Steamed buns or bao are a significant staple in Chinese cuisine. Some authorities date the origin of steamed bao all the way back to the Warring States period (475–221 B.C.E.) in China, although others suggest bao is a few centuries more recent than that. Bao have relatives in various Asian countries, including Korean mandu, Malaysian pau, Japanese nikuman, and Filipino siopao.
Bao is made of flour, water, and yeast, just like any other bread. The difference is, the dough is steamed, not baked, turning it into a warm, plump bun. Bao dough is typically wrapped around a filling before steaming. Sometimes, bao is served without filling, as a sop for sauces. This is often called mantou, although some authorities define these terms differently. In terms of fillings, there are endless regional variations and creative possibilities.
The slightly sweet bao dough is forgiving, easy to put together, and extremely versatile. This easy recipe creates a dough you can transform into many different shapes, from a simple steamed mantou to a more elaborate knotted hua juan (or “flower bun”) and stuffed buns, such as hum bao. While the actual buns are petite, they should be generously plump, not deflated from oversteaming. The crust should be almost invisibly ultrathin and shiny from the gelatinized starch. The crumb should be tender, with a delicately chewy texture that’s soft enough to be easily pulled apart.
Steamed buns should be eaten warm, ideally as soon as possible after steaming. You can also refresh the buns in the steamer or fry them if they’re not consumed right away.
By adding cherries, we have taken the beloved combination of bread and chocolate in a new direction. A variation of our Sourdough Master Recipe, this dough is only moderately sweet; the natural sourness of the dough tempers the sweet character of the inclusions. Given how many taste testers were waiting when these loaves came out of the oven, it’s a captivating combination (and a team favorite). As a bonus, the bake-proof chocolate chips remain melted for a good while (while still holding their shape), adding to the indulgence of each bite. We recommend making an extra loaf or two to share—this surprising sourdough makes a thoughtful gift from the heart. This bread is best enjoyed within two to three days and can be frozen for up to two months.
In many cultures, there’s a holiday tradition of baking bread with a small token hidden inside, such as a coin or a whole almond. It’s a nice surprise for whoever gets the slice with the token, which is sometimes said to bring a year of good luck.
Though our own version may be showier than is accustomed, King’s Day Bread (or Rosca de Reyes in Spanish) is always adorned with candied fruits. King’s Day, January 6, commemorates the arrival of the three Wise Men in Bethlehem with gifts for baby Jesus. The baker customarily hides a figurine of baby Jesus inside the dough. The bread has a particularly rich tradition in Mexico, where the person served the piece with the figurine is obliged, traditionally, to host a tamal dinner on February 2 (the Day of the Virgin of Candelaria).
Versions of the citron-tinged bread—also known as Three Kings Bread, Twelfth Night Cake, or Brioche des Rois—are eaten in many countries, including France, Spain, and Portugal. In addition to King’s Day, the bread is also prepared for Twelfth Night (a Christian holiday 12 days after Christmas) and in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
Salt is not just a universal seasoning. It also has a powerful chemical ability to retain juices within fish and meat during cooking, provided you distribute the salt evenly throughout the meat at the proper concentration.
Slathering salt on the outside of a fish or a piece of meat doesn’t work very well, unless you want the distinctive flavor and firm, smooth texture of a cured meat, like corned beef or smoked salmon. At such high concentrations, salt actually causes the proteins in meat to fall apart.
The subtler effect of brining is more widely useful. Brining is the technique of soaking meat in a dilute salt solution until the dissolved salt permeates the muscle tissue. You’re shooting for a final concentration of about 0.5% salt throughout the meat—weak compared to curing. The challenge with brining is getting the meat deep in the interior to be just as salty as the meat on the outside. Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s easy to end up with a steep gradient of saltiness.
Modernist brining, akin to cooking sous vide, soaks the meat for long periods (up to 24 hours) in a solution having a salt concentration only slightly higher than that target of 0.5%. The risk of oversalting is eliminated. Brining fish prior to cooking will season it, firm it, and protect its delicate color.
A recipe for fat may strike some as strange, but fat is one of the key flavor elements in food. French cuisine would be unrecognizable without cream and butter. Indian cuisine relies heavily on ghee (clarified butter). Chefs in Mediterranean countries turn habitually to olive oil, while those in Tibet always have yak butter on hand. The recipe here is for rendered chicken fat, which is widely used in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. (The Yiddish word for it—schmaltz—has taken on a whole other connotation in American English.)
As much as we love cream, butter, and olive oil, rendered fat is sometimes a better choice for use in a sauce or as a complement to meats because it does not distract from the flavor of the other ingredients. We use our Modernist schmaltz to enrich chicken sauce, salad dressing, and garlic, but it has innumerable applications—you can even use it to fry eggs!
Buy chicken skin from your butcher, or collect scraps of fat and skin from other chicken recipes in the freezer until you have enough to render. Note that the same technique can be used for any animal fat, including turkey, duck, or goose skin, and fatty trimmings from cuts of pork, veal, or beef.
It’s hard to miss the fanfare (or better yet, 12th-manfare) around Seattle right now—the Space Needle glows green at night and enormous 12s can be spotted along the skylines of Seattle and Bellevue, just across Lake Washington. Whether you’re a fan of the Seahawks, Patriots, or the commercials (or biding your time until next year), there’s one thing we can all get excited about: game day snacks. This year, we’re honoring the old pigskin with . . . pig skin. Pressure-Cooked Chicharrón to be exact.
Chicharrón is pork skin that has been dehydrated, fried, and puffed into crackling. It’s an addictive snack or garnish: make plenty, or it might disappear before it gets to the table. Pork skin is available from many butchers and at many Asian and Latin American markets.
The key to good chicharrón is drying the skin by just the right amount before frying it. The dried pieces should at that point flex slightly, and then snap in half. If they are too moist or too dry, they will not puff properly in the hot oil. Proper inflation is essential to good chicharrón. A food dehydrator is the best tool for drying the skin, but if you don’t have one, preheat the oven to its lowest temperature setting, arrange the pieces on a rack set over a baking sheet, and dry them for 8–10 hours until they become leathery and flexible.
We like chicharrón with guacamole and salsa; however, if you truly want to win your Super Bowl party, make campechanas: tacos of corn tortillas filled with equal parts carnitas and chicharrón,topped with your favorite green chili salsa.
Pumpkin pie is one of the most popular Thanksgiving desserts; therefore we devoted some time to analyzing what makes this pie so easy to identify. It’s typically the spices you taste, not the pumpkin, so we came up with a way to extract the true taste of pumpkin while skipping the spices, at least in the custard itself.
We decided to source one of our own recipes from Modernist Cuisine, wherein we pressure-cook carrots with baking soda. Baking soda deepens flavors and enhances caramelization of sugars, which, we concluded, would be the perfect way to accentuate the pumpkin’s essence. But it required finding the best pumpkin for the job. We settled on a type of pumpkin that comes in the shape of a can—it’s soft inside and practically pureed, with a label that says “Libby’s.” For pumpkin-flavored pumpkin, it’s our first choice.
In the 1950s, when Colonel Harland Sanders started the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, chickens enjoyed longer lives, and their muscles—particularly their legs—were tougher. Cooking these old birds fast and to order was no mean feat because their dark meat was loaded with tough collagen. The colonel knew that simply turning up the heat on the fryer wouldn’t work; higher heat at the food surface just doesn’t accelerate cooking appreciably.
Unable to find a suitable fryer, Sanders financed the development of a new kind of deep fryer, one that uses high pressure rather than high temperature to speed cooking and tenderize the dark meat. Winston Shelton—who later invented the CVap water-vapor oven—came up with the winning design. Winston Industries’ “Collectramatic” is still sold today but has since evolved to accommodate the shift in public preference for white meat. The 21st-century Collectramatic can cook at pressures and temperatures considerably lower than those applied in Sanders’s day.
Some serious fried-chicken enthusiasts might have a Collectramatic in their kitchen, but the rest of us can still make incredible fried chicken with just a deep fryer or by combining a large pot with a stovetop. Inspired by Sanders’s ingenuity and passion for succulent poultry, we created The Colonel’s Fried Chicken recipe. Containing eleven herbs and spices, the flour mix coats the chicken in a flavorful layer of savory goodness. Once fried, the outside is crisp and golden, while the inside remains tender, juicy, and altogether delicious. Enjoy your chicken hot, just out of the fryer, or serve it cold at a picnic—there is something undeniably satisfying about cold fried chicken.
Dashi is elegantly simple yet incredibly important to Japanese cuisine. Literally translating to ‘broth’, dashi is full of umami goodness, which makes it both delicious alone and as an indispensable tool for layering and developing flavors in countless Japanese recipes. In fact, the distinct reaction of taste receptors with glutamate was first identified after slurping a bowl of dashi broth. Its ingredients happen to be full of naturally occurring, umami-rich glutamates, the flavors of which intensify as cooking progresses.
Traditionally, dashi can be made into two broths: ichiban dashi (“first broth”) and niban dashi (“second broth”). The former is a delicate, aromatic extraction that is served immediately, and the latter is a stronger extraction used for cooking. Ichiban dashi is made by soaking and then gently boiling kombu in water to extract the seaweed flavor. The addition of katsuobushi (aged, dried, and shaved bonito flakes) infuses the steeping broth with intense fish flavors. The broth is then strained and consumed. Niban dashi is made by recombining and cooking the leftover ingredients over low heat for about 10 minutes.
Our dashi recipe is equally as simple. We used The Porthole Infuser to create two delicious broths that also happen to be pleasing to the eyes. The flavors of these ingredients slowly infuse into the water, resulting in a richly flavored broth that can be heated and served as is or used in any recipe that calls for dashi.
There is something deeply inviting about a dollop of fresh butter slowly melting on top of a warm bowl of grits. Indeed, magic can be found at the bottom of that bowl. For many of us who were raised in the south, grits are a reminder of home, of nourishing breakfasts that taught us to savor food, and of meals prepared with warmth and care. No matter your locale, a bowl of well-made grits is a comforting way to start the day, which is why this recipe for Shrimp and Grits seems especially fitting for Mother’s Day.
Beyond childhood breakfasts, grits have a long history of being prepared with soul. Hominy grits were developed by Native American tribes as a thick porridge from stone-milled corn. An offering of goodwill, this simple meal was shared with early colonists in Roanoke, North Carolina, and used to greet settlers of Jamestown, Virginia. Like masa harina, hominy grits underwent nixtamalization—they were softened, hulled, and then ground after being treated with an alkaline solution. Adopted by Southerners, grits were cheap and readily available, a tasty way of feeding hungry communities. The roots of shrimp and grits can be traced to the coast’s low country, where fishermen added freshly caught shrimp to create a humble, yet satisfying breakfast.
You can make grits from course-ground cornmeal from nearly any variety: white, yellow, and blue. The kind of corn and size of the grind affect the cooking time and the amount of water needed. Traditional methods of making good grits require attention—left unattended, the cooking corn meal will stick to the pot and develop lumps. Instant grits offer shorter cooking times but at the cost of blander flavors. Instead, use a pressure cooker and enjoy the real thing, quickly and without constant stirring.
Regional and subregional variations on this dish are abundant. We intensified our Shrimp and Grits by cooking course-ground grits in Pressure-Cooked Crustacean Stock, and the addition of Redeye Gravy adds even more flavor. The soft-cooked egg seems to melt over the finished bowl of warm grits. For a more traditional take, add prawns that have been seared or cooked sous vide.
Save room for something sweet: Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnut Holes pair well with morning coffee and are the perfect way to end an incredible tribute to the mothers in our lives.
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