Stella Culinary Blog

A Tasting of Sea Food | July 11th, 2015

Fish Dinner at Stella

For this Stella Underground, we decided to go all fish.

Snacks

Mixed Seafood Ceviche Tostada

mixed seafood ceviche featuring octopus, halibut, blue spot prawns and scallop
served with a homemade tostada shell


One of my favorite summer dishes is a simple ceviche. Fresh diced fish mixed with lime juice, maybe sometimes a little tomato paste, or dare I say even a tiny bit of ketchup for sweetness. Add in diced tomato, red onion, and cucumber, a good amount of chopped cilantro, and adjust final seasoning with salt and a little bit of sugar to balance the acidity.

Allow to marinate for an hour or two, and serve alongside something crispy. For this dinner we served miniature, home made tostada shells. If you're feeling less ambitious, a simple bag of tortilla chips will always suffice.

If you want to try your hand a making ceviche, check out this classic Stella Culinary recipe. I also discussed my approach to making ceviche and some of the finer details involved in a recent episode of Ask Chef Jacob.


Mixed Root Vegetable Chips

root vegetable chips with togarashi


Another simple yet addicting appetizer are these root vegetables chips. Carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and beets are peeled and then shaved thin using a Japanese Mandolin. They're then soaked in cold water, and rinsed to remove any excess starch. The chips are fried at 300F until crispy, drained on a paper towel, and dusted with togarashi.


Brioche Bites

brioche bite with prosciutto, mozarella and basil


Our hamburger brioche bun dough is the recipe gift that keeps on giving.

In this iteration, we scaled the brioche buns to bite sized portions, dented the middle, and filled with prosciutto and burrata. Here's a more detailed step-by-step guide on how to make these delicious brioche bites.

First Course

Watermelon Salad

compressed watermelon and plum salad, apricot-cardamom yogurt, micro basil,
awase spiced pistachios, smoked goat cheddar, balsamic reduction


For this course, the watermelon was compressed using a chamber vacuum sealer; this removes all the oxygen from the watermelon chunk giving a deep red, jewel like color with a more toothsome texture. The watermelon is paired with plums and laid on a strip of yogurt that's been pureed with apricots and cardamom. The dish is then garnished with awase spiced pistachios, micro basil and an amazing smoked goat cheddar form Redwood Hills Farms.

The dish is finished with a small drizzle of reduced balsamic which offers sweetness, depth and acidity.

Second Course

First Course Smoke Salmon

smoked salmon, beet & cider emulsion, pickled morels and asparagus stems, caviar, pea shoots


This dish was all about earthiness and acidity, and how those two flavors interplay with smoked salmon.

On the base of the plate is a simple emulsion made with roasted red beets and apple cider; as they're blended together, a small amount of canola oil was streamed in to slightly thicken the sauce and give it a smooth mouth feel. The red beet emulsion was painted on the plate using a brush.

Pieces of rolled smoked salmon where placed on top of the beet emulsion and garnished with pickled asparagus stems, pickled morel mushrooms, pea shoots, preserved lemon rind, and caviar.

Third Course

Scallop Course

diver scallop, shaved green papaya salad with marinated tomatoes
and fish sauce, black garlic & lemon grass glaze


Simple and refreshing was the main focus of this dish.

We started with green papaya shaved on a box grater, and marinated with lime juice and fish sauce. The salad was completed with baby heirloom tomatoes, chopped peanuts, Thai basil, and cilantro.

The sauce was a reduced glaze made of black garlic and lemon grass.


Fourth Course

Dover Sole Meuniere

'sole meuniere;' basil glazed corn, capers, brown butter


This is one of my all time favorite fish dishes. Delicate sole, lightly coated in flour, and browned in a pan using a mixture of oil and butter. The sole is then sauced with brown butter and capers.

This being summer, we glazed corn kernels in a corn cob stock, and threw in Nueske's bacon and fresh chopped basil for some added flavor.

Fifth Course

Duo of Stone Fruit Sorbet

duo of apricot and plum sorbet, creme fraiche, smoked sea salt


Apriocot and plum purees were spun into individual sorbets. The duo of sorbet was then garnished with creme fraiche and smoked sea salt; the former brought a rich creamy mouth feel, while the latter added complexity and seasoning.


 

Brioche Bites

Brioche Bites Stuffed with Prosciutto and Buratta

Gooey. Salty. Chewy. Rich. Delicious.

These little brioche bites are an awesome party appetizer which can easily be baked a couple hours in advance. When you're ready to serve, simply refresh in a 325°F/162°C oven for about 5 minutes.

The bread base is made using our basic brioche bun recipe. After it's bulk fermentation (first rise), the brioche dough is portioned into 10g pieces and rounded.

Brioche Bites Pre-Formed

Next, the dough is pinched in the middle and pulled outward into a disc shape; think of it like trying to make a mini bagel, without punching the hole all the way through. A thin slice of prosciutto is pressed down into the indentation.

Brioche Bite Step One

On top of the prosciutto we laid chunks of burrata cheese, a style of fresh mozzarella with a gooey creamy filling.

Burrata Cheese Stuffed into Brioche Bites with Prosciutto

After being filled, the brioche bites are proofed at room temperature for 1-2 hours, or until the outer ring of dough has doubled in size. You can also refrigerate for up to 24 hours at this point.

Before baking, simply sprinkle with a little bit of dried basil.

Brioche Bites Pre Baked

Bake at 375°F/190°C for 10-15 minutes. Everyone's oven is different, and because these brioche bites are so small, they do tend to cook unevenly. You'll want to rotate the baking tray from front to back half way through the baking process, and just keep on eye on them in general until you figure out how long these take in your oven. When the edges of the brioche bites are a toasty golden brown and the cheese is melted on top, they're done.

Either serve immediately or hold at room temperature for up to 2 hours. When you're ready to serve, pop them back in a 325°F/162°C oven for 5 minutes to warm and refresh.

Brioche Bites Baked

Obviously these little brioche bites can be filled with anything you can imagine. including other cheese, salsas, fruit compotes, pizza fixings, jams, etc. Just be careful that the filling isn't overly moist, or you may have issues with a soggy bottom. But other than that, have fun and be creative.

Want to learn more about bread baking?

 

 

American Classics Reimagined | July 2nd & 3rd, 2015

American Classic's Reimagined - Stella Underground Dinner


What is there to say about American food? The topic is so broad, it's hard to even know where to start.

In honor of independence day, we wanted to pay homage to some of our favorite American flavor profiles while still creating a unique yet playful dinning experience. 


Snacks - American Classics Reimagined | Stella Culinary Under Ground Dinners

snacks - short rib stuffed mushroom; "everything bagel" deviled egg with smoked salmon and caviar;
shrimp "cocktail" with herbed cream cheese; nacho cheese potato skin with pulled pork


When I sat down with Ben and Alex to plan out this menu, our creative thought process immediately turned into a discussion of our favorite American appetizers; the simple dishes we fondly remembered from our family get-togethers.

Short Rib Stuffed Mushrooms

Short Rib Stuffed MushroomStuffed mushrooms are about as classic as it gets, with everyone having their own variation. For our stuffed mushroom bite we started by slow braising beef short ribs. After cooling slightly, the short ribs were shredded, while the braising liquid was reduced into a sticky, flavorful glaze. The shredded rib meat was then recombined with the concentrated glaze, and mixed with a little goat cheese for both depth of flavor and richness.

The short rib mix was then stuffed into large cremini mushrooms that were de-stemmed and hollowed using the point of a table spoon. From here it's just a matter of roasting in a hot oven until the rib meat is slightly browned on top, and the mushroom is fully cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Everything Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon & Caviar
"Everything" Deviled Egg with Smoked Salmon and Caviar
For the deviled egg, we wanted to offer something familiar and comforting, but put a spin on the simple classic -- a flavor structure you commonly wouldn't find at a family gathering. We decided to draw inspiration from our east coast friends in the form of smoked salmon on an everything bagel.

The egg yolk filling was mixed with sour cream and cream cheese, and seasoned with toasted sesame seed, poppy seed, celery seed, and minced onion that was sweated in a mixture of white wine and butter. After filling, the deviled egg was topped with a piece of smoked salmon, a spoonful of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, and a fresh sprig of dill.

Shrimp "Cocktail" Canape

Shrimp Cocktail Canape - Stella Culinary Underground DinnersAnother favorite pulled straight from my childhood is a "shrimp cocktail" style dish that was always a family favorite. I still make it today when I have friends over for a dinner party.

When I recently had a bunch of my Stella co-workers over for the Mayweather-Pacquiao Fight, I pulled this one from the vaults because, 1) it's about as easy as it gets, 2) it's incredibly tasty, and 3) it always gets a sideways glance from professional "food snobs" that have yet to be introduced to this dish's awesomeness.

The at home version is simple; place a block of Philadelphia cream cheese in the center of a plate, cover with a good mound of bay shrimp, and douse with an egregious amount of spicy cocktail sauce. Serve along side a couple of butter knives and Ritz crackers, and let everyone go wild.

... if you're rolling your eyes at me, it's OK, I understand. You refuse to believe something so simple can be one of my all time favorite appetizers. But try it at your next party, and you'll be sending me a thank you e-mail in short order ... once your hand as a chance to recover from all the high fives you received ...

For our dinner, we spruced up the presentation a bit by turning this simple appetizer into a composed cannape; cream cheese whipped with chervil and chives, butter poached prawn, and homemade cocktail sauce. I was tempted to bake my own butter cracker, but to be completely honest, there's no beating a Ritz when it comes to this application, so that's what we stuck with.

Potato Skin

Fingerling Potato Skin with Pulled Pork and Nacho CheeseArguably one of the best bites of the night was the deceptively simple, brew pub style potato skin. But we had an ace up our sleeve ... his name is Alex.

You see, Alex is pretty much an idiot savant when it comes to constructing what we lovingly refer to as "white trash" flavor structures. Case in point, his gooey, nacho cheese style sauce is second to none. Forget the bechamel based mornay, when Alex makes cheese sauce, he uses a trick straight from the commercial food play book -- sodium citrate.

Sodium citrate is a powerful emulsifying agent that allows you to melt cheese directly into a liquid base, in this case, milk. That's right, no starch thickener, no roux, no 100 year old mother sauce.

The result you achieve is a super cheesy, gooey sauce, just like you get out of can, only better.

Doctored with jalapenos and other spices, the sauce was poured into fried fingerling potato skins, and joined with pulled pork, sour cream, and a healthy squeeze of sriracha.

Don't worry ... we've already shot video on Alex's cheese sauce with a few different variations, as well as our method for pulled pork. Stay tuned.

Scratch Clam Dip with Lotus Root Chips

No Thanksgiving would be complete without eating copious amounts of clam dip and ruffles while waiting for the turkey to finish cooking. My younger brother and past Stella Sommelier, Nathan, has turned clam dip into it's own minor art form.

For this dinner we wanted to tackle something that is rarely, if ever, done; clam dip from scratch. We started with fifteen pounds of little neck clams and steamed them in a mixture of white wine, garlic, shallots, and butter. After the clams opened, the resulting liquid was reduced to concentrate its flavor and then re-incorporated with the shelled and diced clams.

From there we pretty much followed the basic clam dip game plan; sour cream, cream cheese, chives, lemon juice ... pretty basic stuff. But since we started with fresh clams and their resulting liquor from cooking, the flavor was absolutely amazing. It was served with a side of freshly fried lotus root chips, and of course, I forgot to take a picture. ;-(

First Course - Lobster Louis

Lobster Louis - Stella Culinary Underground Dinner

lobster louis; sun gold tomatoes, charred asparagus tips, salmon roe, iceberg lettuce broth


After our epic snack session, it was time to send out the first course.

In the Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 15, we go over classic salads, one of which is the seafood Louis. Traditionally, a Louis salad is made with shrimp or crab, dressed with a hot sauce and mayo based dressing, and served alongside ice berg lettuce, boiled egg, tomatoes, and asparagus.

In our version, we used the Louis as a jumping off point to inspire a chilled lobster salad.

The claw and body meat of the lobster were dressed with sauce vierge which we doctored with minced celery & red onion, pimento (a classic Louis flavor), and diced carrot that was simmered in a 50/50 mixture of champagne vinegar and sugar. For a small burst of heat which is traditionally achieved using hot sauce, we instead opted to use a mixture of togarashi and berbere spice.

The half lobster tail was laid on top of the dressed body meat and garnished with charred asparagus spears, salmon roe, and sungold tomatoes.

Instead presenting our "Louis" in a traditional ice berg lettuce cup, we instead turned the ice berg lettuce into a broth. The ice berg was blanched, along with some spinach for added color and flavor, and blended until smooth in our VitaMix. We added just a touch of xanthan gum to slightly increase the viscosity, and incorporated a small drizzle of canola oil, which helped to smooth the entire mixture.

If you attempt to make a green puree such as our ice berg broth at home, remember not to add any acid. The acid will quickly destabilize the chlorophyll molecules in any green puree, turning it from bright green to a drab, canned green bean color.

For more information on the science of blanching and it's various applications when prepping food, I recommend that you listen to the Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 4.

Second Course - Pork Ribs & Apple Sauce

Rib Terrine

'pork ribs and apple sauce," shaved mustard greens, corn muffin beignets, stone fruit bbq sauce


A play on "pork chops and apple sauce," this dish was inspired by our love for BBQ pork ribs. Instead of braised mustard greens, a classic BBQ side, we instead served the mustard greens freshly shaved, dressed with a touch of mustard oil. This helped brighten the overall flavor structure of the plate and cut through the richness of the rib meat.

The corn muffin beignets were made with "Jiffy" muffin mix using the pate a choux method of cooking the dough twice. Milk was brought to a simmer with the addition of a small pat of butter, after which the muffin mix was added and cooked over low heat for 60 seconds. The egg was then incorporated into the warm dough, and the whole mix was reserved in a piping bag.

The chilled batter was then piped into hot frying oil, which caused them to puff up and crisp, resulting in a sweet, airy, and crunchy corn muffin bite.

Rolling Rib Terrine


For the pork ribs we started with a generous dry rub, allowing the ribs to marinate for two days in our fridge before smoking and then slow braising in a reinforced and reduced chicken stock.

The braised ribs were then stripped from the bone with the collagen carefully removed. The resulting braising liquid was reduced to about 1/10th of it's original volume and then mixed with the deboned and diced rib meat.

The rib mixture was then mixed with 1% transglutaminase by weight, an enzyme that allowed the meat to hold together when we latter sliced, seared, and glazed with stone fruit BBQ sauce.

The rib mixture was then rolled into a free-form terrine using the technique demonstrated in this video, and hung in our fridge overnight to set.

Right before serving, the rib terrine is sliced into round fillets, seared, glazed, and roasted in a hot oven for a few minutes to set the BBQ glaze.

From an execution standpoint, this is a great way to serve a lot of ribs; you can easily make this terrine days or even weeks in advance (using 0.2% sodium nitrite in your dry rub will set the rib's pink color and allow you to preserve it in the finished terrine wrap for at least one month). When it comes time to serve, you simply slice, sear, and re-heat with your choice of glaze. You also have the added benefit of a more refined presentation without the mess of dealing with bones.

Proof of Concept (not served) - Rib Sandwich on Sourdough Potato Roll

Pork Sandwich

reconstructed prok rib sandwich on a sourdough potato roll with sone fruit BBQ sauce


Oh yeah ...

Did I mention that if you ever want to make the most amazing rib sandwich, this is a great technique to play with? This is what the McRib should taste like!

Third Course - Peanut Butter & Jelly Brioche Doughnut

Doughnuts - Stella Culinary Underground Dinner

brioche doughnut, peanut butter-maple glaze, strawberry & blue raspberry jelly, captain crunch crumble


We finished the evening with a play on peanut butter and jelly.

The doughnut was made using our brioche bun recipe which we scaled to 30 grams each, and formed into a doughnut shape before allowing to proof under refrigeration for a few hours. When dessert time came, we fried the doughnuts to order, dipped in a peanut butter and maple glaze, and topped with crushed Captain Crunch cereal, because ... why not?

Home made strawberry jam on the bottom, with blue-raspberry jam on the sides.

Simple. Decadent. Delicious.

... and a great way to end our American Classics dinner!

 

Italian Inspired - Stella Underground Dinner, June 18th, 2015 Photo Wrap Up

Stella Culinary - Italian Themed Underground Dinner


It all started with squid ink pasta.

Alex brought it up in our menu meeting and we started riffing from there.

Below is our multi-course, Italian inspired menu served on June 18th, 2015. Thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; we had a blast hanging out and cooking for you.


Snacks - Wood Fire Ciabbatta, Focaccia, Olives, Italian Charcuterie
woodfire ciabatta, pickled peppadew peppers, herb focaccia, assorted olives


Arguably the best part of the Stella Underground dinners is our mingling period with snacks. Usually lasting about 30 minutes, our snack session gives everyone the opportunity to open their wine, pour a few glasses, and relax a bit before dinner starts.

On this night we featured about 10 different forms of cured Italian meets including prosciutto, coppa, mortadella, salumi, etc.

We also put out an assortment of cured olives, wood fire ciabatta made with our sourdough starter, freshly baked herb foccacia, and pickled peppadew peppers.


Beef Carpaccio
beef carpacio, cold pressed olive oil, minced shallot, fried capers,
preserved lemon rind, arugula, mustard vinaigrette


Simple, classic, delicious.

When we first developed this menu, I actually wanted to use Ostrich fan fillet for this dish. Ostrich meat is incredibly lean, with a rich, dark red color. It becomes extremely tough when cooked, but its amazing raw.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to obtain Ostrich meat in time for this dinner, so I went the classic route with a beef tenderloin. The tenderloin was partially frozen to firm up the meat before thinly slicing and pounding flat.

The carpaccio was then dressed with a generous amount of cold pressed olive, arugula, fried capers, minced shallot, preserved lemon rind, fleur de sel, and dotted with a mustard emulsion.

Related


Squid Ink Pasta - Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Black Garlic
"black pasta;" squid ink pasta, black trumpet mushrooms,
black garlic emulsion ... guanciale, pecorino, pine nuts


Second course was my favorite of the night.

So many dishes this time of year are bright and colorful, but I wanted to go the opposite direction, making the presentation almost monochromatic. This dish was a play on contrasting black and white colors, while exploring various layers of umami and texture.

For the fresh pasta I used 45 ounces of bread flour, 25 ounces eggs, and 10 ounces squid ink. Expressed in the baker's percentage, my final formula for the squid ink pasta was:

  • 100% Bread Flour

  • 55.5% Whole Eggs

  • 22.2% Squid Ink

When making fresh pasta, I rarely go 100% bread flour, but for this dish, I needed the sturdy chew that only a high protein flour could achieve.

For plating, the pasta was placed on top of a squid-ink and black garlic emulsion. The cooked pasta was dressed with black garlic oil and joined on the plate with black trumpet mushrooms glazed in Barolo wine and butter.

For contrasting color and texture, the pasta was garnished with shaved pecorino, pine nuts, and a roll of guanciale (cured pork cheek).

Related

Braised lamb shank
barolo braised lamb shank, porcini polenta, roasted garlic,
marinated artichoke hearts, oregano from the garden


These petite lamb ranks were first charred in the wood fire oven which we had at about 850°F/455°C. Once they were a rich brown, flirting with black, they were rubbed with tomato paste and charred once more.

The shanks were then submerged in a Barolo wine marinade made by simply simmering the wine with diced mirepoix and minced garlic; much like you would make a vegetable stock, but using wine instead of water.

After the shanks marinated for 2 days, they were braised in equal amounts Barolo marinade and roasted chicken stock for 8 hours at 225°F/107°C. The braising liquid was then strained and reduced to a glaze using the exact same method as demonstrated in our braised beef short rib video.

The accompanying polenta was made using our basic method, but instead of water, we used a porcini mushroom broth.

The lamb shank was garnished with house marinated artichoke hearts, slow roasted garlic, and fresh oregano from the Stella garden.

Related

Lemon Tart with Pistachio Gelato
lemon tart, pistachio gelato, pistachio oil, maldon sea salt


This dessert was another exercise in focused simplicity.

After the robustly flavored lamb shank and porcini polenta served in the previous course, the last thing we wanted to do was bash our guests over the head with a heavy, rich dessert.

The lemon custard was made on the stove top to ensure an even consistency, and poured into "false baked" tart shells to set. The tart was then topped with a pistachio gelato deriving it's flavor from both extract and chopped nuts. The dessert was finished with a drizzle of pistachio oil, a sprinkle of maldon sea salt, and few fresh violas from the garden.

If you would like to attend an upcoming Stella Culinary dinner or cooking class, you can register at shop.stellaculinary.com.

 

How to Make Baking Molds Using Tinfoil


When baking hamburger brioche buns or sandwich rolls, it's sometimes desirable to use a mold. This will allow the buns to rise individually and hold their shape throughout the baking process.

This is especially important when baking hamburger buns since any outward expansion during baking will result in a larger diameter than desired, throwing off your burger to bun ratio.

If you plan on making lots of hamburger buns on an ongoing basis, you may wish to opt for metal tart rings scaled to your desired diameter or a specialty brioche bun pan. This recommendation is meant more for a professional kitchen that will need to produce over 50 brioche buns on a daily basis. Although the tinfoil rings are re-usable, they will build up gunk and have a hard time keeping their shape for more than a few bakes, making a tart ring a more convenient approach.

However, if you're just casually dabbling with brioche buns, making the rings out of foil is incredibly simple, and doesn't take much time when only making a few. Add to this the versatility of being able size the ring to any diameter you want, and its clearly the best option for low production environments such as the home kitchen or restaurants that want to run a special.

The Process

Start by pulling out a sheet of tinfoil, about 14-16 inches in length, and laying it lengthwise on your work surface. Fold the bottom third upwards into the center and crease. Repeat with the top third, folding it down into the center, and creasing.

Tinfoil Baking Rings Step 01



Continue this pattern of folding the bottom third up and the top third down, creasing as you go, until you're left with a strip of foil with a width of about 0.75 inches.

Tinfoil baking rings step 2


Make one final fold, folding the tinfoil strip in half horizontally and creasing firmly.

Tinfoil baking rings step 3


Measure the foil strip to the appropriate length, making a crease.
 

  • 4.5" Hamburger Bun = 14.25 inches

  • 4" Hamburger Bun = 12.75 inches

  • 3" Slider Bun = 9.5 inches /

 

Tinfoil Baking Rings Step 4


Place the long end of the foil strip inside the crease, and attach using two staples.

Tinfoil baking molds step 5


Gently pull the foil outward in a circular motion to form into a ring shape.

Tin foil baking molds step 6


Spray ring with non-stick spray, place scaled dough inside, and allow to proof before baking.

Tinfoil baking molds step 7

Quick Note on Measurements

You can create any size bun you wish just by knowing your desired diameter.

For example, if you want to make a 5" bun, you would multiply 5 inches (your diameter) time 3.14 (π). This will give you the circumference of the bun, which is also the length to which you need to measure your tinfoil strip.

5 X 3.14 = 15.7

However, while experimenting with various sized buns during the R&D phase of this project, I found that my diameter was always slightly smaller than I wanted by the time I formed the foil into a ring shape. This is because no matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to form a perfect circle.

This led me to start rounding the circumference up to the nearest quarter inch. So in the example above, 15.7 would become 15.75, or maybe even 16 inches.

I know it's not an exact science, but this will at least get you in the ball park, allowing you to adjust the overall circumference of your mold up and down as needed.

Also, in the Hamburger Brioche Bun Video (linked below), you'll notice that the vertical height of my molds are fairly deep, about .75 - 1 inch.

However, after further testing, I found that I actually prefer a more shallow mold, between .25 - .5 inches. This allows the mold enough depth to aid the bun in holding it's shape throughout proofing and baking process, but still allows for a more natural expansion during oven spring.

Related Content

 

Upcoming All Merlot Wine Dinner & Five Course Tasting Menu Featuring Michael Keenan

I'm excited to announce my upcoming dinner with Michael Keenan, of Keenan Wines in Spring Mountain, California.

Michael is not only a good friend of mine, but he also makes, hands down, some of the best Merlots and Cabernets you'll ever have the pleasure of drinking.

Period.

End of story.

What's most exciting about this menu is we'll be pairing every course with one of Michael's signature Merlots or merlot-blends. No whites, no subtle openings, just smashing you over the head with massive umami bombs from start to finish.

We set-up two, long community tables with a full view of the kitchen, so you can watch me and my crew sweat it out as we attempt to go toe-to-toe with the amazing line up of wines Keenan plans on bringing. Couple this Michael's commentary, which gets progressively more "salty" in direct proportion to how much wine has been poured, and you have the makings for a fun and entertaining evening.

If you're interested in attending the dinner, please let us know as soon as possible; space is limited. Or you may just have fun reading through the menu, which I've posted below.


Keenan Wine Dinner Menu
 

Fermented Brown Rice Cracklins


In this industry, we all stand on the shoulder's of giants. As we play with ideas, techniques, and flavors, we create fun and sometimes unique derivative works that open the door to new possibilities.

In their book Ideas in Food, Aki and Alex lay out a fun play on pork cracklins using kimchi pureed with tapioca starch instead of the standard pork skin. This mixture is cooked into a loose paste, spread thin on acetate sheets, and dehydrated. After about 24-48 hours, the resulting sheet will shatter like glass, and puff when dropped into hot oil. This concept works because even though the sheet seems completely dry, there's still a small amount of water trapped inside (about 4%).

When the dehydrated sheet is dropped in 400°F/204°C oil, the small amount of residual water quickly turns to steam, exploding outward, causing the starch gel to puff. The original Ideas in Food recipe used tapioca starch for it's bland flavor (so the kimchi could shine through), but this technique remains universal for any type of cooked, starchy puree that can be spread thin and dehydrated.

A few days ago, looking to add a crunchy texture and interesting flavor to an new dish, this idea popped back into my head. I wondered, why can't I use brown rice with the same approach? And since brown rice is a whole grain, shouldn't I be able to extract more flavor if I inoculated the soaking water with a sourdough culture and let it ferment a few days?

In fact, the approach turned out to be extremely simple. I took a teaspoon of sourdough starter and dissolved it in about three quarts of water. Brown rice was then submerged in this water, and left at room temperature to ferment.

Two days later I boiled the brown rice like pasta, purposely overcooking it so the starch granules would burst. It resulted in a goopy, sticky, brown rice "congee" that I first pureed in a food processor and then passed through a tamis (fine sieve).

As it started to cool, I could already see the starchy puree start to set. I whisked in a little warm water to loosen the mixture into a paste-like consistency, and spread it onto sheets of acetate cut to fit my dehydrator trays. The mixture was dehydrated overnight and broken into small pieces.

A simple dunk in 400°F/204°C oil for about 20 seconds causes the thin sheet of dehydrated brown rice to puff into an airy, crunchy 'cracklin.' While the texture is awesome, the flavor is truly the best part. The fermented brown rice cracklin has a deep, whole grain flavor with hints of popcorn and toasted wheat berries. Sprinkled with a little bit of kosher salt fresh from the fryer, these things quickly become addicting.

Now the possibilities are endless.

First, if the brown rice is simply covered with water and allowed to ferment at room temperature for 3-5 days (instead of inoculating with a sourdough starter), this could turn into a healthy snack for people suffering from celiacs. In fact, the fermentation step isn't even necessary, although I would argue the end flavor is better.

Second, the brown rice can be cooked in any number of flavored liquids, and the resulting puree can easily absorb other seasoning or ingredients in the form of spices, liquids, purees, etc. The only limitation is the mixture needs to be extremely low in fat, or it won't dehydrate properly.

Finally, this can be applied to any number of high starch mixtures, not just brown rice and tapioca starch. And in fact, it has. If anyone has ever eaten a Cheeto, Bugle, or a bowl of Rice Krispies for that matter, you've experienced first hand the textures this technique can create.

Like I said...we all stand on the shoulder's of giants.

 

Stella's Culinary Tour De France

Stella Culinary's Tour De France
 

The Three Mother Preferments And How To Use Them

This article is part 2 of 2. Read part one here: What Is A Preferment?

Various Types of Preferments

Preferments can go by many different names including chef, levain, sponge, madre bianca, mother, biga and poolish. But in my opinion, there are three major approaches to preferments that will encompass all others, much like classic French sauces are mostly derivatives from the Five French Mother Sauces. To help you better understand the three major approaches to preferments, I give you the “Three Mother Preferments” (somewhere out there, a French Baker just face palmed himself, and my life is now complete). These three “mother preferments” are poolish, biga and pâte fermentée.

Poolish Preferment

Sometimes referred to as a sponge or barm (although a barm is more technically a natural levain or sourdough starter), tradition has it that the term “Poolish” comes from Polish baker’s in Vienna who developed the technique of prefermentation, later adopted by French bakers. And although I’m always eager to annoy French baker’s and chefs, there really is no solid, historical evidence of where the term “poolish” originated.

What we can agree on however is the poolish style preferment is the most common approach used by enthusiasts and professional bakers alike, mainly because it’s high hydration allows the yeast to propagate at a constant pace, and it’s incredibly easy to apply a preferment to any bread recipe since it contains a 1:1 ratio of flour and water (which makes final bread dough calculations intuitive, especially when converting various bread recipes that don’t utilize a preferment).

Based on the baker’s percentage, a poolish starter will have 100% hydration and .2% yeast (always based on the flour’s weight).

This means the basic formulation for a poolish preferment is:

  • 500g Flour - 100%

  • 500g Water - 100%

  • 1g Yeast* - 0.2% (either active or instant dry)

*Because cake yeast (commonly only found in professional bakeries) is less dense with yeast microbes than active or instant dry, you can up the percentage to 1% to get the same results.

Now I do realize this seems like a lot of preferment for the home baker, and it is, but using these numbers you can at least visualize the ratios through the baker’s percentage. If you want to make a smaller poolish preferment and don’t have a gram scale accurate to the 10th of a gram, then a simple, one finger pinch of yeast will do. For example, if I was making a preferment for one or two loaves of bread, it would probably look something like this:

  • 200g Flour

  • 200g Water

  • Pinch Yeast

Once mixed, a poolish style preferment will be ready to use in about 12-18 hours, assuming an ambient room temperature of 68-72°F/20-22°C and your yeast usage doesn’t exceed .2% based on the flour’s weight. Remember, the more yeast used and the hotter your room temperature, the sooner your preferment will be ready (which isn’t necessarily desirable since the whole purpose of a preferment is to slow down the fermentation process). For every 17°F/9°C your room temperature raises or drops, the yeast activity will be doubled or cut in half, taking the yeast half the time or twice the time respectively to achieve the same amount of fermentation.

For more information on incorporating a poolish style preferment into your bread doughs, please see “The Basics of Using a Preferment” at the end of this article.

Biga Preferment

This style of preferment was developed by Italian bakers, and in Italy, a Biga refers to any style of preferment that contains flour, water and yeast, no matter the percentages. However, it’s more common for a Biga to have less hydration than a poolish. For the sake of understanding various approaches to preferments, Biga’s are low hydration (stiffer) and take longer to finish fermentation as compared to a poolish containing the same percentage of yeast. This is because yeast’s movement is impeded by lower hydrations, taking them longer to propagate and consume all the starches contained within the bread dough.

This is why Biga Preferments will usually, but not always, contain more yeast based upon the flour’s rate (about 1%) than a wetter style of preferment like a poolish. At the one percent use rate, a biga preferment left at a standard room temperature will be ready to use in about 14-18 hours. The basic formulation for a biga starter is:

  • 500g Flour - 100%

  • 300g Water - 60%

  • 5g Yeast - 1%

While this is a common formulation for a biga starter, the yeast percentage and hydration rate can vary depending on the baker and the final application of the preferment. However, in the spirit of separate approaches, low hydration starters will take longer to ferment than a poolish, which is why the yeast percent is raised to 1% for the former instead of .2% for the latter.

Anecdotally speaking, this stiffer dough can stand up to longer fermentation times, especially if the yeast percent is lowered, creating more complex flavors via acetic and latic acid production, the same acids responsible for sourdough’s complex flavor and aroma.

Once a biga preferment is airy and full of life (and expanded by about double it’s original volume), it can then be incorporated into the final dough formulation by cutting into small pieces, mixed with the rest of the recipe’s liquid, and then incorporated into the remaining ingredients. This will ensure an even dispersion of yeast contained in the preferment, resulting in better bulk fermentation and proofing.

Pâte Fermentée (Chef, Old Dough)

The “old dough” or pâte fermentée style of preferment is extremely convenient if you’re baking the same bread recipe on a regular basis. This approach was championed by famed French baker Raymond Cavell who credited this method with adding complexity of flavor and increased oven spring to his world famous baguettes.

The basic concept is simple; up to 1/3 of bread dough is reserved after the bulk fermentation to levin the next batch of bread. So in the case of a classic baguette, the first time the recipe is made, flour, water, yeast, and salt will be mixed together and allowed to bulk ferment.

After the bulk fermentation is complete, the dough is punched down, one third is reserved to levin the next batch of bread, while the rest of the dough is scaled, formed, proofed, and baked.

This old dough can be stored for about 8-12 hours at room temperature or retarded in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months, removing from the freezer and allowing to thaw fully (about 12-16 hours at room temperature, (24-36 hours in the fridge depending on the dough's volume) before using it to levin a batch of bread.

The Basics of Using a Preferment

Now that you understand what a preferment is, why they’re beneficial to bread baking, and the three major approaches, let’s talk about how to actually apply this knowledge to any bread recipe.

In general, 1/4 to 1/2 of a bread recipe’s total flour will be used to create a preferment. The amount of liquid depends entirely on what approach you’re using from above (low hydration biga, high hydration poolish, or pâte fermentée).

The amount of pre-ferment used will depend on how long you want the bulk fermentation process to take, after it's incorporated into the the rest of the ingredients. In general, when half of the dough's flour comes from a preferment, you can count on a 2-4 hour bulk fermentation and a 1-2 hour proof.

Let's use our basic baguette recipe to put this into perspective:

  • 800g Flour - 100%

  • 520g Water (Warm) - 65%

  • 7g Yeast (Active Dry) - .8% Yeast

  • 16g Salt - 2% Salt

The original recipe uses the direct method, meaning the ingredients are mixed together, allowed to bulk ferment, shaped, proofed and baked (scalable recipe - video recipe).

To add extra complexity of flavor, we’ll remove half of the recipe’s flour and create a poolish style preferment, transforming our recipe into something like this:

Preferment

  • 400g Flour

  • 400g Water

  • Pinch Yeast

Mix ingredients together, place in a container large enough to allow the preferment to at least double in size, and allow to ferment at room temperature (68-72°F/20-22°C) for 12-16 hours (or retard in fridge for up to 3 days).

The next day, mix the preferment with the remaining ingredients:

  • 400g Flour

  • 120g Water

  • 16g Salt


Follow the baguette recipe as normal. Remember, your bulk fermentation and proofing stages might take a little longer than normal, about 3 and 2 hours respectively, but your patience will be rewarded with a superior baguette. Obviously the fermentation can be delayed further by using less preferment, retarding the bread during bulk fermentation or proofing, or all of the above. Again, the longer the fermentation and proofing process, the more complex the bread will be, until the yeast consume all the available food, causing them to die.

To convert the above baguette recipe for use with a biga style starter:

  • 400g Flour

  • 240g Water - (400 X .6 = 240g or 60% Hydration)

  • 4g Yeast - (400 X .01 = 4g or 1%)

Mix ingredients together until they form a shaggy dough. Leave at room temperature and allow to ferment for 14-18 hours (or retard in fridge for up to 3 days).

The next day, mix with:

  • 400g Flour

  • 280g Water

  • 16g Salt

Once ingredients are kneaded together, follow the baguette recipe as normal, with the expectation of your bulk ferment and proofing stages taking a little longer.

To use the pâte fermentée method, you can simply reserve 1/3 of the baguette dough recipe, but this will also decrease the overalll yield. If you want to have the same yield every time (4 baguettes), then scale each ingredient by 1.5. For example, our above baguette recipe adds up to 1336g total dough weight. Here's how the math looks

800g X 1.5 = 1200g Flour
520g X 1.5 = 780g Water
 16g X 1.5 = 24g Salt
   7g X 1.5 = 10.5 Yeast
_____________________________________
1336g X 1.5 = 2004g Total Dough Weight

  • 2004 X .3 = 668 (this is the amount pate fermente you must remove and save for the next batch).

  • 668 X 2 - 1336

So as you can see from the above example, scaling any bread recipe by 1.5 will allow you to remove 30% of the dough to be used as a preferment in your next batch, while resulting in the same total yield from bake to bake. Even though 1/3 is technically 33%, scaling a recipe by 1.5 and then removing .3 is easy to remember, keeps your numbers round, and the extra 3% is negligible.

The portion of the dough removed can be stored at room temperature if you plan on baking the same bread in the next 12-18 hours, in the fridge up to 3 days, or the freezer for up to 6 months.


The final baguette recipe would be:

  • 668g Pâte Fermentée (Old Dough)

  • 800g Flour

  • 520g Water

  • 16g Salt

  • Yeast - Optional, depending on how fast you want the bread to rise, or how avtive your old dough looks. If it's a little past it's prime or you want a faster, more dependable rise, add 7g of yeast.

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What Is A Preferment?

Preferments

Preferments leverage one simple fact; longer and slower bulk fermentation and proofing stages make for better bread. This is accomplished by taking a portion of a bread recipe’s flour and liquid, “spiking” with a very small amount of yeast, and allowing this mixture to ferment at room temperature over the course of 12-18 hours, and sometimes as long as a few days if retarded under refrigeration.

Using a preferment would fall under the classification of the “in-direct method,” because there’s an intermediate step between the mixing of ingredients and bulk fermentation. Just like we discussed in Episode 20, “The Classifications of Bread,” the in-direct method slows down fermentation by the utilizing preferments or retarding doughs during the bulk fermentation process, resulting in a more complex, flavorful bread.

This is opposed to most modern bread recipes formulated for many cooks who tend to prize convenience over flavor. Most recipes use large amounts of yeast which allow you to bulk ferment the bread dough in two hours and proof in less than one. And while these recipes will still produce fresh baked bread that will fill your house with beautiful aromas and have a quality that easily rivals the soulless, pre-sliced, baked-batters found at your local supermarket, it will be no where near the quality which can be achieved through delayed fermentation.

“But Jacob, it takes so long to bake bread using a pre-ferment!”

No, not really. In fact, the actual time you spend mixing the dough  doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is the passive time required to do a pre-ferment, meaning having the foresight to mix a portion of the flour and water a day or two in advanced before baking bread.

What the argument really comes down to is planning ahead. In fact, I’ve gotten many negative YouTube comments on my bread baking videos, all which say pretty much the same thing: “This takes too much time, it’s too involved, that’s what supermarkets are for, etc.”

If that’s your mind set, than I’d venture to guess you’re in the majority, simply based on the complete saturation of “quick, easy, simple, 30 minutes or less,” recipe books and TV shows. And please don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with quick and easy recipes, but the approach isn’t universal to all forms of the culinary arts.

There is no quick and easy approach to charcuterie, the fermentation of grapes into world class wine, and the baking of great bread. But then the people who pursue these subjects aren’t worried about quick and easy, because our reward comes to us during the process, with the finished product being the tangible expression of the journey, which true cooks cherish above the destination.

If you’re not willing to plan ahead, then preferments and baking great bread aren’t for. But if you’re willing to be patient and draw the process out over the course of a couple of days, the use of a preferment or “natural levain” (i.e. sourdough starter), will instantly elevate the quality of your breads.

Why Use a Preferment?

Because fermentation is extended, the yeast and natural enzymes present in flour have time to take action on the starches and proteins in the dough, releasing a larger amount of food supply for the yeast to ingest and turn into energy. This has a couple of distinct benefits:

 

  • It tastes better. The general rule of thumb is the longer the bread is allowed to ferment, the more complex and delicious the finished flavors will be. This does have a law of diminishing returns however; any preferment older than 3 days that hasn’t been refreshed with fresh flour and water is likely to have a weak and dying yeast population which can give your bread off flavors and poor rising ability.

  • Preferments add extensibility to bread doughs, making them easier to form, and resulting in a superior oven spring. In fact, preferments have been shown to increase the oven spring of baguettes by as much as 10%, which results in an airier, lighter crumb.

  • Delayed fermentation will also slightly drop to the pH of bread, extending it’s shelf live without the necessity of “dough conditioners” or preservatives.

Are you convinced you need a preferment in you're baking arsenal? Then get started by reading our guide "The Three Mother Preferments and How To Use Them." We also cover this topic extensively in The Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 21| Sourdough Starters and Preferments.

You might also be interested in the following:

Podcast Episodes


Videos - Visit Our Bread Baking Video Index