Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Husk Hot Sauce: An Attempt

Things I Googled while attempting to make my own hot sauce: 

"What kind of mould is dangerous?"

"Is eating mould like eating mushrooms you find in the wild?"

"What is penicillin?"

"Is Sean Brock married?"

"Does vinegar kill mould?"

"What can go wrong with fermentation?"

As you all know, we’ve been into extremely slow food lately. The latest experiment in this new hobby was Sean Brock’s Husk Hot Sauce. Kell gave me his Heritage book for my birthday and it’s pretty much been like my Bible ever since.
I have no idea why bladder support also follows me on Twitter.

The hot sauce was like an amazing science experiment. Firstly, it took four months to complete, which may as well have been four years to me. I was. SO. Goddamn. Excited. To try it.

Except, of course, a week into it, I noticed a bit of mould on the top. This panicked me.

I was then required to tweet directly at Sean Brock and ask his advice.

Having Sean Brock respond to my tweets after I’ve watched the Senegal episode of Mind of a Chef 46 times is even better than that time Taye Diggs followed me on Twitter. (Seriously, it was better.)

ANYWAY. I asked Sean Brock what to do about this mould dilemma. “No worries,” he said! “Mould protects it. Just remove it carefully before the vinegar step.”

“Just do it carefully,” is possibly the most terrifying sentence in the English language, akin only to, “Use your best judgment.” What if you are like me, and you do things neither carefully nor with good (let alone best) judgment? If you’re talking about carrying groceries or choosing a life companion, I feel like there’s some wiggle room there. You break a couple eggs, you break a couple hearts, and it’s all good, right? But, like, if you’re talking about removing mould from food that is four months old and people are going to the ingest said food and go to work the next day, that is a whole different situation. That’s like, life and death, or at least life and intestinal health.

Stressful. Very stressful.

A Brief History of How to Make Husk Hot Sauce*:

  • Mince 5 pounds of peppers in your food processor
  • Mix with 5 tablespoons of kosher salt.
  • Ferment for two months.
  • Mix with 1 gallon of white vinegar
  • Ferment for 2 months
  • Blend
  • Serve

*Proper recipe here.

Here’s the good news: It totally worked! Four months later, I’m thoroughly enjoying my hot sauce and totally have not poisoned anyone.

The bad news? It’s not quite where I want it to be. As those of us north of the 49th know, Charleston Hots are not particularly easy to find here. I used a blend of jalapenos, scotch bonnets and various other peppers instead. This resulted in 2 things:
Check that Blendtec product placement
  1. My sauce was not a gorgeous red as Husk’s is, it was a strange taupe (taupe is polite)
  2. Being somewhat fearful of the punch scotch bonnets could pack, I opted for less of them and therefore have not nearly the heat I want. 

This, dear readers, is a blog about learnings. Key learnings. And the very first key learning of any kitchen is that nothing you do within the confines of your stove, fridge, and the four walls that contain them is a failure. Recipes, particularly the ones you don’t write yourself, are meant to get you going in the right direction, not to teleport you to the destination. Tweaks are always the most crucial part of any recipe, which is why your cookbook should always have a pencil right next to it.

What did I learn here? Number one: Go big or go home. Never mind that quasi-pepper jalapeno foolishness. When I begin the next fermentation (with an aim to give it as Halloween presents) I’ll use primarily scotch bonnets. Unless I get some Charleston Hots, which may mean Sean Brock and I are living happily ever after on a large farm on Wadmalaw Island, or it may mean I used the Internet to source them.

Second key takeaway: I didn’t use enough salt. I’m pretty sure that was a contributing factor to the mould issue, and beyond that, I’m pretty sure I was hesitant with the salt because I didn’t properly measure the pepper and there were various moving parts I wasn’t sure about.

You know what though? It’s still pretty damn delicious. And I made it. And I can make tiny jars of it and wrap a twine bow around them and make twee labels on my printer and get away with giving a nearly free item as a gift because I made that shit, you know?

Bottom line, if you want something awesome to do this summer, watch Mind of a Chef and make hot sauce.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Harissa Spiced Roasted Cauliflower Dip

Does anyone else feel like cauliflower is the YouTube Child Star of the produce world?

Let’s consider. For years, cauliflower was just living its life. Quietly. Humbly. Jazzed up with a cheese sauce now and then for Thanksgiving, cauliflower was content to be steamed, roasted, and microwaved even. Cauliflower was likely very happy then. It probably reflects on the simpler days, when it was occasionally passed over for broccoli, eggplant maybe, asparagus in spring. It could still go to the mall without being recognized sometimes.

But the Stage Mother of the food world couldn’t allow broccoli to live a simple life. That Stage Mother (vegans, it seems) realized the cauliflower could be catapulted into a higher-achieving performance than its humble side dish beginnings. They pushed cauliflower and compared it to other foods, made cauliflower practice over and over, tarted it up and hyped it to their friends. They forced it to become buffalo wings, macaroni, kung pao chicken and, perhaps most unfairly, steak

Cauliflower briefly flourished in the limelight. Unaware of its own potential to become a meat-like substance, cauliflower pushed its limits, working harder, and becoming more and more achingly desperate for approval. It may have been the cauliflower alfredo sauce where it finally cracked. Realizing it was not meant to become a cream-based sauce of garlic and parmesan, cauliflower bucked. Like most head-shaving, wig-wearing, drug-imbibing public meltdowns, the discourse on cauliflower’s denouement was savage.

Prices spiked. As nearly every past star of The Mickey Mouse Club knows, selling out is the worst thing you can do to your fan base. The disavowal of cauliflower was immediate. Think pieces on the price of cauliflower emerged. Several reasons were considered, not unlike how the new boyfriend or girlfriend of a child star is often blamed for their downfall. Climate change became the Yoko to cauliflower’s John.  The price of cauliflower was used to forecast everything from the Canadian dollar to the apocalypse. It was, as it were, The Day the Music Died.

You can’t call it a comeback, but it seems the price of cauliflower has regulated. It’s still given some love from vegans, but most people have moved on to the new flavour of the month, Aquafaba (chickpea water, for us laypeople.) Cauliflower has had the meltdown, done the time in rehab, and is now promoting its new Buddhist, clean-living lifestyle. The unauthorized biography is soon to come. Before it falls off the map completely, only to be featured on ironic t-shirts by hipsters in 20 years, who will have very little memory of the Great Cauliflower Meltdown of 2015, allow me to present an excellent recipe that celebrates cauliflower’s beauty, as cauliflower. It’s not a stand-in here; it’s the main event.

You need:
  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped roughly
  • ¼ cup of olive oil, plus a little more for roasting
  • ¼ cup of tahini
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp of Harissa spice (depending on how spicy you like things- you can find this in Bulk Barn if you have trouble getting your hands on it)

Start by coating your cauliflower with a little olive oil and covering it with the harissa spice blend.

Roast it at 375 for 40 minutes or until soft and golden. Dump the cauliflower, with the olive oil and spices into a blender. Add ¼ cup of olive oil and the tahini to the blender. Pulse until it’s the consistency of hummus.

This is an amazing dip to serve with crackers, pita, or a nice crudité. Let cauliflower be cauliflower. You can still #cleaneating, #vegan and #eatclean this all you want.