One of the most gratifying aspects of blogging is the private interaction with readers through emails. I love reading your thoughtful questions, comments, and ideas. It's these interactions that often become fuel for the fire.
Two years ago, I worked with a young cook who had mentioned a book that had helped him to advance his knife skills: Knife Skills Illustrated by Peter Hertzmann. Imagine my surprize when a few days later I found mail from Peter in my inbox!
Peter Hertzmann* and I have exchanged dozens of emails since then and I've always found his insights stimulating. Last month he began sharing a misozuke project (complete with photos) that was particularly inspiring and I asked if I could share its evolution here on the blog.
This is how it began:
You've created a miso-zuke monster—me.
I've now done oysters, scallops, endive, radishes, and cucumbers. I originally was interested because of your article where you pickled some egg yolks. I wanted to do quail, rather than chicken eggs. I was never able to get the eggs cooked just right, so I sort of gave up. Then a couple of weeks ago, I started playing with peeling eggs with acetic acid. In the case of quail eggs, an overnight soak in white vinegar leaves a shell-less egg with both of the membranes intact. The egg feels a bit like a full water balloon. I threw a few of these eggs in shiro miso and nothing happened, or so it seemed. After two weeks, they appeared for all intents and purposes the same as when they have been first immersed in the miso. So I'd thought I break one and look inside. The membrane was a bit tough, but I was able to pick a small tear in one end with some forceps. The white came gushing out—not quite as fluid as water, but not really a jelly. Inside was a firm, pickled yolk that I could carefully pull and then wash all the white away from. The taste was definitely that of a yolk, but the presence of miso was also pronounced. With a light sprinkle of ichimi, the task was marvelous.
A new dozen is now pickling to see if this was a fluke, or not. Thanks again for turning me on to this technique.
Several things interested me about Peters process:
1. dissolving the shell with vinegar allowed him to pickle the whole raw egg much more efficiently than waiting for the miso to penetrate the shell. This step alone opened up many ideas.
2. the texture of the cured yolk.
3. the miso-flavored egg whites.
A few weeks later, I received the following email:
Here's an update on the quail eggs. Like before, I removed the shells by soaking them in white vinegar (6% acetic acid) overnight. The following day I rubbed off any remaining shell with my fingers. The eggs, minus their shells, were immersed in shiro miso for two weeks. After rinsing they looked like…
Other than appearing a bit browner than originally, their appearance and firmness was unchanged. I used a pair of small 45° forceps to tear a small hole in the tapered end of each egg and drained them into a bowl. The "white" was as viscous as water and brown in color…
I decided to cook the whites. I placed them in a small glass bowl and covered it with plastic film. This was placed in simmering water until the whites no longer jiggled. After cooling, the texture of the cooked whites was similar to a grainy custard. They tasted very much like the miso they had soaked in. I had hoped that they would cook hard so that I could sieve them for the final dish, but that was not to be.
About 4 hours later I plated the eggs…
As you can see the yolk weeps. (The flower is a rosemary blossom.)
I'm intrigued by your suggestion to make a meringue with the whites. These eggs didn't produce much white to work with so I'm going to try the same process with a chicken egg so I can get more white.
Then a few weeks later I received the following update:
Here's the followup on the previous email. I used vinegar to once again remove the shell from an egg; this time a chicken egg. I started with two but one broke with moderate handling during the shell-removable phase. The remaining egg was covered with shiro miso for 21 days. At the end it looked like below.
I should have measured the size after the shell was removed because I think it was then it grew. I should have weighed it also. Oh, well. It's obviously larger, but I can't say why.
I opened the egg onto a plate.
Normal eggs have four layers of albumin, two thick and two thin. It now appeared to have three distinct types of albumen.
The yolk was similar to an egg cooked at 64°C (and I did roll, freeze, and cut this into ribbons). In the picture I had already crushed it a bit with my fingers.
And they seemed fairly stable, at least for an hour before they were all destroyed.
I tried doing two things with them. The first was to make sort of a floating island in dashi. As soon as the egg white hit the hot soup, it started to collapse.
The final texture was similar to a kitchen sponge, but the flavor in the dashi was quite nice. It would be interesting to see if a little xanthum gum or versawhip would help stabilize them in the heat. I also tried some meringues, but they were a complete disaster. Besides collapsing most of the way, they turned brown like a cookie and tasted very salty. Maybe if they were stabilized they would have fared better. IN their plain form they weren't stable enough to pipe, but if they were, it would be interesting to make soup croutons out of them.
In a followup email, I asked Peter some questions about his experiment:
L: I'd be interested to know why the egg grew, or swelled.
P: I would too. I wonder if the hydrostatic pressure of a normal egg is slightly positive so that it expands once the restraint of the shell is removed. I guess it would be possible to conduct a small experiment, but I'm not ready to sacrifice a dozen eggs at the moment.
L:You said you made meringues, but they weren't stable... I'm assuming that you didn't use sugar because of the savory application. I like the idea of a salty/sweet meringue. Or perhaps a macaron?
P: Yep. No sugar, or anything else for that matter. Give the salt and sweet meringue a try and let me know how it is. I was thinking just savory, since the miso flavor is pretty pronounced.
A short while later, I received another email from Peter expressing a desire to use methylcellulose to stabilize the 'floating island' and he asked about ratios. I made some suggestions, and he responded:
I started with your suggestions and, as is normal for me, went my own way a bit. I also downloaded the Methocel tech sheet. It sounded like hot hydration would work better for me since I'm working in very small quantities.
I hydrated 1g of Methocel F50 in 20ml of simmering water, water that was boiled in microwave and then measured with a syringe. I stuck this in the frig for a few minutes. It was about 18°C when I pulled it out. I separated 1 extra-large egg white, about 30g. When i whisked the egg white and Methocel/water together is seemed to foam fairly rapidly so I decided to try whipping it in the KitchenAid. This took about 15 to 20 minutes to form soft peaks. I spooned this into hot hon-dashi to cook. I tried Chang's method of a 30-second steam followed by basting. I also tried a 60-second steam with less basting. The later was easier to do since I wanted to cook four at a time. In either case the linear shrinkage was about 50%, but still acceptable. I added ao-nori to the mixture part way through to give it a bit of color. I shot the picture quickly with my iPhone so the color is a bit off.
The final mouth feel of the island was similar to a spongy hard-cooked egg white. Not the same as a floating island made with sugar, but very interesting. I feel good about the results, at least enough to drop a couple more eggs into a vinegar bath and start the pickling again. I'd like to eventually serve the egg white in a double-strength chicken consomme and load the egg white with a fresh herb, maybe oregano. Everything should be ready by May 6th. I already have some guests scheduled for dinner that night. Little do they know…
As always, thanks for your help.
*Peter's bio: Cooking for Peter is a serial obsession. After spending 25 years studying Chinese cooking, history, and culture, in the mid 1990s, Peter started applying the same energy to French cookery. Over a period of 15 years he taught himself to read French, studied the history of dishes back to the 14th century, and worked in eight different restaurant kitchens in France to hone his skills. In 1999, he started an e-zine about French gastronomy and in 2011 added a weekly blog of amuse-bouche and mignardise to the site. In 2007, Peter wrote the book Knife Skills Illustrated: A Users Manual, now used for teaching in a number of cooking schools and restaurants. He has taught knife-skills classes around the country and in Canada. He has made many television appearances, including The Martha Stewart Show. He recently demonstrated knife skills for four hours at the Exploratorium for their After Dark: Gastronomy event. Nowadays, besides teaching recreational classes, he teaches knifes skills and general cooking twice a week at the San Mateo County Jail and twice a month at JobTrain, a vocational training center specializing in providing job skills for the underprivileged. As a charter member of The Butchers Guild, Peter is currently editing the official Guild Butchery Glossary. In July, he once again will be presenting a paper at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking. The subject for this year’s Symposium is Wrapped and Stuffed Foods, and Peter will be addressing how Modernist cuisine relates to the issue.