Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Minimalist - Hair Raisingly Bad Technique

Mark Bittman is exasperating. Sure, as his bestselling cookbook implies, he knows how to cook everything, but he often cooks like a novice.

Here he demonstrates once again that his minimalist approach is grounded in inferior cooking technique.

He makes chicken liver pate and en route tries to saute onions in a cold pan, then adds the livers to, he alleges, "cook them quickly."

There are so many things wrong here I don't know where to start. Okay I'll start with the pan: it should be hot before, not after, adding the fat (in this case butter). The livers should be sauteed before the onions to assure even browning -which is not achievable with water (from the onions) in the pan. After the livers are browned, the pan should be deglazed with wine or cognac and the "fond" poured over the livers.

Next the pan is returned to the fire, more fat is added, the onions sauteed then combined with the livers. Of course, if there is any glace (glaze) aka fond in the pan from cooking the onions it should be deglazed and added to the liver and onion mix.

I don't know, I'm sure he's a nice guy and I don't want to be in the business of running a total stranger's reputation into the mud. But when I seen  see someone this technically challenged passing themselves off as an "expert," it makes my hair stand up. I assume that his self-satirizing approach (as evidenced by Zen of cooking disciple introit) is meant to soften criticism of his mostly careless approach to execution of technique, but I'm not so sure that the bulk of his audience is aware of just how careless he can be.

32 comments:

Jessika said...

but bittman is treated rather "heroically" for a no-nonsense approach to cooking which rarely is very no-nonsense. I guess you like him or you don't (I am in the latter category). If you are to cook the livers over high heat then you risk over-searing onions.

Ed Bruske said...

I'll second that emotio--a big, empty toque

JFK said...

In defense of Mark, he has never claimed to be a trained chef and the concept behind his minimalist column (in part) is to defy normal convention by cooking things simply. He often times "bends the rules" on purpose. So what. Are Mark's dishes optimal? Often times not, such as in this case, but many of his dishes are decent in their own right.

Now I'd like to say to Mr del Grosso that I don't like cooks passing themselves off as intelligent, smart guys when they write sentences with such poor grammar: "But when I seen someone this technically challenged passing themselves off as an "expert," it makes my hair stand up."

I seen? Please, you sound like a redneck hick!

Natalie Sztern said...

You are probably right...

however I always remember my grandmother sauteeing onions first; then adding the liver. She cooked the life out of the liver because she then used to grind it, dead and cold, by hand with the gizmo that screwed onto the table.

the onions added afterwards to the mixture out of the pan.

I am not sure, but I think it would have been heresy to add any liquor and her response to you would probably have been: (add jewish accent) "Vats the difference, it all gets ground up anyvay"

Such is the memory of my 'chopped liver a la bubby'....

Natalie Sztern said...

That being said...As soon as he used milk I knew he wasn't making chopped liver...so for pate I have no idea how it is supposed to be done...

Tags said...

Quote -
Now I'd like to say to Mr del Grosso that I don't like cooks passing themselves off as intelligent, smart guys when they write sentences with such poor grammar: "But when I seen someone this technically challenged passing themselves off as an "expert," it makes my hair stand up."
- Unquote

"Mr del Grosso" fat-fingered one letter, (the n in seen) while Mark Bittman's faux pas in this video alone outnumber the keystrokes in any sentence in your post.

Keep your day job, unless you're an English teacher.

Jennifer S said...

Thanks, Bob, for keeping it real. Cold pan to cook quickly? DUH! Even I know that, and I haven't gone to cooking school.

Bob del Grosso said...

JFK
You are kidding, right? I'm a redneck hick because of an errant "n?"

Man, you must be one tough boss.

I mean, if I'd criticized Mr. Bitman's writing you might be justified in taking me to task for my typo. But I think I was pretty clear that I was taking exception to his cooking technique.

As for your spirited defense of Mr. Bittman well,I am sure he'd be pleased to know that there is at least one fan who appreciates his -or perhaps his producer's- frequent disregard for what careful professional and amateur cooks understand to be proper technique.

JFK said...

Sorry Bob. I mistook your typo for a grammatical error. I realized my error after I posted. I apologize for the redneck remark too.

While Mark's technique on this one was not very good, I still appreciate his overall body of work...as I appreciate and enjoy your postings too.

(I am really not that tough of a boss either ;)

Peace and happy holidays.

Natalie Sztern said...

Well I think Mark Bittman is 'a middle-aged food dude'.

(if they were giving out awards for best line in a post this year, the award would go to endless simmer in their description of Bittman)if that doesn't sink a man's sails I don't know what would

Scotty said...

As one who just did a double batch of chopped liver (sauteed in schmaltz Natalie) I should state that I do not deglaze the pan when the livers are done. I add more fat, the onions and some water, (which is kinda deglazing), simmer covered at first then uncovered until semi-carmelized, and after adding them to the rest I deglaze the pan with wine or brandy.

Considering that a true Pate is supposed to be enclosed in pastry, what the heck is the difference between what we refer to as Pate and Chopped Liver?

Happy New Year!

Bob del Grosso said...

JFK
Thanks for the explanation; there are no hard feelings on my side. I've been at this blogging game long enough to know when decent a soul has rattled off an ill-considered barb. If I'd thought for a moment that you were a troll or some other type of malcontent, I would not have responded to your comment.

Peace back at you.

Bob del Grosso said...

scotty

Any ground, chopped or pureed (or any combination thereof) seasoned, molded and cooked meat is "pate" in classical French gastronomy. If the pate is surrounded by crust, it is "pate en croute."

Scotty said...

I may be wrong, but I always thought that "pate" itself was a variant of "pastry". I know that in common usage the difference between a pate and a terrine has become nonexistent, but why does chopped liver have to be so spurned. ;-)

Jessika said...

On the topic on simplifying and fast cooking. I am all for it. But then there's something to be said for the steps you skip in between to achieve the fast result. If we or I rather, look in another direction than of Bittman for a moment, there's a cookbook-writer that simplifies to the point of technique going AWOL. If you compare recipes, as I often do, one recipe might have 15 steps, the simplified 5. What happened to the 10 in between? Not to say that you can't simplify but a part of the actual cooking and the understanding of cooking can be lost in the race for speed.

Jason Sandeman said...

@Scotty - The French term "Pâté" is the word for "paste".

Bob del Grosso said...

Jessika
I agree and add that it is one thing to simplify by leaving out ingredients and quite another to drop steps and cheapen or ignore technique. Dropping ingredients without altering the recipe so much that it becomes inferior or something else entirely is usually not that difficult, but dropping steps is much harder and cheapening technique as we see here is just plain dumb.

Laurence said...

I find Mark Bittman more than a little self-satisfied. Sorry, I am getting all my "if you can't say something nice" stuff out of the way before New Year's.

Natalie Sztern said...

Scotty, this has been a week out of hell, I lost my sister in a car accident in Chicago; but today you put a smile on my face for the first time in a week....schmaltz - I love it! It's a memory thing...

IdahoRocks said...

Well, it has been awhile since I used any French, but I believe that Pâte means pastry or dough while pâté means something like squished or chunked, like what you do with the livers. Notice those fancy French accent marks.... Now that's a grammar lesson.... Of course, I'll welcome any comments by native French speakers.

IdahoRocks said...

Natalie,

I'm very sorry and extend my deepest sympathy. My heart goes out to you.

And it makes me smile too, to think that Scotty was able to put that smile on your face.

Linda,
aka IdahoRocks

Scotty said...

I love it when a post gets lost . . .

Anyway, here's what I wrote yesterday before leaving for Cleveburg. Pate and Pastry are both are based on the root "paste". In fact "pastry" in English usage was originally just paste. And we still use choux paste.

Larousse says we are all wrong. We are also all right. In addition to en croute, there is en terrine (which I knew of) and just pate. The last is described as being closer to the English meat pie than to what we think of as pate. En Terrine is properly called a terrine (in or out of the actual terrine) but even France it is often referred to as a pate.

By that definition, I think Chopped liver qualifies, especially if it's as good as I make.

Any time, Natalie!

Jessika said...

I was just to say what Scotty all said. Where I live there's ready made liver pate to buy. It is available as a spread, much like for sandwiches. Then there's another which you slice. Then you can find pâtés of all little strange birds and four hooved animals. I like a slice of pâté with cornichons and cumberland sauce (in some cases)
Terrines too, not that I care for them that much.

Sorry for your loss, Natalie. Not that a loved one isn't difficult anytime during the year but I imagine it to be more difficult at this time of the year.

Jessika said...

Not that LOSING a loved one isn't difficult (...)

Jason said...

Scotty -

The written difference between these ground/chopped/pureed meat products and pie dough is very small, just a single accent.

Pâté - pat-tay - a paste of meat, etc.

Pâte - pat - a pastry dough, as in pâte brisée or pâte sucrée, or pâte à choux.

I think many chefs need to take some French lessons, the mis-pronunciation of many culinary terms grates on my ears. Brunoise is NOT "broon-wah".

Bob del Grosso said...

Jason
Great comment all around...
And I would argue that the macroscopic physical differences are as small: In their simplest form all are homogeneous highly viscous mixtures i.e. "pastes."

Scotty said...

Jason:

Not an argument, just a fact - Larousse has "Pâté" as I described it. As Spock once said a difference that makes no difference is no difference, but the definition is: "the word Pâté on it's own should, strictly speaking, only be applied to to a dish consisting of a pastry case (shell) filled with meat, fish, vegetables or fruit, which is baked in the oven and served hot or cold". Larousse Gastronomique, Crowne Publishers 1999, Page 220.

Never argue with a cook who is a recovering Attorney! :-)

Scotty said...

That was page 774.

Bob del Grosso said...

Scotty
It is true that in classical French cuisine Pâté is a savory meat or fish pie covered with a crust. But it ceased being only that a long time ago. As much as I would like to take Bittman to task for a poor apprehension of culinary nomenclature, I have to give him a pass.

It's perfectly okay to call pureed and "set" liver (or any food) pâté. And given the acceptance of descriptive dish names following the triumph of the ideology of the nouvelle cuisine , what used to be simple pâté, has also become pâté en croute.

Bob del Grosso said...

Scotty
I hasten to add that I'm glad you brought that up.

IdahoRocks said...

I know it's rather compulsive, but I did check the etymology of pastry, pâté, and pâte, and it seems that they all derived from the Old French pasté(e) meaning paste. Pâté moved into Middle English and became pasty, as in meat pie, where it seems it migrated back to the French with the spelling as is. Pâte remained as a kind of dough and also morphed into pastry in English.

I loved these posts and thanks everyone. It has been a while since I did any word etymologies and I apologize that this was a sloppy rather than professional job (I have a degree in Linguistics).

Jason - yeah, I know what you mean about French pronunciation. I heard Cat Cora call duxelles, duk'sels, and I believe that Ruhlman does the same in one of his books.... But I'd bet that they both make a fabulous duxelles sauce....

Sarah said...

For someone who has no idea who Mark Bittman is (living in the boondocks) and doesn't care much for liver (minimalistic or not, well perhaps Scotty's) thank you for this entertaining post, especially the comments.I guess if Mark Bittman is entertaining he stays in center stage no matter how he cooks. Curious to know what you think of the molecular gastronomy rage in the culinary world.