call for cooking the the wings sous vide at 148 °F for 1 hour followed by a 390 °F fry for 3 minutes. A quick Google suggests that a number of people trying this recipe were disappointed about the crispiness of the end product, which makes sense given Kenji's technique since 148 °F is at the very low end of collagen breakdown. Collagen breaks down at temperatures greater than 140 °F but it happens very slowly until you get up into the 160-170 °F range, so 1 hour at 148 °F probably has no noticeable effect on the skin.
Wings after Frying

Despite the fact that the end product might not be the crispest wing EVAR, I decided to go with the Modernist Cuisine recipe anyway. At some point in the future I might decide to extend the sous vide cooking time more into the 6-8 hour range to see if that helps with crispier wings, but you need a baseline for comparison purposes so I just did their recipe verbatim. One tip I saw was to make sure the wings are extra dry before you fry them, so I made two batches... one with about a 3 hour air dry on a rack on the counter and the other with overnight air dry in the fridge. The second batch was noticeably crisper, so it's worth doing if you have time.

Sous Vide Chipotle Wings with Avocado Crema

Otherwise I did your standard Buffalo sauce for my first batch (1 cup of Frank's + 1 stick of butter) and then made the second batch using a recipe from Saveur for Chipotle Wings and Avocado Crema. Both were good and the sous vide aspect guaranteed perfectly tender wings, but I still can't help feeling like Kenji is right and that they could be even crispier. Not perfect, but still a good use of a sous vide setup... one nice aspect is that you can freeze the wings after the sous vide step and just pull them out of the freezer for a quick fry whenever you want some wings.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Frito Pie or Walking Taco

Frito Pie or Walking Taco
If you are born and raised on either coast, then the concept of a Frito Pie/Walking Taco is likely going to be completely alien to you. I myself, as a lifelong East Coaster, had never heard of them until I saw the recipe in Homesick Texan's cookbook, but apparently Midwesterners (who call it a Walking Taco) and Southwesterners (who call it a Frito Pie) just love these things for football season... because what better thing to eat in the stands than warm chili put inside a bag of chips? And that's basically the long and the short of what this is: take a bag of chips (canonically Fritos obviously), cut it open lengthwise, pour on some chili, and top with shredded cheese, jalapenos, onions, etc.

Now, I had basically forgotten it since I saw it in Lisa Fain's cookbook, but recent hype about the next Doritos Locos Taco (for those who ignore fast food news: a ground beef taco made with a Doritos shell) got me thinking about the Frito Pie again. I mean people really seem to love those Doritos tacos, but I swore off Taco Bell somewhere in my mid 20's and I think it's best for both of us if I continue to keep my distance... so why not just do a Frito Pie with with different kinds of Doritos? Not that I pretend this is some kind of genius idea, since people were already doing it and the advertising itself shows a taco coming out of a Doritos bag... but I thought it was a good excuse to try this iconic recipe I don't fully understand.

I used Pioneer Woman Cook's recipe instead of Homesick Texan's simply because I didn't feel like roasting chiles and I have some ancho chile powder I really like. The only problem with Ree's recipe is that Ro-tel is not readily available in Boston, but you can imitate it by just using a can of diced tomatoes and a small can of diced chiles (though you'll end up with more than the 10 oz she calls for). The other thing I did differently was to follow The Food Lab's advice on browning ground meat: wherein you deeply brown 1/4 of the meat, and then add the rest, cooking it only until it is no longer pink... which is supposed to leave you with more tender meat without sacrificing flavor.

Now, after being raised on the ground beef and beans style of chili I have come to favor Texas style chili much more... and this recipe didn't change my mind... but while you could certainly skip the beans it's hard to see how big chunks of meat would really work well here. Otherwise I think I still prefer my chili in a bowl with regular tortilla chips or corn tortillas... but it is an undeniably fun way to eat some chili that I don't doubt would be popular with kids or at a Super Bowl party.

While the picture shows only nacho cheese flavor Doritos, I did try a handful of other flavors that I could find in $1 2 oz size bags at a nearby convenience store... and I would say that the sweet spicy chili flavor combo worked out the best specifically because of the sweet contrast. I suspect I would also like Cool Ranch for similar contrast related reasons.

As much as fans of the genre might disagree, I don't think you'll find the Frito Pie to be a life changing experience... but they are fun and worth making all the same.