How to be a Supertaster: The Wild Science of Flavor | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

JOIN! 12 Weeks for $1

Episode 721
August 17, 2023

How to be a Supertaster: The Wild Science of Flavor

How to be a Supertaster: The Wild Science of Flavor

Is it possible to become better at tasting—to enjoy dinner, wine and your favorite bourbon even more? This week, Mandy Naglich, author of "How to Taste," shares secrets from competitive tasters and food scientists. Plus, Meathead tells us his favorite tips, tools and techniques for grilling this summer; Adam Gopnik unearths an old cookbook collection; and we make Turkish Rice Pudding.

Questions in this episode:

"Is there a reason to own both a hand mixer and a stand mixer?"

"Is there a culinary use for corn leaves?"

"Can you help me perfect my dirty martini recipe?"

"How do I make a really flaky and crunchy fried chicken sandwich like Popeye's does?"

"I'm overwhelmed by all of the different kinds of beans at the grocery store. Can you tell me some of the main categories of beans and how I might use them?"

Beers with mandy germany

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Is it possible to become better at tasting, that means to enjoy dinner, wine and your favorite dessert even more? Today we'll share secrets from competitive tasters and explore why palettes are so complicated, at least according to pro taster and bourbon expert, Logan Hayes.

Logan Hayes: I compare palettes a lot of times to, you know, colorblind people. And so, if somebody looks at a painting of an ocean that is desensitized to blue and green colors, they may look at that painting and go it's just kind of boring. But somebody that is more sensitive to those blue and green colors can look at that painting and go wow, now that is the most beautiful painting that I've ever seen in my life. And palettes are very similar.

CK: Later in the show lessons in how to taste. The first time joined by barbecue expert Meathead to learn his tips for grilling this summer, from his most trusted tools to his favorite techniques. Ah Meathead welcome back to Milk Street.

Meathead: Oh, it's always fun to talk to you, Chris

CK: Fun to talk to you. So let's start here. I think I know the answer but what's the one grilling tool you really can't live without.

Meathead: The most important tool you can have cooking both indoors and outdoors is a good digital thermometer. This is 2023. If you've got a dial thermometer in your kitchen drawer that you rely on, put it in your driveway and back your car over it, it's a worthless piece of junk. It's a technology from the 1800s it takes 30 seconds to read. It's not accurate, contemporary rapid read, or if you want to call them instant read thermometers will give you a precision temperature in under five seconds for under 30 bucks.

CK: Okay, here's another topic, oiling grill grates so the food doesn't stick. Now, oh, I come from the school of oil to death like 12 times before you put the food on. I think you maybe you know oil, the food not the grates if I remember. But I find that with let's say fish like skin side down salmon, chicken skin side down. I still run into trouble with that, especially if I don't leave it long enough to release. Any thoughts about that

Meathead: Fish and chicken are the bane of every backyard cook. They're just going to stick to the grate no matter what you do, you can put 10 W30 on those grates and it's still going to stick. I prefer to oil the food the food's coming out of the fridge at 38 degrees. So, when you oil the food, the oil is cooler, and it stays cooler longer. So, it doesn't crack when you oil. The grates not only cracks, it smokes. And the flavor of burning smoking oil is not appetizing. So, I prefer to oil the food. And don't worry, it's not going to raise your caloric level that much most of it will end up dripping off anyhow.

CK: Do you clean your grill after grilling? Leave the heat on high and and really clean it before you turn everything off? Or do you just clean it before we use it the next time?

Meathead: I do in theory, but the problem is, is I drink wine. And I'm sitting at the dinner table and I'm having a conversation and so the grill is still on out there. And there goes a $20 tank of gas. But I do fire it up before I cook, I get it really as hot as humanly possible. Scrape it down then, try to get carbon as well as grease off. A lot of guys think, okay, I got this wonderful smoke coming out of my grill it's grease, you don't want grease smoke on your food. So, you've got to scrape it down.

CK: Is there a reliable device to twist onto your propane tank that shows you how much you have left?

Meathead: No, there are devices that you can put between the hose and the tank. But it measures the pressure, and the pressure is the same until the thing is almost empty. There is a device that I'm playing with now I just got it in two weeks ago. It's a little magnet that sticks to the side of the propane tank and when you turn on the tank and you start clicking, the temperature in the tank starts to change. And so it will locate where the temperature differential is. (That's cool). And it will show you the level of fill on the tank that you know the key there is always have a backup tank. Yeah.

CK: And we all know that because we've had times when we didn't have a backup tank. What about crazy gadgets? I mean, everybody who likes backyard cooking gets sucked into some of this stuff. Are there are there any gadgets that are just not so gadgets?

Meathead: Yeah, my all-time favorite is there's like a Roomba that has wire brushes on it and you put it on your grill and you close the lid and bumble bumble rumbles around and bangs into the wall and it's supposed to brush your grill clean. It doesn't really quite do it. And it's just hysterical because every newspaper and magazine has given this thing publicity. Because it looks cool. And it sounds cool. Not my favorite doesn't work all that great. I just, you know, you've got to scrape them down by hand. And for me, a really good quality wire bristle brush is still the best way to go.

CK: So, another thing that I think is interesting is that people load up massive amount of coal, right if it's a charcoal grill, and they cook some steaks on and some burgers, and the things hot for another hour, right? So, do you often like when you're done with the meat for example just always throw some vegetables on it or onions or other things you can use later just to make use of the heat? Or do you just shut down the grill.

Meathead: Yeah absolutely. Yeah, throw an eggplant on there and when it you know, just char the heck out of the exterior. And you've got this marvelous sauce you make your baba ganoush out of that you can throw some onions on there. And you know, even cold, charred onions are delicious. Or throw throw a chicken on there, cold chicken is delicious. So yeah, or, I mean, you can douse the coals, it doesn't hurt them at all. You can dump water on them just as long as you let them dry out thoroughly before you use them again.

CK: Do you have any tricks, I mean, the Let's assume you get into trouble. Let's assume you went in to grab a beer. You come back out flames, the chickens burning, do you have some ways of fixing disasters when you're grilling? Or at least mitigating them?

Meathead: I have a big stack of carry out menus in my kitchen drawer. (There you go). I mean, yeah, I mean, if chickens gonna burn, it's almost always the skin, (right) And you can pull skin off chicken, and it's darn good without the skin. And what I will often do is I will grill that skin separately. And I'll take those cracklins because they get crunchy like potato chips. And I either it sprinkle it on a salad or in a sandwich. Those skins are great.

CK: Finally, are you an adventurous griller. Like I talked to a guy in London who has a Middle Eastern restaurant he was talking about. He's grilled over wheelbarrows, any container he can find. Do you ever do that sort of crazy stuff?

Meathead: Well, I have because I want to see if it works. And I experiment with it. But unfortunately, or fortunately, I have just about every kind of grill you can imagine. Yeah, I've dug a hole in the beach. You know, I've played with a garbage can. But you know, there are just so many nice cooking devices out there. And even the cheap ones that are you know, under 100 bucks. Once you understand the concepts, the physics and the chemistry involved, you can make them all work. I think that understanding what's going on under the hood is really crucial.

CK: Meathead, thank you. Now I know what I'm doing right doing wrong, and mostly the latter. I'll call you every summer just to get a checkup. Thanks.

Meathead: Oh, Christopher, thank you very much for having me on. It's always fun to talk to you.

CK: That was Meathead founder of Amazing also author of The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling. 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. Also, author of Home Cooking 101.

Sara Moulton: So, Chris, I have a question for you. Before we take any calls, what is your absolutely favorite way to eat or cook with tomatoes?

CK: If it's a good tomato, that you just slice it and put sea salt on and eat it out of hand. But if it's not, then you've got to go into remedial tomatoes 101.

SM: With some other flavorful ingredients

CK: But it's I wouldn't say it's tragic because there are other things in the world much worse but in terms of the culinary world, you know, what's happened to tomatoes is just angry with you. They're just tasteless.

SM: I just remembered when you were talking about salting and eating out of hand when I was a kid, my favorite way to eat tomatoes. was on white bread with mayonnaise, you know, thinly sliced

CK: But that's actually quite tasty.

SM: Yeah, really good. I might have to revisit that this summer. If I can find some good tomatoes.

CK: That's when you have a yellow notepad with little stubby pencil. Yes, I have the whole 1950s thing. Yeah. All right. Let's take a call. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Deb____.

CK: How are you?

Caller: I'm very good. Thank you.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I'm like so excited to talk to you guys. Thank you for the opportunity. 29 years ago, I invested in a stand mixer, put it on my kitchen counter and said goodbye to my hand mixer. I'm a big fan of cooking shows. And I see chefs use both a stand mixer and a hand mixer. And I can't figure out why. My question is whether there's a time when I actually should be using a hand mixer and instead of a stand mixer and do I need to reinvest in one?

CK: That's a great question. Actually, I've been thinking about this a lot recently, a stand mixer obviously, can do bread dough. Although I do pizza dough in a food processor, actually, and I also like to do bread by hand, are really thick, you know, like a cookie dough or something that's really thick is going to be tough with a hand mixer. Stand mixers have problems, it's hard to add ingredients, it's a mess, to the mixing whisk, or the paddle doesn't get to the very bottom of the bowl, you know, it's not shaped exactly right. So, you end up with some stuff at the bottom, which is not great. And you also can't really see the texture. It's easy to monitor, let's say egg whites in a bowl with a hand mixer and electric one. So, if you're going to do a lot of bread, or a lot of very stiff dough, like cookie dough is yeah, a standard mixer. But boy, if you're going to do everything else, I'd like a hand mixer because you can really see what's going on, try to do two egg whites in a stand mixer. Good luck, you know, so it's not going to work. So, it's a conundrum. If you're willing to knead your bread by hand, then you're really left with maybe, you know, a stiff cookie dough is a little problematic. But you know, I think you could get away with a hand mixer with the exception of bread. What do you think, Sara?

SM: I agree. As a matter of fact, really, it's impossible to do just two egg whites in a stand mixer because of that gap between the bottom of the whisk and the bottom of the bowl. So, the egg white that's there is not getting agitated the way it should. So, I never use a stand mixer unless I have oh, I don't know, at least four egg whites.

CK: With it with a stand mixer, you got to stop the machine, you got to lift the head up, then sometimes you have to take the whisk off, you have to whisk it and hold it up and see what's going on. So with a hand mixer that takes a nanosecond. (Yeah, you just turned it upside down). You're going to check those egg whites four or five times in the last minute, right. And so it is a little, I guess I didn't realize how upset I was about my stand mixer. Well, I know. I need to get a divorce from my stand mixer.

SM: No, no, but it does do the strong jobs, you do need it for bread or for really stiff cookie doughs, it just it's more of a workhorse. I don't want to say you need both. But if you have both they have different uses.

Caller: I mean, I have a stand mixer I'm not going to get rid of it. You know, it's like part of the family now.

SM: Well do you do a lot of egg whites?

Caller: I do. You know, I make a sponge cake and it uses like six or eight egg whites’ kind of thing. But you're right, you do have to lift it up, put it down. And then you know when you're mixing a cake sometimes like the bottom doesn't get mixed up. I hadn't really thought of all those things.

CK: There is a trick though I use I finish egg whites by hand. In other words, I'll get close, take the ball out, take the whisk off and whisk the egg whites using the whisk from the stand mixer in my right hand. And that way you have total control over getting it just right. I think the real question you're asking is, is it worth it to go out and it's not just the money? It's like you got to go store it somewhere in my answer is, you know, stick with a standard mixer. And yeah, it's a little annoying. But do you really want another box under the counter somewhere? You have to drag it out? Yeah. It's a counterspace issue. Right? Yeah. It does take up a lot of counter space. Anyway. I would just stick with the stand mixer. Yeah.

SM: Me too.

Caller: Thank you so much. This has been so much fun. I really appreciate it. Okay. Take care. Bye.

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

Caller: Hi, this is JJ from Cleveland, Georgia.

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

Caller: Every year, my dad has a big garden with all kinds of vegetables that we can and pickle and ferment. And I was looking at the corn the other day, and I noticed this how big the leaves are. And it just made me think about cooking with banana leaves. And I was wondering, you know, is there a way to use the leaves? We've used the husks in the past to make like tamales. But what would be the flavor profile of like corn leaves? And how would you go about cooking with them?

SM: I imagine you could use them pretty much the same way you use banana leaves to wrap things in and to cook them. They're fairly large these leaves?

Caller: Yeah, they're some of them are grilling to like three feet long, and they're probably six to eight inches wide.

CK: I don't think the leaves are as wide as the banana leaf was. So, I don't know if rapping in them is going to be very practical. I mean, the husk of the corn itself, that would work. I think the leaves are fairly narrow, as you said six inches maybe or less. I'm not quite sure how you'd wrap effectively in that. Okay, but it's a good question.

SM: Yeah, it is an excellent question. Because I mean, you know, like, everybody throws out carrot tops. Well, carrot tops are great and soup and stuff. So, you're right to be thinking this way because we waste way too much food.

CK: So, you ask this question because someone's got a big cornfield?

Caller: Well, no, it's just my dad has this big garden and I just saw them was thinking about the waste. We eat the corn, we use the husk for tamales. And then could we use these and I just thought about banana leaves.

CK: I think I would scratch this off your eco-friendly to do list.

Caller: Okay, so we just plow it under and just let it fertilize.

CK: Plow it under. It's being recycled that way. Yeah, recycling. Yeah. Okay. All right.

SM: Thanks, JJ.

Caller: Thanks. Very much.

CK: Yeah, take care.

Caller: Okay. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio, give us a call anytime the number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Brad Fortenberry from Northwest Arkansas.

CK: So how can we help you?

Caller: Honestly, I was listening to the show. I heard you mention about your strong opinions on old fashions. And figured that, you know, I would call in with my Martini question. I can't seem to get my dirty martini. Right. I'm pretty new to the at home bartending. And it just always tastes better at a craft cocktail bar or at my local watering hole and I was wondering if you had any advice for me?

CK: Well, let's start with your recipe. What are you doing?

Caller: Two ounces of gin, depending on the bottle available, an ounce of olive juice, and a half ounce of dry vermouth. And normally a dash or two of orange bitters.

CK: I think one thing you'd want to think about is the amount of olive brine here. I mean, if you're having two ounces of alcohol, I think you'd want to start with like a quarter ounce, maybe half an ounce. But how much vermouth are you using?

Caller: a half ounce

CK: You might want to bring that both of them down a quarter ounce to start. You then stir it and strain it. Or you shake it.

Caller: I prefer strain.

CK: Yeah, I'm a shake kind of guy but anyway.

SM: Well, I have two questions. One is when you like it better at your local watering hole. What is it that you like better?

Caller: Typically, is you know, the salt of the brine that my bar uses just seems to bring out the botanicals and the gin a little bit more.

SM: Maybe you should ask your bar what olives they use. But I have another question. You started out by saying the gin whatever gin, is it really whatever gin?

Caller: Not whatever gin I typically will use Aviation or Hendricks I try to use quality gin, if I'm pouring, you know, a spirit forward cocktail,

CK: What you don't want to do. I mean, the botanicals and gin are subtle. And you want to taste them. And so, everything else that goes into this cocktail has to

SM: take a backseat,

CK: Well, it's just a little hint of some other things. But with that much brine or that much vermouth you just gonna blow the subtlety of the gin out of the water which is going to ruin the cocktail

SM: And also, vermouth is a little bit sweet. So, I agree with what Chris said to cut back on the other two things, but I would ask your bar what olives they use because that brine could be very important.

Caller: Okay, yeah, that's a great place to start. I love it

SM: All right, Brad. Okay. Thank you.

Caller: Well, thank you all and we'll talk to you soon.

SM: Thank you. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up how to taste that's after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, we're exploring how to taste first with Daniel Horvitz who removed all flavor from his life for six months.

Daniel Horvitz: So, diet was basically chicken and rice.

CK: Sometimes Daniel ate salad,

DH: but with no vinegar, just a little bit of olive oil.

CK: He gave up condiments and seasoning.

DH: I didn't put any salt. I didn't put any pepper any spices.

CK: Daniel didn't eat peanuts or pretzels or potato chips. He didn't drink any cocktails or wine.

DH: I didn't have any beer.

CK: That was Daniel's diet for six months while he trained for the 2019 World Cup Tasters Championship. In each round tasters must identify one cup of three, which is different than the others. Sometimes the outlier is from the same region but just a different farm. Sometimes it's the exact same coffee brewed with different water. The only way to win is to develop a super sense of taste. And for Daniel, he swears by his special diet,

DH: You you feel flavors at the intensity they've never felt before and you smell things, at their intensity that you never smelled before. was incredible how accurate I was. In terms of smells or tastes. It was unbelievable.

CK: Daniel won that championship in Berlin in 2019. Since then, he launched a coffee roasting business called Sumo Coffee Roasters. And this month, Daniel says he'll resume his training diet and all to hopefully win the next World Cup Tasters championship. So, the question is, how can you become a better taster? I'm joined now by Mandy Naglich, author of How to Taste. She's here to teach us how to enjoy the flavors we love in a whole new way. And no crazy diet required. Mandy, welcome to Milk Street.

Mandy Naglich: Hi, thanks so much. I'm excited to be here.

CK: I think we all want to become better at tasting. So, let's start at the beginning, you write about the distant sniff. So, what is the distant sniff?

MN: Something that's pretty amazing about our noses as they are just so sensitive. There, you know, constantly sensing for danger for us, and also for deliciousness. But if you just dive your nose right into, say, a glass of wine or a beer, you're potentially going to blind yourself to certain compounds. For example, if a whiskey was super smoky, and you dove your nose in there right away, you might completely blind yourself to that smoke and not even notice that as a flavor component. So, what you want to do with the distance sniff is start about six inches away and really see if you can smell anything certain things, you won't be able to smell anything at all but a really smoky whiskey, you might already be getting that note coming out.

CK: Now you go in for a closer sniff or you go right to tasting.

MN: So, we're going to do a moving sniff first, which is kind of like a drive by sniff you're going to move the glass, close your nose and then move it back away again, all we're trying to do is keep ourselves from accidentally going blind to certain compounds, then we get our short sniff, which is you finally get a chance to hang out with the glass under your nose get some real aroma for maybe a second or two. And then we'll move into the long sniff.

CK: Does this relate in any way to the home cook? In other words, is it important if I'm pouring a glass of wine to start with a faraway sniff to really fully enjoy the experience or is this merely a professional technique,

MN: I think it's really important to fully enjoy the experience, it's something you can do in a split second, you know, we're not, we're not gonna be holding your wineglass out for, you know, many minutes at the six-inch distance, but your kind of discovering the aroma. And it also gives you a chance to connect with your memories that you might have for different flavors. And really make sure it's a full journey that you're enjoying whatever you're enjoying, instead of just, you know, quick sniff and throwing it in your mouth.

CK: So, I must admit, I have a little voice inside me that's going I don't know art, but I know what I like, you know, and so you're saying I think most people don't get enough enjoyment out of food and drink, because they don't take the time to really consider the subtleties of the taste and the aroma. So is this your really, you know, plumping for taking more time with your food and your drink so that you enjoy it more is that the nonprofessional side of this book?

MN: Exactly. I think it's all about we're eating every day. And it's something that we're just totally missing out on the way that it colors our life. You know, speaking of art, you know, we all know how to look at art, we learn our colors when we're young. We learn even musical notes when we're young we learn about listening, but we don't ever really learn about taste and what's going into it and how it kind of colors our life.

CK: Okay, so so let's get to the science of taste. First of all, what is the palate? Is it just the tongue or does that include the mouth, the throat everything else?

MN: Oh, yeah, we have taste buds and taste receptors all over our throat all down our digestive tract, actually. So, it's definitely more than just your tongue, even in the roof of your mouth, your cheek, things like that, you'll definitely still be picking up flavors.

CK: So why do scientists constantly try to expand you know, sweet, sour, salty, bitter umami and now we're going into lots of other possible things. Why is this still a moving target?

MN: Yeah, I think it's they're looking to unlock the mechanism. One of the scientists I talked to for the book, she's trying to define starch as a flavor, but we really need to see that exact reaction between something bonding with a flavor compound and that going to the brain, so I think defining that path is difficult. I, you know, laud them very much for people who are looking into things like carbonation having a flavor, starch having a flavor, fat Having a flavor, but it's they really want that mechanism that the five basic tastes have for any of them to kind of join the club as a true basic taste.

CK: And how do you verify it's like verifying a new star galaxy? How would you verify that starch, for example, is yet another kind of taste receptor? How would you prove that?

MN: I believe they're looking at trying to trace it within like the nerve responses that are going from the tongue to the brain. Starch hits tongue reaction in brain is always consistently starch. But I know that's what was holding umami back, for example, they really wanted that like very specific pathway. And once that was proven, it got to join the club.

CK: I liked the fact that the part of the brain where this is processed, has to do with emotion. And I find that connection between aroma or taste and emotion. That's why it's so powerful.

MN: Right, it's like a time traveling.

CK: Right. Now, I know that it's true for everybody. If I get a whiff of something, an aroma or a taste, of eating or drinking something, it can jolt you into the Wayback Machine, right. It brings up a very strong memory sometimes it's, it's really interesting.

MN: Yeah. And something you can do is actually go out of your way to try to create those memories. When I was practicing for my Cicerone exam, which has a tasting component, I was trying to memorize the flavors of all these different beers so I could taste them blind. And I was traveling in Europe, and I was trying to sit on the back porch of this brewery and like be like, this is a Belgian dark, strong, I will always remember this, smell it, taste it look around me. And it's worked quite well, I can taste that exact same beer and time travel back to being in the hillsides in Belgium, you know, think of something tastes it tried to create that memory and it's amazing how it really will work.

CK: Let's just take up some examples about color. Coffee served in a red painted coffee cup is sweeter than coffee served in one painted green. Vanilla yogurt dyed pink with flavorless food coloring, tastes of strawberry for more than 80% of the participants. So, color and your environment have a huge impact on your experience of flavor.

MN: Absolutely, we're being affected by things around us all the time. And there's a reason that so many ice cream shops are painted pink or have pink in their logo. They're trying to give you that little extra sweetness just through your environment, your code might taste a little less sweet when you get out into the outside world with more colors. But all of our senses are coming together and tasting what we're feeling what we're seeing, smelling, obviously tasting, to create our flavor experience in that moment.

CK: So, the rumor is that a dog's nose is 100 million times more sensitive than ours. I think most people would say, humans, their sense of sight is really critical, right? But their sense of smell is really underdeveloped compared to most other mammals. So, is this a latent skill that can be and needs to be developed through training or does anyone have a pretty useful nose, even when they're born

MN: Our noses are much more useful than we give them credit for it. The distance between our sense of smell and the dogs are constantly getting smaller as science learns more about what we actually smell. But it is absolutely there to be developed. It's something that you can get better at quite quickly, you know, just smelling the same thing maybe every morning. If you're smelling your spice rack smelling a few spices, it's amazing how quickly you'll be able to say, oh, that's oregano in the sauce or something like allspice verse nutmeg. It's just that we have that lack of connection. That's what the whole book is about. We're tasting and eating things all the time. But we're not really thinking about what actually is this. And I think the minute you start doing that science shows it that your brain starts to change, instead of just saying, oh, this wine smells like wine or it smells like grapes, you start to be able to have access to that vocabulary much more quickly because you've practiced it, you've smelled it before. And that olfactory bulb is, is growing with every time you're practicing.

CK: Terroir, you say it's a thing, but it's not what you think it is. So, what really is terroir?

MN: I think people associate it so deeply with wine and the weather and you have this visual of grapes baking in the sun. But terroir is everywhere all around us. There's a great study that I cited about people tasting cheese, and the scientists just had them group the cheeses with what they thought were similar. And these are farms that were just a few acres apart very close few miles. And people were actually able to group the cheese that was made exactly the same way, just with different milks from different farms, by what farms they were coming from. So, it's we're constantly if you're focused, and tasting, we're constantly tasting those little aspects that are different. And we also talk about Mei Hua, which is the terroir of water. So, things like oysters that are soaking up the particles around them in the water. That's also a way that's terroir affects us. So, it's it's a thing we can definitely taste it. It's every single thing we're tasting all the time is affected by it.

CK: So just as a last thought, what's your advice to people in terms of finding the pleasure in eating and drinking? By taking the time to taste and smell?

MN: Yeah, I mean, first, I would definitely say the seven-step tasting method that's outlined in the book is a great way Your coffee is the perfect thing in the morning to do all those different sniffs we talked about, but also, I think, get people around you involved. The most fun thing for me, we love to go out and order drinks for other people and say, what do you think is in this tasted? Do you like it? You know, surprise them, and really strain your brain with flavor? What are you tasting? What are you ordering? What is surprising you? I think it's amazing how quickly you'll start to notice different flavors and then get excited. You know, I went to this very trendy restaurant in Boston recently. And it was an Italian restaurant, and I couldn't believe the soap in the bathroom smelled like yuzu. So, I came back to my table and my hands were just smelling and yuzu. And it's just such something that I noticed it was such an odd contrast to Italian food. But without paying attention to aroma and flavor it's something I would have never picked up. And you know, it's a chance for people to have maybe a more Italian smelling hands open the bathroom at their Italian restaurant if we really pay attention to the way that aromas constantly coloring our lives and making them more enjoyable and interesting.

CK: Well, maybe they should have had Amalfi lemon soap or something.

MN: Or bergamot or something.

CK: There you go bergamot. Mandy. It's been a pleasure in and thank you so much.

MN: Yeah, thank you so much. This was great.

CK: That was sort of certified taster Mandy Naglich. Her book is called How to Taste a Guide to Discovering Flavor and Savoring Life. Mandy Naglich suggests that we approach food much like art and music. As children were trained to know the colors of the rainbow. And at least back in my day, we were also taught a bit about music, notes, melodies and chords. Now, I've always argued that cooking is not art, it's more of a craft but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take the time to learn the language of food and experience each bite with some level of consideration. Food is fuel, food is fun, food is entertaining. But most of all, food is perhaps the most direct way of experiencing the world around us. And that includes our memories, who we are and where we've come from. And that's not bad for a simple plate of pasta. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time to head into the kitchen with Lynn Clark to talk about this week's recipe. Turkish rice pudding. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing well. Chris, how are you?

CK: So, I was recently in Istanbul. And I love it when I come across something that's familiar, you know, but it's not. (Right) And I was at this sort of working persons restaurant. And what they have is they have waiter service, but everything's on steam tables, it's all prepared. So, nothing's to order. And they serve you within 60 seconds. Right (Good) and the food's great. But for dessert, we had rice pudding, and it was rice pudding that had a sort of Brulé top, and then some ground nuts on top of that, but it was dead cold. It was a small ramekin that only had about a half inch layer and initial layer of rice pudding, so it was fairly thin. And it was just the perfect end to that meal because it had that contrast with the burnt sugar and the creamy pudding. So, we came back to Milk Street and what happened next.

LC: So, it's like rice pudding, but it's lighter, less sweet. And it has this beautiful bittersweet kind of caramelized top to it. It's not like a crème brulé like it's not like something you're going to crack into. But it has that same flavor profile. So, it's really kind of bitter, but sweet but caramelized and has a really nice balance to the creaminess of the rice pudding. So, one key thing here is there's no eggs, like you would make a custard for a rice pudding. And in this case, we're using a high starch rice, like Italian arborio rice, or Japanese style short grain rice, that's going to create that creamy velvety consistency. We cook the rice in some water, add some milk sugar, a little bit of cornstarch, just to make it a little bit thicker, some vanilla or you could add rose water which is common in Istanbul and then we add it to some ramekins, pop it under the broiler and let it get really deeply caramelized. So, it's literally just that top layer of the rice pudding that's getting really nicely browned and adding a whole lot of complex flavor to the rice pudding.

CK: It's interesting how you make a few small changes, and you end up with something quite different. And I love the fact it's not a huge bowl of rice pudding. (Right) I mean, after I finished like the other eight dishes, they brought us you'd have this little taste of something that's cold, slightly bitter on top creamy on the inside the nuts. It's excellent. Thank you very much Lynn. Turkish rice pudding with a crème Brulé top. Thank you.

LC: You're welcome. You can get the recipe for Turkish rice pudding at Milk Street

CK: This is Milk Street Radio after the break Adam Gopnik unearths an old cookbook collection that's coming right up. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

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

Caller: This is Rob Schachter.

SM: Hello, where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm calling from Overland Park, Kansas.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller Well, I'm a big fan of the show. Thanks so much for having me on.

SM: Thank you.

Caller: My question is that fast food chains like Popeyes are well known for their incredibly flaky and visually rippled, crunchy coating. I've experimented a lot trying to recreate this. And not only do I never manage to create the flakes on the outside, but when I try to up the crunchiness by attempting an extra crispy, sickly coded Southern Fried chicken, the coating separates from the chicken during cooking, and becomes more of an oversized brittle case than encoding. How can I improve my fried chicken? Have identified the correct gold standard in Popeyes and what are those flakes?

CK: It might take you a college entrance exam here. It's very, very, very academic, right? Just go to Popeyes.

Caller: Well, sorry, I was planning on introducing myself as the kosher food scientist, which I think would explain a little bit of where I'm coming from here.

SM: Yeah. Tell us what do you do? Yeah.

Caller: So generally speaking, when I would make fried chicken, because I can't use buttermilk. I make something similar to buttermilk by taking nut milk or soy milk and adding either a little bit of vinegar or a little bit of lemon juice. Sometimes a little bit of mustard as well because there's vinegar in there. And then soaking the chicken in that overnight and creating a seasoned flour that I've been dip that chicken directly in and fry it. But when that happens, I never get that flaky coating. So, when I try to make a crunchier thicker coating, after I dip it in the seasoned flour, I then dip it in egg and then back in the seasoned flour again. And that's when I sort of get this case that peels away from the chicken is very brittle to the point where when I take it out of the fryer and put it down, it just shatters.

SM: Hmm (yeah) I've got to be honest here. I've never had Popeyes, but I know people rave about it. There's a wonderful recipe that Kenji Lopez Alt, you know, who's a friend of the show and a wonderful scientist. And he has a wonderful recipe that you can google online where he makes almost like a sort of shaggy dough to cling on to the chicken, it's important that you don't just have a wet batter that you have something dried and glue the wet batter on to it. And that you do you know sort of alternating dry, wet, dry wet to sort of really built it up and then I think a good idea is to put it on a rack and let it sort of dry before you fry it to sort of let everything set but let's see what Chris has to say.

CK: First of all, I would forget about this overnight thing unless you're just brining the chicken, I just brine it for two or three hours depending on the pieces you have. So that's just salt and water or you could dry brine it, kosher it and just put salt on the outside. The recipe that Kenji did was to take the flour and then mix in some of the buttermilk mixture and seasonings with it. So, you had a very shaggy top and that gave you this sort of shattering, crisp, interesting textured surface, which really worked out well. Or you can double you can do the eggs and the flour the eggs and the flour twice but his method I think is the best method that I've seen. And I totally agree letting it sit on a rack for a while 10 or 15 minutes before frying is going to help it adhere as well. And just make sure that you get it out of the brine you fully dry it out too. I would go back to Kenji’s recipe it’s probably on Serious Eats I would guess he probably did it there. And the other recipe I think was a kitchen. K I T C H I think they also did a Popeye knockoff as well.

Caller: I'll definitely check out those recipes. Thank you and it sounds like going for the wet should be a batter as opposed to just

CK: Yeah, in the tray when you dredge the chicken. It looks really shaggy. You still dip it in the egg mixture, but then you put into flour mixture but the flour mixture, you know after a while if you just use flour, it gets shaggy, anyway, right?

SM: Yeah, because you're going back and forth

CK: So, it's sort of like starting off with a shaggy flour.

Caller: I always sift it at that point and keep going. But that's sounds like I'm shooting myself in the foot there.

CK: Shaggy is good. Yeah, just like on the show. Scooby Dooby Doo. All right.

SM: All right.

CK: Thanks. All right.

Caller: All right. Thank you so much.

SM: Take care. Thanks. Bye

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are here to answer your questions. Give us a call anytime. That number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Barbara,

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I cook and eat a lot of beans. I very much enjoy them both because I don't eat meats but also because they're they just tasty. And I'm lots of different cuisines. And in my area, we have really good, like Middle Eastern markets and grocery stores as big numbers have beans. But I'll just get overwhelmed. I don't really understand the differences between categories of beans. So, I need some help understanding the differences.

CK: A few things you want to start with the one that's most confusing are lentils, right? Yellow Lentils, as you know, cook quickly and don't hold their shape. And they're used in soups and purees and other things. The one that's a little confusing is the French lentils, which are really quite green, and they're speckled and they're small. And those hold those shape really well for salads or whatever. The brown and green ones actually cooked faster, like 20 - 25 minutes instead of 40. And they don't hold their shape as well. White beans are really confusing. Cannellini beans are bigger than Great Northern beans. But white kidney beans are the same thing as cannellini beans. Lima beans are also butter beans. I think it's the same thing. Yes, but fava beans are definitely different. You know, they have a

SM: starchier, stronger flavor

CK: Yeah. I think a better stronger flavor.

SM: More interesting flavor.

CK: You know, they're 10,000 other kinds of beans out there. What's the place online?

SM: Rancho Gordo

CK: Yeah, they sell great beans, and they have all the information about them. So, if you like beans, I would spend the money to get the good ones.

Caller: My route is chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, cannellini beans that’s where I live. If you wanted to just extend one little step out where would you start with things that you're going to be familiar with it are going to give you more variety.

CK: The classic bean used in Mexican cooking a form of pinto bean, which is very agated, you know in color. That is a great bean. I use it all the time to make Mexican beans. I would definitely put that on my list.

SM: Here is another suggestion the bean they use in cassoulet which is called tarbai, T A R B A I S what's great about those, those are big white beans is that they really hold their shape, and yet also absorb the flavors.

Caller: Okay, that's good I will try those.

CK: A couple other things. The beans, we talked about the Mexican beans, a cranberry beans, you can get pretty easily. They're kind of speckled and those are a good substitute for the classic pinto. Also, if you're going to cook other than lentils, typical bean, I would put it in salted water overnight. Right? It makes a huge difference. Two tablespoons of salt, kosher salt for two quarts of water, I think. Let that sit overnight rinse them and then cook them in the salt will help cook evenly, retain the shape

SM: Season the bean

CK: It makes a big difference.

SM: One last thing I wanted to say is I've sometimes found dried beans at the farmer’s market. And that's sort of fun too, because then you can talk to the farmer and find out from them what they do with them.

Caller: That's a good idea.

SM: Just experiment. You know, throw caution to the winds and have fun.

CK: A good bean actually has taste to it.

Caller: They get described like wine like nutty or earthy. Or sweet

CK: Yes, yes exactly starchy

Caller: You got to listen hard

CK: Yeah. Barbara, thank you.

Caller: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

SM: Thank you very much.

CK: Take care, bye. You’re listening to Milk Street radio Now let's hear what Adam Gopnik is thinking about this week. Adam, how are you?

Adam Gopnik: I am very well, Chris, I have a slightly poignant feeling in the center of my being though, because I was just up in Canada, which as you know, is where I'm from, to my parents’ beautiful farm up in the middle of rural Ontario. And one of the things that my mother wanted to do was to give away her immense collection of recipe books. And of course, most of them were French, many of them I had, but then I saw on a shelf laid out in pristine form with all their little spiral bound recipe books attached the Foods of the World Series, that Time Life did, beginning in 1968, right through the early 1970s. And I had this overwhelming flood of memory and association because my parents, like so many of our parents subscribed to that whole series, they would arrive once a month. And for me, truly, Chris, those books were the opening door into the universe of food, you remember them, they came with beautiful covers.

CK: I have the series, and I remember when they came out, and that's just at the time I started cooking. So, I agree with you. I think they did at that Time Life series is great. Yeah,

AG: it was great cooking of India, African cooking, cooking of Scandinavian, richly photographed conspicuously well written, the French provincial one was written by the great MFK Fisher, and in many ways, the whole series, and it's one of the reasons why I think it was foundational for people like you and me, Chris, was prescient, right. There was for the first time perhaps in our thinking about food, at least in America, no obvious hierarchy, it accepted without quarrel, the notion that Indian cooking was just as good as Italian cooking, that French cooking was in no way superior to the cooking of the Caribbean. Another thing that the series did, which I realized now got imprinted on my gastronomic DNA was a value and appreciate American cooking at its proper estimation almost for the first time, all of those ways, I realized that this extraordinary series was, as I said, foundational for the tastes and the formation of the tastes for a whole generation. And yet in other ways, it was fascinatingly different to look at what the vision of the foods of the world were in 1968, as opposed to what our vision would be like now. And I realized that they were produced simultaneously with the first great generation of jet travel, and the emphasis throughout is on cultural history and on place. The whole book on Vienna's Empire is very much about Vienna's empire. Of course, there were recipes for Goulash, and cherry strudel and Dobos torte. But the idea is that the cooking rose from the social history of those places, more than it rose from what we would now call the terroir.

CK: It’s interesting you mentioned Empire because the food I think, in those books and similar books, recorded sort of the fancy cooking of the time, or the Saturday night cooking at the time, it wasn't what somebody was making a Tuesday night, in Calabria for dinner, no rolling together, some wild greens and some homemade pasta. This was celebration food and food. That was iconic. But I think today we're looking, you know, under those classic dishes to see what people really ate day to day, that would be my difference, right?

AG: I think that's true street food is occasionally patronized, but it is not valorized. It's not made much of. But as I say, it's also very much dependent on offering a kind of surrogate or if you like vicarious travel. That's not really what we do as much when we think about food now. If we're thinking about the street food of Vietnam, we want it to be authentic. In some sense, we want to travel to Vietnam, but we expect that’s something that's very much within our reach. So the allure and lore of exoticism I think is reduced for us even though we've incorporated much more of the authentic as you say, street and indigenous cuisine of the foods of the world.

CK: I'd love someone to do a history of the world based on the common person, right. Not on the kings, queens, empires

AG: the schlubs history

CK: The schlubs history, like us the schlubs two schlubs (exactly) because I think that would, that would be so much more interesting than what they served at Top Kapi right?

AG: Or totally right or Gundalian in Budapest and so on.

CK: Gundalian in Budapest yes

AG: And it's quite true that 60 years ago, when those books came out, we still thought of traveling to the top that was our notion of what a richly lived gastronomic life would be. It'd be a series of summits as if of Everest, so the top we no longer imagine the world in quite that way. You know what else struck me about them as I read had through all 27 volumes sitting in my parents’ basement. They had exactly the same vibe as the World's Fair.

CK: Oh, that's interesting

AG: Of my childhood. Yeah, that sense, which is now dated and probably has all kinds of unfortunate post imperial trappings that sense of a gathering together on one island. Of all the festivity of the world in a single World's Fair. That was a very powerful 20th century idea. Now for good or ill gone.

CK: Yeah, and the only thing anyone remembers about food of the ‘64 World's Fair were the Belgian waffles, right?

AG: Belgian waffles

CK: That was it.

AG: Belgian waffles.

CK: That's my takeaway

AG: Belgian waffles, you must have been eating them

CK: It's a small world after all, yeah. So, I'm actually glad where we are today, because it's, it's much more interesting. And the food I'm sorry, I think the food is better. I think everyday food at the end of the day wins almost every time.

AG: I agree with you. And I think that's true. And I think we can be grateful to those folks 50 years ago, who have as I said, for the first time celebrated American food on its own terms, not as a cadet thing aspiring to be something else. They're wonderful volumes of the Pacific Northwest and Southern cooking and all of those things, and at the same time, recognize that that foundation is one that we have grown on and in some ways going beyond.

CK: On that note, Adam, our resident philosopher, the foods of the world. Thank you.

AG: I'm going back to turn the pages.

CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. His latest book is The Real Work on the Mystery of Mastering. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes at Milk Street or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about us at 177 Milk There you can become a member and get all of our recipes, access to all live stream cooking classes, free standard shipping for the Milk Street store and more. 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 Sensabaugh. Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Associate Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.