Gallus gallus domesticus: A dissertationicus

Hey, it’s Dietsch. I haven’t posted here in a while, but I wanted to talk about something important: where we get our food.

More specifically, where we get our chicken. Chicken is important to us because it’s the meat we eat most often. It’s relatively lean, but as everyone knows, when it’s cooked and sourced well, it’s flavorful. Julian loves it. But, unfortunately, finding good quality but inexpensive chicken is surprisingly difficult.

Because we eat chicken so often, we want to make sure we’re eating good stuff. It doesn’t need to be organic, although that’s nice, but we certainly don’t want antibiotics or hormones in the meat. Free-range birds that eat grubs and grasses tend to taste better than birds raised indoors on a grain diet, but to find birds like that, you need farmer’s markets. And with a toddler, getting to the farmer’s market is harder now than it used to be. (We have one in the neighborhood; more on that later.)

One thing we’re adamant about, though: no Tyson, no Perdue, no Swift. None of the stuff you find at most major groceries. We’re building a boy here; we don’t want to flood him with chemicals.

brick chicken 2

Since moving back to Brooklyn in June, we’ve had to start over again on the task of researching our best food sources. In Providence, we had things nailed down pretty tightly. We knew who had our favorite chickens, for example (Pat’s Pastured), and we knew what our second and third choices were — which farmer’s market and grocery birds were reasonably good choices, if we couldn’t buy from Pat.

During our first stint in Brooklyn, things were also pretty set. I worked for a while near Union Square, so getting to the Greenmarket three times a week was pretty easy. I’d swing through in the morning or at lunch, cache my stash in the communal fridge, and haul it home at the end of the day. (Our favorite chickens in our swinging DINK days? Tamarack Hollow, Violet Hill, and Flying Pigs. It’s hard to say which of the three we liked best.)

This go-around, things have changed. I work from home now, writing and taking care of Julian. I’ve tried going into Union Square with him during the week, but to get him on the subway, I have to wear him in the carrier, and hauling 22 pounds of baby and Greenmarket goods home is pretty stressful.

We have a small Greenmarket on Cortelyou Road on Sundays. We get beautiful eggs from Knoll Krest Farm, but we haven’t asked them yet about chicken. (Years ago, we bought some stewing hens from their USQ stand and they were delicious, but I don’t know whether they sell young chickens, or just older laying hens for stewing.)

We make out okay in this neighborhood for grocery stores. I mean, we’re unlikely to ever see a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s here, and that’s okay with me, but we have a couple of C-Towns, a Met, and a Key Food. And also on Cortelyou, we have the Flatbush Food Co-op. Unlike the more famous Park Slope Food Co-op, you can shop at Flatbush without being a member.

Chicken offerings at Flatbush include Eberly, Wise, Free Bird, and Bell & Evans. Eberly birds are raised by Amish and Mennonite farmers in Pennsylvania. Eberly is organic and offers its birds at least some access to the outdoors. (I probably don’t need to explain how loose the term “free range” is; it’s hard to know how much outdoor access a “free-range” bird really gets.) We’ve had Eberly’s chickens many times and are satisfied. Its turkey was the centerpiece of our beautiful Thanksgiving feast this year.

Wise is a kosher operation, but it’s also organic. As with Eberly, its birds have some outdoor access. The birds are raised by “a group of ten small family farms” in Pennsylvania. We’ve also been satisfied with Wise chicken.

Free Bird is another organic producer. Free Bird’s birds are cage-free, which I don’t think Eberly or Wise claim to do. Its birds are raised on farms in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. Free Bird would be my top choice at the Food Co-op, but Flatbush doesn’t always have it in stock. When it’s out, I go with Eberly or Wise.

Bell & Evans sells some birds that are organic and some that are not; it says its birds are free-range. Like the first three, its birds are raised in Pennsylvania. We like B&E birds, but Bell & Evans sells EVERYWHERE; I don’t feel like they need my custom.

brick chicken 1

Prices vary, but generally, these four options run about $3.99 to $4.99 a pound. I don’t mind paying a premium for quality meat, raised in relatively humane circumstances without a lot of crap added to it, but still, with a kid, that’s pricey.

Recently, though, I’ve started to realize there’s another option. We went into Chelsea Market a few times, after we moved back, and while there, we stocked up on meats from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. The Dickson’s site is pretty transparent about its sourcing, so I learned that their delicious chickens come from a distributor called Madani Halal in Queens. The birds are shipped live to Madani from Amish farms in — yes — Pennsylvania. They’re raised cage-free, without antibiotics, and on a purely vegetarian diet.

Now, Dickson’s birds are wonderful, as is all their stuff, but they’re also pricey: $5.00 a pound. At prices like that, even humble chicken ceases to be a weekly staple of your diet.

However, we live in an area of Brooklyn known as Little Pakistan, an area that has drawn Pakistani immigrants for generations. We have halal shops everywhere. Walk up or down Coney Island Avenue, anywhere south of Church Avenue, and you can’t miss them.

One shop, a bodega/butcher’s called Evergreen, is just around the corner from our apartment. At Evergreen, if you want jasmine rice, the smallest bag available is five pounds. If you have room to store a 30-pound bag, Evergreen can hook you up. Also, if you’re nuts about curries, this is the place for you; every curry spice and blend imaginable is for sale here. Fenugreek, coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala — you can buy them all for a pittance.

Halal, if you don’t know, is the Muslim equivalent to kosher law. The strictures are quite similar. No blood, no pork. Animals must be treated humanely, and must be slaughtered in such a way as to minimize suffering. (Although the exact method of slaughter has prompted some controversy; the Wiki entry on halal has a summary.)

Halal meat, like kosher meat, generally carries a tag or a mark to indicate that it’s safe to eat for adherents of the respective religion. So thanks to this tag, I learned that Evergreen’s chickens come from Senat Poultry, in Paterson, New Jersey.

Well, they’re slaughtered in Paterson. The chickens themselves are raised on … wait for it, wait for it … Amish farms in Pennsylvania. They’re vegetarian-fed, free-roaming birds, raised without antibiotics or hormones.

To our palates, they’re just as good as anything we can get at the co-op, and they’re as good as the birds we were getting at Dickson’s. They’re not specifically organic, but that’s the only difference between Senat’s birds and those from Eberly, et al.

Oh, wait, there’s one other difference, and this one’s major.

Evergreen charges me 2 bucks a pound. Those, my friends, are mass-market grocery prices — what you’d pay for Tyson birds at C-Town.

We’ve had better birds from the farmer’s markets, sure. But a four-pounder from Evergreen costs me $8.00, whereas a bird from a Greenmarket vendor might cost me as much as $6.00 a pound, or $24. Is that bird three times as good? I cannot honestly say “Yes.”

So, let’s sum up.

Co-op birds — Eberly, Wise, Free Bird, B&E:

  • Organic (mostly; some B&E birds aren’t)
  • Free roaming
  • Hormone and antibiotic free
  • Vegetarian diet
  • $3.99 to $4.99 a pound

Dickson’s birds:

  • Halal
  • Free roaming
  • Not organic, but hormone and antibiotic free
  • Veggie diet
  • $5.00 a pound

Evergreen:

  • Halal
  • Free roaming
  • Not organic, but hormone and antibiotic free
  • Veggie diet
  • $2.00 a pound

A Pie for Mikey

I was five years old when my father died.

It was pancreatic cancer what done the old man in. With a baby on the way, I’ve been thinking a lot about him, about the man he was, the father he was. And naturally, of course, I’m thinking a lot about the man and father I want to be, and about the little boy we’re about to bring into the world. And it makes me miss my father all the more.

We awoke Monday morning to the unexpected and tragic news that our dear friend Jennifer Perillo had lost her husband, Mikey, the father of her two beautiful little girls, to a heart attack on Sunday night.

I was immediately shattered. Knowing what my mother went through in the days and years after his death, and the way it still affects her today–I could immediately empathize with Jennie. And of course I know all too well how it feels to be suddenly bereft of a father.

Jennie posted a video Monday morning of Mikey dancing with his daughter, and I have to be honest: I still can’t watch it.

The next day, Tuesday, while planning Mikey’s memorial service, Jennie posted a simple request of her friends and loved ones. Today, Jennie and her closest friends and relatives are gathering to memorialize Mikey’s life. Her husband’s favorite dessert was her recipe for peanut-butter pie. Jennie kept promising herself that she would make it for him … tomorrow. But there was no tomorrow. So from those who can only be there in spirit, she’s asked just this simple favor:

For those asking what they can do to help my healing process, make a peanut butter pie this Friday and share it with someone you love. Then hug them like there’s no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on.

This one’s for Mikey Perillo …

A Pie for Mikey

For Virgil Dietsch and the grandson he’ll never know …

A Pie for Mikey

And for squeezing out every bit of love you can while you still have time.

The (Deep) Dish Redux

Too damn long ago, Jen and I wrote up my (then) latest recipe for iron-skillet pizza. When we posted the recipe, we included this note:

NOTE: The original recipe says this makes two 9-inch pizzas. We have a used a modification of this recipe several times in a 12-inch iron skillet and have finally decided that it’s too much dough, even for a 12-incher. When next we make this, we’ll reduce the flour from 4 cups to 3, and we’ll reduce the amounts of other ingredients accordingly. When we do, we’ll post the revised recipe.

Nearly two years later (I was tempted to wait for the actual anniversary, but my better angels won out), here it is. I’ve used this recipe a couple of times now, and I think it’s ready for prime time.

What I chose to do was to adapt my grilled or pizza-stone crust recipe and rework it with butter. The 2008 recipe also called for butter, and we like what it does to this kind of crust. When you have a deep dish pizza, it’s very good to have a flakier crust. Otherwise, the pizza can become too leaden in texture.

  • 3 c flour
  • 2 tsp instant dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  1. Combine flour, yeast, salt and sugar in bowl of standing mixer.
  2. Add water and butter.
  3. Combine well, using the paddle attachment on low speed.
  4. Knead, using a dough hook, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and crawls up the dough hook. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water if dough is dry and not coming together. If dough is too wet, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour.
  5. Grease a medium bowl with olive oil and add dough to the bowl. Cover and let the dough rise until it doubles in bulk, about an hour. (Or, you can make the dough a day in advance and proof it in the fridge overnight, like I often do.)

Baking instructions follow roughly what’s in the original post. Prepare your toppings. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease up the skillet, pat or roll your dough out, and line the skillet with dough. You build the pizza the way you want and bake until your toppings brown appropriately.

This crust is versatile. We’ve used it with a veggie pie of spinach, mushrooms, tomato sauce and cheese, and we’ve also enjoyed a meaty sausage and onion pie.

Dinner:  February 3, 2010

deep dish

Dinner: Feb 9, 2010

Try it out and let me know how you like it!

LND: Bachelor edition

With Jen in New York for the Food52 launch party, I’m taking the reins for one day.

First up, a Kali update. She took a pretty dramatic turn yesterday, and I’m pleased to tell you it’s for the better. Her appetite, over the weekend and into late Tuesday, was still very minimal. All day Tuesday, she refused food, and that was where she was when I left for a bartender competition Tuesday evening. Jen came home and got her to at least sniff food and even lap up the aromatic gelatin from a can of Friskies, but Kali still wouldn’t take solid food. She did, however, accept the transdermal dosing of Pred I started giving her Tuesday afternoon.

Yesterday morning, things began to change. As Jen was getting ready for her trip to New York, she paused long enough to put down some dry food for the cats. As the kibbles pinged into their bowls, Jen saw Kali and her big blue eyes staring up at her next to her food dish. She ate with gusto, took a long drink of water, and ate again. She’s eaten well, consistently, since then. Now that she’s regained much of her energy and personality, though, she’s fighting the transdermal Pred a little. Not nearly so much as she battled against taking the oral dosing, though, so it’s manageable, at least for now.

As for last night’s dinner, I had some chicken leg quarters in the fridge. Jen had made chicken saltimbocca over the weekend, using the breast meat of a bird from Pat’s Pastured. She took the wings and made meat and broth for Kali, and left the legs for my bachelor supper. So I roasted the legs in the oven, in my beloved iron skillet, at 450ºF for about 20 minutes, I think. When they reached about 165º, I removed them to a platter and tented them with foil to rest.

Then I took the leftover skin (and the fat clinging to it) from the breast portion, and crisped that up in the pan drippings in the iron skillet. I removed that, let it cool, and chopped it up. I added a bit of olive oil, sliced shallot and a pinch of salt and sweated those down over medium-low heat. I added thinly sliced potatoes and fried them in the oil and chicken fat.

Meanwhile, in another pan, I put oil and more shallot, heated that up, and added chopped kale to sauté. When the potatoes were nicely browned, I added the chicken skin back to the pan and let everything crisp up a bit. And there you have a rich, probably too fatty, meal fit for a bachelor weeknight. I won’t even talk about the hookers and blow that followed.

Not quite LND plating

You’ll note by the color imbalance and the schmutz on the plate that this definitely isn’t Jen’s photography. Sorry for the mess.

Grilled pizza: Assembly and grilling

grilled pizza

Before I begin, a disclaimer. I have no freakin’ clue how to grill a pizza using a gas grill. I’ve never tried it and aside from the convenience factor, I’m not a fan of gas grills at all, so I’m sorry, but I can’t provide those instructions here.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in making grilled pizza is in creating a technique that produces a good, consistent result. The crust should be crisp and light without drying out or getting overly charred. I’ve burned pizzas before, and I’ve messed around with a too-cold grill, on which the dough took seemingly forever to bake up into a crust.

The original method I tried called for these basic steps, which I’ll treat lightly here just to show why this method didn’t work for me.

  1. Build a two-stage fire, with coals banked to one side of the grill.
  2. Brush oil on the grate on the not-so-hot side of the grill.
  3. Place your shaped dough onto the grill, cover the grill, and bake the crust until it firms up.
  4. Flip the crust so the grilled side is now up. Brush olive oil on the crust and build your pizza, directly on the grill.
  5. Cover the grill and bake the pizza until the cheese melts and begins to brown.
  6. Remove pizza from grill.

Most of these steps are very straightforward, but step 4 usually trips me up, especially “build your pizza, directly on the grill.”

When you do that, your crust is continuing to bake, and you’re working directly next to some very hot coals. You have to work fast to build your pizza a) before your crust burns, and b) before all the hairs on your arm singe off. It’s uncomfortable and it’s frustrating. So frustrating in fact that for a month or so last summer, I just stopped grilling pizza. I was Done. But now I have a better method, and all is right again with the world.

Shaping the dough

Before I share that with you, though, I need to rewind because I didn’t address shaping the dough in my doughy post earlier.

Two hours before you plan to shape the dough, remove the dough from the refrigerator. (If you’re working with frozen dough, be sure to give it ample time to thaw. I like at least a day.) Allow the dough to approach room temperature. After two hours have passed, shape the dough. How you do this is really up to you. Peter Reinhart, in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, describes a technique similar to what you’ve seen in pizza parlors, where you lay the dough across your knuckles and gently stretch it into shape, lightly tossing it into the air as you go. I do that at first, but then frankly, I lay it across a floured surface and use a floured rolling pin to finish.

rolling out the dough

Regardless of technique, what you’re looking for is a thin dough in which the dough is starting to windowpane. If you hold the dough to the light, you should see light shining through the thinnest portions.

As for shape, think rustic. I don’t even attempt to get a round crust. Mine are roughly elliptical, roughly rectangular.

If counter space is at a premium for you, as it is for us, lay a piece of plastic wrap/clingfilm across the shaped dough. Fold the dough up and set aside.

Assembly instructions

First, prepare your pizza-making mise en place:

  1. Using your fingers, shred some fresh mozzarella (or prepare whatever cheese you’re using–gorgonzola, whatever).
  2. Pour some olive oil into a small bowl and place a silicon brush nearby.
  3. Put your tomato sauce, or sliced/crushed fresh tomatoes, into another bowl.
  4. Chiffonade some fresh basil (but leave it inside, in the kitchen).
  5. Have some parmigiano or peccorino cheese handy (but leave that inside, too).

pizza mise

Now, the other two things you’ll need? These are so blindingly obvious that I can’t believe I never thought of it before. In fact, I’m virtually certain Jen thought of this and I smacked my head and said, “Of course!”

The other two things you need are a pizza peel and some cornmeal.

To assemble your pie, unfold the rolled-out dough onto a peel onto which you’ve sprinkled cornmeal. Place your bowls of olive oil, tomato sauce, and cheese onto a platter or tray.

Build a fire. We have a 22-inch Weber One Touch charcoal grill. (And let me repeat, I’ve never grilled a pizza over gas, so I have no idea how to provide those sorts of instructions.) I fill a chimney with lump charcoal of various sizes and use Weber paraffin cubes to light the chimney. After the coals are lit and are beginning to ash over, I dump them onto the far side of the grill, to build a two-stage fire. I place the grate on and lid up the grill until the grate heats, about five minutes. Once the grate is hot, if it’s still schumtzy from a previous cook, I take up a ball of foil in my grilling tongs and scrape down the hot grate. Then I replace the lid and let the grate heat up again.

Jen, at this point, brings the tray of topping out, along with the peel o’ dough, and places everything onto an outdoor table. I remove the grill lid and oil the cooler side of the grate, using the silicon brush. With the exact motion I use to slide dough onto a pizza stone in the oven, I shimmy the dough onto the oiled grate and lid up the grill. It’s important to stress, this is untopped dough. You’re basically parbaking the crust at this moment.

sliding the crusts onto the grill

(You can see here that I’m making two pizzas; I find that two smaller pies are easier to work with than one larger. It does mean rotating the dough around the grill a little to ensure that each crust bakes evenly.)

Leave the peel handy on the table; you’ll need it again shortly. (You might keep cornmeal on hand if you need to sprinkle more onto the peel.) Check on your crust every minute or so. You’ll know when it’s crisp enough to remove–this usually takes no more than five minutes.

Now, this part is tricky. Using two pairs of tongs (and having a partner standing by with the peel), remove the crust from the grill and place it grilled side up on the peel. Lid up the grill again so the grate reheats.

par-grilled crusts

Build the pizza on the peel, on the table. Don’t overdo the toppings! Less is more with grilled pizza. Lightly brush some oil onto the crust, but not too much. Spoon on tomato sauce in a thin layer. Finally, dot the surface with cheese. Lightly oil the grate again, and then shimmy the pie carefully onto the grill. Lid up.

topped pies

back onto the grill

You want to cook until the cheese starts to bubble; it’s hard to give you a precise time. It depends on your grill, your charcoal, the alignment of Mars, how the Mets are doing, etc. Because you’ve parbaked the crust, you’re far less concerned with what the crust is doing, and more interested in the toppings. Just don’t let the crust burn. If the bit that’s closest to the fire is starting to char, you might use tongs and gently rotate the pie. When the pizza’s done, you’ll need a friend handy again to help you remove the pizza off onto the peel.

Sprinkle basil on, lightly, and grate the parm or peccorino over the top. Slice and enjoy!

grilled pizza

Grilled pizza: Getting saucy

Hey! We’re double-teaming you today. Hope you don’t get sick of us.

I swear you’re all going to think I do nothing but ape Mario Batali, but I have to admit, my sauce recipe, which is Jen’s favorite of all I’ve tried, is also my riff on a Molto Mario joint. Let me tell you something, though: I don’t always sauce my pizzas. Sometimes I just use fresh tomatoes, sliced, and sometimes I use crushed canned tomatoes. It’s just all about the mood I’m in.

This recipe makes about 2 cups/1 pint of sauce, enough sauce for a couple of large-ish rustic pies–I’d say about a foot long and 6-8 inches wide–or four smaller pies, or eight tiny pies, or … well, you get the idea.

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tennis ball-sized onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp. shredded carrot
1-1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
One 28 oz. can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed with your hands*
¼ cup dry red wine
salt, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté onions until soft and golden and then stir in garlic. Cook garlic until soft. Add carrot and thyme and cook until the carrot is soft.

Add tomatoes (along with their juice) and wine. Lower the heat and cook until the sauce is thick, seasoning to taste as you go. It’ll take about half an hour to thicken up appropriately.

*Obviously, you could also buy crushed tomatoes. Or if you’re lucky enough to get sauce tomatoes from your own garden or farmer’s market, use those. Just don’t tell me because I’ll hate you.

Finally, grilled-pizza: the dough

I knew I had put off the grilled pizza write-up long enough already when I was at a rooftop party in downtown Providence Sunday evening, and a writer friend of mine started gently needling me about it. Thanks for the kick in the pants, Jan.

I’m going to do this in installments, if that’s okay. I’ll be including recipes and photos, and if I put it all in one single post, it would just be too damn long, so screw that.

Let’s start with the pizza dough. The crust is a crucial element of a great pizza; it’s the base, so you want it to be good. This dough is my current favorite; it’s easy to make, and I love how it tastes. I want to continue tinkering with it, though, trying to make it more better, but this is the latest.

You’ll need to plan in advance for this: I like to allow my dough to rise overnight. As baking guru Peter Reinhart writes in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice:

[Overnight fermentation] gives the enzymes time to go to work, pulling out subtle flavors trapped in the starch. The long rest also relaxes the gluten, allowing you to shape the dough easily, minimizing the elastic springiness that so often forces you to squeeze out all the gas.

If the thought of squeezing out the gas makes you giggle like a child, you’re not alone.

My recipe is adapted from Mario Batali’s Italian Grill, and my technique includes instructions for using a Kitchenaid stand mixer to mix and knead the dough.

3 cups all-purpose flour*
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ cup white wine or dry vermouth (at room temp)

*As with all bread baking, you may have to adjust this, depending on humidity level. I normally use King Arthur organic unbleached AP flour, or a roughly 50-50 blend of AP and Kenyon’s stone-ground whole wheat flour. Reinhart, however, recommends you use no more than 10% whole-wheat or rye to substitute for an equal quantity of white flour. This is exactly the kind of thing I want to play with next time around.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in the warmed bowl of a stand mixer. Add salt, sugar, olive oil, wine or vermouth, and half of the flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer. Turn to speed 2 and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix until dough clings to hook and pulls away from sides of bowl. Knead on speed 2 for another 2 minutes.

At this point, you can divide the dough and freeze some of it for later use, or you can prepare it all for tomorrow’s pizza. I take whatever quantity I’m planning to use and put it in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap. I place that in the fridge overnight. (It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.)

On the day I’m making the pizza, I remove the dough from the fridge two hours before making the pizza. I’ll address what comes next when I get to the post on building the pizza.