Inside the Incredible World of Japanese Cooking with Sonoko Sakai | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 405
February 2, 2023
Originally aired on February 7, 2020

Inside the Incredible World of Japanese Cooking with Sonoko Sakai

Inside the Incredible World of Japanese Cooking with Sonoko Sakai

Sonoko Sakai teaches us about real Japanese home cooking—from the world’s easiest broth to bento boxes to the surprising way she kneads her udon dough. Plus, we investigate counterfeit caviar with David Gauvey Herbert; we share our recipe for a fresh take on the chocolate cookie; and Dan Pashman explains why he’d rather eat alone this Valentine’s Day.

Questions in this episode:

"Is French flour substantively different and healthier/easier on digestion than American flour?”

”I would love to make buttermilk roasted chicken but I keep a kosher kitchen. What is an appropriate non-dairy substitute for buttermilk I can use?”

“Last year I planted a crop of sugar cane around my property and I was looking forward to harvesting this year and trying to make some cane syrup. I’m wondering if I should use a cast-iron sugar kettle or a copper vessel?”

“Every Sunday I have dinner at my in-laws' house. In the interests of heart health, they've eliminated salt from all cooking. It's easy enough for me to add salt to my dish before eating, but salt plays other roles in cooking, right? How do we get more flavor into a dish without a lot of salt and how about for meats on the grill?”

“I have a question about making a berry-based pie. It always turns into a gooey mess. How can I get it right?”

“I have an oven that I assume is unusual in that I need to set a particular temperature for my broiler. Every recipe states to either ‘heat broiler’ or ‘set broiler to high’. My broiler can go as high at 550 degrees, or all the way down to 250. I assume 550 degrees is far too high for most things but is that the ‘high’ for most ovens? I am wondering what an all-purpose broiling temperature is; or, what are some temperature guidelines for broiling fish versus vegetables versus meat?”

AUTHOR Sonoko onigiri RB 1

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're learning about real Japanese home cooking from one of the country's most renowned culinary instructors Sonoko Sakai should give us a crash course in Japanese pickles, how to make the world's easiest broths and surprising way she kneads her noodle dough.

Sonoko Sakai: A KitchenAid can only knead so much and then it gets kind of hot and you have to stop the Kitchen Aid and let it rest and your feet can just keep going and the stomping on the dough activates the gluten.

CK: Also coming up we share our recipe for a fresh take on the chocolate cookie. And later Dan Pashman and I discuss the art of eating alone on Valentine's Day. First up today, we're chatting with journalist Dave Herbert about his article, the caviar con. Dave, welcome to Milk Street.

Dave Herbert: Thanks for having me.

CK: So, let's talk about caviar. Only the roe of beluga Russian sturgeon, Persian sturgeon, etc, is considered to be authentic caviar. And the really good stuff is incredibly expensive, right? So, after the fall of Soviet Union, all of a sudden, it's hard to get the good stuff. And prices go up. So, what happens? People look for substitutes and where do they go?

DH: Yeah, so it turns out that there's a fish in the middle of the country called the American paddle fish. And then at some point, about three decades ago, Russian and Slavic people who pass through this area started to realize that the roe actually tasted quite similar to the stuff that they were used to back in the Soviet Union. And poaching kind of predictably ensued.

CK: So, a paddlefish describe a paddle fish, how big is it?

DH: So, it's a pretty ridiculous looking fish at its, you know, can weigh up to 160 pounds, it can be seven feet long, including this needle nose snout that it has, if you stood it up, it would kind of look like the Chrysler Building, almost, you know, New York,

CK: only slightly smaller

DH: Only slightly smaller. Yeah, they're enormous. And they're actually you know, a lot of fun to catch. You don't really catch them with a fishing pole, you snag them. You literally have to get them close to your boat and then hook them with this enormous gaff. And it's a real struggle to pull them up. And when you catch one, it's a rush. You know, you normally you'd have to go to the ocean to catch a fish this big, right, Missouri, not near an ocean. And yet, you can get a really cool photo of you holding this monstrous, prehistoric fish.

CK: Warsaw, Missouri is the place the story takes place and 10 or 15 years ago, they started seeing signs of poaching. So, all of a sudden, people got hold of the notion that this was actually a source of caviar. Yeah, so

DH: Yeah, so in the 80s, there had been a really major poaching operation, where there really was a cartel that was catching these fish, mixing them with legal fish, sending them to New York, sending them some people say over to Europe, both labeled legally as paddlefish caviar, and then also illegally as you know, Russian caviar. And so, it was with this in mind that the local conservation agents when they started hearing reports of Russian accents, Ukrainian accents, you know, Mercedes pulling into town, they were very aware that this had happened before and their their guard was was up for sure.

CK: So, tell me about the guy the investigator lead investigator. His name is Greg Hitchings. Who is this guy and how does he get involved with this?

DH: Yeah, so Greg Hutchings is interesting guy. He was basically considered a genius in the Missouri Game Warden community in terms of undercover investigations. And so when the local agents caught wind of Russian accents and fish guts on back roads, they call them Greg Hutchings. And he came to town and was trying to think of a good undercover operation to catch the poachers that they thought were out there. And he came up with Operation Roadhouse.

CK: So, what, what was Operation Roadhouse? What was he doing?

DH: Well, so typically the way these game wardens will catch poachers is they'll be patrolling up and down the river they hope to catch a guy you know, with too many fish in his boat. But ultimately, you know, that method has you running around this very large area, probably not catching that many people. They had some men to at their disposal, but not a ton. And so, they basically decided they were going to get the poachers to come to them. And what they did was they found this incredible location right by really right at the border of where you can begin snagging fish. And it was an old abandoned, restaurant bar that had a big dock. And so, they leased it. And they basically put out word that, you know, for seven bucks a day, you could come down there and snag and wink wink, we're not really going to enforce the two paddlefish limit per day. And word got around pretty quick, all-over Missouri, and then all over the country, that this was the spot to go to, and scores and scores of guys descended on this place to start illegally poaching.

CK: And so, this is high tech, or this is just low tech.

DH: Yeah, it was pretty high tech. They had, you know, in the little bait shop, they set up they had a hidden camera. And they, you know, fishermen are known, I think for for boasting about the fish they catch. And so, they they had a board where they, you could chalk up the size of the fish that you'd caught. And literally guys are confessing on this board to catching multiple fish a day confessing to their crime, essentially on camera is pretty ingenious. They also had little keychain cameras that a lot of the undercover guys who were posing as dockworkers carried, so it was fairly high tech for a poaching operation.

CK: How long did this operation last just one season?

DH: So, they did it for two seasons, the seasons. But yeah, they basically, they looked around, they saw these guys catching all this fish. There were guys at a motel across the street, who were actually gutting fish and preparing the caviar and canning it. There were guys going around town, away from the dock actually buying fish from undercover officers for hundreds of dollars. There was a guy a couple guys, and there was, let's be clear, there was a lot of drinking going on at this dock. There were poachers who were boasting, I can make this many 1000s of dollars selling it in Chicago. So, there was a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that there might be some sort of caviar mafia that have descended on this town.

CK: So, the day ___ the end result of all this was that that was really not what was going on at all right?

DH: No. So, the morning of the bust, it was something out of a Netflix show. They had guys across multiple time zones, doing raids on the homes of different poachers that had identified as potentially being, you know, major distributors of paddlefish caviar, they arrested them. And over the course of the day, as they're interrogating these guys, it became clear these weren't, you know, a caviar cartel. These were guys who really liked caviar and liked fishing.

CK: I love that they so spent hundreds of 1000s of dollars in a two-year operation with cameras and keychain cameras and this and that the other thing, and they just like caviar

DH: Yeah, millions of dollars was spent on this operation. Yeah. And there were federal prosecutions on stuff. And these were just guys who liked drinking and getting some caviar

CK: and making up stories about how they were going to sell it for 1000s of dollars. So, and the lead investigator, the end of the day, he was promoted. And this was a success for him, or he just viewed this as kind of a strange way to spend a couple of fishing season.

DH: He retired shortly thereafter but is still sort of widely celebrated in the department. And however, you view the use of resources to catch these guys. It was a pretty ingenious operation that he set up. He just caught minnows instead of big fish, I guess.

CK: Dave, thank you so much. And thanks for being on Milk Street.

DH: Thank you

CK: That was Dave Herbert. His article for Long Reads is called The Caviar Caught. Right now, Sara malt and I are ready to solve your culinary mysteries. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Also, author of Home Cooking 101. Sara, how are you?

Sara Moulton: Chris, I'm great. And I'm ready to go.

CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, I'm Julie from Berkeley, California.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: So, I'm calling about French versus American flours. I know that French flour has a different protein, and less gluten contents and American flour. And to me it also tastes different. But I'm wondering if there's a substantive difference that would make it worth it for me to switch to French flour for my baking. And I'm wondering if it'll improve not only the taste of what I'm baking, but if it'll reduce some of the ill effects of gluten?

CK: You know, that's a really interesting question. I've had a number of people tell me that when they use Italian or French flour, they don't have the same sort of ill effects they have with American flour. I'm not really sure why. There are some differences. There's different gluten content or different types of wheat. But nobody has ever substantiated that in terms of digestion or anything else the difference although I've heard people talk about that, you could try it the only problem would be is how fresh is it for the time you're getting it here. And are you getting the right gluten content, for example, some French flour might end up being the equivalent of cake flour here. So, you'd have to make sure you get the equivalent of all purpose, which would be 10 to 12% gluten and Italian flours. Another thing people usually don't understand is they have a different like 000. That has nothing to do with gluten content. When you buy Italian flour, they have that system that's just about the coarseness of it. I would try it. And I know people who swear that that is a difference.

Caller: Cool. I'll try it.

SM: So, you used to eat the breads in France, and it was all fine. And Italy, and then you're in the United States, and now you're eating them and it's not fine?

Caller: Yeah, exactly. I lived in France for about five years and ate anything I wanted. And then I moved back to the US and was sick pretty often. And my doctors recommended quitting gluten. I actually just got back from a trip to France, where I was eating gluten again and interviewing bakers to ask them what they thought about this phenomenon of gluten intolerance in the US. And they said, it's not just about the flour. It's about how the wheat is grown in the first place. It's about how the bread is made and the process of fermentation to make the bread. So, I think it's a lot more complicated than just

SM: I think that’s totally true. But when you stopped eating gluten in the United States, did you feel better?

Caller: I did feel better.

CK: No, I think you actually came up with the answer, which is it's how the wheat is grown. Are there insecticides on it? Is it organically grown? How is it processed? How is it fermented? How's the bread done? And you're right, you know, when I'm in Europe, I find there's no problem at all in Italy or France with their baked goods. Maybe that's because I'm drinking lots of wine at the same time.

SM: You're just happy camper.

CK: Try it. The only question is getting the right gluten

SM: Really fresh stuff. Fresh and also with the right gluten content. Yeah, is what you need

CK: Yeah, I would give a shot.

SM: All right. Well, thanks.

CK: Thanks so much

Caller: Thank you so much.

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

Caller: My name is Ariane Mandel.

SM: Arianna, where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm calling from New York.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: So, I keep kosher. And I've seen this recipe floating around for buttermilk marinated chicken. So, I wanted to know what a good substitute would be to get that tangy and also like, I guess the juiciness that happens when you marinate something in buttermilk?

SM: I think you’re talking about Samin Nosrat. Yeah, what happens in her recipe it's buttermilk is a tenderizer. But also, there's salt involved. So, it's a brine as well. So, it's sort of a double whammy, and obviously, it's a little acidic from the buttermilk. I think you could probably attempt it with a soy and almond milk and some salt, and perhaps a little bit of lemon for the flavor, and I believe she marinates it overnight.

CK: Okay, yeah, okay. Yeah, contrary point ahead here. I don't think the buttermilk is doing anything at all, I think it's just the brine. So, I think if you simply brine the chicken overnight, dry it off, and then put whatever you want on top, it maybe has some sugar in it with spices. Secondly, if you want color, there are lots of ways of do that. Do a spice rub that has some sugar in it, whatever you want. But the buttermilk itself, I don't think is necessarily that important. I would just skip the buttermilk and brine it, rub it with a paste rub it with a spice rub that maybe has little sugar in it, you'll get a nice dark skin.

Caller: But then also another follow up question. How do I I mean; I know sort of the answer to this. How do I get it so the whole chicken is browned all throughout instead of just like the top?

SM: You could spatchcock it. You know what that is, it’s when you take

Caller: I tried that this weekend. It turned out great. I did it in cast iron skillet with le cruet on the top. So

CK: That's perfect. Just removing the backbone and flattening is the the best way (I did that) Sara’s right, Sara, see,

SM: Occasionally we agree.

CK: Not often, but once in a while.

Caller: I have to tell you guys is my favorite of all the food podcasts Thank you.

SM: Thank you so much.

CK: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Your welcome. I’ll let you know bye bye

SM: Alright

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a question about instant pot dinners or slow cooker suppers, give us a ring anytime 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Yes, this is Adam from New Orleans.

CK: How are you?

Caller: Just fine and you?

CK: Pretty good. How can we help you?

Caller: So last year, I planted a crop of sugarcane around my property in New Orleans. And I was looking forward to harvesting this year and trying to make some cane syrup.

CK: How much juice are you going to get out of the cane you have?

Caller: From what I gather About 10 gallons of juice, which from research I learned will reduce down to about a gallon of syrup.

CK: Okay, and so do you have something to boil it in or you're trying to find something?

Caller: Well, so I was doing research online and came across sort of two options I wanted to know, which would be the better, of course, traditionally, like cast iron sugar cattle, or also found a copper vessel. But I've also found that there's, you know, some cautionary tales of poisoning coating with copper, I wanted to know, given the option, which would be the best vessel to cook down my sugar cane. And,

CK: Well, copper is often used for making jams. And the reason is, it conducts heat well. And with jams, you have to get the temperature of the jam exactly right so, it sets up properly. You're essentially boiling water with some sugar content. And they just like maple syrup, it makes absolutely no difference. When you boil it in, all you're doing is evaporating the liquid to get to the right sugar content, which is probably 27% of whatever it ends up being. So, you can cook it in anything, I guess I would ask you, what are you cooking it on?

Caller: So, the plan was brick fire pit outside, sort of you know, to do a more traditional, right,

CK: Just get the biggest container, you can. I don't know if you can hold 10 gallons, but maybe to two batches of five, I would think a cast iron cauldron or whatever you want to call it that way. That's going to be pretty heavy. But it would be really cool to do that. I mean, I just think this is a fabulous idea. You know what I go for the cast iron cauldron. And I think that's just really cool. And it'll be big enough, hopefully to do the whole 10 gallons. I mean, the problem is this, it'll take a while. It takes a very long time to boil it down. So, I would try to get a pot that's going to handle the entire output. You know, the other thing you can do, you could also I think just drink it straight up. Yeah, if you wanted to, of course with

SM: Vats 10 gallons. You’ll have to have a really big party

CK: I’m for you do it outside get a big cauldron. Yeah, why not? Good for you? Yeah, it's easy. You just boiling?

Caller: Right. That's kind of the plan is to make you know, party out of it, you know, sort of invite the community through and have friends through and we're cooking cane syrup all day.

CK: Yeah. And roast a pig at the same time. That's what I used to do. One last thing. Do you have a hydrometer? By the way?

Caller: No, but I didn't know though. I need one. Yeah, that's the viscosity of it. Correct?

CK: Exactly. It has the little thing that bob's up and down, you have to get it just right. That's the only way you can really tell. And you also have to set your thermometer every day because the ambient pressure changes, which means the boiling point changes. You want to get the liquid up to seven degrees above boiling. But you got to set it every day. Get a hydrometer and get a thermometer.

Caller: Absolutely will cast iron it is

CK: Man, this is great. Yeah. And so please send us a photo. I want to see a picture of this

SM: Invite us to the party.

Caller: I Absolutely will

CK: All right

Caller: no problem.

SM: Yes. Thank you.

CK: Take care.

Caller: Thank you very much. Good bye

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we're chatting with Sonoko Sakai author of Japanese home cooking that and more after the break. This is mostly Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Sonoko Sakai. She's a cook culinary teacher, also author of the book, Japanese home cooking. Sonoko, welcome to Milk Street.

Sonoko Sakai: Thank you. Hi, Christopher.

CK: Let's start with your family history. Your family has gone across two very different cultures. Your great great grandfather was from Switzerland. Your great great grandmother was from Yokohama. So, your family is no stranger to mixing cultures, right?

SS: Oh, yes, I grew up in a multicultural situation. You know, I always heard my grandmother talking about her Swiss ancestors. And because of my father's work in the airlines, I was born in New York, and we basically moved back and forth like migrating birds every three to five years across the Pacific, San Francisco, Tokyo, Mexico, Komokoda and Los Angeles. So yes, I am someone who has many, many cultures, which I feel it's I've always feel like that's kind of my my treasure.

CK: One thing I love about your book is that it really goes to the core of the philosophy of Japanese cooking. And there was a story in the book which I loved. There was an 83-year-old mother of a carpenter. The mother had grown the buckwheat milled it and made buckwheat noodles by hand. Could you just talk about that?

SS: Yes, that was my other life as a film producer. I made this film in the the countryside of Japan. And I was just really exhausted because we had a very difficult shoot and lots of snow and but the carpenter, he himself was already in his late 60s Then he says, you know, while you're in Nagano you have to try my mother's soba noodles. And by the way, she grew the buckwheat. She mills it herself in a stone mill, and she makes the noodles. So, it was just such an honor to be invited to their home and be treated to this wonderful meal. And she was so humble that she wouldn't step out of the kitchen, she sat on the cold hardwood floors while she watched us slurp the noodles. And she was covering her mouth smiling and laughing. And it just made me so happy. And I, I it was almost infectious. I said, I want to, you know, I want to be like her when I get closer to her age. I want to share this beautiful food tradition and preserve it in every way I can.

CK: You know, of all the cuisines in the world, Japanese cooking, and there are lots of different subsets of that too, may be the hardest for Americans to grasp. Part of the reason is that there's some real philosophy behind it. You know, things in five, like five flavors, five colors. Maybe you could just go through that for us.

SS: Right. So, this is something that I laid out in the beginning of my book, The Principle of Japanese Cooking, is based on a philosophy called washoku in Chinese it's called whooshing. And it's basically grouping things and fine to explain how things interact in our world. And there's some things that you already know, the five senses the five basic tastes, but perhaps when you get to things like five colors, what are the five essential colors, the five elements, there's white, that expresses purity, red is fire, green, and blue. These colors bring comfort and appetite, black stabilizes and harmonizes the plate. And when you bring these five colors, or five basic tastes or five senses together, you will find a sense of harmony. Because if one color just stands out too much, let's say if red stands out too much that may overwhelm a dish. So, we try to make sure that there's harmony and balance by looking at the variety of colors in a dish, or the variety of flavors in a dish. If one flavor stands out too much, then you are breaking the harmony.

CK: You describe in your book, putting Udaan dough in double wrapped in garbage bags and stomping on them 100 times on the floor. Yeah, with either socks or clean feet. I think you have that little detail. So why exactly do you do you knead dough by stomping on it?

SS: Oh, it's the best way. If you put your dough in a Kitchen Aid, a Kitchen Aid can only knead so much and then it gets kind of hot, and you know you have to stop the Kitchen Aid and let it rest and your feet can just keep going and the stomping on the dough activates the gluten. You're putting your whole-body weight on it by stomping it's it works better than hand kneading. And it's done in Japan if my I took Udaan classroom, Udo master and he stomps every single one of his doughs. He doesn't use a kneading machine because he says it creates better elasticity. Better chew just makes really good Udon noodles,

CK: Pickles, maybe you could just explain both the role of pickles in cooking and also how to make a quick batch.

SS: Right. So, the role of pickles is very, very important. When you compose a meal, a Japanese meal, you have basically rice and pickles. Pickles is always there to aid in digestion. It also gives nice contrast. It also represents the seasons. Then there's all kinds of pickles. There’re quick pickles that you make by just rubbing salt, you could rub fermented salt that's made with fermented rice and salt. And there's miso based, soy based. Japanese people love their pickles. And it is something that you will always have at the end of the meals but also, they like to have it with tea. It used to be that if you go to the countryside, they'll serve you tea and bring out a dish of homemade pickles and you just kind of munch on it.

CK: Give me some tips or ideas for how to put together a quick dish using your principles. sandwich you know about cooking but using an American refrigerator and kitchen.

SS: So, I want to make a quick meal, I want to make some soup, soup is easy. So, what I do is I have these basic seasonings that you could make ahead of time, and it sits in my pantry. I call it ____ but it's my magic seasoning, which is made with soy sauce, mirin. And if you want to put a little sweetener, then it's a little sugar in addition to the mirin, but that waits for me in my pantry, and it's good for six months. So that's always on standby. So, if I want to make a quick soup, all I have to do is add that to the broth.

CK: Excellent. I mean, that's perfect. Let's talk a little bit about bento boxes. You said the other kids would sort of compare boxes. One of them had an artfully cut vegetables that looked like a flower garden in the box. So, do people compare and people had very different ways of giving their kids lunch in the bento box?

SS: Yes. So, I grew up partially in Tokyo. And I would sit with my girlfriends, and we would compare our lunch boxes. And I had a couple of girlfriends that their mothers made the most beautiful lunch. Whereas my mother was always so busy trying to make lunch for her five kids. So, it wasn't always that pretty. And sometimes she would put things that I did not like, like it took me a long time to acquire a taste for shitake mushrooms. I hated little fish. We call them tazukuri but baby sardines. And she would just cover the bento box with baby sardines. And shitake mushrooms. And I would just go oh my god, and envy my friends. But you know, like my son who grew up, he was born here and grew up in America. He used to take my bento box to school every day. And one day he came back and says Mom, I don't want your bento box anymore. And I was like heartbroken. I said why? And he said, well, this boy said that this ____, I just had a go, this is like this cod row that he loved look like a finger. And he says it looks like a finger sticking out of the rice. And he made fun of that. And he says I don't want that anymore. So, for the rest of that school year, he took sandwiches to school. But later he recovered from that, and he asked for bento again, and nowadays, children bring all kinds of things to school, which is wonderful. You know, we've become such an open-minded culture here in America that we don't have to suffer the way you know, some of us had to when we were growing up.

CK: So, you were born in New York City, you live outside of LA now in the interim, you were in Tokyo, Mexico City, other places. Are you where you want to be in the world now?

SS: Definitely. I think that we are in an age that even if we don't travel, we could be in so many places because of the way we can connect with the world. So, I am very happy being here.

CK: But that's a very long way from Japan, which is obviously near and dear to your heart.

SS: Yes. And I used to always long for Japan. And there was this feeling that the sojourn feeling that we were just here temporarily. And we will eventually go back. And you know, we were always waiting for the care packages just to come from Japan. And I would look at my comic books, and my mother would open the box of tea and Nori and miso, and she would be elated. But these days, there's more access to these ingredients. And I also don't look to Japan for getting all my ingredients, I have a way of using local ingredients. And even if they're not the authentic Japanese ingredients, I have learned to be more flexible, just incorporating those ingredients into my Japanese dishes, which is my way of cooking Japanese food authentically my way. So, I think we have really evolved. You know, in the last 30 years since I actually wrote my last cookbook, things have become more open and easier. And even though I am far away from Japan, I am really not that far away.

CK: Sonoko, thank you so much for being on Milk Street

SS: Thank you so much for inviting me

CK: That was Sonoko Sakai her latest book is called Japanese Home Cooking Simple Meals Authentic Flavors. I think it's fair to say that Japanese cooking is indeed a philosophy. It encompasses harmony and diversity through color, size of portions, temperature, food, texture, and quality of presentation. But Japanese tradition also requires that one come to the table without anger, eat for spiritual enlightenment and also be thankful for the farmer who provides the food. And that's why I really love to cook. One can find a whole universe of possibilities in each and every bite. It's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe dried cherry chocolate chunk cookies. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris.

CK: So, we went all the way to Sydney, Australia to find a chocolate chunk cookie seems a bit excessive.

LC: Well, it's the best cookie in the world. So, you go for the best cookie.

CK: So, was this at a bakery? Where did we find it?

LC: So, we found this at the Bork Street bakery. They have bakeries in Sydney. They actually just opened one in New York as well. And what sets this cookie apart it's a chocolate cookie with chocolate chunks, but it also has dried sour cherries. So, you got a really nice balance between the richness and the tart sour cherry.

CK: So now you're asking me to go out and find dried sour cherries, are you?

LC: Oh contraire, we are going to make our own dried sour cherries, which is a really simple process. We take sweet, dried cherries and add some balsamic vinegar pop it in the microwave and the cherries get nice and plumped up with that vinegar make some really nice and tart and tangy

CK: and the method is pretty classic.

LC: It's a pretty simple chocolate cookie melted butter, we add chocolate and cocoa powder to that. Let that cool and then in the mixer we mix together eggs and sugar. Add that chocolate mixture with some vanilla and then the dried ingredients flour, baking soda and salt

CK: So, the cherries go into at some point

LC: They do we made them we want to add them. So, we add in our homemade dried sour cherries. Some chocolate chunks which add a melty pocket of chocolate in the cookie and then chopped toasted pecans

CK: So, all the way from Sydney Australia dried sour cherry chocolate chunk cookies, and I can cancel my flight. (Yes) eat them right here. Thank you, Lynn.

LC: You're welcome, Chris. You can get this recipe for dry cherry chocolate chunk cookies at Milk Street

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio coming up Dan Pashman exalts the virtues of eating alone on Valentine's Day. We'll be right back. This is Milk Street Radio I’m Christopher Kimball. Next up Sara Moulton and I will take on a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is John calling from Boston.

SM: Oh okay. In our neck of the woods. How can we help you today?

Caller: I'm calling with a question related to some very hospitable and generous in-laws.(Best kind) who love to cook dinner for us every Sunday. But unfortunately, they're trying to cut salt entirely out of their diet. I don't want to be the guy rushing into their kitchen and let me cook dinner. Let me do all this because we're there every week. But every once in a while, I'll try to cook something, and they usually love it. And they ask what's in it? And I say well, there's a little bit of salt. And anyways, they love barbecuing and grilling. So, there's usually meat on the table. And I know salt plays a number of roles with meat as far as in a marinade to open up the meat and pulling juices in. I'm wondering if there's something else that can do the same thing. That's not salt. Maybe a different question is how do we get more flavor into a grilled dish? Perhaps after we're done cooking without a lot of salt.

SM: Ooh, this is really a problem. Were they told by their doctor to really cut back?

Caller: They were I can't say that they've entirely ruled it out because they both love getting takeout Indian food and Chinese food, but I don't think they realize how much salt is in there

CK: No there goes that right out the window.

SM: Here's the crazy thing and I would never go against a doctor's orders but salt used judiciously. If you sort of add it along the way you end up using less salt and it does its job much much better than waiting till the end but you're specifically talking about meat Correct?

Caller: I guess all around.

CK: Let's just start at the beginning. They are concerned about using salt in their home cooking for medical reasons. I've said this many times they're different studies but 80 to 90% of their salt intake is not coming from their home cooking. It's coming from stuff you buy the supermarket the restaurants takeout etc. So, the amount of salt that Sara just said that you would use in home cooking is Some studies say 10% Some say A 20 It's a tiny percentage of your total salt intake, they are misguided in where to cut their salt, they should just not do the takeout. The second thing is, there is a way to get flavor on the grill. Take a steak, for example. Put it in a low oven, get it up to 90 degrees internal finishing on the grill, that will actually increase the flavor of the steak. But without salt. I mean, you just got to have salt, there's no way around it. If you don't salt it, it's not going to taste good.

Caller: But particular with marinade it’s the way I understand it is you need salt to kind of bring flavor inside the meat.

CK: The salt allows the meat fibers to absorb more liquid, but more importantly, retain them when they're cooked. (Yeah) and that's what they do. So, without the salt, you're not getting the benefit. And secondly, even with salt marinades don't penetrate very far and they don't carry much flavor. (no) , the salt however, is helpful because when you cook that meat, for example, it will retain liquid and that's what the salts doing. You know, you could just grab off the internet one of these studies that says that almost all of your salt comes from outside the home. You might just casually leave that around

SM: Print it out and leave it on the counter.

CK: So anyway, best of luck. Sounds like you’ve got some work for you.

SM: Yeah, yeah.

Caller: Thanks so much.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Justine from Houston.

SM: Hi, Justine. How can we help you today?

Caller: I'm having difficulty with pies. My husband and I are transplanted northerners and every year we go up to visit family in western New York on Lake Erie and we raid the local farm stands for black raspberries which are his favorite. And we bring them home and I make a pie with them. And every year the pie turns into a disastrous gooey mess. And I have tried changing up the ratio of flour, Wondra flour, tapioca, gelatin, and cornstarch. And I just can't seem to get it right. So, this year our harvest is still in the freezer. I've been practicing every few weeks with a combination of raspberries and blackberries. And I just can't get it right.

SM: Are you familiar with the book Bravetart by Stella Parks?

Caller: No, I'm not.

SM: She's really great. And I highly recommend you get that book. She recommends weighing your fruit, and then adding a certain percentage of tapioca and sugar. And her basic formula is 5.5% of the weight of the berries in tapioca. And then 25% of the weight in sugar, because it's the water more than the pectin that affects the fruit. But the fact that it's frozen, I'm not quite sure what to do with it. Chris, your thoughts?

CK: Yeah, I've made a lot of berry pies. And first of all, forget cornstarch flour, you want minute tapioca. That's the only thing that I know all the pastry chefs on the back of the box is going to say use four tablespoons of tapioca for four cups of fruit, which is insane because you could play tennis with that by the time you're finished, I would say just start two tablespoons of minute tapioca per four cups of fruit. You might want to back that down on the second try. But that should give you plenty of thickening power. The only problem you're going to have is if you use a lattice pie where that mini tapioca has exposed will become like a tic tac. So, either your use of two crust pie fully covered, or you need to put them into tapioca into a little spice grinder or whatever, just to grind it up a little bit. But that should do it. The final thing is you really have to cool that pie way down. It's got to sit for hours and hours at room temperature till it really sets four or five hours to cool properly.

Caller: You recommend cooking the fruit.

CK: Don't cook it. I think when you cook a filling for fruit before you bake it you get really dull the flavor of the fruit. I don't recommend doing that. You want a fresher fruit flavor don't precook it.

SM: What about frozen versus fresh berries?

CK: I've never tested with frozen two tablespoons would be my starting point. Sara maybe right there once you freeze fruit thought and then put it into a pie. You have a different problem. It’s possible

SM: With these frozen berries what I would do is strain them. Save the juice. Measure the berries go with Chris's proportion, but I would reduce the juice and add it to the pie.

CK: That's good idea. Minute tapioca reduce the liquid.

SM: There you go.

CK: There we go.

SM: Okay.

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: All right. Thanks, Jessie.

CK: Take care.

Caller: Bye bye

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are ready to answer your questions please call us at 855-426-9843 that number once again is 855-426-9843 or email us at questions Milk Street

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Alison Wolf from Bronxville, New York.

SM: Hi, Alison, what's your question today?

Caller: Well, my question is about my broiler that I've never been able to find an answer to, I have an oven that I assume is unusual and that in order to use the boiler, I have to set it to a particular temperature. And it can go as high as 550 degrees or as low as 250 degrees. And every recipe I come across when it directs you to broil it says either heat boiler or that boiler to high. And this goes for every kind of recipe, be it fish or vegetables or meat. And so, I never know what temperature the recipe is assuming my broiler is or what I should set it to, depending on what I'm cooking.

SM: Well, first of all, is this an old stove?

Caller: No, it's a fairly new-ish. European oven.

SM: Well, the general temperature for boiling is between 500 and 600 degrees.

Caller: Oh, it's that high?

SM: Oh, yeah, the element is usually at the top correct. And the ideal space between the boiler and your item that you're boiling should be about four inches, maybe six inches tops. And you should also go back and read the instructions that came with your stove. I think most of the modern ovens, you're supposed to keep the door closed, but in the old days, you had to keep the door open for the broiler to work properly. So, I would just double check, although I imagine closed is the way to go. But yeah, between 500 and 600

CK: Well, so can I ask a question. So, you have one knob where you can set bake, broil, roast, etc, right? Yep. And then you have another knob which sets the temperature?

Caller: Yep, you hit boil and then you have to set a particular temperature and I have had moments where I've definitely under boiled, you know, had it on too low and moments where I've definitely had it on too high.

CK: Does the knob that has the temperatures at the top? Does it say broil at the very top or does it say broil anywhere on the temperature?

Caller: It just is a button that you push broil. And then you have to set a separate monitor.

CK: You just set at the top there are other problems with broilers is they have hotspots. Yep. And preheating a broiler I have this problem. I have to preheat it for 15 or 20 minutes, because five or 10 minutes, is just not enough to really get it going.

Caller: Oh, that long.

CK: Yeah. but It depends on your oven but mine

SM: You can sometimes tell if you open the door, and you can see that it's bright orange or whatever.

Caller: But you think when it just calls to set your boiler too high, I can actually go to 550 degrees.

CK: You absolutely should.

SM: That is what you should always do.

CK: It should be at the max. Yeah, it makes no sense but the only thing I can imagine is you had a very sweet topping on a cake or something and you just wanted to give it a little bit of color. You might not want to go all the way to the top. But yeah, it's always to the top.

SM: Yeah.

Caller: Okay, that's great to know. I was worried that maybe that was more like a pizza oven. Temperature.

SM: No, no, not at all

CK: it's called broil for a reason

Caller: Yeah, I guess that's true

SM: It's hot. Alright Alison

CK: Give that a shot.

Caller: Great. Thank you so much.

SM: Okay.

Caller: Byebye

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.

Caller: Hi, my name is Kathy and here's my tip for making stock. I use my 12-quart stockpot with the pasta insert. I placed the insert in the pot and place all my stock ingredients in the insert. I then add water and cook until done. When my stock is done, I removed the insert with all the stock ingredients from the stock pot. And all that's left behind is the stock liquid. This is a lot less messy than pouring from the pot into a strainer.

CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk tips. Next up, it's the unpredictable Dan Pashman? Dan, how are you?

Dan Pashman: I'm good, Chris. Happy almost Valentine's Day.

CK: That's one of those things I forget till about 12 hours before

DP: and then what do you do?

CK: I panic. Because it's one of those days where everyone says, oh, it doesn't really matter. But it really does matter right?

DP: And so, then what do you do when you panic? How do you remedy the situation?

CK: There's a flower shop three blocks from our house, and she saves me every time.

DP: You just come sprinting in and she's like, here you go, Chris, I had your bouquet ready for you,

CK: basically, yeah, right.

DP: Well, I kind of share your feeling about Valentine's Day. I mean, my wife and I aren't that into it. And I feel like it's one of those holidays that has become a bigger and bigger deal over time because it's a way for marketers to get us to spend money on things. And I mean, restaurants on Valentine's Day are just a nightmare. They're overpriced. They're overcrowded, you know, they're just trying to crank as many covers as they can. So, I'm kind of advocating an anti-Valentine’s Day, a day of solo self-care of going out to eat In a restaurant that you want to eat at an eating by yourself,

CK: No, no, wait, wait, no, this is odd advice. So you go out to a restaurant that's packed with romantic or at least supposedly romantic couples celebrating their love together. And you're, you're sitting at the bar by yourself having meze

DP: Well, maybe I wouldn't go out on one of those prime Valentine's Day nights.

CK: Oh, I see. Okay,

DP: celebrate solo Valentine's Day on February 15.

CK: Okay, okay, that sounds better.

DP: I'm more just want to speak in favor of the joys of going out to eat by yourself.

CK: When I travel, I very often do eat alone, actually, because of the odd schedule. And once in a while. It's actually quite enjoyable. You're right.

DP: What do you like about it?

CK: I like the quiet of it and you can actually really enjoy your food.

DP: Yeah, I find that when I eat alone, I enjoy my food so much more, because I'm really focused on it. And I also actually, I think I eat less because I'm getting so much pleasure from each bite. And I kind of pause and think about the food and enjoy it and realize when I'm full, instead of just like gobbling and Goblin, because I'm in the middle of a conversation.

CK: Here are two married guys, with kids talking about the joys of eating alone. It's kind of an obvious thing, isn't it? I mean.

DP: It is,

CK: I have to say, the French and many other cultures do understand that eating is is a social act first and foremost. Many years ago in the 80s, I was in Paris, and I was by myself. And there was a table eight people French obviously, having a wonderful time and eating bread and drinking wine, the hands are moving, it was just absolutely delightful. And there was an American couple who walked in with their shoulders slouched. And they sat down at the table next to me and did not say a word for like an hour and a half. So, I have to say, the ultimate dining experience is probably with other people enjoying their company. But you're right once in a while it's a nice change,

DP: Maybe the ultimate dining experiences is with others, but the ultimate eating experience, I think, I think is so low. And I actually interviewed Deepak Chopra on this subject. So, I'll leave you Chris with some some of his advice, which is that when you're eating by yourself, you should pause. Look at the plate, look at the food, smell the food. Just take your time and observe all the little details of it. Breathe and appreciate it take a bite. Taste it, chew it swallow it put your fork and knife

CK: Dan what Dan?

DP: I'm having a moment here Chris

CK: You think Deepak Chopra was going to say just wolf it down and leave, of course he's going to say that

DP: Yes, but I’m just saying I follow his advice. I was in Richmond, Virginia, at a place called Mama J's and I had a fantastic piece of fried catfish there. And it was so much better than I was by myself. They had some tartar sauce and some hot sauce, and I was using both of those and experimented with ratios until I got just the right tang and creaminess just right. And it was so delicious and fantastic. And I would not have gotten so much pleasure from that if I had had to be carrying on a conversation

CK: Okay, I just have to say if I walked into a restaurant and heard someone going _____om and it was you before eating your catfish I'd be. I'd order you an old fashioned until let's get on with it, man. I don't know. Yeah, I don't see you as someone who's meditating while eating catfish.

DP: I'm a lot more Zen than you give me credit for Chris

CK: I don't give you any credit for it so evidently you are. Dan Pashman on the joys of meditation, Deepak Chopra, and fried catfish. Thank you, Dan.

DP: Namaste, Chris.

CK: That was Dan Pashman, host of the Sportful Food podcast. Dan Pashman suggests eating alone this Valentine's Day, but he's hardly alone in unusual ways to celebrate this holiday. My favorite tradition is of course from France. Many many years ago, there was a love lottery. That means men and women faced off calling out the names of their desired lovers and then pairing off. But the women who were not chosen would meet afterwards for a bonfire, burning pictures of men who had wronged them, hurling insults at the opposite sex. So maybe Dan Pashman is in fact, right. Just make a reservation for one that's Valentine's Day and avoid the heartbreak. That's it for today. If you tune in too late or just want to listen again, you could download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk There you can download each week's recipe, watch the new season of our television show. Browse our online store or order our latest cookbook, The New Rules Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with WGBH. Executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, co-executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Associate Producer Jackie Novak, production assistant Sarah Clapp and production help from Debby Paddock. Senior audio engineer David Goodman, a digital editing from Vicki Merrick Sidney Lewis and Samantha Brown, and audio mixing from 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.