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99% Invisible’s Chris Berube shares margarine’s secret history—from Supreme Court battles to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advertising campaign—and why in some states you could only buy margarine that was dyed pink or black. Plus, we learn about snacks from around the world with Unsnackable’s Folu Akinkuotu; Dan Pashman tells us what there is to love about canned foods; and we make Brazilian-Style Pizza.
Questions in this episode:
"What type of sausage would venison lend itself to?"
"I am having a lot of trouble producing decent cinnamon rolls. Do you have any tips?"
"Why are my dried mushrooms coming out rubbery?"
"When I bake, I've noticed that sometimes the recipe says to butter the pan. Sometimes the recipe says to butter and then dust with flour. Sometimes it says to butter, line with parchment, and then butter again. And then sometimes it says to spray with cooking spray. I'm just wondering, is there actually a difference between all these methods or is it just the preference of the recipe writer?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX I'm your host Christopher Kimball. In 1886, Congress passed a bill the Margarine Act that aimed to end an entire industry. Today we find out why margarine became the target of oddball laws, supreme court battles and some nasty smear campaigns.
Natalie Cooke: Some of the earlier cartoons, show these wonderful vats of oil with things being thrown into them, you know, shoes, the odd mouse, so that it could all be boiled down into margarine. And so that was the argument, what is in this, this rather ugly mess of fat.
CK: But first up, I'm joined by Folu Akinkuoto, who writes about obscure international snacks in her newsletter Unsnackable. Her obsession with snacks started in elementary school, when she helped her parents tug their vending machines around Minneapolis. Folu, welcome to Milk Street.
Folu Akinkuoto: Thanks for having me.
CK: I'd love the part in your newsletter Unsnackable, where you mentioned, you know, my parents own two vending machines as a side hustle. And your father used to put things in these machines that he liked but not necessarily things that other people liked. Right?
FA: Yeah. And, you know, because I was the one who was often going with him to restock the machines, I would get what was leftover as a treat. But it would be things that I wouldn't like either.
CK: Like the always stale salted nut roll, you mentioned
FA: Yes, Minnesota’s pride and joy, the salted nut roll, which I don't understand how it was always always stale. And you know, he would bring the extras home. So it was in my favor, to make sure that we wouldn't end up with a large pack of you know, something that no one would really want to have.
CK: So, you started this newsletter in September 2020. It's called Unsnackable. Tell us about Unsnackable
FA: Yeah, so Unsnackable was my pandemic project, it was pretty hard to go out and browse the aisles and find things I found interesting. So, I started a newsletter, about all the snacks I wanted, but couldn't have from all around the world. So not just things that you could find if you went to an international aisle at a grocery store, but things like, you know, licorice powder that Swedes put on their ice cream.
CK: So, in different countries, they obviously adapt to the local culinary tastes and cultures. You say in Pakistan, they have a lemon mint version of Sprite, or there's some other good examples where they take something that was, let's say, traditionally American, and then turned it into something that was more appealing to their own local palate.
FA: Chips overall are I wouldn't say that they're uniquely American, but they're a very good way to convey local flavors. Like I found chips flavored with blood sausage like black sausage. And that's something that definitely wouldn't be sold in America, but people seem to really love it. And I think my unofficial rule of thumb for chips is that the more polarizing and localized a flavor is, the more likely it is to be really interesting. Like the Thai Lay's have just a really amazing way of capturing how Thai food has heat and sourness that builds in layers. It's not just a single flavor of spiciness in the way that a Buffalo chip would be. It's a multi-level thing.
CK: Let's go through a list of really interesting snacks you've come across. You know the chocolate Oreo scallion onion ice cream sandwich might be a good one to start with.
FA: Yeah, I think the most dangerous area in snack innovation is where savory flavors meet sweet ones. But the scallion Oreo ice cream seems like one that would weirdly work. There's such a high milk content and that fattiness will coat your tongue, especially with the black cocoa. It seemed like it would balance out.
CK: I think the most interesting one was the Sunkist lemon jelly soda from her Hong Kong. So, you explain what happens because this is really kind of remarkable,
FA: Actually, I had one earlier today, and it's become one of my favorite beverages. You see it a lot in Asia that there are these jelly beverages. Sometimes they come in pouches. Sometimes they come in cans. But the Sunkist is interesting because it's salted lemon, but it's not very salty. It's more of a saltiness that you catch on the tail end of tasting it, and it makes everything else feel sweeter. But it's also still carbonated. So, it's like a lightly gelatinize lemonade soda. And you shake it to agitate the jelly to kind of loosen it up so you can drink it out of a can.
CK: Hawaiian pizza flavored smoothies in Germany, pineapple, oregano and tomato really?
FA: Yeah, that one. I am not a person who loves tomato juice. But that brand that makes the pizza smoothie has a lot of very random and interesting collaborations. Like they did a collaboration with a cough drop brand, where they made like a menthol infused smoothie. But it was, you know, it's like a smaller shot. So, like, you know, the ginger shots that you can get at the grocery store.
CK: Let's assume as a quote unquote side hustle, you buy a vending machine, because I think this is career advice you need to get a vending machine. And then what you need to do is import the stuff and put it in and see what sells I think it would be a fascinating study. So which things do you think you would try first to sell on a vending machine?
FA: Well, this is a magic vending machine so I can have anything in it. So, I would put Japanese mitsuya cider. No, no, what's that Mitzi a cider is a soda that I always say that it tastes like the sensation of drinking a ginger ale on a plane. If you have ginger on a plane, you kind of only get the fuzzy sweet notes. And it feels like it's restorative.
CK: Now, what's the really, I want the really strange left field choice now.
FA: It's feels like picking favorite children.
CK: Yeah, but all parents pick favorite children when they don't think anybody's listening. So go right ahead.
FA: It would have to be the Japanese Kobe beef fat ice cream.
CK: Okay, you got me there?
FA: Yeah, you could sell it for a lot. So, it would be good margins. And then people would try it and they'd be like, Oh, it's just like, good ice cream with a slightly higher fat content. Be kind of like a like a custard. I'm Midwestern, and my ideal ice cream is always going to be a custard.
CK: Folu thank you, you've completely changed my view of what a good snack is. And I do hope someday you get your fantasy vending machine. Thanks.
FA: Well, I'm glad that I could expand the world of snacks for you.
CK: That was Folu Akinkuotu you can find her newsletter at Unsnackable.com. Inspired by my conversation with Folu we asked our listeners to call in with their favorite snacks from around the world. Here's what they shared.
Caller: Hi, my name is Valeria _____originally from Colombia. So, there's a lot of Colombians snacks that I crave when I'm feeling homesick. One of them is mango ____ on Salamone. It's basically on ripe mango with lime salt and pepper.
Caller: Hi Milk Street. This is Aisha from Seattle and one of the snacks that we eat is my Palestinian American family is lupine beans.
Caller: Hi, this is Lawrence from Atlanta. One of my favorite snacks from China's traditional candy called Shedinja Gen, which are these rolled up sheets of condensed fruit paste and their flavor is somewhere between a strawberry and a Raspberry
Caller: Hi Milk Street. This is Julie from Sonoma, California. One of my favorite snacks are kaka ____ fried peanuts with a crunchy shell on the outside of them. I've never really seen them anywhere else, and I always try to get them when I'm in Mexico.
Caller: Hi, this is Vlad when I was growing up in Romania. All the grandmas would make this thing called biscuit salami. It's chocolate and coconut and crackers with Turkish delight and it's all wrapped up to look like a piece of salami. And wow, I used to love eating it when I was a kid.
CK: I'd like to thank all of our listeners who called in to share their snack recommendations with us. Right now, it's time for me and Sara Moulton to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is the author of Home Cooking 101 also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: So, Chris, I have a question. I know that your favorite cocktail is an old fashioned. And I was just wondering, have you stepped out a little with a different cock tail?
CK: Well, actually, two weeks ago, my wife Phyllis and I actually went out to dinner, which was hugely exciting. And the new place just opened two blocks away. It's Peruvian, actually, she and I always sit at a bar. We don't like sitting at tables, which says something about our thing. You're mostly the relative importance of alcohol and food. And I had a Pisco sour, which was I haven't had one in years. And it was slightly foamy because it has egg white in it has Pisco, which is sort of a form of brandy, a little simple syrup, lemon juice. It was just spectacular. It was absolutely spectacular. So, I've been an old-fashioned guy in all respects have that word for a long time. But the Pisco Sour was just really (over the top). Yeah, it's the first cocktail I've had in a long time that was just like, wow, this is because you know what? Sour, it's sweet. It's foamy. And they had little hibiscus syrup, which is used when I was in Oaxaca, a couple of years ago, that's used very frequently by bartenders to make interesting drinks. So that was a little bit they just drizzled on the top. So, Pisco Sour has arrived in my cocktail life.
SM: Yay. That’s exciting.
CK: And on that note, we'll take a call. Yes. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Drew Timothy.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: I was calling because recently in the fall, I was able to go deer hunting and got my first deer.
CK: I like this topic already. Where were you hunting?
Caller: I was hunting in southern Ohio,
CK: Ohio, you actually have deer, right?
CK: I can hunt for two weeks straight and see maybe one rack and I have people who go other states, and they see one every 45 minutes. So anyway, you want to talk about cooking venison maybe
Caller: I'm actually interested in some of my friends, and I occasionally make sausage. So, I was kind of curious to what type of sausage would venison lend itself to? Like an Andouille was one of the things I was thinking about, but I wasn't sure what's kind of the best options for venison meat and making homemade sausage.
CK: As you know, the problem of venison is its leanness, right? And sausage is not made out of the prime cuts. So, you're talking about the rounds, essentially the leg, which is where most of the meat is, which is very lean, the fat content is critical. So, I'd say 30% to 35% fat content to make this really palatable. Because I've had lean venison sausage, it's really hard to eat for Andouille which I think is a great idea. You might want to check out Brad Leone, you know, he has that show It's Alive on YouTube. And I think he did a show on Andouille sausage I think it's his dad's recipe. But make sure your minimum fat contents 30%. Years ago, I made my own sausage and I thought 30% sounded too high so, I used like 20% It was not worth eating.
SM: I mean, I do not so I'm sort of in my corner over here and I'll stay right here. But I do know that venison is very lean and also is a little gamey. So doing a sausage with a lot of spices in it like Andouille you know, Cajun spice and garlic and stuff. It's a brilliant idea.
CK: Yeah, that’s a great idea
CK: Drew, thank you for calling.
Caller: Thank you guys, both for your help.
CK: Take care.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a kitchen mystery. Sara and I are here to help give us a ring anytime our number is 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Katie, and I am calling from just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: I am having a lot of trouble producing decent cinnamon rolls. And I've tried it a couple of times now. And I end up with the same result which is flat kind of sad rolls that don't rise and get fluffy and delicious. The only thing that saves them is just a horrible amount of glaze. And I talked to my sister, and she thought maybe the milk that I added was too hot and I killed the yeast. I guess I'm hoping for some advice or some suggestions I could try to make a successful batch.
SM: Okay, well I'm going to take you on a complete detour. Okay, don't make a yeast dough. Make bread dough make a cream biscuit dough. It's about two cups of flour or a tablespoon of baking powder. One half to three quarters cup of cream, a little bit of salt and a couple tablespoons of sugar I mix it up very quickly like biscuits, you don't want to develop too much of the gluten and then you roll it out into whatever you know you want, what size and you put the stuff in, roll it up. It doesn't need to rise. You make it, you fill it, you roll it, you cut it, you put it in the well-oiled or parchment lined nine-inch round pan, with some caramel and nuts and stuff on the bottom, and then you bake it. And it's so much easier than the yeast version.
CK: Yes, it's easier, but it's not nearly as good. First of all, are you adding the yeast directly to the dry ingredients? Or are you proofing these
Caller: I was doing with the Betty Crocker cookbook told me to do and mix the flour and the sugar and the salt and the yeast altogether and then added the warm milk to that.
CK: And how warm was the milk?
Caller: It said very warm. And so, I guesstimated what was very warm,
CK: The first thing is it should be no more than like 110 degrees. 140 degrees will kill yeast, what I would do is I would proof the yeast directly on the liquid. And I would make sure the liquids no more than 110 - 115. 130 is dangerous. Using instant read thermometer. And you can add a little bit of the sugar to the milk also helps the yeast to bubble. And then after a few minutes, you should see a bubble. And that'll prove it. In other words, you can tell if it's active. And then go ahead. That would be the first thing. The second thing is it actually doubling, are you pretty sure you're getting the first rise the double?
Caller: I don't know if I got quite that doubling. I was basing it more on the time that they suggested in the cookbook for how long it was supposed to rise for.
CK: Forget that.
Caller: Right. It seems like maybe a lot of things went wrong.
CK: How warm is the spot where you were letting it rise?
Caller: I found a warm spot.
CK: There is a device that's just a sheet of looks like rubber. It's called the dough riser and you plug it in, and you put the bowl on top of it and it will give you the perfect temperature in the bowl.
Caller: Oh my gosh.
SM: Yeah, I'm just going to throw one thing about doubling how you know it's doubled is you gently put your finger in it about an inch, and you're looking for an any belly button, meaning it holds the imprint of your finger. If it bounces back, it's not doubled.
Caller: Oh, okay that's an excellent tip.
CK: That's really the key thing because if it's under risen, or if it's over risen, you're not going to get the right spring in the oven. The one thing you can do with dough is you can get these buckets that have measurements on the side. So, you can be absolutely sure that you're getting the right doubling.
Caller: Well great
SM: Or you could just do cream biscuits.
Caller: I might try all of it.
SM: And Katie, report back please. We'd like to know
Caller: I will.
SM: Okay. Alright terrific.
CK: Take care.
Caller: Fantastic. Thank you so much. Bye bye
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next, we're investigating the embattled history of margarine. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball.
Advertising clip: Pass the butter please, Vicky. Hey, what's going on? I switched from butter to Imperial margarine. You mean this is margarine?
CK: That's an ad from Imperial Margarine which wants you to believe their product tastes and looks just like butter. But this rivalry between margarine and butter has often reached extremes. As my next guest Chris Berube discovered he investigated the strange history of margarine for the 99% Invisible episode. I Can't Believe It's Pink Margarine. Chris, welcome to Milk Street.
Chris Berube: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.
CK: So, let me just start with a comment which is this is not an apology for margarine, right. I mean, I have nothing good to say about margarine, although I understand its history, which we'll get into. There were some good reasons it was developed initially, but I'm definitely on the butter side of this so I just want you to going in I'm definitely biased.
CB: Oh, that's okay. I don't believe that I have a side either way I spent enough time with margarine that I have developed a grudging respect for it. But I did not come in trying to reclaim margarine as this special food or anything so don’t worry
CK: So, I just wanted to make sure okay, so margarine did not start in America. It actually started in France in the 19th century, right?
CB: That's right. So actually, the reason we have margarine is because France was gearing up for a war with Prussia. This is how long ago this happened. And Napoleon the Third, who was the emperor at the time, actually had a contest to develop something that was going to be more shelf stable than butter that could be sent along with the troops. And this French chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès he develops kind of this miracle substance called margarine, which at the time, was made with beef byproducts. And I spoke to a historian named Elaine Khosrova about this. She's the author of a book called Butter, A Rich History.
Elaine Khosrova: Apparently, it was quite palatable. I've been tempted a couple of times to try to reproduce it just to know what it tasted like. But it was certainly an animal product, not anything like the margarine’s we have today, or have had, you know, for the last 100 years.
CK: So, I love the fact I guess, or not that margarine kind of dies out in France, its birthplace. It runs across the Atlantic to America where it was embraced. But you mentioned a type of butter, I'd never heard of renovated butter, which sounds better than it was. So, what what was renovated butter?
CB: Yeah, renovated, makes it sound like they've, they've judged it up a little bit or made it fancier in some way. But, in fact, when margarine comes to America, in the 19th century, you know, butter is pretty expensive. And if you didn't have a lot of money, you either had to buy butter that had gone rancid, or this thing called renovated butter. And I talked to Elaine Khosrova about this, it's, it sounds disgusting,
Elaine Khosrova: Renovated butter was essentially butter that had gone bad or cream, it didn't really churn correctly. And they would so called renovate it they would process it, you know, adding more salt, some oils, you know, they would just basically put in whatever they could to make it cohesive and spreadable. with little regard for taste. I mean, it was generally really nasty stuff.
CK: Here's something I don't get about this, you know, if you look back at Fannie Farmer cookbooks, etc. You know, cream and butter were common ingredients in those bushes. And you think about the American farm, you know, being mostly an agrarian society to mid 19th century. In other words, margarine was popular in states that had plenty of milk and butter available, right?
CB: It's true. Margarine was becoming very available in states that had lots of slaughterhouses. They had all of this excess fat that they could use to make margarine. And it was available pretty affordably pretty quickly. And the dairy industry became existentially worried about what this meant they were worried that it was going to just destroy their business. So, at this time, the butter lobby was putting on basically a disinformation campaign. And they started this whole panic that maybe dishonest shopkeepers were selling you fake butter, and it was actually margarine. But the other thing they did is they had all of these editorial cartoons that were showing up in newspapers, and I spoke to a food historian at McGill University named Natalie Cooke about this.
Natalie Cooke: Some of the earlier cartoons show these wonderful vats of oil with things being thrown into them, you know, shoes, animals, you know, the odd mouse so that it could all be boiled down into margarine. And so that was the argument. What is in this this rather ugly mess of fat?
CK: One way that the dairy industry tried to combat margarine was forcing state laws to enforce coloring margarine, right?
CB: That's right. So, states were trying to dissuade people from buying margarine. And part of how they did that is they pass laws saying that margarine had to be these really unpleasant colors. So, some states passed laws about red margarine, some about black margarine. And Natalie Cooke describes to me how pink became kind of the default color for many states,
Natalie Cooke: Vermont in 1884, New Hampshire and in West Virginia in 1891. All required that it be colored pink, so imagine spreading pink margarine on your bread. Talk about something very unappetizing at your morning breakfast.
CK: So, some states passed laws requiring the margin be dyed these you know crazy colors, but other states pass laws forbidding the to be colored at all. So that also have the same effect on making the margarine look inedible, right?
CB: Exactly. So, in Quebec, where I grew up a little bit, that was the last jurisdiction in North America to have a law like that. So, when I was a kid, you know in the early 2000’s, they still had margarine that looked a little bit like paste. So, when I would go to my grandmother's house, I would open up the margarine just see this basically inedible, gray looking tub as opposed to margarine now, which is kind of a nice light-yellow color.
CK: Finally, yellow dye packs were sent out so the consumer could, I mean, that was a way around the laws, right?
CB: That's right. So, during this period where there were laws on the books, the producers of margarine, tried to figure out different ways around it. And something that they did for a long time is they distributed these little dye packs that you had to basically swirl in. And actually, in the course of my reporting, I did speak to a couple of people who had used the dye packs, and one of those people turns out was Marion Nestle, the famous food historian, she told me that as a kid, she actually remembers using these dye packs
Marion Nestle: Well, you got this white block of fat. And then you got a packet of food dye. And with great effort, you mixed them together. So, it would look like butter. But people didn't want to eat it. It was awful looking.
CK: What was the legal basis for banning the sale of margarine or forcing margarine producers to colorize it?
CB: Well, what's so interesting is when you read the Supreme Court transcripts, they didn't really have much of a basis for it. But one of the big arguments was that we don't know what's in this and that butter is you know, it's pastoral. It's pure. We know where it comes from. And this came up a lot during a debate in Congress about taxing margarine in 1886. And one of the House members from Iowa, this representative named David Henderson, he gave this quote in support of butter
Voice: You will find butter in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations, you will hardly find a book in the Bible that does not speak of butter. The article…
CB: And he went on like this for quite a while before finally getting to margarine.
Voice: Now let me give you the first record I find of oleomargarine in a fourth act of a play of Macbeth, where there was a little cotillion of witches, I find oleomargarine completely described “double double toil and trouble…eye of newt. You know…
CK: So, okay, now we shift over to hydrogenation of vegetable oils, do you want to just describe what hydrogenation is?
CB: Well, sure. Hydrogenation is this chemical process by which you can kind of solidify a liquid. And the advent of hydrogenation meant that they could use vegetable oils to make margarine instead of the cold fat and these other animal fats that were being used. And that's when margarine really became mainstream because there was suddenly all this demand to send over shelf stable foods that can be eaten by soldiers during the world wars.
CK: One of the things you mentioned is Eleanor Roosevelt. And she was sort of pro margarine. But can I just say that, that that poor Franklin had to endure the health food proclivities of his dear wife. I mean, they used to be in the White House, and he prune pudding for dessert. I mean, the food was just unbelievable. And the story was when Eleanor would go somewhere, Frank would get the chef to make him a real meal, because the food was so appalling but anyway, she was she was pro margarine, right?
CB: She certainly was. And it's funny because once margarine became a much more mainstream product, there was a real push by the companies that were producing margarine to market it better. And one of the things they did is they hired celebrity influencers to pitch margarine, and the most prominent was Eleanor Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt: Years ago, most people never dreamed of eating margarine. But times have changed nowadays, you can get a margarine like new good ____, which really tastes delicious.
CK: Well, she certainly is one of the towering figures of the 20th century. But in terms of food, please. She she really went off the deep end.
CB: Yeah, she certainly was a big player in the margarine redemption campaign. And then a little later, in the 20th century, margarine started to get even more popular because there was this big worry about saturated fats. So suddenly, there's this big move away from butter towards margarine, and by the 70s margarine became the better selling product. What's ironic about that, of course, is that our wisdom about what's healthy has flipped. So sometime around the 90s, you'll remember there was the panic over trans fats.
Voice: A big announcement from the FDA requiring companies to phase out all trans fats from our foods saying this could save up to 7000 lives a year.
Voice: That's probably worse all along that the margarine was probably worse than the butter all along, which is why coronary heart disease, okay
CK: So today if you go into a healthy superstore of some kinds, right, you see things like Earth Balance, what is that, is that just non-trans-fat margarine essentially.
CB: Yeah. So now if you're going into a grocery store, you're likely to see a number of products that are branded as either vegan butter or plant-based butter. And it's so funny because every time I was talking to people who were, you know, advocates for plant-based butter, I'd say like it's margarine, right? They'd be like, no, no, no, it's absolutely not margarine. And then you look at the ingredient list, and its essentially March. So really, we're seeing the plant base butters is maybe the the latest resurgence and margarine. It's the latest survival mechanism for this product that just keeps on enduring and surviving on the grocery shelf.
CK: When I walk through a grocery store, I always asked myself, you know, do we need this product? Right? Or could the actual natural product be just fine? Initially, margarine was trying to solve a problem as a reasonable alternative to the real thing. So, I think it started out with good intentions from Napoleon on. But then it got into this nonsense about being healthier, which was not true. Yeah. And then it became a typical marketing ploy, right?
CB: Absolutely. Yeah. It's this strange thing where when you look at margarine, which I think a lot of us take for granted, I don't think a lot of people have strong positive feelings towards margarine. They're either pretty neutral on it, or, like yourself, Christopher, they strongly dislike it. And when you look through all of its evolutions, it's kind of remarkable for such a bland product that early on, it was kind of this miracle of science. And then it became kind of this, you know, working class hero, a little bit's this affordable alternative for people who couldn't afford butter. And then we're getting up to it being a health food and then a villain, a real health villain for people. When you look at all of these various evolutions, it's kind of remarkable to consider that it's margarine we're talking about in all of these cases.
CK: Chris, thank you very much. I Can't Believe it's Pink Margarine, The Story of Margarine from the Beginning to the Present. Thank you.
CB: Thanks for having me.
CK: That was Chris Berube he produced and reported that 99% Invisible episode, I can't Believe it's Pink Margarine. Margarine’s a product that tried to sell itself as better than butter, a tried-and-true marketing gimmick. And here are a few others. Water and lemon juice will hydrate you better than sports drinks. energy bars are of course packed with fat and sugar. Low fat foods are highly processed with sugar added. And commercial whole wheat bread is brown, white bread. So, here's a good rule when shopping. Just buy the product that has the shortest shelf life. That means that something in it is still alive. You're listening to Milk Street radio, it's time to chat with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe Brazilian style pizza. J M. How are you?
J M Hirsch: I'm great.
CK: You know, a while ago on the show, I had Nathan Myhrvold who does Modernist Cuisine and cookbooks. And he just did a three-volume pizza set, as you know, 10,000 words per book on pizza. But he told me something really interesting, which is that Brazil views itself as the epicenter of world class pizza, which I did not know. So, a few weeks later, you went to San Paolo, to follow up on this concept. And what did you find?
J M Hirsch: I found that I was shocked because I didn't know this either. And you know, the idea of Brazil, or South America as the epicenter of pizza. To me, that sounded crazy. But I got there. And it's true. And there's some long history behind it. You know, Italians started immigrating to Brazil, more than 100 years ago, and it really picked up around World War Two. And many of them came from Naples, which of course means they brought a tradition of pizza with them. And they did have to adapt a little bit to local ingredients, of course, but the pizza culture stayed really strong. And in some ways, I would argue even stronger than in Italy.
CK: So in a nutshell, I think everyone's familiar with Neapolitan pizza. If you walked into a Brazilian pizza restaurant, what would you find it how is it different?
J M: Well, the first thing you're going to see is that this white tablecloth and all the tables because pizza is taken very seriously, especially in Sao Paulo. It is eaten with a fork and knife. And there's a good reason for that. It's not just manners. It's a formal occasion. You know, they actually serve pizza at most weddings. Pizza is considered wedding food, you know? And it's actually a family experience. You go out on the weekend for pizza. This is the thing you know, in New York, you buy a slice, and you walk down the street eating it, they would never in a million years do that in Brazil. This is a fine dining experience.
CK: So, let's start in Naples it's cooked in 60 or 70 seconds 900-degree oven, high hydration dough, which means its bubbly, etc. Very thin crust. So how is this different?
JM: Alright, let's start with the crust, because it's much sturdier lower hydration than what you find in Italy. It has more of a chew and just a more robust crust all around. Now there's an important reason for that. And that's because of what you put on the pizza. Brazilians love topping their pizzas with tons and tons of toppings, so many toppings you need a sturdier crust to hold them. And that's also why they eat the pizza with a fork and knife because you could never pick up one of these slices and get it to your mouth without falling all over you
CK: So, are these just a surplus of toppings? Are they wild and crazy toppings?
JM: They lean wild and crazy because, you know a lot of them actually are inspired by other dishes such as you know, an Italian oh, let's say caponata. I actually had a caponata pizza topped with raisins and eggplant and tomatoes. It was actually really delicious. I had a Napoli in Beirut, which was goat cheese and za’atar and tomatoes. I had one of my favorites, a carbonara pizza (what?) which is our pasta on top of it or what?
CK: What? Does this have pasta on top?
JM: No noodles but it definitely had eggs, egg yolk, actually, and pancetta and it was really, really delicious but by far the most outlandish pizza, and one of the most delicious you're not going to buy this one Pad Thai pizza.
CK: Oh no. Okay, you brought this up. Now you sell me on Pad Thai pizza go ahead
JM: All right. Take your basic crust, topic with a nice clean raw tomato sauce spiked with fish sauce mind you and then you're going to add to that chicken and a spicy peanut sauce and some red chilies and some sprouts and some cilantro. It's really good.
CK: But once again, no noodles.
JM: No noodles thankfully, no noodles
CK: Okay, I feel better. We know what Neapolitan pizza is. It's sort of the basis for New York style pizza. I guess. This is a whole new thing for us, a sturdier crust, lots of different toppings. If you had to go back and eat pizza again, would you go to Brazil or go to Naples?
JM: As luck would have it. I actually just got back from Naples a few weeks ago. And I took the opportunity while I was able to eat in some of the famous pizzerias there. And it was good. But it wasn't exciting the way that Brazilian pizzas were. I actually was more impressed and more excited by the Brazilian pizzas because it was so much going on. You know they had dozens of varieties and as you know, and a Neapolitan Pizzeria, you get usually two options. And it's like tomato and cheese or tomato and cheese. In Brazil, like the sky is the limit. You can get anything you want on a pizza, and they just have these amazing, unorthodox flavor combinations. Look at Milk Street. We love contrasting textures and flavors. And the Brazilians are like totally channeling that vibe on their pizzas.
CK: So, Brazil wins over at Naples, which means you probably should never go back to Naples.
JM: I suspect I'll be banned.
CK: It’s a very tough town. Brazilian pizza and you say JM it's better than what you found in Naples Thank you.
JM: Thank you. You can get the recipe for Brazilian pizza at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up Dan Pashman sings the praises of canned food. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Chris from Chicago.
SM: Hi, Chris. How can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I had a question about dried mushrooms. I've tried using them twice in a couple of different dishes. One was a mix of Shitake’s and porcinis and portobellos in a barley soup and Another was I just added them to stir fry. And in both instances, I tried to rehydrate them with boiling water for 30-45 minutes. And in both times, they came out a bit rubbery at the end. And I thought maybe it was something I was doing with the rehydration or maybe it was the types of mushroom but after doing some research, it seems like everyone raised about using dried mushrooms, so I feel like I'm doing something wrong.
SM: I don't think you're doing anything wrong. They just are a little chewier. What size were they?
Caller: Oh, they were sliced.
SM: They were sliced, well, they just are chewy, or there's sort of no way around it. You know, if you found them too chewy, then I would shop them after you've resuscitated them. But the other thing that's very important is did you use the soaking liquid?
Caller: I did not.
SM: Okay, because that is I think why everybody's so madly in love with mushrooms is well if you're going to use them resuscitated there's another thing that people do, which is to grind them up, and then use the powder and that can be quite potent.
Caller: Oh. Okay.
SM: My only problem with that one, it depends on what mushrooms you're working with. So, for example, I find that sometimes porcini are a little dirty and need to be soaked and cleaned. And likewise, morels because they have all these little cavities. If you get whole morels, you sort of really need to clean them out. But the main thing is that liquid is just liquid gold. And you know, there's things you can do like instead of just reconstituting it in water, you could use chicken broth, or you could add a little alcohol, you know, like oftentimes porcine in particular or you know, maybe resuscitated with a little bit of Madera or Marsala or something like that. And then you use that liquid do run it through a cheesecloth or just through a strainer of some kind because the liquid there could be sediment at the bottom, but it's really yummy stuff. Anyway, Chris?
CK: Okay, so when I get older, I'll have my wife resuscitate me with a Marsala. Yeah, why
SM: Yeah, why not? Or Madera
Caller: It all sounds good.
CK: Well, first of all, I agree with you. Dried mushrooms reconstituted. rehydrated are always chewy. Yeah, that's just what they are. Yeah, the only thing I might suggest is rehydrating in water, cold water sitting in the fridge overnight. Give it 12 hours, which I've never done, but I think if you wanted to test the limits of rehydrating, that would do it instead of half an hour with hot water. Look, a lot of cultures, chewy is part of the attraction in many parts of China things that are crunchy things that are chewy is something that people really prize. So, I'm not sure that chewy is necessarily a bad thing. I think it may be a good thing.
SM: Yeah, I agree.
Caller Yeah, I looked at it as a problem. Like I was doing something wrong. But to your point, no,
CK: No, I think it’s fine
SM: But if you do find it too chewy, the finer you chop them up, the less chewy they'll be because they're in smaller pieces. So that is a way around it
CK: And just one last thing some dried mushrooms have been dried for 10 years on the shelf. So yeah, they're really powdery, you know, in the package. You just might be getting the really old stuff so anyway, maybe it's not a problem.
Caller: Well, thank you. Yeah, you gave me some things to try. So, I appreciate it.
SM: Okay. Take care
CK: Bye. Bye. This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help with dinner, give us a call anytime our number is 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: This is Laura from outside of Philadelphia.
CK: Hi, Laura, outside of Philadelphia. How can we help you?
Caller: Well, I had a baking question. When I bake, I've noticed that sometimes the recipe says to butter the pan. Sometimes the recipe says to butter and then dust with flour. Sometimes it says to butter line with parchment and then butter again. And then sometimes it says to spray with cooking spray. I'm just wondering like, is there actually a difference between all these methods or is it like just the preference of the recipe writer?
CK: That's an excellent question. And it goes to the heart of inconsistency which is one of those things that drives me crazy in baking. First of all, there are cakes like angel food, or a sponge cake sometimes that you don't crease because you want the cake to hold on to the pan as arises and doesn't collapse when it bakes. If you have a nonstick pan, no baking pans are truly nonstick. I guess silicone pans may be the closest, but I don't like those. Yeah, so you need to spray a nonstick pan. And that usually works pretty well. If you have a cake or dessert that's high in sugar and is particularly sticky, or a Bundt pan, which is really, you know tough because of all the curves and everything else. You probably do want to butter and then flour which also helps release during baking. So, the answer is if a cake needs to attach to the pan, don't grease it. If it's a nonstick pan you can just spray it, I think with spray and then if you have cakes that are particularly difficult I would butter and flour or parchment at the bottom around cake pan, I'd always put parchment at the bottom right, and I buy packages of eight to nine inch rounds precut. Keep those around and I also buy boxes of parchment paper in the sheets.
SM: I think one of the reasons it's so inconsistent over the years is parchment didn't use to
CK: That's, yeah, it was a great question, by the way.
SM: Yes. Very interesting.
Caller: Thank you.
SM: Thank you.
CK: Thanks for calling. This is Milk Street Radio. Next up, it's Dan Pashman. Dan, what's up this week?
Dan Pashman: I just had the most delicious lunch. Chris Can I tell you about it?
CK: Oh, boy, this is going, this is going be a thrill
DP: A jar of good Italian tuna. Yeah, a can of artichokes, and the rest of a jar of capers.
CK: Well, okay
DP: By my standards, this was fancy, and involved two jars and a can. And my point to you here, Chris, is that we should be eating more foods out of jars and cans.
CK: Well, you know, this is a very timely topic. There's a restaurant, I think in Brooklyn that specializes in canned fish and canned foods are coming back.
DP: Yeah. And it's I mean, in my house, they never left. But, you know, I just think that why is anybody dealing with artichokes like, yeah, I've seen the videos you post on Milk Street of like, nona’s in Tuscany, you know, like taking 15 minutes per artichoke to prepare them just so and that's beautiful and nice to watch. But like who in the real world has the time
CK: Well, how do you think the nona’s live so long?
DP: I guess so. There's always one more artichoke to chop.
CK: There's always another artichoke? Well, I look there are some items. capers, of course, certain condiments. Tuna. Yeah, the really good Italian stuff is great. artichokes. Yeah, I mean, but you know, it turns out the Chef Boyardee is living upstairs in your house. That's not too good, right.
DP: Sure. Yeah, I mean, I think Chef Boyardee has its place, but I get what you're saying. But like, I just feel like I'm able to make so much deliciousness in my home just by opening cans. Like I made homemade pizza. Bought the dough from the pizzeria down the street uncooked. And I put artichokes and chickpeas from two different cans on top, a little bit of feta cheese, and that was dinner. And it was fantastic. You know, beans. I've never made beans from scratch in my life.
CK: Dan come on. No
DP: I know that's sacrilegious to some people. I know. There's some bean purists out there who will laugh at me. But like why I can open a can.
CK: Dan I want to tell you something about yourself. You don't know. Or maybe you do. You're just like me, you get a new idea. You're like, hey, canned foods are great. And then the entire world of fresh food goes out the window. And you decide like, this is it, I'm living in the world of canned food. Right, right. Yeah. Once your mind is focused, it's laser like
DP: That's true. That is true. That's the way you are too.
CK: Yeah, I get an idea in my head, and I stick with it for at least 10 or 12 minutes. Yeah, then another idea pops up. That's okay.
DP: Do you have certain favorite go to canned items or dishes that you put together by opening a couple cans and jars?
CK: There are you mentioned two my wife, you know, has a huge I think half a shelf of the glass jarred Italian tuna, which is quite expensive, but quite good. artichoke hearts is just a great, you know, go to ingredient, which is nice. Preserved lemons, actually, you know, you're not going to do that yourself. That's really good. I have a ton of actually, of sauces. You know, harissa, chili paste
DP: Yeah, those are crucial
CK: Relish. I love relishes. And then of course, I'm Mr. Marmalade so
DP: So is that really, I feel like I'm going to have to call you that from now on.
CK: I've actually, I’ve only revealed this to you. I'll actually put some of my cornflakes in the morning. Oh, yeah. But that's good. So yeah, I think that's right.
DP: It's funny that you mentioned preserved lemons because despite my devotion to canned and jarred goods, I actually preserved my own lemons like eight years ago. And they're still in my refrigerator because the couple of times I tried to put them in anything, they were already two or three years old, and had such an incredibly strong flavor and aroma which I loved but nobody else in my family would touch. And now I'm stuck with these preserved lemons, and I don't know what to do with them. You got any tips for me, how can I use these to make more flavor for me without turning off the rest of my family?
CK: Yeah, I do have a suggestion.
CK: Take one and slice it in half and then slice very thin pieces.
CK: And use just two or three tiny little thin slices,
CK: Because what you're probably doing is using a quarter of one or something and that's just overpowering. So, the secret of preserved lemons is you know, just use a little
DP: Tiny tiny okay, I think all right and slice very thin. Okay,
CK: Now you have to go find the jar of preserved lemons you threw out. So that's it so so you're now totally converted or there are only just a handful of things you think are better in a can
DP: I mean I mean, I'm not a person who loves project cooking maybe a couple times a year when I really have a whole day to relax and spend that time in the kitchen to prep the night before or whatever, soak the beans or spend an hour pre-chopping and prepping vegetables a few times a year holidays are cold days in the winter sure, but most of the time, like I just I feel like the the cost benefit analysis of the flavor that I can get in the amount of time and effort is just absolutely comes down on the side of cans and jars almost every time.
CK: Well, to be honest, I got back from Mexico recently and I my first lunch I got a can of black beans, drained it mashed it, put it in a saucepan with some little bit of garlic and harissa. Cooked it up and then threw it and I brought home a stack of tortillas, you know, toasted some tortillas, and threw it in with a little bit of cheese. And I have to say that was like a five-minute lunch
DP: Right? And it was fantastic, right?
CK: Yeah, black beans and he can especially Yes, using it like that is is perfectly fine.
DP: There you go, folks. You heard it from Christopher Kimball himself.
CK: Next week Dan Pashman will be back to talk about frozen food
DP: Frozen peas forever.
CK: There you go. Dan Pashman’s discovered the joys of canned food. Dan, thank you.
DP: Thanks, Mr. Marmalade.
CK: That was Dan Pashman, host of The Sportful Food podcast. That's it for this week's show. If you tune into later simply want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcast. 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 a television show or learn about our magazine, and our 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, media director Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sinsabaugh, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Special thanks to 99% Invisible for bringing us the story of pink margarine. Thank you Chris Berube,
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