Archive for April, 2010

Pig’s head Torchon

One of the more difficult challenges posed by the Momofuku Cookbook is obtaining the proper ingredients.  The Asian markets may be challenging at first, but the ingredients are there, you just need to find them, or ask the prettiest lady in the store for assistance.  Some of the other rare ingredients may be tracked down in a specialty shop such as sheet gelatin or ordered through the mail.  Every now and than, there is an ingredient that is not on a mailing list or available special order such as half a pigs head.

The pigs head proved elusive for quite some time.  Butchers do not carry them, some could not special order them, and some thought I was crazy for asking.  Perhaps they had visions of the choirboys putting the head on stake waiting for the fateful conversation with Piggy.   It took some time to track one down.

Projects has a funny way of coming full circle.  It’s been a while since I’ve ventured down to the Union Square Greenmarket, but thinking about it during my pickling posts was the aha moment, it started back in December with the first dish of pork belly, a trial run photo that did not make the blog.the beginning of Momofuku At Home.  Check out the label.

Located in Shushan, NY, Flying Pigs Farms, is about a three hour drive (200 miles) north of NYC, past Albany near the border of Vermont.  I called them and went through a rather awkward introduction.

“Hello, Flying Pig’s Farm, this is Erin.”

“Hi Erin, this is Chris, from New York” pause “well, I guess you’re from New York as well, I live in New York City and I’m looking for a pig’s head”.

In retrospect, this may have been the first time in the past few weeks I asked this question that the person on the other end of the line thought it was completely normal.  I arranged to pick up the pigs head at the Union Square Greenmarket on Friday, April 2nd, no special delivery or shipping charge.  Erin was kind enough to provide some tips working with the head and wished me luck…

The pig’s head made a nice travel companion on NJ Transit, a Facebook mobile upload, and an interesting conversation piece for the elderly lady sitting next to me.

In a welcome break from convention, I prefer to play with my food.  Most of us, while growing up, are taught not to play with our food.  While that may be appropriate when it’s on the plate, any activity that demystifies food or makes it more interesting for kids is fair game.

The head was placed carefully in the garage fridge with eye and snout looking out, right next to the soda.  When the kids came over, “hey Zoey, could you please get your uncles a diet Root Beer?”.  Like a good kid, off she went.  Thirty seconds later she had a soda can in her hand and placed it on the counter next to me.  Nothing.  Oblivious.

Twenty minutes later, a scream erupts from the garage, Brielle.  The head has been spotted…  The adults were giggling like Muttley, from Stop that Pigeon fame…

Once we settled down, had some dinner (Coming Soon: mussels with OS), and I had the opportunity to chase the teenage vegetarian around the house with the head, I recruited some partners in crime to get to work.

[Photos by Zoey, age 12 (i think)]

Yeah, he cracks me up.  I love the shirt too: Sister for Sale.  Readers probably remember Colin from the butcher block video.  He wanted to help out, and the thought of shaving a pig was too much to resist.
They got a real kick out of this, and were stunned to learn pigs get cavities.
I’m hoping this reinforces the need to brush and floss, but I won’t let my hopes get too high.  But moving this post along, it’s into the pot for a long simmer…
Some aromatics.
The pig was snorkeling…
I had to get that bad boy down.
I can’t lie here, a discomforting feeling percolates the guy while trying to keep a creatures nose below the water with a lifelessly eye peering from six inches below the water line.  While this post has been light and fun, to this point, working with an entire pig’s head has a transformative effect, mainly, respect.

We’ve become detached from our food sources.  The topic has been covered in great detail by others, so I won’t get on the pedestal, nevertheless, working directly with the head brings a deeper respect for the animal and food source reinforcing the obligation to reduce waste.  Nose to tail eating at it’s heart…

Pig’s Head Torchon

Removing the head from the pot was quite cumbersome, and, unsurprisingly, impossible to photograph by yourself.  The meat peals back from the bones.  You can still see the steam rising on the plate.
Does it remind you of a bald football player on a cold Sunday in December?
It’s all getting ready for a very Dexter moment…

Flipping the head over:
and separate into piles: meat, fat, all the other stuff (bones, snout, eye, etc.)
a close up of the nasty bits ( just lost half the readers…)
The meat gets separated by itself.  “Are those brains?”, my mother asked.
“it’s browned garlic”.

The mechanics of putting this all together sound simple enough.  Put down some fat and some meat and roll it tight, however, rolling a torchon correctly proves slightly more difficult.

The Dish

When I was in college, my house mates and I were hosting a party along with the girls who shared the other half of the house.  The parties were always pretty good and usually features the women’s track team, members of the band (one time, not at camp), and all the cheerleaders.  One of my house mates, Ron, just received some venison and deer meat from his father.  He cooked it up and served it as a passed hors d’oeuvres.

Ron possessed some talent in the kitchen and experience with game meats. He tenderized, seasoned, and cooked the meat simply and perfectly.  He stabbed the bear with toothpicks and placed it on the table without announcing what it was.  Off it went to the delight of the party.  One of the girls, happily enjoying asked, “this is good, what is this?”

“Bear meat”, he replied.

“No, seriously, what is it?”

“Seriously, it’s bear meat”.

Her reaction was completely unexpected.  She covered her mouth and managed to suppress a gag reflex until making it outside where she lost her cookies (and the bear meat).  My first experience with a purely psycho/physiological reaction…

So, here’s a joke you can play on some kids (or adults for that matter).  Describe this dish and a fair number of people sound grossed out, won’t try it.  The thought of eating a dish not rendered anonymous through processing convinces the senses it will not be good.  The face displays disgust, with the upper lip crinkling up towards the nose, a reaction seen for cannibalism and dead road carcasses.

“What will it look like?”, is a common question.

“It will look like a Chicken McNugget…”

Complete silence.

No one wants to believe you.  Either way, as part of the deal, I asked them to try it if it looked like a chicken McNugget, and they agreed.  The joke would be to make these and serve them at a party without telling your guests what they are.  Is that irresponsible?  I’m sure it’s a gray line in someone’s book.

So, here you go.  Breading and frying station.
The torchon gets sliced in one inch pieces, breaded, fried and plated:

It looks like a chicken McNugget.

How did it taste?
Here’s a shot of the little warrior not enjoying it…

After spitting out the first bite, which turned out to be a hunk of fat, he bravely went in for another try.  Making sure to slice off a piece with mostly meat, it didn’t fair much better…

Oh well.  All in all, the dish was a bit of a disappointment.

The dish needed the kewpie mayonnaise and mustard sauce to taste decent.  Also, not only was the torchon rolled too thick, but also the fat and meat was not distributed properly.  Some pieces had huge chunks of fat and others mostly pure meat.  I’m welcome to suggestions and methods to improve on this.  I might be tempted to run a knife through the fat and meat before combining just to achieve a consistent and small distribution.

Additionally, the torchon was not sufficiently seasoned.  I tasted and seasoned liberally before wrapping the torchon, but the final dish still lacked the proper amount of salt.  Friends, chefs, and garde managers claims seasoning torchons, terrines, etc. are difficult and challenging.

The result was disappointing, but definitely part of the learning process.  I’ll revisit this recipe again and attempt a head cheese at some point.

Still work the fun time with the little ones…

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for school that Monday, when the teacher asked, “So what did the class do this weekend?”

“My uncle chased me around the grandma’s house with a pigs head, than we shaved it and made McNuggets…”


Oysters with kimchi consommé

This week in Momofuku At Home

For all those interested in eating fresh, local, sustainable food, I attended the screening of a new documentary,  Fresh screened in NYC, followed by a Q&A session with the director Sofia Joanes.  The movie is fantastically directed and well edited.  I felt a little sorry for Ms. Joanes while watching a film topic recently covered by similar documentaries such as The Future of Food and Food, Inc.  Ms. Joanes bravely shared that she cried when hearing about the release of Food, Inc. (she filmed at Joel Salatin’s farm before the Food, Inc. director).  Nevertheless, it’s well worth watching or grabbing a license for a viewing party.

Spread the word, support the cause.

ON Q&A questions, in general,  you know what really grinds my gears? audience members who provide an autobiography leading up to the question, which, in fact, has very little to do with the question.  “I’ve been grinding my own coffee since I was 14 and my question is this: what are the T-shirts made out of?” and “I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods before it existed in NYC, and my question has to do with…”

Which leads me to my second pet peeve, starting a question with the phrase, “I have a question”.  Of course you do, that is why you raised your hand and the speaker acknowledged you.

I did get a chance to meet up with a Momofuku At Home fan, Amy.  Check her out on Roadtrip Nation trailer, a PBS documentary were, you guessed it, she took a road trip around the country including the opportunity to interview David Chang before Ssäm bar opened.  Amy was a little late to the screening trying to squeeze in some ginger scallion noodles at Noodle Bar.  She managed to get the trifecta when we wandered through Ssäm Bar and Milk Bar to pick up some crack pie and share some fruity pebble cereal milk.  I, of course, had the pork buns.

Ssäm Bar does not have the kimchi consommé on the menu.  Oh well…


I’ve had an obsession with making consommé for about eighteen months.  You would think I would have just made some and scratched that itch.  It started with regular making batches of homemade stock.  Mike Pardus, guest posting on the Hunger Artist posted videos demonstrating how to make beef consommé.  Riveting.  Not to most people, but it was to me.

Going back about a year ago, I showed that video my (now ex) girlfriend.  She thought I was a little strange.  [Note: I won’t be using any ex-girlfriend’s name in the blog or names of dates I cook for, it’s just better that way, for everyone.]  Anyway, girlfriend thought it was tedious, who in their right mind would do that?

She asked, “what’s the fascination with consommé?”

I highly recommend not starting this conversation to begin, nevertheless, if you do find yourself in this predicament, the wrong answer is the technical one and includes explanations of protein coagulation, rafts, and convection.  That will drive a New York resident to actually turn on those annoying commercial screens in the taxi cabs.

The right answer includes tasty words such as delicious, perfection, and pure while ordering a half dozen of these at Momofuku Ssäm Bar.  Let’s just say girlfriend, who craves seafood, was a convert.

“Wait a minute,” she said, “tell me more about consommé…”

For just a little while longer, I was cool…

I won’t get into the technical details of consommé, particularly clarification with gelatin.  This technique gained some steam last year on the blogosphere with great posts on Ideas in Food: Compression Clarification and Cooking Issues 1 & 2 Agar Clarification.  David Chang refers to Dave Arnold, from Cooking Issue, a couple times in Momofuku, once as “The Smartest Person Alive”.  Read Cooking Issues and it will be hard to dispute, with all due respect to Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking.

Kimchi Consommé

First you need a pureed kimchi.  The original kimchi post is here.

A little sugar and vinegar…

Sheet gelatin is pretty neat stuff.  It can be picked up at NY Cake on 22nd street and only costs a couple dollars.  The gelatin does the job eggs white will do in a traditional consommé.  But all you need to know is dissolve it in some hot water.

Mix in the other ingredients.

Once this is all mixed up, it goes into the freezer to set, just like jello.

Frozen kimchi.

Once frozen, it goes into some cheese cloth for a 12 hour drip…

When it’s done, you get the beautiful, transparent liquid with no particles.

Oysters with kimchi consommé

A well shucked oyster…

and a few that could have been done better…

Normally, I’m an raw oyster purist, skip the minuet or cocktail sauce, Shuck N’ Suck or whatever those colorful T-shirts say.  Even at Ssäm Bar, I’m not a fan of the oysters with pureed kimchi.  However, the oysters with kimchi consommé are divine.  The consommé looks clear and pure hinting at subtle tones that manage to surprise the palate with strong, yet, not overpowering flavors.  It’s sort of like the first punch Rocky connects with Apollo Creed and he goes down thinking, “I wasn’t expecting that?”

The actual time to make this recipe is about 16 days!  Crazy.  Make the kimchi (two weeks), puree and freeze (overnight), strain through cheesecloth (overnight).  It’s a long process, but most of it happens in the fridge…  The most difficult part of this recipe is picking up the sheet gelatin.

Plan ahead and you’ll be sure to surprise some guests!

Momofuku Shortcakes

I’m not much of a dessert person.  Given the choice, I prefer a glass of port over the  dessert menu.  Most restaurant dessert menus are afterthoughts, lacking imagination, littered with crème brûlée, a flourless chocolate cake and selection of sorbets.  Occasionally, a chef will throw in some flavor such as an espresso crème brûlée evoking a diner’s appreciative nod while whispering, “that sounds good”.


Pop Quiz: Name 5 pastry chefs.

Can’t do it.

Look at your bookshelf.  How many books do you have dedicated to desserts?  If your bookshelf looks like mine: zero. Among the books dedicated to bread, sauces, sous vide and celebrity chefs, you won’t find a single tome dedicated to desserts.  The closest reference resides on a books to be purchased list that includes A Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz.  It’s on the reading list, just waiting in a Barnes and Noble somewhere.

Desserts may be making a comeback, or at the minimum a run at respectability.  Top Chef: Just Desserts will be airing later this year in an attempt to give pastry chefs some credibility.  I’ll predict the contestant that wows the judges with molecular gastronomy techniques such as lecithin foams, spherification and liquid nitrogen ice cream will prevail.

It’s rare to experience a truly remarkable dessert.  Remarkable is every marketers dream, a creation that necessitates a comment about the uniqueness of the product.  Every now and than I’m reminded how exceptional desserts really can be, such as “The Egg”.  Michael Laiskonis, James Beard award winning pastry chef from Le Bernardin, has created a truly remarkable dish and posted the recipe on his blog (see below).  I was fortunate to celebrate a friends birthday at Le Bernardin recently.  Here’s a friendly tip: if you want to feel the wrath of a fiance‘s, skydiving is the appropriate birthday gift.

Christina Tosi

Any conversation about desserts and remarkable must include Christina Tosi from Momofuku.  Not only are the desserts sinfully decadent but the marketing is also genius.  Crack pie and cereal milk market themselves.  Although I’m more likely to pick up the pork buns than crack pie, there is something about those desserts that are completely addictive. and the lines go out the door.

In addition to great desserts and genius marketing, I give extra credit for sensible business decisions and explaining them to your customers.  On March 31st, Eater reported Momofuku Milk Bar will not be service slices of cake.  Later that day, Fork in the Road/Village Voice provided additional comments from Christina Tosi:

“We want to be as fresh as possible,” she says. “We were running into issues with waste. I don’t want to say no to somebody at 10 at night who wants a slice of banana cake, even though I know that the chance of other people wanting a slice is slim to none.”

Plus, she adds, the time it took to cut slices was in part what made the waits so interminable. “Our biggest fear was that we don’t want to alienate our favorite customers who love the cake slices, but at same time, it was definitely making a longer line,” Tosi says. “I’d always look at the line and think, wow, who would want to wait in a line that long?

Talent, flair for marketing, and sensible business decision with a clear, logical explanation.  Can someone arrange a date?

As it turns our, I have a date with Ms. Tosi already.  She will be coming to a bookstore near you with the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook in the Fall 2011.  This blog should be completed by the time it hits the shelves, but who knows, I may give that a whirl and challenge myself to learn how to make some desserts.  There’s plenty of time to mull that one over.

One project at a time.


Making this dish was actually a little bit of an after thought.  While visiting my parents over Easter weekend, I had planned to make the mussels with OS on Friday night, Bo Ssäm on Saturday, and sneak the pig’s head torchon in somewhere for an appetizer.  My sister was making fondue for the nieces and nephew’s dessert on Friday evening.

Little did she know, Junkfood Joanie put the strawberries on a low shelf in the back of the fridge camouflaged by a multitude of assorted shredded cheeses.  The strawberries missed the fondue dunking on Friday evening, so this was thrown together for one of the many Easter desserts.

Start with an egg and cream mixture to go with the mise en place.  There is a mistake in here as well.  So far, I’m 0-2 when in front of the standing mixer…

and the mistake…  Why are baking powder and baking soda boxes both in orange boxes?  This one confuses me now…

Mix it up.

The double spoon technique…

All appears well at this time.  They go into the fridge to chill for a while.  When you’re ready to bake, they get a nice roll in confectioners’ sugar.

and now, what happens when you mix up baking powder and baking soda…

As I write this a week later, I’m not certain I made a mistake.  The recipe calls for baking powder, however, when I saw these did not rise, I quickly thought it should have been baking soda.  What happened?  I’m not sure, but I do look forward to doing this again when rhubarb is in season.

Macerated Strawberries

Fairly simple and straightforward.  The hardest part is finding them in the fridge.

After two hours of sugar:

Whipped Cream

This is pretty straight forward as well, but with a little sour cream twist.

Momofuku Shortcakes

The dessert came out pretty well.  Both my sister, Beth, and I like salty flavors and the shortcakes themselves are fairly salty.  The tang and sweetness from the whip cream balances the saltiness of the shortcake itself.

As a dessert, the macerating strawberries and making whip cream are about as easy as it gets.  Getting the shortcakes to the correct consistency, well, that’s going to take a few more tries…

We did rearrange the fridge so the perishable items are on eye level.


David Lebovitz


Fork in the Road/VV

Michael Laiskonis/The Egg

Pickled Fennel

I’ve wanted to join a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, for a number of years now but have managed to come up with a handful of reasons why I have not: travel, time, and waste.  Of all the reasons, waste is my biggest concern.  A typical CSA share is designed for a family of four, a half share, for two.  I live alone.  That’s a lot of veg!

My friend, Roseanne, who lives outside of Philly, has a small garden in addition to a half share in a CSA.  That’s some serious veg!  What does one person do with all those extra vegetables?  Thanking her frugal Italian grandma who taught Roseanne never to waste a thing, she pickles, a lot.  I remember her commenting a few summers back that she received so many radishes they were coming out of her…

If that quote is inaccurate, it’s only because I have the wrong vegetable.

We often don’t think of pickling as a cooking technique, but we should, consider it vegetable ceviche!  Both techniques, ceviche and pickling require adding an acid to the product whether is it fish or vegetable.  Okay, the chemical reaction after that is completely different, but it has a nice ring to it.  The McGee police will tell you, in ceviche, the acid denatures and coagulates the proteins, whereas, in pickling, acetic acid inhibits the growth of  spoilage microbes.  Sure, but I still pour an acid onto the food…

In the Momofuku cookbook, David Chang suggests that pickling should be considered the sixth cooking technique.  Whatever number you want to assign to it, pickling is too simple, versatile, and delicious to ignore.  I’m willing to bet it appears in the upcoming “20 Techniques” by Michael Ruhlman.  I tried to get a preview of the twenty techniques through a twitter request and received this response:

ruhlman   @ChrisDeNoia the 20 techniques are kept in a vault in langley.


Feel free to guess the 20 techniques in the comments.  My sister and I have some discrepancies.


It’s a perfect time to learn how to pickle.  The spring vegetables are in and the bounty will be plentiful.  Fennel is an underutilized vegetables in most kitchens.  The lovely anise tones always remind me of munching on the black candy licorice stalks as a child, sipping Sambuca as an adult, and, more recently, absinthe (the non hallucinogenic versions on the market and in Montreal).  I also appreciate the full use of fennel the flowers make a beautiful herb and garnish.

Mandolines are a wonderful device…
The mise en place for pickling:

Pack all the fennel in and pour!

Drop it in the fridge overnight.  Those are Asian pears underneath.

The fennel and Asian pears were originally destined for oysters.  The pears never made it.  I kept snacking on them with plenty of fresh cracked black pepper, they were gone before you knew it.  The fennel made a great snack as well and didn’t see an oyster either.

There will be another time and oyster party in the future.  Maybe in the fall or next couple weeks.  I grew up when restaurants only served oysters in months that had an “r”.  Quicker shipping and better technology may have eliminated that need, but it puts a little seasonality into eating oysters.

Looking at all the different kinds of pickles you could make, it made me think of all the wonderful “plate” courses: pickles, charcuterie, and cheese.  Slipping these plates into an evening meal would turn a typical three course meal into six courses with no additional effort in that evenings cooking.  Hmmm….

The simplicity of pickling for the first time will encourage anyone use this technique as a regular part of the cooking repertoire.  I’m looking forward to the fall for hot chili season already!

Also, if anyone can recommend a quality CSA in NYC, I might be interested this year.


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