Friday, November 25, 2011

Lard? Oy vey!

A few notes in followup to yesterday's cooking frenzy:

PIE:  For years, I've sought the perfect pie crust.  I was once completely taken in when my boss's wife made a pie with a fabulous crust.  When I asked how she made it, he gave me this whole rigmarole about temperatures, brushing the top with milk, and a few other ritualistic exercises.  Turned out it was a Pillsbury crust from the supermarket.  But the hunt was on.  I thought I was doing pretty well until I tasted a pie Melissa Solomon made.  This woman, a former student of mine, is not only a to-die-for soprano, she makes heavenly pie crust--light, delicate, flaky.  I asked for her recipe.  It was identical to mine.   

I'll never match Melissa's light touch, but I came close yesterday.  The secret?  Lard (God forbid! my Jewish ancestors are saying) and vinegar.  I know.  Lard sounds positively awful.  Just saying the word makes my arteries harden. But nothing makes a better crust, and believe me, I've tried about every option there is.  I use half butter and half lard in mine, and it's fabulous.  I also tried another trick I'd read about:  adding a small amount of vinegar.  Remarkably, this doesn't affect the flavor.  (It's all the more remarkable because it turns out I haven't got any white vinegar in the house, so I used cider vinegar.  No problem.)  Apparently the acid in the vinegar inhibits the development of gluten.  While you need gluten in cakes and breads, it's the enemy of flakiness in pie crusts.  (By the way, Melissa has no need of such crutches as lard and vinegar:  her crust is made with shortening.)

By now, you probably want the proportions, so here they are (click here for a printer-friendly version of the recipe):

2-1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
8 tablespoons lard (leaf lard is best, I'm told, but the plain old variety I found in the store worked fine)
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 cup (or less) of ice water

You probably know how to make a pie crust, but just in case you don't, here's the method:

1.  Combine the flour and salt.

2.  Cut the butter and lard, which should both be ice-cold (even frozen) into small chunks and put it into the flour.  Give it a quick stir to coat the lumps of fat with flour, then, using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Be sure to use a cutting, rocking motion with the pastry blender rather than a mashing motion.  Mashing will tend to encourage the formation of gluten.

3.  Add the vinegar and 1/4 cup of ice water.  Using a fork, stir things gently, adding more water bit-by-bit until the dough just comes together.  If it's a tiny bit crumbly, it'll be hard to roll but all the more flaky.

4.  Divide the dough in two and form each portion into a disk about an inch thick and about six inches across.  Wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for at least half an hour.  (You can chill it longer, even a day or more.  Just take it out of the fridge for a bit before you start working with it.)

5.  Roll it gently and quickly on a floured board until the disk is about two inches wider than your pan.  So for a 10-inch pie, you want a 12-inch disk.

6.  I recommend chilling the crust after it is formed.  I pop mine in the freezer while I mix up the filling (be sure you use a Pyrex dish!).  If I'm blind-baking the crust (baking it unfilled), I chill it in the freezer for 15 - 20 minutes before baking.

This will make two single-crust 10-inch pies or one double-crust 10-inch pie.  If you don't have a use for the second portion of dough, freeze it.  It will keep a long time that way. 

TURKEY:  The salting method I got from Saveur produced a bird with a beautiful bronze skin.  The meat was juicy and flavorful, but I think not as flavorful as a brined bird.  My 15-pound turkey, stuffed, took about 4-1/2 hours to cook.  I was careful to take the turkey out of the fridge about two hours before I wanted to cook it:  that shortens the time in the oven.  After about 45 minutes, I covered the breast fairly closely with a double thickness of foil more or less shaped to cover only the breast.  I heard about this trick someplace; the idea is to slow the cooking of the breast so that it doesn't overcook while the dark meat cooks--the dark meat needs to reach a higher temperature.  I think it worked pretty well.  On the whole, I was satisfied with this, but truthfully, I think a brined bird has more flavor.  So my latest thought is to combine the two methods:  brine the bird for 12 hours or so, then let it sit on a rack in the fridge for a day or two.  I think the result would be spectacular--I suspect the skin of the salted bird comes out so well because the turkey is completely dry when it goes into the oven.  Basting every hour or so also helped make the bird look spectacular, so I'll use the Saveur idea of putting a couple of cups of stock into the roasting pan when I put the turkey in the oven.  I've used a covered roaster in the past, but I think an open roaster actually works better.

And today, of course, it's leftovers.  I love leftovers--but none so much as those from Thanksgiving.  As much as I enjoy cooking, it's nice to get a second meal from all that effort.

Of course, there might not be enough after I have a turkey sandwich for lunch...

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