Chocolate Flan, Cactus Sorbet and Guava Doughnuts: The Amazing World of Mexican Desserts | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 713
June 2, 2023

Chocolate Flan, Cactus Sorbet and Guava Doughnuts: The Amazing World of Mexican Desserts

Chocolate Flan, Cactus Sorbet and Guava Doughnuts: The Amazing World of Mexican Desserts

This week, we taste the sweeter side of Mexican cuisine with chef Fany Gerson. Traveling from Mexico City to Veracruz to Oaxaca, we explore regional confections like chili-flavored paletas and guava and cheese doughnuts. Plus, we take a seat at the Noir Bar with writer and television host Eddie Muller, who infuses classic cocktails with a cinematic twist; Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett of “A Way With Words” unpack the history hidden in your spice cabinet; and we prepare a very crispy Korean Fried Chicken.

Questions in this episode

"What's the best way to cook frozen cod?"

"The tomato juices in my paella are removing the seasoning in my carbon steel pan. How can I avoid that?"

"Do I need to refrigerate leftover cookie dough prior to freezing?"

"How do I make a proper mayo dressing for my macaroni salad?"

Fany Fan Fan Photographer Melissa Hom 1

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. A culinary tour of Mexico usually focuses on tacos, tamales, salsa, and mole but for Chef, Fany Gerson, it's all about dessert.

Fany Gerson: Even when I was researching the book, people would find out what I was doing. And they'd say, you could write a whole book about that? In my mind, I was like, we could write a whole encyclopedia about it.

CK: Later on the show, we're highlighting the sweeter side of Mexican cuisine, but first, a taste of film noir.

Film Clip: The Maltese Falcon: I've never seen those be dead or alive. Well, you know me, Spade. If you did it, or if it didn't, you'll get a square deal for me and most of the breaks, though knows I blame him much, man that kills your partner. But that won't stop me from nailing you. Fair enough, but I feel better about it if you have a drink with me.

CK: That's the scene from The Maltese Falcon. Humphrey Bogart plays detective Sam Spade, who interrupts Lieutenant Dandy to make a toast.

The Maltese Falcon: Success to crime.

CK: Film Historian Eddie Muller love scenes just like this one where alcohol plays a big role in the smoky nightclubs in dimly lit apartments in film noir. Eddie is the host of Noir Alley on TCM, and his latest book is Eddie Muller's Noir Bar Cocktails Inspired by the World of Film Noir. Eddie, welcome to Milk Street.

Eddie Muller: It is my pleasure to be here. Chris, I thank you for the invitation.

CK: I like some of the ways you describe film noir movies it’s a film noir can be summarized by saying it's small stories of lives dangling in the margins. I think that's just a wonderful description. You want to sort of elaborate on that?

EM: Sure. I mean, although it was a movement in Hollywood, and every studio was making eight to 10 of these a year. These just aren't mainstream stories. They're tales of people who know they're doing the wrong thing. They do it anyway. And then they reap the consequences.

CK: You’re talking about the nightclub is the most significant public space and film noir. Which is true because you always find either a bar or nightclub. And you think that's interesting territory, because it's where the normal and the underworld sort of come together. Right?

EM: Exactly. I mean, in so many of these movies, the nightclub represents the public space where legitimacy rubs elbows with the underworld. Invariably, these are clubs owned by guys who were like gangsters during Prohibition. And then your hero and heroine get mixed up in the middle of it. And yeah, it's just the perfect setting for all of these various social strata to mingle with music, and alcohol.

CK: So, if you look over all these movies, are there similarities in terms of what people drink? Is it just like shots of whiskey? Are they actually drinking cocktails with anything unusual that came up in the movies itself in terms of alcohol.

EM: Well, you know, the alcohol in these movies is used by the writers to kind of define character. So invariably, the male characters if they're rough and tough, you know, it's just they just want a shot. Just give me a shot of rye or, you know, a shot of bourbon. Bourbon is basically the go to drink and Noir. For men.

Film clip: Why don't you quit crying. Give me some bourbon.

EM: And then beyond that, people would be characterized by you know, if they go in and order something, and they're very specific about it. It kind of tells you something about the character.

Film clip: How do you like your brandy, sir? In a glass. I used to like mine with champagne, champagne coolers Valley Forge and with about three pointers of brandy under it Oh, come come man pour a decent one.

EM: You know you on occasion would find them. You know with martinis or Manhattan's or Old Fashions I guess those are like the three most common cocktails of that era.

Film clip: Keep the martinis dry. I'll be back.

CK: Okay, so let's go through a few of these movies and talk about drinks. DOA I've never even heard of that movie. (Wow) Well, I you know, I bear it all here on Milk Street so tell me about DOA.

EM: DOA is one of the more famous noir films because the premise is just so incredibly great. A guy vacationing in San Francisco, he goes out for a night on the town, and he is slipped poison in his cocktail.

Film clip: And this is no accident. Somebody knew how to handle that stuff. The amount of alcohol in your body you must have got from liquor. I was drinking last night. Arrange for your admission to the hospital immediately. Of course, I'll have to notify the police. This is a case for homicide. Homicide? I don't think you fully understand Bigelow. You've been murdered.

EM: So, I figured it was, since the plot entirely revolves around a cocktail. I figured it had to be included. And my choice for that was a tremendous cocktail called The Last Word.

CK: What is the Last Word cocktail?

EM: The Last Word is gin, and lime juice and maraschino liqueur. It was an older cocktail, which was from early in the last century, that was revived by a wonderful bartender up in the Pacific Northwest named Murrey Stenson who, who's a big noir fan as well.

CK: The Maltese Falcon we talked about that briefly. The Hamet Martini. That's the drink for that.

EM: Yes. Which is something that I concocted myself. Dashiell Hammett, who wrote The Maltese Falcon. I happen to know his daughter and granddaughter and they told me that he drank vodka martinis. And since he was sort of known to be a Marxist, I felt that wow, you know, he must be drinking Russian vodka. And in fact, that was what I was told by Julie Rivette, his granddaughter that he drank Stoli vodka, which was not readily available in the United States in the 1930s. And I thought it was interesting that for all the drinking that goes on, in these noir films in the book, The Maltese Falcon, there's only one thing in Spades apartment to drink, and that's Bacardi rum. But I thought, wow, you know, can you actually make a cocktail that combines Stoli vodka and Bacardi rum and have this be any good? So, it took me a little while to find the proper chemistry there. It had to be mediated by a little bit of Benedictine.

CK: Nightmare Alley, another one I have not seen yet. Although I would love to just give us a quick synopsis and the drink from that.

EM: Well, Nightmare Alley was about the carny life, and I wanted to do a cocktail in honor of this film, and I didn't know exactly how to approach it until I came across. I read a lot of old cocktail guides, and I found in one for Sloppy Joes bar in Havana, Cuba, cocktail called a Joan Blondell, and she plays The Mentalist in Nightmare Alley, and I said, wow, this Joan Blondell cocktail, this will be perfect. And then I made it, and I really didn't like it. Because it had a gin base, and it just didn't work right. So, I swapped out rye for the gin and that is now one of my favorite cocktails and and I've learned that once you change the base spirit or tinker with things a little bit, you can kind of rename the cocktail. So, it's in my book, it's no longer a Joan Blondell it's now Zeena, which is the name of the character she plays in Nightmare Alley.

Film clip: She sees she knows she tells you all the innermost secrets of your past, your present and your future. Mademoiselle Zeena.

CK: So, can you give me one more cocktail that most people probably don't know about that appears in one of these movies?

EM: Oh my gosh, The Stinger, which is a creme de menthe-based cocktail. And in The Big Clock. I know I heard you groan at the creme de menthe (sounds awful) it is a green cocktail, which they actually make fun of in the movie itself.

Film clip: Bartender bring us two more stingers, this time making with green mint. With green mint? Green mint, that’s what the boy said. Oh, no.

EM: Like there saying, oh my god, it's green, you know, and then they start drinking it. Which leads to a major plot point in the film.

CK: And what's the basic plotline in the film?

EM: The basic plotline is Raymond Land plays a guy who works for a crime magazine. And the boss's mistress gets murdered, and Ray Milland is charged with investigating the crime for the magazine. But he's also being at the same time being framed as the perpetrator.

CK: Last question, alcohol today in movies, has it lost its power in its charm, or are they still filmmakers still using it to good effect?

EM: I mean, that's a good question. I think that people are a little more hesitant to have as much drinking and smoking in movies as there used to be it was just a given back in the day. But to me it's fascinating because I'm not quite sure why the movies are a little standoffish about it given that cocktail culture has made a colossal comeback and I think there's a desire to keep the best things from like mid 20th century America to keep those things alive. You know, the films, the wardrobe, the architecture, that was sort of America at its zenith style wise. And I do believe that now cocktails are a big part of that.

CK: Well, now, now you've got me down memory lane. I got a list of a dozen movies to watch. I'm going to get a bunch of new cocktails to try. But you know, that's all good. Eddie, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

EM: It has absolutely been a pleasure. Christopher and my job is to make you want to watch these movies. And you might as well have a good cocktail while you're doing it.

CK: That was Eddie Muller host of Noir Alley on TCM, his book is Eddie Muller’s Noir Bar. Now it's time to answer some of your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sarah is of course the star of Sara's weeknight meals on public television. Also, author of Home Cooking 101.

Sara Moulton: Chris, you know, I get all excited about ingredients and it varies from week to week, month to month or what I've read, do you have a current it ingredient that just floats your boat?

CK: Actually, oyster sauce at Milk Street we've been playing around with it. First of all, oyster sauce is made from oysters. I didn't know that. I thought oyster sauce is just called oyster sauce. So, it's basically made from oysters. (the good stuff) The good stuff. I got a bottle this stuff is just amazing. You know, soy sauce yeah, you know other stuff. Mirin sure, fish sauce yes. But oyster sauce is really amazing stuff.

SM: So, you you use it like a ___flavor like

CK: Well, anytime I'm making a quick sauce for like dumplings or soba noodles or something, you just add a little bit of it in and because it's sweet and thick, is also, is a really good to use as one of the ingredients. If you're going to base or brush or glaze chicken roast chicken.

SM: Oh yeah,

CK: It's very sweet. So, you can't use too much otherwise it'll burn. But it makes this amazing glaze on chicken if you combine it with some other ingredients like soy sauce and mirin. It's one of those powerhouse ingredients, but it's also an ingredient if you get the good stuff. It's fabulous. If you get the bad stuff, it's awful.

SM: it's probably pure sugar.

CK: Yeah, it's probably made and overnight in a big vat somewhere. Yeah, but the real oyster sauce is I love it.

SM: very good. Okay, I’ll heck it out.

CK: Let's take call.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Laurel I'm calling from Corrales, New Mexico.

SM: Hi, Laurel, how can we help you today?

Caller: I've lived in a couple places where they have fish. Now I live really far from the ocean. I'm getting a box once a month from Alaska. The fish is all frozen. And I figured out pretty much how to cook the coho and the Sockeye. There's also halibut and rockfish in there, but I can't get the cod right. I've tried butter basting, I've tried baking, I tried broiling and it's tough, and it's not like what I'm used to on the East Coast cod. So, I just could do some tips on how to cook this frozen cod better.

SM: Cod is very, very lean. It's hard to cook a lean fish. It just is period. Have you ever breaded it I know that sounds very sort of retro but

Caller: That's how I do the rock fish and that works really well. But the cod is so much thicker that I wasn't sure.

SM: It's hard to do that. That was Yeah, but you could still give it a world two more thoughts and then I'll pass it over to Chris. One is to cook it in a broth some sort of Asian preparation with all sorts of you know mushrooms and ginger and garlic and yummy flavorings and then you know, it just can't be dry. The other one is to cook it and Chris is going to laugh at me because this is so old-style French cook it in a bag. So, they now have these parchment bags.

CK: I feel 1973 coming on.

SM: I know. But there's a reason why this is a good way to cook fish because nothing leaves the bag. So, you put the fish in there, put a bunch of butter, I would put a drizzle of white wine, some shallots and fresh herbs you can sometimes I'll take it more with tomatoes and olives or whatever. And then you seal the bag, and you bake it in the oven. And if you put enough fat in there, it will all sort of emulsify. It's a great way to cook fish.

Caller: What temperature are you thinking? 400?

SM: Yeah, and it will pop up like crazy. You can literally stick a knife through the bag through the fish and what you probably want is a little bit of resistance, which means the fish is not cooked in the center. And then take it out and let it just sit on the plate for a few minutes in the bag with the carry over cooking and then when you take it out, pour all that yummy juice over it and don't forget the salt and pepper. Very, very important. Chris,

CK: My first question is how do you know when the cod’s done, do you use an internal digital read thermometer or what?

Caller: Yeah, and I started with the standard 140. That seemed too high, so I backed it off to 130. Then I started taking it out around 110 and letting it rest and it still seems kind of tough and chewy.

CK: If I cook fish, it's around 115 ish than I'll take it off and some fish like tuna it really continues cooking like crazy, because it's pretty dense. But it sounds like you're not doing that wrong. I just think whatever you're getting in that box, that cod because of the freezing has suffered. It's suffered and I think Sara was onto it. It's not fatty, and probably salmon for example can deal with it pretty well or halibut is also very medium dense. Cod’s delicate. The other thing you could do, oddly enough is brine it. I know I’ve brined shrimp before and that seems to work. I've never brined cod; I would use a very low salt brine. But you might try brining it for an hour.

SM: That's a great idea.

CK: And that might help. The salt helps the proteins retain moisture during cooking. But I would use a fairly low mixture of salt so give that a shot.

Caller: Oh, that's a great idea. I will give that a try to do it.

CK: Do it no more than now or with a low concentration. See what happens.

SM: Also, do try cooking the fish in a bag. It is yummy.

Caller: I will

CK: And makes sure to watch a rerun of a Julia Child TV show from the 60s at the same time. Sara's eyes are narrowing.

SM: Hey, listen, lots of old things are new again.

CK: Like us?

SM: Yes

CK: Yeah, yeah. All right. Hope that helps. Okay, take care.

Caller: It will, I'm sure. Thank you so much.

SM: Thank you.

CK: Bye.

SM: Bye. Bye.

Caller: Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are here to answer any of your questions, culinary and otherwise, give us a ring 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Jayne Makstaller from Cincinnati.

CK: How are you?

Caller: I'm doing well. I had purchased a carbon steel paella pan and I seasoned it according to the manufacturer's directions and each time I'd get a really nice patina. Yes, thank you, then I'd make the paella and as soon as I do that, the coating would be gone. So, I reached out to the manufacturer, and they said it's likely that tomatoes that are taking the coating off

CK: Is the manufacturer's direction involving an oven.

Caller: They had me do it on the stovetop.

CK: Okay. And what did they say?

Caller: Well, basically they said it’s going to happen every time I make the pie because there's acidity in the tomatoes. And that I should just put a light coating of oil in between (no) and not worry about the seasoning.

CK: No. My lifelong fight against manufacturer's directions. They're right about the stovetop, the oven method does not work. What you want to do is is lightly coat use a high heat oil like grapeseed oil, whatever. Lightly coat the pan with maybe two tablespoons or so of oil. Take a paper towel, rub it in, heat up the pan. And when the pan gets really hot, and it starts to smoke, turn off the heat. And during the process as it heats up, continue rubbing the oil into the pan right. You want to be careful not to burn your hands. So, use a lot of paper towels or use an oven mitt or whatever. And then as it starts to cool down, you want to also keep rubbing the oil into the pan because otherwise, it can get sticky, so you want to keep burnishing the pan, let it cool and do that like seven or eight more times 10 more times, just keep doing it. Like you need to take an hour, listen to your favorite show whatever podcast,

SM: Milk Street Radio.

CK: Milk Street Radio,

Caller: Yes, of course

CK: and do it let it cool down and do it over and over and over again. Then you build up a nice layer. And they are right every time you use the pan when you're finished using it, clean it out not with water, no soap, and then put more oil in heat it up and do exactly what I said and do that in between. The last thing is I've found with carbon steel, which I love is I use a lot of oil when I cook now. And I've realized that most of that oil gets left in the pan even when I do scrambled eggs or something. So, use a fair amount of oil which will help make it nonstick, but it also helps season the pan as you cook so don't skimp on the oil but season in between and season seven or eight times before you start the first time. And that way you should have enough of a patina so you're not going to strip it off when you do the paella.

Caller: Yeah, and I found myself not real successful getting that crispy rice effect on the bottom.

CK: More oil.

Caller: Okay,

CK: The oil is going to really help with that. Yeah,

SM: I was just going to add one thing because this is really Chris's domain, but one thing I do know is when you have a nicely seasoned pan, and somehow for some reason, even against your best efforts, food gets stuck in the bottom of it, don't wash it, don't use soap. Everybody knows that but take Kosher salt to it. And some oil and like adobe pad like a nonabrasive pad of some kind and rub it with the kosher salt. And that should get rid of that. But I think Chris is probably right about the oil. That makes a lot of sense to me. Just use more.

Caller: Okay, and I think I'm filling my pie pan to full and I probably would get a better result without overcrowding.

CK: Yeah, that's true. I spoke to Jose Andres about that a few years ago. And when he makes paella it’s in a huge pan, but it's very thin. It's not like six inches of stuff, you know, seafood and rice and saffron everything else piled in. It's a fairly thin layer. And that's how you get that really crispy bottom.


Caller: Oh, okay. Oh, this is so exciting. I can't wait to do up a new batch. I really appreciate you taking the call.

SM: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Well, thanks for everything I really appreciate. Love the show.

CK: Thank you.

SM; Take care. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up the sweeter side of Mexico with Fany Gerson that's up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my conversation with Chef Fany Gerson. She's the owner of Fanfan donuts in Brooklyn. Also author of three cookbooks including My Sweet Mexico. Fany, welcome to Milk Street.

Fany Gerson: Thank you so much. I'm so excited.

CK: So, tell me about your neighborhood where you grew up in Mexico City. I've been there a few times. It's just such a huge city. And every neighborhood is so different. So, what was your neighborhood like?

FG: So, my neighborhood nowadays is very posh and very fancy. It's called Polanco. And when I was growing up, it was I mean, it was a nice neighborhood, not not the way it is now. But it was very, you know, residential. And it was just really nice. You had like a lot of local, small, you know, restaurants and shops and things like that.

CK: You said that sweetness in Mexico was all around even in death, which I thought was, I think, a charming thing to say. So, I had no idea of the extensiveness of sweets and the differences geographically. So is this something that's obviously known to people in Mexico, but it doesn't, doesn't seem to be it's known that well here, north of the border.

FG: Yeah, I think that you're you're right about that. I think even when I was researching the book, people would find out what I was doing. And they'd say, you could write a whole book about that. In my mind, I was like, we could write a whole encyclopedia about it. And that's one of the main reasons why I wanted to write the book. Because a lot of these sweet traditions in Mexico, they're part of an oral tradition being passed down from generation to generation. So, a lot of these are being lost, because newer generations are not interested or even, you know, they're not consumed as much. But Mexico has a very rich, sweet culture and it is very regional. So, for example, in the north of Mexico, there are a lot of sweets made from goat's milk in the tropical areas, like Veracruz, where you have a lot of confections made from tamarind and coconut and things like that. And there's certain sweets or desserts that you can find only in a specific town of a specific city of a specific region.

CK: I also liked your discussion of Arab influence in Spanish influence. You know, I wanted to add someone to a Mexican cooking So well, do you mean the Spanish influence? Do you mean the Aztec influence? But you also you also brought up the Arab influence because I guess after the seventh or eighth centuries in Spain, obviously there was a lot of influence there. So, you want to talk about that because that's a new new idea to me.

FG: Yeah, I mean, you know, if you think about one of the most popular Mexican desserts is flan. So, flan came from the Spaniards, but there was also a very big migration of Lebanese to Mexico. And you see that in more in like savory cuisine, but it definitely made its way to the sweet side as well. Like we have these sugar figurines called Rosca de Reyes that are made for the other mortals. But that came straight from the Arab countries.

CK: So, paletas is that right? (Yes) these sound fabulous. And again, it's not something I've had, so you want to describe them?

FG: Yeah, so paletas are basically all natural Ice Pops. There's a lot of fruit and water-based ones. And there's creamy ones. Some of them have chunks. Some of them are smooth. Some of them have chili powder. They're layered, they're very playful, and they're just delicious.

CK: I'm going to write a book. It's going to be a very long book called all the things I missed in Mexico. I could go through like 5000 entries. Burnt milk ice cream, you talk about a fair amount from Oaxaca. So, what is burnt milk ice cream?

FG: So, burnt milk ice cream is exactly what the name sounds, you literally burned the milk and they used to use these iron, kind of like an iron clad they were used to heat up to burn the milk. And that's definitely Spanish influence, for sure. Because in the Basque Country, they have a lot of desserts that are made the same way. And then you take that milk, and you turn it into ice cream. And then it's usually paired with like a red prickly pear, also called Pitaya sorbet. And that's a very classical combination. It's definitely an acquired taste. But it's something that's very specific to Oaxaca.

CK: What does it tastes like? Can you describe it?

FG: It tastes like burnt milk. So, it's a little bit bitter. Slightly sweet. But the predominant flavor is bitter in the back of the throat. And then the ice creams in Mexico are not creamy in the way American ice creams are. It's closer to a gelato. So, the mouthfeel is more silky.

CK: So okay, what is it about donuts like I was in Paris, I went to a Vietnamese takeout shop. And they had all these doughnuts. That was like their big thing doughnuts and banh mi. And I was in a Mexican pastry shop in Orange County. I went in for breakfast and there were doughnuts. Are doughnuts sort of ubiquitous, or they all come from very different traditions. Because you see them all over.

FG: I feel that there's a version of donuts everywhere around the world, you know, but I will say that I kind of started as sort of the the face of my career making donuts, not by intention. It was a former boss, that is French, and he came up to me, you know, he called me one day. And he said, hey, how about we open a gourmet doughnut shop? And I felt, oh, here's a French guy and a Mexican girl trying to make something quintessentially American. Sure, why not? You know, but and so I didn't have a reference of doughnuts in the way a lot of Americans do. So, because I didn't have that I wasn't trying to recreate something specific. It was more starting from scratch. If I was to make a donut from scratch, what's the best version of that?

CK: Well, I think you wrote somewhere that the guava and cheese donut was one of your favorites.

FG: Of the ones that that we make the guava and cheese was one of the first that I knew I had to have. And so, we made this long doughnut, and it's failed with a cream cheese filling guava glaze. And then it has a brown butter on that topping. And so there's a lot of flavors, a lot of textures. And I think that that donut is one of the examples of my own cultural blend by migrating to this country and doing something that is so quintessentially American.

CK: Making candy out of beans. Yes, talk to me that. That really piqued my interest.

FG: I love that recipe. And when I made them, I was so excited and I would take these candies to people I'm like guess, guess what it is? Guess what the main ingredient is? And you know some people said like sweet potato or something like that. But most people said it was chestnut and it wasn't their beans and theirs It's so so so good.

CK: So, okay, it's midweek. My favorite question. You don't have a ton of time. Are there things that are sort of go to recipes for you personally, that are not too hard, but they reflect your experience with Mexican cooking and baking.

FG: I mean, arroz con leche is the first thing that I think of

CK: and how was your rice pudding would be different than let's say, a New England rice pudding?

FG: I don't know what a New England rice pudding is like, what is that like?

CK: Well, there's baked rice pudding and in there’s stovetop, so stovetop is cooked with usually water to start with, and then milk or half and half. And it's just a creamy, stovetop version, or you can bake it, it's a little more custody and thicker.

FG: Ah, that sounds delicious. It's no, it's definitely on the stovetop, and it uses Mexican cinnamon, and I always bring rice from Mexico back. But you can use other rice. But it's the scent of the Mexican cinnamon. But I will say if you have a little time to prepare, but you're not going to eat it right away. The boca negra, which is it's a more modern recipe, but it's a flourless, it’s almost flourless chocolate ___ cake, with a sweet tomatillo sauce. That is the recipe from My Sweet Mexico book that I've made more times, and it comes together very quickly, usually have the ingredients maybe not the tomatillo but you can pair it with any fruit or any ice cream or whipped cream or anything like that. That's probably the recipe that I've made most. And it's very, it's a crowd pleaser.

CK: So, you spent a lot of time tracking all of this down, obviously. Are there once or twice were you completely surprised. Like you found something you didn't know even existed or there was a flavor that was just amazing.

FG: I feel I found that all the time. Like, I just remember this one time, I had a friend who at the time had a small hotel in a place called Bacalao. And then he said, you know, the guy who watches you know, the security guard, his wife makes sweets, you know, maybe she can let you see. So, I went, and it was like four in the morning, you know, and she made these Merengues by hand with lime and she cooked them in the ___. You know, which is like it's all uneven. And it's it's very humid there and they were so perfect. And that's my favorite part of everything that I've done. It's the human connection and the stories. And I find that to be a privilege to be honest.

CK: Yeah, if you want to meet people and break the ice going into the kitchen and cooking with them. I mean, it's like, it just immediately breaks down all those barriers. And for those of us who get to do this for a living I think that's pretty special right.

FG: Yeah, for sure.

CK: Fany it's been an enormous pleasure having you on the show. Thank you.

FG: Thank you. Thank you so much. It's really an honor. I love your show.

CK: That was chef and cookbook author Fany Gerson she runs Fan Fan donuts in Brooklyn, New York. You know, scientists love to label and categorize. They talk about quarks, muons, dark matter, wave theory, bosons, and spin. In food many proceed with a similar scientific approach, trying to classify a cuisine to make it an exact science. But the problem is, of course, that food is not a science. It has few rules, and it changes daily. Take Mexican cooking, how do you categorize a taco? There are 1000s of variations. And as Fany Gerson points out, a cactus sorbet in one town might be totally unknown 20 miles down the road. So please don't go to Mexico to eat what you expect. Please go to Mexico or anywhere else to be delighted and surprised. What you don't know might make the very best meal of your life. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's head into the kitchen with JM Hirsch to talk about this week's recipe. Korean fried chicken. JM how are you?

J M Hirsch: I'm doing great.

CK: You were just in South Korea and to nobody's surprise you ate a lot of fried chicken. But there are two things that are surprising the number of places that serve it and two the fact they've taken this to an entirely new level as opposed to the tradition here, right?

JM: Yeah, you know, it's easy to eat a lot of fried chicken in a country where there's some 87,000 restaurants and vendors selling fried chicken and I mean there are whole streets dedicated to selling nothing but fried chicken. It is mostly a late-night snack with a many beers serve alongside, but it is really a part of the culture. I mean, you go out for fried chicken, it is what you do. And it is wonderful.

CK: So, are there fundamental techniques different here?

JM: Oh yeah, I mean, this is fried chicken at a whole new level. And I have to confess, until going to South Korea, I wasn't really a fan of fried chicken just as a thing. For me, the breading tends to be too heavy, too thick, and the meat tends to be too dry, overcooked. Korean fried chicken, which they love to call KFC is an entirely different animal. So, there are three things that really set it apart. The first thing is that the meat stays moist, like really moist, truly delicious meat. And the reason they're able to keep it that way is instead of one long fry, they do the chicken in batches, so they fry it briefly. Take it out, let it cool a bit, then put it back in the oil and fry it a second time. Now what this does is it allows the outside to crisp, but it keeps the inside from heating up too much. It's kind of brilliant, really

CK: Well, it's, I guess borrowed from the classic two step French fry method, right?

JM: Yeah, exactly. And I'm not going to get into who came up with it first, we'll just leave that be. The second thing that really sets it apart is this incredibly light battery coating. It's not really a batter. It's a slurry. It's not breading. It is a wet cornstarch based or potato starched based mixture that it's like crepe batter thin, and they dunk the chicken in it very briefly. And then they throw it in the oil to fry and the result which I thought frankly, when I saw it done, I thought it was going to be a mess. But it fries up so beautifully light and crisp. It completely completely won me over. The final thing that really sets Korean fried chicken apart is the sauce. It's this sticky sweet heat savory sauce and of course there are a million recipes for it. But the ones that I had most often combined gochujang but also honey, some dry sugar, some rice vinegar, garlic, often times ginger. And the combination is you take this freshly fried chicken, still steaming hot, you throw it in a bowl with this amazing sauce, you toss it, you toss it, and you eat it right away. And the result is you get this incredibly moist chicken this wonderfully crisp crust on the outside. It's really truly wonderful.

CK: This reminds me of when I was in Paris not too long ago, Vietnamese chicken wings, where they fry the chicken wings, they use I think they use potato starch or whatever. And then they use a small wok and just toss it and cook it with fish sauce and a little sugar. So, you have the similar concept of coating and then a really nice sauce. So, is there a marinade here or is there just a sauce or what?

JM: Uh, yeah, you know, not everybody does this. But one of the lessons we learned that was really cool, is a marination for the chicken that is then turned into the slurry and met a bunch of folks who would marinate the chicken in sorry, I saw some ginger a little bit of go to chop and stuff like that. And let it sit for half an hour or so. And then take that out and use the remaining marinade as the basis for the slurry, adding some cornstarch or potato starch to that and then throwing the chicken back in it to coat so now you've taken those same flavors and obviously you've marinated the chicken in it but now you're drawing them in a second way by turning them into the slurry that becomes that wonderfully crisp coating.

CK: So, I have to ask the question that which is on everyone's mind, right now. How do you eat this? It's got this sticky sauce on it. Is this knife and fork chicken or you it’s just a mess?

JM: I mean it certainly is for me because I can't stand getting my fingers messy when I'm eating. But a lot of people just dig right in.

CK: So Korean fried chicken, a double fry a new technique a thin coating and a great sauce. Sounds fabulous. JM thank you.

JM: Thank you. You can get the recipe for Korean fried chicken at Milk Street

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. After the break we explore the mythical history lurking in your spice cabinet. That's coming up. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street, who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Sue from Iowa

SM: Hi, Sue from Iowa. How can we help you today?

Caller: I have a question about cookie dough. Usually when I make cookies like chocolate chip cookies, after I mix up the dough, then I just portion it out, put it in the freezer and then bake them up, you know a couple of at a time whenever I want them. But a lot of recipes, say to refrigerate the dough for a couple hours or overnight or whatever. And I'm wondering if that still necessary if I'm just going to freeze the dough. I'm not sure what the benefit is of refrigerating the dough first, whether it's for flavor or ease of scooping it out or what?

SM: I would think that when they say you know to refrigerate it for a couple hours. That really is so that it does set up better. We used to have this recipe and Gourmet magazine called mocha cookies from a place in Chicago called the bakery. And they were absolutely extraordinary. But if we made them and scooped them out and baked right away, they would really, really spread. So, we started putting them in the fridge and preferably even overnight so that the ingredients would set up the butter in particular. And then they held their shape, and they were much choosier, and they're much better. So that's probably in a recipe like that, where it says to put it in the fridge for you know, a few hours because it just needs to set up. You know, I don't see any problem with going right to the freezer, if that is your question. But I think the main reason that was done was really for textural purposes. Chris, what do you think?

CK: I have nothing to add to that.

SM: What?

CK: No, no, no, I can come up with a whole bunch of stuff.

SM: I’m sure you can

CK: No, I'm sure you don't think it's just because you don't want the spread. I mean, I don't think it's really for flavor, because an hour in the fridge is not going to do anything so

SM: But what she's saying, is there any reason she should put them in the frig before she puts them in the freezer?

CK: Just put them in the freezer. Yeah, if you bake them straight out of the freezer, they probably won't spread as much as if they came out of the refrigerator. Yeah, you could let them sit for a bit first. But it'll be fine. Just go right to the freezer.

Caller: Great. I will save time. All right.

CK: Thank you.

Caller: Well, thank you very much

SM: Thanks, Sue. Bye bye.

Caller: Thank you. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. You can give us a call anytime the number is 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843. Or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Michael from Redding, Pennsylvania.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: Whenever I make macaroni salad that has a mayonnaise dressing, as opposed to a pasta salad with an oil and vinegar-based dressing. The mayo doesn't adhere to the macaroni. And then the next day, the macaroni absorbs all the mayo in the bowl. And then it looks all sad. So, I'm just wondering, how do I make a proper Mayo dressing and how do I make one that doesn't disappear.

CK: I love the concept of a sad bowl of macaroni salad. There's something about that that's very poetic anyway, first of all, if you leave pasta in a bowl with any kind of sauce or dressing, it's going to absorb the dressing overnight. You can't dress it and let it sit overnight. You have to dress it and eat it. If you don't want the pasta and sauce to be absorbed, you can rinse the pasta more than or rinse off the excess starch. If you want to starchy pasta with the sauce clings don't rinse it drain it.

SM: Right. I would you know cook up the pasta, let it be a little bit al dente. I would rinse it because unless you're going to cook it and then dress it right away and then serve it it's going to stick together if you don't rinse it and then I would toss it right before or maybe you put a tiny bit of oil on it. And then right before you're going to serve it toss it with the dressing get it on the table and tell everybody to eat it right away.

Caller: Do I have to put anything in the mayonnaise like when I make potato salad. I cut the mayo with pickle juice.

SM: Oh, nice idea.

CK: Good idea.

SM: How about pepperoncini juice?

CK: Yeah, that works great.

SM: Or lemon juice. If you're using store bought mayonnaise, even some brands that I like They're always too sweet. So, I always add lemon juice (that’s a good idea). Oh, you know what also is nice. You know, they always tell you when you're chopping fresh herbs to not bruise them because they sort of get wet and nasty. But for me the exception is when I'm making an herb mayonnaise, I'll throw everything in the blender like tons of basil, and maybe some chives and parsley and mayonnaise and wiz it up which really thins the mayonnaise down. But still, it's a sauce. And that's really delicious, tossed with pasta and stays very green, and you get much more essence of the herbs than just chopping them.

CK: And I've also seen recently flavored mayonnaise is with like yuzu, which is sort of an orange grapefruit flavor, which you might want to play with a little bit too just add a little extra flavor.

Caller: Thank you very much.

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: Alright, Michael. Bye.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's get a linguistics lesson from our friends Grant Barrett and Martha Garnette hosts of A Way with Words. Grant and Martha what's going on?

Grant Barrett: Hi, Chris. Well, we're thinking about royalty, since we're with the king of all media, that being you. Great. And we're thinking about the royal herb basil. Did you know that it comes from a Greek word meaning King?

CK: No, I did not.

Martha Barnet: Yeah, the word basil or basil, as we like to say in the United States comes from the Greek word basileios, which means king. It was a royal spice used in medicine and perfume. And in French is sometimes called Lamiaceae Royal, the Royal herb. And so, this makes basil a relative of a lot of other words like Basilica, which was originally a type of royal building, and the word basilisk. You know that legendary serpentine king that has the fatal breath and glance, it looked sort of royal sort of with a little crown. And that's related to the word basil.

GB: And so, there's a tremendous amount of folklore around basil throughout Europe and Asia. And one of my favorite folklore things about it is Pliny the Elder explains that the Romans thought that the plant would grow better if you shouted curses at it.

MB: Have you tried that, Chris?

CK: So so, what did cursing do for the plant, did it make it grow better?

GB: Well, it's kind of like this folklore idea that when you wish something bad upon someone or something, then good things happen. It's just kind of like wishing somebody to break a leg before they go on stage. And you'll over the centuries, this bit of superstition made its way through the European cultures. And it ended up in French as the phrase similar basilic which literally translates to so basil, but it means to slander or mindlessly rave or rant at someone because that's what you would see someone doing in the garden when they were sowing the seeds of basil.

CK: Well, it's it sounds, here's what happens. It sounds like the French just took over this concept to explain why they spent a lot of time ranting and raving. Maybe it's just a little cover.

MB: An excuse.

GB: Martha, you mentioned the basilsk a lot of the Harry Potter fans will remember that animal from the movie but when we're talking about leafy herbs, I'm thinking of tarragon and dragons.

MB: Yes, because the species name for that plant is dracunculus, which you might recognize from Latin it means little dragon. And that may derive from the idea of those leaves that look like tongues. Or it may be because it was used as a remedy for venomous bites over the years. And you also see that in the Italian name for this herb dragoncello,

GB: And you know, it is literally the word dragon in Swedish and Dutch D R A EO N means tarragon. And you know that herb has traveled incredible roads through medicine and cookery. It apparently started as a word in Greek, but it was borrowed into Arabic. And it shows up in medical uses in the 10th century and then borrowed back into Greek which loans the word out into other languages including Latin, where it shows up in records being used in cooking, and then Old French and then modern French and then modern English and this is just an amazing story of how this herb and this word have moved together.

CK: Well, it'll be a great kids book Tarragon a little herb that could.

MB: And tarragon could have a friend because there's another critter in your spice box. Coriander. Coriander comes from a Greek word chorus, which means get this Bedbug.

CK: Gee that's really comforting. Like coriander seed may look like a big bug I don’t know.

GB: Well, it's not the seed Chris. It's the smell. The Greeks thought that it smelled like bedbugs. Now how they knew what bedbugs smelled like I don't know.

CK: Well as many people when asked what period of history would you prefer to live? People say none, because everyone had bed bugs, among other problems, right?

GB: But Martha there's a floral connection here you are well known for your flower etymology.

MB: Well, yes, the flower coreopsis this beautiful little yellow flower takes his name from the same linguistic root not because it smells like bedbugs, but because the seeds resemble those little insects. In fact, another name for coreopsis is tick seed or tick weed because they actually look like they have little antennas, those seeds.

CK: You know, I don't think you guys are really helping out the old spice or cabinet thing here. It's like the smell of bedbugs the taste of dragons.

GB: Like people are tossing out their coriander as we speak

MB: We could talk about a much more appealing fragrance word and that's nutmeg, which actually comes from words that mean musk smelling nut.

GB: In the United States. muskmelons are sometimes called nutmeg melons. (really) But you know, it's funny it refers not to the fragrance of the melons but to the netted or reticulated a rind, which was similar to the nutmeg. So, they both have strong smells but it was about the surface.

CK: Yeah. So herbs and spices going back to the Greek. And thank you for the adult education.

MB: Always good to talk with you, Chris.

GB: Our pleasure.

CK: That was Grant Barret and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes at Milk Street or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about Milk Street at 177 Milk There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe. All live stream cooking classes free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and kitchen questions and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensibaugh, senior editor Melissa Allison. Producer Sarah Clapp, Associate Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media at Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.