Kitchen accident unveils new cult egg dish

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2014 at 7:17 am

Special to The Globe and Mail

Molten eggs have become a modern-day short-hand for delicious; a nod to both wholesomeness and pure sensual pleasure. It’s no wonder the cover of Yotam Ottolenghi’s must-have cookbook Jerusalem features four glistening golden egg yolks in reflective pools of barely cooked whites, and why superstar food writer Michael Ruhlman’s new book is dedicated to eggs. Chefs, home cooks and greasy-spoon-lovers alike are endlessly enamoured by the novelty and nostalgia of the sunny, runny, oozy egg.

The most famous egg dish in the culinary world is the L’Arpège egg. Created by Chef Alain Passard 25 years ago, the “hot-cold egg” is still being served as an amuse-bouche at his Michelin-star restaurant L’Arpège in central Paris. The golden yolk, poached inside its own delicately decapitated shell, is enriched with a dollop of crème fraiche whipped with sherry vinegar and finished with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Itself a take on oeuf à la coque, this dish continues to be reverse-engineered and reinterpreted around the world. Devotees include Josef Centeno, one of Los Angeles’s most influential chefs, and Mark Best, owner of Marque, a top fine-dining spot in Sydney, Australia. The recipe, which is Google-able, was published in Patricia Wells’s The Paris Cookbook and takes up an entire chapter in trailblazing California Chef David Kinch’s new cookbook, Manresa: An Edible Reflection. You might say it’s the thing for which the term “signature dish” was created. You might also say it’s a reminder that in the world of food, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

It was only a matter of time before another soft-cooked number achieved cult status. The idea for the Rebel Within – a runny-yolked egg baked inside a savoury cake – came via one of those happy kitchen accidents. About five years ago, William Werner, co-owner of the San Francisco patisserie Craftsman & Wolves, was running a pop-up stall at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. He asked an intern to hard-boil some eggs while he filled moulds with stiff batter studded with asiago cheese, sausage and green onions. “The eggs came out undercooked but we baked them off anyway and cut into the cake and the yolk was still kind of runny,” says Werner. “That was the aha moment.”

When Jo-Ann Laverty, the chef and co-owner of Ottawa’s Red Apron food shop, visited California on a research trip in January, the Rebel Within was on her hit list. When she cut it open – as instructed – she swooned as its melting heart of gold was revealed. “I thought it was brilliant,” she says, “I loved the wonder of figuring out how you could bake a muffin without cooking the egg inside too much.”

She began experimenting with her steam-injecting oven, working on the timing and combination of ingredients. She customized the recipe by using a cornbread muffin batter and added sharp cheddar, chives and chopped bacon. Eating it is reminiscent of the best of the sunny-side-up breakfast sandwich crossed with the ultimate moist buttery muffin. In a word: irresistible. It took about two months and at least four test batches before Laverty landed on the “sweet spot” of doneness to achieve the supremely soft interior. “You can’t use a toothpick to test it because you’d pierce the egg,” she says.

Chefs always experiment with concepts gleaned from other chefs (just look at the Cronut fad). Laverty argues, though, that the inventors of truly novel ideas deserve recognition. She credits Chef Werner and even sent him a message to let him know about what she’d come up with. “I wanted to tell him that we were so inspired by what he was doing. I wanted him to feel it was a compliment to what he created.”

Laverty and her staff had fun brainstorming names for their version of the Rebel, eventually landing on the bilingual pun: M’oeuf-in. It is available in her shop this week and by pre-order by the half-dozen until Saturday. While the M’oeuf-in is scheduled to disappear after Easter, the Rebel Within remains a signature dish at Werner’s shop. He sells about 200 of them every weekend and limited quantities means it’s often sold out by 11 a.m. “I like the idea that we’re making something that people want to recreate,” says Werner. “And I love the name M’oeuf-in – it’s awesome.”


Citric acid: How sour is becoming a chef’s new weapon

In Uncategorized on April 12, 2014 at 3:34 am

citrus08lf1SHAWNA WAGMAN

Special to The Globe and Mail

As far as It ingredients go, citric acid is an unlikely one – it’s the stuff found at the bottom of the bag of sour gummy candies. But the grainy, white powder’s ability to heighten flavours and bring balance to a dish – the supreme goal of good cooking – is turning it into an essential tool for the contemporary chef.

When Toronto chef Rebekah Pearse was a contestant on Top Chef Canada in its first season, she chose to include citric acid as one of just 10 items she was allowed to bring from home. She used it to make fresh ricotta and last-minute buttermilk by adding one teaspoon of citric acid to a litre of milk. Appealing to Pearse’s inner-science nerd, she says it has become one of her favourite ingredients: “People say, wow, how did you do that?”

Citric acid occurs naturally in such fruits as limes, pineapples and gooseberries. The dry, powdered citric acid used as an industrial food additive since the early 19th century, however has a less appetizing source; it is manufactured using a mould that feeds on corn syrup glucose.

Found in supermarket staples from sodas and teas, to juices and jams, it’s widely revered for its anti-bacterial, preservative and stabilizing qualities. Chefs have long held a stash of it, for instance to keep fruits and vegetables from oxidizing and turning brown while travelling from cutting board to table. But more and more chefs are wielding citric acid’s sour strength – the fairy dust of flavour amplification – in creative new ways.

Chef Kevin Mathieson, owner of Ottawa’s industrial-chic gastronomic café and patisserie Art is in Bakery, first experimented with citric acid back in 2000 during his apprenticeship at Peltier, a prestigious pastry shop in Paris.

He sprinkles a mixture of citric acid, icing sugar and salt over orange peel or wild blueberries before drying out the fruit for a week.

Using a coffee grinder, he blends it all into a powder that gets added to jellies inside chocolate truffles, infused into marmalade that gets slathered on brioche for a duck confit BLT sandwich, or dusted over crème fraîche as a garnish for a bowl of soup.


“It gives everything a bright, zesty taste,” he says. “It also preserves the fruit’s natural colour.”When it comes to popular taste, sour is no longer a four-letter word, so to speak. An increased appetite for pucker-inducing and tangy flavours seems to run alongside several other major food trends including the rise of artisan sourdough breads, the new-to-North America sour beer sensation, ongoing interest in fermented and pickled foods that happen to be the perfect foil to the rich and fatty flavours of charcuterie, as well as the growing popularity of sour flavours associated with Asian and Mexican cuisines. “Look at the tamarind in pad Thai,” says Mathieson of the ubiquitous Thai noodle dish, “It’s got those same sour qualities as citric acid.”

At Bar Buca in Toronto, Chef Rob Gentile uses citric acid to brighten the taste of a low-acid berry sorbet. “It opens up the flavour,” he says. He also mixes it with water to make a solution that prevents finicky artichokes from oxidizing while they are being prepped and cleaned for artichoke crudo. Citric acid adds tartness where you don’t want to add liquid, he says, “We add lemon juice at the end so we can control the flavour.”

The popularity of citric acid among chefs doesn’t surprise Colin Leach, owner of the Silk Road, an online spice merchant with a shop in Calgary. He says he sells a “surprising amount” of citric acid and also uses it himself to create the shop’s spice blends. He sees the pursuit of perfect balance – a quest for capturing all five tastes in everything we eat – as the new orthodoxy in cooking. “If you making a barbecue rub for instance,” he says, “and you taste it and it feels like something’s missing, it’s usually something sour that’s needed. That’s where we’d use citric acid.”

Chef Robert Belcham, owner of Campognolo in Vancouver remembers using citric acid more than a decade ago to create a less-sweet “neutral” caramel and melting it into a lacy cage that lay over top of tuna tartare. These days he tends to use it directly on a dish as a flavoured salt to give food a dose of agrodolce, sweet and sour flavour. At Belcham’s bar, Campognolo Upstairs, nuts are cooked in simple syrup and tossed with butter, salt, two kinds of chili and citric acid.

“It’s a chef’s tool,” he says, explaining how citric acid allowed him to reinvent a popular bar snack. “First you taste sweet and nutty, then a bit of sour as you chew and it finishes with salt and heat. It transforms the way the dish plays out in your mouth.”

Greek ‘Vinaigrette’

“When I tasted this salad dressing for the first time, I didn’t know what citric acid was,” says Carlotte Langley, chef de cuisine of catering at the Storys Building in Toronto.

“I thought it was one miraculous vinaigrette.

“It’s super zingy and coats everything without being too wet. I was taught to make it by a Lebanese Parisian woman, the mother of the owner of a tiny café on Murray St. in Ottawa where I had my first kitchen job.”

500 ml of the loveliest olive oil in your cupboard

2 tbsp dry oregano

1 tbsp fresh oregano

1 tsp citric acid

250 ml of feta liquid

Whisper of pepper

Blend on high speed until smooth.

No salt is required thanks to the feta juice.

Three key ingredients to turn up the heat in your kitchen

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2014 at 12:03 am


Special to the Globe and Mail

Published Feb. 12 2014

Thanks to celebrity chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and David Chang, the once exotic tastes of Morocco, Korea, Japan and others have infused our food world. Whether dining out or curling up at home with the hottest new cookbook, many of us are bumping up against the same “it” ingredients.

“A whole new generation is looking to these people as their leaders,” says Ethné de Vienne, co-owner of Montreal’s spice shop, Épices de Cru, known for its rare and treasured ingredients from around the globe. Resourceful cooks are waking up to new worlds of flavour thanks to the increasingly available ingredients. “You are seeing ras el hanout like you used to see cumin,” de Vienne said.

Here are three (literally) hot ingredients to try right now.



Sometimes referred to as “the new sriracha,” gochujang is a pungent hot chili pepper paste – a beloved condiment in Korean cuisine that contains glutinous rice and fermented soybeans.

Ottawa chef Jamie Stunt adores the heat, as well as “the funk” and “potentumami punch” of the fermented hot sauces he discovered during his time spent travelling in Korea. Silver medalist at the Canadian Culinary Championship last year, Stunt says newbies should start with tiny amounts. Once acquainted with the unfamiliar taste, he suggests mixing equal partsgochujang, honey and apple cider and a little minced garlic, “to make the best chicken wing sauce known to man.”

Hana Jung, who runs the Korean food cart Raon Kitchen at several Ottawa farmers markets, noticed a recent spike in customers asking for gochujang. “It’s not easy to handle,” she says, cautioning people who don’t have much experience with authentic Korean cooking. The product – widely available at Asian markets – is often mixed with other spices and ingredients in traditional dishes. Jung makes her own (without MSG), but sells it as a ready-to-use gochujang-based marinade that combines the fermented red chili paste with soy sauce, sugar, plum vinegar, ginger and rice wine. She suggests tossing it with pork, chicken or tofu as a marinade or pouring it over stir-fried vegetables.


Shishito peppers

A pop-in-the-mouth appetizer from Japan, shishitos have started showing up in farmers’ markets and trendy restaurants. The digit-sized, slender Japanese variety of pepper is delicately sweet and usually mild, but every once in a while, you get one with some heat – a brief yet serious sting. Like a game of Russian roulette featuring addictive finger food, the possibility of biting into a hot one arguably heightens the pleasure.

Shishitos have been spotted on the menu at Pidgin in Vancouver, paired with Parmesan and pine nuts, and at Toronto’s Patria where they receive the traditional Spanish treatment – blistered in a hot pan until the thin skin begins to turn black and finished with sea salt. This easy preparation is the one to try at home.

At Bar Isabel in Toronto, chef Grant van Gameren gives them a super-quick 20-second dip in the deep fryer and tops them with a squeeze of lime juice and flaky salt. “My experience has been when it’s colder outside, I find them spicier,” he says. Sourcing them can be tricky for the consumer, says vanGameren, who discovered shishitos in Toronto’s Korearown labelled as Japanese curry peppers.


Ras el hanout

In Morocco you might see a customer walk into a spice shop and ask to smell the ras el hanout. The name translates as “roof of the store” meaning that it’s the ultimate secret blend of the spice merchant – the best the seller can offer.

In Toronto, at Momofuku Daisho, it’s more likely to be your server who will be describing what spices made the cut. Sous chef Jed Smith created his own 15-ingredient ras el hanout for a new lamb dish featuring braised belly, roasted rack and a salad of pickled tongue. He started with the classics of Middle Eastern and North African cooking – cumin, clove and coriander – adding floral notes with dried rose, hibiscus and lavender. He also adds a little chili, pink peppercorns and fenugreek, which he admits may not be traditional but are flavours he likes.

The Épices de Cru blend, sold at de Vienne’s shop in Montreal’s Jean Talon market and online, contains 32 different spices. “That’s not including the traditional hashish and Spanish fly,” says De Vienne with a wink. Her recipe has been evolving over 10 years to become ever more mysterious. It contains things like iris root, banglé (a citrusy ginger-like spice from Bali) as well as hand-picked wild cumin from Uzbekistan.

She recommends taking a good spoonful of the blend, grind it and use it as a finishing touch at the end of a recipe – anything from couscous to pea soup or even vanilla ice cream. “It has many delicate fragrances, so it’s the same principle as using perfume,” she says, “A little goes a long way.” De Viennewarns of the ras el hanout imposters out there with just seven or eight ingredients – which to her is a glorified garam masala.


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