Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Modernist BLT

Modernist BLT

One of the gifts I received for Christmas was Modernist Cuisine at Home, which is the slightly more affordable version of Nathan Myhrvold's massively encyclopedic treatise on Modernist cooking... a multi volume set that costs somewhere on the order of $500. While I certainly blog about sous vide here, I'm not so awed by foams and spherification that I need the definitive treatise on the subject; the dumbed down n00b version is just fine for me and seems a lot more practical for the nerdy home cook.

The first thing I made from the book was actually pressure cooker marinara sauce, but while it was really quite a good way to make tomato sauce it didn't feel quite epic enough for a blog post. Enter cured sous vide pork belly and bacon mayonnaise assembled into a Modernist BLT sandwich. Yes, that's right, I said bacon mayonnaise.

Sous Vide Pork Belly Browned

The pork belly gets a 72 hour brine (with Insta Cure for the pink color) before getting a 36 hour sous vide hot tub treatment, so not exactly something you whip up on a whim... but all that time involves nearly zero work from you, so it's not exactly a difficult process either. What you see above is said pork belly after all those hours of cooking and curing... just briefly browned in a hot skillet. The texture is so tender it's actually pretty surprising, and the cure gives it a flavor that is reminiscent of ham.

The bacon mayo is made by cooking some blended egg yolks sous vide (153 degrees F) for 35 minutes to increase their emulsifying powers (and eliminate salmonella fears)... then you whip in some rendered bacon fat and Xanthan gum to get your emulsification going... before adding crumbled bacon pieces. Because of the Xanthan gum they warned your bacon mayo will solidify when cold, but I didn't find that... in fact, it didn't really obtain the right consistency until it was chilled (it was quite runny when warm). I guess maybe I didn't use enough Xanthan gum? Fractions of a gram aren't something my current scale can measure, so I just did it by eye, and maybe didn't add enough.

The sandwich was quite good and definitely different... dare I say "unique"... and worth making if you are into this kind of thing. I don't suspect curing your own pork belly and making bacon mayo will ever replace the classic original BLT, but it's a cool variant nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Baking Steel

Baking Steel
Hello interwebs! It's been a while since I've posted, for which I apologize, but I've been obsessed with some topics that aren't cooking, which has cut down a bit on my ability to make big fun blog-worthy cooking projects. On the cooking positive side I got a bunch of exciting cookbooks and cooking implements for Christmas, which has reinvigorated me a bit... so hopefully even if I can't quite return to weekly blogging it won't get worse than biweekly. We shall see!

What you see above is one of those holiday gifts from my kind and loving family: a baking steel (Modernist Cuisine edition). At $100 it's a bit pricey (the non-Modernist one is $20 bucks cheaper but thinner), though anybody who has used one has raved about it.

We had some really good results as well... though I think I didn't let the dough get warm enough before shaping the pizzas. I just never seem to get that oven spring/hole structure I see in everybody else's homemade pizza. Regardless, we still had more oven spring than normal and had really great leopard spotting on the crust (which unfortunately I forgot to photograph).

Margherita Pizza

The ultimate pizza making performance is allegedly achieved using your broiler with the Baking Steel, not just a 500 degree oven... but unfortunately our broiler is on the bottom of our oven, so to use the two together would involve some shenanigans that would probably lead to pizza on the floor... but it might bear investigating.

Though we've only used it once, we've already seen a large improvement in our pizzas and I'm definitely looking forward to baking some bread on it. Is it worth 2x (at least) the price of a baking stone? Depends on how obsessive you are about your homemade pizza... and perhaps how good the pizzerias near you are. Overall I know that I am very pleased but there are some caveats to keep in mind. While our pizzas were much improved, it didn't suddenly make them equivalent to Pizzeria Posto or When Pig's Fly and the steel itself is also super heavy (15 or 22 lbs!). So keep all that in mind when making your decision, but I am certainly a fan.