Friday, June 13, 2008

The One Minute Steak

The One Minute and Ten Second Steak and it's creator.

Stopped by to visit Nelson and see his latest toy.

It's true about boys and our toys. They just get bigger, badder and more technologically advanced as we get older. It's something that women never understand. Just bear with us, please.

For his Grand Cru wine bar, Nelson has been looking for progressive ways to incorporate hot food into their menu without having to spent 50 grand on a full kitchen (not to mention the lack of space for such an endeavor). The Amana AXP 20 oven might just be the ticket.

Utilizing three cooking technologies, the AXP cooks the food with microwaves, convection heat and indirect heat. And it cooks food in record time by cooking the food simultaneously from the inside (microwave) and the outside (convection).

A pink-ish medium well. Not too bad for this super microwave.

It sounded too good to be true. Cooked and carmelized meats in just a few minutes? Hard to imagine. But there it was: a half-pound rib steak seasoned with salt and pepper, tossed into the AXP and one minute and ten seconds later, the steak is cooked through to a medium well with some caramel crustiness on the outside.

A few minutes later, Nelson takes some very hard frozen raw shrimp, tosses them into a bowl with some olive oil and lemon juice and fifty seconds later those suckers are hot, steaming and cooked all the way through. Unreal.

As I peruse the users manual, one thing becomes stark clear: the AXP wasn't designed for this kind of cooking, it was designed for places like T.G.I. McFunster's where they basically reheat food and serve it to customers. It was designed for cooking en masse and not necessarily the kind of cooking we're interested in doing.

But the question remains: how to harness this piece of industrial technology to achieve the results we desire? Beautifully caramelized steak with a pink center is the goal. And while it was meant to blast cook frozen crap in seconds, there seems to be a way to achieve that steak and surpassing the level of Outback.

Hard frozen raw shrimp to hot and steamy in 50 seconds.

I thought it was amazing. The time and the results were unbelievable. The problem was that the steak tasted flat. I can't tell if that was a result of the microwave cooking or if the cut of meat was simply "too commercial." Nelson picked it up from a nearby butcher who seems to be less than forthcoming about the sourcing of their meats, typically meaning that it's standard grain-fed, feedlot fare whose meat tastes bland to my palate to begin with.

Ditto for the frozen raw shrimp of unspecific origin. I have to wonder if we took some of the ingredients we're used to using (as opposed to ingredients picked up quickly for this test run) how they would taste under these cooking conditions. Certainly, there's something to be said about the time it takes to do it the old fashioned way - that the slower cooking method develops sugars and flavors in a way that the AXP cannot achieve because of it's speed, but I'm not knowledgeable enough in food science to determine that.

Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what this little oven can be pushed to do. Maybe if we lower the microwave power to 70% and extend the convection cooking time to one minute and thirty seconds at a lower blast temperature, we might be able to achieve a medium interior with crusty exterior...

Confounded by Standards

I'm still in Towson and still stuck with the same suburban predicament: where to find something tasty to eat? Luckily, I remembered that Three Chefs was along my drive and swung in for a bite.

There were only two other elderly gentlemen sitting at a table shooting the shit and waiting for their order when I arrived. For me, it was Jambalaya time. The last time I was here, I thought it was pretty good and wanted to see if that was truly the case or just an anomaly.

After a bit of a wait, the Jambalaya arrived fresh and hot. Blazing hot in fact. And the still somewhat al dente rice signaled that perhaps it was actually freshly cooked - a good sign. The flavors were fresh, crisp and spicy. Cumin, pepper and onions with sausage, chicken and shrimp in a tomato based sauce. It was darn tasty and well worth the trip.

I ordered a side of french fries because I couldn't help myself and was taught a lesson. The fries were terrible. Burnt and saturated with fat. Disgusting.

The two gentlemen before me had both ordered the four chicken wing and french fry specials. My guess is that their order wiped out whatever fryer they were using and when my fries hit the oil, it was cold. Insufficiently heated oil fails to develop the crust that seals in the foods' moisture that creates the steaming action that actually cooks fried foods. The fries sucked up all the fat, saturating them and as the oil heated, the fries sealed the oil inside and ended up overcooked until dark brown.

I was confounded but figured this was God's way of punishing me for ordering fries. I really need to stop that.

But I was confounded because the chef took so much time to make the jambalaya but sent out these burnt and lame fries? Why hold some level of quality only to destroy it with a crappily prepared side? Where's their standards? It was disappointing.

Three Chefs
912 Taylor Ave
Towson, MD 21286