Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ratio - Michael Ruhlman

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday CookingTwo books cover to cover in one afternoon, needless to say I am in ocular distress. Well Ruhlman has done it again with Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, and produced yet another book that any cook would probably agree is useful (as opposed to every other cookbook on the shelf). Alton Brown describes this book best as:

"Cooking, like so many creative endeavors, is defined by relationships. For instance, knowing exactly how much flour to put into a loaf of bread isn't nearly as useful as understanding the relationship between the flour and the water, or fat, or salt . That relationship is defined by a 'ratio,' and having a ratio in hand is like having a secret decoder ring that frees you from the tyranny of recipes. Professional cooks and bakers guard ratios passionately so it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Michael Ruhlman is forced into hiding like a modern-day Prometheus, who in handing us mortals a power better suited to the gods, has changed the balance of kitchen power forever. I for one am grateful. I suspect you will be too." -- Alton Brown"

It is very true that cooks, and bakers are very fond of ratios. Ratios are far easier to remember then recipes. The first ratio I learned while attending culinary school was the all important Mirepoix: 2 part onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery. I suspect however that bakers are far bigger utilizers of ratios on account of their holy baker's percentages. Which is exactly what I find so exciting about this book. I mostly glazed over any cooking related ratios involving stock, consomme, and the like, but absolutly ate up the section on dough, batters, and custards. This knowledge to me was absolute gold, something I had been previously ignorant about. I would recommend buying this book purely based off those chapters. However, if  you are a baker I am sure you probably already knew all that stuff anyway. I really hope someone takes Ruhlman's concept and runs with it on a more macroscopic level. Could you imagine The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs  geared completely towards ratios? The exact proportions required for the most original version of Tapenade, or Coq au Vin? Ok, perhaps thats a little far streched and takes the creativity out of the cooking, but I for one would buy it. Thanks Ruhlman for reaffirming my faith in culinary literacy.

Food Rules - Michael Pollan

Food Rules: An Eater's ManualI am a huge fan of Michael Pollan's work. I have read cover to cover both The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, was inspired by them both, and to an extent they changed my life (or at least my perception of food), so it only made sense to pick up his new book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. I blazed through this book cover to cover in approximately one hour, and was horribly disappointed. This isn't to say its a bad read, it just lacks the depth, information, and journalistic tenacity that has become accustomed to in Pollan's work.

My first issue with the book is that there are 140 pages, and half of those have nothing more then a cute image no bigger then a square inch. So we can with some confidence say that 60-70 of those pages are not required reading material. A large percentage of the pages with text on them, are taken up by large fonts, and whitespace. Compound this with the knowledge that nowhere on the book can we find a "made with recycled paper," we can safely assume a gross missuse of natural resources. Ohh can I add that I paid $13.50 for a book with no fucking content in it? It just seems like massive irony that a man who is alegedly concerned with the worlds troubles would not be concerned with something pivitol to our existence like trees and breathing.

Secondly, I didnt learn a thing from this book. Granted, I've read his two other books where Pollan actually goes into some depth behind alot of the rules found in this book, I've had classes in nutrition and have a fairly basic understanding of what food is, and what food is not, but I did expect to learn something new.

What this book is, is a gateway for those who do not have an understanding about food, and are ignorant about what they eat. The book is published so you can read it in an hour and get an idea of what food is, and is not. This book was published for the ignorant masses, and frankly most of them dont read, so I dont see the point. In short, if you want a quick, cute, kitschy read you can debate with other niave idealogist during your weekly Starbucks book club meeting this is your book. If however you value intelligence and reason, pick up both The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, but steer clear of this one.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating - Fergus Henderson

The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail EatingThe Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson is a cookbook classic. At his restaurant in London Henderson specializes in nose to tail cookery (infact I think he coined the term.)

This cookbook covers a large chunk of your basic cookery techniques such as how to make stock, yet the real gold in this book lay in his treatment of offal, and lesser used bits. Adventurous and picked up a pigs trotter, brains, liver? Want to know how your grandmother used to make her pig tails during the holidays? This book will teach you what to do.

Henderson really set the stage for the nose to tail movement, and its picking up a great deal of momentum. If you take yourself seriously as a chef, you should own this book.
Monday, January 4, 2010

Pig Trotters - Day Two

I awoke this morning, and after my coffee unraveled this beautiful log of pork foot. These things are packed full of gelatin, and when they are formed and cool down assume a terrine/pate like consistency. The hard part is finished.  If you want to make this according to Bouchon now would be a great time to make the Gibriche. Done?

Alright cut the log into nice think pieces, and season each side. Grab two bowls, fill one with flour, and one with bread crumbs (panko is preferable, I couldn't find any). Dip each end into the flour, then spread a thin layer of Dijon on each side. Dip each side in bread crumbs. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Take a non stick skillet, heat up some oil and brown one of the sides. Place in the oven for four minutes, flip, and another four minutes. Watch this thing, the only thing holding this together is the gelatin and if it gets too cooked its going to fall apart. You are trying to crisp and brown the ends with the bread crumbs, and warm the rest. Its all done, finally. Plate with Gibrice and Mache. I couldnt find mache so I went with just Gibriche. Bon Appetite.

*note: Im working on a way to improve on this recipe. The taste is extraordinary, however relying on the natural gelatin just dosent work for me. Possible ways to combat this would be to add: egg into the mixture as a binder, dip in egg before bread crumbs to coagulate the outside, wrap in bacon and cook in a ring mold, or surround the log in caul fat. Ill try a few maybe later this week and let you know how it worked out.

How to Make Gribiche

Sauce gribiche is an excellent sauce to pair with cold meat, fish, and in this case pigs trotters. It is also perfect for those that are afraid to eat raw egg. We require:

Recipe (adapted from Bouchon)
  • 2 Hard boiled eggs (see here)
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Olive oil
  • 1 Shallot
  • 2 Cornichons 
  • 1 Tbsp Capers
  • 1 Tsp Chives, and Tarragon
  • 2 Tsp Italian leaf parsley
Traditionally all the ingredients are finely chopped, and it is served as an almost salsa like consistency. If you elect to go this route be sure to brunoise (1/8th inch dice) all the ingredients, and combine together. I elected to go a different route. I wanted a finer texture for the trotter dish, and opted to use an immersion blender to chop, and emulsify the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

How to Properly Hard Boil an Egg

More often the not, someone will hard boil and egg, their kitchen will smell, and the eggs will have a nasty greyish green line seperating the yolk and the white. This is not how to hard boil an egg. Originally I was going to include this on a post on making Gibriche sauce, but I think this warrants a post all its own. For this we will require:

  • One pot, large enough to cover the eggs by two inches
  • One bowl filled with ice and cold water
  • Eggs
  • Aqua Freea (aka tap water)

First we will take the pot, put the eggs in, and fill up with water. We will then put that pot on the stove, and bring to a boil. We will allow the water to simmer for one minute exactly. Take the pot off the heat, allowing the eggs to cool inside the water for exactly ten minutes. Remove the eggs and place them into the ice bath. When cooled peel the eggs. Use the eggs for Gibriche (excellent on fish), Deviled Eggs, or eat them on their own. If you cook the eggs too long, the eggs will start to produce sulpher compounds, which is responsible for that ugly grey ring, and horrible smell. Throw these out and start again. You should end up with cooked whites, and creamy yolks.
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pig Trotters - Day One

Well it has been quite the day of cookery, and there is still about a day left on these little beauties. Pigs feet, conjure images of vile creatures stomping around playing in their own excrement. From a culinary standpoint, they are a cooks challenge; little meat, lots of tiny bones, packed full of connective tissue. Once again I have decided to follow Keller's lead in Bouchon. I highly recommend buying this book, not only is it packed with information and recipes, but its total food porn! It personally gives me a culinary erection.

The Feet

Keller highly recommends going to the butcher and getting the feet with the hocks attached. After trying it with just the feet, youd be wise to listen. That little piggy will have you pinching for every last morsel of meat on it's feet, and its frusterating. Just do it.

How we prepare the feet is very important, although most hair is removed on a pig (I think they get dumped into oil or something which gets rid of it,) there are small little nooks where the hair will like to hide. Take a propane torch, and carefully torch the skin. Pay particular attention to inbetween the toes. Be careful not to cook the skin, just try to burn the hair off. After you are done give them a good rub to get the burned hair off, and a quick rinse.

Next fill a large pot up with cold water, add the trotters, and make sure they are covered. Bring to a boil, and let simmer. Impurities will rise to the surface in the form of sediment and foam, be sure to skim this stuff off. After a few minutes, drain, clean the pot, fill it back up with trotters and cold water.


Bring the water up to a simmer a second time. Add in some garlic, onion, leek, and carrot, along with a spice bag (peppercorn, bay leaf, thyme, parsley stems,) and let simmer for about three hours or until the bones are coming away from the meat. Turn off the heat, let the trotters cool slightly until you can comfortably handle. Do not throw out the cooking liquid.

Next you have to work fast, these things are filled to the tits with gelatin, and if you let them cool too much your going to have pig feet flavoured jello on your hands. Start taking apart the trotters, seperate the skin, and the meat. Throw out the bones, excess fat, tendons, veins, toe nails, anything you wouldnt put in your mouth. Scrap down the skin, and try remove any extra fat (more prevelant on the hock portion then the trotter.)

Weight out the meat, you need half that weight in finely chopped up skin, mix together.

In a pan sweat out about three decently sized shallots in a generous amount of butter, season, remove from heat, add to mixture. Add in a few good dollops of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of the cooking liquid, salt, pepper, finely chopped parsley, and thyme. Use a large spatula to fold everything together, and work the mixture to break up the meat as much as possible. You should end up with a fairly homogeneous mixture.

Place the mixture on a large sheet of aluminum foil and roll it up into a thick log (about 2 inches diameter). Twist the ends so its tight, and leave overnight in the refridgerator. If done correctly we should wake up to a terrine like log of tasty pig foot -I hope.

Celeriac Remoulade

This tasty side dish/salad is traditionally served in the winter in France. At its most basic it consists of: celeriac (celery root), mayonnaise, mustard, and seasoning. I elected of course to try the recipe out of Bouchon.

The Mayonnaise

 Making your own mayonnaise isnt hard but it does involve some technique and know how. Mayonnaise is an emulsion, and emulsions are probably the most tempermental of all the sauces. An emulsion is two substances that do not chemically combine, and you force them into submission. Mayonnaise is only made out of three thing: oil, egg yoke, and lemon juice. The quality of the end product depends on those three ingrediants. If you use cheap vegetable oil, your mayonnaise will taste of it, and please... use real lemons.

2-3 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 Egg Yolk
1-1 1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Mix the yolk, and the lemon juice together. Slowly, drop by drop, add the oil. Whisk like a motherfucker. If you see little streaks of oil in the sauce whisk harder to encorperate. If you add the oil too quickly, the emulsion will break, and you will have to start again. Patience, and hard work is what is going to make this happen. Season with salt and pepper. Hopefully it tastes great.


The recipe is rather simple
1 Celery Root, cut into a julienne
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 cup Creme Fraiche
2 tblsp Dijon Mustard

Mix all the ingrediants together and add herbs. Keller uses chives, parsley, tarragon, and chervil. Let sit and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This turned out really tasty, and worked as a perfect side dish for my pulled pork. Its simple, its classic, and its more importantly not coleslaw.

Apple Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich with Caramalized Onions, and Dijon Mustard

Possibly the tastiest sandwich ever. Alright this was a multi-day multi-cooking method endeavor. First you need a large peice of pork. I would suggest a tougher cut of meat like the shoulder, filled with flavour, connective tissues, and glorious porky goodness.

Basic Brine (from Charcuterie)

1 gallon, Water
1 cup, Kosher Salt
2/3 cup, Sugar

Now that we have the basic recipe down, its time to think about how we are going to flavour our brine. I did a classic french style brine with bay leaf, thyme, cracked peppercorns, garlic, and cloves (pork loves cloves you know.) Its quite simple, bring everything to a boil, let cool to room temperature, add your meat product and store in the fridge overnight.

Alton Brown promotes substituting half the water for ice, which will allow the brine to cool down much more quickly, and save you time, personally I would listen.


Bradley Digital 4- Rack SmokerSmoke, there is nothing more manly, and more Canadian. Smoking is very easy to accomplish, and you can make a smoker out of a cast iron pan, a hot plate, and wood chips. I sadly love crazy projects but, I dont have time... and I own a Bradley Smoker.  I am going to tell you, there are many different ways to smoke, but this contraption will save you the headache. It automatically feeds the wood pellets in, keeps a consistant temperature, and produces alot of smoke.

The secret to a good smoky coating on a peice of meat is the almighty pellicle. Im not a scientist, but a pellicle is basically a sticky coating on the meat which will recieve the smoke better, and is caused by coagulated proteins or something of the like. I would gladly look it up in Harold McGees On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, however I am lazy. So what we are going to do is take the meat out of the brine, and let it sit uncovered in the fridge (yes uncovered.) This can also be accomplished much more quickly by having a fan blow on the meat. I also covered the meat in maple syrup. Get your trusty smoker up to temperature, the Bradleys really are idiot proof, buy one already, stick your pellicle encapsulated hunk of piggy goodness in the Bradley at about 300 degrees F, for three hours or untill we reach an internal temperature of about 160. It helps to stick a probe thermometer in the meat, and have it go off when it reaches the temperature. Note: the meat is not technically cooked at this point, we are just aiming for the smoke flavour.


Although we have cooked our meat rather slowly, and that has broken down a great deal of tough connective tissue, in order to be able to pull the pork, we have to employ another method of cooking. In this case braising. Braising is a moist heat cooking method, which allows us to cook the meat for a long period of time without drying out. First, we need to think about a braising liquid. Water can, and will work. Water however has no flavour, and we have the opportunity to introduce more flavour to enchance our end product. What is tasty, not to expensive, and packed full of flavour? Beer! Yes, beer. White wine would also work, Red however dosent really have alot of complimentary flavour components going on, so I am ruling it out. Grab your favorite beer, Alexander Keiths in my case, pour it in, and drink the other 23. Ok, well dont drink them yet... its not the time. If you need more liquid (we are looking to cover about 1/2 the product) add more beer, stock, or even top it up with water. I added a few onions to the mix as well. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the meat, cover, and throw in the oven at as low as you dare (I went 215.) The longer, and lower the better, provided you stay out of the food danger zone (180F and below.) I believe this took about 5-6 hours or so, I dont remember (this was the time to drink the other 23 you lush.) Take it out of the oven and let cool to room temperature. You have a choice here, either you can start pulling it apart now, or let it cool overnight in the braising liquid.

*If you elect to let it cool overnight, the gelatin will set, and will we hard to pull apart so you will have to reheat it before attempting to pull it, you will however have better flavour.


Almost seems like a waste to throw out all that braising liquid. Let strain it, reduce it, and add some things to make a barbecue sauce. This can be as easy or hard as you want to make it. You could just reduce until it reaches a sauce like consistency (there is a ton of gelatin in there.) But im going to add some flavour. I added some Apple Cider Vinegar, and Ketchup (tomato paste works too, but I was out.) Use as barbecue sauce, or mix in with the nicely shredded pulled pork.

Caramalized Onions

Take about 1 large onion, cut it in half from top to bottom and peel. Cut the top and root end off on about a 45 degree angle, and turn to the cut end is facing you. Now carefully make diagonal cuts, and you should end up with perfect slices. If you elect to slice the other way you will end up with a more tangled caramalized onion.

Heat up a large skillet with oil, dump in the onions. Turn down the heat to about medium high. As the onions cook they will release moisture, that moisture will evaporate, and overtime the onion will begin to caramalize. About half way through add salt, and pepper. The salt will help to pull out more moisture. As the onions cook down and more moisture evaporates the pan will begin to get dry. Here we can take a liquid and add just a bit to wet the pan again and keep the onions cooking down. Were you going to use water? Made yah think didnt I? Thats right more beer. Keep adding the beer in small doses, allowing it to evaporate before introducing more untill the onions are fully caramalized.

The End

Grab a nice think hunk of crusty bread, put some good french Dijon on one side, load up with the pulled pork, and onions.
Friday, January 1, 2010

Duck Proscuitto

I like duck, it is possibly my favorite poultry. Quite some time ago I picked up a copy of Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie. I am very interested in the art of charcuterie, and wanted to give it a shot. Ruhlman recommends the duck proscuitto as a starter project, and frankly I was a little intimidated and scared at the prospect of curing my own meat and then dying of botulism. Well I was a victim of my own ignorance, and after some research, and many successes, I am neither dead nor afraid. Whenever I find duck at a decent sale price, chances are I am picking up a few of them, and devoting a good deal of time to some stock, confit, and proscuitto. I am continually amazed at the ability of both duck and pork to be transformed into something transcedent of their original form (which is also good.)

This little beauty is easy to pull off, I am not giving away the recipe, but at its most basic form its pound for pound salt, and 24 hours. This can be tweaked to include spice, and herbs, but I would really recommend an addition of sugar. Sadly, this is not a Magret duck breast and lacks the almost foie gras like buttery fat. Tie the little beauty in cheesecloth and hang for about a week.

We recently served duck proscuitto on our New Years tasting menu: Quebec A Grade foie gras torchon with duck proscuitto, toasted brioche, apple cider reduction, and organic pea shoots. Mmm tasty. Good luck, and dont be afraid to try this at home. Just do your research first, please.

New Years

One might ask themselves, what would a cook cook for themselves? Well, after a thirteen hour of New Years Eve service mayham, and willingness to guzzle down as much as possible to make up for missing most of the New Years partying, the answer is NOT MUCH. Truth be told I have a tinge of a hangover, the dreaded chemical induced dehydration, with a slight dose of withdrawl. There are two things one craves with this condition: Fat, and Carbs. One might suggest to themselves a monolothic hamburger, accompained by a gravy and cheese drenched poutine. This would be preferrable, however it is New Years and everything is closed. So alas, we are to venture to the fridge.

This trip was an absolute success. I had a slab of bacon, potatoes, onion, and duck confit (you do keep duck confit laying around in the back of your fridge dont you?). How any of these magical things cannot combine to create a sublime hangover cure is beyond me. Firstly, heat up you cast iron skillet. Dont have one? OK.

Before you rush out to your nearest overpriced "made for rich housewives" kitchen supply stores *cough take a second and think. People used to use cast iron all the time before the invention of Teflon, however Grandma got sick of lugging it around, bought into the newest easiest fad and.... thats right... check Grandmas. Grandma dosent have one? well I am sure someones Grandma died recently... get it yet? Thats right, secondhand and antique stores! You should be able to amass a small collection for less then $15.00. Whats that? Its rusted? No problem.

Traditionally, you can use a handful of salt, and a little oil, and scrub like Automysophobic. For more serious cases just grab some steel wool, and finish with salt. After that you must season them. The proper way is to heat up the pan over flame untill it is white hot, then fill it up with salt, and burn off the salt. This way takes time, and can be dangerous, but it is the proper method. Alternativly, you could rub it in oil (prefrebbly one with a high smoke point,) throw it in a 350 degree oven for a few hours, let them cool, and you should be good. Try to cook high fatty foods at first to break it in a bit.

Alright, cast iron is heated up with a little oil in it. Heres the big secret, throw in the potatoes, confit, bacon, and onions. Toss it in the oven at about 350, and in about a half hour to forty-five minutes you should be rewarded with the tastiest, fattiest potatoes you ever shoved in your mouth. Hangover, averted.

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