Z Kitchen

Rethinking food as a way of life...Here we discuss developments and ideas from Z Kitchen and other culinary musings.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Updated Classics: Burgers

A few days ago I made some burgers. Of course, my perception of the burger is probably different than yours, which is probably different from the next guy's. How can a quintessential American classic be subject to so many diverse interpretations? Is a turkey or tuna burger still a burger? Are we talking only beef? Is the meat only to be served ground? I think the goal of creating an updated classic, such as the hamburger, is to remain rooted in tradition while not being afraid to go off on entirely new tangents. As usual, the ultimate goal is to create food that tastes great, but how far outside the box are we willing to go in combining new flavors and textures?

Burger stuffed with kielbasa sausage

Burger stuffed with foie gras

Burger topped with broiled eel

"Steakburger" - USDA Prime ribeye, chopped into large chunks and bound

I'm not quite sure how applicable these are to future dishes; the burger seems to be a noble end in itself. Maybe a beef dish topped with the sweet eel sauve. Perhaps foie gras "meatballs." I might bread and fry them for even more textural contrast. Layers of flavor and texutre, I like that.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Updated Classics: Lobster

Usually when I cook lobster I do my best to blend new ideas with classic techniques. I particularly love Thomas Keller's lobster recipes for this exact reason. This time, however, I thought I'd try updating some classic ideas with new flavors. Nothing groundbreaking, just giving some perhaps staid lobster dishes a new life.

We start this story with a 5 lb. lobster.

After disassembly I was left with these beautiful hunks of tail and claw. I also had a good amount of meat from the knuckles and legs.

First, an updated lobster Thermidor, an old-school Continental dish if there ever was one. Creamy, rich, and loaded with spices wasn't exactly what I was going for. Instead, I kept the requesite mushrooms but gave them a somewhat Asian flair by using shitakes and maitakes. I cut down the cream and the spices, too.

With the remaining meat I turned to lobster rolls, probably one of my favorite summertime foods. Lunch/Lobster Roll on the eastern tip of Long Island serves an iconic Hamptons classic that I very much enjoy. Using their basic recipe: lobster, lemon juice, mayonnaise, celery, buttered top-split bun, I made additional variations.

A flight of lobster rolls, from left to right, traditional, sriracha, guacamole.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The case for homemade: Pizza

Sometimes the bastardized version of a noble cuisine just seems to fit the bill. For example, Americanized Chinese food. While traditional Chinese cuisine is undoubtedly one of the world's most notable, the rare craving for a sesame chicken combo plate with a cold beer is sometimes too strong to turn down. The same can be said for greasy Tex-Mex, or a "Greek" gyro, or any other popular ethnic staple.

Pizza, however, is a different story. There are simply no merits to a pie from Dominos, Papa John's, or Pizza Hut. None. This is made even more upsetting when good pizza is so easy to make at home. With but five ingredients and maybe 20 minutes, a far superior product can be enjoyed.

The applications for pizza are almost endless. Besides the allure of a freshly baked crust, real cheese, and an unlimited variety of top-quality toppings, the pizza concept is a vehicle for a great number of creative culinary applications. Served at room temperature, could mini pizzas be a cheese course, an amuse, part of the bread service, a dessert? With a good dough anything is possible.

Tonight we turn to four pizza variations, two traditional, two less so, but none beyond the reach of even a novice home cook.

Toward the rear, your basic cheese pizza, just better. A lightly cooked sauce of local tomatoes, fresh herbs, and extra virgin olive oil. Topped with mozzarella cheese and parmigianno regianno. That's all. Crispy, fresh, with the proper balance between crust, sauce and cheese.

In the foreground is a margarita pizza with fresh mozzarella, basil, a dab of tomato sauce, and yellow heirloom tomatoes, and some salt, too. Again, a classic.

These smaller pies could easily work as a cheese course, as they focus on the strong flavors of the respective cheese that top them. In the background, the same basic tomato sauce with Fourme D'Ambert, a creamy, earthy blue cheese. In the foreground, tomato sauce, goat cheese and cauliflower. The cauliflower brings a light textural crunch and a distinctive vegetal quality that works well with the sharp chevre.

So, pizza. Not dripping with sauce or oozing cheese. Miles ahead of the chain garbage or even your local pizzeria. The future of pizzas at Z Kitchen will likely include additions of truffle oil or duck fat, somewhat uncommon toppings with distinctive and luxurious flavors. Perhaps "caviars" made from traditional pizza toppings are not far behind. Flavored olive oil beads, vegetable puree orbs?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The shape of things to come: Foie gras torchon v.1

We might as well start this thing off with two recent renditions of what is probably my favorite food, foie gras.

I recently made a foie gras torchon from a whole fattened duck liver I ordered online. The four day process really shows you how much work can go into making what is ultimately a very simple product. Regardless, it was a rewarding experience in both taste and for the opportunity it gave me to really think outside of the "foie gras box."

Foie gras torchon, pickled cherries, micro-herb salad
A Thomas Keller classic that really showcases the interplay between bitter, sour, and unctuous richness of the liver.

"Red" Foie Gras Torchon
Bruleed strawberries, beet syrup, citrus-honey sriracha
Now this was an original creation, sort of. But before we talk about that, the dish must be explained. Moving from right to left you have the slightly bitter and juicily sweet bruleed strawberries, next is the minerally sweet beet syrup, and last is the spicy sweet sriracha. I like progressions of flavor like this, using an ingredient or taste, in this case sugar, in a variety of different ways.

Now personally, I've never had a dish exactly like this, and to the best of my knowledge such a dish does not exist. But I also can't deny that I've had the bruleed strawberry terrine and Jean Georges, the beet-foie terrine at wd~50, and a terrine paired with spicy yuzu at StudioKitchen. I think I'm okay in culinary plagiarism department, but where is that line? This is a question I find myself asking constantly when both cooking and eating.

Finally, an ode to xanthan gum, the nearly flavorless, super-thickener that gives great plate coverage to just about anything. Molecular gastronomy at is finest, unobtrusive yet instrumental in the dish's preparation.


Welcome (to me and you, I suppose) to the Z Kitchen blog, a virtual extension of the philosophy and experimentation behind Z Kitchen. I'm not entirely sure what this will end up becoming, but I'm hoping that it's natural progression will lead to even more ideas and creativity.