Lamb, Slow-Baked Onion, and Pistachio Puree

Lamb has a rich tradition of being the focal point of spring meals. Signifying the passing of winter and the renewal of life, lamb was often the first fresh meat available each year, making it a logical springtime choice. Whole lambs were cooked on spits or in earth ovens, bringing together communities for religious and cultural ceremony in Mediterranean countries, Africa, Central and South America, and Polynesia. Lamb also holds symbolic meaning when served for Easter dinners and at the Passover seders of Sephardic Jews.

When we started discussing a lamb dish to celebrate the spring, we knew we wanted to honor the tradition of “neck-to-shank” cooking. As it turns out, however, it’s rather difficult to procure an entire lamb in the United States due to FDA regulations. We quickly realized that we would not be able to bury a lamb by The Cooking Lab, although it would have made for an interesting experiment—instead, we decided to give the tradition a Modernist twist. To butcher our whole lamb, the team first broke it down into primal cuts and then separated out the retail cuts. We used Modernist techniques to highlight the unique tastes and textures of each cut, resulting in thirteen different recipes.

Good lamb is moist and tasty, not tough and gamey. Many people associate lamb with the mouthfeel of chewy, overcooked chops, but done right, it can be extremely tender, nearly falling off the bone. Cooked sous vide for 18 hours, our recipe for Lamb Breast yields succulent results. Salt, olive oil, thyme, and garlic complement the natural flavors of the meat. Plated with a Slow-Baked Onion and Pistachio Puree, the finished dish is a humble Modernist homage to a timeless tradition.

Smoked Dry-Rub Pork Ribs

Nathan, I, and the entire Modernist Cuisine team were saddened earlier this month when barbecue legend John H. Willingham passed away.

This year, I had the opportunity to be a member of his River City Rooters team, which competed at the Memphis in May World Championship a few days after his passing. Although Willingham’s absence was keenly felt by everyone on the team, it strengthened our determination to honor his memory by delivering strong showings in both competition and vending. Willingham’s daughters, Karla, Kara, and Kristi, were a constant presence in the pit, always working, encouraging others, and keeping spirits up. Willingham’s son-in-law, Clay Templeton, orchestrated the vending, and Paul Holden, long-time pit-master of the Willingham team, simultaneously managed six W’ham Turbo Cookers, including a giant version built inside a trailer!

Although Willingham was most famous for his contributions to barbecue, he was a true renaissance man. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals, served as a county commissioner, and was known for providing shelter to the homeless. An accomplished inventor, he held 17 patents, including the patent for the nasal spray bottle. Perhaps his most intriguing invention was the W’ham Turbo Cooker, which was unlike any other barbecue cooker at the time and offered a giant leap forward in the accuracy and consistency of cooking over a live fire. Electronic controls in the turbo cooker slowly feed pellets into a firebox to generate heat and smoke, which waft into an offset chamber where food is hung on rotating racks. The system ensures even heating and flavoring of the food. The influence of Willingham’s inventive ideas is clearly visible in many other cookers; vision and offset fireboxes with electric controls are now very popular on the competitive barbecue circuit.

Willingham was an avid participant in barbecue competitions for decades. He crisscrossed the country to compete in events from Boston to Alabama, collecting trophies almost everywhere he stopped. Over the years, he twice captured Grand Champion at Memphis in May (once when he invited Nathan to join his team) and also took Grand Champion at the American Royal in Kansas City, two events that many be considered the most competitive in barbecue.

During my time in Memphis this spring, I soaked up Willingham’s wisdom on how ribs should be cooked. By combining those insights, with tips mined from Willingham’s cookbook, I was able to produce the recipe below, which consistently produces delicious ribs and can be reproduced at home even if you don’t have a dedicated smoker. Although this recipe might not win any trophies, it will definitely result in a great meal. I hope it inspires you to get out your grills and gather your family and friends for some fun outdoor cooking. That would be the perfect way to remember John H. Willingham.

-Sam Fahey-Burke, Research and Development Chef

Red Wine Glaze

A red wine glaze is a standard sauce and a favorite of many chefs, but the classical technique for preparing it  is both lengthy and labor-intensive. We retooled it, using a pressure cooker, to get great results much faster.

Sam Fahey-Burke, Research and Development Chef

Melty Queso Dip

When I brought this dip to a party, explaining that it was actually made from real pepper jack cheese, I was met with baffled looks. “What else is in it? Butter? Cream?” my friends asked. I smiled and told them it really was just cheese, plus a little water and sodium citrate. That means there is no added fat to impair the flavor or coat your mouth when you take a bite. That pure taste of pepper jack cheese makes it the best queso around.

Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer

Frozen Fruit Rolls

We recently watched a video on YouTube of a Thai street vendor making ice-cream rolls in just a few minutes. Ingenious! Of course, we had to try it on our new baking steel. The steel, placed atop a 10 lb block of dry ice, can cool down from room temperature to -9.4 °C / 15 °F in 10 minutes. Thus, you can quickly make ice cream with personalized mix-ins without setting up an ice-cream maker or procuring liquid nitrogen.

Get fancy by shaving the ice cream into rolls. To make ice-cream rolls, use a chilled, homemade ice-cream base, or melt down some store-bought ice cream. Some bases, such as sorbets, can freeze up too hard, too quickly. In these cases, add a ripe banana. The banana softens the frozen product and creates a pliable texture ideal for curling. In fact, in the recipe below, we’ve made curls using just frozen banana and kiwi. Experiment with other fruits that are naturally creamy, such as persimmon, cherimoya, and avocado.

Larissa Zhou, Food Scientist

Classic Pizza Sauce Recipe

We included many recipe variations in Modernist Cuisine at Home, because the team had so many great ideas. We couldn’t include each one as a full recipe, though, or the book would have been twice as big. Including many step-by-step photos was also important to us, so sometimes we had to balance how many variations we included with how many photos we used. It made working on the layout a fun challenge.

In particular, our Basics chapter includes many variations. For example, our Marinara Sauce recipe page includes variations for Bolognese, Tomato Sofrito, Pineapple Marinara, and Pizza sauces. Since we’re celebrating pizza this week, we’ve put the Pizza Sauce variation into our standard format for you.

Try this sauce with our Neapolitan dough recipe. We recommend baking on our baking steel for best results.

Jennifer Sugden, Production Editor

Neapolitan Pizza Dough Recipe

Gluten, the protein complex in wheat that becomes tangled into sticky, stretchy dough when you knead flour with water, is crucial to a great crust. Bread flours need a large fraction of high-quality gluten to act as a binder. The more gluten in the flour, the more elastic the dough, and the firmer the baked crust will be. Kneading the dough liberates starches that are attached to the proteins and allows the gluten to form networks that make the dough strong and stretchy. When you let the dough rest, the networks relax.

All yeast-leavened doughs­ (but pizza dough in particular) benefit from higher levels of gluten. So we tried adding more gluten, in its purified form. We found that the addition of as little as 0.5% of vital wheat gluten (as in the recipe below) produces a dough that requires less kneading and yields just the right amount of chewiness when baked.

This dough is best when rolled thin and cooked quickly at a very high temperature. For best results, use our baking steel.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Deep-Fried Brussels Sprouts

As soon as I brought home my copy of Modernist Cuisine, I was eager to try cooking from it. For one of my first attempts, I had a bunch of friends over for a barbecue and decided to try four or five recipes. The sort of precise cooking this book called for was still new to me, but I carefully weighed and mixed all of the ingredients until, finally, I only had to deep-fry my Brussels sprouts.

I’ve deep-fried on the stove many times, but never had it occurred to me to measure the temperature of the oil (in retrospect, this probably would have saved me from overcooking some meals throughout the years). Relaxing now because I thought the hard work was over, I heated the oil. I then grabbed the only thermometer I owned at the time; a glass analog thermometer that came with a cocktail kit someone gave me. Without thinking, I stuck the glass thermometer in the hot oil, causing it to shatter! Luckily, the thermometer was alcohol-based, not mercury-based.

Naturally, we pulled out a new pot to fill with oil, continuing to make the Brussels sprouts. They were a huge success, as was the rest of the party. In fact, I’m often asked to bring them to potlucks and dinner parties. And now that I have a digital probe thermometer, my Brussels sprouts are even better than that first time. I never have to worry about burnt food or shattered thermometers. It is amazing what a little precision and the right equipment will do.

Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer

72-Hour Braised Short Ribs

Collagen determines, to a large extent, whether cooked meat ends up tender or tough. It is also the determining factor in how long you should cook a given cut of meat. Collagen fibers are the biological equivalent of steel cabling, forming a mesh that holds bundles of meat fibers together. Proper cooking unravels the cable-like structure of collagen fibers and dissolves them into juices, transforming the tough collagen into tender gelatin.

In order to unravel collagen fibers, you must heat them. Heat causes the fibers to shrink, and the contracting mesh squeezes juices out of the meat. The hotter the cooking temperature, the more collagen mesh contracts, and the more juices are lost. If you cook the meat at lower temperatures, fewer of the collagen fibers shorten at any given point in the cooking process, so the mesh constricts the meat less. This is why meats retain more of their juices when cooked sous vide. But at lower temperatures, more time is needed to shrink, unravel, and dissolve enough of the collagen fibers to make the meat pleasantly tender.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine

Lamb Skewers with Mint Yogurt

There’s something inherently fun about food on a stick. Skewered foods pop up in food culture all over the world: in yakitori bars in Japan; in the astounding variety of satay sold by Thai and Malaysian street vendors; in cotton candy, deep-fried ice cream, and corn dogs at the Minnesota State Fair; and in candy apples, popsicles (even “Spamsicles”), and crispy crickets on a stick.

In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we give some of our favorite skewers, such as Lamb with Mint Yogurt, a Modernist update by cooking the meat sous vide to the perfect temperature before skewering it. One benefit of this approach is that the skewers can be made in advance, vacuum sealed, and then refrigerated. When you’re ready to serve them, simply place the bag in a 55 °C / 131 °F water bath for 15-20 minutes to reheat it, and then sear them in a very hot pan, on a hot grill, under a blowtorch, or in hot oil.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home