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This week, we get a seafood masterclass from one of the world’s greatest chefs, Eric Ripert. He also explains why sauce is the hardest technique to master and reflects on the moment he decided to change the way he ran Le Bernardin. Plus, Milk Street’s science editor, Guy Crosby, joins us to answer our most pressing food science questions, and we uncover the true origins of Chicken Kyiv.
Questions in this Episode
“My carrot cake keeps coming out too moist in the middle. Can you help?"
"I live in a co-housing community comprised of 28 homes and one common kitchen. Can you recommend good recipes that can be made to scale?"
"I have an apple tree on my property that is extremely prolific. What can I make with all of these apples?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Today, it's my interview with the legendary Eric Ripert. He's the chef and co-owner of the Le Bernadin in New York. Ripert shares his secrets to great seafood, and how he's mastered the very hardest skill in the kitchen making sauce.
Eric Ripert: Sauces are very difficult because flavors do not exist. They're not tangible. You cannot say to someone give me one ounce of rosemary flavor in your sauce. It doesn't exist like that you don't measure like that.
CK: We'll hear from Eric Ripert later in the show. But first, I'm joined by Guy Crosby. He's our science editor here at Milk Street. And he recently published a book Cook, Taste, Learn. Guy, great to have you on the show.
Guy Crosby: Thank you, Chris.
CK: So, in your book, Cook Taste, Learn you talk a lot about scientific advances that have changed cooking. So, as you know, we get a lot of questions from listeners on the show. And I wanted to go back and revisit a few of them that I thought were particularly interesting. Now the number one is I think it was a leg of lamb. And somebody was cooking it in a closed container in the oven. And I think they had used pretty much a whole bottle of wine well in that Dutch oven.
Caller: And it was about two hours, when all of a sudden was a very loud bang, the oven door opened with a fireball. Wow, by the way, but it was very scary.
CK: I tried to answer the question. I had lots of theories, like maybe some of the alcohol in the wine had gotten out of the pot. Do you have any thoughts about how that could happen?
GC: Well, I mean, I think you're mostly right about that, as I mean, the only thing that's inside the oven is going to be the alcohol that's explosive. So, we have to say that that's got to be one of the causes. So, it depends on whether maybe the if it was a Dutch oven, if it was a little bit of ajar, and as the alcohol boils, which is going to be more volatile than the water that's in there, it's going to vaporize. And of course, it's going to rise to the top and if it was a top heated element, whether it's electric or gas, it could eventually ignite the amount of alcohol or there’s enough of it in there. So, if it was a whole bottle, it's probably not unrealistic that enough alcohol could collect there that boom, it finally just ignites and explodes and blows open the door. I think it makes sense.
CK: That's one of my favorite kitchen mysteries of all time. Steaming versus boiling vegetables. And I over many, many years people yell and scream at me about you can't boil your vegetables, you got to steam them, and you lose all the nutrition is boiling and steaming. In terms of nutrition, kind of the same, but for different reasons or is steaming really better.
GC: Steaming is better, because there are a number of the nutrients that are in foods, vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals. When you boil them, anything that has much water solubility at all will go into the boiling water and get washed away. So, you can reduce the nutrients in there that are water soluble by 4050, even 60% or more, whereas steaming reduces those nutrients only maybe by five or 10%.
CK: But didn't you also tell me that I think it was antioxidants actually get retained and sealed in the vegetables better with boiling and steaming.
GC: Now that's a good, good point you're making because there are other nutrients in there called carotenoids. These are the colored pigments that are in fruits and vegetables, very potent antioxidants. They tend to be bound up with proteins, but when you cook them, it breaks up these complexes of the carotenoids and releases them and the classic example is one called lycopene which is the red pigment in tomatoes. You absorb about four times more lycopene in your blood when you cook tomatoes than you do when you eat fresh raw tomatoes.
CK: Now, here's one that came up you know, I don't know in your childhood, but I grew up with percolator coffee. And then I I was talking to a cowboy cook recently swears by cowboy coffee, which is coffee boiled at a rapid boil for a few minutes. And he claims it's not bitter.
Cowboy Cook: When you boil coffee, we try to boil it four to five minutes on that a woodstove and it's breaking down the tannin in the bean which releases the acid and it's gone and then you have smooth coffee.
CK: So, is it possible that percolator coffee or cowboy coffee actually isn't bad? And we're all just running around spending all this money, trying to make a good thing a little better? Or are there reasons that boiling coffee grounds is just a terrible idea.
GC: Well, I heard that. I suppose the only sensible solution or answer to that question, why does that work is that when you do that boiling process, you get various bitter ingredients in there that are combining with each other, probably then form insoluble precipitates. So, if you're going to filter the separate the coffee out, after you've boiled it, you've removed basically all the bitter substances that were in there to begin with. So obviously, it's a process that's neutralizing or removing those bitter materials.
CK: I love that I I just just really want cowboy coffee to be good coffee, right? I mean, yeah. Because because we everyone's including me spending all this time and, you know, 75 grams of coffee per 100 milligrams of water, whatever it is, you could just throw it in a pot and boil it. Okay, you and I've talked about this, too, callers talk about adding herbs or other things while steaming foods, because those flavors will get into whatever's being steamed. I assume that's utter nonsense, or is there any truth to that?
GC: Well, it's kind of stretching it a bit, there's a huge difference in our sensitivity to smell versus taste. I mean, there are molecules that we can smell at one part per trillion. And just to put that, in perspective, that's the same as one second, in 32,000 years, that's one part per trillion is so we can smell things at extremely low concentration versus taste, it usually takes several percent concentration in order to taste something. So, if you're only going to rely on the the amount of volatile aroma that's in that steam, for example, that tiny amount you can detect, it's never going to build up enough in the food itself that you could actually taste it.
CK: So, I've gone through my list of most asked questions. Any last word from the words of science? I mean, what are some of the things you know about that people are working on that might show up in your supermarket 10 years from now, anything?
GC: Well, I think what's coming along in the future and one point that I tried to make in that book is that, you know, through learning more and more about what happens to food and the ingredients in food as we cook it, you don't want to cook it to the point that you're going to lose all these things, as we talked about some of them just as simple as washing away in the water. But heat and the way you cook it will have a big impact on the nutritional content and the healthiness of the foods. And where we see that happening right now is there's a thing called culinary medicine that's being developed and promoted in various medical schools now, where the whole idea is that you have people who need to go home and recuperate from a chronic disease. And they're helping to teach people how to cook food so that it stays healthy. And then it can help them get over their illness faster.
CK: Well, I do have to make a comment here. (Okay), that the worst food in the world, as far as I know, is served in hospitals. I mean, they still serve Jell-O. Yeah, and you know what I'm talking about? (Yeah) How is it possible? It just drives me crazy, that a hospital dealing with people who need nutrition, they need good food (Yep) And they end even people in a hospital bed, forgetting about the nutrition, good food would just raise their spirits a little bit. (It would) Why is it so terrible? What's going on?
GC: I wish I had the answer to that. In fact, that's the one thing that probably motivates people to get out of the hospital more than anything. It's just to be able to get home and have a decent meal. (Good reason). I mean, I think there's a lot, a lot of work that needs to be done. And there's a professor there at Harvard, who has a whole new program he started maybe 20 years ago called Teaching Kitchens. And he goes around and teaches hospitals in schools, how to cook food that is much more healthy, right, than the typical mass-produced ways that they're doing it right now. So, there is hope, coming along for that. But you're right. I mean, most have not caught up with the modern way of doing things and cooking healthier foods.
CK: Guy, you've answered my top questions, so I don't ever have to answer these questions. Thank you so much
GC: Oh, you're welcome, Chris. Happy to do it.
CK: That was Guy Crosby. His latest book is called Cook Taste Learn. Now I'm joined by my co-host, Sara Moulton to answer a few more of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Also, author of the cookbook, Home Cooking 101
Sara Moulton: So, Chris, before we get started, I have this burning question for you is Is there anything that we've talked about on the show these many years that made you go home and do something differently in the kitchen?
CK: It's interesting. There’re so many people who call into the show, who have a tremendous amount of knowledge, whether it's sourdough bread, or it's brining or pickling or making jams. And I learn a lot, because they've spent a lot more time doing what they do. That's their hobby than I have. I do have a lot of general knowledge across a lot of topics, but a lot of people come in with a complete deep dive. And you know, we can help them most of the time. But I learned from them so it's a real back and forth.
SM: Well, one of them is I went out and bought a burr grinder for my coffee. (Really?0 Yeah. I never really thought about it before. But that really changed my life. (It makes a big difference) actually. But I also would say and this you know, that I've I knew about sumac, but I started using it again, you know, so things that come up a lot when we're talking here. Yeah, make an impression. There you go. I'm very impressionable.
CK: Old dog new tricks.
SM: Yeah, we're correct. That's why we're in the game. As Julia said “you never stop learning”. And here we are.
CK Okay, time to take some calls.
SM: Yes. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?
Caller: David Shea.
SM: Hi, David. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from Huddleston, Virginia.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: I really enjoy cooking. I'm starting to bake. And my wife really loves carrot cake. So, I've made this carrot cake probably four or five times. And the middle is still almost liquid while the outside of the cake is done. And so, I switched it from doing it in cake pans to a Bundt cake. Yeah. And that was a little better. But it was still too moist in the middle. I mean, again, almost like cake batter.
CK: How much flour? How much oil? How much sugar? How many eggs?
Caller: Oh gosh, it's a standard carrot cake recipe. I've cut the vegetables down from like one and a half cups to three quarters of a cup. And I try to drain the pineapple really well to again lower the moisture content. The cake is delicious.
CK: It sounds like your ovens hot because in a hotter than usual oven. The outside of something bakes in finishes before the inside. So okay, this makes it what 350-375?
Caller: 350. Yes. I don't know if the ovens too hot because I ended up leaving the cake in the oven longer than the recipe indicates. By about, I want to say 10 - 15 minutes.
CK: You're starting beating what are you beating the sugar? With the oil, you're beating the eggs with the sugar, what are you doing?
Caller: You start with the wet ingredients and then add the dry, but I do end up doing the eggs and the sugars together. I think it's white and brown sugar.
CK: and you beat that till it gets really fluffy. The eggs are cold out of the fridge or warm?
Caller: They're cold.
CK: Okay, well, that's not the end of the world, but probably better if they're warm. And then when they add the dry ingredients, you're doing it in batches,
Caller: little bits
CK: and are you mixing like on low speed for like 15 or 20 seconds after each addition?
Caller: It's on low when I start adding the dry stuff.
CK: How long do you beat the flour in?
Caller: Until it’s combined, and it looks like cake batter.
CK: So, a minute or minute and a half something like that.
Caller: Yeah. And then I add the carrots and pineapple. And the spices.
CK: Have you ever made this recipe and it worked and have you ever made another recipe and it worked?
Caller: No and No.
CK: Are these nine inch cake pans are using?
CK: This is my no fail answer to everything about baking. Go by Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and look up her carrot cake. Because that will work. The thing that I would suspect is I don't know how much exact flour you have. But the ratio of sugar to flour to oil. Unless there's a problem with your oven is off.
SM: Yeah, how much sugar and how much flour?
Caller: From what I remember I'm pretty sure it's three cups of flour, a cup each of white and brown sugar. So, three two. And I recall the original recipe was one and a half cups of oil and I reduced that to three quarters. So, I was below the three two one. The thing
CK: The thing that makes no sense to me here is that if you cut the oil in half, and you still end up with something uncooked in the center, it's not about the oil. This is a baking issue (right) I would reduce the oven temperature to 325 and I would cook it until the center is cooked.
SM: I think that Chris is right then on two counts a lower temperature for longer, but I say heck, toss the whole thing out the recipe and go find a better recipe and Rose Berenbaum is really the source
Caller: That is perfect, which is exactly why I called you guys.
CK: I mean, the thing about carrot cake with the oils like chiffon cake, it's hard to overbake because of all that oil in it. So, it may be the outside of the cake can take longer baking without ruining it more time in the oven and less heat. Give it a shot.
Caller: Okay, at a lower temperature.
CK: 25 degrees lower.
Caller: Got it
CK: let us know.
SM: Yeah, David, please circle back and let us know how that went.
Caller: I absolutely will.
CK: All right. Thanks
Caller: Thank you so much.
SM: Bye, bye.
Caller: Bye. Bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio if you need help with breakfast, lunch or dinner, give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: This is H___
SM: And where are you calling from?
Caller: Durham, North Carolina.
SM: Very nice. How can we help you today?
Caller: I live in a co-housing community we have 28 homes close together and a large common house with a big kitchen. And once a week, some of us will cook a meal for the whole community. I love the Milk Street recipes. And I've made many of them for dinners at home and having a few friends and but I was wondering which of them would you think would scale well and be not too hard to do you know, for a large group?
SM: Well, I'm going to talk about the general stuff because Chris is more familiar with the actual recipes. But first of all, are you enjoying it sounds like you are?
Caller: Very much it's a wonderful way to live. It's a growing concept started in Denmark; it's come to the United States.
CK: I love that idea.
SM: That makes a lot of sense. Okay, well, let me generally answer the actual question, which is, you know, things like casseroles, stews, soups, chili's, lasagna as you can use those no-boil noodles, you know, cooking large cuts of meat or roasting a whole bunch of chickens and then shredding them up to use in enchiladas or in you know, taco night would be my suggestion, Chris?
CK: Yeah, there's one recipe that comes to mind. I was in Mexico, two or three years ago in southern Mexico the Chinampas the islands. I was with a guy who cooked beans over a actually woodfire but it was Mexican beans. He also had a version where he cooked pork and then put shredded pork into it. You can double triple quadruple. I mean, it's just really easy to make. It has some sofrito you stir into it, but it's basically cooking beans with a sofrito you know tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc. And then you could add pork shredded pork near the end as well. And top it with a little salsa. So, it's not a hard recipe, but it would really scale well. Anytime I have a crowd of 12 or more people. That's what I make.
Caller: I did the Filipino Pork Adobo once people really liked it
CK: I think the question is if you're going to do 28 people or how many people are there, dozens. It's got to be a big soup. It's got to be a big stew, no sautéing, no skillet work it's got to be a big pot.
SM: You know what I just made from the new cookbook The World in a Skillet. It was very quick recipe really takes no time at all involves ground beef and chickpeas and Indian spices and ginger and garlic and it's just so good and some tomatoes. I think ground meat really lends itself you know with a lot of flavoring to mass cooking.
CK: Another thing to do is pulled pork. And we have that recipe that has miso and gochujang which is makes it it's really simple. It's got like four ingredients and the whole recipe just cook it for three hours in a Dutch oven. Those are easy to do, and you can throw those actually into us a slow cooker, you know, Instant Pot as well. Another one is Ragu Bolognese, three different kinds of meats, some vegetables, little white wine, cooked that for three hours and then use that in a simple lasagna for example. That would be an easy one.
Caller: Sounds wonderful.
CK: Those are a few yup, anyway, I'm thrilled. I love this idea. I think it's just a great idea.
Caller: Yeah, well, maybe it's a future cookbook.
CK: Yeah. The complete cohousing cookbook
Caller: cooking for crowds.
CK: Yeah, there you go.
SM: Thank you.
CK: Take care.
Caller: Thank you very much.
SM: Bye bye.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Chris from Rochester, New York.
SM: Hi, Chris. How can we help you today?
Caller: So, a property that I moved onto has an apple tree on it and that apple tree was fairly prolific this year. I have about two storage bins full of apples and I was calling to see if you have any suggestions on what I can do with all these I've been making applesauce and apple butter. But I think I need a couple more ideas.
SM: Just that let me ask you a question what kind of apple is it?
Caller: A neighbor told me it's a late season Macintosh,
SM: Ah, which means it's more of an applesauce apple, because Macintosh tend to break down, when you cook them, I would just make batches of applesauce. And there's a really easy way to do it. I learned years ago, you wash the apples, but you don't core them or anything, you just cut them in quarters, leave the seeds and leave the skin on throw in a pot with some water at the bottom, like a couple of inches, you know, then all the apples in there, put the lid on and just slowly cook it down, and then put it through what my grandmother would call a Foley food meal. Because that will remove the skins and seeds and then season it accordingly. And then you can have you know, all of that frozen to use in recipes later on in the year. I've never done this. I've always wanted to this is my last thought is to get a dehydrator and slice the apples and dry them because that would totally reduce their volume. And then you could just park them in the cupboard. But I don't own a dehydrator and I'm not sure Macintosh would be good. But having said that, that's a thought because that's a way of reducing the volume of all these apples. But Chris?
CK: Well, I used to dehydrate you can get the dehydrators with like 10 racks and put them on but that’s
SM: would that work?
CK: Yeah, but it's just going to be a pain. I mean, that's a lot of work.
SM: But then you could use a slicer say on your food processor to slice them,
CK: I’m too old. I don't have enough years left to spend three days dehydrating two bins of apples. So you could but I think the best thing to do is just make applesauce it freezes well. You know, double plastic bag, make sure the air is out of it, freeze it, it's fine. Using that strainer goes around like food a food mill is the way to do it you don't have to core them you don't have to peel them. That's what I would do. And Mac’s, by the way, have great flavor. They're terrific flavor, so they're perfect for applesauce. So, you just have you have one tree?
Caller: Yes, our neighbor has the other tree that allows it to pollinate.
CK: I did in Vermont 20 years ago I planted 25 apple trees or something. And the problem is unless you get just the right trees near each other, they have to flower at the same time to cross pollinate. And they have to be different kinds of trees. It's complicated.
SM: It's like sex in the apple orchard. Right. That has to happen. I learned I learned that when, sorry it’s true pollination, that's nature's way.
CK: I don't even know what to say.
SM: They have to get pollinated you know that's how it happens. Can't just happen alone.
Caller: birds and the bees
CK: is not sex.
SM: No, I know. I know. But you know, it's nature's way.
CK: Maybe it's more fun. I don't know. Yeah, you'd have to ask a bee. Yeah. Anyway, on that on that note. I think applesauce is the way to go. So good luck.
Caller: Alright thank you so much.
SM: Yes, thank you.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next inside one of the great restaurants in the world with Eric Ripert. That's coming up right after the break. This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball right now it's my interview with Eric Ripert chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York. His latest book is called Seafood Simple. Eric, welcome back to Milk Street.
Eric Ripert: Thank you so much. I'm very happy to be back.
CK: You know, I don't get excited about meeting or talking to too many people. I think Dolly Parton was my favorite. (Very different) person to me. She was very different. But I have to say in the world of food. You are at the top of my list and let me explain why. Years ago, I interviewed Jacques Pepin, he mentioned that when he cooked for de Gaulle, the job was not prestigious, it was more blue collar it was a job. And, and I think about you and Bernadin, and you're there. I think almost every time I've been there, every time you're there, you actually work there. You're not running around starting restaurants in you know Vegas, in Hong Kong. And I, when I walk into the Bernadin, I just get the sense that somebody cares and it's a serious enterprise. So how do you view the work of a chef because I think you perceive it a little bit differently than many other people do?
ER: Well, for me, it's very different than many other chefs. You're right. I see myself as an artisan. And every day, when I wake up, I remind myself that I am the chef of Le Bernadin and that was my dream. And I'm basically living the dream that I always wanted. As a young kid before culinary school, I was dreaming of becoming the chef of a very special restaurant with ___ and a lot of cooks and elegance in a dining room and fun team to work with, with beautiful products, incredible equipment, and beautiful china. And when I entered Le Bernardin in 1991, I was like, this is the place, this is the dream coming true. And then I said, you know, this is what I want to do. I want to be with my team. And I want to share ideas with them. I want to work with them. I want to mentor them; I want to learn from them. It's going to be a collaboration. And that excites me.
CK: So, you write that when you started at Le Bernardin in New York, you shouted and acted out a little and then at one point you woke up and said, wait, this is not the right way to run a restaurant? What changed? How did you make that transition.
ER: So, when I started at La Bernardin, I was the chef of Gilbert Le Coze and therefore I had really a lot of freedom in the kitchen to manage the way I wanted. And I emulated many of my past chefs in France, and I was throwing plates, and I was throwing tantrums. And I was abusive with the staff verbally screaming and so on. And all the good elements of Le Bernardin were leaving, everybody was miserable. Myself, I was very unhappy with my life. And I was not accomplishing anything, was not what I wanted. And one day, I was sitting at home, it was very late at night, I was thinking and suddenly it clicked, and I said, But I'm so wrong. I cannot inspire people to do the best if I'm terrorizing them, if I am not nice to them, if I'm not inspiring to them, If I scare them, I have to change that immediately. So of course, it took a little bit of time to adapt, first of all for the team to believe me. And then also to retrain the sous chefs that I have trained to be basically very tough on the team. Suddenly, they were like, well, yesterday, you were telling us to be tough. And now we have to be inspiring and kind what's wrong. So anyway, long story short, today, Le Bernardin is really a place where young people with no experience, people with more experience are basically blooming and are happy to come to work and are learning and are giving their best. And it's very, very rewarding for all of us, including myself, of course.
CK: Let’s just for a second talk about actual cooking sauces, you know, sauces are something that here in the States, almost nobody does anymore. And it's a shame because it's such an improvement on a meal to have a sauce if you roast a chicken, for example. So are there one or two things you would tell people about making a sauce that would really be a wonderful part of your repertoire that's not too difficult at home.
ER: Well, making a sauce. In a professional kitchen is the most difficult thing that you can achieve. The most respected position other than the chef and the sous chefs is the saucier in the kitchen until you reach the level of saucier it's about craftsmanship, about learning techniques, applying the techniques, and it's very much the same days after days. Sauce are very difficult because flavors do not exist. They're not tangible basically. You cannot say to someone give me one ounce of rosemary flavor in your sauce It doesn't exist like that you don't measure like that. It's almost like playing with an instrument and with not soft music. So, you play with the flavors. And I'm going to give you an example, when you make a coffee on a morning, soon as you brew the coffee, it has a certain flavor, three hours later it’s different, at night is very different. And the day after is really not good. So, imagine captivating flavors in the liquid, with many, many ingredients. So, it's very complex, right? And you have to keep the flavors and the balance and the vibrancy of that sauce. With the same intensity from the beginning of the service until the end of the last course being served, some flavors collapse, some flavors have the tendency to expand and destroy everything else. So, you have to be very cautious, and you have to adjust constantly. And that's true art. That's where cooking becomes an act when you reach the level of the sauce.
CK: Okay, let's go to the opposite end of the spectrum. And let's say I just roasted a chicken. Okay, and I say to you, look, what sauce can I make? I'm not a saucie. I've had no experience like you have. Is there something you could teach me in 10 minutes that I could put together that would at least get me started with a sauce I could use on the chicken.
ER: For sure. First of all, we will look at how you're going to cook your chicken. (Right) If it's a roasted chicken? Are you going to cook it in a Teflon pan nonstick pan? Or are you going to put a garnish in the pan like shallot, garlic or herbs or is it no vegetables in that pen is the chicken directly in contact with the metal? Are you going to let caramelize the skin all of those things are the end will have an impact on when you're going to create a roux or a sauce. So, assuming that we want to create a simple chicken roux with it like a natural roux. I will say well make sure that the chicken is in contact with a pan, and it's going to caramelize. And when its half cooked, let's throw a little bit of onions and garlic in it. Maybe a little bit of pressure. If you have rosemary or parsley and thyme, something like that, but not too much, because it's the herbs are very powerful. And then when the chicken is cooked, we're going to deglaze either way with a bit of water, or a bit of white wine, or red wine even if you want. And we put very little liquid in a pan. You cannot put a lot of liquid and then reduce it by a long time like five minutes, for instance, because you’re killing all the flavors. It's already cooked and it's not vibrant. But if your chicken is for four people and you have enough liquid to make the roux for four, then we are doing something together that you learn in 10 minutes.
CK: You mentioned in your book, there's a lot of great steps by steps about skinning fresh fish. You talk about removing the bloodline. What is the bloodline and why do you remove it.
ER: So, let's take the example of a striped bass. If you filet the fish, close to the bone, it's no blood line. But close to the skin. In between the top filet and the filet that contain the belly, you have a blood line and its very red. When the fish is very fresh when the fish is not too fresh is not as red and if the fish is old, it’s brown. And even if the fish is fresh, the blood line should be removed because it can be perceived as very fishy. It is actually very fishy sometimes, even when it's fresh. And when you remove it, you avoid that flavor that basically mask the beauty of the flavor of the filet the delicacy of the filet.
CK: If you are in a fish market and you're buying a fillet of some kind, yes. Should you look at the color of the bloodline and that would be an indication of freshness.
ER: Oh, for sure immediately. The flesh of the filet should be almost translucid not like white opague almost like beige color if it's a white fish, and the blood line should be very bright red. And when you go to the market, you can also if you if you have a fishmonger you can ask to smell the fish because fresh fish doesn't smell like fish is smell like like a sea breeze. And when it's fishy, it means it's old and you don't buy it.
CK: People always ask me if it's baking, you know what, when is the cake done, how do you know? And the hardest thing to figure out out is when fish is done. You can use an instant read thermometer, but you have a better method with a metal skewer, especially if you're cooking ____or something where you can open it up. So, what's that method?
ER: Yeah, we use a metal skewer a very thin one. And we go through the flesh of the fish. And we live it for 10 seconds,15 seconds. And then we remove the skewer and apply it on top of our hand. Or if you are ___, you can apply it in between the lips and the nose, because it's very sensitive, and it should be warm. If it's warm, it means the fish that you are cooking is cooked to perfection, medium rare basically, if it's hot, it's well done. And if the fish is raw, it's going to come back cold. And it's a technique we use at the restaurant that I use at home. And its idiot proof technique, you cannot make a mistake by doing that,
CK: Then it's perfect for me, I'll try immediately. So, let's just talk about sauteing for a moment, which is actually really hard to do, you want to just talk about that, because that's just the basic skill, which I don't think many people have really mastered at home.
ER: Well, when you sauté a fish, first of all you need a very clean pan. But that's obvious. And then you have to make sure that the oil is very hot, almost to the point of smoking, not smoking yet. But you have to start to see on top of the oil, a little tiny, tiny bit of smoke, and then you put the filet of fish in a pan. And the reason you do that is because as soon as you put the fish in a pan, you drop the temperature and the oil is not as hot. And then you press it with a spatula on top. And you let a crust develop. And you can see that on the side of the fish, you start to see a crust that is I'll call it blonde, but it's like all like a light brown. And then when you have a nice crust, you flip it. But until the crust is developed, you cannot flip the fish because it will stick to the pan. It doesn't stick to the pan when you have that crust developed. And you have to be patient.
CK: A chef once said that the way you address your cutting board and stand up at the counter speaks a lot about your knowledge and your experience. Do you think that? Is that just a lot of nonsense or do you think that's true?
ER: It's a lot of details that speak about you if your knives are sharp enough, if your station is clean or not. If yourself have a clean jacket and clean pants and shoes, it's a lot of details that gives a lot of information about yourself it’s not only the cutting board or the knife, it's a more holistic approach to it
CK: Is your passion about executing or coming up with a dish that meets your expectations more so than meeting the expectations of your clients or equal measure of both?
ER: My expectations are very high. And when I see the clients happy and giving good feedback and smiling it makes me happy not only for myself, but for the team. But I question everything all the time. And I still believe that we can improve all the time. And I live with that state of mind on a daily base. And I don't stress this staff with that. But I make sure that they understand that we can always do better. And our search for perfection is not necessarily the end result. But it's the search.
CK: Eric a pleasure always an honor to chat with you and the best of luck. Thank you so much.
ER: Thank you so much. It was an honor.
CK: That was Eric Ripert. His new book is Seafood Simple. You know, a mainstay of classic French cooking is of course the sauce yet nobody here in America knows how to make one. Yes, we use marinades and dressings but as Eric Ripert rightly points out, sauce is fundamental to good cooking. Now the French mother's sauces may be a tad out of date. I'm talking about bechamel, veloute, espagnole, hollandaise and tomato. But the notion of enhancing the culinary payoff of a simple piece of protein is not. Ripert offers us a new galaxy of sauces that are easily made. creme fraiche warmed with mustard, bacon flavored butter, sofrito enhanced coconut milk, charred lemon vinaigrette, or perhaps a parsley oregano chimichurri. America prides itself on being a country of plain folk with a culinary history that I think has similar inclinations but maybe it's time to add a bit of swagger to our food with a simple sauce. Or to borrow a saying from the fashion industry. I think it's time to accessorize. You're listening to Milk Street Radio coming up we learn about the real chicken Kyiv that's coming up in just a moment. I'm Christopher Kimball and this is Milk Street Radio. I'm joined now by JM Hirsch to talk about this week's recipe. Chicken Kyiv JM, how are you?
JM Hirsch: I'm alright.
CK: So, you came to me some time ago and said I have an idea. I'd like to fly into Poland take a train into warzone and Kyiv because I'm fascinated with the origins of chicken Kyiv. Now, my memory of chicken kyiv, I'm older than you is back in the 60s and 70s maybe the Russian Tea Room. caterers did weddings, it was easy to produce a lot of them, stick your fork in it. warm butter spurts out on the plate. But but you had faith, I have to say. So, you went to Kyiv to discover whether there was something more to this recipe than what most of us know. And what did you find?
JM: So let's start with what chicken Kyiv is supposed to be, as you say, you know, for most of the latter half of the last century, this was considered like fancy dining. And at its core, what it is supposed to be is a tender chicken breast that has been pounded flat, wrapped around a lot of butter, then the whole package should be breaded and deep fried, so that when you cut into it, you get these kind of crispy exterior, juicy, meaty interior and this gush of molten butter that just saturates everything. It never quite hit that mark. I don't think even when it was at its height. And lots of really good reasons for this. You know, first of all, chicken breasts are an unforgiving meat. As you know, they so easily turn rubbery and dry breading hates adhering to them. And they're really not easy to season. So, the result is exactly what you said kind of bad wedding buffet food that you know ended up in the freezer aisle of the grocery store.
CK: So how did you go about discovering the origins of this dish?
JM: Well, there were actually a lot of layers to this story. And one of the first things that surprised me is that chicken Kyiv actually is from Kyiv. It was created around the 1920s at the Continental Hotel, at least that's the urban legend. It was chefs seeking an upscale dish to serve to visiting dignitaries took off very quickly became very popular. And as we know, it's been consumed around the world for decades now.
CK: So, this dish, was it based on something that had already existed or this came out of whole cloth.
JM; Well, that actually is the fascinating thing I learned in Kyiv. Yes, chicken Kyiv as we know it today was created in Kyiv around the 1920s. However, it actually is based on a recipe that has been in this region of the world for centuries. So minced chicken cutlets that were breaded and fried had been a thing in this part of the world for a long time. And turns out around the 1840s Russian chefs actually went to France as all chefs did back in the day to learn higher end cooking. And of course, what do they love in France? Butter. So, this classic kind of peasant food of these kinds of minced meat patties that are just breaded and fried. Got an upgrade with these Russian chefs in France where they learned to stuffed them with butter, bread them and fry them. That is the original chicken Kyiv now jump ahead to 1920s again, and at the Continental Hotel in Kyiv, where the chef's wanted something impressive for visiting dignitaries. So instead of the minced chicken, the chef's used chicken breasts. And that was their so-called improvement. But as we all know, it didn't really quite work out that way. Now, it doesn't help that ___cooking wasn't known for using a lot of flavor and spices and so forth. So that didn't set this dish up for success.
CK: Well, not only did they steal the idea, I guess, but they made it significantly worse at the same time, right? I mean, great job.
JM: And, you know, I had heard rumors of this pre-Soviet era version of chicken Kyiv. But most of the restaurants I had chicken Kyiv at in Ukraine, were the kind of the contemporary version that was kind of flavor, listen, rubbery, and so forth. But then I found just a stand on a back alley in Kyiv, next to an adult bookstore. And they served chicken Kyiv as hand pies, which I'm just going to say, it's not a good idea to eat as a hand pie, but that's what they do. And it was so delicious. So flavorful, so tender, the breading stuck to the chicken, the chicken was well seasoned. The butter was perfect, although the butter did squirt down my hand, which is why again, I say it's not a good hand pie. But it was so good. I had to order another one to dissect it standing in the snow, trying to figure out why this one was so much better than all the other versions I'd eaten in Kyiv. And it turns out, it's because they use ground chicken and season it really well, much as they would have prior to Soviet rule in Ukraine. So I turned to a chef Ievgen Klopotenko, he is probably the best known celebrity chef in Ukraine. And he's done a tremendous amount of work, elevating Ukrainian food and original Ukrainian recipes to promote Ukrainian culture in the wake of this war. And I asked him to give me an education on this kind of pre-Soviet era, chicken Kyiv. So, he really leans into the seasonings, which is true to Ukrainian cuisine prior to Soviet influence. You know, the butter was seasoned with dill and lemon zest, and ginger and pepper Rica, and all sorts of stuff. He also took a similar hand with the ground chicken itself, you know, adding dill seed and garlic and black pepper. It just made such a difference. And it was such an easier technique too. He would just season both of these, wrap the chicken around the butter, bread them and to make it home cook friendly. He bakes his instead of frying, its what chicken keep ought to be and frankly, used to be.
CK: So last question. So, you're there in a war zone, undeniably. Were people still lining up for chicken Kyiv and going about their life as if everything was normal? Or was was it a very different kind of place?
JM: Yes. And yes. You know, it's, it was heartbreaking, of course. Kyiv is a beautiful city, and people are trying to go about their lives. But of course, it's impossible when you have air raids going on all day. You know, the chef I was working with Ievgen Klopotenko, the building next to his apartment was completely bombed out. So, it's, it's a bit of a struggle, where they're trying to live normal lives, but also trying to deal with the reality that they're facing. And one of the really fascinating things for me, was the focus on food, Ievgen Klopotenko and other chefs have really been using original Ukrainian flavors and recipes to kind of rally the people around Ukrainian culture. So, restaurants are full, because people are trying to support real Ukrainian recipes and chefs and cooking. And that was wonderful to see. I mean, you and I both know that food is the heart of so much of our culture, and our family and our community. And in Ukraine I absolutely saw that play out where people were really using it to rally around and to come together and that that despite the bleakness of everything else that was amazing.
CK: JM, thank you a long trip into Kyiv to find the great origins of chicken kyiv. Thank you.
JM: Thank you.
CK: While in Ukraine JM recorded some of his conversations with Chef Ievgen Klopotenko who taught him how to make a version of this original chicken Kyiv. Chef Klopotenko says everything changed for him in 2014 when Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula.
Ievgen Klopotenko: This was the moment when I understood that I I started to be fully Ukrainian, and this was the moment when I started to discover everything.
CK: In 2014, Chef Klopotenko started to unearth Ukraine's food history and culinary traditions. He says it's important work as Russia continues to wage war against his country.
Ievgen Klopotenko: A nation has to have their food. And if someone were to ask, okay, tell me what is your nation food you say? I don't know. But if you know, it means that your nation you know, pizza Margarita, you know the colors with which they using their, the colors of the flag of Italy comprise a salad. It's the same, it's the color of the flag, and they're selling the country to the world, and they’re exporting food. Food is the powerful social instrument by which you can unite or disunite nations. So, if we will have our food, we will be different from each country in the world. It doesn't mean that we have to eat only our food, it means that we have to have our food or then we will have no identity.
CK: That was chef Ievgen Klopotenko in Ukraine, to get our adaptation of his recipe for traditional Ukrainian chicken Kyiv please visit our website Milk Street Radio.com. That's it for this week show. Please don't forget you can find more than 250 episodes at Milk Street Radio at our website, Milk Street Radio.com or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about Milk Street at 177 Milk Street.com. There you can become a member and get 1000s of recipes, access to our online cooking classes, and get free shipping on all orders for the Milk Street store. You can also learn about our latest cookbook Milk Street Simple. Please check us out on Facebook and Christopher Kimball's Milk Street and on Instagram 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 co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.