I relish the thought of this week’s Smackdown! Ahoy-hoy! Rim shot!
I thank you all from the bottom of my shriveled little heart for all your commiseration following last week’s trouncing at the exacting hands of Thomas Keller. I am still coping with my sense of shame and loss, but my therapist assures me that it will only take a few years to work through. Yay!
This week, we decided to do a 180 from the French Laundry: burgers and fries. It may not sound like Smackdown material, but you’ll have to trust me on this one. Cindy Pawlcyn’s Big Small Plates brings us mini burgers with pickled onions and roasted pepper relish on black pepper biscuits, and papas bravas (fried potatoes with a tomato-chili-smoked paprika sauce). It has a lot of moving parts, but they all work together to produce a harmonious whole. It’s like what Jesus would make, if he were doing a burgers-and-fries Smackdown. Or maybe Rube Goldberg.
Art! Genius! Thank you!
As with the Thomas Keller dish we did start this the night before, just because there are several smaller parts to the whole. Unlike the Thomas Keller dish, this did not involve any triple-boiling of garlic in milk. Instead, we threw together some simple pickled red onions – thinly sliced onion, lime juice and salt. Mixed together in a bowl. And that’s all. As the onions sit in the acid, some of the pigment leeches out of the onion layers and turns the whole bowl a fun bright pink.
Oh that Jack, always picking a fucking pack of pickled peppers. He’s got a problem, I tell ya.
We also roasted off the peppers for the relish. Cindy listed anaheims and pasillas as her chiles of choice, but a dearth of chile options forced us to substitute serranos – smaller and spicier – for the pasillas. Serranos are about the same length as jalapenos, but narrower and hotter. Their wee size makes them a bit of a challenge to roast. So I made Brian do it. Cilantro, scallions and a few other ingredients I’ve already forgotten rounded out the relish, and we called it a night.
I fucking hate it when my stash of coke gets infested with pantry bugs.
The next night, I started with the biscuits. I’ve never made biscuits before, let alone biscuits from scratch, even though I love them. In fact – and I’m only telling you this because I know you won’t tell anyone – I’ve been known to use Pillsbury biscuits-in-a-tube to satisfy my occasional biscuits and gravy cravings. They’re one of those things that’s seemed a it too outside my culinary context, which is not remotely southern; in fact, I get a little itchy whenever I’m further south than Delaware.
In addition, I only have ruffled round cookie cutters, which I recall the Food Network telling me are inappropriate for biscuit-cutting lest you end up with a lumpy, flat biscuit that explodes into a fiery ball if sliced improperly. But following my culinary motto (“Fuck it.”), I forged ahead. It’s like I always say at times like these: You have to make biscuits with the cookie cutters you have, not the cookie cutters you want.
Probably not what biscuit dough is supposed to look like.
I was scared that Cindy was going to make me do all the mixing by hand, and was pleased and relieved to learn that I’d be allowed to use the ol’ Cuisinart. I’ve used it often to make sub-par pie crusts, so I was confident in my ability to use it in the service of sub-par biscuits.
I whizzed the flour, salt, baking powder and pepper, and then pulsed in cubes of butter. Why do all cookbooks tell you to pulse until the flour resembles a “coarse meal”? Because I have no idea what the fuck that means. So I pulsed an indeterminate number of times, mixed in some buttermilk, and ended up with the un-dough you see above.
Objects in photos are smaller than they appear.
Still, the doughy bits stuck together when I smooshed ‘em, so I rolled the dough and cut my biscuits. (That sounds like it should be an exclamation that means something else.*) They look like normal-size biscuits because I didn’t think to include something that would give you a sense of scale in the photo, but they’re actually about 2 inches across.
* For example: “Well, cut my biscuits!” if you’re pleased and/or astonished. Or “I’d like to cut her biscuits!” if you’re horny and/or a skeeze.
One of these biscuits is not like the others.
I mean, there were 12 biscuits, and we weren’t going to eat 12 burgers, mini or not. And I had to make sure they were edible before moving on, and I’d just bought this really yummy butter and we still had some of that peach jam that I love. So I ate one, or three. Shut up.
Form of a french fry!
For the papas bravas, we par boiled some yukon golds, cut them into bite-ish size pieces, and fried the hell out of ‘em in some olive oil. As they came out of the pan, I sprinkled them with some grey salt, a delicious sea salt that’s great for finishing dishes and adding crunch. Meanwhile, Brian worked on the sauce for the papas. I don’t have picture of this part of the process because I was trying to keep all the plates spinning at once, but I can sum it up for you: Dump tomatoes, garlic, chili powder, smoked paprika, salt and olive oil in a blender. Blend. The end. You’re welcome.
We also threw some tiny burgers – simply ground beef, salt and pepper – into a cast-iron skillet to fry. I had camera in hand for this, but couldn’t get close enough for any worthwhile shots because of splattering grease. Plus, you know, it’s a fucking hamburger. Paint a mental picture.
What condiment would Jesus choose?
While the jack was melting on the teeny tiny burgers, I got the biscuits out of the oven where they’d been keeping warm and assembled the condiments. The colors were gorgeous: Bright green relish, deep orange papas sauce, playful pink onions.
How fucking cute is this? I know!
This was a fucking awesome rendition of hamburger and fries. I gotta admit, when I first read the recipe, I was a little worried that this would be some kind of hoity-toity burger, but it wasn’t – it was just an excellent, good ‘ol burger. The onions were still a little crunchy but were quite sweet. The relish was bright, flavorful, fresh, and just the slightest bit spicy. The burgers were perfectly medium, and the creamy jack cheese was a great foil to the zing of the relish. I was a little unsure about the biscuit, because it seemed like it would be too much of a mouthful, but I was wrong; it added its own unique texture and really elevated the burger. The only complaint I can make is about size: when you have a 2-inch diameter burger on a biscuit with multiple toppings, you end up with a comical tiny sandwich twice as high as it is wide.
Not that that stopped me from eating 3 of them.
The potatoes were also delicious. First, who doesn’t love a fried potato? Liars, fools and Atkins’ dieters. Second, the sauce was fantastic. Spicy, smoky, creamy – just fantastic. We’re already making plans for the leftovers.
So, the simplest, most all-American of dishes redeems us. Is there some cosmic significance in that, or a life lesson we can learn? No, I’m pretty sure there’s not. But I know a good burger when I eat one, and that was a fucking good burger.
Final Score: Us = 1, Food = 0, Boost to Our Morale = Priceless