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Adam Savage of “MythBusters” fame joins us to break down his favorite food experiments, including the time he dropped an Olympic swimmer into a giant vat of syrup. Plus, reporter Rebecca Rosman investigates America Week at a popular French grocery store; J. Kenji López-Alt cracks the code on Chicago thin-crust pizza; and we travel to Rome for Cloud Bread.
Questions in this episode:
"How do you cook with a sheet pan to make sure everything cooks evenly?"
"What's the best way to cook a wild duck?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. And I'm your host Christopher Kimball. There's a myth that you can cook a piece of shrimp by firing it from an air cannon through several rings of fire. When Adam Savage heard this, he rolled up his sleeves,
Adam Savage: I lined up for sword forges that were at over I think 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, and we fired the shrimp through all four of them, exposing it for as long as we possibly could to an extremely high temperature.
CK: So, the question is, does it actually work? We'll find out later on the show when we sit down with professional myth buster Adam Savage. But first, we're heading over to Paris. Every year, something curious happens in a supermarket there something that caught the eye of Rebecca Rosman, an American journalist who's lived in France for nearly a decade. She brings us her report.
Rebecca Rosman: I'm going to let you in on a secret about one of the greatest food stores in France. It's a grocery chain, called Picard.
David P___: Picard is a lifesaver. When I first moved here, I married into a very old French family and it was like Picard, Picard Picard. You won't believe how good Picard is.
RR: This is David P___. He's a Canadian American who has been living in France for 16 years
DP: The prices are fair. The selection is really good. I come at least once a week.
RR: Maybe you're thinking that the Picard is famous for having the best bread, the finest cheeses, but walk into any of the 900 locations in France and all you'll see are giant freezers. That's what Picard does. It only sells frozen food.
DP: I try to come to Picard every two weeks or so to pick up some frozen food. It helps me when I don't have time to shop or when I get home late from work.
RR: Yes. Turns out even the French are into convenience. Whether it's flavor enhancers, like frozen seafood stock for bouillabaisse or ready-made meals like boeuf bouillon on a bed of mashed potatoes. And sometimes you can even get American food.
TikTok Voice: It's that time of year again every year. Picard does an American week but since French people don't really know what American cuisine is. They just call it crazy America and then they just make up a bunch of ____they think is American like green hamburger.
RR: This is a TikTok from Sarah Donnelly, an American comedian living in Paris. She's talking about a promotion Picard runs every year called America week. During the promotion, you can buy limited edition American style products, onion rings, hot dogs, but some of these products are things I've never seen in my life. And I was raised in the Midwest, the home of fluffernutter sandwiches but this no popcorn ice cream no! Popcorn yes, popcorn ice cream no just stop combining things.
As much as I love Picard I have to say, Sarah has a point about these mashup products. Caramel popcorn ice cream, donuts made of ground up potatoes. This year they did a croque monsieur the classic French sandwich but instead of bread, the ham and cheese were sandwiched between two American style pancakes. Picard shopper Cami ___actually tried to this pancake croque monsieur concoction. Cami described herself as a Picard geek.
Cami: Yeah, I am. Surprisingly, there aren’t many people like me. I've come to find out.
RR: She likes to stock up on the America week products every year, especially things like cinnamon rolls and burgers, but she doesn't necessarily think they're an accurate portrayal of American food.
Cami: I think they definitely reflect the junk food aspect of it. I don't think they reflect everything of American foods because how could they?
RR: Pancake croque monsieur and popcorn ice cream don't resemble anything I recognize as American food. And it made me wonder, is this really what American food looks like in the eyes of the French American cuisine? C’est quoi. Happy days. I asked some of my friends in Paris about what they think American food means. And the first thing my friend Pierre told me was a small chain called Happy Days Diner or HD Diner for short. On the menu, things like grandma onion rings or Baby Q burger.
David: I don't know. I feel like America itself has capitalized a lot on that specific aesthetic, don't you think?
RR: In other words, maybe we're responsible for this we Americans, who for decades through our TV and movies have been selling the idea of milkshakes with a cherry on top. (Yummy I’ve got to know what a $5 shake tastes like). Greasy spoons with American cheese, top sliders, bottomless coffee hashbrowns and eggs any style.
Voice: More coffee hon? Yeah, just keep it coming, please. Sure thing. I think a lot of Europeans or people in general have always thought, oh, American food is very bad. People drink horrible coffee. Like, have you been back recently but you know that food is not making it back to France.
RR: This is David Leibovitz, a pastry chef and cookbook author. Over his nearly 20 years as an expat in Paris he’s seen the evolution of American food here.
David Leibovitz: Because when I moved to Paris, I used to wonder like, why couldn't you get a good hamburger because they have amazing bread. They're very good beef, but now they're hamburger places everywhere. And also, American desserts. Like you're starting to see cake, like late multi-layer cakes. There's a bakery called the French Bastards. And I was in there the other day, and they had like a slice of vanilla cake like three layers.
RR: Even though he can finally get a gourmet burger in Paris. David has a place in his heart for Picard. He embraces it as a sort of French rite of passage.
DL: After I got my French passport, I was like, you know what, I need to get a Picard fidelity card and so I finally got one. So now I'm very French.
RR: David says he once saved Christmas dinner with a frozen stuffed duck from Picard. And he swears by the frozen raspberries when fresh are unavailable. He's even found himself wandering the frozen aisles during America week.
DL: The first thing I got was a pastrami sandwich. It was on a pretzel. A soft pretzel. pastrami sandwich with arugula. It wouldn't fly in a lot of American cities, but New York, what? But it looked really good. So, I bought it, put it in the microwave heated it up. Rule number one never put like salad greens in the microwave. Rule number two, if you're going to make a pastrami sandwich, it needs more than one thin slice of pastrami. It needs at least seven to 15.
RR: He's not a fan of everything America week has to offer. But David has a theory about what Picard is trying to do here.
DL: The last Hello America festival. They were also calling it Crazy America. Americans were very individualistic. people dye their hair green, and you know, pierced their noses, and have tattoos on their faces. So, all the models and the ads showed these people with, you know, dyed hair and they were eating hamburgers with like charcoal buns. Yeah. So, it was meant to be fun. Because you know, one of the things people I think admire about Americans as it we’re fun, we're really good at having fun.
RR: And yet fun can also mean cliche,
DL: It can feel a little insulting, because they're sort of presenting not the best of America, shall we say, you know, we have a lot of multicultural food that's just wonderful in America, but they're selling it to a French audience of young people that are sort of looking for the cliche in a way. And I don't mean that as a as an insult. It's like French people say to me, we went to Las Vegas. I'm like, why? But it's something that's very American.
RR: Maybe David's right that Picard thinks its customers just want a slice of America. Even if it's a slice of America that we don't necessarily define ourselves by. At Picard’s headquarters in southwest Paris, I spoke to Delphine _____ she's Picard’s Product Director aka the woman behind America Week. Delphine’s experience with American food goes back to a summer she spent in the US when she was 13 years old. She actually worked as a waitress at a fast-food restaurant in West Virginia.
Delphine: and I served hamburgers and hotdogs, which are not at all like what we had in France. It was serving this good brioche bun in the chili sauce. There was this chili sauce on top and it was so good.
RR: Still Delphine didn't feel confined by her experience of American food, nor by any rules of authenticity, the last several popcorns so popcorn flavored ice cream. I've never tasted this in America.
Delphine: In the United States they eat a lot of popcorn. And we want to have a fairly complete range of products from starters to desserts. So, in addition to cookies or brownies and things like that, what else can we offer? Because we know that ice cream is something that is also popular in the United States. We did a mix saying why not make popcorn ice cream. That's it. It's really a creation and imagination based on American eating habits.
RR: The more I thought about it. David Leibovitz is right. This idea of American food may be a bit cliche, but maybe that's what people want. And if I'm really being honest, when I think of the American food cravings I grew up with, I think of a grilled cheese made by my mom with Kraft American and lots of butter. And a lot of these Picard products give a similar nostalgia. If the idea is comfort, with a double side of creativity, they totally succeed. And suddenly, I'm wondering if I should pick up some popcorn ice cream.
CK: That was journalists Rebecca Rossman, with additional reporting by Judith C___ and Sarah Clapp. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight meals on public television, and author of Home Cooking 101.
Sara Moulton: So, Chris, rumor has it that you had a famous moment on the Today show where you essentially set the set on fire. Is that true?
CK: No, I didn't set the set on fire. I set the dish I was cooking on fire. I was doing a cookbook segment, right. And then the folks on the Today Show, choose the recipe to make. So, I was doing like the Rice Krispies Treats kind of thing, which was I don't know why. So, I was on the Today Show, and I was stirring the marshmallow stuff. And then to turn off the burner on the Today Show it's clockwise, not counterclockwise for some reason. So, I turned it up, essentially to 11 you know, and all of a sudden, you see smoke, just starting to waft in from the right side of the screen. And so, they moved the camera over to the left, but it started really smoking because it was on high heat and marshmallows, you know start to burn. So, a lot of smoke. (a lot of sugar, caramelize) And then the host started coughing, you said I think it's on fire. So, I had to stop, take the Dutch oven off, put it in the sink, (right) And then we went to the next recipe, the funny part right afterwards, someone said the producer would like to see you. And I thought this is like, okay, we've enjoyed you being on the Today Show all these years. (Never again) ever again. (Never more) She said that was my favorite segment of all times
SM: Oh, how nice.
CK: Because it was entertaining, you know, it was funny. And we had a laugh and and we just kept going. Anyway, you had an example with Julia on Good Morning America. She cut herself right and
SM: It wasn't Good Morning America, I think it was Colorado with Jacque Pepin and the backstory is from my understanding that she had a bit of a crush on him. I mean, who didn't? Right? So even before they started recording, she cut herself badly. And then they didn't have time to go to the hospital or anything. So, they bandaged her up and it was very, very obvious. And they went on air anyway. And they start the show and Julia's you know, the host says, okay, let's get going. And then she turns to Julia and says, well, you know, you were going to start and she said, well, no, no, I'll let Jacque do it. It's okay. But the whole time she had this bandaged finger and Jacque did the whole recipe. That is what Dan Ackroyd based his whole piece, the satirizing on.
CK: Oh, the Saturday Night Live, I didn't know that
SM: It didn't get that far with blood spurting all over the place. But as I'm sure I've told you; Julia had a copy of that. And she would show it at dinner parties. She loved it.
CK: Yeah, I loved it. I was my favorite TV appearance ever.
SM: It was so well done. So yeah.
CK: All right.
CK: Let’s take a call.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Adolf Lopez. I'm calling from New Orleans, Louisiana.
SM: Oh, I love New Orleans. Lucky lucky man. How can we help you today?
Caller: I have during the last few years, the whole sheet pan craze. I'll do things like roast chicken or roast vegetables and whatnot. And even picked up that nice Cuisipro sheet pan. That's a nonstick and it's really wonderful. But what I have found is that maybe it's because the edges are so short, maybe because I'm using the oven on with the fan in it, things that are on the edges cook quicker than the things that are in the middle, even so much as to possibly burn things that are on the outside. And you may want more cooking on the inside. So, I was just wondering just sheet pan technology, how you use it, things like that.
SM: That's all very interesting. When you said the fan do you mean you use convection heat or just regular heat?
SM: You know, that's interesting, because that's supposed to equalize the heat in an oven. You might just for the heck of it, not use the convection mode and just use regular roasting mode. You don't stir your vegetables at all while they're cooking?
Caller: I do but it seems that everything on the edges is still going to cook faster, even passively burn. So, I push it into the edges a little bit.
SM: And you're using oil on the vegetables as well.
SM: I would stop using the convection and pull them out a couple of times and stir them and just move them around and really moving him around so now they're in different parts of the oven should prevent the burning at the edges? I don't know. Chris, do you have any thoughts about that?
CK: What what oven rack is the baking sheet on lower middle high?
Caller: Well, I have tried various positions. The last time around the upper rack of the sheet pan, I had Cauliflower and onions. And the cauliflower was perfect. But the onions that were in there, even though they were quite a little bit larger, just got overdone and in some places charred.
CK: That's a separate issue. I mean, it's a good issue to talk about, I mean, cauliflower is going to cook differently than onions. Onions will burn faster than anything else you put,
SM: because they got such a high sugar content,
CK: So that you have to put the onions in later, you can't put the onions at the same time as the cauliflower. Or if you had root vegetables like carrots or something. Here, I would never use a bottom rack, I would not do two things at once. At least try it that way. Middle rack, rotate it, you know halfway through cooking, as Sara said you would want to you know, toss the vegetables at least once. And this queasy pro sheet is really heavy duty?
Caller: Yeah, it doesn't warp, it doesn't go whack. You know,
CK: Is it dark, medium, or light-colored?
Caller: Medium to light color.
CK: I use cheap, half baking sheets that are very light colored and they seem to work pretty well. Just go by a standard, you know, like a restaurant supply house half baking sheet, you can get them pretty cheaply, just try a different sheet to see if that makes any difference. But otherwise, I would just use a middle rack and you shouldn't have a problem.
SM: They're all in one layer, I assume. Right? You don't have any?
SM: Okay. So, they're spread out evenly. It's not you know, let's say you got a bunch of carrots, maybe they're not in one layer. I could see stuff at the edges burning and stuff in the middle steaming. So, I think you always want to start with everything on one layer, because that will help them to cook more evenly.
Caller: What do you think about those recipes that they'll say do a roast chicken surrounded with vegetables, things like that, that combination on the sheet?
SM: Well, as long as the timing is accurate, but generally the vegetables in that case, they're added later, because the chicken will take longer. When I roast vegetables, I pop them in any time an hour before and take them out when they're just beginning to brown and park them on the counter because you can always pop them back in and finish them while everything else is resting. They don't diminish in flavor at all. So that's a way to manage all the stuff in there.
SM: All right.
CK: Is that your last word?
Caller: All right.
CK: Thanks for calling.
SM: Thank you.
Caller: Thank you.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a question for us, we're always here to help. Give us a ring 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: My name is Marta,
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, I'm calling from Newfoundland. We moved here about a year ago after 22 years in New York City. We have a wonderful neighbor. I'm going to give him a shout out he's called Gordon Yetman. And he brings us lots of local delicacies like salt cod, and moose, which I cooked like venison and that turned out really well. His latest gift is a wild duck. And I have never cooked a wild duck before I know about farm ducks, and I'm scared my wild duck is going to turn out to be dry and tough. And I'm wondering if you had any thoughts about what to do with it.
CK: Sure, I have friends who go duck hunting. There are two kinds of ducks their ducks that taste fishy and ducks that don't taste fishy. So, I don't know which kind you have. The problem is with a wild duck, it's going to be much leaner than a farm raised duck. So, I have two suggestions. One is I would cook the breasts separately from the legs. Same thing I would do like with rabbit or something so I would probably cook the breasts in a skillet just to brown and then finish them in sort of a low oven. But I think the rest of the carcass the legs, I would cook a long time really roast them and make sure you really thoroughly cooked them to a much higher temperature so the breast I would cook to medium rare, but I would fully cut the legs like you would cook chicken legs for example, I would cook to you know 190 degrees or something I would really cook them because it's going to be lean, if you have a lot of fat is a lot of fat under the skin. The other trick I've used, and this is not wild duck, is I simmer them in water for like half an hour. And then let them dry then roast them and that will get rid of a lot of that fat layer.
SM: You're referring to the legs, not the breast?
CK: No, the whole duck oh the whole or goose I would simmer in water for like 20 minutes half an hour. That'll get rid of a lot of the fat if there's a lot of fat and then I would dry it and then go ahead and roast it but I think cooking the breast separately from the legs makes a lot of sense.
SM: Marta, can I ask you a question? Do you think you could ask your neighbor what the neighbor thinks this duck’s diet was because they It really does influence the flavor.
Caller: I know there are three types of duck. We're right on the sea. We have sea ducks. We have Ida's black ducks and common Mackenzie's I guess they're eating salty sea watery marine Life of some kind.
SM: Yeah, they probably will have a bit of a fishy taste. (Yeah) I agree with Chris separate the breast from the leg thighs and cut the leg tie separately. But maybe in that case, you might want to braze the leg thighs with some flavorful ingredients, because the duck is going to taste a bit fishy. So, you might want to sort of tamp that down. That'd be good. Some strong flavors. Yeah,
Caller: That's a great thought. So just one last question on this. Would you think about brining at all? Or forget that and just go straight to your suggestions?
CK: If you're going to cook the breast to medium rare, I don't think you need to brine it. Brining is good for turkey or chicken if you’re going to cook it to a higher temperature. No, I agree with Sara just braise a low and slow for a long time. The leg? Yeah, it'll be the leg is darker meat. And when it is thoroughly cooked, it'll, it was nice and lubricated. Anyway, it's not the legs that have a problem. It's always the breast. It's like a turkey or chicken breast or pork, where it's to lean and its white meat that you have the big problem.
Caller: Okay, that's great.
SM: Please let us know how it all turns out.
Caller: Oh, we absolutely will. Thank you so much. It was great to be part of the show.
CK: So, I got to ask. So, you moved to Newfoundland a year ago. So, what was that move like? That's a pretty big difference.
Caller: Yeah, well, we got in a U haul truck. And we drove from New York. And we've been transitioning a little bit this year. But by the end of this year, we'll be living there pretty much permanently. And it's wonderful, just the most beautiful, exhilarating, and relaxing place. We love being close to nature. And after all those years in Manhattan, it's just a new adventure. We're both in our early 60s. And if we don't have a crazy adventure now, we're never going to
SM: Good for you.
Caller: We take visitors, so please feel free to come and see us. We’d love to have you.
SM: Thanks, Marta.
CK: Good luck with the move. Yes. Sounds Great.
Caller: Yeah. Thank you so much. Bye, bye.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up. Can a voice really shatter a wineglass? Adam Savage puts that to the test right after the break. This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. For over a decade you could turn on the Discovery Channel and heed this warning.
“It may not look like it but we're professionals. Do us a favor. Don't try this at home”. Those experts Randy Savage and Jamie Hyneman hosts of the show Mythbusters where no outlandish claim or tall tale was safe from their rigorous scientific testing. Randy Savage joins me now to recall some of his wackier experiments, ones where food and science collided head on. Adam, welcome to Milk Street
Randy Savage: Oh, thank you so much for having me on, sir.
CK: So Mythbusters, 14 years, almost 300 episodes. What was the starting premise of the show?
RS: The starting premise was answering the most absurd questions using the best science we could bring to bear to the situation.
CK: So, does buttered toast always land butter side down? Who stays up at night thinking about this one?
RS: Well, I mean, to me, the absurdity of the simplicity of that question made it the second it got suggested I knew we were going to test it because that is just the perfect thing to try and bring a rigorous testing model to. How many pieces of toaster you're going to flip off. And from where from what height, we built a machine that kept knocking pieces of toast off the table. until we had some statistics about it. I do believe that what we found was that unbuttered toast did a single flip from the table height, but the increased weight of the butter changed the dynamics of how many times it rotated on its way to the ground.
CK: I mean, what a what a great career can avoid shatter a wineglass?
RS: Absolutely. And by the way, Mythbusters was the very first program ever to do that for real on television.
CK: Do bullets slow down underwater, so they can't hurt you?
RS: Spectacularly. So, in fact, they slow down more, the faster they're going specifically because of the way the physics of water work in relation to objects hitting it at speed.
CK: Can the suction from a vacuum cleaner lift a car?
RS: Yes, indeed, it can. Just barely, but yes.
CK: Okay. Now here's here's a myth that I found stories. can you escape prison with only a jar of salsa. And you did test it. And you'd have to live for I think, about 38 years for this to work. But do you want to explain the concept?
RS: Well, we were we were using the acidic content of salsa to increase the speed at which the steel or iron bars of a prison cell might be eaten through. And you're right, it would have taken decades to go with just straight salsa. We added electricity to the mix and got a more successful result. We actually at one point, we got an email from a prison guard who said you're not helping me do my job by suggesting these weird things to do with food to escape.
CK: Well, I think the the number was 8/1000 of an inch per 110 days.
RS: Yeah, I think the continents move faster than that.
CK: I think Pangea came apart in less time. Okay, biscuit bazooka. So, you have a dough, one of those roll up supermarket things a biscuit dough will it explode in a hot car. And I think you've found that it could.
RS: We did find that it could. That was a that was such an early story for us. And we had to get the inside of a car up to, you know, like 180 degrees Fahrenheit, which is really easy in a hot climate on a sunny day, much more difficult in foggy San Francisco. And it took us hours and hours and hours using space heaters to get the interior of our car to the correct temperature. But yes, we not only found that the the biscuit would explode in a hot car, but if it hit you in the back of the head, the smack with the boom with the sound could lead you to believe that perhaps somebody had shot something at you.
CK: So how do you build an air compression cannon? This was for the chicken gun. How do you think about building something like that?
RS: Ah, yeah, well, we just oh my gosh, we took a large air tank, and we found a pressure valve that was 12 inches in diameter. And we welded the two things together until we felt like they wouldn't fail. You know, we did a lot of crazy stuff in the early days of the show. I'm really glad we survived at all.
CK: And the purpose of that was was what again.
RS: Oh, well, there's just this wonderful story about them using chickens fired and airplane windshields to test whether or not they could survive a bird strike. And so, they would fire these chickens at hundreds of miles per hour. And some government wanted to try the US version of this. And they found that the chickens they were firing were going right through the windshield right through the fuselage of the planes they were testing. And when they asked the US compatriots why they were getting these results. The answer was you should be thawing your chickens. And so, it actually turns out there's a huge difference between a thought and a frozen chicken at that speed.
CK: Did you when you were in high school and college, were you an engineer?
RS: You know, I was not a serious student in high school. And I never I didn't really go to college. That being said, the teachers I gravitated towards were of two types. And this will make you laugh. One was the drama teachers and the other was the science teachers. (Perfect). Yeah. I mean, I actually I like to joke that my chemistry teacher Dr. Demopolis so appreciated the zeal with which I had questions about the physics of chemistry, that I believe I squeaked by with a C in that class, because I loved physics so much.
CK: So, you know, in the food world, we're always talking about tenderizing meat, and should you marinate it, or should you whack it with a fork? You thought you test a different methodology, which is rather curious. So, what did you do?
RS: Well, we actually put meat in freezer bags, and we put it in a barrel, and we put explosives in the barrel and we use the shockwave from the explosion to tenderize the meat and we actually found that there were some specific parameters under which explosives genuinely did make the meat more tender.
CK: Why didn't they just completely shred the meat? You just had to use the right distance from the explosion or the right amount of TNT.
RS: That's precisely correct. Yeah, there is a sweet spot, right? If you're too close to the explosion, that's going to tear it to pieces. If you're too far, the shockwave will have lost all of its impetus. But the really nice thing about a shockwave is it goes through a physical body, like muscle tissue. And it just, if you've got it at the right distance, it just moves every cell, one tiny instance away from its neighbor. And it does this in sequence. And you end up sort of getting this wonderful tearing throughout the entire body of the meat.
CK: Swimming in swimming in surf versus water. Now, why would anybody think you could move more quickly in a more viscous, denser liquid?
RS: Well, so no, the myth is that if you're trying to swim a certain distance in syrup, that while the thicker material slows you down, I think we all understand the physics of that the thicker material gives your hands more to push off of, and that that second fact, cancels the first fact. And thus, the myth is that you can swim just as fast in syrup as in water. And this is one of my favorite stories we did early on. Because this is one in which I knew that the finale had to be that we brought in an Olympic swimmer to swim in a vat of goo. Like nothing's funnier than that to me. So I knew we brought in Nathan Adrian, a multiple award winning swimmer. And I don't know if you've ever I had never been around a real swimmer before. They're like gods, they're, you know, six and a half feet tall and about five feet wide. And he was wonderfully amiable and getting in our vat of goo and swimming. But the funny thing was, as an Olympic swimmer his job is to get into a pool, put his head down and follow the black line at the bottom of the pool as fast as he can. We put him in this trough we dug full of guargum syrup, and he couldn't see, and it was cold. And he was pinballing off the sides because this was not his regular gig. And it turned out that me the generalist who is so far from an athlete, I was better at consistently swimming than our Olympic swimmer. Because I was a more adjustable animal I had not trained for decades to swim in one particular way. So, we asked him at the end, do you mind if we throw out your results because they're they're inconsistent. He thought that was great. So, I loved the wrinkle of bringing in what we thought was the ringer for the most objective possible test and finding that it actually wasn't.
CK: Okay, and the weirdest one, can you cook shrimp midair?
RS: You know, that came from a Japanese video of someone firing shrimp from an air cannon through a fireball with the idea that it would hit some drum at the end and land on a plate perfectly cut. We we were totally clear at the beginning that this was not at all possible that the time of exposure between the shrimp and the fireball was not nearly enough. But for me the fun in that episode was what I designed to try and achieve it which is I lined up four sword forges that were at over I think 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. And we fired the shrimp through all four of them exposing it for as long as we possibly could to an extremely high temperature. The absurdity of that setup makes me so happy. And it totally didn't work. But yeah, I just love the absurdity of all those sword forges and trying to cook shrimp with them.
CK: So, give me some advice. I've spent most of my career testing things in the kitchen, figuring out the best way of making a brownie or roasting a turkey. From a scientific point of view, is there a right way or a good way to go about testing various factors? For example, in chocolate cake, you have different kinds of flour, different kinds of leaveners, different kinds of sugars, different baking types, different kinds of pans. Do you test one thing at a time? Can you test multiple factors at one time? Is there a methodology here that would be helpful to a non-scientist?
RS: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, and the answer is that you really do want to change as little as you can from test to test. Why do you want to test whether or not using this pan or that pan is going to get you the right result? You want to make sure you don't change any of the other parameters to make sure that you're not comparing apples to oranges. And it's that classic thing that people are always saying when they're trying recipes. I didn't like this recipe, but I had swapped out four of the ingredients and it didn't come out great. And the answer is that wasn't a test.
CK: You didn't make a bloody recipe I've I've spent a lifetime dealing with. So, after all these years and these other shows you're doing what is it you didn't expect from this career that you really treasure in some way?
RS: Actually, the most surprising and gratifying aspect of making a show for 14 years was that it taught me that I am an engineer And that I am a scientist, that those only somewhat have to do with education, but they are also personality traits of curiosity and questioning. And when Jamie and I started to actually travel around and meet real scientists and talk to them about their research, they treated us like peers, which we thought was really strange until we realized that this is actually how science works. You don't throw out the absurd ideas because there could be real gems in there. And the number of times we did something we thought was absurd, only to come to really interesting data, changed my whole understanding of how science actually works.
CK: Adam, next time, I have a problem around the house, I'm giving you a call. Thank you,
RS: Chris. This is such a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me on. Man., I had a great time.
CK: That was Randy Savage. He hosted the show Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel, and now hosts the YouTube channel, Adam Savages Testing. Science is based on proving theories with demonstrable facts. This is why science endures. If all of science were erased from memory, it would eventually be restored to the exact form that exists today. Facts simply don't change. When it comes to food, there are plenty of bogus theories such as marinating tenderizes and flavors. The facts indicate generally speaking, this is not true. Since most of us view cooking as more art than science we go on marinade. The trick is to balance faith the facts to accept a foundation of solid science with the inspiration afforded by the art of good cooking. You're listening to Milk Street Radio coming up Kenji Lopez Alt dishes on Chicago's thin crust pizza. That's up after the break.
Hi, this is April Dodd for Milk Street. In 2024. Milk Street is excited to be leading culinary tours in partnership with Culinary Backstreets to destinations like Istanbul, Oaxaca, Athens, and Mexico City you can learn more at 177 Milk Street.com/tours.
CK: I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's head into the kitchen with JM Hirsch to talk about this week's recipe. Roman cloud bread. JM how are you?
J M Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: A few weeks ago, I was in the office in the kitchen. I went by the table where we put out our food for tasting. And there was this. I don't know what to call it. It was sort of salad in a bread bowl. But it wasn't the typical bread bowl was very thin, very odd looking but intriguing. So, I was told this is a recipe you brought back from Rome. What is it?
JM: Well, I did a similar doubletake, I was walking past the Vatican. And I looked at a bakery and in the window. There were these puffs. I don't know what else to call them. They were these bread puffs. And you know, we've been to Italy many times now. I had never seen a bread like this in Italy. And so we went in and we were told that they are Roman cloud bread or in Italian nuvola and when we started talking to the owner of the bakery Angelo Arrigoni. He explained that this bakery has been in his family for about 100 years. And his grandfather kind of by happy accident created these cloud breads. He had some leftover dough, rolled it out thin threw it in the oven, and instead of just baking up crisp like a cracker, it baked up puffy and like a cloud, hence the name and they left it in for just a few minutes but that was all it took to crisp now. It's very similar if you can imagine a massive pita bread and when you bake pita bread as you know they puff up. But as soon as you take them out of the oven, they deflect, not with Roman cloud breads, they because they're allowed to crisp, they stay puffed. And I tried one just kind of as is and it was really delicious. You know, as soon as it comes out of the oven, they brush it with olive oil and sprinkle it with coarse salt, which, of course makes it really delicious. And when I asked Mr. Arrigoni what does one do with this other than just eat it like a cracker, he explained to me that it's actually a form of Panzanella, or bread salad. So, what they often do is take a very large one, and crack a hole in it, and then fill it with salad and they put it at the center of the table. And then you just kind of chop into it. And you get a little bit of bread and a little bit of salad, and you just enjoy. And it was really such an amazingly different and delicious twist on what we think of as Panzanella. It was really intriguing.
CK: In terms of baking, the reason it stays puffed is just stays in the oven longer, too. It really hardens.
JM: Yeah, I mean, these are rolled out so thin. It's a well hydrated dough, which helps with the puffing. And it really cooks in I think about eight minutes, but it that's just long enough to kind of set it in its puffed form. And they come out and they stay that way. And they're really beautiful and unusual looking. And it helps that they're delicious, too.
CK: So, they cut with the top off or the side off and just fill it with salad?
JM: Cutting is probably not quite accurate. Because these things are so crisp and oddly shaped that you just have to kind of smash it a little, little bit, you punch a hole in it, then you can start filling it with salad.
CK: And the pieces that fell on the counter from punching the dough.
JM: Exactly, exactly.
CK: And for our salad. It was pretty much business as usual or anything unusual.
JM: But yeah, you know, we talked to Mr. Arrigoni and he told us what he likes. We kind of borrowed some of his ideas. But you know, in generally, he said anything goes, we like a nice lemon vinaigrette with some anchovies in there. You can leave those out if you don't want them. And we did you know, some romaine, some arugula, some fennel, some pine nuts. And of course, it's Italy yet to have some parmesan cheese. It's a really delicious salad right on its own. But then you throw it into the cloud bread. And the bread starts to soak up some of that dressing, which is really delicious. And the whole thing, it just makes such a great piece.
CK: You know, I'm starting to think that we know nothing about Italian cooking, because every time you or I go, we just you look in the window and you see something you never saw before.
JMH: Well, exactly. Yeah. It's crazy.
CK: Roman cloud bread, like a panzanella fill it with salad or whatever. It's great visually, and it's great on the palette. JM thank you.
JM: Thank you. You can get the recipe for Roman cloud bread at Milk Street Radio.com.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Next up, let's see what's inspiring Kenji Lopez Alt in the kitchen. Hey, Kenji, what's up?
KLA: How's it going? Chris?
CK: You wrote yet again, for the New York Times one of these definitive pieces on thin crust pizza, but not from Naples or not from New York from Chicago.
KLA: Right. Right. Right. Well, the Midwest, it's all over the Midwest, but yeah, started in Chicago. So so they say don't tell people in St. Louis that
CK: So, I'm going to have to ask, what is this mean, thin crust is this cracker like, or this has nothing to do with the Neapolitan style, right?
KLA: Well, you know, it all set, you know, the people who created this pizza were originally southern Italian immigrants. So, there is of course, some connection to it, as there is with all pizza, but you know, when, when you think of Chicago pizza, I think most people outside of Chicago think of deep dish. But if you talk to anyone from Chicago, they're sort of you know, their weekly pizza is the thin crust. And when we're saying thin crust, we're talking really, really thin, like the thickness of a saltine thin. So, the idea behind that, you know, the history behind it is that it started in taverns in the Southside of Chicago in the 1940s, you know, factory workers and people working at the Union stockyards between getting off work and going home, they would stop at the tavern for a beer. And so, in the same way that you know, some bars have popcorn or pretzels, some of the Southside Chicago taverns started producing these really, really thin pizzas, and it's generally a round pizza, but it's cut into squares, instead of triangular slices so that one pizza could be shared among many people. So instead of grabbing a whole slice, you just grab a square or two and you can eat it on a napkin.
CK: So, I like thin crust pizza, but I like the fact that like in Naples, the center is soggy, right? The outsides crispy inside the crust of the edges. It's chewy, right? It's gotten a lot of different things going on. This sounds like the entire crust is thin and cracker like the appeal of this is is what? Why should I fall in love with this?
KLA: It's different from most other pizza’s, you know, it's extremely crispy and so you know, you don't have to you don't have to compare it and say one is you know, Neapolitan is better or whatever. They're just very different things that are difficult to to compare, I think for a lot of people you know the appeal is you get that really nice ratio of toppings to cheese and that topping in Chicago is almost always going to be sausage. Where in most of the country pepperoni sort of the default meat topping in Chicago because of the proximity to those union stockyards when this pizza was being created. Sausage is the default topping. So, you know, I like it with sausage in hot jar naira. You know the pickled vegetable condiment that goes in Italian roast beef sandwiches, sausage, jar Naira, mozzarella cheese, or maybe a little sprinkle of Romano, or, or Parmesan. And then the sauce is, you know, I'm looking Neapolitan, or New York sauce, which is essentially just crushed tomatoes and salt. A Chicago style sauce is usually cooked. So, it'll have a dried oregano, maybe dried marjoram, garlic, you know, and it'll be cooked out a little bit more tomato paste, so it'll have a kind of richer flavor to it.
CK: So, in typical Kenji fashion, you fly out, you have a two-day 12 stop tour of Chicago and Milwaukee. (I did). So, you did your homework I did. So, let's let's start with the basic hydration that is the amount of water compared to the weight of the flour. Now, I once made a pour in the pan pizza that was 92% hydration level. But but this is really low, like below 60%. You want to also define what hydration means by the way?
KLA: Yeah, so when we're saying hydration, we're talking about bakers’ percentages, and essentially what it means is that if something is at 50%, hydration, it means for every 100 grams of flour, you would have 50 grams of water. So, it's a good way to sort of measure and scale your recipes. But you're right, you know, something like a pan pizza or focaccia something like that, where you have these really big, puffy hole structure, you know, you might be as high as 80 or 90%. hydration. Your sourdough bread, for example, has a lot of water in it. And that's how you get those big bubbles inside. Whereas a Neapolitan or a New York style pizza dough, probably closer to between 57 and 65% or so. And with Chicago pizza or Midwest pizza, it's more like 50% hydration, so much drier, more almost similar to like a bagel dough. The other thing that this style of dough has is a lot of fat in it. So that can be you know, I've tried it with lard. I tried it with vegetable oil, corn oil, olive oil, it honestly works with almost any fat you want. So, my final recipe I just landed on vegetable oil. Neapolitan pizza dough has no fat in it at all New York dough might have a little bit of fat in it. This Midwest style of cracker crust dough has between 10 to 15% fat, so it's quite a bit of oil you're adding in there.
CK: And what about the other thing you talked about in the article was curing the dough,
KLA: Right. I mean, this is a brand-new technique for me. I mean, it was, really was like, what like, what, what did they do? So, I mean, the idea is you take your dough after it's cold fermented dough, you know, after it's risen in the refrigerator for a few days, you take it out, you roll it into a disc, and then you just leave it there. So, you know, most of these pizza restaurants that do it, they'll stick it in their walk-in refrigerator uncovered. And so, you know, by the time they take it out, it's got the texture of sort of leather, so you can pick it up and kind of flop it around. So, they call this curing the dough. Right? It was a technique that was created at a pizzeria called Pats in the 70s. But now a bunch of places do it. And so, I tested this at home. And it makes an incredible difference as far as how crisp the dough gets and also how evenly it browns. So, the idea is like you let a cure overnight. And then the top side, which is the drier side then becomes the bottom of your pizza. So, you flip it over you top it, there's a few advantages here. So, one of them is that even though you're starting with a relatively low hydration dough 50%, the curing process, you actually end up losing a lot more moisture. By the time you bake it, it's only around 25 to 30%, which is very, very low. And so that's how you get that sort of extra crackly crust. The other advantages are that, you know, one of the most difficult parts I find for home cooks as far as Neapolitan or New York style, you know, any kind of round style pizza is launching it off the peel, you know, you pull the dough onto your peel, you top it, and by the time you're done topping it, it's stuck to the peel. The good thing about this dough is that because it has that kind of dry surface, it doesn't stick at all. So, it's really, really easy to slide around, slide on and off your peel and slide into the oven.
CK: But you do have a time problem. I mean, you cold ferment this right for like three days, which is not atypical, I often do that for pizza too. Right? Then you roll it out, and you got to let it sit overnight. So, this is four days of planning for this pizza, right?
KLA: It is at least four days of planning. If you want it even better, you know, cold fermenting it for five days actually works better. But yeah, you know, you can just let your dough rise at room temperature and roll it out and then let it cure overnight. And in fact, you can even bake it without curing it. It just all these things kind of incrementally make it better. And it's rare that this happens. But I think that this recipe, anybody at home if you follow the recipe, you're going to be able to make something that is as good as the best thin crust pizza places in Chicago. You know, it's one of these things where it's really technique, which you can't say the same for for Neapolitan pizza like a recipe is not going to teach you how to make Neapolitan pizza, right that's going to take practice takes a fancy oven. Whereas this style of pizza, it's something that it does well like in chain restaurants. It's like a very sort of user-friendly recipe. So, I think this is a case where, if you're familiar with the style, and I think, you know, a lot of people from the Midwest who move out of the Midwest, lament the fact that they can't get this pizza, you're going to be very happy with what this recipe produces.
CK: Well, there's one thing you haven't mentioned, which is you don't have to empty roll it out. You don't really have to shape it, which is hard for people, right? I mean, that's getting it to the right size. It doesn't snap back on you, you know? Oh, getting the edges, right. I mean that you sort of saw that problem and you had a lovely description. You said the dough once it's cured, you can flop it a little like an Acme portable hole from Luner Tunes cartoon, which really dates you by the way. I'm old enough to get it but most people, you have this this round of dough that's leathery. That's easy to handle on that, (right) for me is always the hardest part is the last shaping before you top it and throw in the oven.
KLA: I mean, it's, it's as easy as like buying one of those pre-made dos from the discs of like our baked dough from the supermarket, but it's going to be a lot better than that.
CK: Kenji, thank you another food lab, adventure, thin crust pizza from Chicago in the Midwest. Thank you.
KLA: Thanks for having me.
CK: That was Kenji Lopez Alt. He's a New York Times columnist and the chief culinary consultant for Serious Eats. He's also the author of The Wok, Recipes and Techniques. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about Milk Street at 177 Milk Street.com. There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe, access to all of our live stream cooking classes, free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. You can also learn about our latest cookbook, which is Milk Street Noodles. You 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 Sinsabaugh. Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Associate Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sydney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX,