Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ina Does The Big City (kind of) And My Complete Ignorance Of A Southern Dish Plus Pork Matters (Read that as a noun OR verb.)

Ina has spent the last three weeks in New York. This is last week's escapade...

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Ina says she’s going on a food adventure in New York City as we see her walking on Museum Mile. She says she’s going to hit some hot new places and classic ones too. Maybe she’ll head to the Lower East Side or Chinatown or her friend Eli Zabar’s.

Oh wait, Ina’s going to Brooklyn?!! Why didn’t she just say that? This may be a small point, but if you’re going to Brooklyn, usually you say you’re “going to BROOKLYN” and not New York City. Of course, I KNOW it’s part of New York City, but it also would be the 4th largest city in the country if it existed on its own, so it deserves to be mentioned by name.

Anyway, Ina starts at Seersucker, which she says is famous for Chef Robert Newton’s southern breakfasts.

The chef lays this astounding statement on Ina as he’s about to prepare a southern favorite. “I don’t like to treat my grits as a receptacle for butter and cream.” Ina tries not to show her shock.

I’m a little surprised at that myself, because isn’t that the only good thing about grits – all the rich stuff that’s in them?  Maybe you have to be born south of the Mason-Dixon line to appreciate grits. I’ve had grits out, but I’ve never cooked the long-cooking type myself. Maybe that’s the problem, but I think of grits as, well, gritty. Plus they seem like an adulterated, simple starch and if I’m going to eat trashy food, I’d much rather have a fresh doughnut or hush puppy. If something really has no redeeming nutritional value, it should, at least, taste REALLY GOOD and I don’t think anyone would argue that grits are particularly tasty. I’m probably totally offending the southern third of the country, but, sorry, I just don’t get grits. 

This chef LOVES his grits. He says the longer you cook them, the creamier they get. Okay, great, so now they’re CREAMY wallpaper paste. Chef Newton shows us a pot of stoneground grits which have been cooked for an HOUR and, actually, they do look really fluffy and creamy. He adds only salt and pepper and says once you get past the grittiness (see? I wasn’t crazy) and you don’t taste that metallic flavor anymore (well, where did it go?), they’re ready. Chef Newton adds that quick grits are illegal in his restaurant and most places in the South.

He moves on to poaching an egg in a big pot of water. The recipe says it should be a gentle simmer. The chef adds salt and vinegar to the water. Ina thought the vinegar was added because it sets the white (I did too), but Robert says there are all kinds of theories and he just likes the acid with the salt. He also says it’s important to get the water whirling around before you add the egg. He cooks it for about 2 minutes.

Then the chef cuts a couple of small slices from a Virginia country ham, which has been aged over 400 days. Ina asks if it’s like prosciutto. He says yes, but it’s smoked. All these smoked and cured meat things are somewhat confusing. Here’s the lowdown: 
Prosciutto is made from ham or the hind leg of a pig. It’s salt-cured, then air-dried and can be eaten as is. Or you can cook it. Roast it for 10 minutes at 400°F. and crumble it like bacon.
Pancetta comes from the belly of the pig and it’s cured with spices, but not smoked (like American bacon). It’s less salty than prosciutto. While it does not HAVE to be cooked, many cooks agree that it benefits from browning. In Italy, it is often served raw.

Bacon is made from pork belly and it’s raw. It’s cured and (usually cold) smoked, so no heat is used. It needs to be cooked.

Country Ham is salt-cured, then smoked and aged. It is sold cooked AND uncooked The uncooked ones can be fried in slices or the whole ham can be boiled and/or baked.
What’s important to remember?
Prosciutto doesn’t need to be cooked. Pancetta usually is browned and Bacon always is cooked. For Country Ham, it depends. 

If you want a smoky flavor, go with bacon (or country ham, if you live in the land of grits). If you don’t want the smoke, use pancetta. I love the unexpectedness of roasted prosciutto. It tastes wonderful and is a surprising addition to dishes that would normally have bacon.
Back to Ina’s breakfast - Rob fries the ham in a cast iron frying pan. Ina says she still hasn’t seen the red-eye part. Rob says she will soon. He removes the ham from the pan and guess what he deglazes the pan with? Coffee. And you know what? THAT is what red-eye refers to! 

This coffee-based sauce in the morning supposedly does the trick when you’re bleary and “RED-EYED”! I never knew that was what red-eye meant! In the back of my mind, I thought it had to do with some kind of red bean or legume. I had no clue it involved coffee. Rob reiterates that red-eye gravy is country ham drippings deglazed with coffee, as he also adds some pork stock to the pan. Ina is delighted to see this entirely new dish. (Me too.)

Rob spoons the grits (remember those?) into the bottom of a bowl, adds the two slices of country ham, tops it with the poached egg and snips some chives over. Then he spoons over some of the red-eye sauce. Ina likes what she tastes, but she doesn’t get any of the country ham. It IS kind of awkward to cut a piece of ham in a bowl and maybe when the camera was off she scooped up the strips of ham.  

Next, Ina heads over to Stinky with their 150 artisanal cheeses and “the only meat bar in Brooklyn”. I’m not sure what that means, but I sure hope it has to do with what’s being served and not what the actual bar is made of.

She visits with Chris Killoran and he shows her how to open a 90 pound wheel of Parmesan. Very carefully, it turns out. He scores the rind and then stabs all around the rind a few times until it “crags” the cheese apart. How amazing. When he finally cracks it open, both halves look like quarried shale. He likes the uneven craggy shapes, which have more flavor, he says. (Why? I just think they look cool.)

Ina then has a lesson in pimento cheese making with Chef Rachel Warren. She likes to use piquillo peppers and jalapeños for big punches of flavor. Ohhh, Ina doesn’t give us the actual recipe in this week’s show, so I better pay close attention. I found a basic recipe for Spicy Pimento Cheese on Ina’s website, but it doesn’t have amounts.

Rachel chops up three (maybe four…) piquillo peppers and then about ½ cup of sliced pickled jalapeños. Then she adds mayonnaise and room temperature cream cheese, let’s say a cup or 8 oz. of each. Rachel sprinkles in a decent amount of celery seeds, easily a teaspoon, then about a tablespoon onion powder (to which Ina looks amazed – not good, not bad…just amazed). Then she grabs garlic powder and adds another tablespoon. I hate those last two things except in a rub that’s going to get blackened, where you couldn’t use the real thing, because it would burn.

Rachel mixes all those ingredients with her hands. Next she adds grated cheddar cheese. How much? At least a pound grated, I would think. Then Ina squirts in some Sriracha to finish it off and Rachel mixes that in as well. It looks awesome.

Rachel spreads some pimento cheese on a beautifully crusty looking small baguette and  sends Ina down to Erin Amey, who is thinly slicing some ham for Ina to put on her sandwich. This is really fancy ham. Erin says it’s Mangalica ham, a Hungarian ham from a big wooly pig, which is cured in Spain. (I’d like to see its passport.)  Ina also buys some rosemary smoked ham for a salad she’s making for Jeffrey.

Ina's next stop is the Bien Cuit Bakery, where owner Zachary Golper shows her how he makes his baguettes. Gosh, it’s a long process. Let me see if I have this straight:
Zachary mixes malt and flour in the Hobart. “The malt is like baby food for the yeast.” He adds the “poolish”, which is flour, yeast and water, which was made the day before. The resulting, incredibly sticky mixture. which is called the “autolyze”, is scooped out of the mixer bowl and rests for 20 minutes.
Then salt and more yeast are added and it’s mixed again in the Hobart. Then it gets a 40 minute rest. Next Zachary gives it the ”fold”, which is just folding each side onto itself and then it rests AGAIN for 40 minutes. He cuts the dough into six 400 gram pieces and pats down each dough piece HARD to “degas” it and then rolls it over twice to make a kind of flat jelly roll shape. It rests for ANOTHER 20 minutes.
Next, Zachary and Ina each grab a piece of the dough. They flip it over and degas it by patting it firmly. Then they roll and tuck it and stretch it to make a baguette shape. Bien Cuit’s special spin is to thin out and make points at the end of each baguette, so buyers will know that each one is handmade. They proof for 2 hours and then bake at 460°F for 20 minutes.
WOW! That means each baguette takes FOUR HOURS of waiting time and that doesn’t take into account the initial poolish that was made a day ahead. They should sell for a hundred bucks EACH with that kind of labor. Ina gets to take one home. They really do look like works of art. Incredible!

Back in her own East Hampton kitchen, Ina is making dinner for Jeffrey. She places thinly sliced pancetta on a baking sheet and bakes them at 450°F for 8 to 10 minutes. Next she blanches sugar snap peas in a big pot of boiling water for 15 seconds and plunges them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Ina slices the snap peas lengthwise and puts them in a big bowl with some diced red onion. 

The pancetta comes out of the oven and she makes a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, champagne vinegar and fresh lemon juice. Ina pours some dressing on the peas, crumbles over the pancetta, adds seasoning and tosses the whole together. Lastly, she grates some of that lovely aged Parmesan cheese that she came home with over the dish and she serves it with the rosemary ham, oh, AND that gorgeous baguette.

Jeffrey is super-interested to hear all about her Brooklyn adventures. I love them together and I love that Ina can make a dish of peas and call it dinner and that Jeffrey is completely delighted.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I can't imagine grits not doused in salt or butter. I see your point that empty calories should taste better than that, but sometimes when the venue has grits, they can be the best empty calories on the menu. I suppose they can be improved with pork products as well as butter.

I always wanted to know the difference between country ham and city ham, but I was always too embarrassed to ask at The Waffle House.

I knew Brooklyn was the fourth largest city in America because I remember that from the opening credits when watching "Welcome Back Kotter" as a kid. I'll take my eggs and grits with a side of uncle jokes.

I hear the words "meat bar" and assume it's a gay bar. Shows you where my mind is!

Anonymous said...

This is funny -- Cy and I walked by both Stinky and Bien Cuit on Sunday, walking back to Park Slope from the Governors Island Ferry. The street was closed for a Bastille Day celebration so we decided to check it out. Didn't get a chance to go inside either one, though, way too crowded.

Sue said...

The only way I would be happy eating grits is with syrup and I know that's really wrong!

I think if you asked the folks at the Waffle House about City Ham, they might escort you out and ban you for life.

They never actually explained about the meat bar.

That's funny. Ina must really have the scoop for the cool places to go. Interesting that they were so crowded. I guess that's a good sign for the economy that people can afford extravagant baguettes.