The Churros That Saved The Dinner Party

April 14, 2009 | By | COMMENTS

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Have you ever had a son or daughter who plays the piano like a real champ, such a champ that you invite all your friends over one night and set up a little concert–with fliers and cocktails and a video camera on a tripod–and when your son or daughter finally sits down to play they totally freeze up and won’t hit one note? That’s how I felt two weeks ago when I had friends over to eat not one but TWO dishes from a new favorite cookbook, David Tanis’s “A Platter of Figs.” My love for this book ran pretty deep for a variety of reasons: (a) it was a gift from Craig’s parents; (b) David Tanis is the chef at Chez Panisse, one of my favorite restaurants; and (c) the book is knock-you-out beautiful, with gorgeous pictures and recipes and writing that’s heartfelt and really, really smart. But when it came time to perform, I’m so sad to report that the two recipes I made from it–the Green Chile Stew & the Spicy Pickled Vegetables–were total duds.

The Green Chile Stew was no small undertaking. The meat alone–5 lbs well-marbled boneless pork butt–cost a pretty penny because I bought humanely raised heritage pork from the Park Slope Food Co-Op (I had a one day shopping pass there after doing the orientation (but I won’t join ’cause Craig refuses to work)) and that was $10 / lb so I ended up only buying 3 lbs for $30. But still $30 for 3 lbs of meat? That’s a pretty penny.

Then there was the roasting of the chiles (chilis? A debate ensued on Twitter about this and I missed the result.) Chef Tanis calls for 1 cup chopped roasted green chiles and has a note that explains the process: “Fresh green chiles, such as New Mexico or Anaheim, must be roasted over an open flame on a barbecue grill, gas burner, or under the broiler, til blackened. Then rub off the skins, remove the stems and seeds, and coarsely chop the chiles.”

He says if you can’t find Anaheim or New Mexico chiles (and I couldn’t) you can use a combination of Poblanos and Jalapenos. I used only Poblanos and maybe that was a big mistake:

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The rest of the stew making process was pretty standard: you brown the meat, remove it, then add garlic, cumin, tomatoes, carrots, the chiles and sprinkle over flour and stir. You salt the mixture, add the browned meat back, and then add water or broth and bring to a boil:

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You cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour. Then you add potatoes and cook another 30 minutes and that’s the stew. And here’s what it looks like when you serve it:

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Pretty, right? All the components clear and identifiable. But, I’m really sad to say, it was just a watery, flavorless mess. It didn’t taste like anything; the vegetables were bland and the chiles, for whatever reason, ineffective. It just didn’t come together; whereas most slow-cooked braises and stews magically fuse into a glorious whole, this just tasted like porky water with bits of potato. My guests–who are generally very kind people–didn’t lie to me: they agreed, it was a dud.

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(Mark, who radiates disappointment in the above photo, is actually from New Mexico, so he took this failure personally.)

Here’s the thing: I’ll accept some responsibility for the failed stew. I didn’t get the right chiles, maybe I didn’t use the right amount, so–ok–let’s not throw stones at David Tanis yet.

But here’s where we all scratched our heads in wonder: these Spicy Pickled Vegetables.

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Ok, follow me here: you take 4 sliced carrots, 2 sliced onions, 3 quartered jalapenos, 4 whole garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt, 10 peppercorns, 1 tsp coriander seeds, and 1 bay leaf and put that in a pot. Ok, so far so good. Now watch these proportions: to that you add 1 Tbs cider vinegar, 1 Tbs olive oil, and 1 tsp dried oregano and then COVER everything with water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the carrots are just cooked through and transfer the whole thing to a bowl to cool.

I don’t have Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio” book yet (it’s on its way) but something about that ratio seems way off: 1 part vinegar to 100 parts water for pickles??

Not surprisingly, the resulting “pickled” vegetables tasted just like, well, boiled vegetables with absolutely no flavor at all. I tried to add vinegar after the fact and lots of salt but it was no use; these were a total embarrassment. No one touched them.

Before I could totally hang my head in shame, there was a secret weapon in the refrigerator, a weapon from a superhero cookbook, a cookbook that never, ever fails, that always dazzles, that’s in my dessert island Top 5: that’s Suzanne Goin’s “Sunday Suppers at Lucques.”

The recipe? Churros. Yes, churros. I made the batter before I started everything else and it ended up saving the day, turning an evening of disappointment and broken hearts into an evening of mirth and merriment and lots and lots of fried dough.

I’ll put the full recipe below, but essentially you make a pâte à choux–that’s the same dough you make for cream puffs. You make it by cooking milk and butter…

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…and then adding flour to the pot, stirring and cooking it a few minutes. Then you put the dough in a stand mixer and add eggs:

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When you’re ready to make the churros, you heat a big pot of oil (but only halfway, any more and it could bubble over!)

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I nearly burned my hand off holding a thermometer by hand in the oil (til it reached 350) and then I remembered I had a digital thermometer so I dropped that in and it worked perfectly, broadcasting on its digital display exactly when the oil reached 350.

Now, as for why my churros don’t really look like churros: I tried piping them using my star-shaped piping tip and a Ziplock bag but the bag kept tearing and I didn’t want any accidents involving oil on this night of failure and disappointment. So I decided just to use two spoons and make little churro balls:

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This, I think, was an excellent idea. The resulting churros were scrumptious looking and a deep, golden brown. I rolled them in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and look how happy they make everyone:

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The churros that saved the dinner party, indeed.

Churros

from Suzanne Goin’s “Sunday Suppers At Lucques”

Ingredients:

1 cup plus 1 Tbs whole milk

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

3 extra-large eggs

1 extra-large egg yolk

2 to 3 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Bring the milk, 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water, salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, and the butter to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, and add all the flour at once. Stir together with a wooden spoon, and return the pan to the stove over low heat. Work the batter back and forth, stirring with a wooden spoon, to dry the batter. When the dough begins to roll away from the sides of the pan, cook another 5 minutes.

Transfer the batter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, drop the eggs and egg yolk in one by one, waiting for each to be incorporated before adding the next. Let the batter rest at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before using.

Heat the oil to 350 F on a dep-frying thermometer, over medium heat, in a heavy wide-bottomed pan.

Place the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a number-4 star tip. (You may have to do this in batches.)

Combine the cinnamon and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.

Squeeze 4-inch-long pieces of dough into the oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan; the churros shouldn’t be touching. Fry the churros 2 to 3 minutes, turning them gently with tongs once or twice to brown all sides. Test one to make sure the center is done. It should be cooked all the way through and have a crisp exterior and soft center.

Drain the churros on paper towels, and pat to remove excess oil. While they’re still hot, roll each churro in the cinnamon sugar, and serve right away with cups of hot chocolate for dipping.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Desserts, Fried Desserts, Recipes

  • http://www.familyfriendlyfood.com/ Nurit – 1 family. friendly. food.

    No, I don’t have that kind of son or daughter, they are too young, but we will see what happens when they grow up (spoken like a true skeptic Jewish mom?!). But the sight of fried dough on the other hand… is always beautiful. I always wanted to make that recipe. Got to do it!!!

  • ann

    Pretend you live alone and Craig won’t have to work. He just won’t be able to shop either…

  • http://userealbutter.com/ Jen Yu

    That is so sad about the green chile stew :( My partner is from New Mexico – I laughed so hard about your comment that Mark took it personally. I just posted about green chile mayonnaise and found what looks to be a reliable source for green chiles if you want to order some: http://www.nmchili.com/ You’re such a trooper!

  • zeep

    Sorry to hear about the duds AG, but these things happen (sometimes) right? I wonder if a last minute infusion of a hearty stock would have helped either dish? At least in terms of adding some flavor, which it sounds like they needed. Better luck next time – don’t give up on the recipes my friend, just tweak the hell out of ‘em ’til they work in your favor! The churros look amazing – they remind me of the delicious donuts they serve at some of Tom Douglas’ joints.

  • http://www.unconfidentialcook.com unconfidentialcook

    Thanks for posting….I just had to make caramel three times to get it right. I live in LA and love Suzanne Goin–I bet those churros are beyond good!

  • Marg

    That stew recipe didn’t call for onions? That’s bizarro. It also occurs to me that maybe the vinegar in the pickle recipe was wrong. I wonder if people are trying to put out cookbooks too quickly lately and are failing to proofread them adequately.

    Anyway, those churros look WONDERFUL!!! :> I’m glad that your dinner party was ultimately a success. :>

  • http://adinnerparty.blogspot.com Lisa (dinner party)

    I try out a lot of new recipes when I have people over, and yes, sometimes it’s an epic fail. Luckily you had dessert up your sleeve.

  • http://theredmangetout.blogspot.com/ Jenny

    Now I want churros… I miss Latin American food so much, can’t really even get a lot of the ingredients over here.

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    Maybe there is a typo in that pickled vegetable recipe? That definitely doesn’t sound right! Nice churros – I think I like the ball shape better anyway!

  • vp

    next time you try an stew…

    Dont brown your meat… do all you did and add your meat after the water but raw.

    try it, and you will see the difference…

  • Joe

    Mmm, churros.

  • http://sevensons.com JB in San Diego

    I think it must be “chilies.”

  • peteathome

    The one rule we’ve learned over years of dinner parties: never try cooking something for the first time when giving a dinner!

    Family in NM so I’m pretty familiar with these chilies. The stew looks very much like a traditional green chili pork stew I’ve had in NM. Green New Mexican/Anaheim chilies are pretty unique. The best substitution for fresh is canned New Mexican chilies which are readily available. New Mexicans are pretty mild, so you were absolutely correct in using poblanos without the jalapeños. But poblanos don’t have a lot of flavor compared to the New Mexicans and the chilies are the main flavor. I’m also surprised about the lack of onions. Still, the stew looks like it should taste pretty good. I wonder what really went wrong – did it need more cooking time, more salt?

  • Tim Ross

    Great article, nothing is worse when you go on display and blow it, way to take your blows like a champ. I also have to mention that this article was very entertaining, unlike the rest of the stuff I have read on credible food blogs today and yesterday. Serious eats has been crapping out, and Ruhlman’s “ratio” series-kick is driving me batshit crazy. ZZZZZZZZ I love Ruhlman but this is me sleeping reading his blog as of recent ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    I’m sorry the dishes didn’t turn out well — so disappointing when that happens! — but what I really want to know is, where did your friend Lauren get that lovely sweater?

  • http://tamarinddreams.blogspot.com/ Katrina

    It’s spelled chilies.

  • http://www.letsgeekout.com Chris M

    Oooh — I downloaded “Ratio” for my faux-Kindle (reader app on iPhone) and am super excited to dig into it. :)

  • clb

    My mother makes a version of the spicy pickled vegetables and the proportions are far far different. She basically boils them in vinegar, using no water at all. She also adds cauliflower, green beens, and pimentos along with the carrots and onion. She seasons them with salt, pepper, and tobasco. Pretty simple, but oh so good!

  • http://www.mousebouche.blogspot.com Mouse from A Mouse Bouche

    Question for you–did you not taste the stew as it was cooking to see if you could add something to make it more flavorful? or did you not want to tweak it so you could review the actual recipe as written? I only ask because I’m sure you could have improved upon the stew using your own culinary instincts! and yeah, that whole ratio thing sounds rather dubious. but bravo on the churros. mmm fried dough.

  • http://www.standingstraight.blogspot.com Claudia

    I love trying new recipes and can identify with failures. I guess that’s how we learn :) I just got my Ratio book and the one for brine is 20 parts water/1 part salt (by weight) or 20 oz. water to 1 oz. salt. I’ve been using a digital scale lately. He also recommends leaving the vegetables in brine, weighted down to submerge completely, at room temp. for 1 week or more, depending on how sour you want. That’s the naturally pickled way, of course.

  • ClaudiaH

    I totally love your friend Mark expressions!!!

  • http://www.gourmetworrier.com/ MsGourmet

    Churros can atone for a multitude of kitchen blunders ;)

  • http://smallkitchenbigideas.wordpress.com Sara

    I love Suzanne Goin’s book but I had a disappointing experience with her lemon tart. It’s just lemon sabayon with a chocolate coating on the tart crust. The chocolate just didn’t fit.

    I think even the best cookbook authors have an off day.

  • jessica

    Those churros look great! I live in Brooklyn, but was in LA last fall for a weekend to go to a wedding, and because I am a regular reader and have totally fallen for all of your Suzanne Goin recipe posts, I told my husband that we had to have dinner at Lucques while we were in town. I absolutely loved it, and ate those churros for dessert. YUM! Next time, you should do the chocolate too (is that in the book?)

    Anyway, I clearly need to own this cookbook, and can’t believe I’ve waited so long.

  • http://artichokeheart.wordpress.com Christina

    I’m glad your churros saved your dinner party, but I am sorry to hear that the recipes from David Tannis were duds. I just bought his cookbook last weekend and I am really looking forward to cooking with it. I hope the rest of the recipes are more reliable.

  • Kimberly

    I am a New Mexico Native. Born and raised there, now living in SoCal. When I read you were making Green chile stew.My first thought was where the hell is going to find NM green chile or anahiem chile in New York! The second I read Poblanos I knew that stew was going to be one hot mess! I love your blog and follow it everyday. But never, ever, ever substitue poblanos in a receipe that calls for New Mexico Green chile! I think your next food adventure should be a trip to New Mexico so you can try the real deal. Once you’ve had it you’ll never go back! Hey everyone has an off day. Still love your blog!

    Kimberly

    From Albuqerque! :)

  • http://pghtasted.blogspot.com Lisa

    Bittman’s pickled vegetables in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian are quite good. You should give that recipe a try.

  • cptexas

    Hello from El Paso, Texas – right next to NM. Yes where the chilies are grown. They really are in season in September but there are always some available from Mexico I think which is also right across the river. We would never put carrots in the stew, they are to sweet. It also looks like the pieces of pork were to big. Next time brown the pork remove from pan add more oil or lard brown onions and garlic add to pork then brown the potatoes then add the chilies and tomatoes then add everything back to the pot add salt then broth or water just enough to cover everything by an inch. There you have it New Mexico Green Chilie Stew. Enjoy! Oh yea the chilies need to be completely blackened to bring out the flavor and not have that raw taste and look.

  • http://bitchinlifestyle.tv Dallas from Bitchin’ Lifestyle

    Sweets save the day (again)!

  • http://louisa-edwards.blogspot.com/ Louisa Edwards

    Ouch. That’s the kind of outcome that makes me swear I’m never going to try out a new recipe on a dinner party again. But I can never seem to stick to that resolution! I’m glad the churros turned out, and I’m definitely going to look into the Suzanne Goin book.

  • Katie

    I made his spinach pie for Easter Sunday. It looked great but was a watery and not so much flavor. According to the recipe, you don’t wring out the spinach and you add the collected juices from cooking the spinach and leeks…my mom kept saying it would be watery but i followed his directions and guess what, Mom was right. I have a lot of respect for David Tanis but wonder who actually tested his recipes. I think his book is best for his philosophy and not so much for specific recipes.

  • http://blogs.roanoke.com/rtblogs/fridgemagnet/ Lindsey

    I disagree with VP. Browning meats before putting them in soups and stews could only add to the flavor, not detract from it. Not sure how adding the pork raw is going to enhance the flavor.

    On the subject of chiles/chilis, I once interviewed Danise Coon, program director for the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, and she says “chile” or “chili pepper” is the pepper pod or plant. “Chili” is the yummy dish.

    It is still a bit confusing though!

  • http://www.zarifas.blogspot.com Sarah

    great dinnter party, nobody should complain if you make them free food, even if it is a bit watery, they just have to do the dishes (it couldn’t have been that bad). (new reader, new poster, new meat and potato roaster)

  • Julia Speer

    I love his cookbook for the same reasons you do, but you are right, I made the green chile stew as well, and it was such disappointment!

  • applek

    After your dinner disappointment, are you disinclined to buy non-humanely raised heritage pricey pork/other meats when trying out recipes? in general? The irony, to me, is the use of pricey meat in a humble sounding dish. But it’s a real conflict: the humane treatment of the animals who feed me vs. the reality of economics.