Stock, Yogurt, Quick Delicious Meals

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another of my increasingly-infrequent check-ins. What has Brian been cooking and eating? OK, last weekend I made chicken stock out of the eight or so carcasses I'd accumulated in the freezer. Hacked them to bits with my cleaver so they'd all fit in the pot and I'd get as concentrated a stock as possible, added a bouquet garni and chopped up veggies:

Chicken Stock

Came out really, really well. I've got stock for months, now, frozen as ice cubes in a big ziploc bag.

I've also been eating a lot of yogurt. What I've been doing is buying the White Mountain gallon jugs of nonfat yogurt and then straining it down. In the future, I hope to make my own yogurt once I find a good source for raw milk (it's a little under-the-table here in Texas where you can't sell it in stores.) At any rate, here's my straining apparatus. Very high-tech:

Yogurt Strainer

That's a doubled-up cheesecloth bag full of yogurt hanging over my sink via trussing twine from a broom running between my cabinets. I do this every weekend with a gallon of yogurt, and then wash the cheesecloth out (cheesecloth starts to get expensive if you use it this often and don't reuse it!)

Then I'll eat the yogurt something like this:


A bowl of yogurt with diced mango, raisins, goji berries, flax seeds, and toasted pecans. So good, and needs no additional sweetener. Plus, insanely healthy. It's a win on all fronts.

Part of my motivation for eating more yogurt is that, as I have been weightlifting a bunch recently, the way the nutrition works out is that your body can absorb, they say, roughly 30 grams of protein, roughly every few hours. So you don't want to eat a giant steak for dinner; a quarter pound of meat is roughly 30g of protein, and it's not very much (one split chicken breast or large leg has about 30g, and I divide other meats like seafood into quarter-pound chunks and wrap them in saran wrap and freeze them so I can just pop them under the broiler when it's time to eat.)

Yogurt, as food goes, is pretty interesting. The basic way it works is this: bacteria (at least thermophilus and bulgaricus, and potentially others like acidophilus, bifidus, L. casei) ferment the milk by digesting its lactose (the milk sugar) and producing lactic acid. The lactic acid creates, obviously, an acidic environment; a result of this acid is curdling, which is when the milk proteins gel into a matrix, i.e. solidify.

You can make yogurt yourself very easily; just take milk, put it in a very, very clean container, mix in some starter bacteria (either powdered packets you can buy or just mix in a scoop of existing yogurt you like) and cover it with a very, very clean cover, and let it sit somewhere warm for a few days. Yogurt bacteria are most active around 100-110F, but will die above about 113F, so you can't just boil it and hope for the best. You want it at least 85F or so so the bacteria start to proliferate before the milk starts to spoil or sour.

I find food preservation techniques especially interesting because, growing up, the only one I really knew about was refrigeration. The idea of leaving milk out in a hot room for days seemed really wrong to me, but I think, just like canning, pickling, brewing, salting, smoking, etc., it's important to understand dairy preservation to develop a full appreciation for food. The complex and myriad styles of food preservation, after all, are a huge part of food history. Refrigeration hasn't been around that long. And surrendering some of my compulsive reliance on refrigeration and fear of spoilage let me start enjoying some of the culinary world's funkier pleasures. Like really aggressive blue cheeses, or knock-your-socks-off kimchi. Or, in this case, a variety of yogurts.

Yogurt is preserved dairy because the acid environment produced by the bacteria is inhospitable to spoilage processes. I've kept the same gallon of yogurt for over a month; it doesn't really go bad.

Of course, preservation relies heavily on cleanliness, and even the slightest contaminant in a bowl you're leaving full of milk on top of your water heater for 3 days will start to develop into something relatively unpleasant.

But I digress. A well-made yogurt is smooth in consistency, the protein matrix forming gently and slowly, able to incorporate a lot of the whey. If you make your yogurt too quickly, it'll be grainier, like real curds, and leaky, unable to contain all the whey. You can mitigate some of that by heating the milk to around 180F first to denature the proteins so they gel more smoothly, but if I manage to hunt down raw milk the last thing I'm going to do is cook it, so I'm fine with taking things slow.

Strained, non-fat yogurt, then, is something like a perfect food for athletes, because if thoroughly fermented, yogurt is very low in lactose (most of it having been digested by the bacteria) so it's palatable to the somewhat lactose-intolerant, and the stuff you have left after straining is the protein gel, without the other parts of the whey.

I strain the yogurt for maybe 4 hours, or so, and of what's left, a bowl full as you see above is a portion containing 30g of protein. Success!

Obviously I don't only eat yogurt, so I also just made and ate this, which I'll post a picture of because it was delicious:

Chicken & Sage Agnolotti with Poached Eggs and Sauce

Those are agnolotti filled with chicken & sage that I've had in the freezer for a while. I boiled them up, but unsure that there was really a quarter pound of chicken in the portion I was eating, I poached two eggs in the pasta water (with a splash of distilled vinegar in the hopes it'd help the eggs hold their shapes; still, they weren't pretty.) Lay the eggs atop the pasta, good salt and pepper. Then I sweated minced garlic, shallot, and sage leaves (my sage plants are going nuts lately) in olive oil, added some of that chicken stock you see up top, a splash of white wine, cooked it down, whisked in a little ap flour for consistency, and poured it on top.

Man, it was delicious. I love poached eggs; the yolks running in with the rest of the sauce was like liquid velvet. Delicious and rich.


At July 1, 2008 8:51 PM , Blogger Rochelle said...

Selfishly, I wish I had the opportunity to be fed more meals at your house.

At August 12, 2008 3:32 PM , Blogger Ross said...

I crack the egg into something handy, spin the water and then drop the egg quickly while continuing to have the water spin for a bit, the egg doesn't spread out too much then though I'm sure there are other more perfect techniques.

At October 1, 2008 2:25 PM , Blogger baxissimo said...

Hi Brian,

I've been trying to find a contact address for you on this site somewhere, but failing.

I need to talk to you about the licensing terms on some of the code you wrote for Gamasutra. Basically I assume since you put it in the mag you're ok with anyone using it for whatever purposes, but unfortunately some big corps want to have more direct assurances about such things.

If you could email me I'd appreciate it.

Sorry for the interruption here in your very nice cooking blog.

At October 1, 2008 4:24 PM , Blogger brian said...

Hey! I'd love to email you, but I don't know who you are nor how to get in touch with you. You can email me at brian dot h dot sharp -- and that's at gmail.

At November 16, 2008 4:00 PM , Blogger Gabriel said...

Very nice. I have also a site for recipes for cooking, but you have to translate the Google translate. I am from Slovakia.

At December 2, 2008 6:45 PM , Blogger Contemporary Troubadour said...

Hi Brian,

I've loved your food photography ever since I happened upon your site while looking for scone recipes. What kind of settings do you use to do your shooting (especially close up)? I have to use a tripod sometimes, and the lighting in my place isn't always great.

There's an award I'm passing along for your site over on my page (see below). Keep on posting!

At December 16, 2008 6:35 AM , Anonymous MC said...

This was extremely interesting, although, I have to admit, I don't think I'd have the time or the patience to make my own yogurt but learning about the process was so intriguing!

At January 8, 2009 10:54 AM , Anonymous Anne @ Pink Galoshes said...

Interesting post. I am always fascinated by homemade yogurt. I just wish I had the time to do so. So fresh!

At January 25, 2009 11:37 PM , Anonymous health insurance said...

Mouth Watering tasty recipe!!!

At May 5, 2009 12:20 AM , Blogger brian said...



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