March 30, 2010

The Perfect Hamburger (part two) – The World’s Most Expensive Processed Cheese, Tomato Concentrate, and more Dough

Read The Perfect Hamburger (part one) – A Chunk of Cheese, some Sodium Citrate, and thou… 

And now, on to part two, which took place one day prior to Hamburger Judgement Day.

Maybe it wasn’t the world’s most expensive processed cheese, but compared to your average Kraft Single, it was awfully dear, especially when you factor in labour and time.  That being said, your average Kraft Single doesn’t have booze in it, so perhaps that made everything worthwhile.  Here’s the mise en place for the cheese (the Cheese Mise – snerk!).  Can you guess the final price?


From left to right we have Manzanilla Sherry (procured from our local hole in the wall, to my great astonishment), Sodium Citrate (procured from an unnamed Ph.D. who goes by the alias KittyCat79), some garlic cloves, peppercorns, a great wodge of Comte cheese (thankfully I didn’t have to lower myself and substitute in bog-standard Gruyere instead – oh the horror!), and a bunch of fresh thyme.

My first step was to infuse the sherry with flavours of thyme, garlic, and pepper.  So, after taking a wee sip for quality-control purposes, I upended the entire 750 ml bottle into my trusty stainless steel pan.  I then added the garlic, 8 black peppercorns (not 7, not 9, but 8), and six sprigs of fresh thyme (Heston did not specify how long the thyme sprigs were supposed to be, so I hope I got it right).  This mixture went onto the hob to come to a simmer, after which I turned off the heat and left it to fester infuse for ten minutes or so.

After it had infused for 10 minutes, I strained it and left it to cool down while I got on with grating the cheese.  Soon, I had a big bowlful of grated cheese and another bowlful of cooled thyme/garlic/pepper infused sherry.  At this point I needed to gradually mix them together, as you would for any cheese sauce (except you don’t make a roux).  So, I measured out my sodium citrate, dumped it into my pot, and then measured out 500g of the sherry infusion, and added that.  Then I discovered that I had about 200ml of thyme/garlic/peppercorn infusion left over.   Heston wanted me to start with 750 of sherry, and probably allowed for some evaporation, but really… when you just bring something to a simmer and then turn the burner off, you’re not likely to lose 250 grams of liquid to the atmosphere, now are you?  So what the heck do you do with the leftover infusion? 

As I was positive that my Mother-in-law wouldn’t really enjoy it if i served it to her in place of Harvey’s Bristol Cream as her Christmas Day sherry (assuming that she was here to drink it), and I really didn’t want to throw it down the drain, I dumped it into a glass and had a sample.  After all, pepper-infused Vodka’s pretty good (especially in a Ceasar – how I miss being able to order a Ceasar in a bar here).  I’ve also seen thyme-infusions used to make syrups used in desserts.  How bad could it be?

Pretty bad!  Wow!  Urgh!  I don’t think this will ever become anyone’s tipple of choice.  However, if you suspect that your mother-in-law is actually a vampire in disguise, you could certainly try it out on her.  Then, if she refused it (as any person with tastebuds would likely do), you could use that as the perfect reason to drive a stake through her heart.  Legally, I’m sure my logic is absolutely irrefutable, though in lieu of jail, you would probably get cold silences from your in-laws at subsequent family gatherings.  (I am one of the lucky few in that my Mother-in-law is an absolutely lovely lady, and I would never want to use garlic infused sherry as an excuse to drive a stake through her heart, as she’s patently not a vampire, and far too nice to be staked.)

Back to the cheese melting.  I heated up my 500 g of infusion, added the sodium citrate, and started dumping in handfuls of cheese one at a time, stirring all the while:


This took awhile, but finally I had the cheese and the sherry infusion amalgamated together into a smooth, uniform sauce.  Or so I thought.  So I spread out some greaseproof paper on my long counter, and dumped out the cheese to set:

As you can see, there was a bit of runaway cheese going on.  Apparently I hadn’t gotten everything as smoothly and evenly amalgamated as I had thought.  I had some runnier cheese liquid at the top of the pot, and some gloopier cheese liquid at the bottom (which you can see in this photo: the far end of the giant cheese slices is far more uniform and runny than the closer, gloopier, unmelted cheese-ier part of the giant cheese slice).  At this point, apart from trying to scrape the entire mess back into my pot, there was little I could have done, so I made a small wish that it would set with no issues, tossed off the rest of the vile infusion, and got on with my tomato concentrate.

The tomato concentrate called for 3 kg of very ripe tomatoes and salt.  Easy peasy, especially since Heston was feeling generous that day, and, unlike the Perfect Pizza, which still gives me nightmares, didn’t require cherry tomatoes.  I started to think that either he had an off-day in the “providing misery to home cooks” department, or felt that having the home cook make not only the burger, the buns, the processed cheese slices, but also her own freaking ketchup (!) was suffering enough.  Either way, I’d like to thank Mr. Blumenthal for not including any bloody cherry tomatoes in this recipe.

Here’s what 3kgs of tomatoes look like.  They were supposed to be “very ripe” tomatoes, and no doubt heirloom tomatoes that were lovingly planted by hand and nourished by a natural fibre wearing Earth Mother from an organic farm located in a picturesque, yet difficult to get to area in England, but mine were sourced from the local grocery store and called “good enough”.  Aren’t they lovely?

It turns out, however, that where Mr. Blumenthal giveth in terms of using regular tomatoes for the homemade ketchup, he taketh away in demanding that I only use the insides of the tomatoes for the homemade ketchup.  So instead of chopping up the tomatoes, dumping them in a pot and letting them simmer away to falling apart stage, then straining the resultant contents into a pot and further reducing it to a ketchup-like consistency, I got to hollow out all of the tomatoes, putting the tomato halves on one plate, and the tomato innards into a strainer:


I was to use some, but not all of the remaining tomato halves to supply fresh tomato topping for my burgers.  That was all well and good, but once I sliced up what I figured was more than enough tomato for my guests, I was left with the same question as with the sherry-infusion:  What the hell do I do with the leftovers?  Because I had loads and loads (and loads and loads) of leftover tomatoes.  (This was very much the case, as I had I misread the recipe when making my shopping list, and thought that every bit of the tomato was used to make the concentrate.  Since I wanted to serve my guests some salsa and guacamole for pre-burger nibblies, I had specifed 6 kg of tomatoes on the shopping list that I gave to my darling man.  So now I had 3kg of ripe, untouched tomatoes, and about 2kg of ripe tomato halves.  Glorious.) 

I ended up making salsa from the tomato halves (and still had leftover halves from the salsa making).  Thankfully, the ripe untouched tomatoes kept for a few days, at which point I made a huge bunch of tomato sauce.  Still, I would have liked to see a use for ALL of the tomato halves in Heston’s recipe.  Hear that Blumenthal???  Don’t strand me with leftover sherry-infusion and tomato halves!!  Ahhrgh!  Waarrgarrbl!!  The horror!  The horror!

Ahem.  Back to the concentrate.  Once I had strained out the juice from the tomato innards, I dumped the results into a pot and let it reduce.  I have to say that it smelled absolutely wonderful, and very much like Campbells tomato soup.  It took a goodly amount of time to reduce (with much stirring at the end), but finally I had a small bowl of super-powered tomato ketchup.  Here it is in the pot:



And here it is in it’s snazzy serving container (with high-class plastic serving apparatus):


By the time I was done making the concentrate, I had figured (hoped/prayed/wished) that my giant cheese slice would have set and be ready for slicing into proper processed cheese slices.  This assumption got Dubai’d.  My stone countertops plus airconditioning just weren’t cool enough to cause the cheese to set.  (The fact that the cheese wasn’t completely smoothly combined with the sherry infusion probably had something to do with it as well.)  So, I Macgyvered a solution by filling up some ziplock bags with ice water in hope of hastening the process:

This helped quite a bit, but the final nail in the giant-cheese-slice-hardening-coffin was when I emptied the freezer of frozen vegetables and laid those on top of the ziplocks.  Sadly, I do not have a picture. 

Once the giant cheese slice had set (even after the frozen vegetable and ice water treatment treatment, it was still a bit shaky), I rolled it into a cheese log and put it in the fridge in hopes that it would set even more by show time the next day.  I give you the CheezLog:


The creation of the CheezLog was firmly opposed by my husband, who felt that it would just fall apart and I would end up with completely screwed up cheese slices.  I had to take that chance, as there was no way I could have ever cut slices out of the partially-set, partially-runny cheese slurry that was living on my countertop (and was currently free of cat footyprints, though I felt that was just a matter of time if I left it out).  I just hoped that he wouldn’t be right.

My final task for Pre-Perfect Hamburger Day was to make a pre-ferment for the bun dough.  If you’ve read “The Perfect Pizza (part 1) -D’oh!“, you’ll be familiar with the process.  But, since all of us just can’t get enough pictures of flour, yeast, water, and my KitchenAid, here we go:

Flour and yeast were measured.

Water was added, and the pre-ferment was mixed.


Et voila!  Pre-ferment!

I tucked the tomato concentrate, CheezLog, and starter into the fridge for an overnight rest, made a timeline for the next day’s cooking and prep (which started at 8:00am and ended at 8:00pm), thanked Heston once again that he had made recipes that were easy enough for the casual home cook to prepare when she had a tiny bit of spare time, built four Ikea bookshelves (and broke one a little bit when I stepped on it), then headed to bed. 

Read The Perfect Hamburger (part three), featuring bun dough, fat ladies, and mathematical mysteries!

February 27, 2010

The Perfect Hamburger (part one) – A chunk of cheese, some Sodium Citrate, and thou…

I was going through the grocery store a few weeks ago when I had a urge for a big, fat, juicy burger.  Since we were a bit rushed that evening, I ended up making pasta instead (my husband was on night shift).  But the thought of a nice meaty burger didn’t leave my mind.

Then I realised that I was overdue for another “Perfect” evening, and that Heston had perfected the hamburger.  I checked the recipe for odd ingredients, and it was actually pretty sane.  Sure, Heston requested beef short ribs that were dry-aged for a minumum of thirty days (HA!  It is to laugh!), but I decided that the Dubai-factor made me able to ignore that bit.  Add in the fact that I’ve recently discovered that the butcher at my local grocery store (Le Marche in Arabian Ranches) does their own butchery, and I figured that sourcing meat would be a doddle.  As for the buns, well, they only wanted strong bread flour, a bunch of eggs, yeast, and something called “Trex” (which google revealed to be vegetable fat which us North Americans call shortening), so there were no worries there.

In fact, there was only one ingredient that was somewhat out of the ordinary.  Heston wanted me to make my own “processed” cheese slices (of course), and he wanted me to use sodium citrate to do it.  Apparently this is available at any chemists.

As you probably know from my earlier post/plea, my local chemist didn’t have any sodium citrate on-hand.  Nor did he know where I could find some.  The Dubai-factor once again had reared its ugly head.  Bugger.

I checked online to see if there was anything that I could use instead of sodium citrate, but I was a wee bit leery of doing chemical experimentation.  I did find a link on how to make my own sodium citrate, but the Health and Safety department at Villa GoodEnough (also known as my husband, “Banner of Chickens”) nixed that in the bud.  By the way, did you know that citric acid is potentially explosive?  Nor I!  Does that mean I can make lemons blow up?

So I resorted to my local information board,  Within a few hours, I had found someone who had sodium citrate based cystitis potions that she’d make available to me.  Unfortunately they were cranberry flavoured, which certainly would not be Heston-approved.  Then another lady (the lovely Dr. KittyKat79) posted that she had a big bottle of sodium citrate sitting next to her in her laboratory.  And she was willing to get some for me! 

I feel a wee bit ashamed about how excited this made me.  But, trust me, I was absolutely delirious with joy.

A few emails later and a rendezvous was arranged.  We had initially considered meeting on the side of the road for the delivery of the white powder, but thought that it might be a wee bit suspicious.  Instead, I met up with Dr. KittyKat and her mother for a coffee.

We met, I got the bottle of sodium citrate (and a bag of hay, which will feature in another recipe soon), they decided that while I was unhinged, I was pretty harmless with it, and so, when I invited them to Perfect Burger night, they were happy to accept.  I got in my car, with a big bottle of citrate in my purse, and cackled merrily all the way home.

The Perfect Burger was ON!!!