Machete Makes Tacos: Actor Danny Trejo on Prison, Hollywood and Carnitas | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 421
August 6, 2021
Originally aired on July 10, 2020

Machete Makes Tacos: Actor Danny Trejo on Prison, Hollywood and Carnitas

Machete Makes Tacos: Actor Danny Trejo on Prison, Hollywood and Carnitas

This week, Hollywood star and restaurateur Danny Trejo shares his culinary inspirations and tips for amazing tacos. Plus, Gena Renaud of Yume Confections teaches us about the art of wagashi, Alex Aïnouz dives into the world of meatballs, and we roast a chicken the Nigella Lawson way. (Originally aired July 10, 2020.)

Questions in this Episode:

“I have been experimenting with making my own flourless seeded crackers. I used almond and amaranth flour as my base but they came out bitter. Sometimes I’ll just do half wheat and other flours to make the consistency better. Would love to try non-gluten though."

“How do you maintain your pans at home?”

“Back when I didn’t know better, I would make cakes with mixes. I now make everything from scratch. However, there are a couple of yummy cake recipes that call for cake mixes with pudding in the mix. How do I replicate from scratch?”

“I was making stock and I was doing the traditional removing of the scum and I began wondering what is that actually made of, what does it consist of, and is it really necessary to stand there and laboriously scoop it off?”

“I called a while back about cooking cheese rinds. Calling back now with my results!”

Milk Street Radio - Danny Trejo

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we discover the world of actor and restauranteur Danny Trejo. We discussed his first role in Runaway Train and how he kept his sanity in solitary confinement

Danny Trejo: I was in Folsom. What I did was I used to act out to movies, I acted out the Wizard of Oz. Give me a shoot. Every time the guy would walk by my sister. I did that one. And then I did the Hunchback of Notre Dame but the hunchback with Charles Laughton, not the new ones. She gave me water, that was God he was unbelievable.

CK: Also, coming up, we make sheet pan chicken recipe inspired by Nigella Lawson, and Nigella and I news takes into famous meatballs around the world. The first it's my interview with Gena Renaud. She's the founder of You Make Confections, which specializes in one gushy, intricately designed Japanese tea cakes. Gina welcome to Milk Street.

Gena Renaud: Thank you, Christopher. So nice to be here.

CK: You have an interesting backstory. You were born in Korea, adopted by your Japanese mother, you grew up in the Pacific Northwest. And then you move to Japan when you were eight for four years. You had three totally different cultures in the first 10 years of life. Was that a tough balancing act?

GR: Well, you know, it was different worlds. Because when I was adopted in Korea i was four so, I was kind of conscious enough to know about my surroundings and to realize that, you know, all of a sudden, I landed in this whole new country. And it was an unusual situation in that I was actually living with my birth mother. I wasn't in an orphanage. And at the time, it was considered an open adoption.

CK: Did you ever see your birth mother again?

GR: I actually did. I ended up in college going back and revisiting my stepfather who adopted me. He gave me this little piece of paper that had an address, which was that last address that we had lived in. And at that time, I was working for a news weekly paper. And my friend, the art director, one of his best friends he introduced me to this Korean and they were actually going back to visit Korea for the 1988 Olympics. And so, I gave him the little piece of paper and he looked at and said, oh, I have an aunt that lives very close by. And to my surprise when they returned, they had made this whole videotape of them going to the police station and giving them the address and the policeman, taking them down the neighborhood street. And when they knocked on the door, and asked if anybody there knew who Gena was, the woman said, oh, yes, we do. She's she's our long-lost stepsister and so it was quite amazing to me that after all these years when my friends knocked on the door that there was somebody there. And and that was how I found my mother.

CK: It's amazing story. And it has a happy ending too.

GR: Yes, it did. And then subsequently, her youngest daughter, Sunni turned out to come and live in New Jersey and so I had an opportunity to have a big reunion where my mother came. Yeah, that was amazing. And then I rushed back to Olympia, put a down payment on a house invited my mother to come and spend the last couple of weeks in America with me here.

CK: So, let's talk about what wagashi which to the, you know, uninitiated would call them tea cakes. Obviously, there are a lot more than that. Yes. So, at the highest level, what is wagashi?

GR: So wagashi are basically traditional tea sweets, that were really designed to be part of the tea ceremony. And the traditional ingredients would be native to Japan. So, the rice flour, beans, roots, flowers, leaves, and the ones that would be sculpted into, you know, exquisite little shapes would be called netiquette, and netiquette is made by taking the bean paste and adding a bit of mochi to it. And it becomes very similar to marzipan.

CK: So, I did watch Andrew Zimmerman's episode of Bizarre Foods when he visited you. He did show the Koi pod, which was this long tablescape, could you describe what's in it, what it looks like and what it represents?

GR: Yes, so the koi pond was designed for the Portland Japanese garden they were having a Koi release party and so what I decided to do would be to create a whole section of a stream. It was all agar agar water. And what you're doing is you're looking through the slice of these different koi fish floating through the water. And the pebbles on the ground are actually candied beans. So yeah, it was a wonderful way to take wagachi and develop it into a larger piece.

CK: Did anyone ever get to eat it? Or was it just

GR: Yes, we did. And you know, what was really fun about that was the Koi farmer who had actually brought in all the Koi to release at this event, came up and had some of it and we were talking about the fish. And he was actually pointing out the different patterns that I had created on some of the Koi and was telling me what kind of Koi they were. So, he was actually recognizing the spots on them.

CK: So, you didn't grow up in Japan, you spent four years there at age eight. But now later in life, you've totally devoted yourself to the art of wagashi these tea cakes, is that difficult to come in and try to master this later on?

GR: You know, I think I was very intimidated by it at the very first because, for me, it was after working at Nike for many years after working with Adidas, I just decided I really wanted for the last part of my life to find something to do on my own. I had always told myself; you know, I was a visual artist one day I was going to grow up and make art. But I really felt like I didn't have I don't know about time left but I certainly felt like I wanted to try something that I dreamed about. And one day I was shopping at my favorite local Japanese store Azen and then this little basket sitting in it was this little wooden mold. And I thought what that and I researched it and realized, oh, this is for making little Japanese. Kashi got up. So, then I started finding Japanese cookbooks. And so, I took those to my adoptive mother, and she was able to translate some of the first recipes. So, I thought, you know, this is a good thing. All of these years, I've been doing European, you know, breads and cakes and pies. But you know, this is an opportunity to make something that you know, she really loves too

CK: What is it at the core of these confections that is so appealing to you philosophically?

GR: Well, what I love about it is that it really focuses on the present you know, the present season and nature and you know, setting aside everything to take a moment to appreciate and contemplate the beauty of the cherry blossoms when they're blooming. You know how they open the light the frost you know, after the rain, and you know, and it does this for all of the seasons. I love the fact that it uses really simple ingredients you know, many of which are vegan, and you know uses flowers and you know the cakes are steamed using oak leaves, so it imparts that flavor. I just find the materials and the focus on on the changing seasons to be, you know, really rewarding.

CK: Gena it’s been just a real pleasure having you on Milk Street. Thanks.

GR: Oh, thank you so much, Christopher.

CK: That was Gena Renaud, founder of Yume Confections. Right now, my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be taking your cooking questions. Sara is the author of Home Cooking 101, also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara, glad to see you.

Sara Moulton: Thank you, Chris.

CK: Let's open up the phone lines.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: This is Melissa Cohen.

SM: Hi, Melissa. Where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm calling from Rhinebeck, New York.

SM Oh, so beautiful up there the Hudson. Any rate how can we help you today?

Caller: I've been trying to make seed crackers. Gluten free. I've been playing around with alternative flours like amaranth, almond flour, things like that. And I've found that the amaranth which gives it a really nice texture and flavor, but also makes it kind of bitter. I wanted to know if you guys had any suggestions of other flours to try

SM: And is there a reason why you're not just using one of the standard gluten free flours that is a mix of several different kinds of flours?

Caller: No, not necessarily. I think I was approaching it more from thinking about substituting different flours as opposed to thinking of it specifically like as a gluten free combo. I didn't think of that.

SM: You know there's some good ones out there. King Arthur makes one, there's one called Cup for Cup gluten free flour, that's very good. You might want to just start with that as your base. There's a reason why there's different ingredients in there. Because all together they do the job that you need them to do to sort of hold the item together, and, you know, provide the sort of basic tastes you're looking for. But I don't know, let's see what Chris has to say.

CK: Did you say you used a combination of amaranth and other flours or just amaranth flour when you were making these crackers?

Caller: I tried amaranth and almond flour, as that's what I had available in my cupboard

CK: Was the texture crisp when you made the crackers using almond flour?

Caller: The mixture was great

SM: You said you got it out of your cupboard. Almond flour shouldn't be in the cupboard it should be in the refrigerator.

CK: It goes bad fast, because it's got so much oil in it so much fat in it.

SM: So, it might have been the almond flour that was the culprit not the amaranth

CK: After just a few months sitting in a room temperature, it'll go bad.

Caller: Amaranth’s not normally bitter?

CK Almond flour is not bitter, but I think amaranth is more bitter. I would just stay away from that.

Caller: It's not just a cracker, I make like quick seeded crackers. So, I'm putting flax, chia and sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.

SM: Every last thing you just mentioned also is not going to last for a long time unless it's refrigerated. Nuts and seeds go rancid very quickly.

CK: My suggestion would be rice flour is sort of the basic flour you want to play with. Especially when it comes to crackers. It's a pretty lean flour, I would use those as your basic flour and if you want to experiment, that's fine. But I think white and brown rice flours is sort of the key to most gluten free flour recipes.

SM: I was just going to say if you're going to add any nuts or seeds, make sure they're really fresh. Because those can go rancid easily, too. And that includes sesame seeds.

Caller: Oh, okay. That's great to know.

CK: Or freeze them. Yeah, keep in the freezer for a long time.

Caller: Great. Well, I'll try that.

SM: Okay, thanks.

CK: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Okay. All right. Thanks bye bye.

SM: Bye, bye.

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

Caller: Hi, this is Anita calling from Diamond Bar, California.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I have a question actually about how you will maintain your pans at home. My question came up because one morning, I went to fry up some paneer in my All-Clad pan. And it was amazing. It didn't stick at all. And then later that same day, in the same pan, I had so many sticking problems. And it just was a mess. And what I realized was that the first time I had used my aluminum pan, it had been what I consider to be dirty. It was like somebody hadn't really scrubbed the interior. And then after I had done a really good job scouring the inside of my pan, then all of a sudden, the paneer was sticking like crazy. And it made me wonder maybe I'm doing the wrong thing. Maybe I should leave my pans a little bit, you know more greasy. So, and then I wondered what you and Sara do?

CK: Well, it depends on the pan. I mean, you're talking not about aluminum you're talking about I think if it's All-Clad a stainless-steel exterior, with an aluminum core. So, you're actually cooking I think on stainless steel, right not on aluminum directly. You know, when a cast iron pan or a carbon steel pan, both of which I use, you can season those pans. you heat them up with a little bit oil, you rub the oil into the pan as it heats up. And as it cools repeat that process a few times you build up a layer, essentially of fat of oil between the food and the metal. So, you probably had some fat that was cooked on to the bottom of the pan. And that fat made it less stick. The problem is I don't think on stainless steel, you can build up a really thick layer. Cast iron is fairly porous as is carbon steel, I think it's easier to build up a nonstick layer. So, the concept should work on stainless steel but my guess is it's not going to be as effective. The other thing is once you get bits and pieces of food, you know sort of burnt onto a pan and you get a rough surface. That's going to make it very hard to be nonstick so the short answer is Yeah, you can do it a little bit but cast iron and carbon steel it's going to work better. Sara?

SM: I agree with that. One thing I'd say about stainless steel though is is it's important to heat it up before you ever add the oil that really helps and to use a fair amount of oil. But I think Chris is right. You're never going to get the same consistent performance from a stainless-steel pan as you would from cast iron or carbon. So, we actually agree.

CK: Wow, man. I don't know what to do I'm just completely flabbergasted.

SM: You know, really

CK: I knew it was about to happen eventually. Right so

SM: Yeah, right.

CK: There's one last thing paneer cheese is the worst possible thing to try to cook and make it nonstick, because cheese will bond to cast iron or carbon steel like glue. So as Sara just said, the trick is use a lot of oil, because that'll smooth out the pores and give you a fairly nonstick surface. That'll help a lot.

SM: Yeah, I mean, one of the things about paneer is perhaps if you dusted it in some flour or cornstarch, or breadcrumbs before you sauteed it that might help too

Caller: that's an idea.

SM: Add a nice crunch. Why not?

CK: Sara, you're on today. Anyway, give that a try. And I’d get a big carbon steel pan like a 12-inch skillet. They're 40 bucks, and you can actually season them, it would be a good investment. So

SM: Yes, yes, I agree.

CK: Okay, Anita thanks for calling.

Caller: Thanks so much. Good bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio, give us a ring anytime at 855-426-9843. 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Kathy from Los Angeles.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: My question today is in regard to sourdough starters. Since I've retired, I've been doing a lot of sourdough bread. And there's a group on Facebook that is first sourdough bakers. And someone came on the other day and said that she thought that was way better to have tap water than bottled water that her starter has been more active. And I would have thought the opposite that it would be better to have bottled water because it's got chlorine.

CK: That's true. I mean that that is the rumor that you use bottled water instead of tap because the chlorine might inhibit yeast activity. I think, however, that's been debunked so I don't think it really makes a big difference. Few years ago, we made two loaves of bread one with tap water, one with bottled water. And to my enormous surprise, I could actually taste the difference. I actually preferred the bottled water. So, I think you do it really for flavor. It probably isn't going to affect yeast activity. But I think I just use bottled water for flavor. But I don't think there's any science to inhibiting yeast activity.

Caller: Yeah, I was surprised to hear that and and several people agreed with her that it was much more active. But here in Los Angeles, we have a lot of chemicals in our water. Yeah, yeah, that just doesn't feel right to me.

SM: Every tap water is different. So, you don't know maybe there's something in her tap water that actually works well with her dough, but it seems to me that Chris's point is well taken that you got can much more consistency if you use bottled water.

Caller: Right. Right,I tried it one time and then I got scared off of it. I thought oh shoot, I don't want to ruin my starter I've been going for years. So, I went back to my bottled water and said forget it. But I just thought it would be an interesting question to ask someone

CK: Well, I have to say that bread baking is just a hotbed of myths, right? I mean, if you want to get argue with someone just talk about how to make sourdough bread. So, I don't think there's anything to that. But you know, if people are making with their tap water, it's working. God bless them.

SM: Yeah. And if they like it great

Caller: Yeah, I've had very good results. So just continue on with the way I'm doing it

SM: Yeah, if it ain't broke,

CK: If it's working don't get philosophic.

Caller: Right

SM: Okay, well, thank you.

CK: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Well, thank you for it. It was it was a pleasure talking to you both

CK: Take care. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we'll hear from actor and restaurant her Danny Trejo that in more in just a moment.

Support for Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio comes from Instant Pot, the pressure cooker that steams, sautés, slow cooks, bakes cakes and so much more. Definitely not your grandmother's pressure cooker. Go to Instant for details.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with actor Danny Trejo. He's appeared in over 300 films and TV shows including Breaking Bad, Desperado, Sons of Anarchy, Spy Kids and Machete. In 2016, he opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles, Trejo’s Tacos. And they recently released a cookbook, Trejo’s Tacos, Recipes and Stories from LA. Danny, welcome to Milk Street.

DT: Thank you. Thank you so much an honor.

CK: Yeah, it's an honor for me to love your work and your food. You know, I was listening to an interview you did a while back and you were talking about some time you spent in prison, and you said one day you said please God let me die with dignity. (Yeah) And that's really stuck with me. Could you just talk about that?

DT: Well, it was it was alleged that me Ray ___ and Henry ___, it was alleged we started a riot on Cinco de Mayo. And so, we ended up going to the hole. There were some real serious charges and I remember seeing a movie god in the early 50s I think it was called The Eastside Kids.

CK: Oh, yeah yeah yeah.

DT: And the bad guy in the neighborhood, the real guy they all looked up to he was going to up the river to the chair and, and mugs of the gang they were saying yeah, well, he'll spit in their eye. Yeah you know, he'll come come and get me coppers. And they'll have to fight him all the way. And Pat O'Brien had to come and tell him nah, he cried like a baby, you know. So, I remember that. And I had a little reputation knows lightweight and ____weight champion in the penitentiary. And I, I said, God, let me die with dignity. Don't let me don't let me go out crying. And I'll say your name every day. And I'll do whatever I can for my fellow man. Well, I thought I was just going to have like, a couple of years, and then we're going to kill me. But God fooled me and he gave me the rest of my life. And I'm 75 I got out of the pen when I was 26. I've said his name every day. And I've done everything I could for my fellow man every day that I've been out.

CK: You made good on your promise.

DT: Yeah, he made good on his too.

CK: Yes, he did that's true. Back in the 50s, you and I grew up in the 50s. You said that, like a lot of people when the paychecks ran out towards the month, the dinner table changed a lot.

DT: Absolutely, so you know what it's like anybody that's working for a check. The first of the of the month, you have great dinners, you have meals, but then come close to the end of the month my mom was like a magician. She would make stuff and you know, mom, what's this? It's called out of the cupboard its real good eat it. She would just get all the leftovers and put them together and they were great. Mom, what's this? Shut up and eat it, that’s shut up and eat it and

CK: shut up eating casserole there you go

DT: You know, and it was a, it was the delicious the only problem I took my mom's dishes and collaborated with a lot of the chefs and kind of got the taste. But you know, in the 50s I don't know how other people did it but our favorite ingredient was lard. Yeah.

CK: Well, you know what? I still like lard in Mexican cooking you start with lard, right? It’s got flavor

DT: A whole spoonful. So, what we tried to do is we tried to take that out, but still get the taste and we've done we've done really really well with

CK: I've been trying, the last 10 years I've been trying to get the lard back. I don't know. So, I love carnitas

DT: Ah, carnitas

CK: But you say you have the world's best carnitas taco, right?

DT: Let me tell you, let me tell you my breakfast is carnitas nachos. I get nachos plenty of cheese and carnitas and two eggs over easy on top. And it's delicious and that's breakfast and then that way if I don't have time for lunch, I've already eaten

CK: It’s a twofer? Sounds pretty good. It’s the two eggs on top that did it for me. You said LA is a massive sprawling puzzle with little pieces of this and that

DT: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

CK: And don't ever think about completing the puzzle. I think that's the best description of La I've ever heard. Do you want to talk about that?

DT: You know what it's so funny people come here and they think they're going to take this place by storm, especially celebrities, celebrities come here, they open a restaurant and because their name is do this, this and this, they think my name will carry it. People will come to your restaurant one time for an autograph, maybe a picture, kiss their baby. If the food's not good, they're not coming back.

CK: So, how did you get into acting again? I mean, that seems I know, you've been in like, 300 movies or something insane.

DT: Yeah, I yeah, I was trying to do this extra thing but I had no ambition to be like an actor. I just if there was given us everybody 50 bucks cash. And I ran into a friend of mine, a guy named Eddie Bunker and Eddie says, hey, Danny, what are you doing here? And I said, I'm going to be an extra they could even be 50 bucks for acting like a convict. And we laughed because we both been doing that for years, for free you know. And, and so he said, hey, are you still boxing? I go, no, I'm 40 years old man. I've got to get a face no more. And he said, we need somebody to train one of the actors how to box. And I said, What's the pay? And he said up $320 a day. And I said, how bad do you want this guy beat up? I thought he wanted me to beat somebody up you know. No, no, come on. This is 1985. I wasn't making 320 a week. And I said, really? I couldn't believe it. Yeah, you got to be real careful. This actor is real high strung. He might sock you. I said any for 320 bucks. Give him a stick. Are you crazy? I've been beat up for freeholds. And I started training an actor named Eric Roberts how to box. And so that was my first movie, a movie called Runaway Train with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.

CK: Oh, yeah, I know that movie yeah

DT: Yeah. And my career just for the first five years of my career. I played inmate number one. In fact, my book that's coming out is called Inmate Number One.

CK: You know, I've talked to a lot of people on this show, you seem to have an unique energy and enjoyment for life. What have you figured out here, you’ve figured something out?

DT: Well, you I kind of figured out that it's like, I don't know if that famous Kwai Chang Caine said it or God, but he said, you'll be yourself because everybody else is taken. And so, you know, I’ve just got to be myself. I don't want to be anybody. I don't want to resent resentments are our number one killer.

CK: Was there a point of your life when you did resent other people and you stopped?

DT: Oh, yeah, in 1968 in the hole in Soledad I was through. I remember every teacher I ever had said enormous potential, a lot of potential. I remember parole officers telling me, this inmate has enormous potential, refuses to use it. And I remember when I was standing in the hole thinking about the gas chamber. I remember asking myself, where's all that potential? What happened to all that potential? You know, because I'm 24 years old, and then in a taught me and, and I remember saying, God, if you're there, me, Ray and Henry are going to be okay. If you're not, we're screwed. So, I came out of the hole, and I'll never get I got sober August 23,1968. I came out of the hole, August 26, three days later. And the reason I know is because we were all sitting in the hole. And a song by The Beatles came on the radio. And the hole is always noisy. I mean, people screaming yelling, having nightmares and and they started singing that song. Say Jude, don't be afraid. And the hole got quiet. And so, the the guard turned it up a little bit, and we could hear it. And so, it was quiet, quiet. And I when it gets like that worry, because the minute the minute he starts saying to Jude, Jude Judie toilets were broken. It was flooded, fires were started. Because that's what to do. You understand, you can talk about that for two weeks. So, you're not thinking about oh I’m in prison, you know what I mean

CK: How do you keep your sanity essentially in the dark all that time?

DT: You you know what it's like you know when I was in Folsom. What I did was I used to act out two movies, I acted out the Wizard of Oz. “Give me the shoes Dorothy!” and every time the guard walked by “Did you kill my sister?”. I did that one and then I did the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but the hunchback with Charles Laughton, not the new one. “She gave me. She gave me water”. God It was unbelievable.

CK: I like the way you pick two movies where one you’re the Wicked Witch and the other one you’re the hunchback, you're good. That tells you something, doesn’t it man

DT: Well, I couldn't be Dorothy.

CK: Well, you could be Glinda the Witch of the East, you know there you go

DT: Yeah, but she was a good witch. And playing Dorothy might be a little crazy. Toto, this sure don’t look like Kansas. And so and so, you know, you kind of go crazy yourself to keep them from making you crazy. Because it'll make you crazy.

CK: So, so when you got out what did you do as soon as you got out?

DT: Well, when I got out, the first thing I did was I called a guy named Frank Russo, Frank Russo, Frank Russo. And I say that because he told me never to mention his name. But he had a, he had he was working at a wrecking yard. And so, I got a job there when I first got out. That's what you got to do to please your parole officer to get them off your back right away. And then I got another job from there selling tools. But the only problem is, they were legal. And so, I showed up in a suit to these places, and they would immediately say no, no, no, we don't want we don't no. So, this is not working. So, what I did was I got a pair of pressed Levi's starched, and put those on, I put on a black leather long leather coat, topcoat. And I know I go to the back of the body shop, I go, I go (whistle) hey and they come out right away. And this is what he got. I said, you know what, I got some tools. Because they thought they were buying something hot. And they were all they were all like legal. When I got back to the office, I handed him like 800 bucks. And he's got a receipt. No, I didn't get no receipt. What do you mean you to get already? Sam, they will buy it from me. They'll buy them if they think they're stolen. So, we and him made all the receipts out. I don't know if if the IRS is listening, It’s a lie.

CK: When are we going to make the movie of your life?

DT: God I just wrote a book

CK: I know but, that's got to be a movie. Danny it's been a real pleasure, man. Thanks for being on Milk Street

DT: Thank you so much. God bless you, man. Thank you so much for this interview. And it's such an honor to talk to you.

CK: Thanks, Danny. That was Danny Trejo. His new cookbook is called Trejo’s Tacos, Recipes and Stories from LA. You know, I love Danny Trejo ask me why, and I'll say because he made a promise and then he kept it. He promised he would go straight after prison and indeed, he did. I also love Danny Trejo because he is grateful for his life, prison and all. You know, we don't get to choose our cards, but the best among us choose to be grateful for whatever hand we are dealt. It's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe roast chicken. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris.

CK: You know, I interviewed Nigella Lawson recently on the show, and she mentioned a term in her new book called traybakes, which obviously is an English term and asked her what it was, and it was chicken or chicken parts and you bake other stuff with it on a sheet pan. So, it's all happens at once. So, I like the name and I liked the idea. We brought it back to the kitchen, but we thought we take that concept and adapt it to something else. So, we have chicken we have a tray. Now what are we going to do?

LC: So, we have bone in skin on chicken parts here. You can mix that up. You can use breasts, thighs, drumsticks, whatever combination you want here, they go on a sheet tray with a spice rub. And this particular one has coriander, ginger, salt and pepper and sugar. It's baked in the oven for about 40 minutes at 450. And that allowed us to get the crispy skin we wanted, it also created fond on our pan, which was another opportunity to make some flavor and add something different to this very simple baked chicken recipe.

CK: What are you just teasing me. So, what's the special thing we're going to do?

LC: So we're going to make the sauce right on the sheet tray. Initially we just deglazed the pan and use that fond to kind of make a quick sauce with lemon juice and zest. But what we found was we could add something else onto the tray. And so we added 10 garlic cloves actually onto the tray. It goes in the oven with the chicken so that roasts in the oven gets really nice and sweet and caramelized and soft. You just smash the garlic right on the tray, and then whisk in the water and the lemon juice and the herbs. And it creates a really nice pan sauce on your sheet tray, which is the pan, but typically we think of doing that on the stovetop. It's all done right on that hot sheet tray.

CK: So, you bake the chicken parts and roast the sauce ingredients on the same thing. And then you actually make the sauce on the hot sheet pan.

LC: We do

CK: I like that.

LC: It’s very easy.

CK: It sounds a little joy of cooking, but actually what old is new, Lynn, thank you so much.

LC: You're welcome, Chris. You can get this recipe for roast chicken at 177 Milk Street .com.

CK: This is Milk Street radio. Coming up Alex Ainouz searches for the world's most perfect meatballs. We'll be right back.

At Milk Street, we want to help change the way you cook. That means new techniques and new ingredients. Our online cooking school is available for free to anyone who wants to join the food revolution. Go to 177 milk Street .com slash school for more information.

CK: I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: This is Tom, how are you?

SM: Good. Where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm calling from Naples, Florida.

SM: Okay, how can we help you today?

Caller Well, I was standing over a pot, making some stock following what I've been taught. And that is to slowly scoop out all the scum that comes up as it begins to boil. You know, that takes quite a while, and I began wondering what is that scum? And does it really need to be removed. And if I don't remove it, what's going to happen?

SM: Well, I know that Chris and I thoroughly

CK: Food fight, food fight

SM: thoroughly disagree about this. But I'm French trained so I'm going to tell you one thing, and then Chris is going to tell you another and then you're going to do what you want to do. And my guess is you're going to do what Chris says, which is fine. I'm just glad you're making homemade stock. But that scum is protein solids that come from the bones. And there's nothing wrong with it at all. And you know, my feeling my experience is that it only takes 15 it only gives off that scum for about 15 to 20 minutes, and then you're home free. So, the reason to do it and it's very French because the French are all about appearances is so that your stock is crystal clear when you're done. (Ah) if you let it simmer vigorously or boil, those protein solids will go back into the liquid and become emulsified, and you will have a quote unquote cloudy stock. Now that is a no no in French cooking. Now because I'm French trained, I would say skim the scum it's only 15 to 20 minutes, I wander away, I come back, I skim it again, I wander away, I come back, I do other things. But it's not necessary, it will not affect the flavor. And now I'm going to hear from Chris.

CK: Here's my theory. I'm perfectly happy following the Sara Moulton French method. This means I can't be bothered for 15 minutes. So, if you want some downtime, some free personal time, it's a great thing. You know, I agree with Sara, it's only 15 minutes. Skimming is kind of fun. Actually. I it's one of the few things I really kind of enjoy mindless things. I don't think it's a problem. If you don't do it. It's fine. But I don't know. I kind of enjoy skimming scum.

SM: Well, you surprise me there.

CK: I know. I know. It's a poetic. I don't know,

SM: Really. I'm sort of shocked.

CK: And I can just say I'm sorry I'm busy skimming scum.

SM: Well, Tom, there you go. You can do it or not do it.

CK: Yeah.

Caller: It seems it would matter of how I'm going to use the stock if I'm just using it for you know, thick split pea soup that's one thing.

CK: Yeah, a consummate no.

Caller: Right. Well, this was very helpful. Thank you.

SM: Well, thank you, Tom.

CK: Take care.

SM: Take care. Bye.

Caller: Bye. Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a cooking question, please give us a ring at 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Natalie.

CK: Natalie, where are you calling from?

Caller: Seattle.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: Well, about a month or so ago, I had called with a problem to figure out what to do with some cheese rinds left over from making soup. And Sara had recommended frying them and I liked that idea a lot. So, that's what I did with them after I made the soup.

SM: And?

Caller: Well, let's see, I ended up just putting them on, like bruschetta, you know, kind of like melty cheese. The soup was okay, I might need more practice with that it was a little dull.

CK: What was in the soup?

Caller: Mushrooms, and it had some dried porcini as the base. And the cheese was kind of thick with the soup. But I liked frying the cheese rinds.

CK: You know, frying, you can't go wrong. I mean, Sara often suggests frying, is that a very French solution to problems? I don't know but it seems to work for me.

SM: Well I wouldn’t say it's French but hey, frying, as we know, imparts wonderful flavor and texture. So, there you go. Did you deep fry them or did you sauté them?

Caller: I sauteed them Yes, just farming some a little bit of olive oil made a mess out of the pan

CK: You could have egg washed them and bread them first. Right? That would have added a little bit to it.

Caller: Yeah, I didn't have breading and things like that much lately. The cupboards are a bit bare.

SM: Yes, understandable

CK: Yes, they are. It's interesting that the old cookbooks you know, they had sour milk recipes. You know what to do with it. They had, you know, stale bread recipes, breadcrumbs. So, they were experts at reusing every little bit. They never threw anything out. Maybe we'll all go back to that. So, a stale loaf of bread turns into breadcrumbs or croutons or anyway, it sounds like it worked out and Sara had a good idea.

Caller: Well, thank you.

CK: Yeah. Thanks for calling.

Caller: Ok, great.

SM: Take care. Take care. Bye bye.

CK: Now it's time for this week's cooking tip from one of our listeners.

Caller: Hi, my name is Jonathan ____ and I'm a registered dietitian in the state of Indiana. I just wanted to share a quick tip on how I like to use the waffle maker to bake and dehydrate foods in the kitchen whenever I don't want to heat up the whole oven. So, if I place thin slices of potatoes, for instance, on the waffle maker, and let the waffle maker do its job by pressing the potatoes in between each cooking iron, and then it will actually bake a crispy crunchy potato chip healthier than anything that you could buy at the grocery store for instance, and it can be done in less time than you can have in the oven. That's my tip.

CK: If you'd like to share your own culinary hack or secret ingredient on Milk Street Radio, please visit 177 Milk Street .com slash radio tips. Next up its mad French food scientist Alex Ainouz. Alex, how are you doing?

Alex Ainouz: I'm good. I'm working on meatballs these days.

CK: Oh boy, and you've made you've made 2000 meatballs in the last month probably?

AA: I'm getting close to 2000 probably and I'm getting close to understanding more what really matters about meatballs. You see my initial question was this. I thought meatballs are underrated. I thought meatballs do not get the attention they deserve they are taken for granted. I don't know what what's your thought on this?

CK: Oh, I totally agree. I you know I was in Mexico recently made Mexican meatballs. We were Naples made Neapolitan meatballs, the little polpette, you know, the small Italian ones served in gravy, which I love. I think the problem is in America, meatballs became huge and sort of tasteless. But if you go to the country of origin, meatballs, almost, you know little pork meatballs in Vietnam served in a soup. I'm with you I love them.

AA: I love everything you mentioned all the examples. You mentioned the bun chan Vietnam, the albondigas right in Mexico, in Spain, and the pipette and I think that's very interesting that you mentioned polpette in Italy because doing my research I thought, let's see what the three most popular meatballs are. The very first one is not the Italian meatballs, per se it's the Italian American meatball. It's the Americanized version of the polpette so it's a bigger, maybe a softer version of the Italian beef meatballs. So that would be the first one. The second one is the Swedish meatballs, the one I had, and I'm sorry to confess this at IKEA, like as, as a kid, I wouldn't go to IKEA unless I can get meatballs. That was the deal with my parents. And then the third type the third most well, the most famous type is the Turkish meatball kofta more spicy, exactly more spicy with with more edge to them. The way I conducted my research is very simple. I went to each birthplace of the meatball, and I tasted them, and I tried to understand what I could take from it. So, I went to New York in the US. And I went to several restaurants where they served what it seemed to be the best Italian American meatballs in the country. And I found that they are quite a big yes. They're not super strong in terms of flavor. They are always dredged in that red sauce. Then second step in my journey, I went to Stockholm in Sweden, and I cooked with the chef there. And he taught me how to make Swedish meatballs. So köttbulle, as they call them, maybe a bit less juicy. But always dredged in that creamy gravy and served with a few sides that do have very much of an importance.

CK: Can I ask you a question? Did you just dream all this, or did you actually go to Stockholm and have a lesson in making Swedish meatballs?

AA: Oh, no, no, no, no, I went to each and every of these places. And I've been cooking with these chefs, and I've been enjoying every second of it. The last place I went to was Istanbul in Turkey and I had different types of kofta because they have, I think, over 300 different types of kofta in Turkey. And I think I understood a few things that are worth sharing with you. First of all, in terms of meat, the Italian American mostly used beef, sometimes a bit of pork as well, (right). The one I had was mostly beef, the Swedish one, it's beef and pork. And for the Turkish one, it's very, very often lamb or lamb and beef, which means something about the different flavor profile. Basically, the American one, as we mentioned earlier is going to be softer. In terms of flavor, it's going to be milder, I would say the Swedish one, it will have that porky taste, but also, it's going to add loads of fat. As for the Turkish one, the thing I understood, it has a broad edge to it. Lamb not only is fat but it's also quite strong. I don't know if that's very common to have lamb in the US

CK: No, I think the per capita consumption of beef is 70 pounds here in the United States and lamb is like three pounds so no

AA: So, I learned that if I wanted to create the perfect meatball recipe, the type of meat would be crucial and for me, because lamb is not that common, I decided to go for beef or pork. Next, I analyzed the non- meat element because I feel like that makes an amazing difference.

CK: Well in Naples for example, I think they use soaked breadcrumbs and water. They use up to 30 40% of the meatballs bread.

AA: Exactly, it's making the texture of what it is because I started also making bowls using only ground beef. It doesn't taste bad, it tastes beefy, but but it tastes more like a burger patty (right) the meatball has a wholeness to it. And basically, within these three recipes the Italian American, the Swedish one in the Turkish one is when I found out that they use about the same ratios of meat to non-meat element, and it's always bread of some sort. I tend to go for breadcrumbs more than just sandwich slices because it's more easy to control but I wouldn't go the way the Italian do using just water and breadcrumbs neither would I go to using milk which impacted too soft too sweet flavor to my taste. The the one that I enjoyed the most was the Turkish one where they used yogurt and breadcrumbs. Yogurt is quite fatty if you if you pick for example Greek yogurt, and also, you've got some tang which is very enjoyable very pleasant with all that fat that is coming in the meatball but I understood that there needs to be in that meatball both elements to make it fattier but also element to make a juicier. And for the juiciness I'm talking about the flesh of a vegetable. I tend to use the flesh of zucchini’s

CK: I knew you were going to, I knew you were going to get to zucchini, because I know there's a lot of famous chefs who make turkey meatballs and their trick is to throw a bunch of shredded zucchini in it so yeah

AA: Yeah, because it works. It pumps up the juiciness without adding too much fattiness and that's great. It creates those little pockets of juices I've been experimenting with zucchini flesh but also onion flesh. When I say flesh, do I sound like a serial killer or is it just like normal to use that word?

CK: You always sound like a serial killer. It's fine.

AA: Okay, that's fine. That's perfect. Now at the moment, I'm still trying to experiment and still trying to up my game this meatball odyssey, but I've understood that fat equals pleasure, and that juiciness will come from vegetables. That's what I established.

CK: And Greek yogurt along with the breadcrumbs.

AA: Exactly.

CK: Alex Ainouz we have the perfect meatball after traveling around the world to Turkey, Stockholm, and New York. Thank you very much.

AA: Thank you so much.

CK: That was YouTube host Alex Ainouz. He's also the author of Just a French Guy Cooking. Swedish meatballs have a curious history. Charles the 12th of Sweden had an illustrious military career until he invaded Russia in the 18th century, he decamped to Constantinople, and when he finally returned to Sweden, it said that the Turkish kofta inspired the Swedish meatball. That's like saying the German apple pancakes are just like American pancakes. Well, it just won't wash. Giving credit for culinary inspiration is a good thing. But when meatballs was served with Lingonberry sauce, it just ain't kofta anymore. That's it for this week's show. If you tune into later want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street visit us at 177 Milk Street .com there you can find all of our recipes, cake and online cooking class or order on latest cookbook, Milk Street Fast and Slow, Instant Pot cooking at the Speed You Need. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, co-executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Associate Producer Jackie Novak, production assistant Sarah Clapp and production help from Debby Paddock. Senior audio engineer David Goodman, additional editing from Vicki Merrick, Sidney Lewis and Samantha Brown. And audio mixing from Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Bernard Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX