Monday, April 6, 2009

Only The Very Best

How is this chicken stock better?

I started reading the latest issue of Food Arts magazine this morning. It is a magazine devoted to fine dining, but, because it is free for foodservice professionals, it contains advertising that appeals to all segments of the industry. A few pages in, the ad for Knorr’s Ultimate Roasted Chicken Base caught my eye, so I read the smaller print. What I found interesting was the following claim:
“Master Chef Steve Jilleba insists on working with only the very best products. So the fact that he believes Knorr Ultimate® Roasted Chicken Base delivers the ultimate in rich, roasted chicken flavor notes is definitely worth thinking about.”
I wondered, who is this “Master” Chef and what is in this product. Well, it turns out that Steve Jilleba really is a Master Chef. Not a self proclaimed one, or recipient of a title bestowed upon him by a corporate entity, for advertising sake, but an American Culinary Federation Certified Master Chef (CMC), one of only 61, that involves passing a grueling week long exam, a Certified Culinary Educator (CCE), and a member of the American Academy of Chefs (AAC). He was recently the recipient of the Chair’s Medal Award during a formal ceremony and dinner at the 2008 ACF National Convention, presented annually to an AAC Fellow who has demonstrated exemplary dedication and made outstanding contributions to the culinary profession while maintaining the highest standards and ideals and working to ensure excellence among future culinarians. He has competed and won numerous gold medals in the International “culinary Olympics.” Jilleba is the National Culinary Committee Chairman, Team manager for the 2008 ACF Culinary Youth Team USA, graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, ACF Central Region Chef of the Year in 2000, ACF Central Region Chef Professionalism Award in 1999 and he was named his chapter’s Chef of the Year and Member of the Year in 1999. Jilleba was also honored as one of Johnson & Wales University’s Distinguished Visiting Chefs, and the list goes on.

He obviously knows how to cook and what quality food is all about. So then, what is a talented chef, who no doubt, is a stand up guy, that has dedicated his life to the culinary arts, doing flogging processed chicken base on a national platform? It turns out that Chef Jilleba is the Corporate Executive Chef for Unilever, a 50 Billion dollar per year multi-national company that is no stranger to controversy. How could a job such as that, for someone who likes cooking fine food, at the highest level, be satisfying?

I used to be a member of the American Culinary Federation and was a charter member and officer for one of their chapters. When you are a member you get the chance to enter a good number of ACF sanctioned food competitions throughout the course of the year. Think part science fair, part Beauty pageant, part art show, part Iron Chef. For a chef they are exhilarating, highly competitive and an opportunity to show your peers “what you got” Most of the large food companies have corporate chefs. They run the test kitchens and come up with new products. Stan Frankenthaler, once considered one of the best chefs in the Boston Area, left the restaurant business in 2005, to become the corporate executive chef for Dunkin Donuts. There’s the rub, forgoing the thrill of running your own restaurant, serving your own creations, for a better lifestyle with normal hours and a lucrative paycheck. So you get your jollies competing for medals at these various sanctioned competitions.

So just what is Knorr’s Ultimate Roasted Chicken Base? It’s basically boullion cubes in paste form, in a tub. Here are the list of ingredients:


Unilever claims that the product contains “No added MSG” so let’s analyze the ingredients.
We know what these are. But, do we really need sugar in chicken stock?
Hydrolyzed protein is protein that has been hydrolyzed or broken down into its component amino acids. While there are many means of achieving this, two of the most common are prolonged boiling in a strong acid or strong base or using an enzyme such as the pancreatic protease enzyme to stimulate the naturally-occurring hydrolytic process. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hydrolyzed protein is used to enhance flavor and contains monosodium glutamate (MSG). When added this way, the labels are not required to list MSG as an ingredient.
Hard to avoid when making chicken stock.
Autolyzed yeast extract consists of concentrations of yeast cells that are allowed to die and break up, so that the yeasts' digestive enzymes break their proteins down into simpler compounds.Yeast autolysates are used in Vegemite (Australia), Marmite, Promite, Oxo (New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, and Republic of Ireland), and Cenovis (Switzerland). Bovril (The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland) switched from beef extract to yeast extract for 2005 and most of 2006, but later switched back. Autolyzed yeast extract is also the primary source of monosodium glutamate for the food industry.
The chemical compound potassium chloride (KCl) is a metal halide salt composed of potassium and chlorine. In its pure state it is odorless. It has a white or colorless vitreous crystal, with a crystal structure that cleaves easily in three directions. Potassium chloride crystals are face-centered cubic. Potassium chloride is occasionally known as "muriate of potash," particularly when used as a fertilizer. Potash varies in color from pink or red to white depending on the mining and recovery process used. White potash, sometimes referred to as soluble potash, is usually higher in analysis and is used primarily for making liquid starter fertilizers. KCl is used in medicine, scientific applications, food processing and in judicial execution through lethal injection. It occurs naturally as the mineral sylvite and in combination with sodium chloride as sylvinite.
Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide that is used as a food additive. It is produced from starch and is usually found as a creamy-white hygroscopic powder. Maltodextrin is easily digestible, being absorbed as rapidly as glucose, and might either be moderately sweet or might have hardly any flavor at all. There have been recent reports of coeliac reaction to maltodextrin in the United States. This might be a consequence of the shift of corn to ethanol production and its replacement with wheat in the formulation. Wendy's, the fast food chain footnotes maltodextrin in its list of gluten-free foods, which may be a sign of their receiving reports of these.
Maltodextrin may contain monosodium glutamate or create MSG during processing.
The exact definition of natural flavorings & flavors from Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations is as follows:
"The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."
In other words, natural flavors can be pretty much anything approved for use in food.
This comes from the boiling of chicken necks and parts, from questionably reared chickens, on a massive scale and concentrating the liquid via a vacuum evaporator.
Disodium 5'-ribonucleotides, E number E635, are flavor enhancers which are synergistic with glutamates in creating the taste of umami. It is a mixture of disodium inosinate (IMP) and disodium guanylate (GMP) and is often used where a food already contains natural glutamates (as in meat extract) or added monosodium glutamate. It is primarily used in flavored noodles, snack foods, chips, crackers, sauces and fast foods. It is produced by combining the sodium salts of guanylic acid (E626) and inosinic acid
A mixture of 98% monosodium glutamate and 2% E635 has four times the flavor enhancing power of monosodium glutamate alone. ingestion of disodium ribonucleotides has been linked with skin rash (ranging from mild to severe) up to 30 hours after ingestion.[citation needed] It is recommended that no food containing disodium ribonucleotides should be consumed by gout and asthma sufferers or people with an allergic reaction to aspirin.
A spice used for coloring the broth. It’s about the healthiest ingredient here.

Here’s what goes into homemade roasted chicken stock:
2 Roasted chicken carcasses (skin, bones, fond, meat scraps, etc.)
4 carrots, cut into 2" pieces
4 stalks celery, cut into 2" pieces, including the leaves
3 medium onion, quartered
1 medium leek, cut into 2" pieces, then sliced lengthwise and cleaned thoroughly
About 10-15 whole peppercorns
A couple of stems each of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Enough water to cover the ingredients in the pot

Better eating through chemistry? In this case, I think not.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Burn Your Cookbooks

The Anti Recipe Movement is Coming!

This was a new one on me. I was having my morning coffee, which I consume while checking email, wire services and blogs, when I came across a post on the Boston localvores site. It’s a great resource for those of us in the Boston area for sourcing out locally produced, minimally processed foodstuffs. Which I am all for. I appreciate their commitment and support their effort to spread information regarding our local suppliers. Many of these small producers and suppliers need our support in order to keep their businesses viable.

What caught my eye was their most recent post, causing a “What the @#%&" to escape my lips. It was these two phrases “Mark my words, the anti-recipe movement is coming.” and “Recipes are a kind of conformity and fear.” I understand the gist of the post, people are too dependent on following set recipes, which can stifle creativity and create a need to run to the store for a missing ingredient, rather than rely on what’s in the pantry.

“Recipes, especially for savory things, should simply be a quick description/how-to.” I can agree with that statement, in certain instances. Here is a good example where it does not apply. Not that Lark cookery is still popular, but you see what I mean.

When I was a fledging restaurant cook, in an establishment that served classical haute cuisine, we used books such as Herings Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery,The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery and Ma Gastronomie. They had quick descriptions, like the ones above. Simple if you had spent thousands of hours learning technique. These were books written by chefs, for chefs. The authors assumed that you knew technique, or you wouldn’t be cooking from tomes as complicated as these to begin with.

Marc Matsumoto’s excellent blog, “No Recipes” (he does have recipes) is technique driven. His philosophy on cooking is that it’s 50% technique, 40% inspiration and 10% ingredients. He believes that if you’re armed with some basic techniques and a little inspiration, you can make a tasty meal from even the most derelict pantry.

Technique is important but recipes are indispensable for most home cooks. A new book from Michael Ruhlman, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking is a good example. You may know how to make a roux with butter and flour. And you may know that if you add that to hot milk, and boil it, you get a B├ęchamel sauce. How much flour, to how much butter, to how much milk? Cook for how long? Go ahead, take a guess. Do you like wallpaper paste?

What about the need for recipes in order to achieve authenticity? A few nights ago I made a traditional Thai dish, Jungle Curry with Prawns.
It had 16 ingredients, all in exact measurements. It was the first time I made this, and I wanted to get the flavors as authentic as possible. There are quite a few Thai dishes that I have mastered, but I always follow the recipe the first few times so I get the flavor profile down. Then I can improvise and improve.

Yes, people should be more creative. People should experiment. Maybe for some, cooking strictly from the recipe does have something to do with fear and security. But, should we take away sheet music from musicians and patterns from clothing designers? Following the recipe verbatim can appear dogmatic, promoting a movement against recipes is dogmatic too, and highly absurd.