Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A load of tripe! And brisket.

Heeeeeere's the beef!
Recently, the Forward asked me to contribute a knish recipe using brisket leftovers. Not having any on hand myself -- it's not Passover, and my significant other sadly does not eat meat -- I had to go and do a beefy brisket. (As this is Knishery NYC and not Brisketery NYC, recipe is in the addenda below.)

I went through my hugely massive knish library of 4 or 5 old Jewish cookbooks and poked around for meat knish recipes online. What struck me the most? The recipes I found were not that different from stuffed cabbage, derma, or perogie stuffing. Cooked meat is ground up; a secondary meat is ground up for texture; a starch or grain is added for filler; a binder is needed; and a seasoning, typically salt and pepper, is dashed in. Lung was mentioned a few times as the secondary meat, which unlike some organ meats (I'm looking at you, liver!!), is mild in flavor. Not readily available at my local markets, I picked up some tripe.

I do, I DO have a stomach for brisket knishes!
Tripe is cheap, and tripe is weird. It's cow stomach, and doesn't really taste like anything. But in my experience eating it at dim sum, it's kinda rubbery, like stomach. And it looks weird. And like tofu, it takes on the flavor of what it's prepared with. I simply boiled it for 2 hours, in water, and when it came out, looked....exactly the same -- no shrinkage, no color change, no nothing.

So first a rough chop...

The Chop House
And then off to the grinder...
The Grind House
And out comes this hash...
The Hash House
Grinding cooked meat is similar to chopping it very rough, and very fine, except instead of just chopping (which is straight and clean and neat), the grinding process also tears, loosening the fibers that were tightened by all the cooking.

In the morning, I prepped:
  • A cup of kasha (which yields 3 cups once cooked); its whole granulation makes a nice match for the size of the grind of the meat.
  • Caramelized onions (a few pounds of onions with shortening and salt in the oven for a few hours, overlapping the meat cooking).
  • The potatoes -- boiled and mashed to make a batch of dough.
The filling came together and looked about right. Even though a solid half of the mix was kasha and onion, the color and texture of the meat really made it look more like 75-80% meat.

Brisket Knishes, nikkit and raw!
I took this opportunity to make my first full-sized knishes via the rolling method. On first go round, I cut the dough into the same shape as I did for the minis. But when I tried to roll the dough, it wouldn't close. So I improvised, reattaching a sheet to double the dough.

I've never seen such a large circumknishen...

I immediately noticed how crumbly the filling was -- next time gotta up the eggs for more binding power.

From top left: Tiny, Charlie, Bruiser, Chuck, Sloppy, Jerome, Biggie Smalls, Sloppy 2, Precious, Egghead, Dumdum and Horace
Even raw, the knishes were spilling out a little -- one was the binding issue, the other was that I used two too-short sheets to roll them. Also, perhaps, my hand-skills of shaping them once cut and rolled needs improvement, something that'll happen when I make a few 100 more in this style....

Outta the oven, cut open and...

Crazy Sexy Crumby
Tasted good and honest -- meaty but not overwhelming like meatloaf. The kasha and onion really balanced the brisket and the tripe was very subtle, making the whole affair a little looser and softer.


Cooking Brisket: Made up a brisket recipe on the fly, as I was well familiar with the cooking method from my culinary training -- drop the meat in a heavy pot with lid, cover with liquid and aromatics, bake low (250 to 300ish) for 3 or more hours, let rest before slicing thin.

Into the cast iron pot went:
  • a quart of beef stock
  • a full head of crushed garlic
  • a table spoon of brown sugar
  • a teaspoon of salt
  • a teaspoon of coriander
  • a dash of smoked paprika
  • a dash of Worcestershire sauce
Before - Limp Brizket
After - A brisket only a bubbe could love.
(If I had red wine on hand, I would have thrown that in just to make it a lil' Frenchy.) The brisket cut comes from the lower front of the cow, right above the front legs. It is tough & thoroughly worked, so it has a lot of connective tissue that, when baked slow and low, becomes tender and moist. By braising it in liquid, it further prevents it from getting dry & tough.

Bubbe: My grandmother (and probably yours, too) had a big, cast iron meat grinder that attached to her counter top to do things just like this, in the days before the modern supermarket where you could just go pick up chopped meat. I admit that
  1. it made me miss my Ema and 
  2. it made me regret I never did any cooking with her. 
I do remember her matzoh ball soup, particularly because she'd boil a chicken for hours to make the soup base, but then she'd tear it apart and include the overcooked chicken bits in the soup. Oof -- if only she'd known that you can cut off the meat raw, boil the carcass, then cook the meat separately and then include it in the soup. No wonder my mom was such a horrible cook. Amazing, great person, but horrible cook.

Tripe: The editor at the Forward was concerned about the tripe factor -- the readers might be put off by its inclusion in the recipe. So I suggested other filler/softeners, like portobello duxelle and TVP, for those squeamish around offal. I guess that's just how we roll at Knishery NYC -- no half-steppin' in the exploration of knishitude. I don't know if tripe and lung is the future of the knish, but you can't go into the future if you don't know the past. I gotta start working on the lung/tripe/gefilte tripleplay knish...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rollin' into 2012

Eeny meeny mighty minis!
Life with a new infant (and a toddler on school vacation) did not allow much time for me to make -- and sell -- holiday knishes. But I was able to knock out some miniatures that seemed to be a big hit at the season's social gatherings (where I was inevitably asked: "So, how's the knish business coming along?" Sigh). At this point, even if I don't have the time to produce mass amounts of my product I still have to keep my knishnaut helmet on. Thus:
  1. I made my first batch of mini-knishis;
  2. I tried out the rolling method of assembly;
  3. I reformulated the chocolate hazelnut knish.
Why? Because:
  1. Two- to three-bite appetizer knishes are low-commitment kings at potlucks and multi-food family gatherings;
  2. Rolling is how knishes are made in large quantities quickly in professional settings;
  3. While the chocolate hazelnut knish easily got the largest, happiest raves at the Knishening, I want to eliminate Nutella from the recipe, a very lazy ingredient.
In culinary school, it was impressed upon us why appetizers are so expensive: despite the smaller quantity of food per serving, it's literally multiple times the amount of labor. So to make minis, some labor-saving techniques were called for. And if you do any amount of knish research, you'll find that the description "hand-rolled" is mentioned multiple times by those trying to hype their wares...even if hand-rolled says cigars and bagels to me. Hmmm.

Until now I've been cutting squares of dough, plopping a measure of filling in the middle, then folding it up, shumai-style. But if the same quantity of food that yields twelve knishes could do more than FORTY, why do three times the amount of labor? Hence:

Obligatory nikkit knish shot, perves!
Instead of 80+ tiny squares, we got three big ones with a carefully laid log o' potato-onion filling...

Then, once rolling it all up, I chopped it into 1-inch pieces. Surprisingly, the chopping action opened and spread the end that was just done...and sort of sealed the end being currently chopped. Thus, only a small amount of handling was required to seal the bottom and get the top to a nice symmetric look.

I came at the chocolate hazelnut cheese knish with the same rolling technique, but these were not to be mini -- perhaps smaller than what you get at Schimmels or what you got at Stahls, but the same form factor: a wedge of rolled knish, with two open ends.

The World's Largest Chocolate Cigar
My current chocolate hazelnut recipe tasted pretty good (so they say) but it's been rubbing me the wrong way, what with the from-a-jar Nutella. Knowing I could do better, I tinkered with a combination of dutch cocoa, hazelnut paste, and shortening. Then I sprinkled sugar on the crust after applying the egg wash, baked it and...

From here, some slicing and dicing and...

Voila: The look is right, far superior and less handwork than using a cupcake tray. However, the taste was all off, not sweet enough, too dry, hazelnutty in the wrong way. It left me some clues how to come correct next time, though.

Next up, in a couple of weeks: Off to a kosher kitchen for my first stab at 100% kosher knishing! Hopefully you'll all be pestered by a Kickstarter campaign coming soon, too...

Addendum 1:
My KitchenAid mixer died a loud and clanky death while making this round of knishes (I had to make the sweet knish dough by hand -- a shanda). Now I'm onto my third stand-mixer in less than five years. Why? One: I use them a lot. The other reason: Bagel dough.

Kneading bagel dough in a standard KitchenAid mixer will kill the motor if you walk away and let it knead the dough as much a you need it to. After spending a few years working with pizza in a professional setting, one becomes surprised that a 5-quart stand mixer just won't quite have the same torque and raw power at a 100-quart floor mixer. Oops. Due to common sense and a slumping economy, I was able to snag a 6-quart lift model (twice the wattage) for about the same price of the lower-level tilt head model.

Addendum 2: 
I ate an empanada recently. Send a knish to South America, have him marry a local, and their baby will be kinda like an empanada. Anyway. The actual shop is kind of what I envision a first iteration of a modern knish shop, minus, y'know, the pork sausage, the salsa, and the yeast dough. Metro Empanadas have a quality product, if you're into that kinda thing.