21st century advancements in the art of cookery, and other tasty news
by Chef Peter Botros
It’s been a trend for over a decade to take the traditional Mexican taco and incorporate recipes from other cultures. First on the scene were the “Korean tacos” made famous by several LA food trucks, in which chefs included Korean staples like kim chi (spicy fermented cabbage) and/or bulgogi (thinly sliced sweet soy marinated short rib).
I, too, have been guilty of running away from taco tradition. Recently, on a Chef’s Loft at The Stone House menu, I served a tuna tartar taco that consisted of Ahi tuna, avocado mousse, and a citrusginger marmalade in a crispy wonton taco shell. Although the dish was well received, I couldn’t help but feel I had pushed aside history (particularly because I had a Mexican restaurant in the works, Sofia’s Taqueria).
Sofia’s leans more toward traditional tacos, and one of its main points of difference from typical city Mexican restaurants are our house made tortillas. Over my extensive “eating career,” I noticed individual problems with both corn and flour varieties. Those made with corn had great flavor, but usually fell apart and had a mealy texture. Flour tortillas held up to fillings better and had a great texture, but lacked that beautiful corn flavor. So, I decided to try a hybrid one that had great corn taste and the texture and durability of flour. After much trial and error, I think we nailed it, or at least that’s what Sofia (the daughter of my partner, Ignacio) and recent guests have noted.
Sofia’s Taqueria, 977 Bay Street, sofiastaquerianyc.com
Anyone who has eaten food has also relied upon some basic principles of chemistry and physics. Take mayonnaise or aioli, for example; they are prepared through emulsification, wherein two or more liquids are blended into an emulsion. Also seen in salad dressings, this process results in a thicker final product than the individual ingredients used to make it. Another example is the “Maillard reaction” between amino acids and a reducing sugar one that gives browned food like seared steak, toasted marshmallows, and golden brown breads its distinctive flavor.
In recent years, scientists have given chefs a new bag of tricks techniques like sous vide, foams, powdering, spherification, and flash freezing molecular gastronomy methods used by top kitchen execs and amateur home cooks alike. Some of these will ultimately be chalked up to fad status, but others have already made a huge impact on the culinary world, helping to elevate the quality of cookery at home as well as in five star restaurants.
My favorite scientific advancement in cooking has to be sous vide, which uses an immersion circulator, a vacuum sealer, and water the last maintained at a precise temperature while circulating through a container. Ingredients are simply vacuum sealed and slowly cooked. I particularly like using this method for steak. Once it’s out of the sous vide circulator, I sear it in a screaming hot pan with butter and herbs; it’s guaranteed to be the best you’ve ever had!
DRY AND MIGHTY
Amarone della Valpolicella (usually referred to as simply Amarone), one of the most extraordinary reds in creation, is the culmination of a work intensive process in which select bunches of grapes, grown typically in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy, are partially dried (traditionally on straw mats) to concentrate their flavor before pressing. The result a mix of Corvina grapes blended with Rondinella and other indigenous varieties while dry, is rich, relatively high in alcohol content, and intensely flavorful. Bertani’s family owned 500 acre estate in Grezzano, founded in 1857, produces Amarone of extraordinary complexity and elegance one that pairs beautifully with pork, veal, and poultry dishes.
Available at The Stone House at Clove Lakes.