I’ve been pretty into hard cider for a while, so for this latest installment of Super Food Nerds I wanted to meet some people who could shed some light on the fermentation process. Through the magic of the Internet I found Hayley Jensen, the beer sommelier at Manhattan’s Taproom 307 who, along with her husband, Stephen Durley, the taproom’s chef, is an avid, multiple-award-winning homebrewer and has been making cider at home for a few years.
Jensen suggested we meet at her home instead of the restaurant, which we understood upon arrival: Their small spare bedroom is tricked out with racks and racks of professional-grade brewing equipment and hundreds of gallons of various brews, including Candy Crush, a caramel-apple-inspired “city cider” made from store-bought apple cider.
The couple started making city cider after a trip to Jensen’s sister’s farmhouse, where they’d made cider entirely from scratch. Durley explains: “It was a big process. It took basically a full day to juice all the apples, wash them and take them to the press. Then you have to grind them, press them, get the juice and bring it home. We really liked it, but I was like, ‘Wait: Can’t we just buy some apple juice and have some fun?”
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: Make Hard Apple Cider from Scratch (Sort Of)
Ever since making chorizo for Super Food Nerds several months ago, we haven’t stopped wondering how sausages are made. So, over the summer, we began debating doing a deep dive into the making of either sausage or hot dogs. We decided to let a poll on Facebook determine our fates, and the people spoke loud and clear: They wanted sausage. So we reached out to the proprietor of butcher shop Hudson & Charles, Jason Fox, who had visited our offices a few years ago to teach us how to break down pigs. The newly opened shop, named for the corner it’s on in New York City’s West Village, is co-owned by Jason and partners Kevin Haverty and Adam Gale.
The day we came by, Ian Halbwachs, their in-house charcutier, was making a batch of one of their best-selling sausages: the sweet Italian. It’s a combo of classic Italian seasonings (Parmesan, garlic, parsley and white wine) and classic pork seasonings (juniper, caraway and bay leaves). His go-to cut is pork shoulder, but because Hudson & Charles is a whole-animal butcher shop, he often ends up using trim. His main goal is to make sausages that are about 30 percent fat: “People want to cook sausages all the way through, and at about 30-percent fat ratio is where it stops feeling like overcooked hamburger.”
The steps he demonstrated reflect the basic tenets of sausage-making: Keep everything super-cold (if it’s not cold, the fat smears and the sausage gets crumbly and fatty), dice the meat into chunks, pass it through the grinder, mix in the seasonings and knead it well in a stand mixer until the salt and proteins in the meat start to bind together. Ian describes the binding as the most important step: “This is what makes it a sausage; more than the casing, more than the seasoning. If it’s not bound, it’s not a sausage.” And he’s been doing it for long enough that he can just hear when the meat hits the appropriate consistency. If you (like us) don’t have the professional charcutier’s ear, you’ll know sausage meat is ready when you grab a handful of meat, turn your hand upside down, and the meat continues to stick to your hand. That would also be the perfect time to fry a little test patty and taste it to check the seasoning.
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: The Making of Sausages
I do not like maraschino cherries. Not in a cocktail or a mocktail, not on a sundae or a parfait. Not anywhere. And I comfort myself in the knowledge that I am not alone. Some of my favorite food and drink writers have described the maraschino cherry as “an embalmed corpse” (Toby Cecchini), a “skeleton” (Harold McGee) and “undead” (Dave Wondrich). These cherries haunt critical food lovers like a sheet-wearing treats-seeker on Halloween.
We are speaking, of course, of the chemically treated, candy-sweet modern maraschino cherry. As I detailed in an earlier post, today’s maraschino cherries arose from the grave of their pre-Prohibition-era precursor: a sour cherry (the marasca, a Croatian variety) preserved in sour cherry maraschino liqueur.
In developing the Super Food Nerds maraschino cherry recipe below, I set out to exhume the lost flavors of the original — a seemingly doable task. The cocktail authority Cecchini has claimed there was nothing more to the old maraschino cherries than throwing sour cherries in a jar, covering them with maraschino liqueur and going about your business for two weeks. If Cecchini was right, this seemed like a secret everyone should be in on.
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: How to Make Maraschino Cherries
Close your eyes and picture “cherry red.” What do you see? I’d wager you’re picturing a color that has been witnessed in a fresh cherry precisely … never. What you are seeing is a maraschino cherry — maraschino red, that is.
Which is odd, because the maraschino we’ve come to know bears only the faintest relation to a real cherry. Today’s maraschino is a preserved fruit of a particularly brutalized sort, the result of chemical brines, artificial dyes and “natural” flavors that would shame even a cosmetic surgeon. The jarred stuff starts with sweet cherries (typically Royal Ann or Rainier); these are saturated with calcium salts, which firms the cherries’ texture while stripping color and flavor. The resulting specimens are then pitted and macerated in sugar syrup. After a month of maceration, the cherries are dipped in red dye, stem and all, and packed in almond-flavored syrup.
The resulting product is indisputably an eye-catching garnish; whether it is an edible foodstuff is debatable. With its impossibly cloying sweetness and synthetic taste, the maraschino is rich in meaning, poor in flavor. But it persists because flavor is beside the point. The maraschino exists as an ornament, a bauble, a visible sign that says, “Now we are treating ourselves.”
Flavor hasn’t always been an afterthought, though. For centuries, before they became a cliche, maraschino cherries were a rare and coveted luxury item. Their distinguished pedigree traces back to 16th-century Dalmatia (a region of modern-day Croatia), where Dominican monks first distilled the wild marasca cherry — a sour variety celebrated for its spicy cinnamon flavor — in a clear liqueur. With time and tinkering — like sweetening with cane sugar and distilling the cherry pits separately (which lent bitter, almond notes) — the monks arrived at the spirit that came to be known as maraschino, still produced in Italy today.
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds, Behind the Scenes: The Cherry on Top
In my corner of the food universe, everyone’s crushing on kimchi these days. We — friends, co-workers, me — make it, share it, gift it, and put it in and on everything. When we see kimchi on a menu, we know instantly what we’ll be ordering. We are, it’s fair to say, obsessed; and in this we are far from alone. But while kimchi soaks up all the plaudits, nobody, it seems, swoons over its European cousin in cabbage-y fermentation, sauerkraut. Who will sing of sauerkraut?
I, for one. Here, let me begin. Sauerkraut — nothing more than shredded cabbage, salt and time — is vegetable fermentation in its purest form. It is to cabbage as wine is to grapes: a complex, lively, astonishingly delicious ennoblement. (Kimchi, which involves more flavoring and manipulation, is a nearer analogue to beer.) The comparison to wine may seem a bridge too far for sauerkraut if all you know is the dull jarred stuff that upholsters billions of hot dogs. But as anyone who has ever made it at home understands, good sauerkraut, with its irresistible mix of salty and savory, crunchy and tangy, is a sophisticated thing of beauty.
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: Make Your Own Sauerkraut
About 10 months ago, I moved to a taco-free neighborhood. Not only does this mean no already-made tacos, it means no tortillas, no chorizo, nothing. I’ve been feeling pretty deprived, so I decided to take matters into my own hands — today, chorizo; tomorrow, the world. There are two kinds of chorizo: the Spanish-style stuff, which is dried and smoked and can be eaten as is, and the Mexican kind, which is fresh and needs cooking. I decided to tackle the Mexican variety.
I started with pork shoulder, as it’s a flavorful cut of meat that benefits from the grinding process (which softens its too-chewy texture), and added fatback to make it even juicier. (If you can’t find fatback, belly works too, or even bacon, though it’ll add a smoky note.) For seasoning, I decided to go pretty classic with achiote paste, cumin, chiles, Mexican oregano and garlic, along with salt and sugar for balance.
One of the keys to making delicious, juicy sausage (of any kind) is to make sure everything remains super cold throughout. If the meat warms up too much, its fat will melt, leaving you with crumbly, dry meat. Freezing the meat before you grind it also makes the grinder’s job easier, so you’ll end up with evenly ground meat. So toss the meat in the spices and pop it in the freezer. (Use this time to think about how good the eventual tacos will be.)
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: Make Your Own Chorizo
In my lifetime, I’ve bought (and eaten) a pretty significant amount of creme fraiche, which is like a thicker, tangier sour cream that falls somewhere between condiment and fresh cheese. I’m not a terribly fancy hors d’oeuvres person, but every so often there’s a recipe that calls for it, or a dessert that might otherwise be too sweet. I’m a big fan of serving it alongside chocolate cake, which I think I stole from April Bloomfield at The Spotted Pig long enough ago that it’s officially become my own personal thing.
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: Make Your Own Creme Fraiche
Once kimchi has gotten its hooks into you — stinky and fiery as it may be — life becomes unthinkable without the fermented Korean dish. It makes masochists of those who happily endure its scorch — even Super Food Nerds like myself. Kimchi packs the earthy-fruity wallop of a good hot sauce, the crunch and tang of a great pickle, and, rumbling beneath it all, a funky-savory-umami bass note uniquely its own. Any food that can do one of those things well deserves a place in your kitchen. A food that excels at all three is, quite simply, indispensable.
As I embarked on the quest to develop a worthy kimchi recipe, I enlisted the help of my colleague Esther Choi, a marvelous chef who, having grown up in a traditional Korean kitchen, has kimchi pretty much coursing through her veins.
What I learned from Esther could fill a book; I’ll stick to the highlights. According to Esther, kimchi is more method than dish. There are hundreds of harvest-preserving kimchis: summer kimchis, fall kimchis, kimchis meant for eating fresh and those meant to see you through a season. Once you get the hang of the method, nearly any vegetable can be kimcheed. I once tasted watermelon rind kimchi Esther made; it was spectacular.
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: Make Your Own Kimchi
Welcome to Super Food Nerds, a column written in alternating installments by Rupa (food and beverage editor, culinary staff) and Jonathan (research librarian, same place). Each will be dedicated to a particular topic — how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.
Our staff librarian and trend forecaster has been saying for ages that nut milks (almond, cashew and so on) are on the rise, almost poised to edge out soy milk in the not-milk-but-called-milk category. We thought we’d see what all the fuss was about — and if we could make almond milk at home.
Continue Reading Super Food Nerds: Make Your Own Almond Milk
In our humble opinion, Thanksgiving is superior to any other day of the year. In an effort to make this year’s feast the best of all time (sorry, Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe), we’re bringing you the recipes, how-tos and decorating ideas to help you become a Turkey Day pro.
Are you feeling pumpkin-ed out? We are fully entrenched in pumpkin season, with the pumpkin-centric holiday of Thanksgiving just around the corner and toothy jack-o’-lanterns still grinning devilishly from neighborhood doorsteps and windows. But a few weeks ago, before we slid too far down the rabbit hole of pumpkin lattes, cheesecakes and gnocchi, and with Thanksgiving dessert preparations on the brain, the Cooking Channel editorial and culinary teams began debating one very serious and simple question: Which pumpkin, or other kind of squash, makes the best pumpkin pie?
To find this important answer, we decided to set up a near-scientific experiment. We roasted various squash varieties, pureed their innards and baked them into the same pie recipe, comparing resulting pies for color, texture and flavor. We incorporated canned pumpkin and sweet potatoes into the test as experimental controls, since we generally knew what flavor and texture to expect from both. We tasted all of the purees as well as the final pies, focusing on the filling (since the pre-approved crust was the same for each).
To orient you in this taste test, we’ll tell you how the varieties of pumpkins and winter squash are related (pumpkins are a kind of winter squash — we’ll refer to them interchangeably in this test). There are three major families within that group:
Continue Reading Perfect Pumpkin Pie: Which Squash Squashes the Competition?