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Like Ketchup for Chocolate

December 17th, 2009 · Chocolate

posted by Dave Arnold

Ketchup couverture

A couple of years ago I got interested in alternative chocolates. I wanted to create foods that were hard and shiny like chocolate, melted in your mouth like chocolate, were impeccably smooth like chocolate, but didn’t taste like chocolate. I wanted them to taste like other things – so we made mustard “chocolate” and ketchup “chocolate.”

 “Ketchup chocolate sounds disgusting,” is what most people say. Yes, it does. But I’m not talking about chocolate mixed with ketchup.  I’m talking about ketchup prepared in the style of chocolate –ketchup couverture. People are still suspicious.

Here’s how it works:

Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa solids and cocoa butter (with sugar, lecithin, flavors, milk powder, etc),  ground so finely that all the solid particles are too small for your tongue to detect. The surfaces of the particles are evenly coated and surrounded by cocoa butter — this arrangement gives chocolate its fluidity and texture. Water is the enemy of chocolate; all ingredients must be dry and relatively non-hygroscopic.

To make ketchup-chocolate we start with de-odorized cocoa butter, which provides the essential texture, fluid, and melting properties of chocolate but has very little taste. We add  freeze-dried tomato powder, spray-dried malt-vinegar powder, powdered salt, sugar, powdered spices, and lecithin.

No standard piece of kitchen equipment can produce chocolate – the ketchup kind or any kind. For home or restaurant production you need a wet grinder. They are designed to grind pulses and lentils, but can be re-tasked to make chocolate or nut pastes. Ours is made by Santha; you can learn about them at Chocolate Alchemy — if you are interested in making your own traditional chocolate, go there.

One of our two Santhas cranking out ketchup couverture

Essentially, the Santha is a gentle stone grinders. Melt the cocoa butter and add it to the Santha. Slowly add the solids and wait for them to be incorporated and broken down. If you add all the powder at once the machine will seize up. Be patient. If the machine starts to seize, use your hands to get it going again and wait a while before adding more powder.

After all your solids are added, let the machine run without the cover for an hour or so to get rid of any moisture in your product (the grinding action keeps everything warm to the touch, making sure the cocoa butter stays liquid and helping to flash-off moisture). After an hour, put the lid on the machine. If there are volatile compounds you want to get rid of, leave the lid off longer. If you want to preserve all the volatile compounds, leave the lid on. Let the machine run for 2 or 3 days. Every day your mix will get smoother. When you are finished, immediately temper the mix by bringing the temperature to 87 or 90 F and stirring in Mycryo powderd cocoa butter. If you don’t temper right away the couverture won’t set properly.

And then what ?

We’ve  dipped potato chips:

Tater chip dipped in hard ketchup

Dipping egg yolks (these were pretty darned good):

Ketchup egg yolk bon-bons

And our piece de resistance, cold fried chicken ketchup bon bons.

Chicken ketchup bon-bons.

The trick is dipping products that aren’t wet, and that are good cold.

The chicken bon-bon recipe:

Ketchup Couverture:

1 kg de-odorized cocoa butter
325 g powdered tomato (spray dried or freeze dryed)
60 grams malt vinegar powder
25 grams salt
Spices to taste (onion powder, garlic powder, etc)
60 grams mycryo (to temper)

Melt cocoa butter and put in Santha. Turn Santha on and slowly add powdered ingredients in small amounts. Adding the powder should take about 20 minutes. If you go too fast the Santha will stop spinning. If that happens, get the machine spinning by hand a wait a few minutes before adding more. Leave the lid off the Santha for 1 hour. Put the lid on the Santha and continue to run for 2-3 days. The product will get smoother every day. After it is done, bring the temperature of the couverture to 89 degrees F and stir in the Mycryo to temper.

Fried Chicken:

Skinless chicken breasts
Baking soda
Baking powder

Add salt to milk till it tastes like the ocean. Add sugar to the milk till you can taste sweetness (don’t make it too sweet). You should use approximately 3/4 cup of Diamond kosher salt and a half cup granulated sugar per quart of milk. Soak the chicken breasts in this mix for 3-4 hours. Cut up chicken into bon-bon shapes. Dry off chicken (its best to air dry in fridge for 2 hours).

Make the batter: For every cup of buttermilk add 1 egg, 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Add salt and pepper (and paprika and hot sauce if desired). Mix thoroughly.

Dip chicken in flour, then batter, then flour again. Fry at 350 F. Let cool then refrigerate.

Dip the cold chicken in tempered couverture and allow to set.

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Too Many Cookies

December 16th, 2009 · Insane

3,678 Chocolate Chip Cookes.

Sorry about our dearth of posts. We’ve been baking our holiday cookies – 3,678 of them.  We promise to post something good tomorrow.

Lots of love,

The Cooking Issues Team

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If We Make It Through December

December 12th, 2009 · skoal

posted by Nastassia Lopez with Dave Arnold

Legendary country music rock star, Merle Haggard

We have wrangled our first celebrity wish list skoaler! If you are not familiar with Merle Haggard stop what you are doing and get yourself to Google.  

Dave is a huge fan of this country music icon. Dave sings Merle tunes around the office, and he has his two young sons singing ‘em too. Picture a four year old drawling “toniiiight, the bottle let me dowwwn…”  

Merle had a cancerous piece of his lung removed last year, but he’s still touring and doing shows– a true badass.  We like badasses.  Haggard has written some of the all-time best songs on the subject of drinking.  We like drinking.  His other main themes– love, redemption, and the US of A –ain’t so bad either. Check out I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink and you’ll understand why Dave made it his mission to fly to the January 3 show in Modesto, California.   But would Merle skoal?I put to use one of my special skills: meeting rock stars. I can get backstage at any concert with any artist anywhere, and not the way you think.  Just talking.  Some Merle research indicated that he had stopped doing interviews of any sort — it took him five years to complete a recent Rolling Stone feature and he was pretty much all set. I was undeterred. I tracked down Mr. Haggard’s publicist and pointed her to the Cooking Issues Skoal Project. Too good to be true: her husband is Swedish. She immediately aligned herself with our cause.  But my luck did not end there: Merle’s daughter wants to go to culinary school. The publicist would present our case.  

The next day she called. Merle wants to skoal!   

Now the Cooking Issues team must Make it Through December before Dave hops a plane to Modesto (which, incidently, is the town 13-year-old Merle fled to after escaping juvenile detention in 1950 –badass). Dave needs a ride from the airport, so we’ve recruited Californiano and fellow badass Harold McGee to join the Haggard quest. For those of you who want to join us in the crowd, visit this site for tickets!

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Tech The Halls: Easy Holiday Cocktails and Treats

December 8th, 2009 · cocktails

posted by Nastassia Lopez

Christmastime with Dave and Nils.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas Holiday in the lab. A thick layer of liquid nitrogen has settled in, our intern Fabulous is canvassing local Christmas tree stands for fallen pine branches, and the drinks are flowing.

Wednesday night Dave and Nils hosted the FCI holiday cocktail demo. They made sure everyone left well sated, and stumbling.

The Douglas Fir Feliz Navidad Cocktail

The best freaky cocktail I’ve had. The creation story: As wee kids on different sides of the world, Dave and Nils liked to chew on the branches of their respective Christmas trees. Fast forward 30 odd years–they jointly craved a drink with that gnawing-on-pine essence. They sent Fabulous down to the local tree stand to gather some Douglas fir boughs. Back at the lab, Dave distilled the branches with Justin Timberlake’s 901 Tequila. They mixed the pined tequila with clarified lime juice (see stupid simple lime juice clarification here), simple syrup, and a bit of salt. The flavor was like being hit in the mouth with a Christmas tree.

Cubing Your Juice

For you home bartenders: Instead of shaking with ice, freeze your mixing liquid in ice cube trays (such as the clarified apple juice in our Apple and Gin Cocktails). It’s much easier to pop a few cubes into the shaker, add the alcohol, and shake until the cubes have fully melted. You will have a perfectly chilled, consistent drink every time. You’ll have to shake a long time, and your hands will get really cold–as one of our attendees pointed out, you can also skip the shaking altogether and throw the cubes and alcohol into a blender.

Before you freeze the juice, measure how many ounces an individual cube in your tray holds; you can count out the ideal amount of cubes per drink and get the same result every time. Easy!
It’ll make all your cocktails better. We spend entire days rotovapping, clarifying, and distilling alcohol, but our drinks–especially drinks with fruit juice–are never finished without a pinch of salt.

French Fries

Hand-cut French fries and chorizo mayonnaise.

I’m particular about my French fries. I like them crispy, but not to the point where they lose that delicious starchy potato center. I also like them really salty. Dave and Nils make them perfectly:

Start with a couple good russet potatoes. Peel them. Cut them into your preferred fry baton thickness (1/4 inch is standard).

Pre-blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until they are just cooked. Drain. While hot, dry on a baking sheet (with a fan) until they are completely dry. This step is the real secret.

Fry in hot oil (338 degrees F/170 degrees C) until the outside is hard and crisp but the fries are still blonde. Allow the fries to cool. They will turn limp and soggy. Fry a second time at 365-380 F/185-193 C till golden brown and super crispy. Season with salt. We served the fries with a side of mayo blended with chorizo oil.

Smooth-Talking Your Way to Liquid Nitrogen

We like to use a lot of liquid nitrogen to chill glasses, drinks, ice cream etc. Inevitably there are a few curious people at our demos who want to get their hands on some liquid nitrogen for home use. Liquid nitrogen is not illegal, but tragic things can happen when it is handled improperly. Dave is writing a longer post on the safety and handling of liquid nitrogen, so don’t get any till you read it. Once you know the safety drill here’s Dave’s tried-and-true method for the first-time LN purchaser:

Even if you know what you are doing, calling and ordering LN for the first time can be daunting. Pick up the phone, call your local welding supply store, and have a conversation that goes something like this:

“Hi, I need to rent an LS 240 LN dewar.” Translation: LN stands for liquid nitrogen. A dewar is a container to hold liquid nitrogen. LS is the term for the larger liquid storage dewars. 240 is the number of liters it holds. You could also ask for an LS 180 or, less commonly, an LS 160.

Then say something like, “Yeah, I know there is a $2000 deposit. Yeah, I only need it for a couple of days but I know I have to pay the whole month’s rent.” Don’t worry, you’ll get the deposit back. The monthly rental is about $35.

Order fairly early in the day. Finish with, “I’d like it tomorrow at such-and-such address. Oh yeah, I need to rent a take-off hose. I don’t have one lying around.” That’s it. Your LN will show up. The nitrogen will cost you around $100 and will be more than enough for your party. Deliveries from welding supplies are typically Mon-Fri only, so order Thurs for a Sat party.

Don’t say anything like this:

“How do you handle this stuff safely? I’ve never used this before. How do you hook it up? Etc., etc.” This line of questioning is sure to leave you dewarless. And you shouldn’t be ordering anyway if you don’t know the answers.


Dave heating the Glogg with the infamous red-hot poker.

Up in those cold, dark, Nordic countries, people take the holiday edge off by consuming Glögg – a mulled wine made of port, red wine, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, simple syrup and cloves, finished with aquavit. Nils concocted while Dave red-hot-pokered. The drink is usually finished when the flames get to eyebrow-singe height. Perfect for those cold, snowy nights.

Traditionally, Glögg is served hot. Because Dave and Nils like to toy with tradition (and because they really like bubbles) they also carbonated the Glögg and served it cold. I liked it much better this way. You didn’t get the burn of the spices or that tangy aftertaste that mulled wines leave on your tongue.

Remember that when carbonating alcohol, the psi must be higher than for non-alcoholic drinks. Alcohol absorbs more CO2. We carbonate most mixed drinks to around 40 psi at zero Celsius, and re-carbonate at least 3 times. Let the Glögg (or whatever alcoholic drink you’re carbonating) sit for 3-4 minutes to let the bubbles dissipate before releasing the top and serving.

Gingersnap Sandwiches with Blue Cheese Filling

Ginger snap sandwich with blue cheese filling.

The Glögg was accompanied by another Swedish holiday treat: two gingersnap cookies around a delicious blue cheese filling. If you make one cookie this holiday season, make it these mind-blowingly good ones.



150 grams of butter
400 grams granulated sugar
2 eggs
160 milliliters molasses
20 milliliters vinegar
525 grams white bread flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cups quality blue cheese
1 cup sour cream

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the molasses and the vinegar slowly to avoid separating the mixture. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix just to combine. Force the dough into a flat rectangle. Wrap and chill the dough until firm. Divide the dough into 50 small, equal portions. Roll the dough into balls. Dredge the balls in sugar. Place the cookies on a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees F for 7-10 minutes. They will spread, the sugar crust will begin to firm up in the middle.

For the blue cheese filling, blend blue cheese and sour cream until smooth and creamy. Spread the filling between two cookies, sandwich-style.

Happy Holidays!

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Cocktail Science: Does Crushed Ice Dilute More?

December 3rd, 2009 · cocktails

posted by Dave Arnold     

A while back we did a post on whether or not the type of ice you use in a shaker affects the dilution and temperature of your finished cocktail. Turns out it doesn’t (most of the time). For the nitty-gritty see here and here. Most people say, “Yeah, I know about your results — but we all know that crappy ice dilutes drinks more. If you shake a drink with crushed ice it will get watery.”
This is both true and false. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Bar ice is at 0 degrees C (just believe it).  Therefore,
  2. All chilling is through melting (read our two previous posts, links above, if you need proof).
  3. Fact 2 is the single most important thing to remember about shaking. Because all chilling happens through melting, for a given amount of chilling there will be a given amount of melting. There is a one-to-one relationship. As long as the surface area of the ice is large enough –and the agitation of the shaking is great enough (which it usually is)– the size or type of ice shouldn’t matter much. BUT….

  4. The smaller the individual pieces of ice are, the greater their surface area per gram. 
  5. Because the ice is at 0 degrees C it is wet — water is on the surface.
  6. The greater the surface area, the more water on the surface of the ice. So….
  7. Shaking with small ice makes the drink watery right away.  The ice brings its own water.  After the initial dilution, small ice and big ice will behave identically (with respect to dilution and temperature).

About two months ago, Don Lee from Momofuku Ssam bar and John Deragon, formerly of PDT, came in to test this hypothesis. Unfortunately, I lost all the photos (don’t ask).  About a month ago we re-ran the experiment and got the same results. Not a hundred percent scientific but here it is:  

Hypothesis:  The extra dilution bartenders experience when using crushed ice comes from water adhering to the surface of the ice.

Test: Dry off some crushed ice and whole ice, shake them both with booze and measure the alcohol content.   

Balancing liquor to the tenth gram.

We measured equal amounts of 901 tequila… Justin Timberlake’s tequila.  The tequila that is bringing sexy back (can we get more free crap yet).   

Crushed ice.

We put ice in a bag and crushed the heck out of it with a rolling-pin.    

Spinning ice in a centrifuge.

We put the crushed ice and and some whole ice in separate bags. We cut holes in the bags for drainage and put them in a centrifuge over drainage racks.  We lightly and quickly spun the bags to throw off excess water.  The centrifuge is one hell of a salad spinner.     

With great celerity we measured equal weights of crushed and whole ice and shook them with the tequila at the same time for the identical number of shakes.  We strained them at the same time through a chinois, to remove the effect of ice crystals.  

Shaking side by side.


  Both drinks had the same volume and both registered 21.5% ABV.   

Standard Ice on left, crushed ice on right. Same liquid volume.

Then we did the same experiment with crushed ice and whole ice that hadn’t been spun in the centrifuge.  The whole ice came in at 21% ABV, slightly more diluted than the spin-dried whole ice.  The crushed ice came in at 20% ABV, a lot more diluted than the spin-dried crushed ice.   


Some Calculations: Let’s assume that all ice comes in perfect cubes.  A single cube 5x5x5 centimeters has a surface area of  150 square centimeters and weighs 115 grams (ice has a density of 0.92g/cc).  It would take 125 ice cubes measuring 1x1x1 centimeters to have the same weight.  Those ice cubes would have a surface area of 750 square centimeters. It would take 1000 ice cubes half a centimeter on a side to have the same weight and they would have a surface area of 1500 square centimeters.  The surface area adds up pretty quickly –so does the entrained water.

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Bacon and Hams (1917): Our First Book Review

December 1st, 2009 · Bacon and Hams

posted by Dave Arnold  

We are the “Tech N Stuff” blog.  Here is some “N Stuff.” 

I have many pig books.  Bacon and Hams, by George J. Nicholls, is one of my two favorites of all time (here is the other).  It is weird, witty and beautiful – and unavailable today. It was published in 1917 , with a second edition in 1924.  Google books hasn’t scanned it yet (Google take note!).  But don’t despair.  Below I will provide some of the book’s best stuff.  You’ll feel like you’ve read it.           

 Back in 2004 I was organizing an exhibition about American country hams –how great they are, how we should eat more of them, etc, etc.  I read every book on pigs or ham in the New York Public Library system.  Every single one (here is a 700K pdf of the show).  Nicholls’ “Bacon and Hams”  jumped out as something special –the frontispiece of the book had a spectacular fold-out.  At the time the book was written, fold-out anatomical charts were a popular feature in medical books.  Nicholls decided to do one of the pig.  Brilliant.  I’ve scanned it and converted it to a Flash animation for your enjoyment: 

Click the image above to go to an interactive Flash version of George J Nicholls' unparalleled fold-out pig. It is 700K but well worth the wait. All of the numbers in the foldout are labeled with Nicholls' original labels. Clicking "unfold" starts the animation.

Just after the frontispiece is this striking photo:        

Author George J. Nicholls as a side of bacon. What else do you need to know?

Wow. I immediately stopped what I was doing, went on, and located a perfect copy for 20 dollars. Sadly, you will not find that deal today.    

Who was George J. Nicholls? I could find very little. According to the title page, George J. Nicholls C.C., F.R.C.I., F.G.I. was the director of the provisions company George Bowles, Nicholls & Co.; Trustee, Member of Council, Chairman of Finance Committee, and honorary Examiner to the Institute of Certified Grocers; Chairman of Committee of the London Provision Exchange; Past Chairman of the Wholesale Produce Merchants’ Association, London; Past-President of the National Federation of Produce Merchants; Member of Committee, Provision Section, London Chamber of Commerce. He also had three sons –only two of whom joined the family bacon business.  How could such an august personage leave such a small trace in history?        

“Bacon and Hams” could have  been merely a 104 page technical trade book;  in Nicholls’ hands it became a paean to the pig.  The book grew out of a series of lectures Nicholls gave on the ins and outs of the bacon biz.  It displays his love of curing pork, picking out swine, and learning how the industry worked across the world. It begins by quoting Professor Oxholm, court physician to the King of Denmark:       

There is no better breakfast than bacon, especially when cured and smoked, and cooked in the delicious English way… the ideal breakfast for the masses, adults as well as children, is a couple of rashers of fat bacon and a slice or two of crisp toast spread with bacon dripping.        

Nicholls continues:        

And, indeed, the very suggestion is appetizing and forms a fitting opening to this book of Bacon. All men have an interest in bacon, with the exception, perhaps, of the Jew and the vegetarian; and the man of little imagination, but of sound appetitive instincts, who had bacon and eggs for breakfast one morning, and varied monotony by ordering eggs and bacon the next, was more than justified by the almost unanimous vote of the community –the pig, with some assistance from the hen, is the true autocrat of the breakfast table!        

Well, he forgot Muslims; but otherwise I couldn’t agree more.   Here are some choice tidbits from the rest of the book:       

How to bone:       

Nicholls got his good buddy, Mr Alfred W. Childs, M. G. I. to contribute an appendix on the Boning of Fore-Hocks and Gammons.  It is nearly impenetrable but I still love it. It is the most scientifically phrased butcher’s manual I have ever seen.  It is written for a surgeon.  The diagrams are wonderful:       


What is Bacon?    

When we say bacon we mean the cured belly of the pig.  Back in Nicholls’ day, a bacon was the cured whole side of the pig.   The favored way to  trim a bacon hog was called the Wiltshire Cut.  Here it is: 

Bacon was the cured full side of the pig, not just the belly. In England most famously made as the Wiltshire Cut. Here is how it was broken down.

Bacon was the cured full side of the pig, not just the belly. In England most famously made as the Wiltshire Cut. Here is how it was broken down.

Common Pigs of England (in 1917):       

Nicholls lists the most common pigs in England and for which locales they are best suited.  Some current heritage favorites are in there, like Tamworth and Berkshire. 

Five common pigs in early 20th century England (clockwise from top left, original captions): The Berkshire, for the south of England generally; The Middle White, for Lancashire and Cheshire; The Large White, for Yorkshire and northern counties; The Tamworth, for Leicestershire, Shropshire, and Warwickshire; The Large Black (center), for smallholders everywhere and particularly in Cornwall, Devon, and the west of England.

Just a Great Photo:                         

Beautiful. Yes, that is a side of bacon on his head.

Times Have Changed:                         

"Truckload of Danish pigs." That's what used to pass for a truckload.

Nicholls Tours the Armour Plant in the Chicago Stockyards:       

Nicholls gives a fantastic account of the Chicago stockyards, complete with pictures, just a couple of years after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle came out.       


He describes the killing floor of the factory, and the large hoist ironically dubbed “The Wheel of Fortune,” by the slaughterhouse workers:       

The sound animal has not long to wait for his turn, and is driven along a narrow passage untill he arrives at a great wooden wheel, described in jocular vein as the “wheel of fortune.” By means of this he is hoisted, after being shackled by a chain round the hind leg, to a bar down which he slides to the hog butcher, who expertly sticks him in the throat.          

Here it is: 

The "Wheel of Fortune," where pigs were killed at the Chicago Stockyards.

Finally,  an image of a then new-fangled hog-scraping machine: 

Scraping Machine: Made by J. Wendelbo-Madsen, this machine has a capacity of two hundred pigs per hour. On the left a pig is being lowered into the scalding tub; another is shown being drawn into the machine. In the center a pig is seen leaving the machine, and another lies ready for hoisting for the next operation, viz singeing. Note where the animal has been stuck in the operation of killing. (original caption)

Thanks for reading.  Tell me if you’d like to see more  reviews of obscure books.

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Turkey Time 4: Thanksgiving Day

November 27th, 2009 · Turkey

posted by Dave Arnold

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, and that your birds turned out well.

Here’s the conclusion to my turkey saga (read the rest here, here, and here):

To recap, I made a boneless bionic turkey with aluminum sprinkler-pipe leg bones and cooked it in duck fat and butter using a two step processs.  I chilled it and brought it to my in-laws’ house three hours north of the FCI.  All I had to do on Thanksgiving day was warm up the bird and crisp the skin.

Kitchen space  was scarce, so I did everything on the grill outside.

Preheating. I removed the grates from the grill and put a hotel pan with oil directly on the burners to heat up. I put the bird on a rack above the hotel pan and partially closed and tented the grill to pre-warm the bird.

I took the bird out of the fridge, removed most of the aluminum foil from its cavity, and let it come up to room temperature for an hour.  I turned the grill into a turkey-warmer/pour-over fryer by removing the cooking grates and putting a hotel pan with two gallons of oil directly on the burners.  On top of the hotel pan I put a rack to hold the turkey.  I put the turkey on the rack and closed the grill (as much as I could) to allow the turkey to warm up while the oil was heating.  I couldn’t close the lid without mangling the turkey, so I propped the grill open and tented the lid with aluminum foil.  The area where the turkey was sitting floated around 275 F –a good warming temperature. 

Fat ladling time-lapse. 2 minutes.

When the oil was piping hot (around 375 F) I started ladling the fat, two-fisted, all over the top of the bird.  It browned even faster than I thought it would.  The whole bird was crisped up in about 2 minutes.  Bonus: there were no spewing geysers of oil, no huge flames, no Thanksgiving-ruining clouds of choking smoke.

Closeup of fat ladling.

So far, so good.

Finished bird.

Once inside, I removed the bionic leg bones and the rest of the foil.  The bird didn’t collapse. Another win.

Bird on table with bionic legs removed. Looks normal.

The moment of truth:

White meat. Perfect.

Dark meat. Perfect.

I was happy with the results.  The family enjoyed the bird.  Super moist but not watery.  Tender.  The taste of the herbs, duckfat and butter came through.  Next year, I might increase the temperature a half a degree to make the breast meat look a little more conventional.  There were also a couple of blood vessels that didn’t lose their red color.  That didn’t bother me too much.

Folks around the dinner table kept asking me if it had been “worth it.”  

 “Did you like it?” I asked.


Then I guess it was worth it.

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Thanksgiving Skoal

November 26th, 2009 · skoal

posted by Nastassia Lopez

(Hey, what is this Skål Project anyway?)

Thanksgiving is about pigging out with the relatives, so for this Skoal roll, we’re highlighting people that are in some way related to one another.

First up, two guys who look related:

Jean-Georges Vongerichten: World-renowned chef, author, and four-star restaurateur. Has restaurants in the US, UK, Shanghai and Hong Kong

Eamonn Bowles: President of Magnolia Pictures, a film company that specializes in independent films like Food Inc; passing resemblance to JG.

Two of our friends rocking blue:

Marcus Samuelsson: Ethiopian born Swede; chef and co-owner of Aquavit; friend of FCI.

Jeremiah Bullfrog. Miami's own. Chef to Rick Ro$$. Friend of the blog.

Related by marriage:

Aaron Sanchez: Executive Chef and owner of the restaurants Centrico and Paladar; freqent guest on Iron Chef; host of the Food Network show Chef vs. City.

Ife Mora: Wife of Aaron Sanchez; Lead vocalist for afro-punk band SwEEtie.

Related through romance and work:

Zac Palacchio and Jori Emde: he runs Fatty Crab, she designed Cabrito. Both host the show "Urban Foragers" on the Heritage Radio Network.

A sous-vide pioneer, and a supplier of all things sous-vide:

Bruno Goussalt: The "Sous-Pope" of sous vide cooking; Chief Scientist at Cuisine Solutions; trained chefs like Robuchon and Ducasse on sous-vide cooking.

Philip Preston: Senor circulator; President of Polyscience; creator of the Anti-griddle and the Smoking Gun; really cool science guy and friend of Cooking Issues.

Related to FCI:

Wendy Knight: PR afficionado; press wrangler for FCI; travel writer; lover of Vermont.

Alexandra Boardley: Wendy's right-hand gal; resident of the dirty Jerz; recently engaged (congrats!)

Related to Dave:

Ridge Carpenter: Sister-in-law of Dave Arnold; kick-ass designer; mother to Orson.

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Turkey Time Part 3: How To Cook It

November 25th, 2009 · Turkey

posted by Dave Arnold

Here is a recap of what we know about cooking turkeys:

  1. The breast meat should be cooked to 64 or 65 degrees C.
  2. The leg meat should be cooked no lower than 65 degrees C.
  3. The longer you cook turkey meat, the worse it gets.
  4. The turkey should be served whole.  We Americans want our turkeys to look like turkey.  No tube shaped birds (sorry Nils). No carved up pieces.
  5. Don’t vacuum the whole turkey because the bones will make the meat unappetizingly pink.

For the full story see our post here.

My turkey this year will be low-temperature cooked, cooled, and brought to my in-laws’ house for finishing off.  I divided the problem into two parts — cooking and finishing–and tried to find the best solution to each.

Problem 1: Cooking the Turkey

We needed to figure out a way to cook the whole turkey in 2-3 hours. Since turkeys are big, expensive and in short supply at the FCI,  I ran feasibility tests on chickens.

Idea 1: Flay the bird, cook it flat, and reassemble it around a skeleton.

The bird cooked quickly and properly but the reassembly idea didn’t work at all.  It looked bad, and I got burned.

Trying to reassemble a cooked chicken doesn't work

Idea 2: Two-part cooking –the double-dippin’ chicken.

The inside of the thighs are the hardest part of a bird to cook.  The bird is thickest there, so it takes the longest to heat. Even worse, that part of the bird needs to cook to a higher temperature than the breast does.  We investigated a two-temperature, two-time cooking technique.   We set a circulator full of oil to 65 .5 degrees C and suspended a chicken in the oil so that just the legs would be cooked. After 1 hour we lowered the temperature of the oil to 64C and submerged the whole bird. The legs would be cooked longer than is ideal with this technique ( for a turkey the legs would cook for 3-4 hours) , but the texture of dark meat is less affected by long cooking times than the breast.

Double dippin chicken: A test to try and get the leg meat cooked longer and at a higher temperature than the breast we lowered the legs only into 65 degree oil. After 1 hour we lowered the rest of the bird in, lowered the temperature to 64 and cooked 40 minutes more. We then flash-fried the skin. The meat was still pink around the bone. Drat!

Surprisingly, when we cut the bird open the thigh meat was still pink. WTF? My guess is that the meat around the thigh doesn’t look right if it is cooked too slowly. Myoglobin is the pigment that makes meat pink.  Myogloblin keeps its red color if it is heated slowly. Low and gentle is good for texture, but not for color. We needed a more sophisticated technique that would cook the meat inside the thigh quickly.

Idea 3:
The bionic chicken.

Concept: cook the bird from the inside-out.  Bone the bird, replace the leg bones with aluminum tubes, stuff the carcass with aluminum foil (heats quickly, maintains structure), and pump hot oil through the tubes to cook the inside of the thigh quickly.

The test: first, bone the bird.  We used a technique that avoids cutting the skin:  Starting at the butt end of the bird you carefully remove the bones by slowly turning the bird inside out.  Then you carefully remove the leg bones;  the wing bones are left in. It was our intern Ed’s last day (he graduated today) so we gave him the honor of performing the boning.

Ed with an inside-out test chicken.

Next, cut pieces of aluminum tubing to the same length as the leg and thigh bones.  We cut slits all along the tubes so they would act like sprinklers.  We made the knee joint by joining the tubes with rubber tubing.  We attached these bionic leg bones to the pump output of an immersion circulator.  Witness the legs being tested with water:

Testing our aluminum-tube bionic-leg hot-oir sprinkler cooking system with water

We stuffed the inside of the chicken with aluminum foil and threaded the aluminim tubes into the legs.  Then we trussed the bird — no one would suspect a thing.  We put the bird on a cooling rack over a lexan full of oil heated to 65 C with an immersion circulator.  We hooked up a second circulator and used it to pump hot oil through the leg tubes.  The extra oil poured out of the bird and back into the lexan.  After 20 minutes we lowered the temperature to 64C and dropped the bird into the oil. 40 minutes later we pulled it.

Cooking the bionic chicken: Take the fully boned chicken, stuff the cavity with aluminum foil, and put aluminum sprinkler-tubes where the leg bones used to be. Pump 65 degree oil through the legs for 20 minutes then turn down the oil to 64 and immerse chicken for 40 more minutes.

The bird held its shape even when we removed the foil.  It looked like a whole, untouched bird. The meat was perfect all the way through.

The bionic chicken is perfectly cooked throughout.

We had our technique.

Problem 2 Finishing the Turkey:

Clearly, flash frying would be the best way to finish the turkey — but the turkey I have is too big to fry whole.  It won’t fit in a standard turkey fryer, and I don’t want a reputation for ruining Thanksgiving at both my in laws’ house AND my mom’s house.  So how about a torch?

The Problem with Torches:

Nils and I don’t like to finish meats with a torch.  They don’t taste right.  Two theories for this. 1: You can taste the fuel and 2: the heat from a torch is too high.  I figured out a solution to the first problem.

Torches don’t burn 100% of their propane.  Some years ago I did an art piece where I battled a mechanical fire-breathing dragon (don’t ask). The dragon was a large, kerosene powered flame-thrower of my creation.  I tested the flame several times, and I thought I could handle it, no problem.  But when I actually stood in front of the flame, something interesting happened.  All of the kerosene that was moving too fast to be burned efficiently hit  my shield, slowed down, and caught on fire, creating a huge fireball. I got burned pretty badly.

One of my old art pieces. Me as St. George. Here I learned that all the fuel in a torch-type fire doesn't get combusted. If you put something in front of a fire like this to slow down the fuel (like an idiot with a shield), more of the fuel ignites.

That was the last time my wife trusted me when I said xy or z idea if mine was “no problem.”  But that experience gave me an idea about the torch.  What if we put a piece of wire mesh between the torch and the bird? Maybe we could catch and combust the excess propane?

Propane torches create off-flavors. To stop that I fired the torch through a chinois. No more torch taste.

It worked! Propane taste gone.  I was so happy I ordered a square of super high-temp nichrome wire mesh and a 500,000 btu roofing torch.

500,000 btu's of roofing-torch action. Awesome but not family friendly.


Torch finished skin. Not so bueno. Spotty and not crispy.

Propane taste isn’t the only problem with torches.  The finish is spotty and, as my intern Fabulous pointed out, “The skin isn’t crispy.”  I opened my mouth to give a counter-argument and he just repeated “not crispy.”  Point taken.  Plus, I don’t think the family would have appreciated the roofing torch.

Winning Technique: Pourover Frying:

Ladling hot oil over the skin for several minutes worked great.  That’s what I’ll do. Simple.

Pouring hot oil over the cooked meat made for crispy skin and didn't overcook the meat the way we thought it would.

Bionic Turkey:

We boned out the turkey and created the bionic leg bones.

Bionic Turkey: two pieces of aluminum tubing are cut to the same length as the leg and thigh bones. Cuts are made in in the tubes so they act like sprinklers. They are joined at the "knee" with a length of rubber tubing.

We salted the inside of the bird,stuffed it with herbs and aluminum foil, and installed the bionic legs.

Raw bionic turkey

We filled a pot with duck fat and butter and heated it up to 66 degrees C.  We put the bird on a cooling rack over the pot, hooked up the legs, and turned on the pump.

Bionic turkey on a draining rack over 3 gallons of duck fat and butter

The bird was too big so grease went everywhere.  We MacGyvered it up.

The turkey was too big for the rack. Fat was leaking everywhere. We improvised.

After an hour we lowered the circulators to 65 and dropped the bird into the oil for 1.5 hours.

The turkey out of the fat. Ready for Thanksgiving.

Then I threw the bird in the blast chiller for half an hour, packed it in ice, put it in a gym bag and caught a train to Connecticut.  I’ll tell you how it turned out after the big day.

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Turkey Time Part 2: Buying the Turkey

November 25th, 2009 · Turkey

posted by Dave Arnold

Last Saturday I made my pilgrimage to Manhattan Live Poultry to get this year’s turkey.  I was extremely happy with the quality of last year’s bird, and I like picking out the animal – I can be sure the bird is healthy and the slaughtering is humane.  The guys aren’t rough with the birds.  Other than the smell, visiting is a pleasant experience.  Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to buy live poultry in New York.  Not that many years ago, live poultry places dotted  the island of Manhattan.  Now there are only two, and both of them are way uptown. Sad.

One of the last live poultry joints on the island of Manhattan. What's the world coming to?

Upon entering MLP I expected to see what I saw last year–standard-breed turkeys and the giant black “wild style” turkeys running around together.  To my horror they only had the standard breed this year. It was too late to make other arrangements. You should wait two days to cook the bird after it is killed to make sure it goes through rigor mortis — I needed to cook the bird Monday or Tuesday, so it was now or never.

Only standard-breed turkeys this year.

I am a bit of a knot connoisseur.  This year I noted that the live poultry folks use their own special knot when they weigh live birds.  The knot has to go on fast, come off fast, and leave the bird unharmed.  The worker holds the birds by the legs, puts the rope between the legs, quickly wraps the rope around the legs two times, and then passes the rope under and between the legs.  The weight of the bird keeps the knot tight.  The birds remain calm, though they tend to spread out their wings.

How to weigh live poultry. They use a special knot that goes on instantly, comes of instantly, and doesn't hurt the bird. It takes advantage of the structure of bird legs. Twice around the legs, then through and up.

I picked out the biggest turkey they  had.  A mere 25 pounds.  Ridiculously small compared to last year, but a fine bird nonetheless.

My turkey. Only 25 pounds.

They killed it, bled it, scalded it, and plucked it for me in 7 minutes flat.

I rushed the bird back to the FCI and threw it in the blast chiller to cool it down.

My turkey back at the FCI. I also bought 2 pigeons.

Next: the cooking.

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