Monday, September 21, 2015

Peking duck tart & pancetta, goat cheese, arugula tart / More relatively cheap foodstuffs of the UK

Pancetta, goat cheese, & arugula tart, and peking duck tart
Continuing from my last post, this past summer I again wanted to take advantage of some of the delicious ingredients that are both more readily available and cheaper in the UK than in the US.  For a dinner party with my wonderful roommates, I combined a number of these sort of ingredients:
  1. Puff pastry - available in all convenience stores, ~$2 for a sheet that I've seen at $10+ at Whole Foods
  2. Duck legs - available in most regular grocery stores, 2 for $6 (~$6.50/pound)
  3. Pancetta - available in convenience stores in small packets for $1.50
  4. Goat cheese, creme fraiche, both available in convenience stores for $1.50, which I've seen at $10+ for comparable quantities in the US.

The assembly of each went something like this: 
  1. Two duck legs were prepared as described previously (Note: I have read that duck skin can be dried out much faster using hairdryers,than with fans or circulating air within a fridge, a technique pioneered by Marcella Hazan), and could be done either earlier in the day or a day in advance. 
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  3. Cut puff pastry sheet into two rectangles of about 12" x 4". 
  4. Use a knife to score a 1" border, and a fork to prick the interior of the border
  5. Apply an eggwash to the border 
  6. Bake puff pastries for 10 minutes
  7. Meanwhile, fry 100g/3.5 oz pancetta in a pan until crispy
  8. Mix the base sauces (2 tbsp + 2 tbsp hoisin and creme fraiche for the duck tart, 4 oz goat cheese + 2 eggs for the pancetta/arugula tart).
  9. Prepare a ginger scallion sauce (1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, 1/8 cup finely chopped ginger, and 1/8 cup oil lightly heated in a pan until softened, then seasoned)   
  10. After 10 minutes or after pastries have browned, lightly punch down any pastry within the border that has risen
  11. Spread each sauce on a separate pastry
  12. Top one with roast duck and ginger/scallion sauce, top the other with fried pancetta 
  13. Return to oven for another 10 minutes, then top the pancetta tart with fresh arugula and goat cheese dollops

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Eggs Woodhouse from Archer / excessively luxurious eggs sardou, in memory of George Coe

This summer I've been working in the UK and have been thinking of cooking projects to take advantage of great, readily available and relatively cheaper food items around here.  One thing I noticed is that Iberian ham/pata negra ham/Jamón Ibérico is super common here, available for purchase even in ASDA stores (basically the UK Walmart equivalent, actually owned by Walmart), for around $10 for a tray. The first dish that came to mind using pata negra ham was Eggs Woodhouse, which is referenced on the hilarious TV show Archer (see the recipe here, and an informative video starring Alton Brown here). Sadly, while completing the project, I read that George Coe, the voice actor for the dish's namesake, Woodhouse, had passed away. A real shame, a great actor and one of my favorite characters on the show.

Many of the other luxury ingredients of Eggs Woodhouse (black truffle, saffron, caviar), are also known to be expensive as well, however strangely enough some of these are also readily available and cheaper in the UK.  For instance, both saffron and caviar (admittedly not beluga caviar) are available at Waitrose stores for only around $3-4 each.

Sorry, have been messing with using filters. Left: artichokes and lemon water ready, Right: halved artichoke rubbed with lemon
Preparing fresh artichoke bottoms is definitely the most annoying part of this recipe, since the prickly artichokes need to be pared down quickly and constantly rubbed with lemons, before steaming for 10-20 minutes, otherwise they turn an unappetizing brown.  There are some helpful videos out there on how to do this.  I was also surprised to see whole artichokes, which I don't see often, also sold at Waitrose.

Left: A few last whisks on the hollandaise sauce before seasoning and adding paprika. Center: Creamed spinach topped with steamed artichoke bottoms and pata negra ham draped poached eggs. Right: Covered in shaved black truffle and hollandaise
There are many shortcuts out there for hollandaise sauce.  I went with Alton Brown's techniques for egg poaching (seriously, that's like eggs 101, Woodhouse!), although mine came out a big uglier this time, and for creamed spinach I more or less followed the original recipe above.  Tasted pretty good, although as expected, the saffron and caviar are a bit unnecessary.  To save more money, I'd say just go with prosciutto, coppa, or tasso and cut the truffle, saffron, and caviar. If you're willing to splurge, I would however recommend getting a nice quality truffle and possibly supplementing your hollandaise with truffle oil and saffron (crush ~1/4 tsp saffron, soak in a very small volume of hot water, ~1 tbsp, and incorporate this in place of the water in the above hollandaise recipe - haven't tried, but I think it'd work).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fried chicken wings 7 ways! / Sichuan chongqing fried chicken wings, Thai peanut fried chicken wings

Hey there, it's been a while since the last post, I've been busy with transitioning to a summer research position in the UK! More posts related to that coming soon.  Just before I left, I had a craving for Korean fried chicken wings. Unfortunately, since the nearby BonChon had closed, the closest ones were a train ride away. In the course of my recipe research, it became apparent that there is a variety of methods for making fried chicken wings, with not necessarily a clear consensus on the purpose of each step (from just the Seriouseats Food Lab, there are a number of articles on fried chicken wings that use different preparations each time.  For this article, I decided to break down a number of the ways one can fry chicken wings, and what each does for the final texture.

The techniques I've observed in chicken wing preparation and frying include: marination, steaming, drying, dry coating with corn starch and/or flour, batter coating with corn starch and/or flour, and finally frying once, frying twice, or even baking.  Ultimately, the purpose of any combination of these techniques is to accomplish 2 main goals, 1) tenderizing connective tissue, 2) to create a crispy/crunchy crust. For a side-by-side comparison, I prepared chicken wings 7 ways.  All 7 were pre-marinated in buttermilk and coated with the cornstarch/baking powder/salt mixture (from here on I'll refer to it as just 'dry cornstarch coat') advocated by Kenji in the first SE article above.

From left to right, the conditions I tested were

1) Twice fried with dry cornstarch coat
2) Once fried with dry cornstarch coat
3) Once fried with dry cornstarch coat and last minute toss in flour
4) Baked, with dry cornstarch coat
5) Baked, with dry cornstarch coat and a last minute toss in flour
6) Once fried with dry cornstarch coat and cornstarch/flour based batter
7) Twice fried with dry cornstarch coat and cornstarch/flour based batter

After trying each wing, my observations were:
  • Not too much difference observed between one and twice fried wings
  • 1 & 2 both taste as if coated in crunchy panko, grainy-like crunch
  • 3 - more KFC-like (Kentucky, not Korea) in crust flavor and texture, with crunchy broken bubbles of crust along the surface
  • 4 - the worst, skin was tough and almost leathery
  • 5 - baked coated and flour - surprisingly crunchy compared to the other baked wing
  • 6 & 7 again, not much difference between these two, but a clear texture difference compared non-battered wings, more Bonchon like, smoother but still textured. 
My personal preference for skin/fried chicken would be #6, since I enjoy Korean fried chicken, and #7 has an unnecessary second frying step. The conclusions that can be drawn from this experiment are that a second fry is likely unnecessary if you have a marination step, as both of these are meant to soften up connective tissue. I was incorrect in thinking that a dry cornstarch coat followed by a quick toss in flour (to minimize gluten formation) would yield a similar texture as cornstarch/flour batter. The alcohol or water used in the batter likely has an important role in homogenizing the starch and liquid components and also in building up pockets of steam - resulting in a smoother, thinner crust that is more lifted from the meat.

Left: cilantro, green onions and lime for garnishing wings, Right: Sichuan chongqing blend ingredients
With this information, I went ahead and made a few batches in style #6 of Sichuan chongqing style chicken wings and Thai peanut fried chicken wings, by tossing finished wings with a few tablespoons of sesame oil and spice blend (I omitted cumin and fennel and added 1-2 tsp ginger powder and sesame seeds to finish), or with a thai peanut sauce (I used leftover Korean gochujang paste instead of red curry paste, an easier alternative sauce here).

Left: Thai peanut fried chicken wings with lime and cilantro, Right: Sichuan chongqing fried chicken wings

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Happy Chinese New Year! / Scallion Pancake Croissants

Scallion pancake croissant, picture taken with the help of my gf
In one of my past posts on scallion pancake waffles, I toyed around with the traditional scallion pancake recipe to create a new version that was a hybrid scallion pancake puff pastry, with improved layer separation, more versatility, and improved texture.  With all these improvements, I thought a natural step was to combine this dough to make another classic laminated dough pastry, by creating a scallion pancake croissant.

Left: finely chopped scallions, center left: laminated dough sprinkled with sesame oil and scallions on the final fold, center right: folded laminated dough, right: rolled flat and cut scallion pancake croissant dough
 The procedure for making these is largely derived from procedures developed in previous articles, namely using the scallion pancake puff pastry dough and the techniques for making croissants (a great resource for techniques for croissant making is here).  

Left: rolled croissans, later brushed with egg wash, center left: baked scallion pancake croissat, center right: side view of scallion pancake croissant with many layers visible, right: halved scallion pancake croissant with soft interior visible

One very interesting feature of these pastries is that if the dough component of the croissant is made in the style of scallion pancakes (with boiling water), and the fat element is made as described in my previous article, then the interior is very different from a traditional croissant.  The inside of these pastries is instead very soft and tender, much closer to a traditional scallion pancake.  With a crescent shape, crispy golden exterior, and soft scallion pancake-like interior, I believe this was a highly successful fusion pastry, definitely worth a try!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Improved scallion pancakes & scallion pancake waffles / Broader waffle maker applications part 2!

In a previous article, I looked at an interesting application of a wafflemaker to cook halloumi cheese.   Again, I was interested in applying the wafflemaker to foods that could benefit from a increased crispy surface area to soft interior ratio.  I decided to go with one of my favorite snack/appetizers, the scallion pancake.
Scallion pancake waffle with Korean fried chicken and gochujang mayo
Scallion pancakes are a savory Chinese flatbread, fried to have a crispy exterior and soft dough layers inside.  It is traditionally made by brushing a circle of dough with sesame oil, rolling into a tube and flattening, creating roughly 5n laminated dough layers for each iteration.  Finely chopped green onions are added prior to the last rolling step.  

Traditional scallion pancake-making procedure. From left: ball of unleavened dough, flattened dough with sesame oil, rolled dough with brushed sesame oil, looping the roll of dough prior to flattening, and finally the finished pancake with chopped scallions added
I had recently read an article on scallion pancakes on Seriouseats, which gave some helpful tips on how to make scallion pancakes.  However, I noticed several problems.  By following the procedure without any changes, the resulting pancakes were very tough in the interior, not soft and chewy as with a good scallion pancake.  Also, Kenji claimed that ~25 layers (two iterations of rolling and flattening) is the most you can get with a scallion pancake.  I wondered how and why this is the case, since with other laminated pastries (croissants, puff pastry, cronuts, etc.), many more layers are possible.  One obvious difference is that other pastries use butter, which is solid, whereas scallion pancakes use sesame oil, more fluid, which may not be able to perfectly separate layers of dough under pressure. 

Revised technique for making scallion pancakes.  From left: unleavened dough with butter/sesame oil blend, butter/oil blend wrapped with dough, laminated dough folded in the style of puff pastry or croissants, and finally the finished pancake with scallions added
In order to make the two necessary improvements (softer interior, more layers), I decided to alter the traditional scallion pancake recipe.  Rather than using just sesame oil to laminate the dough layers, I made the pancakes using a blend of butter and sesame oil (2 tbsp butter:1 tbsp sesame oil).  This accomplishes two things: 1) the water content of the butter, and possibly the steam created, allows for a moister, less tough dough, 2) by using a fat with higher saturated fat content (more solid), the layers of dough have more complete separation. 

Improved scallion pancake 4 ways.  From left: Cooking pancake in waffleiron, fried in pan, and deep fried. On the right: two views of the 4 ways of cooking scallion pancakes (pan-fried, deep-fried, wafflized, and baked)
The resulting scallion pancakes had a superior texture when fried in a pan, deep fryer, or waffleiron (2-3 minutes frying for each, for waffleiron cooking, it was necessary to brush the outside of the pancake with oil first).  Additionally, it was especially apparent when baked that the pancakes had many more thin layers of dough than those made using traditional methods.  Similar to other laminated pastries, the texture is further improved by giving the folded dough at least a day of rest for gluten relaxation.  Ultimately, the scallion pancakes produced with the above proposed changes resulted in superior texture and a more versatile pastry.

A closer look at scallion pancakes cooked 4-ways. Top: pan-fried and deep-fried.  Bottom: wafflized and baked.  Right: a closer look at the baked scallion pancake, with many clearly distinct layers visible. 
I used this scallion pancake waffle in my most recent Masterchef audition, served with Korean fried chicken wings and a gochujang mayo.  Unfortunately the audition didn’t go so well this year, since I made the amateur mistake of forgetting to add salt to the pancake dough, and oversalted the exterior of the waffle to compensate.  Ah well, maybe next time!

Top left: layered dough with a last sprinkling of scallions and sesame oil.  Bottom left: finished scallion pancake waffle with gochujang mayo. Right: Scallion pancake waffle with Korean fried chicken and gochujang mayo
Based on the success of the baked form, a soon to come article will likely be on scallion pancake croissants! Stay tuned

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Improved sweet potato & marshmallow casserole! / Sweet potato souffle with sour cream marshmallow, scallion, and roasted garlic

Sweet potato souffle with scallion and roasted garlic, topped with toasted sour cream marshmallow
Most Thanksgivings, I like to try and put an updated spin on classic dishes.   This year, I decided to tackle what I think is the worst of all traditional Thanksgiving dishes, sweet potatoes and marshmallow casserole.  Personally, I think this composition doesn’t make much sense, since it pairs sweet with more sweet, and is served as a appetizer/side, rather than a dessert type dish.  I decided to update this dish by making the pairing more like something that hopefully we can all agree makes more sense – a loaded baked potato.  Follow these links to skip to just the recipes for sour cream marshmallows and for sweet potato soufflé.

Rather than pairing the sweet potato with sweet marshmallows, I decided a savory appetizer would require a savory marshmallow.  For a baked potato-inspired dish, it would make sense to have the marshamllows be sour cream flavored.  Making savory marshmallows really is as simple as mixing in a few tablespoons of a savory flavoring component into the mix of a normal marshmallow recipe.  However, in the course of this project I also discovered a way to make the procedure for making marshmallows significantly safer and faster.

Left: corn syrup mixed with sugar to ~85% by weight sugar. Center: blooming gelatin. Right: mixed sugar solution and dissolved gelatin, with sour cream
Left and center: sour cream marshmallow mixture after 10 minutes whipping, coated with corn starch and powdered sugar. Right: squares of sour creammarshmallow cut out
The traditional recipe for making marshmallows involves 1) blooming gelatin, 2) bringing a corn syrup/sugar syrup to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, 3) carefully adding the super-hot syrup to the gelatin in a stand mixer and whipping for up to 15 minutes, and 4) cooling and cutting the marshmallow mixture.  After analyzing a number of marshmallow recipes, I found it odd that all required the second step of heating sugar syrups to a set temperature (typically necessary in confection making in order to reach a precise/consistent sugar concentration, in this case, ~85% sugar by weight), but some recipes added this sugar syrup to unmeasured or unspecified amounts of water used for gelatin blooming in step 1.  This suggests that while having a low water content in marshmallows is important, a range of water content would produce acceptable marshmallows.  Since the step for heating syrups was clearly not very important for acquiring precise sugar concentrations, the only other purposes working with a heated syrup would serve would be 1) ease of dealing with a slightly lower viscosity fluid, and 2) heat from the syrup would aid in dissolving gelatin.  Ultimately, I found that the traditional step of heating sugar syrups to 240F could be eliminated by calculating and preparing a sugar solution of desired final concentration (85% sugar by weight), and applying low level heat to dissolve gelatin separately.  The 85% sugar solution and dissolved gelatin could be mixed with flavorings (sour cream in this case), whipped, cut, and cooled just as in traditional recipes.  This modification to the traditional procedure eliminates the time needed to heat the sugar syrup, and eliminates risk of splashing extremely hot, skin-burning syrup around your kitchen.
Left two: Roasted sweet potato blended with green onion, roasted garlic, brown sugar and butter. Center: Making a roux for bechamel sauce.  Right two: Finished bechamel sauce
Leftmost: Combining sweet potato blend and bechamel sauce.  Center-left: Stiff-peak meringue. Center-right: souffle mix in ramekin. Rightmost: Finished sweet potato souffle with green onion and roasted garlic
As opposed to the traditionally dense sweet potato mash in a sweet potato and marshmallow casserole, I thought the dish could benefit from some added variety of flavor and lightness.  For this reason, I thought a great accompaniment to the sour cream marshmallows would be a sweet potato soufflé.  For this, I basically used a scaled down version of Emeril Lagasse’s recipe, with one clove of roasted garlic and a tablespoon of finely chopped green onions mixed into the sweet potato puree.  Once removed from the oven, these soufflés can be topped with the savory marshmallows and torched for even more complex caramelized flavor.  Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving! 

Another view of the savory sweet potato souffle with toasted sour cream marshmallow

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Halloumi cheese waffle and poached pear / Broader waffle maker applications part 1!

It’s been another few months without articles, but more will be coming soon! I’ve been busy recently with my PhD thesis proposal (it went fine, btw).  In the next couple articles, I’ll be investigating interesting applications of a heavily underrated piece of kitchen equipment – the wafflemaker!

Left: Halloumi cheese waffle. Center: Poached pears marinating/macerating in a wine syrup. Right: Poached pear with gelato and (unpictured) halloumi cheese waffle

The unique advantage of a waffle geometry is its increased surface area to volume ratio, compared to a flat square or circle of similar dimensions.  The Good Eats episode about waffles does a good job of discussing some of the advantages that come from this property, for instance, waffle irons were used to mold the first soles of running shoes (the beginning of Nike).  For regular edible waffles, the unique benefits are the ability to retain wells of syrup and to have lots of fried crunchy/crisp exterior, with some soft interior.  These seem like properties that could easily extend to many other fried goods, wouldn’t you think?
Fried halloumi cheese slices - very crispy, but little chewy/soft interior.  If cut into cubes, they require 5 manipulations to fry each side

One of the first foods I thought could benefit from wafflization was halloumi cheese.  Halloumi cheese is a special type of brined cheese, salty like feta but softer and creamier, that is known for its ability to be fried or grilled and retain its shape while gaining a crispy exterior.
Left: Comparison of percent by weight of fat, protein, and water (the remaining weight out of 100g that was not fat or protein) between 5 cheeses categorized as high melting point and 5 cheese categorized as low melting point.  No significant differences in composition were observed.  Right: Comparison of salt content between high melting point and low melting point cheeses in 100g of cheese.  The difference was found to be significant at p<0.01 using 1-way ANOVA.

I’ve seen many peoples’ websites attempt to explain why this is the case, but have come across a surprising range of explanations.  While many of these reasons (moisture content, protein content, type of fat, salt content) all seem to be plausible reasons, when analyzing the composition of several high-melt point (halloumi, feta, parmesan, cotija, and aged asiago) and low-melt point cheeses (mozzarella, swiss, cheddar, camembert, and brie), I found that only salt content seemed to significantly contribute to the melt-point (data courtesy of and, acid-curdled, reduced fat, and added fungal culture cheese excluded from analysis, n=5 for each, P<0.01 for salt content).  Salt molecules present within a cheese are believed to interact with the cheese protein network – with more salt keeping these networks stable when they would normally fall apart due to applied heat.  Therefore, I believe that the interesting properties of halloumi are due to its relatively high salt content from brining.

Left: 1/4-1/2" slice of halloumi on medium heat in waffle maker.  A crispier exterior is attainable by brushing with oil and/or using higher heat.  Center: After 2 minutes or less, the halloumi cheese gains a crisp exterior.  Right: The interior of the halloumi cheese waffle is airy, soft and light due to small air pockets in the cheese.

By brushing, dipping, or coating with oil, a much crispier exterior than what I have pictured here is possible.  Frying in a waffle maker requires as little as 2 minutes (depending on your settings), without the need to turn halloumi cubes 5 times (for all sides of a cube), and yields a crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside cheese waffle.  I didn’t think of this till later, but it would also go well with a nice poached pear.