Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm host Christopher Kimball. Today we're speaking with Nicole Byer, comedian and host of the amateur baking competition show Nailed It. She talks about her first day on set, how she uses improv and physical comedy. And why the show is not about watching people fail.
Nicole Byer: These people don't know how to bake. We give them time limits. We ask them to recreate this insane thing. And there's eight cameras in front of them. And then there's me a comedian that they might know, might not no screaming at them. So, I fully understand how you would freak out under that kind of pressure. It's crazy.
CK: Also, coming up, we get a good char on Catalonian inspired grilled vegetables. And later, we learned how to make perfect homemade fried rice. J Kenji Lopez alt. But first is my interview with Karl De Smedt. He's manager of the world's only international sourdough library. Karl, welcome to Milk Street.
Karl Smedt: Thank you for having me.
CK: Let's start with a really stupid question, what is a sourdough starter?
KS: That's not really a stupid question is a question a lot of people ask. A sourdough starter is actually very simple to make. It's a blend of flour and water that comes to life by feeding it during six, seven days daily with fresh water and fresh flour. And then life occurs, the microorganisms start to multiply and then you have something that has fermentation power that makes the bread leaven, and you have lactic acid bacteria that do amazing things with the proteins in the flour.
CK: Why does sometimes you can make a starter it works. Other times it doesn't work. And other times it turns really sour it has an off flavor or odor to it. So why is it sometimes successful and sometimes not successful?
KS: The reason it is not successful might be that first of all people give up too fast. You will notice that when you when you start a sourdough, that the first couple of days, it can really stink and you think that you did something wrong, but you just have to keep going. Secondly, it could be that the flour just is not fit for a sourdough, that the flour has been treated or bleached. And thirdly, a sourdough actually acidifies time after time. So, what happens is that some of these lactic acid bacteria cannot survive when the environment is too sour. So, sourdough becomes a very simple thing where only one or two lactic acid bacteria survive that are very dominant and that are responsible for a high production of sourdough. Making sourdough is simple but maintaining it and keeping it consistent that's that's another ballgame.
CK: So, you have over 100 starters in your library. sourdough library. Yeah, how often do you have to go in and refresh each of these sourdough starters?
KS: Yeah, we do every two months, we feed all of them three times before putting them back. In the fridges. We feed them following the recipe we got from the owners and they give us their recipe and the amounts that they are using. And they also send us the flour that they use in order to refresh. So, besides the collection of sourdoughs, we also have a collection of flours because some sourdoughs contain two, three, there's even one up to six different kinds of flours
CK: And the flour you add to the sourdough over time will completely change its flavor if you don't use the right flour, right.
KS: If you start changing the flour, the the flavor of the sourdough will change but also the temperature change of two degrees. Or maybe in Fahrenheit, it's five degrees difference can completely change the overall flavor of a sourdough. When you go in a colder fermentation, you produce a lot of acidic acids. So, your sourdough thence to be more vinegar to be more acidic. When you go warm. Your sourdough is more milky, more lactic. In all of these warm countries, there is often no link to sourness, but in the colder countries, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, they have a cold climate and often the breads are more acidic there than in a country like Italy for instance, in Italy, it's very difficult to find acidic bread
CK: That's really interesting I always wondered about that because, like I spent a little time in Austria, and they have a lot of hausbrot and other things and there's a lot of acidic breads. Let's talk about these 128 starters. So some of them are pretty interesting. You said number 100 is Japanese. It's made with a cooked sake rice. Could you talk about that?
KS: Yes. So, there's a bakery from Tokyo Kimuraya bakery. And they have this starter made from cooked rice and malted rice, so is a blend of cooked rice and a bit of malted rice. And its origins from 1874 and it was in the the moment that in Japan, the Emperor was taking all the power and the Samurai’s, suddenly, we're all out of job. Now a samurai can never work for another for someone else. So, a lot of them became independent. Some of them became fishermen, carpenters, butchers, whatever. And Mr. Kimura he became a baker. And he learned how to make sourdough only, he was not happy with the flavor of it. And he had a friend Samurai who was doing sake he was making sake. And so, they started to convert the flour to rice. And they ended up with this amazing what they call a sake ___ sourdough, which is just cooked rice and a little bit of malted rice.
CK: You wrote a starter has its own heart, almost its own will treat a starter nicely and it will reward you tremendously like a good friend. So so so my question is, you love starters, and you treat them and think of them as as your friends, right? You have 128 very close friends in your library?
KS: Yes, but luckily, I am not the only one. I think that everyone who has a starter at home, people compare it to a pet, or to baby or whatever. Because it's something if you brought it to life by yourself, whether you have a certain link to it. And for me in the library, I know a lot of the people of course behind a starter and some have become good friends.
CK: Karl, it's been a real pleasure having you on Milk Street and now have to go start my starter.
KS: Well, good luck with it. And if you need advice, you know where to find me.
CK: That was Karl de Smedt he's manager of the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library in Belgium. It's time to take some of your calls. My cohost, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television also author of Home Cooking 101. So, Sara, before we open up the phone lines, I do have a very personal question.
Sara Moulton: Oh, dear.
CK: So, what was it you loved most? You worked at Gourmet for like 10 years. Was there a moment that was really like the best day at Gourmet?
SM: Well, I had two different jobs there. The first one was being in the test kitchen the first four years. And I'd say really good day was when I did my first centerfold.
CK: That sounds wrong,
SM: but I do think there was an element of pornography, you know, to food photography, because you just want people to be drooling. The first one I did was in July of 1984.
CK: Wow. So, what was it?
SM: Well, I did a two-melon soup, puree of honeydew and cantaloupe and back then they had more flavor than they do now. And one was flavored with lemon juice and one was flavored with lime juice. And then the whole thing had a little plop of sour cream and some shredded mint. And then I did actually salmon scallopini with dried porcini mushroom sauce. I don't remember what else was on there, but it was very exciting. So that was a high point.
CK: I’m hungry. Okay, open up the phones
CK: Welcome to Milk Street, who’s calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Sally ___ from Wilmington.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: It's about meat doneness. (Okay) I hope you can help me understand the term I heard on the first season of Top Chef. When a contestant was told her steaks were over rested. What does over rested mean? What does it look like, Is it cold, is it congealed? How can you tell if it's over rested?
CK: Resting simply means when a roast or a steak is done. A lot of people think you should let it rest and sit at room temperature for depends on how big the roast or steak a steak would be a few minutes. A roast could be 20 minutes, a turkey might be half an hour. And it allows the juices to be reabsorbed by the muscle fibers in the meat. Now, over rested means someone let it sit so long that it started to cool off. And it's no longer at a temperature where you really want to eat it. And some people think resting is a bunch of nonsense anyway. You know Meathead Goldwyn, for example, who's on the show a lot is a grilling expert out of Chicago. He thinks you should grill a steak and then just eat it because that's the right temperature really, and I'd say I've had mixed results I think if you cut into it, the second and it comes off the grill or out of the oven. That's probably a mistake. But I think letting something sit 20 minutes like roast chicken. I mean, after 20 minutes, it starts to get cool. So, I would say very brief rest of a few minutes is fine.
SM: I've never heard that term before, so somebody invented it on Top Chef. Never heard that term at all
CK: Tom Colicchio, I think was a judge on Top Chef and he hates meat that's been sitting around. It may have been him who said it?
Caller: He’s the one who said it
SM: I think resting is extremely important. I've seen huge differences in when I let something rest and when I don't. It tends to be juicier, it tends to be more evenly cooked, it doesn't dry out. Let's say I've accidentally overcooked something like a pork loin or a pork tenderloin which is easy to overcook. If I let it rest, it tends to cover up some of that problem. If I’ve (a) overcooked, it slightly and (b) sliced into it right away is just tough and dry. So, I'm a huge fan of resting.
CK: We both agree resting's important. The question is how long
Caller: Yeah. I mean, I think of duck that really does need to be rested. But other than that, you know, I was just wondering, and you know, I'm glad to hear that over rested is not a thing. I really appreciate this information. It's great. Thank you.
CK: Try a few minutes and see what happens. Sally thanks for calling
SM: Yes, thanks for calling
Caller: Thanks a lot
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Jeremy from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: So, I like cooking with the beans, whether they're dry beans or canned beans, and I've noticed that there's a lot of recipes, that will tell you to soak the beans, and then toss the liquid. And the last time I did this, I realized that the liquid that the beans were soaking in came up a little cloudy, and had you know viscosity to it. So, I was thinking that there's got to be all kinds of good stuff that's coming out of the beans into the water that you shouldn't just toss down the drain. So, I was wondering what the reasoning is to toss it, whether we should toss it, or whether if I'm making a pot of beans for soup or a stew especially where the exact amount of water doesn't really matter as much as I shouldn't just toss the beans and the water into the pot.
CK: Okay. We like to soak beans overnight, or 24 hours I just
SM: let’s just clarify because he said he likes to cook with dried or canned, we're talking about the dried only.
CK: And you would use eight cups of water and two tablespoons of kosher salt. So, in that case, given the salt level, you would have to toss it. You wouldn't want to cook the beans in the brine. Number two, I'm of the belief although all scientists totally disagree with me, which never slows me down. (SM: Now you're going flatulence) Well, yeah, in terms of gas, I think, and I believe that if you toss that water, you end up in a better place in terms of digestion than if you don't. Although we did some research on this and nobody has confirmed that's true. And the third thing is I just got back from Mexico City and I was with a chef Eduardo Garcia who makes the best bean stew on the world. He soaks them for 24 hours, throws out the water
SM: soaks them in salted water?
CK: No, he doesn't use salt, he uses three times more water than beans once they're soaked and cooks them. But he had a trick which I love. If you want to add meat to your beans, like pork, cook the pork in water, which is what they do in Mexico separately, right? Once it's cooked, take it out and use that cooking liquid for what they used in the pork for the beans. Ah See, stock that is amazing, because you've made a meat stock right with the pork. And that's going to be a lot more flavorful than whatever water used to soak the beans. And the last thing I'll just add is he made a sofrito you know, onions, garlic, etc. tomato. He cooked that in a skillet for 10 minutes and added that at the end. Not at the beginning. So, if you want the world's best pot of beans stewed beans, you know just cook up a sofrito but instead of adding it at the beginning, just top the beans with it. Salt the water at a time I think that a lot a lot of flavor.
SM: Yeah, I mean, can I just weigh in I mean Chris is the expert on beans but that the reason for salting the water that you soak them in overnight is twofold. One is it helps to make the skin of the bean more tender. And also, it deeply flavors the beam. So, the bean taste I'm not going to say salty, just more beanie. It just upsets natural taste, you know, but we still haven't addressed the nutrients. How do we feel about that?
CK: Well, I mean, it's got so much salt in it. You got to throw it out
SM: but if you didn't,
CK: on one hand we have flatulence and the other hand we have protein,
SM: I'm sure you're throwing out some nutrients and if you're not salting the water, I would say and you you want to go ahead cooking in the water it’s soaked in.
CK: Alright, Jeremy, thank you.
SM: Thank you.
SM: Take care. Bye bye
Caller: Alright, thanks.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a food related question, give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 one more time. That's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: Hi, I'm Sydney.
SM: Hi, Sydney. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from Los Angeles.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I made some crinkle cookies a few weeks ago, and I had a problem. They didn't crinkle and I tried a few different things with like chilling the dough, but every time they were just really flat, so I was wondering how I can fix that and make them crinkly?
SM: Did you do the traditional thing of rolling them in the confectioner's sugar at the end?
Caller: I did. And I thought I put too much so I did less. But then they were just kind of like the sugar melted into them.
SM: Wow. Because that's what makes them crinkle is the sugar is rolling them in the sugar because the sugar sort of dries out the cookie, you know at the top while the rest of the cookie inside stays moist. Chris, help help.
CK: I'm confused. Is this a chocolate crinkle cookie or something else?
Caller: It's a chocolate crinkle cookie?
CK: What's the oven temperature you're baking at?
CK: You might try 325 because it's the spreading of the dough that causes the crinkling on the top right. So, you might try that. The other thing you might try is you said something about chilling the dough. That's going to mean the dough’s not going to spread So I think this is a case sort of unique case where you wouldn't chill the cookies. The dough the balls of dough first, I would think they could be soft and then just throw them in the oven. Those two things I would try. Are these ending up being pretty thin. I mean, are they puffed up? Or what happens when they bake?
Caller: Well, they don't really spread out. So, I think that might have been the problem.
CK: They were chilled first the balls, the dough?
Caller: Yes, they were I think just don't
CK: I think just don't don’t chill them
SM: Yeah. And let us know how it goes.
Caller: I will
CK: Give that a shot. I think that should solve the problem.
Caller: All right. Thank you so much.
CK: Thanks Sydney
Caller Bye bye.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next we're chatting with Nicole Byer, comedian, and host of Nailed That and more in just a moment.
Support for Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio comes from Instant Pot, the pressure cooker that steam salty, slow cooks, bakes cakes and so much more. Definitely not your grandmother's pressure cooker. Go to Instant Pot.com for details.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Nicole Byer. She's a comedian, also host of the Netflix amateur baking competition Nailed it. Nicole, welcome to Milk Street.
Nicole Byer: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
CK: Well, it's a pleasure having you on. You used to wait tables, and you said your customer’s quote. “They would give me a lot of money because they were like, you're very funny. And then they would say but you're really bad at waiting tables”. (Yeah) So, you decided that improv was really a much better career path and then being in the restaurant business?
NB: Yeah, I, my roommate at the time, my friend Jenny was a server and she made very good money. And I was like, how do I make money and she said, Well, you can serve at my restaurant. I said, Okay, and then I quickly found out I cannot balance a tray. One of my legs is longer than the other. So, I walk up and down, and I knew this about myself. But I was like holding a tray can't be that hard. Well, when you are not needed and one of your legs is longer than the other, you will drop almost everything you try to put on a tray. I would always forget like a kid's meal. So, everyone would have their food and kid would be in a corner. And let's say you want to eat first. So, I'd be like, I'm sorry, the kitchen, always blame the kitchen. And I remembered if tables asked for like, a bunch of things like forks and straws and ketchup, I'd be like, guys, I'll come back with one of those things or all of those things. Who knows? So, I made my bad waitressing a game. So that's why people gave me money. And then I found improv.
CK: What was your first night of doing improv in front of an audience like?
NB: Oh, my first time I did improv, in front of an audience was a student show. It was like my 101 show. And so, my dad had died in the middle of my improv class. And I was like, come see my improv show before he died. And he was like, Ah, okay. And then he died and the joke I like to say is my dad, he'd rather die than watch me make stuff up on stage. Some people don't like that joke. I love it.
CK: Well, only you can tell that joke.
NB: Yeah, but it was like, exhilarating. And it was fun. And you didn't know what was going to happen. And that was addicting. And then I realized that like, I love being on stage, I love it. I need it. I crave it. It was amazing.
CK: You said about that. doing improv after you're dead? You said I didn't have to be me. I could go on stage and be Hey, like, I'm an elephant. Yeah. Was that something that was relevant just at that time after your father died or is that just something that you love about being onstage?
NB: I mean, I think it ties into a lot of things in my life. My mother died when I was in high school in a play. So, I didn't have to deal with my mother's death for like, you know, the two hours that play rehearsal was happening in high school. So that was a wonderful escape. Because, I mean, nobody really knows how to talk to a 16-year-old about their mother dying. My dad didn't know how to do it. Like my sister wasn't equipped because she was only a year and a half older than me. So, it was therapeutic to have something where I didn't have to be me. And people were like, you're funny, and you're talented. So, like that. positive affirmations made me feel better. So, when it happened with my dad, it was kind of like a saving grace. I think the universe knew that I needed a performance outlet in order to grieve properly or get a moment to step out from grieving. And so, and it feeds into each other. Like it was a way for me to grieve away from me to escape, but then also the thing that I needed and the thing that I love.
CK: So now your show, Nailed It. A baking competition where everybody ends a disaster. It's an odd but oddly, wonderful combination. Between you and Jacques Torres, your compatriot the the serious chef on the show, baker on the show, how does that work exactly?
NB: So, when I got the job, I told them, I didn't know anything about baking. I had no prior knowledge about chef's baking pastries, nothing. And they were like, great, we love it. And I didn't get to meet Jacques before filming. And they called me to set, and they were just like, here are your marks. Here's the camera. Here's where the prompter will be. And here's Jacques Torres and I was like, Hello Jacques Torres and I I mean, I didn't do any research. I didn't know a single thing about this man. And talking to him. I was like, oh my god, he seems to know so much. Also, he's really kind. And then I was like, this old Frenchman was old white Frenchman. I don't think he's going to like my jokes. But I said something like real filthy. And he laughed so hard. And he goes on the call Who? Well, you're funny. And I was like, Oh, we meet in this older gentleman have the same sense of humor. We think the same things are funny. And then I went home after that first day and was like, wow, this man was kind funny. Liked me, and really smart and like a joy to be around. So, then I like, looked him up. And I was like, holy ___ this man is like a world-renowned pastry chef, who is baked and cooked for famous people and has had his own television show. I was like, oh my god, I didn't know I was sitting next to this man. That is like so well respected. Like he's just like, I don't know. It's one of those things where like, I don't have parents. So, the universe places older people in my life, who are parent like, and he's one of those people, and he is just he's treated me so kind. And so well, his wife is so kind and so nice to me. I'm very blessed to have them in my life, which sounds very cheesy, but I'm very grateful for him.
CK: He does look very kind. But what's so interesting about the show is, you look like you should be hosting the show. I mean, it's it makes perfect sense to me. And he kind of looks sometimes like, how exactly that. Oh, yeah, I mean, why am I here? I don't quite get it.
NB: I said to him. I think it was season four. I was like, don't you find it ironic that you're a highly decorated well respected pastry chef and you make money eating trash? And then he had a lovely, genuine answer. And he was like, Yes, but I get to teach. And I was like, Yeah, man, you're just like the best. I love him. He's great.
CK: So, your show, nailed it. Really, very few people nail it. Right? Yeah. So, what's the dynamic of a show where all the contestants are kind of losers, that you must have an understanding of how they're actually winners on some level?
NB: I mean, I think they're winners, because they I think that I don't think any of them are losers, because they're all trying something that they've never done. And like people, people always go, oh, I can do that better. Can you? I don't, I don't believe you. So, like, these people don't know how to bake. We give them time limits. We ask them to recreate this insane thing. And there's eight cameras in front of them. And then there's me, a comedian that they might know might not know screaming at them. So, I fully understand how you would freak out under that kind of pressure. It's crazy
CK: What about the end of the show? So, the goal here is is to win the competition? How do you resolve it at the end when you reveal each of the cakes?
NB: Oh, yeah. So, when time's up, they reveal them one by one, we critique them. And then we wait, and then taste them at the judge's table. And then after we taste them, we decide who the winner is based on looks and taste. And a lot of time taste will help some, like if all three look insane. And we're like, oh, none of these look great then we go. We go taste. And then sometimes when they all taste insane, and you're like, this is the wildest thing I've ever put my mouth, then we go on looks.
CK: So, what is the favorite part of your job on the show?
NB: I think my favorite part is I mean when they let me do whatever I want. Yeah, like the comedy is my favorite part of the job. It's a one of those things where I don't know anything about baking, nor do I really care about baking. I'm just trying to make jokes, but I have to judge a baking show. So, like that's my game. Like I asked, Can I roll off the judge's table on the last day? They were like, oh, ha ha ha, Nicole. And I said, no, I really want to roll the judge's table. And they were like, all right, because they they went and got me a big stunt pad. And Wes was like, Alright, Nicole, here's how you roll. And I was like you dum dum. I know how to roll off a table. Are you kidding? I love physical comedy. And then Wes was like, well, I'm just trying to be safe. And I was like, you're just trying to be safe. was truly I'm like the little sister that man has never asked for it. But I roll up the table, I roll all the way to the pantry. I still think it's really funny. I just love when they leave my jokes in, that's my favorite part of my job.
CK: You talked about, you know, rehearsing a joke, if you're stand-up comic for a couple years and finally goes on the special. Are you surprised I assume you are sometimes about what works in front of an audience and what doesn't?
NB: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely mystified sometimes. Also, you'll tell a joke that kills in front of one crowd. And literally 15 minutes later, you'll walk into like, like the improv is two rooms. So, you'll tell it in one room, and it kills you'll walk into the second room and it like dead silent and you're like what the __ happened. And then you have to work backwards because you're like, I know this joke works. I’ve got to make it work for the people. So yeah, it's it's it surprises me all the time. You were on James Corden show.
CK: You were on the James Corden show. Michael Douglas was sitting next to you.
CK: I just loved I was watching you that I started looking at him. And he was like, he didn't know what to do with you. (Yes) He was so uncomfortable. I thought it was just the camera should have been on him the whole time not you. Can you just talking about that because man he looked like he wanted to be somewhere else?
NB: Yeah, he I think it was one of those things where he just he didn't understand how to respond to me. He didn't know what to do with me and I encounter that a lot. But he did tell me I was funny during a commercial break, which was very kind.
CK: So when someone says comedy is really about discovering some sort of, you know, eternal truth about the human condition, is that complete utter nonsense, or is there some truth to that?
NB: I think there's some truth to it. I mean, I'm not like George Carlin, where I'm like, here are the truths of the world and it's a rant. But I do like to pepper in a little bit of like, like, in my special I talk about slavery and stuff and people touching my hair. And I think those are like, things that everyone can relate to, or whatever. But yeah, I think it's like, you're just talking about the human condition and like what we all find funny.
CK: Nicole, it's been an extraordinary pleasure having you on Milk Street
NB: Thank you for having me.
CK: That was actress and comedian Nicole Byer. She's the host of Netflix's baking competition Nailed It. Entertainment and food seem made for each other. But in the early days of the Food Network, that was a questionable proposition. Today, however, on shows such as Nailed It or Chopped, cooking has become a successful medium for almost any type of entertainment from drama to Game Show. Back in 1994, I told Norm Schoenfeld, the founder and Food Network that his idea would never work. Well, one of us laughed all the way to the bank. It's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe Spanish grilled vegetables. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm great, Chris.
CK: So vegetables on the grill are always an afterthought, except in Spain, where they have a history and tradition of cooking vegetables actually on the calls, because they want to get some nice char on the outside and a lot of smoky flavor. So, let's take that concept of getting smoky, almost charred vegetables on the outside off of a backyard barbecue grill,
LC: Right. So usually when we cook vegetables, especially on the grill, we kind of treat them very delicately. What we're going to do here is sort of flip the script on them and treat them like the meat, we would also probably be grilling at the same time that we're cooking the vegetables. So, we're going to create two level grill. One side is going to be very hot, it's going to be over high heat, the other side is going to be off that's going to allow us to get a lot of char on the vegetables, but then move them to the cooler side of the grill so that they can fully cook through and get nice and tender. That's how we cook a steak and so we're going to do the same thing with our vegetables
CK: And what vegetables are we using?
LC: So, we're using eggplant and you want to use Japanese eggplant here they typically use a globe eggplant, but we found a Japanese eggplant is smaller so it's going to cook faster than your skin's you don't have to peel it less prep, red bell pepper, onion, two ways. Red onion cut into wedges and scallions. Those all get tossed with olive oil, sweet or hot paprika and salt and pepper that sits while the grill is heating so it gets some nice flavor on it. And the big thing here is you don't want to be worried about getting too dark. You really want that char on the vegetables. nice smoky smoky flavor. They come off the heat we chop them up into bite size pieces. While we love that char, it did need a little bit of balance, so we added some cherry tomatoes, sherry vinegar, garlic and honey. So, we balance that out with a little bit of sweetness and acidity, and it really goes nicely with a lot of that smoky char we got off the vegetables
CK: So, I can burn my vegetables and I'm doing it right (exactly) is the perfect recipe for me. Thank you, Lynn. This is a great way to grow your vegetables in the summer. This is Escalivada which comes from Spain of course, which is smoky grilled vegetables. Thank you.
LC: You're welcome. You can get this recipe at 177 Milk Street com.
LC: You're listening to Milk Street Radio coming up j Kenji Lopez Alt explains how to make the best fried rice using whatever scraps you have in the fridge. We'll be right back.
At Milk Street we want to help change the way you cook. That means new techniques and new ingredients. Our online cooking school is available for free to anyone who wants to join the Food Revolution. Go to 177 Milk Street com slash school for more information
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. I'm Christopher Kimball. Next up Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to milk street who is calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Olivia Nowinsky from North Wales, Pennsylvania.
SM What is your question today?
Caller: Well, I'm calling because I was making a pork shoulder. And in researching recipes, I was seeing different finishing times for the pork to be at correct temperature as low as 145 and as high as 195. And I got super confused as to why that might be. I thought I reached out to you guys
SM: Well, the thing is that depending on what cut you're using, and pork shoulder, you know, it's a muscle that's used a lot. And it needs to go low and slow, and you know, ultimately reach a higher temperature. The 145. You know, you probably looked at a generic answer for pork loin or tender line, which are not tough cuts of meat and you do want to cook them less because otherwise they will just dry out completely because they don't have the connective tissue and the fat that pork shoulder does.
SM: Trichinosis I've seen anywhere from 137 to 140 is the temperature at which it's killed. And it's not the big issue it used to be. So, you know, when you're dealing with those lower fat leaner meats, you really want to take them only to you know, save about 140 because there's carryover cooking time, Chris?
CK: let's talk about trichinosis one of my favorite topics, almost all the trichinosis cases of which they're I think 20 a year or something comes from squirrel.
SM: How do you know that?
CK: I looked it up once you know, a master of useless information. But I totally agree with Sara, that connective tissue. I mean, if you do a pig roast, for example, which I used to do in August every year, you want the pork to be fall apart tender. And that's not going to happen at 140. That's going to happen at 185 to 200 somewhere in that range. So, I agree with Sara that you really want to cook that but at pork tenderloin has no connective tissue, you're going to cook like a beef tenderloin.
Caller: Okay, that's great to know. I ended up actually cooking it to that higher number accidentally my shoulder was done much sooner than I expected. But it was that perfect like pull apart texture. So, I was glad that that's what I went with.
SM: Oh, well happy ending.
CK: You could also throw a pork shoulder I do it every once a month into a slow cooker. Are you using pressure cooker, Instant pot, whatever. It cooks in an hour or less and you know, cube the meat in two-inch chunks first. And then you have this great bass. You can do anything with tacos or whatever you want. But that's another way of doing it high and fast. But it does a good job. And if you want to cook squirrel, you can call us about that next we're going to smother that in a good French sauce, and you're all set to go.
SM: Squirrel is up next.
Caller: Yeah, not sure I'm ready for that. But I'll keep you guys in mind if I ever do whip out the squirrel.
CK: 1-800 squirrel. Take care
Caller: Thank you. Bye
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're finding yourself stumped to the kitchen, please give us a ring a 855 426-9843 one more time a 855 426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com Welcome to MilK Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Mike. I'm from Sellersburg, Indiana.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, I had a I had an interesting question to me that has to do with my methodology if you will, I run a mac and cheese business. And a couple of my recipes I feel like would be enhanced by some browned butter and I seem to not be able to hit the mark on that. Especially if I'm cooking over flame. It's a lot different so I'm just wondering if there's some tips and tricks on how to get like perfect brown butter.
CK: How much butter Are you trying to brown at one time that for this is a commercial operation sounds like a lot of butter at once right?
Caller: For two gallons of sauce. I'm probably making somewhere around eight to 12 sticks of butter.
CK: What kind of pan are you cooking it in?
Caller: honestly one of the name brands I've gotten at kohl’s, it's given me a lot of good moments and a lot of bad moments.
CK: Is the bottom of the pan dark colored or is it a bright stainless steel?
Caller: a bright stainless steel.
CK: Okay and this is a saucepan or a skillet?
Caller: This would be a saucepan.
CK: Finally, over what kind of heat are you using?
Caller: I start my sauces normally over a medium low to medium just to kind of simmer the butter. But I feel like if I'm going to butter the sauce. I'll start with just the brown butter and I wouldn't know where to start.
CK: I think you want to start medium low.
CK: if you use lower heat, you have a little more time to get it off. So, it will start the foam and as the foam moves down, right, right, you smell that toasted flavor. You have about a nanosecond to get it off because it's going to keep cooking. (Okay) so one thing you could try is if it starts to go get her off the heat quickly, and then use a wooden spoon of some kind and stir it. And then it'll continue to brown slowly,
CK: Using the right pan. Sara, what do you think?
SM: Do you cut the sticks in two tablespoons?
Caller: I do not
SM: If all the pieces were smaller, and all the pieces went in at the same time, I think you know, then also it would all sort of brown more evenly. I also agree with Chris 100%. once you see that, it's just about there, you just get it right off the burner or even pour it into another container.
SM: Another thing you might want to try a skillet or a sauté pan. (Yeah) And try to not crowd the pan so that it's all getting the same heat at the same time in the same space.
Caller: That sounds like a great direction. I really appreciate y'all taking the time to even help me out here. I really do.
SM: I just want to comment that I think browning butter for mac and cheese is a brilliant idea.
Caller: Well, cool. I'm glad to hear that too.
SM: What's the name of your company?
Caller: So, I'm Mike. And we're called Mike and Cheese. Oh. So, we're a mac and cheese food truck. We've been around for about a year now we're making some moves. So, I figured I'd start getting my recipes, you know, really right. And I really want to start wowing people. So I think it's a good idea.
SM: I do too.
CK: Well, I think it’s a great idea. Good for you. Take care. Thanks for calling. Absolutely.
Caller: Absolutely have a great day.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: Welcome to Milk street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Greg.
CK: And Where are you calling from?
Caller: I am in Los Angeles. I'm very happy to speak to both of you.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: in the process of sort of getting better at cooking and reading books. I've gotten to know some chefs. And most of the time when I'm talking to them, I understand everything they're talking about and the technique. But one thing that they constantly are telling me that I do not understand is that they all use wide peelers over swivel peelers one of these chefs went so far as to tell me that the swivel peeler is like the amateur night of peelers and that you would be like shamed in a kitchen for using one.
CK: Well, you know what I would say to that? I'm sorry, I just don't put up with that nonsense. If you like a swivel peeler use a swivel peeler. I mean, is there some sort of speed advantage with it?
Caller: Is there a reason that chaps prefer them that they're preferred in kitchen like every time I use it, there's an awkwardness to holding it I feel more likely to cut myself when I'm feeling like downward with it. Is there some advantage to it that I don't understand?
CK: I don't use a y shaped pillow anymore. I know a lot of people in kitchens I've been around, do like them. To be honest with you. I think it's a little fashionista. You know, I think it's just like it's cool to have a cheap bright red or yellow peeler in your pocket in your chef's coat. I don't think so I use other kinds of peels. I use a serrated peeler actually, that straight. It's an OXO Good Grips, one. And I find that's terrific. I like the bigger handle.
Caller: I'm using a ___like the Recon swivel peeler, which is also a serrated swivel peeler.
CK: That's great.
Caller: But I guess I was sort of under the impression that in kitchens, if you're on the line, that's the swivel peeler for in terms of like your prep that is the standard go to but maybe that's not the case.
CK: It depends what kind of kitchen you're in. And I think people in kitchens really don't care as long as you get the job done quickly and well. I know like in a French, you know, ____ system, you have to address your cutting board in the right way, and you have to hold your knife in the right way and everything else but most other kitchens I know anything about and Sara knows more about it than I do. You get the job done to get the job done right. I don't think anyone's going to worry about a wide peeler versus swivel, right?
SM: I worked in restaurants in the United States for seven years. I don't ever remember there being this, you know, fight over what kind of peeler. I agree with Chris is completely silly. There should be no cook shaming. You know, if, if you're starting with fresh ingredients, and you're prepping from scratch that's all that matters. That's fantastic. Well, that don't put up with it. Just say it works for you. As I dealt with my mother-in-law, my mother taught me to just be vague and say, oh, that's interesting. Oh, wide peelers very interesting so there you go
CK: Hey, wait a minute Sara, you say that to me all the time.
SM: Oh, dear Chris my secrets out, oh dear, oh dear
Caller: Well, I appreciate that you guys. That’s excellent ammo for the next time I run into these people. I will definitely use this argument. Yeah.
CK: Besides which you're not working in estage in a kitchen. You don't have 500 pounds of turnips or potatoes or whatever. So how you want to do it at home what difference does it make
SM: I say whatever works for you is the way to go. Okay, yeah.
Caller: Okay, yeah. All right. Thank you guys very much.
CK: Take care.
SM: Okay, bye bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners
Caller: My name is Kathy Loomis from Anglin, California and my cooking tip is about how to cut an onion without crying. After cutting the onion in half immediately wipe the cutting board and knife with a wet paper towel to remove any onion juices. Then peel the onion halves in the sink under constant running cold water. After chopping the first half, wipe the cutting board and knife again and cover the bowl of chopped onions with a wet paper towel as you chop the other half. Keep the wet paper towel over the bowl of chopped onions until they're needed in your recipe. Happy cooking.
CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk Street com slash radio tips. Next up its food science writer j Kenji Lopez Alt. So, Kenji, what have you been thinking about this week?
Kenji Lopez Alt: Well, I've been cooking a lot of fried rice recently actually, because fried rice is something that I well I tend to make it a lot because I frequently have bits of you know, odds and ends in the fridge and fried rice is one of those dishes that is just sort of ideal for using up your fridge scraps. So, I've been Yeah, I've been testing a lot about what makes good fried rice. What you have to do to the rice to make it ideal for cooking. You know, testing the old wisdom that day old rice is the best, which turns out is actually true. What I did was I got all different types of rice and then I tried frying some immediately, I tried resting some overnight. I tried resting some covered, I tried resting it uncovered. And what I found is that that the real important thing with fried rice is that the external part of each grain of rice is dry, it doesn't really matter if the whole grain is dry. What matters is that the outside is dry. So, if you have day old rice, and it's already started to dry out on the surface that makes great fried rice. But if you want to have fried rice on the same day, you can cook your rice and then take it out spread it out in like a half inch thick layer. So, on a sheet tray, and then leave it out like that. And if you want to speed it up, you can fan it a little bit point a fan at it. And that's what sort of prevents it from sticking to itself. What you don't want to do, which is what I found is that anywhere between like an hour and six hours or so that window of time after you cook the rice, that's the worst time to fry your rice. That's when it sort of gets like clumpy and mushy and really clumps up so either you want to fry your rice like right after you cook your rice and let it let it air dry. Or you want to do it next day.
CK: Okay, so I have some questions. So, in terms of actually frying the rice, you know, I've done it I've seen it done in Thailand, other places, do you have a method that you think is superior or does it really not matter?
KLA: I think a wok is the best thing to stir fry in as opposed to a sort of a Western skillet. You know, when you're when you're doing at home, the tips I have would be break up your rice first before it goes into the pan. And then just as with any stir fry at home, you know your home burner doesn't get as hot as a restaurant. So, you really want to go in batches. So, I would say like no more than a half-pound of stuff at a time. And so usually what I'll do is whatever sort of mix ins I have, so like vegetable scraps, I cut them into, you know, if I have like some yesterday I made some fried rice with some asparagus and some snap peas that I sliced on a bias and some mushrooms so I sauteed those all first in the wok, stir fried them first, take them out, then reheat the wok again, cooked half the rice, take it out again, cook the next half of the rice and then finally dump everything all in together. And you know and personally I tend to go a little bit easy on the on the sauces, you know, like I sometimes even like just a fried rice that just has salt and a little bit of white pepper. You know, not even with any soy sauce or oyster sauce. But of course, you can you know, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, but whatever you do, you want to go easy with it so that it doesn't sort of like steam and cause the rice to clump up. One neat thing that I've been trying for my book is actually trying to capture that wok hei flavor, that smokiness that you get from using a really high-powered walk burner. And the way I do that is by using a blowtorch, I kind of blow point the blowtorch into the wok while I toss it with the other hand. And so, the flames from the blowtorch singe the fat as you're tossing things and it you know and it creates those sort of burnt smoky flavors that you get from really high heat typical wok cooking from a restaurant that you can't really recreate at home otherwise, and you know you It takes some practice to do of course and and you probably want to take out an extra insurance policy. But the great thing about is that it works both on an electric and an induction and with a guest stovetop so whatever type of cooktop you have, you can actually get that wok hei flavor which I think otherwise it's impossible to capture.
CK: Are you hopeful your publisher will really allow you to put that in the book versus get sued by a couple 1000 people when their house burns down?
KLA: They haven't said anything so far. So, I think we're good. We'll see.
CK: Could you just for one second talk about wok hei, that that unique aroma.
KLA: So, it's very similar to the flavor that you get when you're cooking you say a hamburger on an outdoor grill versus in a skillet. So, on an outdoor grill, the fat and juices from the hamburger are dripping off and then as they fall into the coals, the oils immediately singe and vaporize, and they redeposit some of those burnt byproducts onto the surface of the burger. And that's what gives it that sort of smoky, grilled flavor.
CK: Kenji Lopez Alt thank you very much. How to cook with leftover rice. Don't use it for the first six hours. You're good to go. Thank you, Kenji.
KLA: Thank you.
CK: That was j Kenji Lopez Alt, he's the chief culinary consultant for Serious Eats. A food columnist for The New York Times also author of the Food Lab. I don't blame Julia Child. Cooking used to be with the exception of Emperor's kings and royalty, a frugal everyday fair. He was fried rice or throw together flatbread grain porridge, simple soups, and then amazing array of preserved foods thanks to the necessity of preservation. And this scrappy practical approach was both local and also personal. Julia single handedly got America cooking again. But with an imported cuisine, one that was deeply personal to her. The lessons of the past I think are clear. Cooking thrives when it speaks to our soul, to our heritage and to our landscape. Cooking is not a hobby, it's a way of life. That's it for today. If you tuned in too late or just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street com there you can download each week's recipe watch the latest season of our television show or order our latest Cook Milk Street Fast and Slow Instant Pot Cooking at the Speed You Need. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 knock 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 GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, co-executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Associate Producer Jackie Novak, production assistant Sarah Clapp and production help from Debby Paddock. Senior audio engineer David Goodman, additional editing from Vicki Merrick Sidney Lewis and Samantha Brown, and audio mixing from Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX