Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today biologist and science writer Nicola Temple makes the case that not all processed foods are in fact created equal. Nicola believes that food technology could in the long run, actually save the planet.
Nicola Temple: I think that we need to be a bit more rational in our thinking about what processed foods are. We have a long history with them. We are arguably obligate processed food eaters. I mean, if we tried to go back to an entirely raw diet, we would really struggle with it.
CK: Also, coming up, we learned to make seared shrimp tacos with tomatoes and cotija. And Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette explain what a full apple means in Hollywood. But first, it's my interview with farmer and Chef Matthew Raiford. His new cookbook Bress ’n’ Nyam Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmerexplores his family's history, their food and what it means to be Gullah Geechee. Matthew, welcome to Milk Street.
Matthew Raiford: Thank you for having me, Chris.
CK: So, let's talk about your ancestors, you’re the great great grandson of Jupiter Gilliard, who I guess came from Cameroon originally, or,
MG: Well, Jupiter Gilliard was actually born enslaved in 1812 in the Carolinas. My ancestral background after doing lots of tracing is Ghana and Cameroon.
CK: And he, after the Civil War, had acquired quite a lot of land actually over 400-acre square acres, right?
MG: Well, yeah. So, in 1874, Jupiter Gilliard purchased 476 acres of land and now my sister and I are farming, like physically farming a little more than five acres of it, and that that includes animals and actually doing rice cultivation this year.
CK: But you, you came back to the farm later in life, right.
MG: So, I left the area in 1985. I went in the military for 10 years and did a lot of other things. But in 2010, I was sitting there and something just welled up inside of me and I just looked at my Nana and my mom and my my Aunt Mary Lou and was just like, we should go back to farming. And then the next thing you know, I'm back on the family land in 2011 putting in work so they say
CK: Is this a self-contained farm that is you're growing to feed animals or you're selling to other farmers? What is it that you produce?
MG: Some of the things we grow specifically just to give back to the animals like this year, we're going to finish off our kune kune hogs with sweet potatoes. So, we're trying to grow out about 500 or so pounds of sweet potatoes. And then we also are growing rice this year as part of the Jubilee Justice Project, which is about people of African descent reclaiming rice and rice culture. And so, this year we're planting a black rice, a red rice and also arborio. So, what we're doing is three trials. A trial on each one, the rice is with peas planted about two - three weeks after each set of the rice goes in. And they're basically going to be called in Gullah Geechee easy peasy or rice and peas.
CK: Yeah, I saw that in your book. Easy peasy is your version of Hoppin John. Now, if you could just define Gullah Geechee, is it a is it a people? Is it a language? Maybe it's both?
MG: Oh, yeah, so Gullah Geechee is a people, a place, a language. It's all encompassing, within the low country from people of African descent. There's also this conversation about what the small differences are. Salt water Geechee are folks that are raised on the islands, what a lot of people call the Sea Islands which run through the coast of the Carolinas all the way down to North Florida. And then there's what you call freshwater Geechee’s. And those would be considered people that were a few miles inland. The farm that we're on Gilliard farms is less than 15 minutes from the Jekyll Island beach.
CK: So, let's talk about recipes. So how do you do an oyster roast? I mean, I know you could just throw it out on a grill and cook them quickly. But what if you really want to do a real oyster roast how does that work?
MG: So, for me, we do oysters on hot tin. So back in the day when I was a kid, basically you took some cinder blocks laid a piece of tin on the top, pop some holes in it, get it super-hot, like super, super hot and you just throw your oysters on the top of it, and then you throw a wet burlap sack over, and you can hear the oysters when they pop. And soon as you start hearing pop, you pull that croaker sack off, and you start scooping those oysters off and popping them open. You hardly even need an oyster shucker at that point, because they usually pop enough for you to kind of like just take your fingers and open it up. And so, I kind of grew up, you know, having an oyster roast like that. I was actually telling somebody a while back that I had been making cocktail sauce since I was like 9-10 years old. And they were like, cocktail sauce? I was like, Yeah, like ketchup and horseradish, and a little bit of lemon juice. And they were like, I would have never thought that someone in the deep south was making cocktail sauce. And I was like, yeah, I mean, it's part of, you know, our culture. So, like, when I go somewhere, someone's like, man, they're having shrimp cocktail. And I'm like, okay, like, I've been eating shrimp since I was a baby, you know? So.
CK: So, I noticed that you have a recipe for za’atar roasted chicken, za’atar is my now favorite spice blend of all time. How did you come across it in first time?
MG: So, bene seed is something that is part of the Gullah Geechee culture, which bene seed, sesame seed is all in the same. And so, as a kid, my great grandmother used to make this herb with sesame seed, and oil that was one of the ways we had roasted chicken. And then through all of my travels, I had come across za’atar, and every time I tasted it was reminiscent of home. And so, I was like, you know, let me do a spatchcock chicken with roasted za’atar. So, I kind of grew up eating within those flavor profiles that are considered to be you know, North African, Mediterranean, West African. Yeah, I probably have been eating something that resembled za’atar for as long as I can remember,
CK: Let’s talk about biscuits, because I'm fascinated by biscuits. Now when I make buttermilk biscuits, and this is the difference, I think, between the North and the South, maybe I treat it, I barely touch it, right. I'm very gentle with it, because I want to get a nice nice puff to and a light texture, when you treat it a little bit more like French pastry that you fold it etc. a number of times. So, you're into layering, you want layered biscuits, right?
MG: Right layered you know that that look to where like, you know, when you pull it apart, it kind of has a layer. And I think part of that also comes from my father, like watching him make biscuits, having had his background as a baker. I grew up eating French pastries, because my dad would make you know, laminated dough, you know, the night before and then we get up and he, I mean, the smell of like cinnamon, brown sugar, and apples or pears and the like were always like, in the house. And so, it was funny, because there's a picture of my dad and I in the book, and he was like, I'm not eating this until you tell me how you made it. And so, I started telling him how I made it. He's like, boy, you actually watch me do that back in those days and I said yes. And that's how I learned how to make this. And he dove into, and he was like, I'm so proud of you now. And I was like, Oh, so now 20 something years later, you're proud of me, like that kind of thing. And he starts laughing. He was like, well, you know, he was like, like you always say cooking is lifelong learning.
CK: Matthew it's just been a pleasure.
MG: Thank you
CK: And I just loved every minute of it. Thank you so much.
MG: Thank you for having me.
CK: That was farmer and chef Matthew Raiford. His new cookbook is Bress ’n’ Nyam Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer. It's time for my co-host Sara Moulton and I to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101 also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. So, I recently interviewed the owners of Honey and Co they have three restaurants in London. They're from the Middle East. They wrote a book called Chasing Smoke. And the whole idea was that the way people grill around the Mediterranean, especially in the Levant, Turkey, Egypt, etc. is totally different than what we do, right because we think about grilling burgers and steaks, etc. But they do mostly vegetables and put the food right on the coal sometimes. (Wow) And it's so interesting because it's cooking over wood. It's not backyard barbecue. And it just made me think that how we've been doing it here for a few generations is so limited in terms of the scope. I mean, they'll grill fruits and make salads out of them for example. They grill potatoes. They obviously grill eggplant a lot. Do you have any ways of grilling when you get outside a little different than what most people do?
Sara Moulton: No, I love everything you just said no, I love grilling and high heat roasting vegetables. I feel like it really concentrates their flavor it gets rid of the excess liquid. I mean I hated zucchini till I started. Well either boiling it or grilling it, you know thin sliced zucchini because I just thought it was boring and watery. But what you're talking about sounds fantastic.
CK: It's just redefining the art. And so anyway, yes, let's take your call.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: This is Brian from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
SM: Hi, Brian, how can we help you today?
Caller: So, I've been living a low gluten low carb lifestyle for a few years, and you know really have come to enjoy it. The question I have really is about trying to figure out how to infuse vegetables with a lot of great flavors. Like cauliflower rice has been very popular and I've come to like it a lot but when I add it to sauces and tried to infuse flavor, it ends up kind of tasting like cauliflower in a sauce.
SM: All right, I'm thinking of the pilaf model of rice. Let's say we start with extra virgin olive oil I would start with some finely chopped onions then I would add some minced garlic, Chris won't agree with any of this but I'm going to keep going and then I would add the cauliflower and the spices that you want to flavor it with like ground cumin or even toasted cumin. But also, you could add the paprika’s are wonderful. And toasting them with the cauliflower in the oil with the onion and garlic will really help. Some tomato paste and then add a little bit of you know nicely flavored chicken broth and keep simmering I think that would give it a nice aroma. And if you are going to put a sauce on it. Do a thicker sauce that will coat the little grains of cauliflower more.
CK: A few other suggestions. It's really easy to roast it whole you can put a wet sort of chili paste on it or herb paste roast it you can finish off with tahini you can cut planks of cauliflower and roast those.
SM: Yeah, I love those.
CK: And that's it's just so much easier to do. You mentioned vegetables in general, you can do the sizzling oil method from China and other places where you put sliced scallions and minced ginger on top of the vegetable. And then put about a quarter cup of very hot oil drizzle that on and that blooms the ginger in the scallions and then you could use the torque method from India which is to take a little bit oil like a quarter cup heated up with some spice. Aleppo pepper is particularly good. But you could use Sichuan peppercorns, you could use cumin, turmeric, whatever you want. And then you have a flavored oil, and you can steam your vegetables or however you want to cook them and then drizzle that oil on top at the end. Those are just quick, easy ways. Keep the vegetable simple, but it's just what you put on it really at the end of cooking. And that's really so easy to do
SM: The oil and what Chris just said is an important component here. Because oil is a conductor of flavor. So, when you add the herbs and all the other things to the oil will help to really carry it.
Caller: Okay, and maybe that's what I'm missing. You got great ideas. I think that oil might be the key
CK: or put a pound of ground pork in with the cauliflower rice. That would add a lot of flour.
Caller: Awesome. All right. Thank you both
SM: Thanks Brian bye bye
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: My name is Barbara, and I'm from Palm Coast, Florida.
CK: And how can we help you?
Caller: Well, I love to dip chocolates. And my favorite center is buffalo sponge candy, which is a crunchy yellow foam that you cook the sugar and corn shipped and then add baking soda to make it puff up. But I've used two different recipes and my candy never turns out right. One uses some vinegar at the beginning, but the sponge deflates and crumbles with giant bubbles and the other use of gelatin at the end and it turns out rock hard with tiny bubbles. What am I doing wrong?
CK: Well, let's go back. So, what temperature does the sugar syrup have to end up at?
Caller: One of my recipes is 300 and the other says 310.
CK: And what kind of thermometer are using?
Caller: I'm using an old-fashioned mercury candy thermometer. I've used the digital ones too.
CK: I use a thermal pen which is an extremely expensive like 90 something dollar digital thermometer, but it's really precise. I think it's probably the temperature the sugar syrup is the critical thing, the vinegar never seen that. But Sara?
SM: Let me ask you a question, Barbara. What texture would you like this candy to have?
Caller: It should be crunchy but not break your teeth when you bite into it. And not giant bubbles so that it crumbles all over.
SM: So somewhere in between? So, what happens when you add the baking soda is the whole thing sort of foams up? Yes. And then what happens after you add the baking soda?
Caller: Well, the one with the vinegar at least deflates in the middle. A big sink hole on the center.
SM: Well, it probably made the baking soda go way up and then way down, you know what I mean? So, I'd say, forget about the vinegar
CK: That extra acid is going to overreact with the baking soda.
SM: You might want to Google the place that sort of made it famous and see what you can find out from their method. And then maybe even just call them up and see if perhaps they would help you.
CK: Fowler’s is one of the places they're right that does it?
CK: I would spring for a really good digital thermometer doesn't have to be from ThermoWorks but get a good one. And make sure you take multiple readings, because that's the thing that's the killer, and dump the vinegar. And just make sure it's a dry day, because you've now picked the most difficult candy in the most difficult part of cooking ever. Candy’s making’s hard, but this particular things even hard. Yeah. So, everything's got to be just right. I agree with Sara. I just call him up. Yeah. Okay. Now what I mean, they'll take your call. Other thing I would do is just take a bunch of pictures while you're making it. To send it to them. Yeah. Yeah. I bet. They've been doing this so long. They could figure it out.
Caller: Yeah, I will try that. This was my mom's favorite candy, which is why I finally decided to start learning to make it because I couldn't find it in the stores where I grew up
CK: or call Fowlers and have them ship you 10 pounds. That would be that
Caller: That's even better. That's great idea.
CK: There you go. Spend 20 bucks you’re good to go
SM: You’ve got great suggestions. Just mail order
CK: Just go buy it.
Caller: Right. Right, thank you
CK: Yeah, take care, thanks for calling. Okay. Thank you very much.
SM: Bye, bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need a hand in the kitchen, give us a call anytime. Our number’s 855-426-9843. That's 855-426-9843 or just email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, it's Richard. I'm from Penn Valley near Philadelphia.
CK: How are you?
Caller: I'm good. I recently got a sous vide ___and I've been using it like crazy. And I love it. But I also buy a lot of meat in bulk. And I have a vacuum machine. And my problem is I don't know whether to salt the meat before I vacuum it and put it in the freezer, which it might be in there for six months, or freeze it without salting it and then salted when it comes out or forget about salt altogether.
CK: Great question. I spoke to Kenji Lopez Alt, and he's done a lot of work on sous vide. His take is that if you salt it and then vacuum, seal it and throw it in the freezer, it will actually change the texture of the meat.
Caller: Oh, ok
CK: You end up a little bit like a cured ham or something. So, you will get a version of that which you probably won't love in terms of texture. I would take it out sous vide it and then you obviously sous vide to a temperature a little bit lower than what you want to end up with.
Caller: Why is that?
CK: I mean, if it's a steak, right, you're going to sous vide it and then you're going to sear it. So sometimes I could get to like 110 or 115 in the sous vide and then take it out and finish it on a grill or in a skillet. I would salt it either right before you finish cooking it or salt it afterwards. But just don't salt it before you package it or freeze it
Caller: But I was thinking because it froze it wouldn't actually keep tenderizing the meat or whatever salt does.
CK: Well, it's going to take a long time for it to freeze though don't forget.
Caller: Yeah, because I started to do the salt and I haven't tried what it tastes like. I just actually the last porterhouse I bought I did one.
CK: Well, you know what? Good. I mean, try it. You may find the textures fine. Great. I think you could do a test that way. Right, Sara?
SM: Yeah, no, I that's exactly where I was going to go my inclination would be no, don't you know, salt it before you freeze it. But if you've got a really thick steak, I don't know, maybe it will be okay, so I'd give it a shot.
Caller: My worry was that I cook it without any seasoning in the bag. And then when I season it before I sear it, that's just not enough time for any of the flavors to get into the meat. That was my concern about doing it post cooking.
CK: That's a good question. You know what you might try is sous viding it to a lower temperature. Let's say 100, salting it, right, and letting it sit for maybe half an hour on a rack. And it's going to absorb at that temperature. It's going to absorb the salt probably pretty quickly. Try that and then finish it in a skillet or grill. See, see what happens. Yeah,
SM: Yeah, that's an excellent suggestion.
Caller: There's so many ways to go with that. Do you think the type of meat matters? Lamb, pork?
CK: The reason salt gets inside meat is because positive negative charges the protein so the salt gets drawn in because of the opposite charges, whereas other flavorings don't. That would be true of any meat protein, whether it's beef or lamb or pork, so it won't make any difference. I don't think cook it 200 let it sit for an hour. Well salted, and then finish it off.
Caller: I’ll try all three methods.
SM: Yeah, Richard, please let us know.
Caller: Thank you guys, thanks love your show thank you
SM: Thank you.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next in science writer Nicola Temple on the history and future of processed foods. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my conversation with biologists and science writer Nicola Temple, her book Best Before: The Evolution and Future of Processed Food makes the case that not all processed foods are bad. Nicola, welcome to Milk Street.
Nicola Temple: Thanks for having me.
CK: So, let's define what food processing is. We think of it as a bad thing, or you think of it is is just a description.
NT: Yes, so processing food is any mechanical, thermal or chemical alterations to change it somehow. So pretty much everything that we do to food, whether it's peeling a carrot, or extruding some crazy snack, like a Crisp or Pringles, you know, that sort of thing. I think that it has become a bad word, and that we need to be a bit more rational in our thinking about what processed foods are, we have a long history with them. We are arguably obligate processed food eaters. I mean, if we tried to go back to an entirely raw diet, we would really struggle with it.
CK: So how did processed food shape was going back to the early days?
NT: the first evidence that we were probably starting to cook our food was with Homo habilis, they have much smaller teeth, given their skulls shape, jaw size, etc. And they so they lived around 2.4 to 1.4 million years ago. And, you know, they were using tools, so they were able to smash roots and slice meat and so it enabled sort of an evolution of smaller and smaller teeth and that freed up, you know, bone and muscle so really expensive tissues to to then be used elsewhere say, brain development, for example. And, you know, the theory is that, that could have only happened with the taming of fire and cooking and, you know, a cooked vegetable takes 22% less muscle to choose than a raw vegetable. So, you know, that's a significant change. And it's definitely shaped what we look like as humans and and and how we've evolved.
CK: So, okay, let's take frozen food. So, I grew up in the 50s. And 60s, frozen foods were pretty popular. And I, you know, I look down my nose at frozen foods, except for maybe frozen fruits occasionally. But you make the point that actually frozen foods may be much better than the fresh vegetables in the produce aisle. So, do you want to make that argument?
NT: Well, I think you're you're probably right frozen foods, certainly have a certain generation have a stigma associated with them. But first of all, frozen foods have come a long way. So, technology has made it possible that now foods are frozen within a couple of miles of where they were picked and within a few hours. So of course, you're preserving far more of the nutrients. Whereas you know, there's sort of a classic example here in the UK, you can get this little tray of baby corns and and sugar snap peas wrapped up in a chive and in fact, the baby corns are grown in Nairobi and we fly the chive and the packaging over from the UK to Nairobi, where people sit in a little factory just just on the grounds of the airport wrapping the Nairobi produce up with these UK chives and then ship it all back. So, I mean, yeah, it looks great on the grocery store shelf, it looks really fresh, but it's traveled 1000s of miles and is many days from having been picked so you know compared to the flash using methods, just no comparison,
CK: That's a horrendous story. It is, like 10,000 miles and travel, to get something on your, on your shelf. You talked about cheese and cheese, of course, you know, is a great way of preserving milk. But you said something I didn't think about ever thought about which was the you said it helped our farming ancestors to get around their lactose intolerance.
NT: Yeah, so obviously, as mammals, we drink milk, other mammals drink milk. But you know, we're the only mammals to drink milk into our adolescence and adulthood, quite frankly. So, you know, normally, people who aren't tolerant to lactose will start to at about the age of eight, they stopped producing the enzyme that allows them to break it down. And that's quite natural. But you know, by essentially fermenting the milk either as yogurt or as cheese, it reduces the intolerance, essentially, it breaks down the lactose that people can't break down. And so that means that we were able to get a huge source of protein. And dairy is very rich in vitamin D, high in fat. So, it's a really good nutritional source without having the ill effects, shall we say, of dairy.
CK: So fresh fruits and vegetables, you say are, there's more going on behind the scenes. So, ethanol blockers, edible film of sorts to prevent browning is it is some kind of preservative cocktail. So those baby carrots in the bag are not quite what they seem.
NT: Yeah, all of these fresh vegetables. I mean, you, you know, if you grow your own vegetables, that a carrot is going to start to oxidize and turn brown, you know, those bagged lettuce leaves that we love to get for easily, you ready made salads, you know, when you pick your own lettuce leaves in your garden, they start to wilt, you know, on the way back from the garden before you're even in the house. And so, our food manufacturers are having to try and counter all that. And I guess the balances. Okay, so they're, they're changing the environment inside the bag. They're getting really smart about the packaging, you know, let some gases in and it lets some gases out. But I suppose is the overall effects is, are people consuming more vegetables as a result of that because we've made them more convenience? And does that outweigh you know, the fact that we're pumping some ethylene blockers in into our packaging?
CK: Well, you answered that question your book, you said, Americans, which I thought was interesting are not eating more vegetables they did 20 years ago. So, the answer is no. So, is there a line you will not cross that is processed foods that you think are over processed and not something you want to consume?
NT: Yeah, I think you know, oils, obviously a refined and flour and sugar and spices and salt. So that is perfectly acceptable to me. But I have to redefine that line with everything. I told the story about feeling like a supermom one day because I woke up and realized that my son had now he really likes flour, tortilla wraps for his lunch, and we didn't have any. And so, I thought, well, I make bread all the time. This is no problem. I can, I can do this. And so, I made some wraps and sent them off to school. And there were obviously extras and so when I came out of my home office to have lunch that day and picked up the wrap it was like a frisbee I could have scraped paint off the wall with it was it was incredibly hard. So, I looked it up and commercial flour tortillas contain a humectants you know, a compound that attracts water and keeps them pliable and moist for longer. And I thought okay, yep, I didn't know what that was before. Humectant’s kind of sounded like a scary word. But once I figured out what it was, it's, it's actually just the backbone of all fatty molecules that are in plants and animals. And that was no longer scary to me. And I am perfectly happy with the pliable wraps in the grocery store now. So, I guess my answer to you is that I have to constantly redefine what that is and understand what it is. But I do you know; I admittedly do try to stick to minimally processed foods as much as I possibly can.
CK: So, you know, your research for the book and writing the book. What hopeful signs did you come up with in terms of the ability of the industry and food processing to make a better future?
NT: One of the things that's sort of on the forefront of food at the moment is precision fermentation for example. So can you take cow DNA and you know, microbes like bacteria and fungi, and in a great big vat, can you produce casein and whey and lactose and all of the essential macromolecules that are necessary to produce milk without actually having the dairy industry. And I know that might be controversial, but you know, the dairy industry is producing about 3% of our greenhouse gas emissions more than aviation and shipping combined. So, you know, maybe the dairy farmers then turn to creating these huge vats of fermenting microbes, who knows, and use their land for other things. So, I think that there are some things on the horizon that are going to take some careful communications, you know, it's it's essentially asking people to sort of reset their understanding of naturalness I guess, but that potentially offers some real hope in terms of reducing the environmental impact of the food industry.
CK: I think one of the themes of the book is technology, you know, going back to Napoleon was applied to solve a critical problem, which is to save lives. And so, in preserved food, and preserving food, of course, is the basis for almost all cooking initially. And now, we're using technology, even nanotechnology in sugar, to not save lives. But perhaps, ruin lives. Maybe you could take that extreme example, or at least to to make a product that's going to sell better, like sugar that has fewer calories. So, it's like technology, the beginning of these things is used wisely and for good reason. And now it's strictly about market share and cost of goods. Right.
NT: Yeah, to a large extent, and I guess, I mean, you're sort of hitting at the crux of the book, which is, as consumers, as much as we can learn about what is happening with our food and how our food is processed and manufactured. We have the ability to sort of tell the industry what is acceptable to us and what is not because food technology can also be used to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and and to help redistribute food so that we don't have you know, a third of the world obese and a third of the world's malnutrition. So, you know, there's there's real room for good in the world with food technology. And so, I guess the point of my book was to really open up that conversation and saying, it doesn't have to all be bad, but let's choose things that we think are right.
CK: Nicola, it's been a real pleasure. And thank you so much for being on Milk Street.
NT: The pleasures been mine. Thank you so much.
CK: That was writer Nicola Temple. Her book is Best Before: the Evolution and Future of Processed Food. You know, there are two kinds of processed foods foods that are fermented, dried or cooked to preserve it. Think of evaporated milk, and then commercially processed foods that are designed to make them more profitable, less expensive to produce, or maybe more appealing to the consumer. Well, the first kind produces yogurt, cheese, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. The second has given us the wonders of Frosted Flakes and Pop Tarts. Yet today, there is a third type of process food processing that is used to perhaps solve global problems. I think of hamburgers without beef, or maybe milk without cows. So instead of inventing a new flavor of Cheez Doodle, maybe technology can once again offer hope for a better future. Listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with JM Hersh about this week's recipe seared shrimp tacos with tomatoes and cotija. JM. How are you?
JM Hersh: I'm doing great. Chris,
CK: Of course you're doing great. You got back from Mexico City a month ago. And you were on the taco trail now. You know, there's nothing new about tacos, but I think you actually did discover a lot that was new, right?
JM: Well, you know, if nothing else, I realized how little I actually understand about tacos. It really blew me away. You know, in Mexico City, which is really I mean, tacos are of course everywhere in Mexico, but Mexico City because of immigration patterns. It's really the hub of tacos from all over the country. And I learned that anything. absolutely anything can be a taco. You know, the simplest taco is a warm fresh corn tortilla with a little bit of salt sprinkled on it. I’ve got to tell you, it sounds obvious, but it’s so good
It just really blew me away.
CK: And it's also an easy recipe two ingredients.
JM: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Hard to mess that one up. You know, as I ate my way across the city, I worked with a chef Josefina Lopez Mendez, and she's well known for taking classic recipes and kind of giving them a little bit of a refresh but staying true to the essence of the recipe. And she introduced me to a shrimp taco called tacos gobernador and I’ve got tell you, it blew my mind. It was so good.
CK: So, I hate to ask the obvious question, but are we about to have a marriage of shrimp and cheese?
JM: We are indeed, and I know your dubious boy is it good. She takes fresh mint tomatoes, habanero, and some onion and gives them a quick sauté. And the quick part of course, is key to keeping the shrimp tender and plump. And before you know it, it's done like minutes, and then she tucks those into a wonderful warm corn tortilla. And she pairs it with I know quesillo, which is a kind of a stringy cheese, similar in texture to a mozzarella, especially once it melts. And she actually took that cheese, smeared it onto the tortilla, and then flipped the tortilla upside down on to the pan the camal and kind of toasted and melted it all together and then piled on the shrimp and the tomatoes and the onions and the chili and it was so good. It blew me away.
CK: I've had quesillo as well, but that's not that easy to find here, right?
JM: Yeah, we had a little trouble sourcing it. And so, we kind of, you know, had to look around for what's a good Mexican cheese that we could substitute, and still try to stay true to the flavors and to you know, the origins of the recipe. And we ended up going with cotija, which has kind of a very similar briny flavor and kind of dry crumbly texture as feta cheese. And we liked that because the brininess of the cotija played well off of the shrimp and the tomatoes. In the end, it kind of simplified the recipe because you don't have to do the toasting that that Josefina did, and it is just every bit as delicious as what I had in Mexico City.
CK: So, you go to Mexico, you eat tacos, your mind is blown. And you learn also the other thing I like about this story is that food changes, right? I mean, people in Mexico City as they are around the world are messing with tradition, and always doing something new.
JM: Absolutely. And they don't hesitate to reinterpret and make it work for them today.
CK: The story of food. JM, thank you so much.
JM: Thank you. You can get this recipe for seared shrimp tacos with tomatoes and cotija at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up Grant Barret and Martha Barnette take a bite out of the apple and explain the origins behind their favorite apple idioms. 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 is calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Philip, and I am from Portland, Oregon.
SM: Hi, Philip. How can we help you today?
Caller: So, I was reading a recipe the other day that looked good. It was a shrimp toast just a piece of white bread with lemon dill like a mayonnaise and creme fraiche ___ sauce. And then it called for that packaged frozen cooked, like tiny shrimp the size of like a quarter. And so, I immediately wrote that off and thought, okay, if I make this, I'll get larger shrimp uncooked from the counter make it myself and that gave me pause and I thought, Okay, what is it I have against this teeny tiny shrimp? I assume it's low quality, but I don't know if that's the case. And so, I'm wondering if what your take on it is?
SM: No, I think they're perfectly fine. And you know where they are appropriate or places where you would have chopped up the shrimp anyway. You know, like if you're going to make a shrimp roll like lobster roll or you know, shrimp salad kind of thing or if you want to put it into a taco filling.
CK: Well, you know, I was in LA recently and there was a shrimp taco, which was amazing. It was filled obviously with shrimp, but it had a binder that I think was pureed or chopped up shrimp that makes sense. And so that would be great to help make a filling around larger shrimp for example, but I would say in a salad, cakes. like shrimp cakes like crab cakes are great.
SM: I mean, have you had them? Chris, do you have any? Yeah, they're fine.
CK: But you know, if you did a shrimp salad, I you know, with mayonnaise, etc. It's going to be fine. Yeah, to answer your question. I don't think there's anything inherently lower quality.
SM: They're just smaller.
CK: They're just smaller.
Caller: How do you feel about them coming pre-cooked?
CK: Yeah, that's yeah
SM: Yeah, that's a little bit of a game changer. But that would be good. You know, in a shrimp salad.
CK: You should look at the package though. Like for all shrimp is there anything in them other than shrimp? Because they do put I’ve forgotten the name of the chemical, but it holds on to water, which means that they weigh more, and you really don't want that. So, you might want to just see if they or maybe they brined them, or they had some kind of salt. Yeah. And you don't want that. So, you might want to check the bag.
SM: And you know, what, would you report back and let us know how it goes?
Caller: Yeah, I mean, it's a perfect, or like a perfect summer recipe, so I will be trying it soon.
c Thanks for calling.
Caller: Thanks for having me.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio stuck in a rut? Give us a call that number is 855-426-9843. Once again, 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Wendy.
CK: Hi, how are you?
Caller: Good. How are you, Chris? Thanks for taking my call.
CK: Yeah, my pleasure.
Caller: So, I'm calling me from the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon coast. I work for a small family restaurant bakery. Out of my dream I got a job decorating cakes. I'm talking about buttercream frosting.
CK: You're having trouble with them. They're not lasting. You don't like the flavor what?
Caller: I have five different buttercream frostings I'm working with. And I think the one that's giving me the hiccup with our various temperatures and humidity is a praline frosting with crushed walnuts and honey in it. And it's just tacky and I cannot get it to consistency. It's one of the few cakes that I don't actually pipe. You know, I'm doing this frosting in the test three-layer cake, and I've just had trouble with that particular frosting
CK: Well, I love frostings I've done Italian frostings and the Swiss version meringue versions of buttercream where you add a sugar syrup. Yeah, but I recently discovered my favorite butter cream recipe of all time, which you might be able to adapt is from Stella Parks. She wrote Brave Tart. And she has something called marshmallow buttercream. Have you heard about this?
Caller: I have. And I saw that recently in the Joy of Cooking. Yes,
CK: I made this recipe I just did it for one of my kid’s birthdays two weeks ago, you do a sugar syrup, right, you bring it up to 250 including some corn syrup, you put it in a big standing mixer. when it cools off to 212. You add gelatin. And that's your base. You let that sit and cool down. And then you eventually mix that in with a butter for the buttercream. The gelatin base gives you this incredible texture. And it's easy to frost. And three days later, you have a great frosting and still holds up nicely.
Caller: That's always a trick that we like.
CK: Yeah. Especially if you're a commercial bakery. That's important. Get this off Serious Eats website or you can just google Stella Parks marshmallow buttercream recipe but it is stunning. It's not the easiest frosting to make. I would think you could use that as a base, and you can flavor it any way you want. But it's going to give you a great texture and it's a dream to frost is just great.
Caller: Thank you so much. Now can I call you back and let you know how that goes.
SM: We'd like you to do that. We always like that because then we can educate everybody. I agree with Chris, Stella Parks is a genius. Absolutely try her buttercream and do let us know.
Caller: Stella Parks excellent. And I will look that up immediately. Yeah, thank you.
SM: Okay, thanks Wendy
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
Caller: I love the flavor of buttermilk for brining chicken for frying, but not so much the chewy texture it gives to the skin. And let's be honest, crispy skin is why we eat fried chicken in the first place instead of regular buttermilk. Now I use buttermilk powder, about two teaspoons per piece of chicken along with my favorite seasonings to make a dry brine. And I brown the chicken for six to 12 hours before breading I get all the flavor and the tenderness in the meat that buttermilk produces, but the exterior fries up crispy not chewy with the powder. You should be able to find buttermilk powder in your local supermarket.
CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk Street com slash Radio tips. Next up, it's a language lesson from Grant Barret and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. Grant, Martha, how you guys doing?
Martha Barnette: We're doing great, Chris.
Grant Barret: Hi, Chris, what's up?
CK: I don't know, you tell me.
GB: Well, Martha and I have been digging around. And we got to the bottom of something really fundamental. And that is that a lot of our sayings have to do with apples. And you know, I lived for a long time in New York City, and it's known as the Big Apple. And I wondered, Chris, if you had any idea why it was called the Big Apple?
CK: I should know this. I have absolutely no idea. It was some stupid marketing campaign. I know.
GB: Well, it was a marketing campaign in the 1970s. But the 1970s campaign rejuvenated, a saying that had started much earlier, there was a sports columnist by the name of john J. Fitzgerald, who covered horse racing in he used it a bunch of times in his newspaper columns, after hearing it from some black stable hands in New Orleans in the very early 1920s. And it turns out that it may have been used for a bunch of different cities, including Los Angeles to mean any big city, but it stuck for New York City alone, and so fast for the 1970s New York City's having a terrible time. You know, remember, this is the graffiti days the bad budget days, lots of crime days in New York City. And before you know it, Big Apple with the big red apple logo starts appearing on billboards and T shirts and bumper stickers and television ads. And now Big Apple is pretty standard for a nickname for New York City.
CK: I lived in New York in the early 70s.
GB: There you go, you remember
CK: Having my VW broken into every third week yeah that was great, r
GB: Right, you put the sign on the window that says no radio? No nothing, right?
CK: Yeah, I did exactly that yeah
MB: So, Grant was talking about the Big Apple. And I want to talk about full apple and half Apple, do you have any idea what those are
GB: outside of cooking though right Martha?
MB: It is definitely outside of cooking. And it doesn't have to do with literal apples actually. Full apple and half Apple are both industry jargon in Hollywood. A full Apple is a box that you will put under a very short actor to make him or her look taller. So, you have a full Apple, which is a large box, you have a half Apple, which is a smaller box, you have a quarter Apple, which is even smaller. And if the if the actor doesn't need that much help, then you're going to use an eighth Apple, which is also known as a pancake.
CK: Well, you know, I read somewhere recently, there was a movie with a particularly short leading man, and his costar a woman was significantly like a foot taller. So, they dug a trench. So, when they walked towards the camera, they were both about the same height. But she was about a foot down on the ground just to even things out it's that's pretty interesting yeah
MB: Oh my gosh.
GB: Well, another one of the nicknames for the apple box when it's used to make an actor taller is a man maker where a Danny DeVito can become a Don Juan. But they also use it for lights or cameras or other equipment, just like anything on set a little taller.
MB: Yeah. And the idea is that it resembles the kind of box that you used to store apples in
CK: Well, can I ask about an apple a day though? You know because I looked that up within the last year. It turns out an apple a day is it true is just a marketing campaign. It wasn't actually an old saying, is that right?
GB: No, it was an old saying, yeah, it goes back quite a ways, it goes back centuries is in fact a well before marketing. And the idea was that you needed to eat your, your fruit and veggie in order to make sure that you're getting a certain amount of vitamins, including whatever vitamin C was in there.
CK: So, in medieval Britain, people were walking around going an apple a day
GB: Well, I don’t know about going around, but certainly during the winter months before refrigeration, even a wrinkly old Apple was better than no fruit or vegetable at all, you needed that to make sure that you weren't getting scurvy or rickets or other diseases like that.
CK: I feel so much better that you told me that it's a real saying goodbye.
GB: You know, Chris, I want to go back. There's another connection between New York and apples and it connects to that cinema term for apples as well. There are city names that refer to the way that you might position Apple boxes on a Hollywood set. So, if you put a Apple box in the tallest position, it's known as New York or the third position. And if it's in its flattest position, it's the Texas or first position and if you put it on its side, it's the California or the second position. How about that?
CK: See me making movies is harder than I thought. You need to have a whole crate of Apple boxes.
GB: Martha I'm thinking about apples in the wild and how hard it is to pick them. You ever gone out and picked your own?
MB: I have indeed I did that In Vermont, and it was a blast until I get until I got the ones that were low hanging fruit as it were, and then, you know, I couldn't reach them anymore, which was really frustrating. But there's a financial term that you might not realize has to do with apples, and that's the term windfall. You know, we think of windfall referring to money that you weren't expecting to get. But early on hundreds of years ago windfall referred to fruit that was literally knocked down by the wind.
GB: This is an old-fashioned expression, Chris, but let me ask you, if you know it, have you ever heard of to cut or slice the melon?
GB: It's another expression that means to split a large pot of money or something like a lottery winnings or corporate earnings or dividends or something like that. It dates back to the early 1900s or so. It's not used much anymore, but there was a time where you might read in the newspapers about, let's say, a bunch of workers who bought a lottery ticket together and then they when they won, they they sliced the melon meaning they each took a share.
CK: Well, I'll take a half Texas and a slice melon and a windfall. Grant, Martha thank you so much. From apples to melons,
GB: You're the apple of our eye Chris
CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words that's it for this week's show. If you tuned in to later want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast Spotify wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street .com there you can find our recipes take a free online cooking course or order our latest cookbook which is Tuesday Nights Mediterranean. 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, 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 and Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street radio is distributed by PRX