If there is a pantheon of great culinary writers, Bernard Clayton, Jr. belongs in it, right up there with his contemporaries in the latter third of the 20th Century, like James Beard, or Julia Child.
If you don’t start a foundation, or give out prizes in your name, then when you pass on, people may start to forget about you.
Such seems to be the case for Bernard Clayton, Jr.
I will not let Mr. Clayton be forgotten. I wrote a more extensive biography of him that I invite you to check out on Wikipedia. He had a wonderful life that began as a photo journalist, and a photo editor for Time-Life.
With a fateful trip to Europe with his wife, he fell in love with bread, and food, and began writing cookbooks.
His first love was bread-making. Then he moved on to the passion for foods in general.
Like me, he turned his love of the subject into a quest to tell stories in food, something which I, and many other chefs, bakers, and food writers, truly admire about him to this day.
He became one of the top authors on baking in the latter half of the 20th century, publishing six landmark books, mostly on breads, and dozens of articles for major publications.
In the current food fad, where gluten, really only an issue for those with celiac disease, is erroneously associated with everything from sluggish performance at work, to the root cause of global warming, it may be unfashionable to talk about bread.
Bread, pão, brød, chleb, pain: It remains, tiny devil horns, and all, a foundational foodstuff of pretty much all world cultures.
Clayton sought to capture that story by curating hundreds of recipes that captured the breadth, and spirit, of world bread bakers, and baking.
The Bread Bible
“Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Breads” became one of my culinary “bibles,” in the 1980’s.
I bought it, new, in 1987, and, quite literally, wore my copy out. The spine broke, and the cover became heavily “loved.’
At the time that it was falling apart, copies of the book had dried up. Thankfully, there are still a few mega-bookstores. Powell’s City of Books, in Portland, Oregon, has a cookbook section that is culinary-crazed nerd-nirvana for foodies like me. I was able to get a clean enough hardcover copy, used.
The 2006, 13th anniversary edition, the last update of the book, which is featured here, keeps what was great, adds a few modernizations in baking method, and makes some adjustments for changes in ingredients over the decades.
There is a ton to like about this book. It remains one of the most comprehensive surveys of world baking, with everything from: A simple white loaf; to exotics like Chinese steamed bao buns; fried dough puffs like New Mexican sopapillas, or Eastern European beet bread. It has recipes for: Muffins; small breads, like crumpets, and scones; and even a good dog biscuit recipe.
Here are a few of the things that will make it worthy to be included in your Hall of Fame cookbook lineup:
All’s Well That Ends Well
For starters, there’s the end: It’s indexed well. That may seem like a big nothingburger to you, but, when you want to find specific recipes, it’s wonderful, at 5:00a, when you’re making a bread for a brunch for twelve, at 10a, not to have to sweat pouring through the book, looking for the right spot.
Aside from the actual breads, he also indexes key ingredients, so you can find all of the bacon, or blueberry recipes. If you can’t remember the bread, but you can recall a key ingredient, or two, you’re in business!
Tales of Travel, Bonding in Baking
Clayton was one of the first recipe book writers to include a lot of his stories of the travel, or the people whom he met as he acquired these recipes.
His recipes are more than simple method. They are pedestal-elevating moments, honoring great bakers, home, and professional, from the U.S., and Europe, whose work inspired, and influenced him.
This is where I connected to cooking as one of the greatest forms of storytelling: Our personal, and cultural, legacies in food.
I’ve baked dozens of recipes out of this book. From ausytes, a Lithuanian bacon bun that was a big hit with a friend whose family was from Lithuania, to a beet bread that, while I got it dead on, was a little less to my liking, I’ve been able to experiment with all kinds of ground-zero recipes that began my adventures into creating my own.
My lemon-blueberry muffins are a riff, based on 30+ years of baking them, from the ones in a recipe that Clayton extracted from the owner of a hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan.
They’ve taught me humilty, and patience. It wasn’t until I got to study the science of gluten chains that I came to realize the genius of the low-mix muffin.
Stirring, and leaving lots of lumps, may irritate my grandma, who told me never to leave a batter lumpy, but it creates irregular gluten strands, which make for the perfect, crumbly muffin.
Multiple Method Man (Need the Knead.)
The 1987 edition was very avant-garde. It offered multiple versions of the same recipe for:
Traditional manual kneading;
“New” Kitchenaid dough-hook mixers;
Something called a “Cuisinart” food processor. Oooh. Magic!
The 2006 edition includes updates to ingredients, and some improvements in methods from advances in baking gear, and oven design.
The Curated Collection of Recipes
Clayton had a great eye for a landmark recipe.
The organization of the book is curated wonderfully. The American breads. The international breads. The “Little” breads, including gems like English muffins, and flat breads, like pita, and roti.
The basic breads, from plain, to peasant, to pita, are all easy to follow, and turn out delicious loaves.
Okay, so I executed Beet Bread perfectly, only to find out that I don’t love the taste of bread the color of The Joker’s coat.
There were so many kinds of breads that I had not only not experienced before, but that used myriad ingredients that I had not previously tried.
I have delighted making: Ausytes, Lithuanian bacon buns; banana-macadamia bread from Hawaii; a Southern biscuit base that I’ve since modified a dozen ways; hot cross buns; English muffins, and crumpets, crackers, breadsticks, Christmas breads, seeded whole wheat, French bread, and so many more.
He even put in a pretty exceptional dog biscuit recipe, and the how-to-build for a traditional Southwestern bread oven at the end of the book!
The 2006 edition, here, has been updated to reflect changes in yeast, and egg size, among other tweaks.
To cram in all of his recipes, and make the publishers happy, Clayton’s book just flows one recipe to the next. If it orphans a few lines of the recipe into the bottom 1/8th of a page?
I find it, after decades of using the book ridiculously annoying to have the recipe title, and then two or three lines of its introduction, on one page, and then the rest of the recipe on the following page, often a reverse page, where I don’t have all of the words together. When you have gunked-up hands, the last thing that you want to be doing is stopping, cleaning yourself off, and flipping a page.
I would love, one day, to do a cleanup of this wonderful book.
For a modern audience, some of Clayton’s language comes off a bit formal, with word choices, and and some of his stories, being dated to the border edge of possibly a little un-PC for a modern audience.
Even though his synonym for “stingy,” is a totally legit word that comes from Old French, and has no relationship to a modern American racial slur, when you see phrases like “use a niggardly amount of…” it does get a bit cringeworthy, and could be easily taken out of context.
Recipes Once Removed
Clayton was more of an editing tape recorder, than a master baker, or chef.
Where he does teach technique, he passes along the tips of the master baker, chef, or home chef who gave him their recipe.
The recipes range from the systemic bagel recipe of chef Jo Goldenberg, or the well-thought out treatment of gluten in the batter of the lemon-blueberry muffins of the Iroquois Hotel, in Mackinac Island, Michigan, to home recipes that are definitely more rote repetitions of grandmas past.
He dutifully reproduced recipes as they were, with his observations, but he usually leaves his hand off of the ingredients, or quantities, unless he is scaling down a big commercial baking recipe. It does impart some truth to the baking shared with him.
It also makes him delightfully human. He describes his attempts at shaping bagels as “a sleeping bag that hasn’t been shaken out for several days.”
Without more of the “why” to certain steps, some of the recipes can be frustrating for the novice baker, who might hang it up without achieving a few “wins” with easy home runs, that build up confidence.
Overall, the book has aged exceptionally well. There are a ton of recipes on the Internet for most of what is in this book.
So why do we need it still?
His simple, thorough approach to recipes, and his celebration of the humanity of the bakers whose work that he features in these pages, make this book both a great starting point to learn how to bake, as well as a comprehensive reference resource for all kinds of world baking, in one book.
Experienced pro, or beginner, this book is a must-have for anyone who wants to go on some wonderful adventures in baking. I give it my five-diamond Choicestuff™ Award.
My readers in Europe, and many other parts of the world may not know why I’m on about sourcing your eggs. In most parts of the world, where there isn’t factory egg farming, as it’s practiced in the United States, eggs are expected to be big, healthy, nutritional, tasty things.
If you pop open a conventional US egg, next to a top-of-the-line pasture-raised egg, it’s like night and day: One is pale and putrid looking. The other is golden to yellow-orange and full of nutrition.
You are what you eat, so let’s understand what we’re eating!
The Four Kinds of Eggs (US)
Healthy eggs start with best practices at the farm.
There are four basic kinds of farming methods for egg-laying hens:
Birds crammed into small cages, in windowless barns, eating a science diet that produces anemic-looking eggs. They are cheap, but they are not very healthy.
Conventional eggs are laid by hens given hormones. and antibiotics, that end up in their eggs, and you.
Their eggs are higher in cholesterol, and saturated fat, probably because of the hens’ lack of exercise. They are lower in Omega-3, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.
Cage-Free; Porch-Raised; Barn-Raised.
Chickens are still in kept in dense packs in bigger enclosures. Not much better, and, not surprisingly, studies don’t find much improvement in the quality of the eggs over the conventional.
Humane Farm Animal Care’s Certified Humane® sets the “Free Range” standards, as there is no Federal standard.
That’s a poulty-puny .19sq.m/2 sq.ft. per bird. These chickens still don’t move around too much.
Big Egg, the industrial egg farmers, try to conflate this category with Pasture-Raised to keep people stuck on the lie that all eggs are created essentially equal.
You’ll get romantic copy about ‘sunlit porches’ and other marketing mendacities (lies).
It is a bit more humane, but not much. There is no data suggesting that the quality of the actual egg is better, yet you pay more for them.
Only one egg category has been materially shown to be better for both the birds, and YOU.
It should be a no-brainer.
We’ve known, for more than ten years, that pasture farming is better for both us, and the birds who lay the eggs.
The eggs, side-by-side with a conventional egg, look different. They’re richer, more orange in color, with the extra beta-carotene in the hens’ diet.
It’s taken at least that long for widespread, commercially viable pasture farming of chickens to make a big dent in the markets.
HFAC’s Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised” requirement is a limit of 1,000 birds per 2.5 acres, or 10sq.m./108 sq. ft. to a bird.
Hens scratch for bugs and worms, in addition to their food, and get a lot of exercise.
The fields where they graze must be rotated, which allows the earth to rest. Chicken scat is washed into the soil, which is consumed by the plants, worms, and bugs in the ecosystem.
Hens are outdoors year-round, with some housing where the birds can go at night to protect themselves from predators.
They can be brought into barns for up to two weeks a year if there is very inclement weather.
A 2007 study found that pasture raised eggs are nutritionally superior to conventional commercial eggs. Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, pasture raised may contain:
33% less cholesterol;
25% less saturated fat;
66% more vitamin A;
200% more omega-3 fatty acids;
300% more vitamin E;
700% more beta carotene
How to Buy Great Eggs
We pay a bit more for better ground beef or bison. We really spend on good coffees and teas. Eggs have always been that place where people feel like they can skimp.
Don’t skimp. Get the good stuff! Buy pasture-raised eggs.
The pasture category is not only getting more crowded, but it’s diversifying.
When I first wrote this article, there was only one producer, nationally, of pasture raised: Vital Farms, a Texas producer which was kick-started with some Whole Foods’ venture capital money.
It now has more than 90 family farms all over the United States that pasture-raise their eggs, selling under the Vital Farms red dot.
Their eggs run $5-7/box, depending on your area, and how competitive the pasture-raised category is getting. They’re an eggscellent choice (sorry), nationally, but no longer the only one.
New Breed on the Block – Heritage Eggs
One of the new wrinkles, in 2020, are premium eggs from “Heritage Breed” hens. They’re chicken sub-species from the pre-industrial farm days. Eggs that you’d more commonly see from small, local producers at a farmer’s market. One company, nationally, features them, although you can find many local producers that hit farmers’ markets with them.
The Happy Egg Co.
The Happy Egg Co. offers both price-competitive eggs to Vital Farms, and a premium “Heritage Breed” egg, which is very pricey, about $8.19/dozen here in Florida, as of this writing, but the results of what they do to transform recipes… Look at my Swedish pancakes, made with Heritage Breed eggs:
See how much the added beta carotene in the egg brings out the color of the pancake?
The taste, which depends on the egg, also amps up quite a bit, even from other pasture-grade eggs like Vital Farms, or The Happy Egg company’s regular pasture-raised.
Does the Shell Color Matter?
No, and yes.
No. All chicken eggs’ taste is a function of their diet, exercise, and, for some breeds, their emotional state. There’s a reason that some breeds were not heavily used for mass egg production. They just aren’t wired for it. Close proximity makes them insane. An insane bird doesn’t produce.
So, yes. White eggs are almost always from factory-farm, mass-production hens. They’re from Leghorns, the most common chicken sub-species. Farmers, and scientists, have used breeding to encourage higher egg production of an easier-to-use egg, with a thinner shell. The conditions in which the hens are kept also contributes to the more fragile eggshell.
Non-white eggs are better.
They come in many varieties. The most common? Brown; and blue. A few heritage breeds produce eggs that are: Speckled brown; green; and even chocolate-colored.
White ain’t right because the hens live in crowded dens, but, if they’re pasture raised, brown gets the crown; blue’s got a cool hue; and no one gets heckled for using a rare speckled.
Egg Labels Worth Knowing
(Not Pasture-Raised) – Davidson’s Safest Choice® are conventional eggs, but they’ve been pasteurized in the shell.
They’re useful for making cold dishes, from high protein smoothies, to caesar salads, to ice creams in the Ben & Jerry’s recipe style, where you want the safety of a “clean” egg that is certified free of harmful bacteria.
For my germaphobes, don’t spend the money on these, if you only eat cooked eggs. When you cook eggs, where the heat rises above 59°c / 138°F it kills any potential bacteria.
Pasteurized eggs are conventional eggs. They lack nutritional value.
Since we generally don’t worry about the nutritional value of ice cream, though, and smoothies are generally packed with other nutrients, pasteurized eggs are really only best for cold applications of raw egg.
Davidson labels such eggs with a blue “P” to let you know that the egg has been pasteurized.
Egg Labeling That’s Total Hype
Label “lures” – Egg purveyors put all kinds of nonsense out there on the boxes to lure you to spend more money on buzzwords that they know you’ll fall for.
GMO-Free. The PC pitch. Pasture-raised birds’ feed has to comport to that standard already to be pasture-raised. Pure marketing hype, right up there with the “gluten free” label that I saw on one brand of chicken. Silly.
Organic – The other big pitch. We’re conditioned to think “organic” anything is better. Here, it just means that the feed that the birds receive, if they’re grain fed, is organic grain. That’s good, though, right? Not really. Organic grain can be the low-grade leftovers of organic grain products for humans. The remnants, lacking nutrition, are used in conventional egg operations, often with cheaper nutrient boosters. As long as the grain was raised organically, it passes the label test.
Omega-3 boosts – Farms touting this on their boxes usually add flax to the diets of their mass-production hens. It may make a caged hen’s mediocre egg a bit better, but they’re still eggs lower in nutrition, when compared to a pasture-raised egg. Pasture-raised are naturally higher in Omega 3, and outstrip the “diet-augmented” caged egg.
Most Omega-3 is wasted by you, though. If you read my article on cooking the perfect egg, you’ll realize that 99% of pros, and home chefs alike, cook most of the Omega 3 out of the eggs anyway, using too much heat.
Vegetarian Fed – Birds that can forage produce better eggs. If you are vegetarian and eat eggs, it is good to understand that the birds are better off eating what they like. Your diet isn’t theirs. Most of them aren’t too PC about downing a worm, or ten.
Hormones/Antibiotics Free – More marketing mendacities. Laying hens aren’t given hormones ever. Hens requiring antibiotics are taken out of production of eggs for human consumption.
How To Pick Out Great Eggs
Now that you know what the right kind of eggs are to buy, how do you sift out all of the brands?
What’s a good box of eggs?
Is it better to buy at the market, or wait for a farm at a farmer’s market?
What should I watch out for?
What to Watch For:
Egg brands – Eggs never landed much of a premium, or even much distinction from farm-to farm, until “Egg Beaters” started selling as a low cholesterol diet alternative through good branding. The farms jumped in. So now the game is on!
Cool box – Pretty packaging isn’t a guarantee of great eggs, but it’s also not a total scam.
Carpetbagger Egg Companies – Dairy farms with big names have jumped into eggs to see if you’ll take your brand-loyalty with you.
Feel Matters – Shell strength says something about the production. Legit pasture eggs are laid by hens that produce eggs built to withstand mother nature. Standards in the industry are voluntary, and egg scams are on the rise.
Open the box, and look at the eggs. Pick one up.
Shells should be solid, not thin. Put a thin commercial egg and a pasture egg in each hand. Don’t worry if anyone is staring at you in the egg aisle. You can feel the difference.
Size Matters – Some pasture producers put out eggs as they come. So you’ll get a jumble of sizes. Some size like every other egg company. If you can use different sized eggs for different applications, then the jumble may be okay. If not, then get the consistent sized with good strong shells.
Smell Matters – If there is a decided bacterial smell, or a strong whiff of sulfur which salmonella bacteria put out, avoid.
Condition of the Box Matters – If the box is wet, or egg-stained or other than firm, clean-smelling and right, grab another box, or another brand. Some companies use cheap boxes that damage eggs easily. If they aren’t willing to spend money to package them right to get them to market, what does that say about their “thrift” in production?
Date Matters – Look at the dates on the boxes. My big green Southern supermarket loves to buy stuff on the bare edge of its “Best by” or “use by” date, possibly because so many of its customers are probably right near their own “best by” dates.
LOCAL FARM-TO-TABLE EGGS AREN’T ALL THAT THEY’VE CRACKED UP TO BE
There are a growing number of people who raise their own chickens in their back yards, or on small farms, trying to cash in on the farm-to-table movement by selling them at roadside stands, farmer’s markets, etc.
Locally sourced is good, but several things that you should know if you buy local:
Buying eggs at one of the many local farmer’s markets that have sprung up sounds like a good way for smaller consumers to connect with their egg supplier.
Health-conscious shoppers tend to equate farmer’s markets or small roadside stands with “good” and “healthy” and “socially responsible.”
Don’t assume, just because they’re local, that they’re any of those things. Take reasonable precautions:
Ask if the eggs are their production. If no, where do they source their eggs?
How are the hens housed? Ask how they produce. In stores, labels have to be right, or producers can face stiff penalties. Little operators at farmers’ markets have little to no oversight.
See how the eggs are storedat the point of sale. A cooler that’s minimally below 4°c/40°F is a must! The lower the temp the better, to keep salmonella, which can find its way INSIDE the egg, randomly, from growing.
Thus this “homey” egg display, that you’ll see at many spring, and summer farmers’ markets, is a bacteria farm. Warm eggs provide a breeding ground for salmonella.
If there is any indication that they’ve been out at room temperature, the heat, in the sun, avoid them!
Some roadside eggs will be in coolers. If the cooler isn’t below 4°c/40°F, take a pass.
Avoid reused boxes. A growing number of aspiring egg farmers grab used egg crates or egg palettes from restaurants and bakeries, sometimes even from dumpsters. That soft cardboard is a breeding ground for bacteria. If there is any sign of staining, or crusted dry egg on any of the boxes, don’t buy from that vendor!
Local Egg Culture
If you’re new to the area, and want to buy from folks hawking eggs on their property or at stands by the roadside, ask locals about the stands. Which ones are for real, safe, and which ones are not? Usually, people who live in the area know the great, good, and bad.
Transporting Eggs from Farmer’s Markets
Unless the egg hawker is using an actual refrigerator, which is rare, the eggs aren’t kept as cold as your supermarket shelf. If you are hell-bent on buying from outdoor stalls:
Bring a cooler with a couple of cold packs in it to keep your eggs until you get home.
Wash all eggs, but especially those that come off small farms or neigbors’ hen houses (see below) to avoid bringing salmonella or other bacteria from fecal matter into your refrigerator.
Regularly wash out all containers that you transport or store eggs in. Don’t reuse the cardboard containers.
Handling & Storage
Wash, Dry, & Store Covered.
If you keep your eggs in the egg crates that they ship in, you obviously aren’t thinking through what you just put into your refrigerator.
Recall that eggs, not in sealed containers, are:
Handled by people at the egg farm as they’re loaded into boxes.
Handled by people at the supermarket who should have called in sick, who put them out.
Handled by the three people who got there before you, opened them and thought… “Nah… I’ll buy the cheaper ones.” who may also have the sniffles.
Let’s not forget the stuff that might have been spilled on the box, broken egg crates above, etc.
Likewise, popping the box into your fridge can contaminate it, as the boxes themselves can pick up bacteria at the producer, in a storage area, or even on the shelf with other eggs when a crate breaks, and Sparky, the lazy stocker, does a lousy job of cleaning up the mess.
Once in a while, you’ll catch the occasional bit of grass stuck to the shell, or the odd partial feather that falls into any commercial eggs.
There is always the chance of salmonella bacteria on the outside of eggs. The bacteria can be on the inside, although it’s rarer. Mostly salmonella comes from handling dirty shells that have trace amounts of fecal matter that carry the bacteria. Most of that cooks off easily, but if you touch the eggs, then pick up a utensil, you can carry the bacteria.
The eggs are washed at the crating point? Maybe. That doesn’t mean, though, especially for the pasture raised eggs, that they’re entirely clean.
Even Safest Choice® pasteurized eggs’ shells can, because of handling by people down the line, have outer shells with some contamination. An egg or two break, and Sparky, who has been handling other eggs, without washing their hands, switches an egg or two from the broken carton to fill out the dozen.
Safe Handling Practices:
I’m no germaphobe, but egg crates are a whole level of nasty. So, when I get my eggs, I:
Ask the market to bag the egg crate separately, then put it in my recycle/re-use bag;
Inspect them for debris. Remove anything visible.
Make an ice bath in a bowl with 20 or so ice cubes and cold water and a couple of drops of dish soap (Florida’s tap water is always too lukewarm) , one at a time, dipping them in the bath and gently rubbing the shell. The ice cold water prevents the eggs from sweating, which draws their liquids to the micropores of the shell. Quickly rinse them off again in cold, clean water to remove any soap residues;.
Write on a paper tape, or use a washable restaurant day tag the use-by date of the eggs, and put it on the lid;
Get them in the refrigerator pronto and always keep them closed up, and refrigerated at 4°C/40°F.
If you need eggs for a recipe, pull them out, then put the unused eggs back into the refrigerator immediately. Many of y’all leave ingredients out on the counter. The warming/cooling repeatedly? Not a good idea, in general, but especially bad for eggs!
Refrigerators can wickedly dehydrate eggs, which do sweat a bit of their moisture through the shell over time. Don’t leave eggs uncovered, or in most “egg” drawers built into refrigerators. Most of them let too much dry air in.
OTHER GOOD DO’S AND DON’Ts
There are a few other ways that you can get the best use of your eggs, and make better egg dishes:
DON’T buy too many eggs. Unless you bake egg-based stuff a bunch, that Costco flat of eggs may seem really appealing, but storing all of them means that they age, and eggs don’t age well;
DO either use or toss your eggs within a week or so of the Best by date on the carton. The older they get, the worse they make your food turn out;
DON’T leave the full container of eggs out on the counter. Take the eggs out that you will need for your dish, but don’t leave the container on the counter. Eggs should remain refrigerated at all times. Warming and chilling the eggs rapidly, likewise, is Salmonella’s best bud. Sweating is not good for eggs, or you.
DO wash your hands frequently when handling eggs. Even if you’ve cleaned them, you may reintroduce bad bacteria from other surfaces in your kitchen, or on tools that you’ve been using;
DON’T taste batters or anything made with raw eggs unless you are using Davidson’s Safest Choice® or other pasteurized (not pasture) eggs;
DO wash any spatula, whisk, etc. occasionally during cooking to reduce the risk of reintroducing bacteria to foods already past the temp point where they cook off;
DON’T use utensils with wooden spoons or forks to prepare or serve eggs. They can harbor bacteria that is conveyed to the cooked food.
BRANDS THAT I CAN RECOMMEND:
There are very few American egg producers that can hold a candle to the European ones. These are my top picks that are widely available nationally:
The Happy Egg Company Heritage Breed – Best heritage breed eggs on the market in North America. Hens roam on 8 acres, same as pasture-raised, but Happy doesn’t engage in all of the practices, so they can’t call them “pasture.” Still, an amazing egg. Richest of the commercially produced ones that we’ve tried, with the best cooking characteristics. Expensive, but worth every penny, until more heritage breed eggs compete and drive down prices;
Vital Farms Pasture-Raised Alfresco Eggs; Vital really walks the walk of pasture-farming. They pioneered the commercial form of pasture-raising hens. They still make the best eggs, overall, in the industry, at the large-scale production level.
Handsome Brook Farms – Pasture Raised. The group was sued in the ‘teens for false advertising of pasture-raised. They seem to have their act together today.
Dare to Dream Pastured Eggs. Usually 30% more costly than Vital, but not 30% better.
BRANDS THAT ARE, IN MY OPINION, A WASTE OF MONEY:
Anything “organic” refers to the feed. The conditions in which the chickens live, which has a lot to do with the kind of eggs that they lay, make most of these little better than the rank-and-file commercial factory egg:
Organic Valley “Organic” eggs, in all non-pasture varieties. Nice boxes. They need to up their game in eggs.
Whole Organic Pasture Raised Eggs – The organic is a gimmick, not worth the price. Go Heritage Breed instead;
The Happy Egg Co. Organic – Pandering to those who put label over common sense. Buy their Heritage Breed eggs instead.
Eggland’s Best Cage Free – The Big Egg producer is testing the waters of big ticket eggdom. Not far enough, and they could do a LOT to move the scale of pasture production. PASS.
Nest Fresh “Free Range” “Non-GMO” eggs. All hype. Free-Range is not Pasture. GMO? Really? They’re eggs, not pea plants.
Horizon Organic Free-Range Eggs – Another dairy trying to extend its brand into the egg arena. Go cold turkey, Horizon, and put out the pasture eggs that are worthy of the milk that you produce.
The Country Hen, Organic Cage-Free Omega-3 Large Eggs – Uses every hyped ‘biz’ buzzword on the box. Half-dozen. Outrageously overpriced. Egregious hype.
It’s a lot of information about eggs, BUT, now that you know, you can buy the right egg for the right task, get better nutrition for your family, and keep your eggs safer until you use them!
If you’ve had “Swedish” pancakes at some Hoppy-Slammy pancakeria, then you’ve never had tunna pannkakor (thin pancakes), aka “Swedish” pancakes.
Swedish pancakes are, to French crepes, what Beluga caviar is to cheaper lumpfish, with no apologies to my French readers. The modern crepe, which, is more Mexican tortilla than what it was before it became France’s answer to the sandwich. Most creperies do not bother with a stand-alone “dessert” crepe, closer, albeit still thicker, to its Swedish cousin
I love tunna pannkakor’s more lower gluten, more delicate, lower-gluten, eggy, edge. Definitely NOT built to wrap, they’re best enjoyed within a few minutes of making.
It’s all about the eggs.
Which means that EGGS MATTER in this recipe. Use third-rate eggs? Get third-rate thin pancakes. Even in Europe, where eggs used to be sacred, factory farming is demolishing their nutrition, color, and flavor.
Pasture-raised eggs, from hens truly allowed to roam free?
Heritage breed hens, that aren’t the anemic factory birds?
Eggs are very regional. Even US national brands like Vital Farms are a collective of family farms. Here in sunny Florida, they’ve contracted with farmers whose hens produce a much more pale, factory-looking egg than you could get in say, Texas, or Georgia. Locally, we use the Happy Egg Co.’s Heritage Breed eggs.
More expensive? Yep.
Worth it for recipes like this?
Look at the color of the pancakes in the photos!
Too much work?
Thin pancakes aren’t that hard to make, once you get the hang of it. The batter, in the blender is the easy part. Using a squeeze bottle, a happy little cheat, makes them much easier to pour onto a griddle.
I’ve included the pan version for purists, and other masochists.
If you’ve made crepes, you’re off to a good start, but you’re going to do some different things, with the thinner batter, and lower heat, that will offer a few teachable moments in adjusting to the texture, and thickness differences between a crepe and a Swedish “thin” pancake.
Crepe maker, griddle, or 35 cm – 38 cm – 14-15” nonstick pan
For Swedish pancakes, my crepe-o-philes, we keep the temperature DOWN. So set your cooking surface of choice to 52°c / 225°F. Use your Thermapen, or other accurate thermometer. Don’t trust the dial on your crepe maker, griddle, or stove. They’re seldom right. Just LIGHTLY touch the Thermapen needle to the surface to get the read.
We’re making a batter, thin on flour, and heavy on egg. Swedish pancakes are light, delicate, wonderful things. Nothing like the version sold at American hash-houses that should be arrested by the Swedish Culinary Police for calling their rubbery wannabes “Swedish.”
This is the exception to the “less is more” rule: Rapid integration helps this batter form better. So, unlike a hand-mixed American pancake, we need to coax the gluten, and the eggs, into total harmony.
A blender is best for this mission. You can use a food processor, or, if your Apple Watch, or FitBit, needs you to burn a few more cals/kcals, then HEY! Grab a bowl, and a whisk, and knock yourself out!
Set up your blender.
Add the eggs to the blender, or work bowl;
Tare/Zero your scale with the pourable container/measuring cup. Set to ml (milliliters) Put in the milk, and the oil into the blender;
Tip: Best not to add the milk and il directly to the blender, even if you’ve put it on the scale, and zeroed it out, as it’s hard to correct for accidental overages of ingredients, once the eggs are added.
Add your flavorants: The pinch of salt; a drop of vanilla; and the TINIEST pinch of mace†.
† See the photo below. Just a few grains. It’s VERY strong. You can substitute ground nutmeg. Add a bit more of that, but not much. We’re looking for hints of flavor/aroma.
Add the Dry Stuff: Flour, and cane sugar.
Blend at the LOWEST SPEED for about 25 seconds, or until fully integrated.
Pour some into a squeeze bottle with a control nozzle (The hole is small enough to not have everything rush out of the bottle when turned upside down).
Put the ladle into the blender.
Place both near the crepe maker/griddle or pan.
Put your lingonberry, and gooseberry preserves into ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap, until ready to use.
Put some of the whipped cream into the ramekin. Smooth with a spoon, or butter knife. Put the remainder into a storage container. Put both into the refrigerator, until needed.
Now, let’s move on to the show!
Griddle Method (Preferred)
This is very thin batter that we’re working with. It’s not going to puddle perfectly, like an American pancake, or have the viscosity (thickness) to support the easy-glide spreading that you get with a French crepe on T-spreader.
Pour a bit of avocado oil on to the grill. Wipe with a paper towel evenly around the surface.
Using your squeeze bottle, filled with batter. to lay down a loop on the griddle to make a base form.
Wait a few seconds, and then use your 2 oz. ladle to pour batter into the center of the “target.”
Immediately pick up your “T” spreader. Spread the hardening batter in a circle, quickly, so it spreads outside of your circle. Swedish pancakes have an irregular edge.
Rinse off the T-spreader and return to its place next to the cooking surface. Do this after each pancake. A clean spreader prevents tearing.
Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes, until firm.
Carefully slide the icing spreader under the pancake. If you meet with resistance, try another spot, or pull back from where you are, and slide around until the whole thing is loose. We don’t want to tear the pancake.
Using the spreader, or a turner, flip the pancake for about 10-15 seconds. Then flip back;
Using the spreader, fold in half, then fold again into a quarter. Use the spreader or a turner to pick it up, and put it on the plate.
If you have a warmer, put the plate into it. If you don’t, quick heat the oven for about 4 minutes at its lowest setting, then turn off. Keep the pancakes, on the plate(s).
When you have enough pancakes, dust them with powdered sugar;
Put dollops of gooseberry, and lingonberry on the corners;
Put a dollop of the extra-firm Atlas Never Whipped Cream on the corner of the plate.
Spray or wipe some avocado oil into the nonstick pan on medium-low (225°F) heat.
Pour a ladle of the batter into the pan;
Tilt the pan until the batter makes a thin coat to the edges;
Allow to dry enough that you can get a silicone spatula under it;
Working around the edges with the spatula, get under the pancake. It’s a bit trickier with the higher edge, which is why I’m less in love with this method for most home chefs. When it’s completely off of the surface, fold, and plate.
Follow the directions for griddling to keep warm/plate/serve.
Whipped cream comes in all shapes and sizes. You can go softer, lighter, or, in the case of one that has to sit atop warm things, like a pancake, super strong. If you make a softer, more normal mix, it will melt too fast.
In the 20th century, Charles Atlas, a bodybuilder who claimed that he was a “weakling,” as a kid, ran ads that promised the “puny” guy that, if you used his bodybuilding method, you, too, could become a muscle hunk, and kick sand in the face of the beach bully.
So “Atlas” heavy cream may be down; it may be on the ropes; it may be beaten until it’s tough, but it’s NEVER, gonna be whipped!
30 ml/ 2 tbsp avocado oil, or rice bran oil, for sautéing.
1/2 Cauliflower head, top florets only, finely cut into pea sized bits. Reserve remainder to rice/chop finely for other dishes;
4 to 6 g. of truffle salt;
Sprinkle of dried basil;
Sprinkle of dried oregano;
30 ml/ 2 tbsp avocado oil for roasting.
If using cauliflower, pre-heat your oven to 350Pre-heat your wok on high, or your sauté pan on medium-high. I prefer the wok because I want that “crispness” to the texture of the meat, to counter the soft sauce. Sautéing will take a bit longer;
Add water and kosher salt to your pasta pot. Set on HIGH;
Wash off your spinach in the colander. Drain. Put in your microwave dish;
Add the Sgt. Pepper cheese to your blender;
When the wok is hot, add rice bran oil (It has the highest smoke point, to avoid toxing out your oil), and sauté the ground pork, breaking it up into as small bits as possible. Add the truffle salt, basil, and oregano.
When the water achieves a rolling boil, add the pasta to your pasta pot. Set the recommended time for that type of pasta;
If your meat or vegetable is done, keep warm on a low setting;
With four minutes left, put the spinach in your microwave dish into the microwave. Heat on the fresh-vegetable setting, or for 3:20 at a power of 70% (Power-7);
Drain the pasta. Add to your large mixing bowl;
Add the add-ons: Meat; vegetable; etc.;
Put the spinach in the blender with the cheese disc. If it’s very dry, add 15 ml/ 1 tbsp of vegetable broth, or water. Pureé by starting slow, and then integrating until the spinach is fully emulsified into the cheese. No little spinach bits. Takes about 1 min. to 90 seconds;
Add the sauce to the pasta. Use the spatula to get it all out of the mixer. Toss with tongs (long noodles), or the spatula (small noodles), to integrate;
Plate, and sprinkle with the shredded Parmigiano Reggiano, then serve.
This pairs well with a nice, light white.
Pinot Grigio would be my call. A dry one, like Santa Margherita, would help contrast against the heavier cheese element in the pasta, clearing the palate, and opening up the next delicious bite!
Originally, I created these light, zippy zesty key lime cookies for an Easter party.
As the unofficial state fruit of Florida, my home state, though, the Key Lime is right for anytime.
Today, these mouthwatering morsels greet visitors to my ‘NEW’ old historic home bed and breakfast, The Epic WPB, in West Palm Beach, Florida. I put a tray of them into every room, every stay.
I’ve had several requests, thank you, for a gluten-free version of the cookie. I have updated the recipe to provide the GF ingredients. Want to go vegan? Use either recipe, and substitute the eggs for whatever egg substitute you use. I really hate all of them, to date, so I can’t wholeheartedly endorse one over another.
This is a “thinking” recipe. Yes, you can make a sinfully badassly impressive cookie by just following the steps.
If “why” fascinates you, though, and you seek true culinary creativity, don’t skip this part that will unleash your improvisational power!
Ratiosity: It’s as Easy as 3-2-1…
You can easily scale this recipe up, or down, because this is a riff on the standard 3-2-1 sugar cookie.
Sugar cookies’ sweet spot is a ratio: 3 parts flour, to 2 parts sugar, to 1 part fats (shortening). Put the goods together that way, add a little egg, and maybe a flavor, and bake, and you have sugar cookies.
How do you figure the ratios out?
Dump your inaccurate measuring cups. If you’re in Burma, Liberia or the United States, go metric!
The beauty of using metric weights and measures, like 99% of the nations of the world, is that you can easily do the math up or down. It’s just base-10.
300g? 150g is half. 100g is one-third.
Scale the ingredients to 12 cookies, or 48, or 64, or…
So, to do our ratios, on a 3-2-1 sugar cookie, if we had 300g of flour, we’re going to have 200g of sugar, and 100g of shortening and other fats, including those found natively in the egg yolk.
No more pile of measuring gear in your sink, or dishwasher.
No more asking “How many 1/8ths of a teaspoon is THAT supposed to be?!!!”
INGREDIENTS THAT MATTER
Take No Short-ening Cuts
You are only as good in the kitchen as the dishes that you turn out. They’re only as good as your ingredients.
Shortening always matters. Don’t cut down on the fats. Use better ones!
Crisco, or animal-based fats, will radically alter the taste. If you read my articles on oils and fats most of the volume seed oils are made with hexane, a gasoline derivative, to get every last drop out of the source seeds. Pretty gross.
Don’t use straight coconut oil, either. It’s a low-temp fat without the structure and temperature range, that Red Palm gives this shortening. Sub coconut oil only, and expect some mushy cookies.
If Nutiva’s shortening isn’t available, use as light a non-hydrolyzed vegetable shortening, as you can. Hydrolyzed fats, which are both toxic to you, and far less tasty, make your cookies taste a bit worse, too.
Juice? I’ll Take Manhattan…
I know that it’s heresy, living as I do in the Sunshine State, not to have Nellie’s as your go-to for an authentic Key Lime cookie, but, truly, there’s not that much “authentic” about Nellie’s juice anymore.
What makes these cookies AMAZING?
They are only as good at the juice that you use in the recipe. That defines their taste. Manhattan has the bolder flavor, by far.
Fresh Key Limes are pretty much extinct in Florida, except for a rare seasonal occasion. Most of the fresh limes that we get in the U.S. come from Mexico, more often than not from places without the brackish, sulphurous soil that gives key limes their distinctive taste.
Which is why the best “Key” limes generally come from… Peru! Lots of inlets with the soils perfect for growing key limes.
Read up on Manhattan Key Lime juice to understand why the island that matters is in the City that Never Sleeps.
Living in a Key Lime-Free Zone?
Are you from a part of the world where the “Key” lime isn’t prime? This recipe has your back:
Makrut magic, Persian perfection, or Desert Lime deliciousness? Just use 80% makrut lime to 20% pineapple juice. That will get you a bit closer to the real deal.
To Refrigerate (OR NOT). That is the Question.
There is a great deal of cookie superstition. To refrigerate, or not?
If you use the dough fresh, out of the mixer, you tend to get a lighter, fluffier cookie.
Use nitrile kitchen-grade gloves to keep the sticking to your hands down to a minium while formed. You have to be a bit more delicate in your touch. They may bake up a bit shorter, because the protein structures from the eggs are looser, and will form and tighten faster.
If you like a slightly more dense, chewy cookie, chill for at least two hours to get the dough to firm up.
2 large Vital Farms pasture-raised eggs (110 ml egg product).
30 ml./ 1 fl. oz/ 2 tbsp. Water
FOR KEY LIME GLAZE
140 g. / 1 cup powdered sugar;
30 ml. / 2 tbsp. Key Lime juice (or 20 ml makrut lime juice and 10 ml pinapple juice);
2 drops yellow food dye;
1 drop green food dye.
Pull out your digital scale, and a mini glass prep bowl. Don’t have one? Get one! Push the power button, and set to grams. Put the bowl on the scale. Hit the power, or tare, if your scale has a separate button, to tare out the weight of the bowl.
Pick EITHER the traditional, or gluten-free group of the dry ingredients. Put the mixer work bowl on the scale. Turn it on. It will “tare” (zero out) the weight of the bowl. Add the the dry ingredients, using the TARE/ZERO button between each to reset the scale.
Using your microplaner, zest the key limes into the dry flour mix.
Using the flat beater attachment, mix the dry ingredients and the and the key lime zest until distributed. We’re creating a light cookie that we don’t want forming too much gluten (regular) or toughen up the starches (gluten-free). Liquids unleash that reaction, so we save them for last!
Add the shortening. Mix on low until integrated, so it looks like a crumble, like this:
Put the wet ingredients . Mix until the mass holds together. If it is still looking like crumble, add a teaspoon of water at a time until it gathers together.
You can use it right away. Grab a pair of nitrile gloves, or wet your hands a bit to work with it, because it will be a whole lot stickier, and more delicate.
If you like the dense taste of a chewy cookie, I would recommend refrigerating it for 2+ hours.
Pull the dough ball out, and put it into a work bowl;
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap
Stick it in the refrigerator, and let stand for 2-3 hours.
Preheat your oven to 175°c / 350°F. Put your digital thermometer into the oven to check the temp when hot. Adjust as necessary, and call your oven’s repair people to recalibrate it if it’s significantly (+/- 10) off.
Pull out a 30 g. hunk of dough from your work bowl and put into the glass mini prep bowl to weigh it. TARE/ZERO between each cookie.
Weighing your cookie dough keeps the yield of your recipe more consistent. If you have 720 grams of material divide by 24 cookies, you have a 30 g. cookie.
Space about 2” apart on whatever non-stick cookie sheet or silicone mat that you choose to use.
Bake at for 8-11 min. or until the tops are dry, and soft, but solid. Remove and cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before icing.
Put the powdered sugar into the mixing bowl, then the food color, then the lime juice.
Whisk together. Add a few drops of water to get the consistency of the icing to very thick wallpaper paste.
Grab your squirt bottle, and your funnel. Use your spatula to put the glaze/icing into the bottle. Put the top on.
To ice, get a silicon mat (easiest) or a large piece of parchment paper and place the cookies on it. Make the glaze and put into a squirt bottle with a med-fine nozzle top.
Squirt glaze on to cookies, using a back-and-forth motion. Let dry completely, at least 30 min to an hour.
Hervé This’ Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor is a landmark book in the culinary arts. My “perfect eggs,” and many other revelations about how foods ‘are,’ that I have discovered, began with the science in this book.
This is a great storyteller, for a scientist, but, buyer beware: This transformative journey into the atoms and molecules of your food that puts the physics into pâté as big of an epiphany as it can be, is as dry a read as a poorly made Scottish scone.
EINSTEIN, WITHOUT THE BAGELS
Hervé This is not this legendary innovator. Rather, he’s your wonky, nerdy French guide to the research, mostly in France, into the science of food that yields discoveries that can help you in your home kitchen as much as it benefits the big corporates who crank out boxed, and packaged, foods.
If you think about it, food, at the bottom line, is like everything else in the known universe: It is made up of atoms, that form molecules, that form the cells that become the bits of this and that that ultimately become the food that you cook. Thankfully, monsieur This is much more eloquent in his scientific narrative than I am.
So, if we can understand the raw materials, from the atom up, as it were, we should be able to push past the stuff that has largely been a mystery of whatever that grandma that did fundamentally worked because, well, grandma didn’t screw things up. Often, we “luck” into a recipe because we did everything right. Understanding the science removes that haphazard way of succeeding, and builds a lot of culinary confidence in your understanding of how to master a wide variety of foods.
Even if you’ve been cooking to the point that you’ve earned your granny merit badge, you can learn some transformative things about your cooking from this book.
Let’s take eggs. Most of the world eats them, and even the best grannies in the world overcook them. Professor This explains that 68°c / 154°F is the ideal point where heat allows the egg to cook without overcooking. It allows the egg’s proteins to cook into chains that lock in the steam, keeping the egg more moist, less rubbery, and lighter. If your eggs come out so rubbery that you could bag them, and sell them at a novelty store next to the rubber chickens, then you need to heed this bit of science.
This is Professor This at his best. Some of his topics can be a very bone-dry read for those without their Ph.D in physics.
TAKING STOCK OF A BONE-DRY READ
The problem with the book is the language. No, not French, his native tongue. That probably would have helped. It’s the very clinical reporting of the work at this or that French research center that wanders off into that clubby space of readers who are already part of the “club.” Science geeking. If you loved chemistry in high school, he’s your kind of writer.
Thoughts on how vinegar evolves, or how heat affects the cellular structures of meat are both amazing and informative. His deep dives into small, nuanced aspects of the science, praising the scientists of this or that agency pushing on the borders of food science, can get really deeply into the weeds, and probably well above many readers’ interest level.
There are a couple of sections on using chemistry that, if you can figure out how to translate them into products available to you, help you understand flavor, and how the brain perceives it.
For those of us who translate that science into more teachable moments in home kitchens, if you can brave your way through the intellectual husks, the golden cooking knowledge within is invaluable.
When life gives you bones, make stock!
So many authors, and chefs, pro and amateur, have “discovered” this book, and have explored outward into what has been dubbed molecular gastronomy. While a slow read, the payoff, in terms of what you can do with your food, is well worth the page chew.
While it make the read a bit slower, as I have to put it down and read in small chunks, the things that I have learned from it have so transformed my understanding of what I cook, and of how to go about cooking it to honor the “stuff” from which it is made, I have to give it a big recommend.
Named for the always intriguing Spanish Jazz guitarist Ximo Tébar, this Iberian-influenced roasted tomato soup has two speeds. Served cold, my fave, it has one flavor palette with exotic, aromatic fenugreek leaf notes. Served hot, it has a warm, bright tomatoey goodness. It has more body than a gazpacho, and far more rich character than a can of Campbell’s classic.
It’s All About the Tomato
If you haven’t read my Tomato: A Love Story, check it out before you run out and buy a bag of mass-market meh tomatoes at the local super.
You are what you cook, reputation-wise, even with your family.
Those machine-picked, green-gets-gassed-gagworthy tomatoes of most North American markets look pretty, but taste… sh—-ty.
Sourcing great tomatoes makes a HUGE difference, like great steak, or poultry in this recipe, so start with the best tomatoes that you can find/afford.
The best? Home grown; vine-ripened. As long as they’ll hold on to the vine at home, they’ll be awesome.
Don’t grow your own? Find tomatoes from a local farm, farmer’s market, or organic store.
Still stuck to the Super? Beware “Vine ripened.” Just because they ship them with the stem doesn’t mean that it wasn’t picked green, and gassed later. The article will fill you in!
10-12 small course; 6-8 meal-sized.
Ozeri Scale, set to metric. (Base 10 is both more accurate, and easier than all of that “How much is 1/4+ 2/3rds” stuff.)
Large non-stick roasting pan, or baking tray with lipped sides, e.g. not a cookie sheet.
Williams-Sonoma/Heston Nanobond™ 8 qt. pot, or equivalent;
Set the oven on ROAST (preferred) or BAKE to 200°c / 400°F. When it reaches temperature, grab your digital thermometer, quickly open it, and put your hand and probe into the middle of the oven, briefly, to get the read. If it’s off, adjust the temperature upward or downward a few degrees to compensate for the inaccuracies of your oven. You can just adjust, or, if you own it, have a technician come and recalibrate it, if it’s far off.
Peel the garlic cloves and onions. Slice off a bit of the top and bottom of the onion. Put them on the tray;
Wash all of the tomatoes. Pull out your non-stick tray or roaster and put it on the counter. Put them on the tray with the onions and garlic, flipping them on to their stem-side as the “bottom.” Take a sharp knife and score an “X” into the top of each.
Put the tray into the oven to begin the roasting.
Put the stock pot on the stovetop. Add the water. Set to medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
Check your roast periodically for the garlic, but absolutely don’t let it go for more than 15 minutes. If you see the garlic begin to brown earlier, pull out the tray. Use the tongs remove the garlic cloves. Add to the stovetop pot. Reduce the heat on the pot to a simmer when it has boiled.
Return the tray with the tomatoes and onions to the oven. Continue the ROAST for approximately 30 minutes, or until the skins are a bit wrinkly, as they’re pictured, below. A touch of char is okay on a couple near the edges, but don’t burn them, or it will impact the flavor. Remove from the oven, set next to your pot on heat-safe surface, and turn off the oven.
Using the tongs, gently put the onions and tomatoes into the stock pot. Don’t squeeze too hard! They can squirt hot liquids. If your tomatoes turn to mush when you pick them up, they’re either overcooked, or low supermarket-grade tomatoes. If they implode, don’t worry! Just deal with them in the next step.
Using your spatula, scrape off the bottom of the pan. There’s a lot of residual liquid with essential oils from the tomato, onion and the garlic that offer up some HUGE flavor! Don’t wash the goodness away.
Break up the tomatoes a bit with your spatula. Don’t get carried away, my OCD chefs. We just want to open them up a bit. You’ll be pureéing them later.
Drop in the basil, whole. No need to chop (You know that I’m talking to you…). The essential oils find their way in, and we’re pureéing, remember?;
Set the stockpot to medium, or bring it back to a boil, and simmer.
Add the salt, dried or fresh thyme, paprika, dried basil, bay leaf and fenugreek leaves. If you use fresh thyme, strip the leaves off of the stems, and discard the stems.
When it boils, reduce heat, and simmer for ten (10) minutes, breaking it up a bit as you go to get the herbs across the tomatoes. It should look like this:
While simmering, pull out your bread slices, or slice the stale bread. Really any bread will do, but avoid hard-seeded breads, as the seeds make the blend gritty.
At the end of the first simmer, about five to seven minutes, once all of the tomatoes and herbs are integrated, add the bread to the pot. Push it down into the soup so it saturates.
Simmer another five minutes. It should look like this when it’s ready to blend:
Turn off the heat.
Remove the bay leaf.
See video below:
Take your immersion blender, and, holding it a bit off of the bottom, begin blending on its normal, or low setting, stopping, and moving around the pan, to break the bigger pieces up. The more even that you can make it, the easier it is to purée.
Once it’s even, make sure that you are drawing down all of the tomato and onion to be pureéd. If it feels like all of the big pieces are gone, you’re ready to move
If you use the AllClad immersion blender, it has a “Turbo” feature. Holding firmly, with the blender touching the bottom of the pot in the center, press the Turbo button and hang on! It has a bit of a kick. The soup will puree and look like a more commercial tomato soup.
If you don’t have a turbo button, keep blending and it will get there.
If you have a blender, put batches of the soup base into the blender and pureé on a med/high speed.
Once puréed, add the cream, and blend quickly, as you see in the video. Putting in the cream earlier can change the character of the soup.
If you like it hot, serve, and garnish with the thyme sprig. If you want to try it cold, prepare the night before, or chill for at least six hours. You’ll taste more of the nuance of the fenugreek leaves, and herbs in the cold version, more of the brightly roasted tomato in the hot. Store, or serve.
Gravlax has a “lox” on smoked salmon. It puts the deli into delicious. Well, at least Google Keywords will be happy with that corny riff!
Meet Chet’s Char. Char is a fish that is very similar to salmon. It makes a nice gravlax (lox) that you can cure yourself easily! You can also use salmon. Just double the recipe for the “cure” below because those filets are longer, and heavier.
Named for Chet Baker, my fave trumpter, like him, it’s rich, complex, melodic, and a bit alcohol-infused. (Before it burns off in the sugar cure.)
For real: Every time that I see someone spend $44/lb at a deli on lox, or even pick up one of those $18.00 ‘cards’ of salmon at Costco, I cringe. Gravlax is ridiculously easy to cure. There’s not a lot of magic to it, and you can do SO MANY things with it, and a little improvisational imagination.
While we’re all used to the salt/sugar/white pepper cure, along with the dull dill Scandanavian slant, which make up 95% of the lox load, it can have an almost infinite number of flavors.
In the ‘why be boring?’ department, you know that I’ve got a riff that will make you smile.
Curing Fish, 101
The basics? Kosher salt, and sugar.
So when we “cure” a piece of char, or salmon, into gravlax, we move water, and bacteria that would render the raw salmon pretty rancid, and disgusting, out, and move flavors in.
Kosher salts differ. A lot. That’s why, when a Twitter rumor started, in 2019, that Diamond Crystal was going out of business, it started a stampede of top professional, and home, chefs to grab boxes before it went away.
Read about what makes this Kosher salt unique, especially for curing, here.
We could cure the fish just with salt. It would be a bit harsh. Sugar helps balance out a gravlax cure and enhances the flavor of the fish.
The Flavor Game
As long as we’re “curing” the fish, why not infuse it with some flavor, as the bad stuff is on its way out?
Traditional flavors incorporate pepper, or white pepper, or dill. There really is a limitless number of riffs that you can do with flavoring gravlax.
Here we blend a little fennel seed, Raki, a Turkish anisette liquor, a touch of tangarine zest, its juice, and applewood smoke, into a aromatic marvel.
This is one of the better combos that I’ve created, but it’s only a reference. Feel free to experiment with your own.
If you want to make “Lox” or smoked salmon, the only difference is the addition of smoke.
The Chet’s Char blend includes:
Mild Aleppo chile pepper, or “Aleppo-style” since Aleppo, Syria, was reduced to rubble in that nation’s civil war. It adds a little earthiness;
White pepper, to bring a little pungent counter to the sweet, and earthy notes;
Fennel seed, which is both a fragrant and a sweet, pleasant spice that rises well out of the salt and sugar;
A little tangerine zest and a splash of tangerine juice act as citrus notes that blend well with the fennel;
The sugar offsets the salt, and brings up the flavor of the fish.
The Yeni Raki is a touch of exotic anise flavor that pairs well with the fennel and does a duet with the tangerine (Chet would approve).
Applewood smoked salt – Provides that “smoked” taste, without having to resort to a cold-smoker.
Smokeless Smoking? Smoked Salts!
One problem, for a long time, for home chefs wanting to cure fish with a touch of smoke was the “smoked” part of smoked salmon.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Where there is fire, there is heat. Heat cooks, not cures, the fish. The answer, originally, was using a cold smoker, usually some sort of box with an attachment that brings in the smoke, but channels away the heat.
Not too many homes with their own cold smoker. Those of you reading this who HAVE a cold smoker, I can feel your smug superiority screaming across the Internet at me. Smoke the fish for about 5-8 minutes with applewood chips before putting it into the cure.
For the rest of us, there are now smoked salts, which impart a wonderful smoked flavor, without the smoker. Applewood, or alderwood, work best with char, or salmon.
Smoker owners can play with their gear. For the rest of us, we drop a little Kosher salt, and add in some smoked salt, for flavor.
Gravlax Curing Ratio
Remembering ratios of ingredients can help you make them on the fly, without resorting to recipes, a bit better. The cure is, roughly:
Gravlax Cure: 2:1 Sugar/Salt (2 parts sugar, to 1 part salt.)
No, not descale the fish, although you should do that first.
Gravlax, or any other cured food, like baking, is one of those things that cries out for weight measure, as it helps us keep our ratios more accurate.
So grab a scale, set it to those evil GRAMS, because Base-10 weights are SIMPLE, and follow along.
You’re going to use the tare button. Tare is old-school scale-speak for “zero.”
It allows you to put a container, like a bowl, or a pan, on to the scale, and deduct its weight from your measure, so you don’t have to add in your head.
GO REAL BROWN, THE SUGAR OF REKNOWN
This recipe calls for Muscovado, real-deal brown sugar from the rich burnt cane, higher in fiber, and lower in sucrose-super-sweetnesss.
Can you get away with brown sugar? Sure. You can also skin your Rolls Royce with ads for Viagra, and international prepaid phone cards.
Muscovado is “real” brown sugar. The rich, burnt cane. Not white sugar with molassses added. The richness cannot be replaced by cheap, and more high-glycemic, mass-market sugars.
1 char filet, or salmon filet, skin on, deboned.
At the market, look for a piece of fish that preferably is around 3-4 cm. (1-1.5 in) or thinner, at its thickest point. The more even the meat is from tail to center, the better the filet for a gravlax. Thick-centered filets cure unevenly. Until you get good at eyeballing fish, you can always ask your store’s fish monger to help you pick out a piece for curing.
(With no apologies to Gary X, or hPeter O’Toole). The Cure is a Post-Punk rock band that has had more band member changes than a Spanish Diario, but they still perform around the world. Check them out on Spotify, and go to their next tour date near you!
Lipped baking tray, or glass pyrex baking dish to catch liquid during refrigerator cure that lets the fish lie competely flat, and also fits your fridge;
Lots of plastic wrap.
20 minutes @ start; 5-10 minutes @ finish.
1-3 days, depending upon fish, thickness.
Make sure that the kitchen counters and prep spaces are clean before you start. Wash up before handling any of the food, and after each step. We’re curing the fish of bad bacteria. No need to introduce anything else new into the salt cure!
Put the pan on the scale. Turn the scale on, set to GRAMS. If the weight of the pan is on there, hit TARE to zero it. We want to weigh the ingredients, not the pan.
Toast the fennel and white peppercorns in the sautée pan over medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes, until fragrant. DO NOT toast until the seeds are browned/toasted. Set aside to cool a bit.
Put the work bowl on the scale. You’ll repeat the “tare” prodedure after adding any of the measured dry ingredients. Once you get the hang of it, it’s so much more accurate, and easy. Measuring cups and spoons lie like rugs about the volume in them. Add the salt. Tare the scale. Add the muscovado sugar to the work bowl. Tare.
Add the organic cane sugar. Tare.
Remove the work bowl from the scale, and place on the counter next to it. Using your fingers, break down, and integrate all of the muscovado sugar lumps with the salt and cane sugar until there are no lumps left.
Make sure to brush all of the ingredients off of your hands, and back into the work bowl, before you wash your hands. We need all of our ingredients!
Transfer the seeds from the pan to the grinder, or mortar/pestle. Rough grind for 10-15 seconds in the machine, or about 3-5 minutes with the pestle in the mortar. They don’t need to be powder. Add to the work bowl.
Using your zester, zest the tangerine(s) into the work bowl. Reserve the fruit for juicing.
Add all remaining dry ingredients in the cure by taring the scale, and adding the measured amount.
Put your liquids cup on to the scale. Turn on/tare. Switch to ML (Milliliters). Pour the correct amount of Yeni Raki into the cup. Remove from the scale. Juice the tangerine fruit over the cup to add.
Using a spatula, mix in the liquid by hand, until the moisture is distributed throughout the rough mass. Do not over mix.
Put the pan on your work surface. Bring out the fish. Before you pull the fish out of any packaging, test to make sure that it fits the pan. If it’s coming out of a container, clean the pan and dry it before proceeding. If the fish doesn’t lie flat, you need a larger pan that will catch liquid while leaving the fish flat. The salt/sugar cure has to make contact with all of the fish AT ALL TIMES in order to cure it properly.
Proper plastic wrap makes, or breaks, this recipe. Once we put the cure all over the fish, we have to keep it close. The salt is going to work its way in, and exchange fluid out. About 30%-50% of the fluid in the fish flesh will be sweat out, as flavor is inserted. We have to use several layers of wrap to seal it, so it doesn’t leak in the process, and the cure stays with the fish. Put the plastic wrap box to the left of your tray on the counter. Have the tray horizontal, the long part going to the left-right, in front of you. Before we do long, let’s start with wide. Pull off a piece of plastic wrap, at least three times the width of your fish. Put on the tray in the middle, making a cross between the tray, and the plastic.
Now we go wide: Pull out another strip that is a few inches longer, on either side, than the length of your fish. Cut it and lay it down across the tray, over the top of the other strip, making our plastic “cross.”
On the long sheet of plastic wrap, spatula out a pile of the cure, about 1/4” deep, that is as long, and as wide, as the fish. Shape it like the fish, for width, so there is as little excess outside of the fish as possible.
Place the fish, skin side down, on top of the cure. Spoon the remainder of the cure, across the top of the fish, and over its sides, so it is completely covered, about 3/8” to 1/4”.
Bring the long edges of the wrap together as firmly as possible, allowing as little air/gaps between the wrap and the cure. Take the “cross” vertical piece and use it to seal up the first wrap of the fish. Depending on length, you might need another vertical at either end, as well.
Set the fish aside, off the tray, line up another round of plastic wrap, and do it again. Flip over the seam-side of your wrapped fish, which should be up, so it’s on the new plastic wrap. Seal up the fish again. Repeat this flip and seal one more time. We’re making sure that the cure, and the fluids that will come out of the fish, don’t leak out. They have to make contact for this to work.
Take the fish, and tray/pan, and put them into the refrigerator to cure. Make a reminder on your phone, or on a calendar, to check the fish twenty-four hours later.
Check on the fish. Hopefully you have no leakage from your wrap. If you have a little bit, that’s okay, grab a bit more plastic wrap and mummify it again, carefully. If you have a lot, you may need to start over again. What you should be looking for:
Fish is more rigid. It shouldn’t flop around.
Gently feel the top of the fish. If it’s uniformly firm, not hard, across the filet, then it is likely ready. The thinner end is going to be harder. Char can be done in 24 hours Most standard American salmon filets take at least 36-48 hours. If it has any soft spots.
Turn the fish over, if it still is softer/squishy in spots. For char, and smaller salmon filets, check again in twelve hours, but don’t turn it again. If it’s ready, move on to the finishing steps on Day Two.
Unless you have an insanely thick salmon filet, it’s usually well cured by 48 hours. Filet is stiff, firm to the touch, but not rock hard. The ends that are thinner might get harder. If they’re too hard, then you needed to cut back on your curing time a bit, although they’ll still taste delicious.
Make sure that your sink is very very clean.
Remove from the refrigerator.
Grab a sharp kitchen knife, and, from the skin side, open up the plastic wrap. Lifting the fish, with a slow stream of cold water running, pour out the excess salt and liquid from the plastic.
Remove the fish from the plastic, and rinse off the excess salt, and any of the seed mix that might have stuck to it.
Put on the tray or cutting board and pat dry with paper towels on both sides.
When it’s dry, re-wrap it. It needs to rest, prior to service, at least twelve hours. See why in the next step.
Pull out the filet to serve. The fish has had some time to allow the remaining, more limited fluids in the fish to redistribute. It won’t seem as dry on the ends and edges as it did when you pulled it out.
Using a very, very sharp boning, or sushi-grade knife is best. Starting from the thick part of the filet, cut lines down into the fish, along the the edges to make for a clean edge to your slices on either long side of the fish.
Turn the knife flat, on top of the fish. From the thickest spot, begin slicing as THIN a slice of the fish from the top cured layer at its thickest point. It’s going to be a bit tougher than the fish inside because it’s been directly exposed to the salt cure. It’s super-tasty, though, so don’t chuck it. If it’s not visually appealing to serve, and you don’t want to snack on it, you can chop it and add to cream cheese for a really amazing lox spread, or pasta, with a bit of hazelnut oil, and salt.
Continue cutting thin slices from the fish, slicing across the top of the filet, from vertical line to vertical line. Practice, and a sharp knife will help with the look. Even torn-sliced fish, though, can still look and taste great on a piece of bread with a little creme-fraiche, goat cheese, or cream cheese.
Plate for service later, or add to lightly toasted bread with creme-fraiche, my fave, or goat cheese. Garnish with a sprig of dill. Serve.
There are people who touch us more profoundly than we often think that they do. Anthony Bourdain was one of them. He lived every day to the fullest, traveling around the world, meeting, eating, exploring, celebrating, revealing and reveling in the myriad cultures and traditions that he shared with millions through the one celebration of life which we all have in common:
It was not about the eating, in Bourdain’s world, although savor it he did. Food was cultural communion, the doorway to conversations about life and the way we live it, the wonders of our diversity, and the commonalities that we share as human beings.
Bourdain’s suicide profoundly shocked the world yesterday. Whether you were a foodie, a travel junkie, a chef, or a home chef who lived vicariously through the adventures of this culinary Kerouac, his loss was immediate, and profound.
He was rebel and renegade, sinner and saint. A heroin addict in the 1980s, he became a chef by working from the bottom up, old school. Washing dishes. Line cook. Sous chef. Head chef. It was his book, “Kitchen Confidential,” an often brutal look at the behind-the-scenes of the restaurant business, and his frank, blunt takes on everything from Monday fish to Sunday brunch, that made him a celebrity.
He lived bright and fast, the comet school.
“It came as sort of a rude surprise to me when I turned 30 and I was still alive,” he said. “I didn’t really have a plan after that.” he once told ABC News.
He was a master storyteller of life, and, more importantly, his own life. Bourdain professed not to be a great chef, although he was, but he surely played one brilliantly on TV. You don’t earn the respect and friendship of top chefs all over the world if you haven’t walked the walk.
It was his adventures, though, into every corner of living, into the cuisines of everyday small businesses and homes, in places prosperous and poor, that made his travelogue something unique.
He shared meals with paupers and presidents. He was as comfortable dining at a beat up card table in front of a fisherman’s hut in Cambodia as he was dining with one of the world’s top chefs in New York or Paris.
As he traveled, his world-view changed. He often regretted some of the remarks that he made about the restaurant trade in the early days. He learned, through the eating of food in some of the roughest, most septic conditions in the world, to appreciate how most people eat, and foods that they cherish, from bugs to water buffalo anus, that would simply freak out more Eurocentric diners, yet, secretly, so many millions lived vicariously through Bourdain’s adventures.
“Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.” This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him. pic.twitter.com/orEXIaEMZM
His show “No Reservations,” was the food & travel twin to “The Crocodile Hunter,” at first known better for its sensationalist, almost reckless edge.
I recall him sitting on the beach in São Paulo, eating lobster from one of the surf shacks on the beach, praising its taste while noting that he got a look at the sanitary conditions in the “kitchen,” and that he was certain to be throwing it up later.
There was also his trip to Buenos Aires, where he went for beef, and therapy. It’s what anyone in Buenos Aires who can afford it, does. He talked chorizo, and depression. Doctor’s recommendation? Continue therapy. Bourdain’s recommendation? Searching out great chorizo at 1am with the doctor.
Bourdain would travel everywhere. Eat anything. He began meeting more people. Interviewing them. That was the shift that ended the Travel Channel project, and moved into something bigger and better: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN.
It was his ability to communicate, to relate, that made him one of the most interesting people in the world.
He cherished the elegance of the simple. Bourdain did a whole segment on cooking a good, simple egg at home. He was a biting critic of rote cooking, and thoughtless plating.
Major chain hotel breakfast. that the eggs come automatically with a ramekin of ketchup makes me sad and worried for the fate of the world.
In the end, though, it was his celebration of life, from the micro to the macro, that everyone, from his crew to his most humble of fans, will miss.
Like most who succeed in their passion, no matter what he did, no matter how famous he became, he didn’t buy into his own PR. Bourdain didn’t believe that his success was more than dumb luck. When other people could be delirious with a successful career that gave one such freedom, access, wealth and fame, he wasn’t a true believer.
By the way that the world measures success, he was at the top of his game. In his recent video interview with Anderson Cooper, he said that his Hong Kong trip, which allowed him to work with a long-admired Australian Cinematographer Christopher Doyle, was the pinnacle of his career.
Some people say these things glibly. There was little glib about Bourdain. So, perhaps, being at the top of the mountain, the way down didn’t look as appealing as the way up.
Speculation is just that, though. Does anyone really know the “why” of a suicide? Everyone spent yesterday trying to fathom it, when we all kind of secretly fear that, one day, we may be sitting there, like Tony, and be asking ourselves: “Why not?”
It’s the wrong thing to be focused on anyway. How he made his exit is the salacious stuff of TMZ and CNN Entertainment. Bourdain’s dislike of being an entertainment freak might have caused him to rethink that kind of exit, if he wasn’t at the bottom of the well.
We should focus on the magnificent life lived, the quest, the wake of great things that he did for all of us.
Bourdain did so much for many, many people, not to take credit, or look like a big man, but for the scale-balancing of the world that his perch in it afforded to him:
I’ve joked for years that “I want to be Anthony Bourdain when I grow up.” Different pathways to the same point, struggling with depression, perhaps it is our all arriving at the point where we understand that food, and our approaches to it, our celebrations of it, and the good feeling that come with it, are what make the journey worthwhile.
He left behind a legacy of open doors, a world less “unknown,” and a lot more to be done.
I hope, in even the smallest of ways, this publication, this travelogue, the recipes, and the people who will be invited to come here and teach you, and teach each other, honor the spirit of the mission that Anthony Bourdain got rolling.
We still have so much to learn about each other, from each other.