Special Sauce: Kenji on Dried Herbs; Dan Barber on the Outlook for Small Farmers

Special Sauce: Kenji on Dried Herbs; Dan Barber on the Outlook for Small Farmers


Chef Dan Barber Stone Barns

[Photographs: Richard Boll]

On this week’s Special Sauce we talk to Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill, about the huge changes being brought about in the food culture by the Covid-19 pandemic. The startling conclusions he’s come to are the result of a survey he and his team sent out to more than 500 farmers. The farmers’ responses made it clear that the effects of the pandemic will have catastrophic consequences for many of them. As you’ll hear, the usually pessimistic Barber has some ideas that can help both the farmers and the thousands of out of work restaurant cooks in this country.

The articulate Mr. Barber is followed by our very own Kenji Lopez-Alt, who answers a Serious Eater’s question about the use of dried versus fresh herbs. Surprisingly, for certain uses of some herbs, Kenji turns out to be an advocate for the dried variety.

That’s it for this week’s episode of Special Sauce, but I can assure you the combination of Dan Barber and Kenji makes for terrific listening. And I hope all this pandemic food talk reminds you that we should do everything we can at this perilous moment to support both local restaurants and the farmers and purveyors that supply them.

So long, Serious Eaters, and please stay safe and healthy. We’ll see you next time.

Production note: With everyone hunkered down in place we are no longer able to record Special Sauce in a fully equipped studio with an experienced and skilled engineer. So if the sound quality of this episode isn’t up to snuff, know that we are working on all aspects of the production within the context of the new reality we’re all living in. Better things and better sound lie ahead.

Special Sauce is available on iTunes, Google Play Music, Soundcloud, Player FM, and Stitcher. You can also find the archive of all our episodes here on Serious Eats and on this RSS feed.

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Transcript

Ed Levine: On this week’s Special Sauce, we talked to Blue Hill executive chef and co-owner Dan Barber about the huge changes being brought about in the food culture by the COVID-19 pandemic. The startling conclusions he came to were the result of a survey he and his team sent out to more than 500 farmers. Unsurprisingly, the responses from the farmers made it clear that the pandemic would have catastrophic consequences for many of them. As you’ll hear, the usually pessimistic Barber has some ideas that can help both the farmers and the thousands of out-of-work restaurant cooks in this country. The articulate Mr. Barber is followed by our very own Kenji Lopez-Alt. Kenji answers a serious eater’s question about the use of dried versus fresh herbs. For certain uses of some herbs, Kenji turns out to be a surprising advocate for the dried variety. The combination of Dan Barber and Kenji makes for terrific listening.

EL: All right. So first of all, just introduce yourself, Dan.

Dan Barber: Okay. My name is Dan Barber. I am the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

EL: So we’re talking about CSAs and the state of farming as it relates to the pandemic. And I read, with great interest, the piece that you co-wrote, I guess, with Karen Stabiner. I guess it was in The Counter.

DB: Yeah.

EL: And the headline sort of says it all, but I’d like to hear your take on it and how your thinking has evolved. Why don’t we start from there?

DB: Yeah. Well, we closed the restaurant in mid-March and we launched a little box program. At first, it was to save the whatever employees we could. We had to lay off 200 of the best and the brightest, and I built up my career to get the kind of people that I had to let go, which was devastating as it was for all chefs around the country, around the world. Unfortunately, a big part of my staff went around the world. We had 44 cooks or so, and most of them were from other areas of the world so they all went back home. But the ones we were able to retain, we wanted to employ.

DB: And what became very clear is that there was also another need that was quite acute, and that was from small farmers that have been supplying us for 20 plus years that were relying on us. And I did say that as a learning was a little bit embarrassing because I just didn’t understand for these core group of farmers how strong our buying power was for their sustainability, economic sustainability. So we started this box program that now has grown to a dozen plus different offerings, pork, beef, vegetables, dairy, grains. I mean, it’s really being driven by the farmers that need an outlet like ours in ways, again, that I was not quite clear of. And so the box program is driven by that, where now I’m calling it a supermarket with these amazing suppliers that defined Blue Hill over the 20 years. And now, we pack those same ingredients into a box.

DB: But what I wanted to do since we sourced, which is what we’re calling this moment of ours, the intermission from Blue Hill is a non-for-profit endeavor that we partnered with on Stone Barns Center, which is the partner organization and where I’m sitting right now. I wanted to know what I’m seeing, when I’m talking to farmers, is that an indication of what the larger farming community is feeling, which is that restaurants like ours and restaurants in general are critical to their not only success, but their legitimacy and staying in business. And so we put together a survey, a couple of out-of-work cooks and a couple of educators from Stone Barns, young 20 or 20 something year old, who’d never done a formal survey like this. We got some help. We put together a sort of a series of questions. We figured we’d get 50 farmers to answer at the most. We are now at almost 500. We’re 480 something farmers.

EL: Wow.

DB: Yeah. 250 plus in the greater Hudson Valley area, which is where we’re concentrating, at least initially. And the question wasn’t, “How are you doing now?” Because the headlines, as you know, from very reputable organizations, The Times, Wall Street Journal, everyone that you think about as the highest order of media were coming out with articles that were about how the small independent farmers thriving and how the big food chain is really crippling under this COVID environment.

DB: And what I just said to you was very different, from what I was hearing from ours is very different. So we did the survey in part to square this. What was the real story? And the survey was pointed in a direction of question direction, not in a outcome direction, because I think it’s easy. Now that I’ve done a survey, I can understand how easy it is to create the numbers that you want to create. It’s like a journal.

EL: Yes. Yes.

DB: You want to go get a story, get the story, you could get it. So we really were fair about it. And the question really was like, “If restaurants come back at 50% by August, September, high time for these farms and in Hudson Valley anywhere and farmer’s markets are come back only at 50% from last year because of social distancing, both of which I think are conservative numbers, where is your farm?” And what we learned from the survey is that between nationwide, between 30 and 40% of these farms would be in serious consideration of bankruptcy. And that’s a catastrophe is what it is. There’s no other way to say it. That’s a sort of generational moment of upset that is reminiscent of the Great Depression and when these kinds of family farms went under.

DB: And what I feel so strongly about, I mean, there’s a couple of things I feel strongly about, but one of those really stand by the survey because the work was so good. And as much as it’s a farming story, it’s a journalism story because it shows what happens when you have some smart young minds who are willing to do a lot of work to put that together and ask the right questions. And the reason that the headlines were so positive was because they were immediate. They were, “How’s your farm doing right now?” “Well, it’s great. Sales are traditionally really slow in March and middle April.” But that wasn’t taking into account the transaction cost. What does it cost, all this labor to pack up a box to serve you and to get to your home versus thousands of equivalent boxes that’s a one drop at a restaurant or an institution? And that was the problem. It’s very simple, but it points to a larger issue. Within the larger issue is that restaurants, even though you and I, and most people who are listening to this know this, restaurants play a pivotal role for the kind of farming that we want for the future, these small independent farms, but we didn’t really know how big a role. And now in COVID, we understand that it is absolutely critical and that we are looking at the equivalent of a tsunami come ashore, where we’re watching it come. And the problem is that there are crises all around us right now that are real crisis and that this impending outcome of the COVID crisis feels far away, even though it’s not and part of the reason we did this survey is to bring consciousness to it.

EL: What you’re saying is that a lot of the stories were devoted exclusively to the short-term, to the immediate, as you said.

DB: Yeah.

EL: And what did you find in the survey about when you look beyond the immediate now, and now it’s obviously a couple of months since you feel that the survey-

DB: Yeah, the biggest… Right. It’s a great question. And the answer is the labor, because of those transaction costs to pack up your box and deliver it. I mean, you sort of very quickly understand why Amazon is Amazon. I mean, it just the costs are crushing and these farms are not set up to do any of that and they’re not meant to. It’s like asking you to do your show here, but also film it, edit it, do the social media for it, do the advertising and raise the money all in one. I mean, you kind of do all that anyway, but it’s an unfair baggage on the farm and it’s definitely not sustainable. And so farms will go under if we don’t do something about it. And to your question, what is the biggest lever we can pull here? I think there are a few, but the biggest one is the labor issue. And how do we square this? How do we square a moment where farms need labor that is scarce, even though we’re approaching 15% unemployment?

EL: And you’re dealing with the fact that so many of the people who work on the farms are seasonal workers, number one.

DB: Yeah, exactly.

EL: They’re migrated. And I read in your piece, people don’t understand. They associate migrant workers with California farms and you pointed out that it’s very much a part of the East Coast farming equation as well.

DB: All markets actually is what it is and the borders were closed and so those… That’s changed actually a little bit since we last talked and since I spoke about that. I don’t know if it’s enough or not. We’re actually sending out a updated survey, that updated the sense of what’s the climate now, what’s the biggest, and what’s the issue with labor because we want to activate something. And one thing that appeals to me is that we have thousands and thousands of out-of-work young cooks. And if you believe, as I do, that the restaurants are not going to come back near what they were a year ago, especially this summer, there’s an opportunity to put these young cooks to work harvesting as a kind of graduate school for food education and getting a sponsorship, whether it’s through corporate or private, or I was just on the phone with Senator Gillibrand’s office yesterday about creating legislation around the kind of help that will square, what seems to be the biggest mountain to climb right now.

EL: Got it. And how many out-of-work cooks have taken you up on your offer?

DB: Well, I haven’t offered yet because I don’t have a program in pass.

EL: Got it.

DB: I tell you what happened though. What I’m about to describe happened without a conscious plan and it actually doesn’t even relate to the survey. I started it before the survey, and here’s what I did. We closed the restaurant. I miss these cooks so much and I would reach out to them. And every time I called a cook, they were on their couch watching YouTube. And it just drove me nuts with these that I had the best cooks with the brightest minds. And in a moment of frustration, I challenged three of them to come to Stone Barns. I worked with farmer Jack Algiere, who was the head farmer here, I said, “Let’s give them three pieces of pristine lawn grass, aesthetic stuff that makes Stone Barns part of why it’s so beautiful and have them tear it up.” Tear up the side, create a kitchen garden. Put in their dream garden and use these three cooks as storytelling for… Well, first of all, for them to get their hands in the soil themselves and use this moment of being shuttered out of their craft, but also tell a larger story maybe to the world that we could capture about what it means for cooks to be digging in soil. We put them to work. They just grabbed at it. I mean, it was really inspiring to watch. And Jack, the farmer being brilliant, wrote up a recipe for these cooks because cooks read recipes. And so he put it, he wrote it as a recipe, a shovel, a little bit of water and some seeds, but we’re talking about this is low barn entry. Okay.

EL: Right.

DB: Now, these cooks got so excited digging into these seeds and all the history of all of it. It was amazing. Anyway, to skip, to forward on this story, they started Instagramming what they were doing and the recipe to some friends around the country. All of a sudden we find out friends are planting this kitchen garden using Jack’s recipe in Southern California, in Michigan, in upstate New York. And I was like, “Wow, this is really crazy.” What’s going on is it’s taken off. And so I said, “We’re going to call this The Kitchen Farming.” I put a name to it. So we picked a launch day. We said, “Today is launch day.” And I sent out an email to a bunch of chefs. I said, “If you have any out-of-work cooks that you think would enjoy grabbing some space in the guerrilla gardening or in their backyard or whatever, here’s a recipe.” Okay. So as of this morning, I woke up and there’s 2,860 gardens out-of-work cooks around the world.

EL: Wow.

DB: There’s Poland, Greece, New Zealand, Australia. I mean, there’s 66 countries have these gardens being planted with out-of-work cooks. And so why did I get here? I got here, first I’d like to say it was me who did this. It wasn’t. It’s this youthful millennial desire to dig into food in a way that no other generation has, at least in our lifetime. It’s very exciting. And I think what has been created here is a movement. And the reason I am bringing it up in relationship to the farms is because here is maybe the way these two conversations connect, because there’s always out-of-work cooks who want to dig into soil and all these farms that need work. So if we can figure out a program beyond a small kitchen garden, if we can figure out a program that gets these cooks onto these farms, I’d be excited to put that together and raise some money for it. So that’s what I’m working on.

EL: Those two issues probably came together in ways that you didn’t even imagine when you were… you created something on the fly based on the conclusions you reached and the passion you have for what you do and it coalesced almost, but not against your will.

DB: Luckily. Luckily.

EL: Yeah.

DB: But the lesson that David Bouley taught me when I used to work for the great chef David Bouley. But I remember in a moment of his kitchens were so chaotic that there were no recipes. There was a menu, but you sort of didn’t follow the menu. He was always changing shit in the middle of service. He’d rewrite the menu. You had no idea what’s going on. And we were serving a lot of people under a tremendous amount of stress. And I was always cooking next to him. And of course that was very inspiring, but very tense. And what he explained to me as in my moment of frustration why are we doing it like this is, if you’re not kicking the ball around in traffic and in transit, you’re never really learning and you will never be able to grasp on to a new culinary idea. I mean, he was talking about in the context of a dish, a new combination, a new thing. And there were a lot of failures that went out of the kitchen. No question about it. People were getting 12 courses to 20 courses. And within those, I’d say 50% of them were like…, but there were 20% that were magic. And it was an incredible learning environment and the food of the old Bouley, which goes back to the 90, early 90s was an amazing sort of, I tell you, R&D kitchen for this.

DB: And what it taught me, I think what I applied in this life is when COVID had a shutdown, you had the choice of shutting down and hibernating, which was very attractive, or the choice to kick the ball around. And we chose to kick the ball around. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to kick the ball around. I’m associated with Stone Barns Center. I’ve got a lot of opportunities that nobody has, but we did with a group, take advantage of it. And I feel like we’ve clinged on to some ideas that will stay with us for the rest of our life and maybe make the world a better place for farming, I hope.

EL: So now, you have all of these people around the world planting their own gardens, right?

DB: Yeah.

EL: And now what you’re trying to do is institutionalize a program and take it one step further and take all the other people who you would have employed by farms to sort of solve the labor problem.

DB: Yes. Yes. That’s the immediate, but let me just tell you what I’m thinking long term. It’s always better, I think, to imagine the long term, because you can imagine that you have the freedom to think in broad strokes, and my broad stroke is this. Our food system is a disaster. We’re seeing that every… We’re seeing the frailty and the rigidity of our food system in ways that with people have been warning about forever and it’s been exposed overnight in COVID. And if we’re going to reimagine a food system that… By the way, it’s not a broken food system. The food system is designed this way. It was designed to be fragile actually and super inefficient and inequitable and a disaster for our health and for deliciousness and for our environment. We knew that and we see it clearly now in ways that we didn’t before.

DB: What are the longterm solutions? Well, there’s a lot. But one, I just want to connect to what we were just talking about, we need to give cooks, who are going to be future chefs, who are going to have the buying power of sous-chef and chefs in people’s restaurants and their own hopefully, a compass point that allows them to see the value of food grown in real soil and the trials and tribulations and pleasures of food grown in the right way. And that is what this project, I think, does, and why I want to grow it.

DB: It’s the long game. It’s that you are creating a culture where restaurants dig deeper into these issues that are connecting to food grown in the right way, which is nutrition, which is flavored deliciousness and using the broadcasting power of restaurants as cultural institutions, which is what we are, to set the parameters for how we eat in a complex and challenged world. And that is a very much a generational swing at this, but I think it is the systemic approach is what really feeds me in the morning. That’s what I look forward to.

EL: And so now, are you looking for a combination of funding either through legislation or grants to actually pay these out-of-work cooks to work for the farms?

DB: Yes. Yes. And there’s precedence. There’s a thing called the Food Corp. That was a national program in the 1940s, during World War II that paid women to be bused outside of cities to farms to work for the day. Back then, farms were 20 minutes from the cities. They worked a lot easier. So now, we need to figure out a program that gets out-of-work cooks paid and onto farms that need the labor for free.

EL: Yeah.

DB: I think we’re going to do something very small this summer, because I think that’s what we can get done between now and August. But that’s what we’re looking to do. And maybe create a template for how this might work in the future. Maybe this is what it means to go to cooking school, before you go to cooking school. Maybe the 101 course is they have to work on a farm before you go to cooking school. I don’t know. There’s a lot of things to think about here.

EL: It’s interesting because Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats actually did this. Before he worked for Chanterelle, he actually went and worked on farms in Italy. He did what you were talking about, only there wasn’t a program for it. You just figured out a way to do it. And you, what you’re talking about is institutionalizing it, which would be not only good for the food economy and the food system in this country, but it would be good for both the farmers and the chefs. That’s really your point.

DB: Exactly. And if you believe, as I do, that restaurants are going to continue to play, even though that we’re in a crippled moment right now. The restaurants are going to play an increased importance in the food culture as they were 12 weeks ago, but even more as these millennials grow older and they have kids. The restaurants are setting the food culture actually. And that’s what you want is to inculcate them with the connection to real soil, real farming, real nutrition. And that’s what this does, in a small way anyway.

EL: What has been Senator Gillibrand’s response? Does she think she can get something done?

DB: Yeah, she got on the phone. On the last phone call, it was great. I mean, we’re talking to her team, which is great too. We’ve been talking to a lot of congressmen too, but I have to say, you see the difference between a congressional team and a senator’s team. I mean, it’s just the resources that they have. It’s just funny.

EL: That’s really funny. You’re getting a firsthand look at the hierarchy in Washington.

DB: Kind of, you kind of. But no, it’s just been great. And you can talk all you want about politicians being out of touch, but that’s not what I’ve found. I’ve found politicians being really excited about the survey. And that’s how we got all these calls, is from the survey. Again, I want to stress to you a bunch of out-of-work 20-year-olds did the survey with no resources, just did it, and so it’s great.

EL: Do the people in Washington think they could actually get something done in the short-term that’s small or?

DB: It’s funny. I kept saying, “Oh, that’s a little late. Should we do really small doors?” She kept pushing back. She’s like, “No, no, no.” She’s like, “We have plenty of time. We want to get this through the USDA. It’s not hard. We can do it.” That was just so inspiring to hear.

EL: Wow, that is great.

DB: I talked to her many times, she said, “Come on, just get me a proposal and let us go to work on it and we’ll figure out the politics.” Well, okay.

EL: Wow. That’s awesome.

DB: That’s what you want to hear, right?

EL: Yeah, for sure. So we’ve had stories about how the CSAs are flourishing, but what you’re saying is that it’s not enough to solve the macro problems facing the farmer.

DB: Exactly. Right. I’m not, I’m anti-CSA is the solution to our food system.

EL: Right.

DB: Because what this reveals, what this moment reveals is that that kind of direct connection is great for people who can afford it or near a farm or whatever, but it’s a tiny slice of the food system actually. The bigger story is the $15 billion that was spent between March and May on processed food, which is about a 45% increase from last year. So the story is not that people are making sourdough bread at home. That is one story. The much larger story, as I talked to a food executive from a major food company, and he said it, it’s Morning in America, and that these food companies 12 weeks ago were facing collapse, were facing a… People just turning their back on processed food. That’s what’s happening.

EL: Right.

DB: Now, as he said it, we are not going to let this generation go because our food’s better. That’s what he was saying is like our food’s better than when you were growing up. We’ve improved it dramatically. It’s healthier. A lot of it is organic and we’re going to get this generation and keep them. That is frightening.

EL: And that’s really your biggest concern, right?

DB: It is my biggest concern. Yeah. We don’t have an infrastructure to answer that. But my answer to that is, “Hey, just shake the hand of the farmer that feeds you. You give the farmer a virus so the farmer gives you a virus in this moment.” And it’s too weak. It’s too fragile. That’s not a food system. That’s a glorification of a nice garden ideal, and there’s room for it. I think of Alice Waters and all the work that she’s done to promote that and I’m not saying that’s not important for food consciousness. I’m saying if we want a food system, we need to mature the thing. And the way I see maturing it, is what I’m looking out on right now in my kitchen, which is I’ve become a food processing center. My kitchen is now… There’s 1,200 pounds of tilefish that just arrived from Montauk because the day boat fishermen caught that and he needs the income to pay the rent on his boat. And so, how much fish am I going to sell before the end of the week, the next four days? Probably 300 pounds of that. So I got to figure out how to preserve it, smoke it, dry it. And that’s food processing.

EL: Right.

DB: I shouldn’t be doing that. I’m not going to do that. In this corner right here, come the oysters from Widow’s Hole, four-year-old oysters, because as oysters are getting older, they need to be picked out of the water. And they’re not the cocktail little oysters, they are the oysters that are going to be very hard to go raw. So we’ve got to process them to figure out a beautiful protein source. And my point is everywhere I look, every day I’m in this kitchen is that I’ve become a food processor. And I celebrate that because I’m providing economy for farms, but I really celebrate it because I want to change the definition of what it means to be a food processor.

DB: You call somebody a food processor in America, it’s like calling them a Monsanto Executive. I mean, food processing in the United States is about making shitty food. I mean, it’s about making denutrified, not delicious, and food that probably destroyed an environment to produce it. But that’s not food processing or the way it has to be. You look at cultures and cuisines around the world in the history of the world and they actually done the exact opposite. Food processing makes food more nutritious. It makes it more bioavailable through microbial activation in the salumi that this guy’s doing over there with the three pigs that came in over the last two days, or the fermentation activity in the asparagus and bees that we’re doing over here. These are food processes that make it more delicious, more nutritious, and creates a revenue for the farmer that is amortized over the tonnage that comes in. But that shouldn’t be the job of the restaurant. It should be the job of a regional infrastructure from the fish processing to the abattoir, to the meat processing, to the cannery, to the fermentor, to the pickler, to the malter, and distiller, to the miller. And that is a regional approach to food that is inefficient from an industrial mindset because you’re overlapping.

EL: Exactly.

DB: And why not just keep in the Midwest and make white flour and make it a commodity, denude it of any flavor and nutrition and ship it all over the country and all over the world. Well, it’s cheap, but man, it’s expensive when you look at it in this moment.

EL: For sure. You really want to send us all hurdling back in time. If efficiency is the only thing, as you say, they figured it out.

DB: Right. Exactly. Exactly. They make widgets and they’re good at it, but it doesn’t work. And the only thing I’ve pushed back is I want to be careful about being nostalgic because a lot of people starved and there was-

EL: For sure.

DB: Right. But so I’m okay with modern technology. I’m okay with a modern mill that I’m using in the next room next to us. I’m okay with processes that update and push forward science. I’m not anti-science here. All I am suggesting and I think you are too, is that I have become humbled in these last couple of weeks because everything I just mentioned, our processes that have been figured out thousands of years ago with a lot less horsepower than I have at my disposal. And I’m not actually adding anything to that, except using some modern technology to make it a little more precise, but that’s about it.

DB: You’re right. We need to really learn the wisdom of the past because there was genius all around in all these different cultures. The opportunity to America is that we’re a hodgepodge. We’re a melting pot as you have talked about so much in the past. That’s an opportunity because we can borrow freely from all these different cultures and cuisines that we can learn so much from, which is what I’m doing. I’m appropriating. I am appropriating everything in this kitchen right now, but there’s a world of information that is so exciting.

DB: And the blessed thing about the American food culture is there is no cult food culture. I mean, there is nothing. We are so malleable as a food culture compared to France, Italy, India. I mean, look at around the world, they don’t adopt sushi, Greek yogurt, kale in a generation. We do it overnight. We can move through this and change a food culture with dizzying speed, but I think we need chefs to help broadcast that. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

EL: You sound at least a tad more optimistic.

DB: I’ve never been accused of being an optimistic. Never. So thank you.

EL: But I think it’s true. And you and I have spoken many times, right?

DB: I tend to go negative.

EL: Yeah.

DB: But I do think in a moment of crisis, it’s a reset, right? It’s like, what do you do to take advantage of the crisis? And when have the points that I’m making now, when would they ever have the kind of audience that they might have than now?

EL: For sure.

DB: If for no other reason then I think the story of COVID, I think you would agree, as we come out of it, is going to be the underlying conditions.

EL: Absolutely.

DB: The underlying conditions are very clear already. It’s obesity and it’s diabetes and there’s some particular heart conditions that are 100% related to diet.

EL: Yeah.

DB: And in that sense, it’s a diet-related disease.

EL: For sure.

DB: When it’s diet-related, we can change it. And with that kind of consciousness, there’s a real opportunity to make a bold change. This isn’t about tweaking the food system, it’s about resetting it.

EL: Yeah. And obviously, it’s also about… it’s exposed all the socioeconomic inequities built into the system.

DB: In ways that people have been talking about for a while, but now you can see it.

EL: Right. For sure.

DB: And that, to me, actually, that makes me feel emboldened and as long as we don’t waste the opportunity.

EL: Yeah. All right. That is perfect, man. We shall talk soon.

EL: Now it’s time for our question of the week that people send in for our chief culinary consultant, Mr. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab, the mega best-selling Food Lab. Kenji, Ryan Dardy wants to know when might you want to use dried garlic powder over fresh. That goes for other herbs and spices, like oregano, thyme, et cetera.

Kenji López-Alt: Yeah. Well, I can tell you a couple of times when I use garlic powder over fresh, and also dried herbs or rubs, spice rubs, like something that you’re going to be rubbing on your ribs before you barbecue them, something that on your pork shoulder. Dry works a lot better there just because a lot of fresh tends to burn or it tends to fall off, and the dry is much easier to sort of incorporate into a rub evenly. It also stores much better. So if you make like a big batch of your rub, you can just leave it in the pantry.

KLA: I also use it for things like dredging mixes. So like the fried chicken we do at my restaurant, we do in the flour mixture, in the dry dredging mixture, we do garlic powder, granulated, garlic and we also do a dried oregano, just simply because the fresh would burn. If we put fresh garlic into that mixture and ended up here to the chicken, it would burn in the fryer and the dried doesn’t.
EL: And isn’t garlic powder more concentrated, Kenji, than dried garlic?

KLA: Well, not really. It’s the kind of different flavor.

EL: Got it.

KLA: A fresh garlic and garlic powder have pretty distinctly different flavors. It’s sort of like fresh ginger versus powdered ginger.

EL: Right.

KLA: They’re sort of the same, but they have a pretty distinct flavor from each other, different flavor from each other. With the garlic, some of those flavors tend to go away when you cook it a little bit. So that’s why it works all right in dredging mixtures and in rubs and stuff. But you wouldn’t be able to… If you put fresh garlic on your pizza versus granulated garlic on your pizza, it would be a significantly different flavor. And I was going to say, that’s actually the other case where I often like using granulated garlic is sprinkling on my pizza and I think that’s just because-

EL: That’s because it’s your childhood memory.

KLA: Exactly. Exactly.

EL: What about using dried herbs in things like sous vide, does that make sense?

KLA: Yeah. So there are some herbs, there’re certain types of herbs that do better dried than other herbs. So generally sort of delicate leafy herbs, like cilantro, parsley, basil, they tend to not be very good in their dry counterparts. What actually happens is that a lot of them, they have a very large surface area and the leaves are relatively thin, so a lot of the volatiles in that give them aroma, they evaporate. They leave as the liquid is evaporating from them as they’re getting dry. So don’t end up with a lot of flavor.

KLA: Other heartier herbs like rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, herbs that actually have sort of more slightly thicker, more succulent leaves and that grow in hotter, drier climates, they tend to actually retain their volatiles a lot better than the leafier herbs. So things like that, like thyme and rosemary, oregano, they actually worked pretty well in their dried forms, especially if it’s in something like a sauce or sous vide, something where there’s going to be a lot of moisture added back to it.

EL: Got it. I actually use dried rosemary a fair amount, and I put it to good use. What about is there a kind of garlic powder that you prefer? Is there a brand or does it really not matter?

KLA: I mean, I typically use granulated garlic for sprinkling and powdered garlic for if I’m putting it into like a spice rub or something. But honestly, I mean, I haven’t really taste many, many different brands.

EL: Got it.

KLA: They all kind of just taste the same thing.

EL: Got it.

KLA: But I haven’t done that. I haven’t done a formal taste test or anything like that, but I just grab whatever’s there.

EL: All right. I think Ryan is in good shape. I think we have answered Ryan’s question and then some. So thanks man.

KLA: I hope so.

EL: So we’ll talk to you next week, Kenji.

KLA: All right.

EL: That’s it for this week’s episode of Special Sauce. Please stay safe and healthy, Serious Eaters. And I hope all this pandemic food talk reminds you that we should do everything we can at this perilous moment to support both local restaurants and the farmers and purveyors that supply them. So long, Serious Eaters. We’ll see you next time.

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