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May 4, 2023
Originally aired on January 14, 2022
Pickles, Life and Death: The World of Fermentation
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Fermentation expert Sandor Katz takes on a journey around the globe for a look at some of the world’s greatest fermented foods. He tells us about the joys of making sauerkraut and why fermentation may hold the secret to life. Plus, cookbook author Kristina Cho guides us through classic Chinese baking at home, J. Kenji López-Alt shows us how to reinvent leftover mashed potatoes, and we learn to make Japanese-style curry.
Questions in this episode:
"I am a nutrition teacher. When we made brownies in class, none of the student’s tops were shiny. How do you get shiny brownies?"
"I love Milk Street’s Argentinian Chimichurri recipe and would like to send it to some friends. Can it be canned and/or safely sent through the mail?"
"I want to get my fiancé a really good quality chef’s knife. Could you recommend one?"
"I live in a high rise, which presents some challenges in the kitchen. My hood doesn’t do a great job of clearing smoke. So, how can I make great roast chicken without setting off the smoke alarm every time?"
"Two weeks ago, I baked a carrot cake, adding two new ingredients to a base recipe: grated ginger and golden raisins. When we cut into the cake, we found green spots, about a third of the size of a blueberry. What happened?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball, fermentation expert Sandor Katz has earned the nickname Sandor kraut, given his passion for sauerkraut. Today Sandor joins us to demystify the science behind one of the world's oldest culinary techniques.
Sandor Katz: Fermentation does not require a degree in microbiology or a microscope or the ability to absolutely control the environment. It's been done by people with the simplest of equipment for literally millennia.
CK: Also coming up, J Kenji Lopez Alt shares his favorite ways to transform leftover mashed potatoes. And we learned to make homemade Japanese style curry. But first, it's my interview with cookbook author Kristina Cho, her book Mooncakes & Milk Bread brings Chinese baking to the home cook. Kristina, welcome to Milk Street.
Kristina Cho: Hi. So excited to be here.
CK: Pleasure having you up. So, the oven is not something that was typical and in a Chinese household until fairly recently, right? I mean, the the idea of baking is not something that was done at home that much, right?
KC: You're correct. My grandma, even to this day, I don't think has ever turned on her oven. So, a lot of the things you find out Chinese bakeries, I think are just more special because a lot of people reserve them for actual bakers that had full size ovens to make. But home baking doesn't quite have as strong of a culture.
CK: So, explain to me or tell us the story of growing up, like who is doing the cooking. And in particular, who was doing the baking, I mean, to give you the the impetus to do this book?
KC: Yeah. So, I grew up in a Chinese restaurant family, my grandparents immigrated to the United States in the late 60s, they brought all their kids and including my mom. So, growing up, my grandparents were cooking all the time, they were cooking for work. In a home setting, my grandma was probably cooking a little bit more than my grandpa. And then in my immediate family, my mom was the main cook in the family and still is. We are mostly savory cooks so when I was in middle school, I kind of took it upon myself to learn how to bake for the first time. And it was how I got independence in the kitchen. Because if I was making dumplings or something, I would have so many people around me telling me what they think I should be doing. But if I was making a cheesecake like it was just silent because no one else knew how to how to make anything like that. Yeah. But while I was writing the book, I think it allowed me to reflect a lot about my own family. Like, I was surprised that I had a few of my grandma's recipes in here like her steamed cupcakes.
CK: I looked at a lot of cookbooks, I don't remember seeing a book that talked about Chinese baking. And I just go like, why not I mean, this is such a it's so fascinating. These are things I would think about buying in a bakery, but not making home. And now I look at your book and I want to make them at home. Is this the first book that really really covers this this ground?
KC: Yeah, it's it's the first I would say modern book, written English, that comprehensively covers all these wonderful things that you'll find in a Chinese bakery. And even more like you'll find like savory breakfast things. So, it starts to dabble into like a little bit of like that Dim Sum culture. But yeah, this is the first book, which even still, like shocks me today that like even in 2021, that I had the opportunity to write a book on this topic and be the first one. But I think it just maybe speaks to like a little bit of like a shift in like the cookbook landscape and that we're as readers, we're just sort of interested in learning about these different facets of other cultures.
CK: Yeah, cookbooks are not afraid, you know, I would say until about five or six years ago, cookbook publishers, in particular, were afraid to present recipes in their original. And now now you see ingredients, you see techniques, and you see combinations of flavors that are pretty authentic, you know, to the to the original, and I think that's right, I think it's great. So, what are mooncakes?
KC: Mooncakes are a very traditional Chinese pastry that's made typically for mid-autumn festival, although you can make them all year if you want to. And the style that I grew up with is a Canteen style mooncake, but all the different styles are essentially the same two components you have a crust on the exterior, and then the interior is a filling that could be like red bean paste, black sesame paste, white lotus paste with a salted egg yolk, and they're a mixture of like, dates and nuts and honey, something sweet, but it kind of just changes depending on where you are in China or different parts of Asia. Mooncakes come in so many different shapes and styles
CK: Salted egg yolks. How do you you say you you you do it yourself? How do you make salted egg yolks?
KC: So, I make salted egg yolks in the shortcut version, where I take like a shallow bowl or some type of container and you fill it up with salt, make some divots, and then place the egg yolks in there, and then cover them up with salt. And this is a shortcut because the salt has like such direct access to the egg yolks that it quickly cures them. And then after like a few days, like I would keep them in for at least three days. I'll rinse the salt away and they're still they still have a little bit of like kind of jamminess to them and then I'll just put them in the oven at a low heat to dry them out and then you can store them in the fridge for a while.
CK: And what do you why do you salted egg yolks you use them how in baking?
KC: Salted eggs have a really wonderful I think texture. They're like a little creamy and a little crumbly. Flavor wise. It has of course like the salty bite and then also like a lens richness. So, it naturally I think fits its way into like a lot of different desserts like I have these salted egg yolk doughnuts using the milk bread. And that's one of my favorite recipes in the book.
CK: Hot Dog flower buns. So, you want..
KC: My favorite topic I love talking about this.
CK: I know shows you a sense of humor, and also like to be creative. So, do you want to just explain what it is.
KC: Yes, so hot dog flower buns are just like regular classic hot dog stuff you would get for barbecues in the summertime. And they are wrapped in milk bread dough. And then you cut the hotdog into six pieces typically. And then you arrange those dough wrapped hot dogs in a flower shaped so like a piece in the middle and then you have five petals around it. And then you let it proof and bake them and you have these like really kind of like whimsical, flower shaped buns that kids love. Adults love them. Everybody loves them.
CK: Okay, my kids are going to be eating this soon. You talk you talk about steaming cupcakes do you want to talk about that?
KC: Yes, so I have my grandma's steamed cupcakes in there. They're called Fago and my grandma typically make some for lunar new year every year. A lot of the food that you make for like traditional Chinese holidays are symbolic, which I find poetic. And when you steam them, the I guess the legend or like the tradition about it is that the taller the cupcakes bloom in your steamer, the more good fortune and prosperity you're going to have throughout the year, which made it a little nerve wracking when I was testing that recipe because my first couple batches like weren't that awesome, but then I finally got it and I was like okay, now I have good luck forever.
CK: Some of the recipes towards the back of the book like mango mousse cake, which look fabulous, by the way, are some of the recipes, things that are just your inventions or these these coming from other traditions or what?
KC: I would say that the book is maybe 50-50 classic Chinese bakery items, or at least like flavor combinations like the mango mousse cake. And then the other 50% are more like my unique creations but using a lot of the same principles of course that I've witnessed or learned from Chinese bakers. So, I felt like I needed to include things like pineapple buns, egg tarts, because you can't have a Chinese baking book without those things in there. But then also keeping true to me and the way that I work. I love to be creative and come up with unique flavor combinations and recipes. And I think that's also very similar to how Chinese bakeries are run. They're really whimsical and I think every Chinese bakery is a little different depending on where they are. And you never know where you're going to find.
CK: Kristina, it's been a great pleasure. Thank you so much for being a monster.
KC: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: That was my interview with Kristina Cho. Her latest book is Mooncakes & Milk Bread, Sweet and Savory Recipes inspired by Chinese Bakers. Right now, my co-host Sara Moulton and I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One and she also stars in Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: Chris, you know, sometimes I get in a rut, and I get really bored with my own cooking. Do you ever get bored with yours?
CK: Well, you mean do I get bored cooking, or do I get bored because I can't come up with something interesting.
SM: The later.
CK: Sure, but then there's always the glass of wine. And that always makes it so much better. I use basic things like maybe Japanese noodles or Italian noodles or I use rice or I use beans. I just put things on it that are have tons of flavor. I don't think about dinner as dinner. I eat almost everything in a bowl, a fairly small bowl, because I've been eating in the office all day, which I'm stuffed by five. So, I'll have a small bowl of udon noodles with a little simple sauce on it and maybe little scallions or something left over from the fridge. So, I'm very happy with something simple as long as there's a strong flavor there. So, I think the key for me is finding the, you know, it's the Urfa pepper or the Turkish chili pepper, or the soy sauce, or that lime juice or whatever it is, the ginger. That's the thing that saves you from boredom.
SM: Okay, fair enough. That wouldn't fly in my household. What? Just Udaan noodles with a little salt?consumption No, I don't think so.
CK: And two glasses of wine. You're cooking for an audience. Your husband
SM: I know. Yeah.
CK: Anyway, I'm cooking for my own personal consumption so,
SM: that that's easy. I answered your question.
SM: You did.
CK: Alright, let's take some calls.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?
Caller: This is Johanna.
SM: Hi, Johanna, where are you calling from?
Caller: Just outside Austin in Pflugerville, Texas.
SM: Ooh, how can we help you?
Caller: I am actually a nutrition teacher. And we did a lab in class where we made brownies. And none of our tops were shiny. So, I was wondering how do you get shiny tops on your brownie?
SM: Oh, that's that's a funny question. But how did the brownies taste?
Caller: They tasted good.
SM: What kind of chocolate did you use?
Caller: Just cocoa powder.
SM: Okay, well, apparently King Arthur Flour. Are you familiar with their website?
Caller: Yes, I am
SM: They did a whole test about this, to figure out how you you know get that shiny top and what indeed creates it. And after numerous tests, they came up with the conclusion that if you used chocolate chips in the recipe, in addition to the cocoa, you ended up with a nice shiny top. Now the explanation? Not quite so clear. It has something to do with the egg and the sugar sort of forming a bit of a meringue on top. But it's who knows what else is in chocolate chips that they would create this situation, I don't know. But that seemed to be the one thing adding a couple of cups of chocolate chips at the end of the recipe.
Caller: Well, so we made 70 of these. Yeah, so we did quite a bit of testing on this recipe. And there were two students who achieved a shiny top. So, I was hoping the answer was more of a procedural type of thing. So, do you think that like whipping the egg and the sugar together even more would help with that a little?
CK: Yes, I do. Is that what they did?
Caller: They kind of did it work independently, I didn't see how much stirring they did versus the other groups. But I saw, you know, their batter looked the same as it was going in. And then when I saw their final product when it came out, it was shiny.
CK: Here's my take, I heard the same thing about chocolate chips. It doesn't make any sense to me unless and Sara may be right about this. There's some other stabilizer or other ingredient and chocolate chips because it's not just cocoa and sugar, which is causing that to happen. The other way of looking at it, you know, Stella Parks the well-known baker would say you need the sugar to rise to the top of the brownie, where it's going to become glossy when baked. And the way to do that is whip the eggs in a way where you almost create a little bit of a meringue. So the top that sugary meringue gets glossy when baked. That makes sense to me. So, I would say from a procedural point of view, if you whip the eggs with the sugar more, you probably are going to get a shinier top at least intellectually that makes sense to me. But I would ask the people in your class who had the shiny tops where they did that. The only other thing I can say is a brownie with more sugar in it is more likely to have a glossy top than a brownie with less sugar in it. Because Ah right. I mean, I think when it really comes down to it is and that's maybe why the chocolate chips work is you're adding more sugar to the brownie. Yeah, I think it's about sugar content. And that would be my quick and easy answer.
Caller: Alright, awesome. Thank you so much.
CK: Yeah, that was a great question, by the way. Thank you
Caller: Thank you.
CK: Take care you too. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Jeremy Bailey from Saratoga Springs, New York.
CK: It's a lovely place. How can we help you?
Caller: Yes, I am trying to make I have made the Argentinian chimichurri sauce. We love it. And we would like to give it to our friends. And I'm wondering how I can get it through the mail and whether or not this recipe can be canned.
CK: First of all, we should describe what it is it's red and it's really hot. Right? It's very different than what most people think about chimichurri
SM: Chris, do you want to say all them what kind of ingredients are in it?
CK: Chilies. Chilies. Chilies in oil. Paprika. Yeah, it's very intense. I think you wouldn't have to can it I think it would hold well, I would just put in ice packs in, bottle it up and put ice packs and separate, you know, freezer bag things. Pack it up and send it that way. I don't think you'd have to can it or preserve it because it's chilies and paprika in oil. Right, Sara? I don't think that's I don't know. It's not like it's just a relish.
SM: Yeah, but what worries me is there's no salt or acid in there. Is there salt and acid in it?
Caller: There’s balsamic vinegar?
SM: That helps. Is there any garlic in it?
CK: There is definitely garlic in it
Caller: And two cloves of garlic.
M: I'm glad there's balsamic. Is there a fair amount of balsamic?
Caller: It's about a half a cup balsamic vinegar to the two cloves of garlic. And about three quarters of a cup of oil.
SM: And then the chilies.
CK: I think that would do it. I think you'd be okay. I would send it overnight have freezer packs in it. I think you're fine.
SM: And there's salt. You said there is salt?
Caller: Yes, it calls for salt
CK: We should just say again how good this is. I mean, this is one of those
Caller: it’s delicious
CK: My editor was there a year ago. He came back and you know we've had chimichurris before it didn't look anything like chimichurri. (No) You know he served was take No, and it's just incredibly intense and delicious
SM: The only worrisome thing is the garlic. And I think because of the vinegar it’s probably fine. The concern is that when you put a non-acidic ingredient in oil, like garlic in particular, you have anaerobic environment, no air, you end up with a possibility of botulism. But I think we've got enough acid we're okay.
Caller: It's so delicious. We want to share it with everybody.
SM: That's very sweet. Good for you
CK: Probably even drizzle on on scrambled eggs. It can go with almost everything. All right. All right. Give that a shot. Thanks for calling.
Caller: Thank you so much.
Caller: All right Jeremy Bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, give us a ring anytime at 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street. radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Sarah. I'm calling from the upper valley in New Hampshire.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: I was hoping to get my fiancé a really good quality chef’s knife. And I was wondering if you guys have any suggestions?
CK: Oh, boy. Oh, do you really see ours
SM: Oh dear
CK: Sara’s going to go and get a cup of coffee
SM: No, here comes World War Three actually
CK: Well, I'll try to keep this short and polite. I would not buy a chef's knife.
CK: A chef's knife is designed based on a medieval dagger design. And for most people there too much knife and the weight balances and great and they're hard to use unless you're really experienced. The other thing you could think about is buying of Chinese Cleaver, which is a four-inch-deep knife and I use them all the time and I find them safe to use. I use them for slicing garlic I use them for everything. So, a Chinese cleaver or a Japanese vegetable knife called a Nakiri I mean a Japanese knife. Some of them are just extraordinary. And they're really much more distinctive than a typical chef's knife. And Sara’s going to now tell you why you should always buy a chef's knife. Well, Sara,
SM: I'm going to try to be brief, but there's two main styles for a chef's knife and a larger one a 10 inch as opposed to an eight inch does all the work for you. But the other thing is the sweet spot where you do the balance of your work when you're chopping is the part of the knife that's closest to the handle, right, you don't do that much with the tip. And so, on a 10-inch knife you have that much more real estate where you need it at the sweet spot, it's a bigger knife, there's more area to chop more things. So, what they say generally about Japanese knives is they're lighter weight. They're sharper knives, they have a different angle. They're not made for left-handed people.
CK: The problem with a European chef's knife is those knives are thick blades
SM: and it's a heavier knife
CK: and you're pushing more metal through the food.
SM: However, one could argue if you're doing the rocking motion, when you take the knife up in the back to rock just naturally comes down you should never be forcing the knife the knife should just do its thing. Whether you have a Japanese knife or a German knife though the most important thing is that it be sharp.
CK: Pick up the knife and hold it and make sure that you feel comfortable, that the blade from the tip to the heel is under your control. And I find a lot of European chef's knives you feel out of control there's too much blade, is too much weight so if you feel comfortable with it and the whole thing feels like it's part of your arm and your hand. Great. And that's my Zen like ending.
SM: I actually agree with that assessment because different handles feel different ways too
CK: Different weights and different balance so
Caller: that's great advice you guys. Thank you so much.
CK: Yeah. Thanks for calling.
SM: Okay, and congratulations on your engagement.
Caller: Oh, thank you so much.
SM: It's a wonderful thing.
Caller: Bye guys.
Caller: thanks again.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next is my conversation with fermentation expert Sandor Katz that more after the break. This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with fermentation expert Sandor Katz. His latest book is Sandor Katz's Fermentation Journeys, Recipes, Techniques and Traditions from Around the World. Sandor welcome to Milk Street.
Sandor Katz: Thanks so much for having me.
CK: You wrote when all things die, all of that stuff decomposes. So, I think fermentation is very closely related to death and I find it weirdly comforting. So, before we get into the specifics, death, and fermentation?
SK: Well, I mean, in general, living tissue does not ferment fermentation is a phenomenon of microorganisms consuming nutrients from plant or animal material that's no longer alive. And it's, you know, just an important piece of the recycling of elements into further life. So that's the basis of soil fertility and so much more.
CK: So, the reason you find it comforting is that fermentation is about transition. It's about recycling. It's in fact about renewed life in some way.
SK: Yeah, I mean, it's not reincarnation as we think of it as you know, sort of discrete souls. But fermentation is the reincarnation of matter into further forms of life. It's how life really recycles itself.
CK: So, in its simplest form, what is fermentation? And in the simplest possible recipe, how do you do it?
SK: Well, I would describe fermentation broadly as the transformative action of microorganisms. You know, generally we reserve this word to describe intentional or desirable transformations of microorganisms rather than decomposition. I mean, everybody everywhere, eats and drinks products of fermentation every day. Coffee is fermented, bread is fermented, cheeses fermented, cured meats are fermented. Condiments involve fermentation, chocolate, and vanilla are fermented alcoholic beverages, olives, pickles, and sauerkraut and kimchi, I mean, just a vast range of the foods and beverages that people eat are produced by fermentation.
CK: So how does the preservation part work chemically within a fermentation?
SK: Well, I mean, it's really biologically more than chemically but you know, the lactic acid bacteria, which are a broad group of bacteria that are capable of digesting carbohydrates, and one of the byproducts of that digestion is producing lactic acid and the vegetables are preserved by the acid. And so, you know, that's true, whether we're talking about lactic acid from fermentation, or acetic acid, which is the acid that's in vinegar, which actually is produced by a fermentation. But in either case, it's the acidity that's enabling the vegetable itself to be preserved and also protecting it from the possibility of pathogenic bacteria because very conveniently for us, none of the bacteria that we regard as pathogens can survive in a sufficiently acidic environment. I mean, cheese is a manifestation of practical strategies to preserve milk, sauerkraut, and pickles are practical strategies to preserve vegetables. You know, many realms of fermentation are driven by their effectiveness and preserving food resources.
CK: So, one of the things you do in your new book is to dispense with the notion of fermentation requiring equipment or a tremendous amount of skill. So, do you think that that's still a problem for people that think fermentation requires a science lab, as opposed to some water and some salt? And you know, a couple other things?
SK: Well, I think for many of us who were born and raised in the context of what I would describe as the war on bacteria, it's easy to project upon the phenomenon of fermentation complexity, that it would require a laboratory that it would require the ability to absolutely control environments. You know, when in fact, fermentation is an ancient cultural practice that people in every part of the world have been working with for 1000s of years. And fermentation does not require a degree in microbiology. It's been done by people, you know, with the simplest of equipment for literally millennia.
CK So what's the difference between pickling like a pickling liquid and fermentation?
SK: Well, I would say that pickling and fermentation are overlapping concepts. So, fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms. I mean, pickles can be fermented. I mean, I grew up eating what we call the New York sour pickles, their, you know, cucumbers in a saltwater brine solution with garlic and dill. And during that fermentation, carbohydrates from the cucumbers get transformed into lactic acid and the lactic acid is what preserves it. There are many ferments that are not pickles. You know, wine is not a pickle, bread is not a pickle. A pickle is anything preserved in an acidic medium, and the pickles that we find in contemporary supermarkets are primarily vegetables that have been preserved in a hot vinegar solution. This is absolutely a pickle. But there are different kinds of pickles and basically, vinegar pickling only became widespread at the point when distilled white vinegar was developed. And, you know, in most places, the older traditions of pickling involved fermentation.
CK: You know, I spoke to someone in Ukraine, Olia Hercules, and she talked about pickling whole cabbages, and you mentioned that in relation to Croatia. So, pickling whole cabbages is also a tradition there, I guess.
SK: Yeah, yeah sure. I mean, you know, throughout southeastern Europe, people generally ferment heads of cabbage whole. And then if they want to be serving sauerkraut, then they'll take a whole head of cabbage and shred it. But also, they use the whole leaves. So, you know, there's these beautiful stuffed cabbage dishes. And the fermentation makes it easier to fold and stuff the cabbage as well as enhancing the flavor of it.
CK: I think this was Ukraine, they also pickle entire watermelons? Is that something you've heard about too?
SK: Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, all of Eastern Europe and just has such rich and varied fermentation traditions, but lots of vegetables, mushrooms, fruits are frequently pickled.
CK: So, let's talk about for many grains, you said the most basic technique is just to soak them. But could you take us from there into, you know, other techniques and more advanced techniques for dealing with grains?
SK: Well, sure, so you know, all grains just like all vegetables, all fruits, all our food that we eat is populated by elaborate communities of microorganisms and grains will always have lactic acid bacteria on them and grains will always have yeast on them. But because the grains in their mature form are dried, these organisms are dormant. You know, they're not killed by the lack of water the way we would be, but they just go into a state of dormancy. So, the first step is always introducing water. The grains plump up as they soak in the water, and the microorganisms that are present, come to life and begin accessing nutrients. So, you know, many ferments really just involve adding water. I mean, that's how you start a sourdough. You know, at its base, it's just flour from wheat or rye or other grains activated by water.
CK: You talk about fermented salmon heads, put in a burlap sack, and buried under rocks at the beach for eight to 10 days. Have you actually tried these?
SK: I did try them actually. I mean, I watched this Woman, Leona Santiago, who I met in Juneau, Alaska make them. And then I continued on my tour, but I passed through Juneau on my way back, and I got to taste them. But unfortunately, Leona wasn't available. So, you know, it was these four uninitiated people who are not indigenous Alaskans trying it and none of us really knew what to expect. And you know, the flavor of it wasn't bad, but it also wasn't great. But then when the fellow who organized this told me about Leona eating them, and how excited she got and smacking her lips and how delicious it was, you know, I really felt like if I had been able to watch her eating it and see her, you know, really relishing the flavor of it, I probably could have gotten more enthusiastic about it.
CK: I've heard of course about fermented shark and some other things. But you talk about in Greenland, seabirds preserved in seal skin, which is a heritage food for the Inuit there. Could you just describe exactly how that works?
SK: Yeah, sure. So, ox are the bird that are generally used. I mean, I should clarify and just say I have not been to Greenland myself and witnessed this. But I mean, basically, the little birds are caught in nets, they're plentiful at certain times of the year. And then there's a way of that they hold the bird tightly that stops its hearts. And then they cool off the dead birds to ambient temperatures, pack them in the skin of a seal, filling the skin, sewing it together, using some blubber to seal the seams. And then you know, basically putting it under a rock to protect it from scavengers, and then it just sits for some months. You know, it's a very practical strategy for taking the abundance of the summertime to use it during the winter, when there's not a lot to eat.
CK: You obviously, are all in in fermentation. Do you have besides, it's intellectually interesting. Besides, it's just fascinating from a culinary point of view, do you buy into this notion that having a diet that includes Well, we all eat fermented foods, but includes a higher percentage or amount of fermented foods is definitely a way to healthier, longer life or not?
SK: Well, I mean, you know, everything is context. But I mean, I think fermented foods are, are nutritionally important. And I think that they offer a number of important benefits, I mean, the first is simply nutrient bioavailability fermentation predigest foods and makes nutrients more bioavailable, so we are getting more nutrients out of foods that have been fermented. But I think that eating fermented foods that have not being cooked or heat processed after they're fermentations, that have a biodiversity of bacteria can help to restore biodiversity in the gut, and that can potentially improve digestion, improve immune function, and there's even some new evidence suggesting that it can improve our mental health.
CK So when you go to sleep at night, you just imagine all of these organisms that exist that no one else sees. These things are all around us. I guess my question is philosophically, does that change your view about what life is?
SK: Well sure. I mean, you know, life is very complex, there's a lot going on all the time. And you know, you started by asking me about something I had written about how I'm comforted by the idea that microorganisms, you know, decomposed dead things and recycle them into nutrients for for further life. And that is a big piece of my worldview, this idea that all matter is constantly being recycled and feeding new forms of life. And you know, to me, that's very exciting. And every time I fill a jar or a crock, I'm tuning into this
CK: I wouldn't say it's cheating death, but I would say it is comforting. I I really enjoy that point of view Sandor. It's been a great honor and pleasure having you on Milk Street. Thank you so much.
SK: Well, thank you so much for having me.
CK: That was Sandor Katz. His latest book is Sandor Katz's Fermentation Journeys, Recipes, Techniques and Traditions from Around the World. You know, once in a while, someone asked me about the meaning of life and my answer is well, I just have no idea. Yet Sandor Katz believes that life and death are intimately connected through recycling. And he means one form of life simply transforms into another. So, in other words, life is like sauerkraut. And fermentation is the doorway to something greater. You're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe Japanese style chicken and vegetable curry. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm doing well, Chris.
CK: Well, I'm starting with a story, as I often do, I was out in Los Angeles in Highland Park East LA with Sonoko Sakai, who knows a great deal about the cooking of Japan. And she introduced me to Japanese curry, which is something people eat like every week, and it has almost nothing to do with what you know I might consider to be curry at all.
LC: So, when you think of Japanese cooking, you probably don't think of curry but it's actually really really popular and has as you said that much to do with Indian curry. Indian curries are usually made with whole spices that are bloomed in ghee, there's usually no thickener, whereas a Japanese curry is a little bit more like a stew with a sauce. Its roux based. So, a flour and butter combination that thickens it. So, a little bit different. Still, some of the same flavor profile in the spices though.
CK: So, curry now I guess it's really convenience food, you can buy it in pouches, right I mean, it's, you don’t even have to cook it at home.
LC: You really don't have to do much cooking for it. You can buy it kind of in a package already pre done. You can also buy what they call curry bricks, which is the spices and the roux in a firm little cake. You just add that to your mix, and it thickens it and adds all of the flavor with one fell swoop.
CK: So, in essence, it's a sauce, a spice sauce, you can put on just about anything.
LC: Yes, and Sonoco kind of showed us her version which her version is a from scratch curry spice blend, and then hers had chicken and some vegetables. Her spice blend has some of the usual suspects that you would find in a curry powder with there's some warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, but it also had dried shitake mushrooms, which that kind of adds that little bit of, you know more of the Japanese flavor to it.
CK: So, in India, a curry is not so much a recipe it is a method a five-step method,
CK is there a basic method to this version?
LC: I mean, it's similar to how you would make a stew we cook some onions we add chicken garlic, ginger, then we add the flour and to the butter and cook that flour until it gets nice and brown almost like you would do to make a gumbo you want to add a little bit of flavor from that flour. Then we add that curry powder, some water, carrots, potatoes, bell peppers, let those cook until they're tender. And then at the very end again a little bit more of the Japanese flavor we add in some soy sauce, some mirin, and a little bit of black pepper.
CK: So, this curry is served with, it has potato in it do you serve it with rice or what?
LC: You can serve it over white rice you can serve it as Sonoko Sakai does over a mixed grain rice so you could use farrow, you could use amaranth whatever you're really into. Or you could serve it over Udon noodles if you wanted. It's kind of really up to you how you want to do it.
CK: Lynn thank you a Japanese style chicken and vegetable curry. It is in fact the most popular recipe in Japan.
LC: You're welcome. You can get this recipe for Japanese style chicken and vegetable curry at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up J Kenji Lopez Alt shows us how to turn leftover mashed potatoes into a delicious new meal we'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to milk Street Radio Right now, Sara Moulton and I will answer a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Joe from Houston.
SM: Hi, Joe from Houston. How can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I live in a high rise, and that presents some unique cooking limitations. I have a hooded exhaust fan. But even at full speed, it doesn't do a great job of removing cooking related smoke. So, one of my favorite things to do before we move to the high rise was roasting a chicken. But roasting a chicken at 450 or 475, at the beginning, generates so much smoke that I've set off the smoke alarm. I've tried to slow approach to 300 degrees for maybe three hours, which takes forever. So, I'm looking for tips. What can I do to make great roast chicken but not generate all the smoke?
SM: Do you have windows you can open?
SM: That's rough.
Caller: The interesting thing is, is that when I use the convection feature, as opposed to the non-convection feature, it seems to generate a whole lot more smoke.
SM: Yeah, it's forced air. But that is one of the times that you would want to use the convection feature on your oven because it does end up with a crispy chicken. So, what kind of pan?
Caller: I've used a standard roasting pan with a rack, I've used a smaller roasting pan that's maybe a baking sheet. It doesn't seem to make any difference,
Caller: I put it on a bed of vegetables without a rack. That doesn't seem to change the outcome
SM: Really? the bed of vegetable because that was going to be one of my suggestions. But really the hands down the most important thing is impeccably clean oven, in my opinion, otherwise, there's just no way to avoid it.
Caller: The oven gets cleaned fairly regularly. And the last time I did this a few weeks ago, we used the thinnest rim like a baking sheet. That was 300 degrees for three hours. Like I said, the chicken came out fine. The skin wasn't as crispy, was tasty was done. But it isn't the same.
SM: No, it isn't. The other thing you could do is spatchcock the chicken, and then it would cook in a shorter period of time, you could do it in a high temperature, you probably wouldn't generate quite as much smoke. But I know Chris has something to say about this. So
CK: Here's what I do. I put it on a rack, I use a half baking sheet. And I use about 400 degrees, maybe 425. So, I would try splitting the difference. And he said 300 degrees versus 454 75. I don't have a smoking problem at 400. I do spatchcocking most of the time because I find that dark and white meat cooks evenly. So, I would spatchcock at four degrees, probably an hour to an hour and 10 minutes, something like that, that temperature our intent. It doesn't seem to have a problem. The other thing you could do if you really wanted to was just use a bunch of salt, you know, like coarse salt at the bottom of the pan, or potatoes. Both of those absorb the grease and the drippings. The salt will take care of the problem. But I would say 400 degrees spatchcock it on a rack. I do that almost every Sunday and I don't really have a problem.
Caller: I'll give it a try. All right,
CK: let us know.
SM: Okay, Joe,
Caller: you bet.
SM: Okay, take care.
Caller: Thank you.
SM: Bye, bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a kitchen mystery that needs solving, call us 855-426-9843 That's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi this is Sarah from Kentucky.
CK: How are you doing?
Caller: Doing well, how are you? I'm pretty good.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Two weeks ago, I baked a carrot cake. And I followed the ingredient list as prescribed. Except I added two extra ingredients. I added some ginger and some golden raisins to it. When it came out of the oven, and we cut into it there were these green specks throughout it a third the size of a blueberry and we have no idea where they came from. So, I was wondering if you all had any ideas?
CK: Yes, it's probably the baking soda was your baking soda the recipe or baking powder?
Caller: There was
CK: How much was there? Roughly?
Caller: A teaspoon or two yeah
CK: A couple of teaspoons. Yeah, yeah. What happens is the alkaline environment will turn carrots for example can turn green if the baking soda and baking powder does include baking soda is not dispersed evenly, you get little clumps of it. So, it's possible that when you mix your dry ingredients that baking soda was not dispersed properly. And you might have gotten places where there was a little bit too much of it. And the alkaline environment will turn carrots I think might also turn ginger green. Baking soda is alkaline. That's why that happened. In the recipe. Did you whisk the dry ingredients together first Are they just get put into the mixture?
Caller: Yeah, so I mixed them separately. I wonder if it had to do with a ginger. I've made the recipe before.
CK: Yeah, ginger will do that.
Caller: Prior to that
CK: I would suspect the ginger more than the carrots but it'll it'll happen in it cake with carrots too. Sara we’ve both made cakes with grated ginger, and it was no problem.
CK: Either there's too much baking so the recipe to start with, which is very possible, that would be my number one choice or two it wasn't dispersed properly.
SM: Yeah, I agree
Caller: Yep. Well, it tasted fine either way, just green specks throughout
SM: You were brave. Were you all like a little nervous?
Caller: Everyone was everyone like, well, we're going to get sick off this but tasted great for that day and the next
CK: Can I just point out that you're sitting around going like we might get sick, and you all ate it anyway. Good for you.
CK: Yeah, this might kill us. But man, I'm having two pieces.
SM: Yeah, that was brave. Yeah,
Caller: I guess my family had good faith in me.
CK: I guess they did. Well, that's what I would try. And maybe next time, you would check a couple other recipes and see if the amount of sodas seems high.
Caller: Yeah. Will do
CK: Okay. Thanks for calling.
Caller: Thanks so much
SM: All right. Thanks, Sarah. Bye
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
Caller: Hi, my name is Seth from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I loved your piece on s’more’s innovations and I have one for you. I agree that graham crackers are gross and need to be improved with something else. And I use chocolate biscuit cookies. The British little biscuits that have chocolate impregnated on top makes it a little less crumbly, a little fancier you can get the dark chocolate version. And then you leave it open face. Thanks a lot. Enjoy your s'mores bye.
CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk street.com/radio tips. Next up, it's food writer J Kenji Lopez Alt, Kenji, it's been a while how are you?
J Kenji Lopez Alt: I'm doing well. How are you?
CK: I'm good. So, what do you been up to?
JKA: Well, we discovered you know, you know we live in Seattle now. And we discovered that there's a You Pick farm about half an hour away from where we live. And so, we brought my daughter there a few weeks ago, and she got very excited about pulling potatoes out of the ground. So, we came home with like 20 to 30 pounds of potatoes. And so, for a long time, we were just kind of swimming in mashed potatoes. And so, I started trying to find all the different ways I could to recycle leftover mashed potatoes because as you know, you know, mashed potatoes are great when they're freshly made, but you refrigerate them overnight and they get ready to kind of mealy and unpleasant so yeah, and so I had I had a few different methods of recycling cold leftover mashed potatoes that I thought you might be interested in
CK: Croquettes anyone? Yeah, croquettes is a good way.
JKA: Yeah, croquettes is a good way but these are relatively simple. The first one is to make Boxty you know, Irish potato pancakes. And the way I do those is I do a very simple formula. So, an equal amount by volume of leftover mashed potato, fresh grated raw potato that you rinse and squeeze the moisture out of and flour. And then for every cup of potato, you add an egg and what I really like to do is add a ton of either sliced leeks or onions or scallions as well as sliced kale or cabbage I particularly like kale because my daughter loves kale, but you add a ton of that to that mixture as well. So almost like equal parts and then you fry it in pancakes like a good amount of oil. So, like almost like you're making a latke you know like a quarter inch of oil, and it takes about three to four minutes per side. And we serve that for breakfast with with a fried egg on top and it's delicious. Another one is to make a soup out of it. So we make a Portuguese style caldo verde so like a green greens and potato so this is another one of those combining kale and potato you could use collard greens but essentially what you do is you just take your leftover mashed potatoes, you first sweat some onions or leeks, and garlic in butter or olive oil and then add some leftover mashed potatoes, enough stock just to thin it out into a soup like consistency. And then once you have that at a simmer, add in a bunch of handfuls of very finely shredded hearty greens like kale or collard greens and let that simmer for about 20 minutes and that is a delicious soup. It's one you know it's the national dish of Portugal, but you can make it with leftover mashed potatoes, and it works very well. And then the the final one is just to do with the classic French way, which is to make Pomme Mont d'Or. My French pronunciation is horrible but golden mountain potatoes were essentially just take leftover mashed potatoes and add eggs and cheese to them. So, what I do is for every two cups of mashed potatoes I'll add an egg and about a half cup of grated cheese you can use cheddar, gruyere would be the classic but you can use cheddar, any kind of good sort of melting cheese and then you pile that into a casserole dish dotted with butter on top. Add some more grated cheese on top if you want and then bake it at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes and it kind of it turns into almost like a potato souffle so it gets a very different texture from the mashed potatoes of the way they were when you first made them they get this kind of nice puffy texture with a with a nice golden top.
CK: I love that. Well, you sound like Julia Child now only because she thought in terms of formulas, right? I mean she’d she should do like a creme caramel is one egg per cup of whatever. Yeah. And that's how when you get to a certain point in cooking, you think about ratios, which means you can improvise at the drop of a hat. Right?
JKA: Yeah, I mean, I think you know, you kind of have to think that way when you're working with leftovers because you don't know if you're going to have a cup of leftover mashed potatoes or three cups, you know, so you kind of have to be able to improvise like that. So, yeah, definitely learning those ratios really helps. You know, and of course, like recipes like this, it's like, even if your ratios a little bit, it's like, add three quarters of a cup of cup of cheese and it's not going to like break the recipe know if you like it cheesier go ahead. So, it's a lot of these things are kind of just like improvise as you go along. It's very difficult to any of those recipes. It's very difficult to like, fundamentally break them to the point where it's going to taste bad. Yeah.
CK: Yeah, this is not like making meringues right. Where it will always end in disaster absolutely, so Kenji thank you so much improvising with leftover mashed potatoes. Now my repertoire is 10 times bigger. Thank you.
JKA: Thank you.
CK: That was J Kenji Lopez Alt. He is the chief culinary consultant for Serious Eats, a food columnist for the New York Times and also author of the Food Lab. That's it for this week's show. If you tune into later want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street go to 177 Milk Street com There you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season of our television show. Learn about our magazine and latest cookbook Vegetables. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and 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 and producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. Production Assistant, Amelia McGuire, and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. theme music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX