Have you tried all of these essential drinks? [Photographs: Vicky Wasik except where noted. Video: Serious Eats] We who like to mix drinks at home do it for many reasons: First, it’s cheaper than drinking out. Second, it’s fun to mix your own drinks at […]
Month: September 2018
Marketplace in Kerala. [Photograph: Max Falkowitz] The Keralan city of Thiruvananthapuram is less than 600 miles north of the equator, so the seasons range from hot to rainy-hot to especially hot. April is especially-hot season, 95°F with humidity to match, and as I step into […]
All the methods and tips you need to make perfect steak, each and every time.
Is there a single best way to cook a steak or a pork chop or a piece of fish? It’s an alluring idea, but it’s also an impossible one. The best method depends on the results you want.
Let’s consider a steak. If you value consistency and a perfectly cooked center from edge to edge with almost no doneness gradient, then sous vide or the reverse sear are the best methods for you. For a lot of people reading this, those qualities may seem like a foregone conclusion—of course a perfect medium-rare center throughout is what we’re all after!
Except that’s not true. I, for one, tend to value other qualities more, and I know a lot of professional and amateur cooks who agree with me. I’ll often trade that perfect edge-to-edge doneness for a more deeply browned crust, with a crackling crispness and a flavor of roasted meat that’s so deep it triggers some primal ganglion of nerves in my brain to howl in delight.
At least, I value that most of the time. In other instances, say when I’m entertaining friends and need to cook several steaks perfectly at once, or when I’m cooking a larger roast, I’ll go for sous vide or the reverse sear. They make success easy, they’re relatively hands-off, and they deliver absolutely excellent results.
And that’s why I want to cast our gaze back toward an older-school method of cooking meats and fish, one that doesn’t start by cooking low-and-slow to the proper internal temperature à la sous vide and the reverse sear. Instead, it’s a classic pan-searing technique called butter-basting that, for my money, often gives me the kinds of steaks, chops, and fish I crave.
There are a few drawbacks: It requires more practice and finesse than those other methods, it’s not nearly as foolproof, and it will give you some sort of gradient of doneness—that gray band of more well-done meat just below the surface. But, in exchange, it delivers an unrivaled crust and a depth of flavor that’s hard to match. If you’re the type of person that likes chewing on the deeply roasted ends of a fatty steak, this may be the method for you.
Below, I’ll walk you through the ups and downs of butter-basting, and how to do it for steaks, pork chops, veal chops, chicken breasts, fish fillets, and more. The method is mostly the same for all of them, save for a few small details that differ for fish.
Is butter-basting absolutely the best way to cook a steak or other piece of meat? No. But it might be the one you want to use, depending on what you’re after.
The Advantages of Butter-Basting
So, why might you want to pan-sear a steak or other cut of meat with the butter basting method?
- An incomparable sear: By starting the meat in a hot pan with hot oil, and then continuing to cook it in that pan with butter, you give it ample time to develop a profoundly delicious crust through the magic of our friends dehydration and the Maillard reaction. When done properly, the method gives the outside of the meat, or the skin of fish, a crackling, potato chip–like crispness. It’s a textural masterpiece that feels thin and delicate as it shatters when you bite into it.
- Flavor city: As the butter melts and then browns, it, too, goes through complex flavor-development processes like the Maillard reaction and caramelization, growing nutty and rich. Your meat or fish is bathed in this delicious fat, picking up all that flavor along the way. To top it off, with aromatics in the pan like garlic, shallot, and herbs, the fat gets infused with all their flavor, which comes along for a ride on the meat.
- Quick results: Butter-basting is a hands-on process, so it involves more active time than sous vide or the reverse sear. But, from start to finish, it’s one of the fastest methods available to you. Because you’re cooking the meat from below and also above by spooning the hot fat over it repeatedly, it will cook faster than if you were to sear it without the basting procedure.
The Disadvantages of Butter-Basting
What are some reasons you might not want to use this method?
- Inexperience: If you’re just getting your sea legs with cooking meat or fish, you may prefer an easier and more foolproof method like sous vide or the reverse sear.
- You want that perfect edge-to-edge level of doneness: If nailing the doneness of a piece of meat and minimizing the ring of overcooked gray below the surface is your highest priority, you’re much better off using sous vide or the reverse sear. Those methods give you much more control over the final internal temperature of your meat, and they minimize the doneness gradient from the center to the edge. You can still get a pretty good sear on your meat using these methods, just not as good as the full-blown pan-searing method with butter basting.
- Consistency: Sous vide and the reverse sear are much more precise cooking methods, allowing you to hit whatever internal temperature of the meat you desire, which greatly increases your margin of error. If you want excellent results consistently, those methods are the way to go. This is especially true if you’re cooking for a crowd, where it can become increasingly difficult to juggle multiple steaks, chops, or fish fillets while trying to get them all just right at the same time. If you’re feeding a group, I’d highly advise using those more consistent methods.
- Speed of active cooking time: Sous vide and the reverse sear take more time overall, since you’re heating the meat up at lower temperatures, but much of that time is hands-off. If you’re able to get things set up in advance, there’s a lot less time spent at the stovetop after. Just slap the meat in a ripping hot skillet long enough to get a good sear on all sides, and you’re ready to eat.
- Size of your roast: The bigger a roast gets, the more likely I am to use a low-and-slow approach like sous vide or the reverse sear. That’s because it takes much longer for heat to reach the center of large roasts like a prime rib or a rack of pork, leaving more time for their exterior portions to overcook. Pan-searing with the butter-baste is therefore most appropriate for smaller cuts like individual steaks and fillets (though they should still have enough thickness that you don’t risk totally overcooking them in the process). The type of meat you’re cooking is also a consideration: I happen to love lamb at all doneness levels, so I’m more inclined to roast a leg of lamb at higher temperatures, giving me a bigger gradient of doneness from medium-rare all the way up to well done. I’m much less interested in that for something like a rack of pork, where the overcooked meat is dry and unpleasant. Your preferences may differ, though, so think about the results you want and proceed accordingly.
Can You Combine Sous Vide or the Reverse Sear With Butter-Basting?
Can you? Well, sure, you can, but it threatens to defeat the purpose of using sous vide or the reverse sear in the first place. The whole idea behind those low-and-slow methods is to minimize the time the meat spends in the pan with the exterior overcooking. If you cook your meat first sous vide or with the reverse sear, and then put it in the pan for several minutes spooning hot butter and oil all over it, you might as well have just cooked it in the pan from the beginning, since you’ll end up with the same results: a delicious crust with a bigger gradient of doneness underneath.
Is there a workaround? Yes, you could us the “fat flash,” a method Kenji has written about before in which you slap your meat with scalding hot fat right before serving it. What you’d want to do is melt your butter in a pan along with aromatics (like garlic or shallot) and herbs (like thyme) until the butter has browned and is screaming hot, then pour it over your sous-vide or reverse-seared steaks (which you’ve already seared briefly in a pan to get a crust) just before serving. This will give some of that buttery flavor infused with aromatics without excess time in the skillet.
Another workaround would be to brown butter with oil, herbs, and aromatics in the skillet before adding the sous-vide or reverse-seared meat, then use that to sear the meat. This is something Kenji does with his sous vide halibut recipe. You’ll get some of that good, buttery flavor and the flavor of the aromatics, but you still won’t get the same level of crust and Maillard reaction as you would by doing all the cooking in the pan, since you want to minimize the amount of time in the pan if you want to preserve your perfect internal doneness.
How to Butter-Baste Steaks and Chops
This method works for thick-cut steaks, chops (whether pork, veal, venison, or another meat), chicken breasts, and more. Try to use cuts that are at least one and a half inches thick or thicker for best results.
Step 1: Prepare the Meat
Start by salting your meat. If you have the time, the best way to do this is to “dry brine” it by seasoning it all over with salt, setting it on a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet (for good air circulation around all sides), and refrigerating it for at least 45 minutes, which is long enough for the salt to draw out water from the meat, form a brine on its surface, and then dry as the brine is reabsorbed and evaporates.
If you’re working within a tighter timeline, then just season the meat all over with salt right before putting it in the hot pan.
What you don’t want is wet meat hitting the pan, so in either case, make sure to dry it well with paper towels if you need to before adding it to the pan. Wet meat doesn’t sear; it steams, reducing the speed at which a good, brown crust will develop.
Step 2: Sear Over High Heat, Flipping Frequently
Using a cast iron or carbon steel skillet, heat a small amount of oil until it’s nearly smoking. Cast iron and carbon steel are ideal because they retain heat well, meaning their temperature will remain more stable when the cool meat is set on their surfaces.
Flip the meat often; contrary to the common advice to flip only once, frequent flipping delivers just as good of a crust on the meat, with a more evenly cooked center.
Step 3: Add Butter and Aromatics
Once a good initial sear has developed on both sides of the meat, add unsalted butter to the pan along with aromatics. A garlic clove or two, or a halved shallot, are both good ideas, as are woodsy herbs like thyme or sage. The butter will melt and the herbs and aromatics will infuse the fat with their flavor. Soon, the butter will begin to brown, growing rich and nutty.
Step 4: Baste, Flipping Frequently
Lift your skillet by its handle to tip it, allowing the fat to pool at the bottom. Using a large spoon, begin scooping up that fat and dousing it all over the meat.
Make sure to stop and flip the meat often—every 30 seconds to a minute—for a more evenly cooked center.
Step 5: Take the Temp
Keep basting the meat and flipping it, but pause every once in a while to take the temperature of the meat. To avoid overcooking, we strongly recommend using a good instant-read thermometer. A temperature of 120°F in the center of the steak or chop will get you rare meat; 130°F is medium-rare; 140°F is medium; and above that…well, above that, do what you want, you’ve already entered well-done territory.
Step 6: Rest
Place the steak or chop on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to rest. The meat will undergo some carryover cooking, meaning that it continues to cook as the residual heat penetrates the meat.
How to Butter-Baste Fish
If you’re cooking a thicker fillet of fish, the process is almost the same as other meats, except that you don’t want to flip it. All of the heat should be delivered to one side of the fillet, usually the skin side, which is the side you want to crisp up. The hot aromatic butter will more gently cook the top fleshy side as it’s spooned over. This gives great results: skin that’s crackling and flesh that’s tender and juicy.
Note, though, that this technique adds a deeper brown-butter note to the fish. It’s delicious, but you may not always want that. Sometimes you want to preserve the clean, delicate flavor of fish, in which case another cooking method, such as basic pan-searing without the butter or poaching may be preferable.
Just like with meat, the question of, “What’s the best way to cook fish?” isn’t going to deliver a singular answer. It depends on the flavors you’re craving.
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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] To create the flaky layers in these Moroccan flatbreads, called msemen, the dough is pressed flat, greased with fat, sprinkled with fine semolina, and then folded over itself several times. It’s often served with mint tea, and in a nod to that […]
A popular Moroccan flatbread, msemen (or m’smen) is made by folding the dough over itself to make layer upon flaky layer. This version is flavored with fresh mint and dipped into honey-butter. Read More Source link
The bowl of bouillabaisse lands on a table in a tony New York restaurant. A rusty saffron broth swirls around fat scallops, blushing-pink shrimp, jet-black mussels, and clamshells the cold color of slate. Topping it off is a hunk of lobster tail and the tender claw meat, deftly removed from the shell in one piece.
It’s fragrant, beautiful, and undeniably delicious. But it’s just not bouillabaisse.
Now, I’m not one to insist on strict rules of authenticity. It sets an impossible bar, one that often denies the variations over time and place that are the real—and much more complicated and messy—story of our food. There isn’t one true way to make anything, and why would we want that anyway? It’s stifling.
But I’m also not one to ignore what authenticity can help to preserve, which is the spirit and defining characteristics of a dish. Just as there isn’t only one true way to make a recipe, there isn’t an endless number of acceptable ways, either. A hamburger cannot be frog’s legs stuffed into a baguette, coq au vin can’t be made without the vin (although it’s often made without the coq), and bouillabaisse isn’t a seafood soup consisting primarily of shellfish.
No, bouillabaisse is a fish soup before it is anything else. It can contain shellfish, but it doesn’t have to. That’s not what’s most important. Forget the lobster, forget the shrimp, the scallops, the bivalves. Or don’t forget them, and make a shellfish soup—but then, don’t call it bouillabaisse. Maybe call it cioppino, a bouillabaisse-like stew from San Francisco that’s chock-full of shellfish. There’s nothing wrong with that.
If you want to make bouillabaisse, though, read on.
What Is Bouillabaisse?
Bouillabaisse (pronounced “BOO-ya-bess”) is a rustic fish stew from the Provençal port city of Marseille. The most famous version is a grand feast, featuring an array of fish intended to feed a crowd.
Aside from the variety of fish, it’s defined by a handful of key ingredients and flavors: floral saffron, sweet and anise-y fennel, and a subtle note of orange zest.
It’s nearly always served with rounds of baguette croutons topped with rouille, a thick and pungent aioli-like sauce made with garlic, bread (or sometimes potato), olive oil, red chili pepper, and, if you like, more saffron.
The word bouillabaisse itself likely comes from the words for “to boil” and “to lower,” which, respectively, describe the vigorous boil the soup is initially brought to, which helps emulsify fats and oil into the broth, and the lowering of the heat to more gently simmer the soup until it’s done.
What Kind of Fish Should Go Into Bouillabaisse?
There are many potential answers to this question. If you’re from Marseille, in the south of France, where bouillabaisse originated, you may reel off a list of whole fish that are required for a true bouillabaisse: scorpion fish, conger eel, monkfish, sea bass, sea bream, red mullet, John Dory, whiting, and more. Mussels, crabs, and spiny lobsters are acceptable, but not required, additions. A true Marseille-style bouillabaisse will include several of these fish, and many recipes encourage a minimum of seven types—a combination of smaller and less expensive rockfish that are used to make the broth, and others, more prized for their flesh, that are poached in the broth later on.
If we stick to this definition of bouillabaisse, one that’s limited to a very local menu of fresh catch, we’d have to conclude that bouillabaisse can’t be made far outside the confines of Marseille, since those of us who live elsewhere don’t have access to most of those fish. I’d argue this is too strict of an authenticity test. Then again, I don’t live in Marseille.
What I’d advocate instead is approaching the recipe in a way that honors the spirit of bouillabaisse, though it might not be a faithful roster of all the Mediterranean fish it’s meant to include. After all, bouillabaisse began as a way for poor fishermen and their families to use the less desirable fish that didn’t sell at the market on a given day. We should take that as inspiration by using whatever fish we’re able to find where we live.
Exactly what this looks like will depend on where you are. In New York City, I was able to cobble together a fairly decent selection of fish: whole red mullets; whole red snapper; monkfish (fillets only); whole daurade (also sold as dorado, a type of sea bream); whole branzino (a type of sea bass); and farm-raised whole Dover sole (a gelatinous flatfish, to stand in for the more traditional John Dory).
In other locations, the options will be different. In some places, you may not have anywhere near that variety of fish available, and you’ll simply have to do the best you can with what you can find. Ideally, your selection will include a range of fish—some lean and delicate (like whiting or snapper); some oily (like daurade or another sea bream, such as porgy); some gelatinous (like John Dory, turbot, or Dover sole); and some firm (like monkfish). If you want to toss in some shellfish, like mussels, that’s good, too. Just make sure they don’t end up taking over the soup.
If the only types of whole fish your local market offers are snapper and branzino, that’s okay—you can still make it work. Your bouillabaisse may not have the same depth and variety of the full shebang, but it’ll still be very good. Besides, there’s history to support a varied approach: With just a little digging into some of my old Provençal cookbooks, I found recipes for several types of bouillabaisse, as well as related soups, like aigo-sau and bourride, that use everything from cuttlefish with their ink (to make a black bouillabaisse from Martigues) to darker and oilier fish, like mackerel and fresh sardines.
How to Make Bouillabaisse
Making bouillabaisse is somewhat similar to making a fish stock, like fumet, in that we cook the fish with aromatics to make a flavorful broth. But the similarities with fumet end there, since the idea with bouillabaisse is to make a creamy, cloudy, dare I say murky broth, not a clean and clear one. This means that unlike with a fumet, for which we cook the fish at the barest simmer to produce a clear stock, bouillabaisse is intentionally boiled hard. We want to emulsify the fish fats into the broth, for a creamier, more complex texture and flavor.
And speaking of those fats, that’s another area where bouillabaisse differs from a fish stock. In a classic fish stock, we tend to use lean, white-fleshed fish for their delicate, pristine flavor. In bouillabaisse, we use a variety of fish, including oilier ones, because we want their darker, richer flavor.
The broth in a bouillabaisse isn’t meant to be refined. It should be a little rough around the edges, with a texture that isn’t perfectly smooth and a flavor that is all depth and complexity, not lightness and clarity.
Step 1: Sauté the Aromatics
I start the broth by sautéing the aromatics in olive oil. For this recipe, I use a combination of onion, garlic, fennel, and leek, plus cayenne pepper, saffron, a strip of orange zest, thyme sprigs, and some fennel seed, to further underscore the fennel flavor.
Step 2: Add Tomato, Then Fish
When the aromatics have softened, I stir in tomato paste, which adds a sweeter, more complex tomato flavor and a deeper, rusty color to the broth. I also add some diced tomato for a fresher flavor.
When the aromatics have softened, I layer in the fish for the broth base. Here, I’m using a combination of whole red mullet and the bones and head of a red snapper that I’ve already filleted—snapper bones are great as a base for the broth, but the flesh can be put to better use. I save the fillets for later, when I’ll poach them in the broth.
If you can’t find rockfish, like red mullet, just ask your fishmonger for a good selection of fresh bones and heads from fish that have been butchered. Snapper, monkfish, bass, and more can work here.
Step 3: Deglaze With Alcohol
Next, I wet the pot with some white wine and, optionally, a splash of an anise liqueur (like Pernod or pastis), then let the alcohol cook off.
Step 4: Add Water and Bring to a Rolling Boil
Now it’s time to add enough water to cover the solid ingredients. Many bouillabaisse recipes call for the water to already be boiling when you cover the solids with it. That certainly saves some time, since you can bring the water to a boil while you’re cooking the aromatics, and it’s what I call for here, but it’s not strictly necessary.
I let the soup boil hard for several minutes. The goal is for it to grow cloudy and for the fat and liquid to emulsify.
Step 5: Lower the Heat and Simmer
After the vigorous boil, you can lower the heat and continue simmering the soup until the broth is saturated with fish flavor, about 45 minutes or so.
Step 6: Meanwhile, Make the Rouille
Rouille is the spicy, garlicky, flavorful mayonnaise-like spread that’s classically served with bouillabaisse (though, if you prefer, you can also use aioli). It’s spread on toasts that are then served with the soup.
I start by blending garlic, an egg yolk, some stale bread or panko bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, and saffron to make a paste, then drizzle in olive oil to form a mayonnaise-like emulsion. A few spoonfuls of the hot broth from the pot help bring it all together.
Step 7: Blend and Strain the Soup
When the soup is done, it’s time to strain it. The traditional way to do this is with a food mill, working all the fish bones, flesh, and aromatic vegetables on the fine disk; you want a lot of the solid matter to pass through to help make a thicker broth, while removing all the large bones and scales and anything else that you wouldn’t want in the soup. The problem is that most of us at home don’t have a food mill that’s large and strong enough to handle this task. (If you’re interested in buying a food mill that’s capable, this is a good one.)
What you’re left with should be creamy and cloudy, with good, rich body courtesy of the natural gelatin in the fish bones, along with some of the solids that passed through the food mill or strainer.
Step 8: Poach the Remaining Fish in the Broth
Now it’s time to finish the bouillabaisse. Return the broth to a clean pot and poach all your remaining fish, whether whole or filleted, in it. Larger fish should go in first, since they’ll take the longest, and smaller fish or fish fillets should go in last. Since fitting all this into the broth at once can be difficult, you can break this up into batches, too, cooking a couple of the larger fish first, then removing them and cooking the smaller pieces of fish after that.
If you’re going to add mussels or other shellfish, cook them at the end, just until they pop open or are fully cooked through.
How to Serve Bouillabaisse
The classic way to serve bouillabaisse is not preassembled in a soup bowl and then brought to the table. That’s the kind of thing chefs like to do in fancy restaurants, but it’s not how this dish is meant to work.
Instead, pile up all your cooked fish on a platter, and set that on the table. Bring the broth to the table in a separate pot or soup tureen.
It’s up to the diners to decide how to eat it.
They can eat the soup alone, spreading rouille on baguette toasts and floating them in the broth, followed by the fish. Or they can load up the soup with pieces of fish and eat it all together.
Then again, who am I to say how to serve this? You’ve gone through all this trouble to re-create the spirit of bouillabaisse marseillaise at home, so eat it however you want. I think the authenticity police can sit this part of the conversation out.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
[Photographs: Liz Clayman] Complex, aromatic, and rich, a true bouillabaisse from the south of France isn’t just some saffron-tinted shellfish stew. Instead, it features several different varieties of fish (plus some shellfish, if you want), all in a deeply layered, creamy broth that’s flavored with […]
[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, Joshua Bousel] Growing up in the Midwest, Mexican food meant neon nachos, cheese-packed enchiladas, and crunchy tacos. It wasn’t until at least college that my horizons were broadened beyond the world of Tex-Mex. Since then I’ve worked hard to play catch-up, eating […]
Kimchi is special to Koreans, traditionally playing an important role in the diet by preserving vegetables during the hot summers and freezing-cold winters. It adds funk, fragrance, and flavor, pairing well with meats and adding variety to any meal. This variety, yeolmu kimchi, is made with young, crunchy Korean radish greens—usually with their tiny radish roots still attached. It can be eaten fresh, as soon as a day after it’s made, though the flavors fully develop after about a week.
[Photographs: Liz Clayman, unless otherwise noted] (As told to Sonja Swanson.) One of my favorite summer kimchis, called yeolmu kimchi, is made with young, crunchy radish greens—usually with their tiny radish roots still attached. This is a quick kimchi that’s ready to eat in just […]