Hybridizing

People who know me have heard (or read) me rail against traditionalism, authenticism, and purism. The idea that someone’s Marinara isn’t “real” or “authentic” unless it contains a certain thing or is prepared a certain way. People would have us think that all Italian grandmothers are robots, linked to some data server that prevents them from altering the formula and/or method. Do we believe that there was a defining moment in the distant pass when recipes were chiseled into stone tablets using lightning bolts hurled by ancient gods? That moment does not exist.

Crossing your fingers does nothing

Everything is real, everything is authentic. As it pertains to food, there is only safe or unsafe–that is all that really matters. Everything else is preference. There is one caveat. If you open a restaurant and put Chicken alla Parmigiana (another American creation falsely attributed to the old country), it needs to be FAMILIAR to your guests. Otherwise they will refuse to pay for it. You can call what you have whatever you want, but if your chicken parm doesn’t have tomato sauce and melted cheese, people will throw it right back at you. That doesn’t mean it’s not real. That just means they don’t recognize it.

As a side note, Melanzane (eggplant) all Parmigiana occurs on ancient Italian menus, but eggplant never really caught on here in the states. Veal and then chicken were substituted stateside for the strange vegetable that reminds of us wet cardboard. So actually, Chicken alla Parmigiana isn’t really authentic, no matter HOW you make it. Thankfully, it is real–it exists.

What was once a discussion is now an argument

People are determined to assert and debate some really unimportant things about just about any subject. This is not news. As it pertains to food, people will argue about what the shape of gnocchi is supposed to be. Late into the night. Alliances are formed and destroyed as people spin down this rabbit hole. What does it matter?

What about the origin of Beef Wellington? A lot of people think it has something to do with the battle of Waterloo when Lord Wellesley finally defeated Napoleon. You see, Wellesley was the Duke of Wellington, so the legend goes that the dish was created by the French in Wellesley’s honor.

Except for a bunch of things

Cookbooks and menus have been appearing since the late 15th century. It’s really amazing to look at some of these documents. Surprisingly formal and sophisticated, although the language is usually archaic. The battle of Waterloo was in 1815. But Beef Wellington isn’t mentioned anywhere until the mid twentieth century.

As it turns out, some showoff chef in Wellington, New Zealand came up with the wildest and most impressive thing he could think of, incorporating the most expensive and complicated ingredients in order to impress his patron and some clients. It worked. And so, the pastry package stuffed with foie gras, prosciutto, duxelles, and truffles was born. Or hatched, maybe.

At least this explanation makes sense. But that’s not the point. The point is there is no point. What difference does the origin of Beef Wellington make? How important is it that any kind of consensus be reached? None whatsoever. Why must anything be named, rather than just described? It is only our romantic urge to lord over others with our anecdotal knowledge of trivia that makes us debate this. It’s a sort of Jeopardy syndrome–I know more useless information than you do, so I get to come back tomorrow.

Okay, enough of that

I admin this sous vide group on FB, here’s the LINK.

The dedicated topics of this group are very limited–members are supposed to share pics and explanations of their sous vide efforts. Pretty simple, pretty basic. If I don’t ride fence on a regular basis, the topics of discussion go off in every direction, with the inevitable skirmish, replete with finger pointing and internet insult.

A few weeks ago, I had this idea to apply the Buffalo Wings method to some baby back pork ribs that I had processed sous vide, 135FX18. I had shocked them in ice water down to 70F, and refrigerated at 40F. They were therefore pasteurized and preserved, like a carton of milk. In that state they will keep almost indefinitely. I made a bunch, and I was working my way through them.

Buffalo do not have wings

Okay, there isn’t much argument there. Most of us know that the familiar, thirst generating bar item originated, more or less, in the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. It is composed of deep fried wings, originally naked but liberties have been taken with that. Celery sticks and carrot sticks, this is not high falootin’ food. Ranch dressing or blue cheese.

The wings are tossed in Frank’s/Durkees vinegary pepper sauce with a little melted butter in it, there’s a zillion variations on that. Since the recipe isn’t ancient, you don’t really hear too much of that “These aren’t REAL Buffalo wings, because the REAL ones are made like this or that or whatever.” You do hear it once in a while, but people won’t bicker over it like they will about Beef Stroganoff.

Let’s get to that

Okay, I had the ribs on hand. May as well make some kind of novel fries to go with it. You see, there is no such thing as a fry, either. Fry is a verb, but we all know I mean French Fries, er, um, well, you know, potatoes. I digress. I’ve been experimenting with slurries and batters. There is this product called wheat dextrin that is sort of like flour, but tends to stay crisp longer after deep frying.

It really does work. You can hunt it down on the Modernist Cuisine websites, or you can go to the store and buy it in the form of dietary fiber. That’s right, one of the more popular soluble fiber supplements is actually pure wheat dextrin. Corn starch helps batters to stay crisp, too, so this is the formula I used, by volume because I was lazy:

Crispy slurry

White flour, three heaping tablespoons.
Wheat dextrin, one heaping tablespoon.
Cornstarch, one heaping tablespoon.
Powdered egg white, one heaping tablespoon. Two teaspoons of powdered egg white equal one fresh eggwhite, either one works.
Parlsey, chopped, fresh or dried, 2 tablespoons (optional–it’s not part of the chemistry)
Salt, a pinch.

Water, beer, or club soda, just enough to make a thin slurry, like crepe batter–thick enough to stick, thin enough to wipe off if you’re not careful.

Wing sauce

Frank’s Red Hot, 1 cup.
Worcestershire, 1 oz.
Ketchup, 1 oz.
Melted butter, 2 oz.

(or your own version)

Gardinera vegetables

These are easy to make if you know how to make pickles, but it’s easier to just buy a version in the store. Peppers, cauliflower, carrots,  onions, whatever looks good and colorful.

Somewhat recipe-ish

Thin slice some Romaine lettuce and make a little bed on a plate. Cut some celery and carrot sticks–if we don’t, somebody might say it’s not real. We wouldn’t want that. Pile some of the gardiniera in the center as shown.

Put some Ranch in a cup. Put some ketchup in a cup. Get a basket, put a paper liner in it. Okay, that’s your mise en place.

Make sure you have a slotted spoon to fish potatoes out, and some paper towels to drain them on. Slice three red potatoes (russets work too) no thicker than 0.25″/7 mm. You need two small skillets of oil. I know, why? Bear with me. About 2 cups/0.5 l per pan. Each pan should be no more than half full, so you don’t burn yourself.

Heat the one on the right burner to 250 F/121  C. Heat the other one, on the left burner, to at least 350 F/176 C. Use an infrared thermometer to monitor the temps. Watch the hot one carefully, because if it hits 400 F/204 C, it’s just about ready to smoke.

Put a few slices of potato in the cool pan, the one on the right. Shake the pan lightly as they simmer and bubble. Do not stir. Do not flip. Shake. They float, so the shaking washes the oil over the tops. There’s a reason. Relax. Breathe. After a few minutes, you will actually see bubbles appear on the potatoes. Sometimes there’s a few small ones, sometimes you actually see one big bubble forming. When you do, use the slotted spoon to lift the potato out and drop it in the hot oil.

If it’s going to inflate, it will do so immediately. Flip it with the spoon, and take it out to drain. Not all the potatoes will work unless you are a whole lot better at it than I am. That’s okay, they will all work eventually. Set aside. You can refrigerate them if you want. Turn off the oil and consolidate it in a large pan, like a 12″ skillet with high sides, again, no more than half full.

No, I didn’t forget the wings

Take the baby backs out of the bags. I used six. Cut them apart into individual ribs, d’oh. Save the purge. Pour half the slurry over the ribs, just enough to coat. Okay, very important. Fish the ribs out and put them in a pan with flour in it. Make the surface dry. Stage on wax paper or something smooth. Set aside.

Finishing

Heat the oil in the skillet to 300 F/150 C. Drop the potatoes in the oil and turn up the heat so the temp doesn’t dip. Fry and flip until they are crisp, I mean really crisp. They won’t get too brown because of the dextrin and the cornstarch, but they will get crisp. For some reason, they inflate, too. No matter. If they don’t inflate, we didn’t promise anybody that they would, did we? Fish them out of the oil, drain on paper towels, and put them in the basket.

Check the temp of the oil, you still want 300 F/150 C. Carefully lay the ribs in the pan, one at a time. The oil should cover. Do the thing, flip them once they will get a little brown and seriously crisp. About five minutes. Remove to drain. Toss the ribs in some of the wing sauce–or don’t. You can serve the sauce on the side if you want. I hereby authorize it.

That took a lot of words, I think it took longer to write it than it took to do it. Everything can be refrigerated at pretty much any stage if you need to take a break or a sip or whatever.

Stay Thirsty

Norm King