Thursday, December 10, 2009

But is the future ready for us?

Architect's rendering of proposed Underbelly kitchen remodel.

If you're like me, you've been thinking, "immersion circulators and antigriddles were cool back in the '90s ... but what I really want is a large hadron collider."

Because, after all, with the particle physicists' recent world record of smashing two protons head on, each charged with 1.2 trillion electron volts of energy, you could really work some magic in the kitchen.

Well, not so fast. I just calculated that roasting a single 4lb chicken requires on the order of 1.3 X 1024 electron volts. In other words, you'd need almost 2 trillion proton collisions to cook the bird. It's also unclear if the chicken would succumb to any undesireable quantum effects (like being blown, literally, into next week. Or last week).

I'm checking with friends at Alinea and Fermilab right now, but it's starting to seem somewhat less practical than an oven. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 30, 2009


There are many takes on thanksgiving dinner. One is about nostalgia: cremate a Butterball turkey, whisk lumps of flour into the the fatty pan drippings, cut open cans of translucent cranberry substance, add water to the stovetop stuffing, and finish off your loved ones with a wrecking ball of mashed potatoes. Bury them under pie.

Another approach is elite, postmodern: set the immersion circulators, disassemble the turkey, cook bird parts separately sous vide for varying numbers of days, reasemble with enzymes, hydrocolloids, or classical galantine or ballantine configurations, as layers, confits, forcemeats, or entirely new creations, brown in gallons of frying oil, or with a roofing torch, or with lasers ...

We attempted the middle path: turkey that looks like a turkey, but tastes strangely ... good.

Guided by the belief that good turkey starts with a good turkey, I procured an 18 lb heritage breed free range bird from Bo Bo poultry, through our master butcher and minor celebrity Jeffrey Ruhalter. Judging from her eyes, she might have been walking around as early as Wednesday morning. Judging from her hand-sized tallons, which, thanks to Jeffrey's packing job were hanging out of the top of the shopping bag, she might have been somebody's landlord or ex.

The Chinese passengers on the J train smiled in approval while everyone one else cleared a path.

I salted her and left her loosely covered in the fridge for 24 hours. Then sewed her up with some stuffing made from mixed wild mushrooms browned in duck fat, homemade duck and pork sausage, toasted almonds, and dried cherries.

I cooked her using a range of techniques I've been refining over the years. The first step I learned from chef Georges Perrier from Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia: poach the bird before roasting. Very gentle, moist heat, in a flavorful court bouillon does wonderful things for poultry. After this, I pulled her out of the pot (no trickier than rescuing a fat friend from a boiling lake), dried her, brushed her with garlic-infused butter, and put a bit of that under the breast skin.

The next step is key: bard the breast meat. White meat is ideal at 147F at most; the dark meat likes three to five degrees more than this, and is harder to reach with the heat. Barding is the old practice of covering the bird in fat before spit roasting; smart chefs learned to selectively bard the breasts. I used a latice of Niman Ranch bacon, followed by a triple layer of foil. The bird went in a shallow roasting pan on top of a bed of onions and her own head and feet. The oven was cranked to 500F. After half the roasting time the barding comes off, so the breasts get browned and crisped. A propane torch touches up any unevenness.

Mahogany brown, buttery juicy goodness, nothing dried out, none of that god-awful wateriness that gets sold as juiciness by the church of brining. What's most striking about this kind of bird is the white meat: it's not just moist and well textured, but flavorful. It tastes bright, herbal. Friends who've claimed that white meat lies below unseasoned tofu on the evolutionary ladder have fought over breasts of a well-cooked Bo Bo.

I'm a whore for sauce, so I did a lot of whoring. I started with a duck coulis, made by simmering multiple immersions of browned duck leg and mirepoix vegetables in veal stock, gradually adding more stock as it reduced. My 6 cups of stock gave me just over 2 cups of coulis, which had much more depth and three dimentional flavor than any traditional demi-glace. I bound it very lightly with a gram of xanthan gum. The duck meat and fat went into the stuffing. On game day, I deglazed the roasting pan drippings with madeira and cognac, reduced with some parsley, and strained this into the coulis. No added cream or butter ... the consistency was a perfect light syrup, and even though it was defatted it gave a real impression of richness—but without any dairy to mute the flavors. This is one of the nicest sauces I've ever made, and I'm delighted there are still a few spoonfuls in the fridge.

We also had roasted butternut squash and garlic soup, sautéed rainbow chard, cranberry and Grand Marnier relish, a fantastic salad made by my girlfriend with produce she ran over straight from the Park Slope food coop, Peter Reinhart's insanely great and impossible-to-improve-upon bacon and buttermilk cornbread, and a puree of fennel and sunchokes. I'm sad to report that this last item, thrown together at the last minute when I couldn't find any celeriac, tasted a bit like something I'd imagine coming out of a baby bottle. But the guests lapped it up and even asked for seconds. What can I say? The small dollop of leftovers will be used to spackle the bathroom. I'm reconsidering the future of sunchokes in my kitchen.

For dessert I made an apple tart with multiple layers of paper thin apple slices, bound by a spiced apple puree heavy on calvados and cardamom. This has become my favorite tart invention. I served it with some homemade cognac ice cream. We also had a delicious concoction called a Nantucket pie, brought by a family friend ... kind of like a financier embedded with fresh cranberries, served with a dollop of chantilly cream.

I had a great time fussing around the kitchen for this, and then eating and drinking and drinking some more with my friends. For anyone interested in the turkey technique, it's posted here.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Upcoming Events

Later this summer, for one night only, we're going to be the best, funnest, cheapest, and least abusive steak house in the country. With that end in mind we've been researching the finest beef in the land, making some friends in green places, and conspiring. I'm having a strategy session with our butcher, Jeffrey Ruhalter, next week. We're going to order rib steaks from six of the best farms and ranches, from Pennsylvania to California, and narrow down our choice to the best of the best of the best. After Jeffrey works his dry aging magic, it will be time to eat. Be ready for a simpler menu and wine list, and a friendlier price than last time.

We're also thinking about combining meals and classes. How would you like to come to hog butchering class, led by Jeffrey, followed by a Berkshire pork roast and Belgian ale tasting? Let us know what you think.

And I wanted to share the menu from a private dinner we just served, the first of the summer:

-white neapolitan-style pizzas with prosciutto, fennel, and ramps

-bourride (Mediterranean fish soup with sea bream, leeks, swiss chard, aioli),
side of kale with shallots and blood orange

-mixed greens and edible flowers, honey grenache vinnaigrette

-financier cake, vanilla cognac ice cream, fresh berries

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 22 Dinner, pictures and press

We've posted some pictures here. All the pics in the top and bottom row are by Jothan Cashero.

Maggie Shi wrote about the meal on The Scout.

And Nikoya Lightbourne has posted a full reoport on her blog.

Stay tuned for more!

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 22 Dinner

The dishes have been washed and stowed, the candle wax has been scraped from the windowsills, wine glasses have been recovered from odd corners of the loft, and the last remnants of lamb coulis and celeriac purée have been scoured off the copper pans and the ceiling. Surveying our notes we see there were no fisticuffs, no looting, and nothing but bare bones sent back on the plates to the kitchen.

In other words, a fine evening.

Special thanks to Jeffrey Ruhalter, our master butcher and sideshow artist, who secured for us a lamb from one of the two most lauded farms in the country for pennies on the dollar, and then stepped in to help on all fronts when the director of the eGullet society cancelled his appearance. Jeffrey was so enamored with the food and beautiful, drunken guests, that he wants to forge a permanent partnership with underbelly. So look for announcements about future collaborations.

And many thanks to chef Mitch Weinstein, for the hors d'ouevres, for the many strategy consultations, and for his tireless help on game day. And to the lovely Elizabeth Spackman, who kept the dinner running smoothly and kept smiling in spite of near-hallucinatory sleep deprivation.

Thanks most of all to everyone who came for dinner. Without you it would have been a pretty lame party.

For a copy of the night's menu and wine list, click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First Dinner, Sunday March 22

We're going to launch with a recession-friendly dinner later this month.

We've been working hard these last few months sourcing ingredients from the Hudson Valley and Pennsylvania, and making special arrangements with our friends and local purveyors.

The menu will include:

assorted hors d'oeuvres

corn chowder with porcini cream

roasted rack of Jamison Farm lamb,
lamb coulis with lapsang souchong,
hen of the woods mushroomFont size

celeriac and fennel purée

salicornia with lemon butter

home made bread with farm butter by Saxelby Cheese

chocolate marquise with ginger

banana tart with black sesame, brown butter cognac ice cream, salted butterscotch

a succession of four wines selected by our sommelier to make you very happy.

(details may change subject to ingredient availability and last minute tinkering)

The lamb is being raised by what we believe to be the best lamb farm in the country. It will dry aged for us by our master butcher, Jeffrey Ruhalter.

The suggested donation is $70.
(the wine alone would cost more than this at a restaurant!)

To make a reservation, please send an email to There will only be fifteen seats so please reply soon.
A portion of the procedes will benefit the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters.

The dinner will take place at our home base in a rustic, Civil War-era Brooklyn brewery that's been taken over by artists, We'll send you all other details when you RSVP.