All posts tagged Cook’s Notes

Cook’s Notes – Schmaltz

Read the original post here.

Rendering animal fats is a powerful technique to know. Olive oil and butter are still my most common fats for cooking, but having some rendered bacon or chicken schmaltz are so useful to alter or boost the flavor of a dish.

Like Christine said in the post, this is wet rendering. The fat is in a pot and basically starts off by melting into the water. When the water boils, the whole mixture is essentially held at 212F/100C until the water boils off – hot enough to melt the fat but not so hot that it cooks and develops off flavors.

(Dry rendering, by contrast, involves simply cooking chunks of whatever in a skillet. I do this most often with bacon, over a medium-low heat – the fat in the bacon needs to render out before the bacon starts to burn. Wet rendering takes longer but is more forgiving about this, dry rendering requires a little more focus.)

After the water boils off, the remaining liquid in the pot goes from cloudy to clear, and then you’re off to the races. Take care not to burn the fat or the cracklin’ in the pot – you want the skin to fry crisp and golden brown, but you don’t want to get to, or past, the smoke point of the fat in the pot.

If you do this with pork, you get rendered lard and cracklings.
If you do this with chicken, as shown, you get schmaltz and gribenes.
If you do this with duck, you get duck fat (swoon!) and … well, duck cracklings, I think.
And so on.

As I mentioned above, this is a tool on your way to a finished dish. To get a sense of how to use these, buy some potatoes, dice them, dry them with a paper towel, and saute them in these different fats. You’ll find that it all tastes like golden brown delicious potato, but they have background flavors from the cooking fat.

Enjoy!

Cook’s Notes – Cauliflower Leek Soup

Christine has launched the first edition of Cooking with Mike (link opens in a new window), our mostly-weekly cooking series. The soup is one we’ve eaten for a long time, and regularly makes an appearance for a quick weeknight dinner.

I won’t rehash the making of the soup itself – she’s got the key information up on her site – but I did have some extra comments worth writing here.

First, like many soups, this isn’t fussy about exact ingredient proportions. That happened to be the bunch of leeks and the size of cauliflower head I bought for the shoot. Play with it, and adjust to your taste – more leek, less leek, some shallots instead, and so on.

The flavor of this soup is pretty clean – the smokiness of the bacon, the body of the stock, the vegetable notes of the cauliflower and soft pungency of the leeks. (Editor’s note – Please don’t let me write a sentence with all those adjectives in it at once. It sounds too pretentious.) This also means it’s a great base to add all sorts of flavors – peppers, spices, herbs, booze. For example, curried cauliflower soup with pistachios.

Finally, there are many ways to finish the soup, which Christine touched on in her post:

  • The chunkiest finish is to simply serve it as it is – pieces of cauliflower and leek in a broth. If that is your intent (and add some carrot pieces, that sounds great) then pay a bit more attention when cutting the leeks and cauliflower to get them to similar, even sizes. Since this was getting blended, I didn’t fuss too much.
  • Next is to mash this with a potato masher or the like. This won’t ever get truly smooth, but it’ll get kind of smooth, but still very rustic.
  • Stick blender is next on the list. This can get you a pretty smooth soup, although you’ll still feel it – it’s not completely smooth, but there aren’t chunks to chew on.
  • If you want to get it nice and smooth, a combination is best – blend it with a stick blender then pass it through a fine mesh strainer. I have a couple of inexpensive ones from Target or the like around the house, and while they aren’t the finest mesh, they do the job well. Take a ladle and push the soup through the strainer – this evens out the soup and makes it finer than just blending alone.
  • Finally is a standing blender. The Vitamix shown was a Christmas present for me (yay!), and it definitely has some torque to it. This created an amazingly smooth, thick, velvet-like soup. I thought it was delicious. Christine decided it was odd. Your mileage may vary.

So, make the soup. Write in and tell us about what you’ve done and what you think. And, there’ll be more to come!