Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fat, salt, carbs and flavor. Two ways

The French don't mess around when it comes to enjoying a bit of bone marrow (os à moelle). They slather it on some bread, sprinkle on some coarse gray sea salt and consume. On the other hand, I felt that a bit different approach might work well

Strangely enough, both use almost the same ingredients, although crafted totally differently. On one hand, the French purist approach: Flour, water, salt, yeast (in the bread), marrow, salt. On the other, the somewhat richer Yorkshire pudding: flour, milk, salt, eggs, stock, marrow. The French probably gets you higher sodium, since the crunch of that sel gris is much of the fun; the Yorkshire pudding probably gives you a bit more fat, but this is like saying that Everest gives you a bit more mountain than K2. Yeah, at what point does it matter?

My mother used to make Yorkshire pudding at special occasions like Christmas, when she'd roasted off a nice piece of beef. Her main complaints were the smoke, subordinate to the the crucial "Do you have any idea what goes into this? This is not good for you" concern of mothers everywhere. To which I always wondered, "if it's really so bad, why do you make it and, more critically, enjoy eating it so much?". Perhaps its part of the food guilt ritual.

We started with the French version, since it's easy, fast and direct. It also gave us something to do whilst the Yorkshire pudding was rising ("Whilst" sounds so British. We really should say it more here in the States).

First the smoke question: traditionally, the pan is heated with the fat in it to the point where the fat starts to smoke. This, clearly is stupid. A waste of flavor. And the smoke point is well above the temperature needed to puff things up. So, I preheated the pan quickly in a 450° F oven while warming the marrow and fat in a pan on the stove. I just wanted to get the chill off the pan, basically get it over 212° and maybe a bit more. The reduced beef stock went directly into the Yorkshire pudding batter, since it had already been degreased and should not greatly affect anything in the puffing and rising department. The pan went in, warmed up, came out, got dosed with hot marrow off the stove, popped back in the oven for a couple of minutes to make sure everything was hot enough to flash the steam and puff the pudding. Out came the pan, not smoking hot but good enough. In went a bit of batter into each well, and the whole thing got popped back in the oven for twenty minutes to puff and brown.

In the meantime, we enjoyed the French style marrow, warm from the pan, with some French bread and coarse French sel gris de Guérande. With some beer, since this food a bit too salty to accompany with wine.

I walked by the oven after about five minutes. No puffing. Had there been a miscalculation? Would we be greeted with greasy hockey pucks instead of wonderfully browned, puffy Yorkshire pudding? Fifteen minutes more would tell.

We retreated to our table for some more moelle, bread and beer. The timer ticked down to its inevitable finish. Time to check the oven! Besides, we were out of moelle.

I peeped through the oven glass, straining to see the pan placed on the top rack for maximum heat. Yes! Where things had been flatter than the Devil's golf course, there were now mushroom-like shapes sprouting from the top of the pan.

Out they came, deflating like the stock market after the latest unemployment figures. The photo captured the pudding at about the three-quarter point, but since it was already browned, better deflated than carbonized. The pan was hot enough to kill a parrot, so we carefully brought it to the table where we'd placed potholders to protect the tablecloth.

The flavor? Just like Mom used to make, except with almost no smoke in the cooking process and more of a marrow flavor than roast beef. I'm sure if I had a cardiologist, he'd call me after reading this and yell so loud I'd need an audiologist to fix things up again.

Less Smoke Yorkshire Pudding

  • Equal parts flour to milk, by volume. I used about 3/4 cup of each.
  • salt
  • eggs, three worked with the above flour/milk amounts
  • brown stock, reduced down almost to dampness (au sec).
  • reserved bone marrow, warmed in a pan to liquid (basically bits of flavor drowning in beef fat).
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. Sift the flour and salt together.
  3. In another bowl, beat the milk and eggs together until things are frothy like a wave by Hiroshige.
  4. Fold in the flour to the milk/egg mixture.
  5. Put a cupcake pan in the oven for about three minutes or so to take off the chill
  6. Take out the pan, pour a bit of the bone marrow into each well and pop the thing back in the oven for another 3-4 minutes. The marrow mixture is already quite warm, as is the pan - so you don't need to risk crossing the flash point here. You just need to get it over 212° F so that the water in the batter will turn to steam and puff things up.
  7. While the marrow is heating, scrape the reduced stock into the batter mixture and fold it in. By separating the water based stock from the oil based marrow, we avoid cooling the pan by boiling off liquid.
  8. Whisk the pan out of the oven, ladle in the batter to about 3/4 full, and slide the pan back in the oven for twenty minutes. No opening the door and peeking! You want to keep that oven hot to maximize the amount of puff-producing steam in the pudding.
  9. After twenty minutes, you should have a nice crop of mushroom-like puddings growing out of the top of the pan. As soon as they're removed from the heat, they'll probably start to deflate, but as long as they're well-browned all is well. They'll still taste great, since all that fat has now magically combined with the batter to produce an alchemical blend of crunchy, greasy and savory. 
To atone for your sins, there is probably some strange diet you can follow or exercise regimen that will make you feel like you're in charge of your health. None of this will change the fact that you just devoured large amounts of saturated animal fat. You can leave the grin on your face. I'm sure you won't make this stuff again for at least a week. I won't.

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