Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Eric Ripert the chef and owner of the three Michelin star Le Bernardin, New York City knows a lot about cooking fish. But his new cookbook Vegetable Simple is focused, of course on vegetables, or pear talks about balancing rigor and creativity in the kitchen, and his secret to 30 years of success as a restaurant tour.
Eric Ripert: The main challenge of every restaurant including us is consistency because you can be great one day and you can be mediocre the other day, but it becomes a big challenge when you want to be great every day.
CK: Also, coming up, we learned to make fluffy Japanese milk bread. And Adam Gopnik offers his five food Harrisons. But first, it's my interview with food and travel writer, Yasmin Khan, who's covered the cooking of Iran and Palestine. Her latest book, Ripe Figs explores the foods, flavors and the cooking of the eastern Mediterranean. Yasmin, welcome back to Milk Street.
Yasmin Khan: Hi. It's great to be here.
CK: Well, it's great to have you back. You know, we talked about your first book, The Saffron Tales about Iran, and then Zeitoun about Palestine. And now you're covering the eastern Mediterranean and your latest book Ripe Figs. So, let's talk about the eastern Mediterranean. You think about countries, let's say Turkey. I mean, the Republic of Turkey was created just the 1920s and it encompasses all these different culinary traditions. So, are there so many different regions of cuisines within Turkey that talking about Turkish food is well, it's not it's not a complete idea?
YK: I think that's a great question. What I loved about my travels through the eastern Mediterranean is I tried to join the dots of it, you know, what this book is really about and what these recipes and stories are about and looking at the similarities and the threads that have really spread throughout that region where so many foreign you know, occupations and empires have had their roots. I mean, Turkey, I think is a great example. You know, the Ottoman Empire was such an influencing force on the cuisine of gosh, so many European countries, Asian countries and middle Eastern countries, but that regions also seen the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, so, there's a medley of influence there. And that's why I was fascinated with just purely from a cultural point of view, but also from a culinary one.
CK: You know, one way to think about different cultures is is breakfast, right? Because they all do it very differently. And you talk about breakfast in your book, for example, soup for breakfast, maybe you could give me some other examples, you know, across Greece, Turkey, etc. of how people start the day you know, what do they have for breakfast?
YK: It's really common in Turkey to have soup for breakfast. There is a particular kind of lentil-based soup with tomatoes and sometimes they put bulgur wheat through it spice with oregano and paprika and _____which is a lovely pepper flake which many people will know as Aleppo pepper. So, I think that we might traditionally be used eating eggs for breakfast, but things like menemen which is a Turkish egg scramble with fresh tomatoes. I mean, that's a great lunch or a great evening dish, you know, mopped up with some warm flatbreads, perhaps some pickles on the side and a salad.
CK: So, let's do some more food you talk about griddling fruits and you can do that inside in a grill pan. Because you say that sort of poor-quality fruits get a huge upgrade just by heating them on a griddle.
YK: Absolutely. Certainly, I think you have access to better fruit than I do over here in the United Kingdom. But you know, we all know what it's like you kind of go to the market you come back you taste like a plum and it's it's just a bit sour, you know a bit too hard and you know, so griddling them just cooking them with a bit of sugar if you want or a bit of honey is just a perfect way to add an overlook that softens them but it also releases their sweetness.
CK: So, let's move off breakfast but before we do oatmeal, you know I love oatmeal and you have a great take on that.
YK: You know I love oatmeal, but it can get a little bland sometimes. So, what I like to do is to add some ground cardamom, and some rosewater to it. And now those two ingredients I cannot tell you how that is going to elevate your breakfast. For a start it fills your kitchen with this kind of I mean, it just smells like a summer orchard, you know from the rose water. And then the cardamom’s is kind of so warm and spicy. And I really recommend people give that recipe ago it's so simple and I mean I guarantee it'll blow your socks off.
CK: You know one of the recipes In your book, have big flavors and they take something simple, like lentils, and then add preserve lemons, and maybe a salsa so you get this incredible contrast of flavors. You also do a spicy red pepper and walnut Smash. You know, I love that term Smash. So maybe you could talk a little bit about that, because it's simple, as I said, but you get really big bold flavors.
YK: That's right. You know, I mean, I think each of my cookbooks have had different levels of technique involved in them. But with this one, I really wanted to offer people recipes that were easy midweek meals that you could throw together really quickly but that really packs a punch with flavor. And I really believe that if you just have a handful of good ingredients, with some good spicing, you can really do that. It's just about knowing which combinations to use.
CK: So, what kinds of flavors come to mind, you know, things there pair really well with lentils?
YK: Okay, well, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, you know, I would go with the warming spices initially, and then perhaps add a oregano or thyme. And so, you know, you're using quite a few ingredients there, you know, maybe four or five spices. But you know, the way that they're layered and the fact that they go together quite harmoniously means that the flavors that you're getting on overpowering, they just help accentuate the actual lentils?
CK: How has your cooking change after spending time doing this book? Are there two or three techniques or recipes or things that are just part of your repertoire that were not there before? Hmm,
YK: Hmm, there really are and you know, often when people think about food from that part of the world, they mainly think of the grilled meats. But what I was really interested in was all the the bean and poles and lentil dishes. And actually, I found those the ones that I've incorporated the most easily into my kitchen. You know, I use so much more paprika now than I used to, and so much more oregano and thyme. And I know these are classic ingredients that we all have in our kitchens. But I think once you start applying them in the amounts that they use in the eastern Mediterranean, you see that you can really spruce up really humble dish of beans, which just makes for a perfect the quick and delicious meal and I think that's probably been my main takeaway. That and the fact that oh my goodness, I'm spending so much more money on olive oil now. And I feel like with every book I write, I delve deeper and deeper into olive oil. I don't know where it's going to end. But you know, I? Yeah
CK: Well, you're going to have a wine cave and an olive oil cave, you'll have 25 bottles of olive oil. So how does the travel change you? We talked about food a lot but you've talked to a lot of people. You've been in different parts of the eastern Mediterranean. Do you come away with this with a different view of food of cooking of people of culture of the world in general?
YK: Yeah, I think it's for me, that's what I love about travel, because it's not always easy. But there's always a huge amount of learning that comes with it. I think for this book, what struck me the most after my journeys through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, was that in a world where we seem to be kind of hunkering down on the divisions between us. When you travel, when you eat in people's homes, when you cook with people, when you break bread with someone who on the surface, it seems like you have very little in common with, you always find points of connection, and you always find areas of similarity. And I really love that actually. I really love feeling like we're part of a collective global community. Because it inspires me with a lot of hope.
CK: Yasmin thank you so much. It's been a great pleasure having you back again. Thank you.
YK: Thank you. It's been a real pleasure to talk to you again.
CK: That was Yasmin Khan. She's the author of Ripe Figs recipes and stories from Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. Right now, my co-host, Sara Moulton and I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101 also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. So, Sara, what is it you have in your freezer or your pantry That you're really embarrassed about? You don't want to tell me?
Sara Moulton: Well, my peanut m & m’s
CK: Yeah, I know that. But besides that, what was the thing you've never told me about that’s lurking there? Ah, um,
SM: ah I don't know. I'm pretty pure. What can I tell you?
CK: Yeah, come on. Come on. No, I'm sorry. I don't.
SM: No, I'm sorry. I don't. I don't have fancy. Okay, I am going to have to think really hard here. It really is just the peanut m & m’s and I'm very proud of them, frankly. I mean, I have frozen vegetables. You know, frozen peas. Maybe you'd think that was horrible.
CK: Frozen pizza?
SM: I do have frozen pizza. Yes, I do. Okay, I’m busted.
CK: Good. You're normal. I like that, Okay, let's take a call.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Alba.
SM: Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from New Orleans.
SM: What is your question today?
Caller: So, my question regards mayonnaise. I've tried to make it three times and I've failed miserably. Oh, I've been using one tablespoon of lime, which is my acid of choice. One cup of oil and one room temperature egg. So the first time I used avocado oil, the second time I use canola oil. And the third time I use extra virgin olive oil, which now I know is a mistake. The consistency comes out really great, but it tastes super bitter. And I'm just wondering, what am I doing wrong? And also, the recipe has to be sugar free. soy free and vinegar free unless it's apple cider vinegar. Please help.
SM: Okay, first of all, what did you make your mayonnaise in? Did you do it by hand, did you do it in the blender? Did you do it in the food processor?
Caller: I have an emulsion blender.
SM: Okay, it sounds like you're getting the texture you want. The problem is that you don't like the flavor. Correct?
SM: You're right. You should never use straight extra virgin olive oil. You started with two other oils to begin with. And I wonder if perhaps they weren't so fresh. They might have been rancid. Oh
SM: That would be my best
Caller: And how do you know that?
CK: Smell it.
SM: Generally, when I make homemade mayonnaise, I use a flavorless oil. I find that that really is the best. I might just add a little bit of olive oil for flavor, but not blend it because it doesn't like to be blended. I'm not a fan of canola oil myself. I think it tastes like fish. Avocado oil I'm not as familiar with but it's possible that wasn't quite as fresh. I would just go for a very neutral oil. And I think you'll be far happier. Chris, what do you think?
CK: I agree about canola oil. That would be not ideal. You said an egg, are you using an egg yolk or a whole egg?
Caller: The whole egg room temperature
CK: All mayonnaise recipes I know just use egg yolk is that right Sarah?
SM: I've done it both ways.
CK: Did you say lemon juice or lime juice?
Caller: I said lime juice.
CK: Ah huh. That's it. Lime Juice can be very bitter compared to lemon juice, which I think is got a smoother flavor. I would try lemon juice.
SM: Or you said you could use cider vinegar, which wouldn't be terrible.
Caller: And how much the two guys use out of each thing. What would your preferred ratio be?
CK: Egg yolk, little water tablespoon. A little bit of Dijon mustard, maybe a tablespoon of lemon juice. And a cup of oil neutral oil. That would be my recipe
SM: That sounds about right. Maybe I'd start with slightly less lemon juice. I don't know two teaspoons. But one egg yolk will emulsify up to one cup of oil so that's a fine ratio. And I don't think you have to lose the whole egg if you don't want to, you know waste the white I would add the mustard to it's a great emulsifier and adds a really nice flavor.
Caller: So flavorless olive oil would work?
CK: Sure. You can get a refined like a light olive oil or refined non-Evo non extra virgin would be fine.
SM: Vegetable oil, flavorless vegetable oil. It's not bad.
Caller: You guys have been awesome. That's all I have for you. All right.
CK: All right well, let us know. Try the lemon juice instead and see if it works.
SM: Yes. thank you.
Caller: Thank you so much. Thanks.
CK: Thanks. Take care. This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help with the recipe, give us a call anytime. Our numbers 855-426=9843 one more time 855 426 -9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hello, this is Sharon Burnham from Roanoke, Virginia.
SM: Hi, Sharon. How can we help you today?
Caller: Well, I am calling you back to report on my preparation of Emily Dickinson's black cake.
SM: Oh, yes. Oh, wow. Can you refresh our memory tell us what was the problem?
Caller: I had called because several of the recipes had very different cooking times the standard 350 versus a lower temperature of 250.
SM: And what did we suggest?
Caller: You both went with the lower temperature and also recommended what one of the recipes used which was to put a pan of water underneath to add a little moisture
SM: and how did it go?
Caller: Oh, it was fabulous.
Caller: So, I baked them all in a fairly shallow pans rather than loaf pans and spent about two and a half hours baking them and they turned out wonderful.
CK: What was the texture like, was it like if fruitcake was a little bit lighter than a fruitcake?
Caller: I would say it was softer than a heavy fruit cake, but still very fruit dense. The fruit that I used was dates and prunes and dried pears and apricots, so they were soft fruits anyway, and then they were soaked in brandy. And so, the whole cake just had a delicious moistness to it.
CK: This sounds delicious.
Caller: And since this was an Emily Dickinson cake, I added a little honey to the syrup because she has a lovely little poem about honey that I included when I gave them away.
SM: Oh, well, we must now hear that poem.
Caller: I would be happy to read it. It's very short. “The pedigree of honey does not concern the bee, a clover anytime to him is aristocracy”.
CK: That's pretty good.
SM: What's it well received? I bet it was
Caller: It was indeed. I think this is going to be an annual tradition for me.
CK: Sara remind me, did we get any of the black cake here at Milk Street?
SM: No, we didn't.
CK: What happened to our cake?
SM: Now that it's perfect, I think you’ll have to
CK: just a slice.
CK: Actually, could you send us the recipe
Caller: I would be happy to
CK: because this is right up my alley. I like old English style desserts. So, I'd love to make it.
Caller: I really enjoyed it. One of the nice surprises it calls for mace and I got the whole mace which I ground myself. And it gave just such an interesting overtone to the other spices, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon.
CK: Okay, this is going on my “to do” list immediately.
SM: Great follow up. We like it when things work out.
Caller: Well, I appreciate your interest and your encouragement and I'm not sure I would have tackled it otherwise.
SM: Well, good.
CK: I'm next. Okay. Ooh, that sounds good. All right. Thank you.
SM: All right. Bye bye
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next. It's my conversation with chef Eric Ripert That and more after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with chef Eric Ripert. His latest cookbook Vegetable Simple is a showcase for how to turn vegetables into the focus of a meal rather than just an afterthought. Eric, welcome to Milk Street.
ER: Thank you for having me. It's a great pleasure.
CK Yeah, I was reading a little bit about your early years. And you grew up Antibes. And then when you were nine, you moved to Andorra. I had to Google that. Because I didn't know Andorra was actually a country, could you tell me a little bit about it?
ER: Sure. So, Andorra is a small country that it's located in between France and Spain, in the Pyrenees mountains. It's about 60,000 people living there. And the official language is Catalan because it's part of the Catalonia region. They have an ambassador at the UN. And it's an independent country for a long, long time.
CK: You started out I guess, training to be a waiter. But you said you did have an evening where you spilled quite a lot of food on a couple so maybe that was not your ideal profession.
ER: Oh, well, actually to be more accurate. I didn't really want to be a waiter, but I was in a culinary school. And the first year it when you are in culinary school. In the program, you have to spend half of your time in the kitchen and half of the of your time in the dining room and say, as a waiter to learn how to serve. And I was supposedly excellent at being a waiter. And at the end of the first year, they asked my mother to come to the school. And they said to me that I will be the sommelier that day, and I will be in charge of the cocktails and the wine only. So, I could show off all my talents on the front of my mother. And that day, a general from the French army came and sat next to the table of my mother. And I started to take the drinks, went to the bar with the cocktails and I dumped one cocktail on on the neck of the general. So, I had to stop serving, and I had to pad, the junior Hall and so on. And the teacher said, you have to go back to the bar. And when you come back, you have to serve the table, you have to finish the job. But unfortunately, it was an ice cube left on the floor from the previous accident. And I dumped the entire tray on the wife of the general. So, I had to clean the clean a little bit and go back again to finish the job, supposedly. And I actually did finish the job, except that in my tray was a lot of water from the older incidents. And I dumped that water again on the neck of the general and he started to scream and and that was it. I went, I ended up in the kitchen
CK: That's the best story I've heard in a long time. You worked with Joel Robuchon, someone told me he was a very down to earth guy who felt he was sort of blue collar he was just a cook and was very down to earth. Is that is that true? Is that what he was like?
ER: Yes, it is true. He was a cook who happen to be the best chef in the world at the time. But he always thought himself, the craftsmen an artisan, he was very humble. And yes, he was very blue collar in his behavior. However, when he was in his kitchen, he was an amazing, amazing chef, an amazing commander, great creative mind, very disciplined. And I have never seen a chef, as precise as Robuchon in my entire life.
CK: When you mean precise, what do you mean?
ER: What I mean by precise is in terms of the details, the consistency was amazing. It was no difference in between the beginning of the night and the end of the night, Monday to end of the week, the attention to the detail was almost impossible to achieve. He was very hard on himself and very hard on the team. But we were able to create many miracles, for instance, he had a dish that was called the joulet of lobster with caviar and cauliflower. And that this was decorated with tiny dots that were surrounding the ball where the joulet was and every dot had to be the same, exactly the same size, and the same distance in between the dots, every ball up to 92 dots and not 91 or not 93. So that's the precision of Joel Robuchon shown the legendary precision that he had, not only the presentation of the dishes, but also in the flavors. It was that precise as well.
CK: You know, I've always said about Le Bernardin there, which is absolutely one of my favorite restaurants that you a lot a lot of restaurants push the envelope, but don't pull it off. It doesn't make sense at the end of the day doesn't work. But when you do that, it actually does make sense. I mean that the whole thing on one level is very simple. On one level, the executions incredible. Could you just talk about that in terms of restaurants, trying to do something that's different, but you really got to know what you're doing and got to really deliver it to make it work.
ER: Well, the fact that Le Bernardin specializes in seafood makes us already different. As you know, seafood is very delicate. It's very fragile. The, the textures of different fish and species that we are serving at Le Bernardin are very different as well the flavors are very defined depending of which fish you use and so on. And you have to be a great technician to handle seafood and cook it to perfection and also very creative in terms of finding whatever is going to go in a plate and that's going to elevate the qualities of each fish. Because I always say every fish has its own personality. It's obvious when you think that a lobster is very different than a striped bass and a striped bass is very different than the Dover soul, and the Dover soul is very different than a shrimp and so on. So, we, we really push the envelope all the time by really reinventing ourselves. And that is something that I think is the most challenging, reinventing yourself and keeping, obviously, the very high standards of quality, but consistency. And, and the main challenge of every restaurant, including us is consistency, because you can be great one day, and you can be mediocre the other day, but it becomes a big challenge when you want to be great every day.
CK: You know, we've known each other for a few years, you know, I come to the restaurant occasionally. But we're not really, you know, close friends, we have spent a lot of time together. But the one thing one moment in your life that really struck me that I think told me all I need to know about you is after a Tony Bourdain passed, and you were very private about that and didn't discuss it, did you is your sense of friendship related to your sense of Buddhism.
ER: While Buddhism is part of my life, it's, it's a spirituality that I have developed over the years. And it's something that speaks to me. And Buddhism is his most interesting because it's a religion. It's a philosophy and it's a science at this old all at the same time. And it's something that speaks to me. Now, a lot of people are doing great things in life and don't necessarily have a religion, that help them to do great things. It's something that is very personal. And to go back to the story of Anthony Bourdain, I didn't want to speak about the last days that I spent with him, because I thought was very personal. And it was not something to share with the public that sometimes as and the media as well that sometimes are very curious and do not respect the wishes of the family, and so on. So that's why I have been remaining silent about that.
CK: I was just impressed by that. Let's talk about your book. First of all, let me just say loudly, that this is not a chef cookbook, you know, because I always when you get a chef cookbook, you always worry that it's going to be a lot of technique and 25 ingredients. This is the recipes are simple. Just a handful of ingredients. Interesting, you know, a garlic soup with sage leaves the first recipe in the books, popcorn. So, you've done something very few chefs have done, which is to keep it simple. Yeah, I assume that was something you did on purpose.
ER: Yes, I actually did it on purpose. The idea was to go through the seasons, and come up with more than 100 recipes, about vegetables and few desserts at the end. But the idea was to inspire people to shop and come back with vegetables that are seasonal. And to prepare recipes for the family that are very simple. And that pay homage to those vegetables, a little bit like the same style as Le Bernardin we pay homage to the fish. Well, here we pay homage to the vegetables. And really at the end of the day when you think about it when you want to make a vegetable that is so delicate shine, you have to use simple techniques. And I wanted to demystify a little bit cooking vegetables and I wanted to inspire everyone to cook more vegetables. I realized that in my life, I'm eating more and more vegetables. And I'm not a vegan. I'm not a vegetarian. And I'm certainly not judgmental about people who eat meat and fish. Obviously, I eat a bit of everything, but I thought it would be nice to have a vegetable book that is inspired by the seasons.
CK: You mentioned tempura and you have a little trick which is if you can't get the right kind of flour for this you say just add baking soda to all-purpose flour.
ER: Yes, a little bit not too much. A pinch
CK: You got that from someone?
ER: Yes, I got that actually from Jean Louis Palladin who was my first chef in America. When I came in 1989, I worked at the job at the Jean Louis at the Watergate hotel. and Jean Louis was a pioneer in bringing nouvelle French cuisine in the US, and he was my, my first mentor in the US. And he taught me that trick. And it's a very good one actually.
CK: Was he a little more lively than Bocuse was, was he a very different kind of person?
ER: So, I don't know Bocuse very well because I never worked for him. Although Bocuse has the reputation of being a bon vivant I worked with Joel Robuchon which was a very different person than Jean Louis Palladin. And if I can give you an example, it's like going to Catholic school, escaping and ending in a Woodstock concert. So, Joel Robuchon will be there will be the Catholic school discipline, right, a lot of rigor and Jean Louis Palladin was an artist, he was extremely creative, very original, very unique, and very unusual actually
CK: Weren’t there stories about him that like at four o'clock, he had no idea what he was serving for dinner.
ER: Yes, it was amazing, because we will have all the ingredients that Jean Louis will have ordered, or it will bring himself the ingredients at four o'clock in afternoon. And, and he will have no idea what he was going to do with it. And we will open the doors at six. And in between four and six he would write by hand the menu what he was offering that night. And it was very challenging for us to to be able to create what he wanted, in few hours like that. And he was changing his menu every day. He was that creative.
CK: I'm sweating now thinking about that
ER: But it was fun. It was really fun because he was he was a good sport. So, it was an amazing experience for me and Jean Louis took me aside and he said, you know, you learn from your previous mentors, Robuuchon was genius. You learn a lot, but you have to open your your eyes, you have to be inspired. You have to stop being scared of failure. You have to create. Go for it. I'm going to support you.
CK: You said you’ve been at le Bernardin since, what ‘92 is that right?
CK: ‘91. So, you talked about reinventing the food (Yes) over time. 30 years is a long time. Yes, you keep coming back and doing great work. Are you still excited about that? How do you keep doing this? Well, it's not the same thing, but how do you how do you run the same restaurant for 30 years?
ER: Yes. Well, being being a chef and being a restauranteur, it's not a job. It's a passion. And when you have that it's no effort to be involved in creativity, to be involved in reinventing yourself, to redecorate your restaurant, to change the steps of service, to find new flavors, new ingredients, new techniques. It's it's something that brings tremendous pleasure. It's not work. Although it is obviously technically and it's a livelihood. But when I go home, and I am creating with a team, I'm having so much fun. And then today, I'm the guy with the white hair in a kitchen and I'm the mentor. On top of it. I'm sharing my my cooking wisdom with younger generation and so on. I mean, it brings tremendous satisfaction.
CK: Have you ever assembled your staff at four o'clock and given them the menu and said, here's what we're cooking before six o’clock?
ER: Not really, but sometimes we want to create a special that we are going to test on couple of friends. And really at five o'clock, I am not sure that we are going to be able to do it. And we play and we play and we play and finally by the time they arrive. Most of the time we have something that is presentable and delicious. And we have some failures. And in that case, we don't serve it to the guests. We like it and the guests like it. Then later on he goes on the menu.
CK: So, you're a little bit Robuchon and a little bit Paladin.
ER: I think so a little bit of both. Yes, I like that idea.
CK: Eric, it's always a pleasure. And I really wish you all the best with Le Bernardin. thank you so much.
ER: It was a great pleasure to talk to you too. Thank you.
CK: That was Eric Ripert. His latest cookbook is Vegetable Simple. Eric Ripert is a celebrity chef who really doesn't have much of an appetite for celebrity. He's embraced Buddhism and is soft spoken instead of loudmouth. And like Joel Robuchon, he considers himself more of an artist than an artist. So, one hopes that this is where the world is actually headed, elevating craft above art, one feet to mankind, the other feeds just one man. You're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. Japanese milk bread. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm doing well, Chris.
CK: You know, a couple years ago, I went to Tokyo and the most surprising thing was in a 711 store. They have 1000s of them in Tokyo. And there's really good food there. I mean, like 1000s of really cool things. But they have little sando’s, little sandwiches, especially the egg salad sandwich, which was fabulous. But it's on Japanese milk bread you know shokupan which is this, if Wonder Bread was really good it would be the spread. So, let's talk about that bread. Because it's so good. It's just the ultimate cushiony billowy, white bread. It's absolutely stunning. Is this something we can actually make at home or do you have to go to a bakery?
LC: It's actually quite easy to make at home. And sort of what makes it have that light, fluffy texture is something called the Tang Zhong method. It's where you take flour, some of the flour from the recipe, and mix it with the liquid. In this case, it's water and milk, and you cook it over the stovetop until it thickens almost into a gel. It's kind of like a roux but without the fat. And then you cool it and you add it to the dough. And what happens is that hot liquid gelatinizes the starches in the flour and allows the dough to hold more moisture without becoming too hard to work with. And that moisture becomes steam when that goes into the oven. And it really rises and gets that light fluffy loaf.
CK: Now is this something you can bake in just a regular loaf pan, I think in Japan, they come out perfectly square, right, they have special pans for this?
LC: They do. So, there's two different ways you can make it one is in a Pullman loaf, which is sort of like that perfectly square shape. Or you can do it in a loaf pan. And the way they do it in Japan. And this is how our recipe works to is you almost take little balls of dough and put them in the loaf pan next to each other. There are two balls kind of snugged up next to each other in the loaf pan and they kind of bake together and you can tear them apart. It's almost like two giant fluffy dinner rolls in the pan.
CK: Sounds very cozy.
LC: It is I mean its white bread. It's amazing.
CK: Now, besides making the initial roux, as it were that gelatinizes the starch is the rest of the breadmaking you know business as usual?
LC: It's pretty straightforward in terms of mixing, it's almost like a brioche dough in which you add softened butter to the dough and we're also adding some milk, some eggs. So enriched dough, the whey that's in milk can kind of weaken the gluten and really make that soft, soft bread. We add a little bit of milk powder in addition to milk so that we can add a little bit more of that whey without making the dough too wet.
CK: So, the methods a little different. It's you're adding you know butter, some more fat, anything else that goes in that's a little out of the ordinary/
LC: We found a recipe from a Japanese American cookbook author named Sunoco Sekai and she loves to experiment with heirloom grains or non-white flours. And she added buckwheat flour to her Japanese milk bread, which we really love the idea of just to kind of make it a little bit different. We chose to add rye flour to ours, which adds some extra flavor. It doesn't really change the texture, because we're only adding a little bit of that rye flour but adds some really nice flavor. earthy, not as sweet balances some of the sweetness from those other ingredients. But still really nice and light.
CK: Yeah, this is just a great bread and I have no idea why someone doesn't make this commercial here in the States. Maybe that's a new idea. Maybe you should. Hey, Lynn, quit your job. It really has got a lovely, lovely texture. It's so soft and pillowy.
LC: It's my favorite kind of bread. soft, fluffy, perfect for a sandwich.
CK: Lynn thanks so much Japanese milk bread, a recipe you can actually make it at home. Thank you.
LC: You're welcome Chris. You can get this recipe for Japanese milk bread at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up. Adam Gopnik tells us his five food heresies. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for this week's cooking tip from one of our listeners.
Caller: Hi this is Jane Bradbury from Weymouth, Massachusetts. If you're cooking any kind of a wet sweetbread, such as banana or zucchini bread, use a tube pan. Your center will always cook evenly and the outside will be done at the same rate. An angel food pan is even better because it's so easy to get the bread out. I've been doing this for years and never had any soggy centers or crisp outside.
CK: If you'd like to share your own culinary tip or secret ingredient on Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street com slash Radio Tips. Next up, it's our regular contributor Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?
Adam Gopnik: I am fine, Christopher, how are you today?
CK: You sound full of verve and energy.
AG: I am in an unusually reverberant state I think because I have the audacity of violation dancing in my breast
CK: I can hardly wait.
AG: The wicked idea I had has to do with the heresies of food. Now you and I both belong not just to the practice of cooking, but in a sense to the faith of food. We both invest an enormous amount of our emotional life and I would say frankly, our spiritual life in the pursuit of food. And it's in the nature of every faith that humankind has ever created, that it also creates heresies it creates inside the human breast these sneaking doubts that slowly over time, grow larger and larger, like a balloon inflating inside your soul, until finally you cannot stop yourself from spitting them out.
CK: I have no idea where this is going.
AG: So, you remember Martin Luther nailing his heresies to the door of the church. I today want to share with you my five chief heresies of food
CK: Well, at least you've consolidated your heresies more than Martin Luther.
AG: Yes, he had 40 of them I only have five. But I promise you heresies are heresies they will shock you and disturb you. My first heresy of the faith of food is that all olive oils are more alike than unlike we spent an enormous amount of time sorting through Sicilian and Umbrian olive oils and comparing them to Spanish and Greek olive oils. And we worry about the butteriness of one and the pepperiness of the other but the truth is that if you're dealing with anything that's a decent olive oil, it's remarkably like the next olive oil beside it on the shelf or in your pantry.
CK: Should i argue with you at the end after you've gotten through all five or now?
AG: are you going to argue now, this is not say all olive oils are alike. But they are more alike than they are unlike in the sense that one can be substituted for the next with more ease than one might substitute one vinegar right for the next. And the same is largely true of salts, right? We have fetishistic salts, pink Himalayan salt, Flor de sel which is indeed my own Francophile favorite, Malden salt and every kind of salt. And they do have a spectrum of differences which we can taste and appreciate. But once again, one salt is more like salt than it is unlike the next salt,
CK: The only thing I would say is that there are olive oils that are yellow, and buttery and fruity, that are really quite different than the more astringent back of the throat oil. So, there are some differences that are fairly substantial but you're right. For the most part, most olive oils are similar, I would say that's true
AG: Are more similar. And that's not true of all range of food things. In fact, I would say butters are not like that. And the difference between beautiful French butter from D___ and the American cultured butter, I taste all the time and when I'm in the middle of making le blanc or something, boy, it makes a big difference. So, I would that would be my first pair of heresies. Here's a heresy that will speak right to your DNA into your background into your accomplishments. And I say this after 40 years of Thanksgivings. It doesn't matter what you do with a turkey, it remains a turkey. We can brine it, we can baste it, we can deep fry it, we can get a heritage turkey or we can get a butterball from the supermarket. And one turkey is remarkably like the next turkey. I have done every imaginable thing with turkey over these years. And at the end of that Thursday when I present the turkey to my family, it tastes like a turkey.
CK: Well, though there is an exception, though, I once cooked my neighbor's turkey, she grew her own turkeys. And these were quote unquote, heritage birds. The, the breasts were so small and the legs so long, I had to hacksaw the legs partially off to fit it in the oven. So, I would say that that is an exception to the rule. Alright, but it's
AG: Alright, but it's not by your description. It's not that this was the paradoxical turkey, this was not the utopian turkey. It just was even a more troublesome bird than the normal turkey. Alright, so that's my third heresy. Right, here's my next one. This will, this will shock and appall all of the wine lovers, the connoisseurs as we say in my family out there. And that is this. And I say this, someone who loves wine and drinks wine, the wine retailers have the wine ratings figured out. And the truth is this that the $10 bottle is quite distinguishable from the $25 bottle. And the $50 bottle is distinguishable from and better than the $25 bottle and the $100 bottle with a rule of diminishing returns. So, the $100 bottle is not as much better than the $50 bottle as the $50 bottle is than the $25 bottle and pass that point pass the $100 bottle, you do not actually have a huge range of purely sensual delight and improvement beyond that point. I know that that is a heresy. I offer it as a heresy. But that is the truth
CK: I would go farther than that. I would say you don't need to spend more than 25 or $30. and you can get great wine for the 20 to $30. So, there's no there's no real reason to spend $100 or $75 on a bottle of wine. Maybe with a few exceptions, but for 25 bucks you can, you can buy great wine.
AG: You can get wonderful wine, especially in this age of new world wines.
CK: Adam, I hope you're not expecting to be awarded the Legion D’Honneur I think you just opted out of that.
AG: No On the contrary, you know, I just won it
CK: You just won it?
CK: I didn't know that.
AG: I thought you were teasing me. No, no, no, I won it in the January honors list. I got it from the French government. I'm a legionnaire right now. I'm going to Paris with my family to collect it. As soon as we can travel to Paris safely.
CK: Well, have a nice $25 bottle of wine and celebrate.
AG: but let me give you my fourth heresy because I see that a couple of my heresies in fact do not strike you as heretical as I thought they would. My fourth heresy is this, gnocchi doesn't matter. I've had okay gnocchi I've had good gnocchi I've had all kinds, and it really doesn't matter pasta our life depends on pasta, right? If pasta would drain from our lives tomorrow, the hole it would leave behind would just be enormous in our kitchens in our cuisines and in our souls. But if we lost the whole pattern for gnocchi, if the recipe vanished tomorrow, it would be fine. No one would really miss it.
CK: Oh, no, I had a few years ago in Paris. I had gnocchi made right in front of me in brown butter with sage to the classic, you know, right. And I have to say, I don't think I've had a pasta dish that was any better. Now could I live without it? I guess. But when it's good, it is really good.
AG: That was French gnocchi.
CK: Oh, whoops.
AG: As a legionnaire obviously, French gnocchi is going to be exceptional. Let me offer you one last heresy which is related to that. Truth is souffles, which are always represented in every American movie, as the epitome of culinary excellence. souffles are absolutely easy. They're intimidating to people because they trail this legend behind them. But as a matter of cooking, they are a painfully simple thing to do. Pies and pie crusts, which are the down-home mom thing. Those are hard. It should be exactly the opposite way around, souffle should be the folk dish and anyone can make and pie should be the thing you have to go to Paris to learn.
CK: I would say these five points say a lot about you. I think they're insufficiently insulting.
AG: For what would be your example of a heresy that really has the sting in power of a heresy?
CK: Okay, I'll give you one which which goes to your Legion D’Honneur I think the idea that you need to be French trained, has zero value for the home cook. I think it's great for a restaurant. But I think it's done more to keep people out of the kitchen than any single thing I can think of because it frightens people because they'd need to spend 10 years getting good knife skills.
AG: I would agree with you about that. And though I in the few times in my life when I've had the chance to cook with one of the real you know, grand generals of French cooking, I've been overwhelmed by the magical nature of all of their skills. I would agree with you that it is not not only is it not essential, it's not even transferable as a set of skills to what we do now at home particularly, but you know, that's what that speaks to the point I'm making about the souffle, the souffle has a mystique and a prestige associated to it. But the truth is, it's a simple thing to do. And we shouldn't over mystify it, but I am grateful for the time I spent in Alain Bussard’s kitchen, learning how to braise a pigeon. Now those are those are real skills. But as you say, we have very few braised pigeons in the the dailiness of our lives.
CK: Well, you came in with five heresies you left with six.
AG: That's true.
CK: And so, I think just post them on the door of the French Embassy in New York, and we'll be done.
AG: Absolutely. I'll do that after I collect my Legion.
CK: Adam, thank you so much.
AG: Pleasure talking, Chris.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker. You know, I don't agree with Adam about gnocchi, but I do agree that $100 bottle of wine is really more about marketing than taste, judging wine or anything else by its price rather than its quality is a sign of the times. And maybe that's why America is full of folks with indigestion. We can't help thinking about the price of our food, even as we swallow it. That's it for this week's show. If you tuned in too late want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio, on Apple podcast Spotify, wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street comm= there you can find our recipes. Take a free online cooking class, or simply order our latest cookbook Tuesday Night's Mediterranean. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's milk Street radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. production assistant, Amelia McGuire, 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 Brandl Egloff Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.