A timeless question that simultaneously provokes and bores the masses.
The question is futile as there is no definitive answer.
A better question is...
Which came first, the egg or the shell?
Here, the answer is clear-cut. The egg comes first, then grows the shell around itself.
The opposite is true with this chicken skin and egg yolk ravioli. The powdered chicken skin croquant is formed into two discs, baked and then sandwiched with the raw egg yolk. A brief reheating in the oven softens the top disc, allowing it to form around the yolk.
In this case, the chicken, and the shell, came before the egg.
A neat stack of fallen leaves can rekindle a technique.
A written word can invoke comfort and pleasure.
:: Biscuit ::
Thanks John Paul and Nathan. This one is for you.
Flaky Chicken Biscuits
makes 12 2" biscuits
Save the rendered chicken fat when roasting the skin for the croquant to flavor the butter. This is a wet dough that results in a tender biscuit. Use only enough dusting flour to prevent the dough from sticking. It's supposed to be messy--have fun with it.
Melt the butter with the chicken fat and pour into a small plastic container. Freeze until solid.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Toss together with a fork to combine. Pop the butter/chicken fat out of the container and cut into 1/2" cubes. Add to the dry ingredients and toss to coat. With your fingers or a pastry blender, cut or rub the butter cubes to half of their size, constantly tossing and blending into the dry ingredients. Pour in the buttermilk and combine just until a rough dough has formed. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rectangle. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll out into a 1/2" thick rectangle. Fold top third of dough over, followed by the bottom third. Turn the dough 45 degrees clockwise. Repeat rolling and folding. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Unwrap and repeat the rolling and folding 2 more times for a total of 4 turns. Re-wrap the dough and let chill for 20 minutes more.
Preheat the oven to 400F (205C). Unwrap the dough and roll out into an 8"x6" rectangle, about 3/4" thick. Cut into 12 2" square biscuits. Spread the chicken skin croquant out on a shallow dish. Place each biscuit, bottom-side-down, onto the croquant and press firmly on the top to adhere. Place each biscuit, croquant-side-up, on a baking sheet that has been lined with silpat or parchment, about 1" apart. Chill for 20 minutes.
In the past, I've wrapped and glued raw chicken skin to another protein. The problem with that method is controlling the cooking time and temperature required to produce a crisp skin and a properly cooked filling. Sometimes these are incompatible.
Then there is the issue of wrapping, which leaves areas of overlapping skin that result in pockets of flabby fat.
The control, I decided, would be to pre-cook the skin. But then how to apply it? Grinding was a logical step, but I wasn't looking for a crumb coating. I was seeking a crispy crust--one that did not require deep frying or prolonged heating.
I needed something that would cook quickly, fuse the ground skin, and contribute to the texture and flavor. Sugar fit the bill and I liked the ideal of a bruleed coating, but the amount needed would render it too sweet. Mildly sweet isomalt, which behaves like sugar and quickly melts to the hard-crack stage turned out to be the solution. The addition of Tapioca Maltodextrin further improved the texture and helped with the bonding.
The last silver queen corn of the season, when put through a juicer and heated, contains natural starch that quickly transforms into a velvety sauce. All that is needed is a burst of lime juice and pinch of salt to balance the sweetness.
Coconut and corn is a marriage made in heaven.
Cocoa nibs add complexity and a hint of bitterness.
Salting the chicken skin draws out the moisture that inhibits crispness. Isomalt is a sugar alcohol made from beets and is less sweet than granulated sugar. Tapioca Maltodextrin acts as a starch, binding the sugar with the fat and improves the texture of the croquant.
Spread a layer of salt in a shallow non-reactive dish. Lay the chicken skin over the salt in a single layer and cover with another layer of salt. Set aside in the refrigerator for 8 hours. Rinse the salt from the skin and dry well with paper towels. Lay skin out on a metal sheet pan and bake in a 350F oven until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels, pressing to remove excess fat and allow to cool. When cooled, grind in a spice grinder.
Weigh the ground chicken skin and weigh out an equal amount of Isomalt. Place the Isomalt in a saucepan and melt over medium high heat until fluid. Pour out onto a silpat and allow to harden. Break Isomalt into small pieces and grind in a spice grinder.
Combine the ground chicken skin with the Isomalt and weigh it. Add 30% by weight of Tapioca Maltodextrin. Combine well. Sprinkle a thin layer on a silpat for a freeform shape that can be broken into shards. For more defined shapes, sprinkle evenly over a stencil. Bake at 300F just until melted and fused. Allow to cool, then peel from silpat.
Ever since Michael Pollen's book The Omnivore's Dilemma and the indie film King Corn have exposed the prevalence of the corn products in our diets, the once-humble grain has been viewed through a lens of suspicion. While there is no denying that this versatile and ancient vegetable/grain has been grossly exploited by industrial agriculture and food producers, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. One of the great pleasures of summer is biting into a freshly-picked ear of sweet corn, and indulging in a creamy corn pudding.
A few summers ago, I made corn pudding for a client... Lois (not her real name) owns several homes across the country, including her sprawling estate in the gentrified countryside of Connecticut, where she would take up residence for the warm months. Her reputation proceeded her, not from the success she has attained as a top player in her industry, but from her notoriety as a difficult and exacting client who allows no margin for error. I knew a number of chefs who never made it past the initial gig; some were dismissed, the rest just refused to return. They warned me that I was on her ever-shrinking list of chefs to audition. In my profession, dealing with difficult clients is part and parcel of the job and I was up for the challenge. Lois did, indeed, contact me, through her personal assistant, with dates and times for the formal dinner parties that she intended to hold through the remainder of the season. Included, was a list of food preferences as well as those that should be avoided. The latter was blessedly short and reflected no strict dietary restrictions or adherence to quirky fad diets. The list of preferences included organic produce and proteins from local farms, as well as specialty items that could be brought up from weekly trips to NYC. Based solely on what she ate, I already liked Lois. By request, the first menu was to be comprised of refined, but simple country fare in three courses: a salad, a main course, and a dessert. The salad was a breeze-- arugula selvatica from my garden, heirloom tomatoes from Waldingfield Farm, fresh chevre from Beltane Farm, and croutons made from Bantam Bread Company's kalamata and rosemary loaf. For the main course, I had decided on organic chicken breasts stuffed with truffled sweetbreads, to be served with roasted corn and wild mushrooms, all locally sourced. Dessert was peach shortcake, inspired by March Farm's fragrant peaches, and the cinnamon basil in my garden, which I used to infuse the whipped cream. I shopped, prepped and arrived at the estate, ready for my benchmark test. I was met at the door by the housekeeper, Nora, an Eastern-European immigrant with a thick accent and stern countenance, which I instantly resolved to soften. Nora showed me around the kitchen and though she offered her assistance, she kept her distance, watching my every move. I invited her to help me shuck corn, hoping that sharing a task would break the ice and provide a gateway for conversation. As we worked, Nora asked me what the "hairs" on the corn were called. I told her that they were called corn silk, though the dried-up darker parts did resemble short, curly hair, to which she made an off-color reference and laughed. I laughed with her, delighted to have found her soft, raunchy spot. Lois walked into this scene, brusquely introduced herself, and told Nora that she was needed in another part of the house. Left alone in the kitchen, I finished shucking the corn. As I picked up tufts of silk off of the counter top to throw in the bin, my "waste" radar went off and I took a second look at the soft, pale strands. Tasting the silk, I was surprised to find that it was pleasingly crunchy with a mild, bright corn flavor, and amazed that I had never seen it utilized before. I separated the young, tender strands and set them aside to use as a bed for the chicken. When Nora returned, I was cutting the kernels of corn from the cobs and I inquired about Lois's food preferences. She revealed that Lois had a weakness for cheese and dairy products, particularly cream cheese, which she honored with the status of being "the only food that I cannot live without". I made a mental note and wondered where I could incorporate it into the menu. Looking at the corn, I linked the two together into a corn pudding, knowing that the cream cheese could successfully replace most of the heavy cream in the recipe that I had committed to memory. Changing the menu at this point was risky, but I understood then that the true test was not in securing a job, but in feeling secure in my abilities as a chef. The risk paid off...the puddings turned out flawless...the sweetness of the corn balanced by the tang of the cream cheese. Confirmation came in the form of empty plates returning to the kitchen, save for a few strands of corn silk. The server reported that the corn silk had stopped the conversation at the dinner table when someone asked if it was safe to eat. Lois, in true hostess form, had taken the first bite and pronounced it delicious. At the end of the evening, after the guests were gone, the kitchen restored, and my car packed, Nora notified me that Lois had requested my presence in her boudoir. Upon entering the room, Lois looked up at me from her notes and very slowly and deliberately removed her glasses, folded them, and set them down. I braced myself. In an even voice, void of expression, she said, "Don't think that I didn't notice the corn pudding." I held my breath. "I am absolutely married to it and want you to prepare it in the exact same way for the remainder of the season." I nodded. "And the corn silk?" she asked with an arched eyebrow. I opened my mouth to explain. She stopped me and in the same tone, replied "...brilliant" I nodded again and exhaled. She leaned back in her chair, softened her expression into what I interpreted as a smile, and continued, "I see that you have hit it off with Nora. She has been with me for over 20 years and I consider her my family. She can be very possessive of her kitchen and does not take kindly to intruders. But she reports that you are very competent and a hard worker. We both appreciate that." She put her money where her mouth was by handing me a check for over double of the amount on my invoice, a practice which was gratefully repeated for the remainder of the summer. The following spring, I received an email from Lois informing me that she would be summering in Europe that year and possibly for subsequent years, but would contact me if her plans changed. She also expressed a deep regret over her separation from my corn pudding. I replied, thanking her for her generosity, and sent the recipe. I like to think that Nora is now making it for her.
I've revisited the main course from that first dinner and applied some new ingredients and techniques. In the original version, the chicken was stuffed by cutting a pocket in the breast and fastening it with a skewer. Using Activa allows me to cut out the chicken altogether and use the skin to wrap the sweetbread in a tidy shape. Methocel allows me to omit the eggs in the corn pudding, leaving it extraordinarily smooth and creamy. I can't help but wonder what Lois would think of this new version.
corn pudding 400 g. corn juice, extracted with a juicer 160 g. cream cheese 20 g. cheddar powder 8.5 g. Methocel SGA150 (1.5%) salt, to taste
Place 1/2 of the corn juice and the cream cheese in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until cream cheese is melted. Remove from heat and add the remaining juice, the cheddar powder and Methocel. Blend well with an immersion blender, cover and chill for at least 4 hours to hydrate. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. and stir in the salt. Fill molds and bake for 10-20 minutes, depending on the capacity of molds. Unmold and serve immediately or hold in a 200 degree oven for up to 20 minutes.
I am a carnivore. I make no apologies, I eat meat proudly.
There was a period of time that I could not eat meat. A few months into my first pregnancy, the act of walking into a grocery store turned me into a hound, complete with a vast network of keen olfactory nerves, all of them finely tuned to one scent; that of blood. Where a hound would have salivated, it turned me wretched from nausea. It was months before I could walk into a store unscathed.
When my appetite for meat returned, it was with a vengeance. I craved bloody rare steak with such ardor that it sent me on a quest for the perfect cut of beef to grill or sear. My search ended when I discovered flat iron steak; a remarkable cut of meat whose tenderness is rivaled only by tenderloin, yet possesses the full-on beefy flavor of sirloin. I ate so much steak at that time that I was sure that my next craving would have been for grass.
Instead, I began reveling in the pleasures of a perfectly roasted chicken: crispy skin, juicy meat, and the liquid gold in the form of chicken caramel that sticks to the bottom of the pan.
There were times when the cravings for chicken and steak were simultaneous and urgent. In those instances, I could only wish that they could be fused together.
Sometimes, wishes do come true.
chicken breast and flat iron steak beech mushrooms ciopollini onion potato and toasted almond sand miso chicken caramel spring onion sprouts
Cravings aside, chicken and beef that is Maillard cooked form a synergism where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They share many flavor compounds and are both full of umami. When combined, individual umami compounds have a magnifying effect on each other and can increase flavor eightfold. Add to that equation potatoes, onions, and mushrooms, all rich in umami, and you can see why these are classic pairings that have stood the test of time.
McDonalds certainly understands the synergism of potatoes and beef. They have built an empire on their french fries which until 1990 were fried in a mixture of about 7% cottonseed oil and 93% beef tallow. They eventually switched to pure vegetable oil after insurmountable criticism about the amount of cholesterol in their fries. But they weren't about to give up their money maker--now, they add "natural beef flavor" to their oil.
For this dish, fried potatoes are a given, but I've presented them in the form of a sand. Micro cubes of potatoes are double fried--the first time at a 275 degrees F. to cook them through and form a skin, then they are cooled and re-fried at 375 degrees F. until golden and crisp. The addition of crushed, toasted almonds accentuates the texture and flavor.