Rethinking Thanksgiving

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Dear Milk Streeter,
 
We just had our first Milk Street Session with Fuchsia Dunlop, author of multiple cookbooks, including her latest, “Land of Fish and Rice.” A 1992 backpacking trip in China set her on this path. Enamored with the country and its food, she later returned and took cooking classes in Chengdu (in the Sichuan dialect, no less). Here at Milk Street, Dunlop gave us a culinary tour of the lower Yangtze region of China—the basis for her latest book. She tried to teach me how to use a Chinese cleaver—a highly versatile vegetable knife—but my scallion brush didn’t look half as nice as hers! If you know someone in the Boston area who would enjoy coming to a Milk Street Session or cooking class, we now have gift certificates available for our cooking school. Email cookingschool@177milkstreet.com to purchase.
 
Yes, it’s time for Thanksgiving. For me, that means Antler Eve. That’s the Friday before the opening of deer season. Tom, Nate and I have a big breakfast at 4:30 a.m. opening day, pack our hot chocolate and coffee blend in a large thermos, then head into the woods until sunset. James Beard used to love eating al fresco lunches on the beach in Oregon (his autobiography “Delights and Prejudices” is well worth the read) and I admit that part of the fun of hunting is the snack breaks—sandwiches, cookies, apples, etc.
 
On a more domestic note, we have developed new recipes for Thanksgiving, including a roast turkey that is not brined! Why, you ask? Well, even though I have supported brining for years, I am done with placing a turkey in a brine in a beer cooler in the root cellar overnight. And, to paraphrase the words of a friend of mine about white turkey meat, “That’s why the Good Lord invented gravy!” So this year, we have developed a fabulous basting liquid with reduced brown ale (plus a secret ingredient) that becomes the base for gravy. Our other Thanksgiving recipes include a new take on sweet potato gratin with vanilla and bay leaves; charred Brussels sprouts; an easy-bake herbed stuffing; and an all-new pumpkin tart made with foolproof single-crust pie dough. Click here to get all our “Rethink Thanksgiving” recipes.
 
I recently held a Thanksgiving Q&A session on our Facebook page. If you missed it, you can still read a transcript of the chat and perhaps find something useful in time for the big feast.
 
And a reminder that we are up and running with our new public radio show and podcast, Milk Street Radio. It also is available on our website, as well as on iTunes, TuneIn and Stitcher, so be sure to subscribe. Upcoming segments include an interview with an intrepid reporter who visited the first naked pop-up restaurant in London; an interview with the author of “What A Fish Knows;” a great chat with Nigella Lawson; and a quick Tuesday night supper idea from Lidia Bastianich.
 
Let me end with my favorite Thanksgiving blessing, “The Selkirk Grace” that is attributed to Robert Burns.
 
Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.
 
Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Cordially,

 
 

Christopher Kimball
Founder, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

The Drying Game

Germans winemakers are slowly turning away from the sweet style.

I find myself spending a lot of time in the wine corner at Formaggio correcting misconceptions about wine—or perhaps I should say out-of-date-conceptions—meaning things that may have once been true of a certain category of wine that are no longer so.

Some of these ideas constitute part of what I like to call the Gospel of Wine—the collection of things that people think they know about wine and never think to question or inquire into.

One of these articles of faith is that German white wines are uniformly and unvaryingly sweet. It’s one of the reasons that in many wine shops, the German section goes begging for attention. If you’re not in the market for a sweet wine, then why bother to have a look?

In a recent radio segment I asked host Christopher Kimball what percentage of German white wine is actually sweet. 100%? 90%? 75%?

The surprising answer is just a little better than 60%. This leaves a lot of room for dry or nearly dry German white wine—the kind that is typically designated trocken (“dry”) on the label. And this being the case, shouldn’t we be spending a bit more time enjoying German Riesling, Sylvaner, Scheurebe, and Gewurztraminer than we are?

Experienced tasters know that the lab analysis of sweetness and our perception of it don’t necessarily align. For example, high acidity tends to mask the presence of sugar. In a parallel phenomenon, the presence of sugar tends to mute the perception of acidity. Since many of the finest German wines are produced at latitudes as high as 50 degrees (in North America this would be the equivalent of Winnipeg, Manitoba), the acidity can be very high indeed—so high that it might not be tolerable. In these conditions, it made sense to leave a little sugar unfermented. Historically, this is how what we think of as the classic German style of white wine emerged. A bit of sweetness simply made a more palatable, table-friendly wine.

Another aspect of this is the difficulty yeasts have in operating in cold temperatures. In these high northern latitudes, a fermentation may chug along satisfactorily into the late fall. As temperatures fall, their progress stalls well before all available sugars have been consumed. If the wine is bottled early in the spring, these fermentations don’t have the opportunity to resume and run their course. So it may have been that a preference for somewhat sweet wines was established relatively early in Germany because under prevailing conditions, this is just how wine turned out.

In theory, when yeasts have consumed 100% of the available sugars, the resulting wine will be perfectly dry. In practice, no wine achieves absolute zero residual sugar, even though it might taste that way. Concentrations of sugar need to exceed 2 or 3 grams per liter (about 2 tenths of one percent by volume) to be perceived by an experienced taster; the threshold for the casual consumer may be around 4 or 5 grams.

How dry, then, is dry? According to German wine law, a dry (trocken) white wine is one with a maximum residual sugar concentration of 9g/L or a whisker less than 1% by volume. You can see that even at this maximum level, we are still above the threshold for perceptible sweetness—but barely.

We might ask what is nudging German winemaking toward a drier style of wine. Possible factors include:

  • Leadership from a small group of elite and influential estates that has produced a kind of domino effect.
  • The thinking on the part of some that serious table wine ought to be dry wine—as it is pretty much everywhere else in the world.
  • The idea that dry wines pair more readily with more kinds of foods, ingredients, and dishes.
  • The notion that a dry wine provides a more transparent view into site character (terroir).
  • Consumer approval: drier wines are now the preferred style among German wine drinkers.
  • Global warming: as temperatures rise, fruit can ripen more fully, mitigating the need to offset high acidity with sugar.

To establish a baseline for Chris to judge the “how dry is dry” question, I first poured a control wine, a classic sweet-style Mosel riesling: the 2011 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling. A reasonable guess for its residual sugar content might be on the plus side of 50 grams per liter.

Without making the comparison on a side by side basis, it’s hard to appreciate just how dramatically sweet and dry styles differ. The four wines designated trocken that followed were:

  • 2014 Donnhoff Riesling Trocken Nahe
  • 2015 Keller Riesling Trocken Rheinhessen
  • 2013 Weingut Jakob Schneider Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Nahe
  • 2013 Von Winning Forster Ungeheuer GG Pfalz

Depending on how you look at it, it’s either maddening or delightful that sweet and dry styles hardly exhaust the possibilities for German white wines. It’s really less of a binary choice than a spectrum of possibilities. We haven’t even mentioned the ‘tween categories of halbtrocken (half-dry) and feinherb (“fine-bitter”) that involve sugar levels of between 9 and about 20 grams per liter.

I may have largely given up on the notion that “I’ll have a nice glass of Mosel Riesling trocken, please” would ever be as common a request at my neighborhood wine bar as “I’ll have a nice glass of chardonnay”… but I can dream, can’t I?

Got a question about wine? Email me.

Filming Milk Street Television in our new space — and launching Milk Street Radio!

Filming Milk Street Television in our new space — and launching Milk Street Radio!

A roundup of this month’s news, including the first week of filming Milk Street Television, launching Milk Street Radio, a limited-time offer on annual Milk Street Magazine subscriptions, fall classes at our cooking school, and a sneak preview of our upcoming Thanksgiving menu.

Make-ahead peppers

Farmers’ markets are full of cheap peppers this time of year. We recommend buying a bushel or two and preserving them at home. Just seed and slice the peppers, then toss them with a light coating of extra-virgin olive oil and roast at high heat until tender. Freeze on trays and store in zip-close bags for future use. They make great pizza toppings, and are handy additions to stews, soups, and pasta sauces.

“If you feel guilty about pleasure...”

It’s the old joke — good news and bad news. The good news is that our new kitchen/office is ready at 177 Milk Street in downtown Boston and it looks fabulous. And, the charter issue of Milk Street Magazine is off the press and headed towards the bindery. Copies will be in the mail by early October. The bad news is…