The Secrets of China's Tea Mountains | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 512
April 23, 2021

The Secrets of China's Tea Mountains

The Secrets of China's Tea Mountains

Tea expert Shunan Teng tells us about tea that costs $1,000 per ounce and the notion that tea is more like wine than coffee. Plus, we learn about forgotten fast-food chains, Alex Aïnouz debunks the myth of hollandaise as a mother sauce, and we learn how to make Vietnamese Braised Lemon Grass Chicken.

This episode is brought to you by Sitka Salmon Shares.

Questions in this Episode:

"I am always confused when I come across a baking recipe that doesn't call for salt. What's not improved with salt? Is there a good reason? Or is this an old fashioned approach to sweets that hasn't been updated?"

"My mom made the most delicious roast beef in the oven. There was no stove top searing, but the outside was always brown and the meat was tender. I wish I knew how to replicate it. Please help!"

"My wife and I recently built a house and our kitchen has a large pantry I'm excited to stock and organize. My question is: how do pros organize their home pantries?"

"I'm curious if anyone has attempted to make gnocchi with dried potato flakes. I don’t always have ricotta around for a quick ricotta gnocchi, and most times I don’t have time to roast and rice potatoes then make gnocchi."


Shunan Picking Tea

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Each spring Shunan Teng heads deep into the mountains of China to harvest some of the world's most prized tea. Today, she tells us about our mission to preserve the ancient art of tea making and explains how tea can be just as complex as wine

Shunan Teng: Similar to wine you wanted to have a structure, but you want this to be an elegant structure. So how does the tea finish? Does it finish clean? Does it finish long? does it leave you angrily or does they kind of just quietly leave you be

CK: Also coming up with braised chicken with lemongrass and turmeric? And Alex Ainouz debunks the five mother sauces of French cuisine. But first, it's my interview with Adam Chandler, his book, Drive Thru Dreamschronicles America's history with fast food, including several chains that failed. Adam, welcome to Milk Street.

Adam Chandler: Thanks for having me.

CK: So, for your book, you hit the road. Where do you go and what were you hoping to find?

AC: So, for the book, I drove from the Gulf of Mexico, all the way up to the Great Lakes. And the idea was that I wanted to write about why people love fast food. I wanted a history of America kind of told through fast food. So, I talked to people along the way who worked in fast food restaurants who were super fans of fast-food restaurants and sought to kind of make sense of how fast-food fits into our national tapestry. We hear a lot about why people don't like fast food, and there's so much to criticize it for. But it really has endured in this amazing way.

CK: We're going to talk about fast food chains. They went out of business. And probably the most interesting one was Burger Chef, which you say pioneered a lot of the techniques that are now popular in hamburger joints

AC: Right, well, for those of us who are Mad Men aficionados, we probably remember the arc in the last season where this mysterious chain called Burger Chef appears. And what a lot of people don't know is that this was the second largest fast-food chain in America at one point. So, Burger Chef appeared on the landscape and made a really big pop. And then by the early 1990s, it was completely gone.

CK: So, what were some of the things that you found about Burger Chef, which caused you to describe it really, as a pioneer in the burger industry?

AC: One of the biggest things that Burger Chef is known for is creating both the combo meal and the kid's meal. They called it a fun meal. And all of the sort of characters that go along with creating a kid's universe at a fast-food chain that all kind of started with Burger Chef.

CK: While they also had mascots. You mentioned the magician, Burgerini and the vampire account Fang burger, that part of their foil maybe was a little lacking in creativity.

AC: Yeah, they could have done a little bit better. But you know, when you're pioneering, you don't get to rewrite history, I suppose.

CK: So, what happens? So, in the late 60s, it gets bought out by General Foods. But did you come up with any kind of common threads about how a very large corporation mismanages a burgeoning successful smaller retail operation?

AC: At the time, your kind of seeing these small mom and pop organizations that grow out of the roadsides becoming bigger and bigger. And dining is shifting in America, people are starting to eat out more, we were dealing with two income households commutes and so big food companies start taking an interest in the fast-food trend, which at the time seems like a really big Gold Rush. And then anytime you bring something under new management, after it stops being you know, the founder’s baby and becomes kind of a column in a ledger, it loses its its momentum, the people who care about it will never care about it as much as the founders did. And that's what happened to Burger Chef. And that's what happened to a lot of fast-food companies that went under or were bought out along the way at particularly in the late 60s.

CK: So how do the customers get a sense of a company that's lost its soul or its way?

AC: There are the things that people really lament. Everyone knows about McDonald's French fries and how good they used to be. And back in San Bernardino, California, when McDonald's was founded, they had the French fries that were cooked after curing in the desert air for a couple of days and they were crisp, and they were wonderful. And then they were later fried in beef tallow and that was something that

CK: Well, let me stop you when it when I knew about the beef tallow. But what is this dried in the desert air for two days? I'd never heard of that.

AC: Right. Well, before they were bought out by Ray Kroc, the McDonald's brothers what they did with their potatoes is that they would leave them out in the desert air of San Bernardino to sort of cure in this beautiful process that made them taste really crisp when they fried up. And when someone like Ray Kroc comes along. He opens his first store outside of Chicago and you can't cure potatoes in the Chicago air, unfortunately so, he has to create a formula for the fries, frozen precut that will ensure that they taste the same wherever they go.

CK: Lums and the Ali burger, what happened to Lums?

AC: Lums is a great story. First of all, have you seen the Irishman?

CK: Yes, I have.

AC: Okay, there's that really brief throwaway scene where Robert De Niro's character drives down to Miami to deliver a bunch of weapons bound for Cuba. And he stops at Lums and gets you know what he calls the best hotdogs in America, because they're cooked in beer. So, it was a quintessential Miami chain, and it grew to be actually pretty large are a couple of 100 of them around the country.

CK: And then the Ollie burger. What was Lums iconic Ollie burger?

AC: Sure. So, John Brown, who bought Lums went into Ollie Gleichenhaus shop and ate five hamburgers on the spot and said, I want to buy your recipe. Who wouldn't want to try that burger and Ollie burger grew from local legend to a national legend for a short while and John Brown is kind of the zealot of the fast-food world he was involved with KFC, he turned out to be the governor of Kentucky. And he was involved in all of these businesses along the way that kind of shaped the American diet.

CK: Was there something that all of these franchises or chain restaurants shared to make them so successful at the beginning, other than just good timing?

AC: Good timing is obviously a huge part of it. But there's always a little bit of gimmickry involved in the end, I mean, whether it's a, you know, hot dog that steamed in beer, or a chain that sells kids meals, and combo meals, and char burned burgers, these are things that that don't necessarily last or stand the test of time necessarily. And so, if if you don't have a plan B, or if you're not constantly innovating, it's very easy to get complacent. Or if you get bought out, it's easy to get lost. And you know, when something new comes along that people want to try out,

CK: I think there is one consistent theme, which is the success or failure of these chains turns not just on their product, but really managing a very big business in a very competitive landscape. It's pretty hard to compete against the really big guys, right, in some ways.

AC: Absolutely. That's that's sort of why these stories are so charming, you know, these kinds of small scale stories of people just kind of tinkering in a kitchen, figuring something out and turning into a product that becomes so successful. You don't really see that anymore. And there are stories like that along the way in big chains too. And McDonald's had so many iconic items created by individual franchisees, you know, the Big Mac was a guy in Pennsylvania, just kind of wanting to come up with a new sandwich that would become a signature item. And the fillet of fish was a guy in Cincinnati, who needed a fish sandwich because his customer base was mostly Catholic, and they wouldn't eat meat on Fridays. And so, you have all these kinds of fun stories, just in an era where I think there was more freedom to take risks. You don't see that as much anymore.

CK: So, when these chains go out of business, does it leave, I don't know how to describe this an emotional hole, you know, for people, or they just move on to the next chain?

AC: There is a deep emotional component to losing a fast-food chain. I think you'd be surprised to hear the stories of people who talk about even even when their local version of a chain that still exists goes out of business. You know if it was a one around the corner that used to go to that was your favorite. You hear stories about, you know, people who met at a Burger Chef when they were younger, someone was working behind the counter and someone was just dining there, and they hit it off and got married. And you know, when something like that completely disappears. It's hard to explain what it ever was to begin with.

CK: Adam, it's been a real pleasure having you on Milk Street. Thank you.

AC: Thanks for having me.

CK: That was Adam Chandler. He's the author of Drive Thru Dreams, A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom. Now it's time for my cohost Sara Moulton to answer some of your cooking questions. Sarah is of course the author of Home Cooking 101 And she also stars in Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sarah, are you ready?

Sara Moulton: I am so ready, Chris. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Maggie from Cambridge.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: Okay, I have a really general question with a specific example. The broad question is, is there ever a good reason to leave salt out of baked goods? A few weeks ago, I was making Lecklerli cookies for the first time. They come from Basel, Switzerland. Currently, the recipe goes back to the 1400s. They don't have any fat or eggs in them the base is just melted sugar and honey and flour. It's a spice cookie. So, they have warming spices and almonds and candied citrus peel, really, really lovely result, but no salt in the recipe, and I thought that was so strange. And then the other little bit of evidence I have is I happen to hear an interview between Claudia Fleming and Melissa Clark. And they were discussing the dessert cookbook they wrote 20 years ago, The Last Course and one of the things they brought up as they were reminiscing was how strange it was looking back, that some of the dessert recipes didn't call for salt, and they were scratching their heads and couldn't really remember why that was. So why?

SM: I think it's two things. First of all, Maggie, you said it's a very old recipe the Lecklerli right?

Caller: Traditionally, so the recipe I was cooking from is published very recently, it was in Dorie Greenspan’s cookies book, which just came out a few years ago,

SM: One of the things I was thinking of is many, many hundreds of years ago, salt was expensive. So, I wonder but yeah, so we're spices, so that probably doesn't stand up. I think we know more now than we did then about food science. And one of the things we do know for sure, is that salt is a pointer upper, so that even if you add it to a sweet recipe, it won't necessarily taste salty. Although a lot of modern bakers and pastry chefs and cookbook authors are adding quite a bit of salt as we know, especially to caramel kind of dishes. You know, it's definitely a fad to have a salty sweet. For me personally, I don't like the really salty sweets. So, I think mostly it just has to do with trends. And the trend was not to add salt and the trend is now to add salt. Chris, do you have any thoughts?

CK: You don't like salted caramel ice cream?

SM: No, I do. But in my mind, some of them have gotten too salty.

CK: Oh Okay, good. I would say there is no excuse for not putting salt in desserts and especially things like chocolate. (Right) So let's just say whether the thing I'm getting all exercised you can tell. Salt is not like a spice. It's not a spice. It's salt. It doesn't work like pepper. It doesn't work like cinnamon or nutmeg. It's just a totally different thing. (Right) It enhances flavor. You will have a better flavored cookie tasty cookie with salt than without.

Caller: I feel vindicated. I put salt in the cookies

CK: Good for you.

Caller: I couldn't not do it.

SM: Go Maggie. Go Maggie, I think we all agree.

Caller: Perfect.

CK: Maggie, we're all the same place good for you. You put the salt in anyway, I like that

Caller: Okay. Thanks so much.

CK: Take care

SM: Thanks. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're having trouble in the kitchen, Sarah and I are here to help. Just give us a ring anytime. Our number is 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Dave Sharon Houston, Texas

CK: And how can we help you?

Caller: Well, in the 60s and 70s when I was a kid, my mom made the most delicious pot roast in the oven. No stovetop searing, no crock pot. And I have tried in vain in the decades since to try to duplicate that. And I'm hoping to unravel that mystery.

CK: So, I need a little more information. Do you know what kind of cut it was?

Caller: I was a kid so you're not paying attention, but I do recall a few things. First, the cut of meat was always a block. It was never like an extremely thick steak uncovered, I believe. Certainly, in the oven. There must have been some water added because there was always ample fluid for making a really good brown gravy. And there was always a nice outer crust in the pan with the meat. Carrots, big chunks of potatoes peeled.

CK: Yeah, usually pot roasts are not made with the best cuts, right? They're usually from the leg which is not ideal, or rump roast or top round or something. What about the flavor did it have a good flavor?

Caller: definitely

CK: Here's what I would do. I would go for like a shoulder roast because that's going to have more flavor and fat than the light cuts the bottom, top round etc. are going to be a little livery tasting and they don't have much fat, so they're not ideal. Number two, I would use a low oven. So, I would roast this thing like it 250 or something 275. And then at the end, you know, once you It's almost done it gets up to maybe 110 interior, you could crank the oven just to get a nice browning on the outside. The other thing if you wanted to use a less expensive cut, like a round which is what most people will sell you for a pot roast, you could salt that is put it on a rack uncovered in the refrigerator, and salt it with kosher salt and let that sit overnight or for a day in their fridge to 250 to 275. Nice and slow. I put a little beef broth or something in in, you know, a cup or so maybe in the pan. More juices will come out during roasting and then I would finish it in a very hot oven when you get up to about 110.

Caller: That's very hot, you mean like 350?

CK: Oh no, I go all the way to 500 just to brown the outside.

Caller: Oh, how long per pound at 250?

CK: If you had a five-pound roast in there four or five pound roast at 250 or 275. I would say three hours maybe and then you crank it up at the end something like that. Two and a half to three hours.

Caller: Oh, this is wonderful. Oh, this is great.

CK: Give that a shot.

SM: Dave, I hope you have good luck with this and let us know how it goes.

Caller: Well. Thank you. And this has been fun.

CK: Thank you. Take care.

SM: Okay.

Caller: Bye bye.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we're diving into the world of tea. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Shunan Teng. She's the owner of Tea Drunk, a tea house in New York City that specializes in historic Chinese teas. Shunan, welcome to Milk Street.

ST: Thank you so much for having me.

CK: So, your place is called Tea Drunk. But I don't think it means what I think it means.

ST: Right. When I first run the name by my English-speaking friends, they all say are you sure it seems like the word drunk has a negative connotation. But the word drunk in Chinese, it actually means one's extreme indulgence into something. So, a poet can say I'm so drunk in the gaze of my lovers. I'm drunk in the magnificent scene in front of me. This is why we decided to name it Tea Drunk because it is an expression of our extreme indulgence in the joy of tea. And also, I want it to be a celebration of the epic between man and nature.

CK: I think you've been quoted saying tea should be a religion. You want to explain what that means?

ST: Yes, I think what I meant by that is that if this is your chosen career, that we should pursue this career with a lot of faith. You know, I have a lot of believes that doing tea is my destiny. So, I hope that my fellow professionals can share the same passion with me.

CK: Do you think that tea should be more a question of faith than coffee for example?

ST: I know people often compare tea with coffee. But I think once someone got really into tea, realize that tea is actually more comparable to why we can compare the cultural significance but even the knowledge structure is very very similar. Basically location, cultivars, processing these are some of the factors that makes the quality of this product

CK: I thought you were going to say terroir

ST: Terroir, yes, I wanted to say that. But terroir is a big thing in Chinese culture as well and it's not just limited to food and beverage in China. People often joke even the ink stones and the rice paper everything has a terroir around it.

CK: So, what is it you're looking for to determine the quality of the tea leaves?

ST: Yes. So, what we're looking for is complexity and balance. Overall, we can categorize the profile of the tea into four segments. So, at the lowest level, we have aroma, and secondly, it's the actual taste. The third level is the body and the texture of the tea. So similar to good wine you want it to have a structure, but you want this to be an elegant structure. And lastly is the aftertaste. So how does the tea finish, does it finish clean? Does it finish long? does it leave you angrily or does they kind of just quietly leave you be?

CK: You're reminding me of some wine tastings when oenophiles sat around, arguing about hints of leather for hours on end. Do you ever do blind tastings like they do with wine?

ST: Yes, we do lots of blind tastings. Especially in tea season or in tea country in general. Sometimes I will taste over 100 teas a day.

CK: Where is it possible to taste that many teas and still on the 100th cup still have your palate sharp enough?

ST: You do lose the sensitivity towards later part of the tasting. And it's similar to a wine tasting, it's recommended that you spit the tea out. But the trick is actually to do it really fast.

CK: So, it's speed dating for tea?

ST: Yes, exactly how to quickly eliminate the ones that you know doesn't make the cut and then focus on the ones that you want to focus on

CK: Right speed dating. Are there are many, many places in the world that grow great teas or they're just a few places that are the best terroir.

ST: I do you think that the best teas come from China, because the history. So, China basically had a monopoly on tea for millennials. And then about 150 years ago, there is a British botanist named Robert Fortune, and he was able to successfully plant tea in Darjeeling. And only from that point on the rest of world got the actual tea plant. Tea had long been recognized having this property of not easy to adapt to a different land. In ancient China, people thought that the plant is actually loyal to the land. This is why Chinese called tea the loyalty plant and it's widely used in any ceremonies that involves vow exchange such as weddings, contract signing, things like that.

CK: I'm getting the world's fastest best education in tea. You just said about eight things I didn't know. So where do the plants grow best?

ST: Tea country even nowadays still remains some the most remote places on earth. The tea that we prefer usually grows deeper in the mountains very, very steep slope. I often slip when I tried to pick tea.

CK: So, I guess you travel back to China for harvest. Where do you go? What does it look like? What's that trip like?

ST: I feel so lucky that not only I get to drink amazing tea, but the scenery is amazing. And also, I have seen some of the cultural aspects that I've only read in literature's 19th century I didn't know still exists, for example, like a village opera, that people would actually host these village operas to celebrate tea. Tea season however, it's actually pretty nerve racking, because the tea’s that we have only harvested 10 to 15 days a year. And this needs to cover the entire year of income of the farmers. So, a lot are at stake. Do you pick the tea today or tomorrow? What if it rains tomorrow, but if you pick today is still too tender, many decisions need to be made very fast.

CK: So, what are the steps? So, let's start with picking the leaves are they hand-picked and then what happens?

ST: Yes, so teas in China actually still largely are hand-picked. So, we first harvest the tea. And secondly, we will do primary processing. And this depends on the style, the tea you want to make. There are six main categories of teas, green tea, yellow tea, white tea, oolong, red and black. So, the initial processing basically give us these six categories of teas.

CK: So, you could start with the same tea leaves and make six different types of teas by the way you process them?

ST: Exactly. So, you can take a tea that you will consider a green tea but as long as it was still the fresh leaf stage of that green tea, you can actually make that into a red tea into a white tea, into oolong.

CK: So, the fragrance from a tea leaf emerges during the processing and is not there when it's picked. Is that right?

ST: Yes. This is amazing thing about tea, we always say that the tea culture history actually only started about 1500 years ago, even though we have started cultivating the actual tea plant over 6000 years ago. So, when we first got tea, we just ate it straight, people would make tea as a salad. People sometimes would even toast tea and make a soup out of the toasted tea leaves is almost like for a longest time, we have cultivated grapes, we didn't get wine we only ate it for what it is. But later on, people discovered that if you start to put tea in various heat and moisture, the tea leaves will start to completely change from its original taste profile, which is basically a bitter green, and it'll start to emit amazing aroma. One interesting thing I sometimes ask people to do if they come with me to tea mountain is trying to smell the tea, when the tea is fresh on the plant. They actually doesn't smell like anything. But once you pick the tea, by the time we hiked down from the mountains, the tea already started to smell amazing. And this is why we have chosen tea as the beverage art instead of I guess kale, arugula any other leafy greens.

CK: How much does a top-level premium tea cost?

ST: Yes, so he's obviously can be very expensive. Even at Tea Drunk, we have some teas, that are over $1,000 an ounce,

CK: What tea costs $1,000. Now you got me interested.

ST: So, there's one tea in China called a ______. This particular tea is produced only on this one island. That's about one square kilometer. So, it's a very tiny island. But what's most impressive is that this tea had been state owned from the dynasty time all the way to modern time. So, if there's basically last places on earth to still make tea, it will be these places. But in 2015, there were actually only about 17 pounds of this cultivars that we're eventually made

CK: Wait, wait, wait 17 pounds?

ST: Yes 17 pounds. So, imagine the whole facility people devote themselves to make so little tea.

CK: Well, that's why you said famously, tea should be a religion. Yeah. What's the tea pet?

ST: Oh, yes. So, a tea pet is when an artist makes a tea pot, they have to take more than what they can use for the tea pot. So, the leftover clay, the artists would often make a small object from it. And that becomes a tea pet. A tea pet sits on our tea tray and when we don't drink our first brew, this is what we offer to the tea pet. And this is something I would say is very, very Chinese. It's the idea that you can develop sentimental feelings towards an inanimate object. So, there's certain things in Chinese culture that we think that has a soul and certain things that doesn't have a soul. So, for example, we think that jade has a soul, but gold doesn't. Now we think that tea also has a soul. So, as we season the tea pot or the tea pet with tea is almost like you're slowly giving this object a soul

CK: And what is your tea pet?

ST: I actually have two tea pets. One of the tea pet is a cartoon version of a Chinese mythical animal. This mythical animal is a toad with three legs and a coin in his mouth. His name is Juju.

CK: Did you name him or that's just his name?

ST: Oh, I named the tea pet. Yes. You have to name the tea pet because that's what makes the, you know, the relationship and the feeling official. I also have another tea pet. So okay, so this tea pet is one of a Chinese mythical animal called Pulao. So, Pulao is supposed to be one of the sons of a dragon. And this son of Dragon apparently did something really bad. And it was sentenced by the Jade Emperor to only eat coins and treasures. But the problem is he was born with a flaw. He doesn't have a rear end and so we cannot poop. So, because of a punishment for this mythical animal. But in our greedy human world we consider their lucky animal because a symbolizes only money in and no money out. This tea pet’s name is soulless bastard.

CK: You know, I've read a lot of folk stories, but a dragon that can't poop as being as being a mythical creature that takes first prize of folk stories

ST: Okay.

CK: So, obviously listening to you, which is fascinating. Drinking tea is a lot more than drinking a beverage. (That's right) You talk about soul of these tea pets, but you also talk about I think or imply the soul of tea and the soul of tea making,

ST: Yep. The process of making tea and even the process of serving tea, there's this very strong sense that we had to put tea about ourselves, right, we have to kind of let go of our own ego and focus on just the tea. We will often use adjectives, so you will describe the quality of a person, right we'll say that this tea has integrity, right? The certain taste of tea is too demonic, or it tastes very just. But there's also certain qualities of tea such as the loyalty of the tea, the simplicity of the tea. And these have long been projected through poetries and literature writings throughout the history. So, by almost understanding tea at this level, to say that I like this particular tea, because this particular tea has such desired quality. It's almost a process of us projecting our own ideals towards it. It’s almost the equivalent to say that I love this tea with integrity because I self-identify as someone who also have integrity.

CK: Shunan thank you this has been fascinating, and thank you so much for being on Milk Street

ST: Oh, thank you. It's been very fun.

CK: That was tea expert, Shunan Teng. Shunan Teng points out the tea as much like wine, some of it costing $1,000 per ounce, and some tea plantations producing less than 20 pounds per year. And having been to my share of wine tastings, I certainly hope that tea does not become more like wine. You know, the world of wine is full of self-appointed experts who rarely agree, silly tasting notes that reference leather and tobacco and an entire industry based on talking about something that is intended to be consumed. So, to paraphrase Baudelaire, one should always be drunk with wine with poetry with virtue as you choose but get drunk. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. It's time to chat with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe. Vietnamese braised lemongrass chicken. JM, how are you?

JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.

CK: You know, I have a suspicion you're following me around the world. Years ago, I went to Ho Chi Minh city and had absolutely stunningly good food. Oh, yeah. And you went more recently, and I think had really the same experience right?

JM: Absolutely. You know, what blew me away was the simplicity of the cooking, but just the impressive, like potency of the flavors, and you would see them over and over again. You know, the fish sauce, the lime juice, the fresh ginger, the chilies, mint. Cilantro is like a riot of flavor in every dish. And yet every dish was different. You know, they combined them differently and in different ways, sometimes cooked sometimes fresh, combined with different things. And they were so good and so vibrant. It really this kind of vibrancy is the defining characteristic to me of Vietnamese cooking.

CK: Yeah, I had one dish I'll never forget, it was clams with lemongrass. But I found the lemongrass to be like the stuff here is kind of woody, right? I mean, yeah, you can make a fire out of it. The stuff there was quite different. But I thought that was one of my favorite flavors from

JM: Yeah, I saw lemongrass over and over again. And you're absolutely right there is so much fresher and more tender, frankly, that they simply mince it up and use it in stir fries and sautés and use it in sauces. Whereas here in the United States, we don't tend to actually consume the lemongrass. We use it to flavor things. And that was certainly my experience in kind of the back and forth between learning in Ho Chi Minh City and then coming back here and working on these recipes that our lemongrass just wasn't nearly as fresh as what I've encountered in Vietnam and not nearly as good.

CK: So, the dish we're talking about today is Vietnamese lemon grass chicken. And so how does that go?

JM: So, this was just a wonderful example of everything we've been talking about. A very simple dish, a lot of powerful potent flavors, and a very simple cooking method. And this is a low liquid braised chicken. And I learned it from a home cook Pham Thi Thanh Tam, and she just very simply butchered a chicken, tossed it with a mix of turmeric, sugar, fish sauce, garlic, chilies and a ton of this minced up fresh lemon grass, she set it aside for about 15 minutes, threw it in a pan with a little bit of olive oil, yet more fresh minced lemon grass, a total of about a half a cup by my count, and nothing more than about a half a cup of water and let it go for about 30 minutes and the result was just stunningly flavorful. It was sweet. It was savory. It was lemony, it's very curry-like in my mind, rich and yet at the same time, very bright. It really just blew me away. The flavors were just so pronounced and fresh.

CK: And so, to adapt it here, given that lemon grass is different. How do you do that?

JM: Yeah, that was really one of the only things we had to change about the recipe was to account for our kind of poor quality or aged we'll call it lemon grass here. So instead of mincing it up and eating it as part of the dish as they did in Vietnam, you know, we bruise it, we bash it to break up the fibers and release the flavor. And then we simmer it in the liquid to release the flavor and then we pull it out and throw it away because you're not going to want to chew on that. That is like chewing on a stick in these parts. That was really the biggest change we made to this recipe. And other than that, it was simple and delicious.

CK: JM, thank you. Vietnamese lemon grass chicken. Thank you.

JM: You can get this recipe for Vietnamese lemon grass chicken at Milk Street Radio.com.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Coming up Alex Ainouz redefines French mother sauces. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball and 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, my name is Dante.

SM: Where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm in Rochester, Minnesota.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: My wife and I recently built a home and I'm the cook in the house. So, I got free rein in the kitchen. We built ourselves a pretty big pantry. It's 15 feet long, six feet wide. Now nine feet high.

CK: Wow Am I jealous or what?

Caller: Yeah. I'm just curious. How experts and pros organize a home pantry.

SM: You want to put things in categories. And the things that you use the most are the things that should be the most accessible. And this sounds totally nerdy, but it really helps me I've alphabetized all my spices, except I have a separate section for what I perceive as sweet spices. And then I put all the other baking things together all the dried pasta and beans together. I put all the vinegars and oils and things like that together, I have a separate section for canned goods. I think that's basically it. I try to keep it by category that really helps me. Chris, do you have any thoughts?

CK: Well, I need to start with a caveat. My wife, Melissa, who produces the show who's now listening to me, if I started giving advice about to organize a pantry, she's going to dope slap me after this is over. Because it's quite clear in our household that she's the organized one, and I'm complete chaos. So, every time I go to the kitchen, I get like six things to remember I should not do. But that being said, we've moved to spices on vertical racks, either metal or wooden racks that fit on a door for example, or inside a cabinet number two different kinds of flours etc. should be in those five quart I think they are those big buckets and you should label them on the outside not on the top but on the side so you can see them. I level. The problem with flour of course, if you're not going to use it right away, it really needs to be stored in the fridge. So, I probably keep smaller containers in your pantry and the rest of it in our fridge down in the basement. Three (how interesting) if you could keeping grains or other similar you know, beans, grains, make sure you label them. And then I think one other thing, take the spices and olive oil as the things that you use every day and put them into one area. If you use two herbs constantly don't put the herbs back in the spice drawer. Keep it right there. So, it's the stuff you always need right away. That's all I'm allowed to know I think

SM: One of the things that I found very helpful you know I got it from The Container Store. It looks like stairs that you can expand or condense. So that way you can have you know the lower level is the first round of spices. The second level is the you know as the alphabet continues so you can see you all of them. You open up the door and it's all right there.

Caller: Terrific. That's really helpful. I never would have thought to keep flour in the fridge.

CK: Anyway, we're both Sarah and I are deeply jealous of your huge pantry

SM: Yes really

Caller: Yeah. Yeah. I love it. And I can host a party just in the pantry.

SM: You should like a wine cellar. There you go.

CK: Your way ahead of us. Thanks so much I hope that’s helpful

SM: Yes

Caller: Yes, definitely helpful. I really appreciate it. And I still admire and appreciate the work you both do. Thanks very much.

CK: Thank you.

SM: Thank you.

CK: This is Milk Street radio. If you have a question, give us a call at 855-426-9843 one more time. 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Jennifer Hensler from Peters Creek, Alaska.

SM: Wow, far away from me. How can we help you today?

Caller: You can help me by telling me if you can make fresh gnocchi using potato flakes or freeze-dried potatoes and how that turns out.

CK: Well, you know Barbara Lynch is a well-known chef in Boston. I think she does actually have a recipe for that, which I've never tried. But she's also made her name on pasta. At her restaurant in Boston, she has some pretty unusual pastas and gnocchi is on her menu, although I assume she's not making with an instant potato flake and charging for a plate. But maybe she is but she's a great cook. So yeah, she has that I think you can get it.

SM: Probably google it if you did, Barbara Lynch’s, instant potato flake gnocchi you’d probably find it. She prides herself on doctoring up canned ingredients. So, this makes complete sense. Instantly, I would think, ooh, you know, is there a lot of processed ingredients in there, but I know that Bob's Red Mill carries potato flakes and my guess would be that that would be a pretty good source for good quality. I would even try it with that.

CK: Well, if you're going to serve it with brown butter and sage or something classic like that. It may not matter whether you used I hate to say this but instant potato flakes versus actually cooking

SM: Oh, don’t let Lidia Bastianich here you say that, oh my goodness, ought oh

CK: I’ve made them from scratch too, but

SM: The thing is they do take work. It is work so

CK: So, if you want to throw them together for you know, Tuesday night, you know, yeah if it's good enough for Barbara is good enough for me.

SM: Yeah, I agree. I have a lot of respect for Barbara

CK: She’s a pro. So yeah, Google it and try that and let us know. Because

SM: Yeah, do let us know I will.

Caller: I'll give that a try and let you know how that turns out. I appreciate it.

SM: All right.

CK: Take care.

Caller: Thank you.

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

Caller: Hi, this is Valerie calling from Belfast, Maine. Here's my tip. My husband and I eat a lot of fresh ginger. We add it to oatmeal, fruit salad smoothies, salad dressing, stir fries, and dark leafy greens of course, I buy a big hand of fresh ginger, bring it home, peel it, then I chop it and grind it up in my mini food processor. I put it in a jar and I pour over good organic apple 100% juice to cover. Now I have a jar of ginger ready to use for the week and it doesn't dry out. Enjoy.

CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip, on Milk Street Radio .com go to 177 Milk Street.com slash radio tips. Next up its French food scientist Alex Ainouz Alex, how are you?

Alex Ainouz: Hey Christopher, how are you?

CK: You just finished a long investigation into the mother sauces and whether the mother sauces we think are the mother sauces, whether that's actually true or not. Right?

AA: Exactly right. Last year, I wanted to up my sauce game. So, I started reading the books that started the whole mother sauces, you know phenomenon and if you want to do that, the two authors basically first one is Carême and then you've got Auguste Escoffier, which is like is probably even more famous, but the problem is the list that I had seen everywhere online advertised as the French mother sauces, so Espagnole, Velouté, Béchamel. Hollandaise. Tomato. I couldn't find it in the books so, I thought there must be something wrong. This is the main book, so I had Antoine Careme Le Cuisinier so the most important cookbook from Marie-Antoine Carême. Same goes for the Le Guide Culinaire from Escoffier. These two guys they admit that Espagnole, Velouté, Béchamel, tomato are mother sauces but none of these guys ever said that Hollandaise is a mother sauce.

CK: Well, it's odd you say that because you think of those sauces and Hollandaise it's just a totally different thing it’s made differently, it’s used differently. I mean, just it doesn't fit in with the others.

AA: Yeah, yeah, exactly. He has a different process to make it. It's different in many ways. But I thought, well, who am I to judge? So, I started doing more thorough research, I found out that basically, Hollandaise has never been qualified as a mother sauce by Aguste Escoffier, which is so weird. There's a place in the US at the Culinary Institute of America, there was also a school called Escoffier something in the US, that does the same school in the UK. Same in France, even. And these guys always say that Hollandaise is a mother sauce. I'm thinking, where did everyone get that information from? It got me mad to be honest. And at some point, I stumbled upon a lead. One of the librarians I was working with, he told me, have you thought about maybe studying an English book, a translation of the modern cooking?

CK: Are you going to blame it on the English now?

AA: I'm just being very objective. I'm being factual. So basically, I found the very first translation of the Le Guide Culinaire. It's presented as a translation. But it is in fact, an interpretation. The guy remade the list, basically, he said by Auguste Escoffier translated by this guy, William Heinemann 1907. And then when you get to the mother sauces chapter, you've got Espagnole, Velouté, Béchamel all well and good tomato and then Hollandaise, Hollandaise coming out of nowhere. So, I'm thinking, who is this guy? And the disappointment goes a bit further. Mayonnaise has never been qualified as a mother sauce, more than Hollandaise sauce. It's pure. It's, it's like more simple, more straightforward. So, I've always been a bit annoyed by the fact that it wasn't qualified as a mother sauce. And yet, the beauty of all this is that studying all these books, not only have I found that Hollandaise sauce is a fraud, but I've also found out that mayonnaise initially was considered to be a mother sauce by the king itself by Auguste Escoffier. It wasn't sitting in the right chapter, but Escoffier said, mayonnaise should be considered a mother sauce. I thought at some point, I had discovered a new planet in the solar system, basically, because I thought, hold on, this is just too snobbish. It's a great sauce. I love my eggs benedict with Hollandaise. But I've always been concerned about this.

CK: This is the psychological part of the discussion.

AA: Exactly. So, I'm based in Paris, okay. I'm a self-trained French cook. I was born here. I've got my French culture. And yet, whenever I'm having a discussion with an audience, from the US, for example, or the UK, people always tell me, now we feel like French cooking is a bit less snobbish, a bit less, you know, annoying. And I'm thinking, well, obviously, if you guys think you think one of our sauces is Hollandaise, that super snobbish sauce that is made on burner with clarified butter and all that stuff. Well, in fact, we love Mayo just as much as you do, guys. And Hollandaise is no redemption for us. So, I thought, yes, I'm blaming on an English guy on all this.

CK: Yeah. Well, I think that's true. I that's one of the great things about French culture, you care about where you came from. The French restaurant has a very military approach to cooking, right? And that system meant I think, for a long time, you could open a French restaurant anywhere in the world and there would be consistency because you had a system, right? The French are very good at that.

AA: Yeah, that was but with this specific study, things got a little sour, even in France somehow. So, Escoffier, based in France, established the first selection, the French mother sauces, the selection gets mistranslated in the UK then gets spread out in all English-speaking countries, including the US. So, everybody's got a wrong selection. And now it backfires on us. Because now people started to believe that this is the actual selection. And if you go to many culinary schools in France, they will teach you the wrong selection that we have learned from other countries now.

CK: So, what's next, then now that you've refigured, the mother sauces, I mean, does this opening the door to other things in the culinary past that we take as iconic, you know, or the truth, that may be not actually true?

AA: I mean, I mean it must, doesn't it? (Yeah) I mean to me definitely do and that was an eye-opening facts or situation for many of my viewers, they started questioning everything. They thought, what if that is wrong, maybe other things are wrong. And that's not bad. I like this attitude in the kitchen. This is always how I cook. Whenever I'm cooking something, I'm always thinking, why is that the way, can I do it another way? You know, I'm challenging facts usually when I'm cooking, and I think it's not bad.

CK: Alex Ainouz we've deposed Hollandaise, we've raised mayonnaise back to its former glory in the pantheon of French mother sauces. You never know what's going to happen in the mind of Alex Ainouz. Thank you so much.

AA: Exactly. Thank you so much, man.

CK: Take care. That was YouTube host Alex Ainouz. He's also author of Just a French Guy Cooking. You know, Alex has dutifully shown that mayonnaise and not Hollandaise was one of the original mother sauces. And here are some of my other favorite culinary myths debunked. The Earl of Sandwich did not invent the sandwich. Corned beef is not really Irish. And apples were mostly grown for cider and not for eating. But my mother believed that throwing salt over your left shoulder will in fact protect you from the devil. Hey, it may be a myth, but why take chances. If you tune in too late, just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street radio on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street .com there you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season of our television show or order our latest cookbook Tuesday Night's Mediterranean.ou can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH Executive Producer Melissa Baldino. Senior audio editor Melissa Allison. Producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. production assistant Amelia McGuire, intern Emily Kunkel and 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 Brando Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX

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