July 26, 2012

food porn, marinara edition

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:58 pm


Posting a recipe for marinara is admittedly silly, since few things are probably as well-documented, and marinara is not exactly brain surgery. But, for the sake of documenting what I did, here it is. What good is the Internet if we can't endlessly analyze and document the most trivial of processes? Also, pictures.

  1. Ingredient 1: a bunch of heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market, peeled and (mostly) seeded.
  2. I used the method for peeling and seeding where you score the tomatoes, blanche for 15-20 seconds and then chill in ice water bath. Peel them, and then put the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl (to save the precious, precious juice) and use your fingers to pierce/seed the tomatoes. Strain the seeds, saving as much of the juice and meat as you can, toss the seeds, combine with the tomatoes. Don't sweat getting every little seed, but try to get the bulk of them, as they can add bitterness and they get stuck in your teeth.
  3. Ingredients 2 and 3: garlic and onions.
  4. Ingredient 3: basil.
  5. Sauté garlic and onions in olive oil and high heat until soft/translucent.
  6. Cool/deglaze with white wine and/or water. I used some leftover sauvignon blanc, but typically I'd pick something less sweet. Add tomatoes/juice. Add water to cover as necessary.
  7. Season with basil and oregano (I had no fresh oregano, so I used dried.). Oooooor, do this at the end, closer to serving time. See notes below.
  8. Bring it all back to near a slow boil (I never let it get too hot because I was paranoid about burning the basil/bitterness). Simmer on low. I let this simmer for around 20 hours, covered, and then removed the cover to start boiling off water content.
  9. The result after around 24 hours.


  • The heirloom tomatoes I got had the "green shoulders" or whatever the term is -- a much more fibrous/green stem area at the top. Rather than meticulously trimming it away, I just dumped the tomatoes in whole and worried about the stems after it cooked down a bit (fished out each top, trimmed away most of the meat, and tossed the stem). Tedious, but not a big deal. Worth it for the flavor of these tomatoes, in my opinion.
  • Only after I got everything stewing did it occur to me that I've heard that basil can get bitter if you cook it too long. I rolled with it anyway. After around 24 hours of total cooking, I didn't notice any bitterness imparted. Possible theories: I don't notice or don't mind whatever bitterness it imparted? Maybe basil only gets bitter when cooked too hot, and not necessarily long? Maybe the whole thing is bunk. I don't know. But it seemed fine. Add the basil at the end if you're worried about this.
  • It was pretty damn good. Anyone have any suggestions for improvement?

June 11, 2012

hot chicken that i made and then ate

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:32 pm


A few corrections since I wrote this:

  • First, nashville style hot chicken is a uniquely southern food, so in my attempt to make the actual fried chicken base, I looked up a recipe for "Traditional southern fried chicken" -- i.e. buttermilk brined, heavily dredged in flour, buttermilk, and flour again. The result is a very thick, very bready fried chicken which is fine on its own, but absolutely wrong for nashville-style hot chicken. Opinions vary, but in my opinion the archetypical nashville-style chicken has to have a thin, flaky breaded crust (more on that later).
  • Second, no sugar. That was a huge mistake -- I'm more open to creative additions of sugar or honey these days, but it's way too easy to overdo it (as I did). Sweetness will detract from the spice and heat.

So, I decided to try my hand at making hot chicken. I loosely based it around this recipe. Before I get into the specifics, though, I want to pat myself on the back a little. Not for successfully making hot chicken, no, but rather for the fact that when I first tried it 5 years ago, I said to myself: there's nothing mysterious about this chicken. Magical and wonderful, yes, but not mysterious. It's obviously a shit-ton of cayenne pepper slathered over fried chicken. So while it may be heretical to downplay the mystery around Nashville's primary culinary claim to fame, I have to say: it ain't complicated. I honestly had a much harder time getting the fried chicken right.

That said, a few details, photos and questions:

  • The assembled ingredients.
  • I marinated the chicken in buttermilk and a random assemblage of salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. I added a little bit of ghost pepper sauce for the hell of it, but it was barely perceptible. The buttermilk marinade had been recommended to me often as a rather traditional way of doing things, but I'm not convinced of its merit. I'm no stranger to the science of how brining and marinating works, and I'm not clear on how buttermilk could have really penetrated the meat that much. It did provide a slightly goopier base for dredging in the flower and aiding a crispy crust, but that's about it. I think next time I'm just gonna brine it like normal.
  • Safety first. I don't fry stuff a lot. You never know. Sometimes I set stuff on fire.
  • An optional but highly recommended accompaniment. Chef's little helper.
  • The resulting paste. Shortly after this photo I realized I needed to make more, and I did, and had a Sugar Accident. I accidentally dumped way too much sugar into it. In the spirit of my "eh, fuckit" attitude to cooking, I just rolled with it. This was a mistake. The sugar was a bit overwhelming and turned the gritty/smokey pepper flavor into a sortof sickly sweet crust in the end. The chicken was still good, but the sugar bumped it out of contention for "Great". Ah well. Similarly, I had a lot of trouble getting it hot enough. I added a bunch of chile to round out the flavor a bit, but I felt like I couldn't add enough cayenne to get the kick I wanted. Maybe the cheap Kroger cayenne I bought was old. Maybe I need to experiment with blending in some hotter peppers?
  • This was probably unnecessary and pointless, but I added some cayenne to the flour before dredging. I figured it couldn't hurt, but maybe the pepper could burn and add a bitter flavor. I didn't notice. I probably won't do it again though.
  • Dredged and ready to fry. Of course, I made a huge mess.
  • I had the slightest bit of trouble actually frying the chicken. I was having trouble getting even the individually cut 8ths (legs and thighs) to cook thoroughly without the crust starting to burn. I had the oil temperature pegged at right around 330F. Do I need to go lower to give the meat more time to cook before the crust burns?
  • And, as usual, I'm incapable of making reasonable portions of anything and wound up with Way Too Much Chicken. Normally this would be a good problem to have, but I have to admit, it's not great. The excess sugar in the crust is a bit much for me. But I'll suffer through it. Somehow.

So there you have it. I feel pretty confident that I can nail it the next time around. As I said above, this dish is not a complicated one, so I think I need to resist my urge to experiment and fuck around. The secret is in the simplicity: a shit-ton of pepper and fried chicken. What more do you need?

March 5, 2008

on matters of steak

Filed under:, , , , , , — cwage @ 12:43 pm

So, I've been eating a lot of steak lately. One of the benefits of my bachelordom is that I can have bourbon and steak for dinner and not get yelled at. So, people love to grill steak, and for good reason. It's tasty. Charcoal flavor is nice. But being the fancy-lad downtown-living metrosexual that I am, I don't exactly have the requisite equipment to grill a steak -- namely, a patio. Or a grill. So, I pan-fry. The very idea used to disgust me, but I've come 'round to the pan-fried steak. And I've mastered the art of it, if I do say so myself. The picture at right demonstrates my early on in my attempts to pan-fry. I just slapped it in the pan and hoped for the best. The fresh, pretty red color on black makes for a nice picture, but not a very good meal. More on that below.

This is not a complicated process, but it works for me, and it's fairly tailored to my preferences. I like steak very rare, but I've never been a big fan of cold meat. I like my steak as rare as possible while still warm in the middle, basically. (This depends on the quality of the meat, though -- I'm not as picky about this with filet mignon, for example.) So, to accomplish this, I do a few things. First, regarding meat selection. My preference is for a thick cut, an inch to an inch and a half. I usually target 16oz. steaks, as this is more than enough for me when I'm starving, and a decent size for two people. Preferrably strip or ribeye. This process works for either. Typically, I let the meat come down to room temperature on the counter, while I busy myself with other important things, such as tweezing my eyebrows.

Once the meat reaches room temp (or when I get too hungry to wait any longer), I cut the meat in half, salt/pepper it liberally and put it in a nonstick baking pan with sides. Preheat the oven to around 175-200 degrees and stick it in. I have no specific time that I keep the meat in the oven, and it largely depends on the thickness and size of the steak. The idea is basically to bring the meat up to serving temperature throughout, and cook the outside a bit. I basically eye-ball it and rely on smell -- with a ribeye, my kitchen will start to smell like prime rib when it's more or less there. This takes some experience to get right. Too long and you run the risk of overcooking it, or at least drying it out. So, it may take some experimentation. It's probably the hardest part -- as much as eating steak every night while you learn can be described as "hard".

At this point, I get out my one, my only, my constant -- my true love. My skillet. It's time to sear the meat. Bring the skillet to a fairly high temperature as high as it will go. It will be scary. You'll be afraid that your smoke alarm will go off, or that you'll actually burn down your house. If you're not afraid of this, it's not hot enough. Dump butter in, and wait for the water content to boil off and the pan to start smoking. The only thing we're doing here is searing the meat. It's already cooked to our satisfaction. The goal here is two-fold: general browning, and the all-important Maillard Reaction. This is a complex reaction that involves chemicals and ... stuff -- specifically amino acids and sugar. The result is that elusive Umami -- aka "the taste that everyone forgets about". This reaction doesn't happen at all without sugar, though, so that's why the butter (lactose) is important. It also requires high temperature and low moisture levels, so make sure to pat the meat dry before searing. So anyways, sear the meat on all sides -- I like to use tongs to allow for better management of the meat, and so I can sear the meat on the sides, as well. Once seared to your satisfaction, remove it from the heat, set aside and let it cool. Meat will continue to cook after heat is removed, of course, so make sure you let it stand for a while and also take this into account while you're searing. While it's cooling, you can prepare your other sides, or whatever. I've read some articles in Cook's Illustrated that recommend finishing it in the oven, but I haven't found that to be necessary.

It's tough to get good results by just slapping cold meat in a pan (as I had previously) -- if the skillet is too hot, you get seared meat but ice-cold inside. Conversely, if it's too cold, it takes approximately forever to cook, and the meat gets dried out (and probably burned rather than browned, on the outside.). It's a lose-lose situation. The result with this technique (when done right) is a nicely seared outside, with that savory bit of buttery brown crust we all love so much, and nicely warmed, moist, rare meat on the inside.


November 29, 2006

how to cheat at cooking

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 10:45 pm

Helpful howto: ever cooked something and it's just kinda so-so? Not bad, but not great? Three simple rules. One or more of these is bound to help:

  • Put sugar in it
  • Put porkfat in it
  • Put MSG in it

Thank me later.