Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Peek Behind The Kitchen Door

For the last two days, I've been working on recipe development, and this may either be the most boring blog post I'll ever write, or some foodies might find it interesting to see the level of geekery and engineering that goes on behind closed doors, even when I'm not a big mega conglomerate, purposely designing junk food to be additive.

Right now I have a great hot dip recipe. It's delicious. You'd absolutely love it and think you died and went to heaven on the very first bite. That's the problem.  You'd say it was absolutely amazing for 3-5 more mouthfuls of this dip, and wonder why nobody else is making it by the bucketful. But then, it loses its luster. As you go on, each bite would become less and less thrilling to the point of not wanting anymore, and later, getting turned-off. Now, any food will do that over time - if you ever truly want to stop a food craving, the best way to do it is to eat that food, and keep eating it, past the point of satiety. You can even learn to hate chocolate if you eat ONLY chocolate for a month.

The trick is to have that tipping point of satisfaction be as far away from the first bite as it's possible to make it. And when it comes to dip, the tipping point only being five bites away is not a GREAT dip. It's only an OK dip. Especially when the problem isn't the flavor, or the texture... it is the mouth-feel.

To be even more specific in my food geekery: the issue  is the viscosity of the cheese sauce - at first bite, right now, it's heaven. Creamy and rich and wrapping your tongue in intense flavor. But then, that "blanket" of cheesy goodness keeps sticking, and it is very annoying. At first you think, "OMG I could eat a bucket of this stuff"... only a few bites later, and you're done with it. Like, so 5 minutes ago.

There is a lot of science to formulating cheese sauces;  to make the sauce velvety and creamy and intense, but then, its happy little molecules need to GO AWAY and not clog up your taste buds. It must "release" from your tongue. That way a few seconds later, you're reaching for another scoop of dip. You're not scraping your tongue against your teeth trying to get the "plastic coating" sensation off of it. Think of a great bite of extra-cheese pizza, or the times when you picked a big glob of melted runny cheese off a hot pizza and just ate the cheese by itself: the cheese might completely fill your mouth, but once you've swallow it, your mouth never feels "sticky". A true classic cheese fondue is like that as well: you can eat a whole pot of it because the booze and the cornstarch breaks down the cheese protein strands enough to make it a gooey dip instead of a gluey dip.

And that will bring me to my recipe for today. No, it's not THE dip recipe - that one is only for the business, sorry  - but I do have a kickin' cheese fondue recipe that I've made many times, always with good results, that is helping inform my own tinkering with my new dip. This fondue recipe is adapted from the old Rombauer-Becker edition of The Joy Of Cooking. They make their fondue even boozier than I do, if you can imagine that. I leave out kirsch as an ingredient: it's a p.i.t.a. to find, and I like my fondue to be an orgy of Gruyere and wine.

Cheese Fondue
Serves "4" (we like it so much 2 of us can finish the pot ourselves)


1 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded (always buy it in a block and hand shred it fresh right as you make this either on a box grater or food processor - much better result)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 cups + 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Pinch of Nutmeg
2 Granny smith apples, sliced
1 Loaf of crusty bread, cut into 1" cubes

Rub the inside of a heavy bottomed saucepan with the garlic clove. Discard clove. Pour in the 2 cups of wine and heat on medium. Mix the cornstarch with the other 2 Tablespoons of the wine in a small bowl and set aside. When the wine is hot, (it will show tiny bubbles on it's surface, but not boil) use a wire whisk and stirring constantly, add the cheese into the hot wine gradually, about 1-2 ounces at a time, and let it melt. Once the cheese is all melted, do not allow to boil, but, still stirring, pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir very fast. The fondue will thicken, take it off the heat, and sprinkle it with the nutmeg.

When we eat this by ourselves, put the pot on a wooden cutting board and sit at our kitchen counter to eat it with fondue forks, right out of the pot. If we were serving guests, we'd transfer it to a fondue pot on medium-low.

Tip: to clean the cheese off the saucepan and whisk more easily (if you didn't lick it clean already!) Fill it up with water and reheat it on the stove instead of scrubbing it, and use the whisk again to work the edges clean, then pour it out and wash them both  as you normally do.

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