On this week’s Special Sauce, I continue my conversation with visionary pastry chef Claudia Fleming. But before we get to Claudia’s captivating story, Kenji fields a question from Serious Eater Joan Moore, who wants to know how long the blade on her Cuisinart food processor should last.
After Kenji delivers his characteristically thoughtful answer, Claudia and I pick up where we left off last week, and talk about her harrowing and moving journey. We start off by examining why she and her late husband, the prodigiously talented chef Gerry Hayden, decided to pack up their knives and scrapers, leave New York City, and buy an inn on the North Fork of Long Island, despite the fact that at the time, Claudia was, as she says, “kind of the it-girl when we left. I was on top of the world.”
Turns out, the move was made in part for Gerry. “I felt like I was eclipsing the larger talent in the relationship,” Claudia says. “He devoted his entire life to being a chef, a cook. I loved him very much and wanted him to have his time. I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing. I wanted him to live his dream and I wanted to help facilitate that.”
The inn hardly turned out to be a panacea. “It was a little money pit and it was a bit like The Shining,” Claudia remembers. “It was kind of crazy. The inn was literally falling down and falling apart… There were lots of hysterical things about that. But it was kind of creepy and scary, too.” If there was a single lesson Claudia took away from the experience, aside from the necessity of being well capitalized, it was this: “Beware of your passion. It can kill you.”
The battle to keep the dream of the inn alive took a tragic turn when Gerry was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Claudia became chief caregiver to Gerry, even as she was running the inn. And yet somehow they persevered. “I got my strength from him,” Claudia says, explaining how she managed to keep everything running. “I’m like, ‘How is he doing this?’ It was incredible. I’m like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it with him.'”
Claudia and I also spend some time talking about the reissuing (a rare occurrence in the cookbook world) of her profoundly influential book, The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. I ask Claudia what she set out to do with the book. “I was trying to make restaurant desserts more accessible by deconstructing them,” she says. It was also a way for her to advance the idea of dessert as something more than just something sweet to end a meal. “I think maybe I was or am a frustrated cook,” Claudia says, “so I started making dessert just like another course: the last course. It became less about sweet than about just another course that wraps up the dinner. It didn’t come out of left field.”
To close out the episode, Daniel Gritzer checks in from the Serious Eats test kitchen and schools us on grilling pork chops. “Grilling pork chops can present similar problems as chicken breasts. The meat is lean and prone to drying out, even with the slightest overcooking. With a few simple steps, though, you can guarantee that your pork chops will be juicy and perfect every time.”
I urge all Serious Eaters to check this episode out, just because Claudia Fleming’s story is so moving.
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce 2.0, the Serious Eats podcast about food and life now with an expanded menu. Every week on Special Sauce we begin with Ask Kenji, where Kenji López-Alt, Serious Eats’ chief culinary consultant, gives the definitive answer to the question of the week that a serious eater like you has sent us.
Kenji López-Alt: If you really put your food processor through a workout regularly, just get two separate blades and have one of them as your beat up blade and the other as your sharp blade.
EL: After Ask Kenji, a conversation with our guest back with us: Claudia Fleming, pastry chef goddess, cookbook author, and former innkeeper.
Claudia Fleming: The inn was the little money pit and it was a bit like The Shining.
EL: Finally on today’s podcast, a teachable moment in the Serious Eats’ test kitchen.
Daniel Gritzer: Grilling pork chops can present similar problems as chicken breasts. The meat is lean and prone to drying out, even with the slightest overcooking. With a few simple steps, though, you can guarantee that your pork chops will be juicy and perfect every time.
EL: First up, our chief culinary consultant and author of The Food Lab: Kenji Lopez Alt. Kenji, our question of the week comes from Joan Moore: “How long should the blade on my Cuisinart last? I regularly put it through a workout.” Doesn’t it depend on what she means by regular and what she means by workout?
JKLA: Exactly. It’s just like a knife: the blade on a… By Cuisinart, she means a food processor, so it has two spinning blades that are kind of curved. If all you’re doing is chopping fresh herbs and maybe making dough with it, it’ll last a long time. If you’re using it to crush nuts or make pesto it’s not going to last nearly as long. If you do what I do sometimes, which is make an olive salad and accidentally leave some olive pits in there, then it barely lasts at all because those olive pits get jammed on there and they scrape up against the plastic and it ruins your blade.
Anyhow, the answer is that you really just have to feel the blade and… carefully feel it… see if it’s still sharp or just monitor how it’s doing. If you put some fresh herbs in there and instead of chopping them it ends up smearing them around or grinding up them, that probably means that your blade needs to be sharpened by a professional or just replaced.
EL: And you can’t sharpen a Cuisinart blade at home, can you?
JKLA: It’s difficult and it depends. Some of them are serrated and you can’t re-sharpen a serrated blade. Some of them are smooth, and those ones you can, but it’s still difficult even if they are smooth.
EL: They’re a weird shape.
JKLA: Yeah, it’s because they’re curved. What I would recommend is that if you really put your food processor through a workout regularly, just get two separate blades and have one of them as your beat up blade and the other as your sharp blade. Keep the sharp one just for chopping herbs and vegetables and things that you know aren’t going to dull it and keep the dull one for pounding nuts and spices and doing all those things that doesn’t require a super-sharp blade and where you’re not going to have to worry about banging it up because the blade is already banged out. I have a knife that’s my beat up knife at home that I know, it’s going to get a dink in it. I have my sharp knives and then I have my knives that I’m going to be hacking through chicken bones and don’t really care about resharpening too frequently.
EL: I think Joan is in good shape. Maybe she’ll check in and let us know how’s she doing with her Cuisinart blades.
JKLA: I hope so.
EL: We can talk about that. All right man, I’ll talk to you next week.
EL: Kenji Lopez Alt, the Serious Eats’ chief culinary consultant and author of The Food Lab. Do send in your questions to Kenji to Special Sauce at seriouseats.com.
Now it’s time to hear more from Claudia Fleming. When we last left the intrepid Ms. Fleming, she had chucked it all and moved to the country to run an inn and restaurant with her late husband Gerry Hayden, a crazy-talented cook.
CF: Larger than life.
EL: The fact that you moved out there and then had to nurse Gerry through years of ALS… You have such an indomitable spirit, but it must’ve tested you.
CF: It wasn’t indomitable, or it isn’t. It gets to you.
EL: So you’re up there in the North Fork. You’re running an inn, which you’ve never done before. You’re running a restaurant. You decided that wasn’t enough, so you also started a food truck.
CF: That was purely economic.
EL: It was like you needed another source of revenue.
CF: Yes, another revenue source. That’s right.
EL: But that’s a crazy thing to do. Was there a fantasy attached to it for both of you?
CF: The restaurant and the inn?
CF: Not for me. For me, I was kind of the it-girl when we left. I was on top of the world.
EL: You were little miss thing.
CF: Yeah. I was very grateful for that and I felt like I was eclipsing the larger talent in the relationship. As you said, Gerry is extraordinarily talented. I never sought that out. It wasn’t a goal for me. He devoted his entire life to being a chef, a cook. I loved him very much and wanted him to have his time. I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing. I wanted him to live his dream and I wanted to help facilitate that.
EL: Because you thought you were already living yours.
CF: I was. Even though it wasn’t my dream, I was in a great place. I wanted him to realize that same place.
EL: So that’s what it was for him. So you move out there…
CF: I was just trying to be supportive and wanted him to have what I had.
EL: Yeah. So you move out there… and this is before the North Fork of Long Island has become as fashionable as it is today, right? When you guys moved out there, it was very sleepy, full of small second homes of firemen and police and… because I rented out there back then. I remember: “This is not the Hamptons.”
CF: Not at all.
EL: They should’ve had a sign that had Hamptons with a diagonal line through it. Like, “Not the Hamptons.”
CF: And he summered out there. It was always his dream to go back there.
EL: What was the hardest part of the transition, or was everything hard?
CF: It was a little money pit and it was a bit like The Shining.
CF: It was kind of crazy. The inn was literally falling down and falling apart and it was a money pit and there were lots of hysterical things about that. But it was kind of creepy and scary too.
EL: Especially not in the summer, right?
EL: I assume it really becomes sleepy in November.
EL: All the way through May?
CF: That’s exactly right. Well, you can sort of get through until November, but from December until May it’s brutal. Or was. It’s not so much anymore.
EL: Is there any advice you’d like to impart at this moment to anyone considering such a radical move?
CF: Be well capitalized. That’s all I can say. Have a lot of money behind you. Money pit reference. It’s the biggest downfall of most restaurants, I think.
EL: And not just most restaurants. I think I listened to the New York State Lottery commercial: “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” It turns out that’s wrong when it comes to starting a business. It may be all you need to win the lottery, but it’s not all you need to start a business.
CF: Beware of your passion. It can kill you.
EL: Gerry was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Did that exacerbate the stress you were dealing with in running the inn and the restaurant? It must’ve been a stress multiplier.
CF: Kind of a blur, I have to say.
CF: Yeah. No, the level of stress was insane.
EL: Because you were having to do more and more. You were also having to attend to Gerry. Then you were also like, “Well, Gerry can’t do this anymore, so I have to hire somebody and…”
CF: The payroll was astronomical, because he could basically do the work of five people and did, as most owners do. I had to have two chefs and more cooks, because of course he was on the line every night and prepped every day. Just did everything. So yeah, it was crazy. And then trying to be careful not to come home and complain about it all the time because he felt so badly that I was left to deal with it all.
EL: I remember seeing you two at the James Beard Awards. I don’t know if you remember this. By that time, he was speaking through one of those tubes, but he was still Gerry. That was the fascinating thing. He said to me through this squawk box… I’m sure there’s a more technical name… that he wanted me to take him on a barbecue tour of New York. He was still Gerry.
CF: It was unbelievable to me.
EL: He was in a wheelchair and you were attending to his every need. Yet his spirit was there.
CF: Never wavered. I got my strength from him. I’m like, “How is he doing this?” It was incredible. I’m like, “If he can do it, I can do it with him.”
EL: So he actually helped sustain you?
CF: Absolutely. No question about it.
EL: Wow. He died in 2015. I can only imagine… as we’ve talked about… what those last few years with Gerry were like. What was the aftermath like? These last four or five years. I know that’s a hard question.
CF: It just kept getting harder and harder. I couldn’t sustain it, not only from a financial point of view.
EL: From an emotional point of view, right?
CF: Yeah. I mean, it was a dream. It’s really hard to live someone else’s dream.
EL: Especially after they’re gone.
CF: Especially after they’re gone. I was there 100% when he was there with me but you can’t realize somebody else’s dream. It doesn’t work. You become resentful.
EL: His dream was ahead of its time. His dream was to do what a lot of chefs are doing now and was doing what Dan Barber is doing at Stone Barns, only you guys were doing it 15 years ago on a dime without investors, but you were trying to grow everything and develop relationships with fishermen and farmers and you were doing all that before…
CF: He started a farmers’ market in the parking lot of the restaurant, because none of the purveyors had retail shops. He wanted very much to share the products that we were able to procure with other people and give them access to what we had access to, and so invited a lot of purveyors… many of whom were new farmers. There were a lot of new farmers on the North Fork. It was great fun.
EL: It was like California dreaming writ large in its own way, because that was Gerry’s dream. But you soldiered on. It had to have been really hard not just because you were somebody else’s dream. The financial pressures… and what about the time to mourn your husband?
CF: I don’t know that that’s happened yet, honestly.
CF: Yeah, I’m not sure.
EL: Because there were so many other things to deal with.
CF: There wasn’t time. It just came at me fast and furious.
EL: You just sold the inn and restaurant.
CF: Last week.
EL: I hope that it does give you the time to do that, because…
CF: And reflect on it happily and positively instead of just being…
EL: Seeing it as the ultimate ball and chain.
CF: Yeah. And just being in crisis management mode every day, all day, and reflect on what we accomplished, which was always so hard to do.
EL: I had that experience when I sold Serious Eats, too. It was a bit of PTSD. It’s like, “I should feel great, but I still think I have to worry about payroll.”
CF: Exactly right.
EL: “So I can’t feel great.”
CF: How long did it take?
EL: You’re not going to be happy with this answer.
CF: Oh gosh.
EL: It took a few years.
CF: Oh man.
EL: No, I would say it took a solid year, maybe two. But it was that thing that you’re talking about. I don’t know what it’s like. The struggle was ever present.
CF: Yeah. It was your identity.
EL: For sure. It was totally my identity.
EL: So you’ve sold it and what’s cool is that your rebirth coincides with them reissuing The Last Course.
CF: How amazing was that?
EL: How did that come about?
CF: Demand, I think.
EL: Oh right, because I read that people were paying hundreds of dollars. I didn’t know, because it could’ve helped with my son’s tuition. I could’ve sold my copy of The Last Course.
CF: You could’ve just called me. I would’ve given you the recipe. That’s what a great business person I am. Just call me. I’ll give you the recipes for me.
EL: So it was really demand. Did you get a call from your agent or from…
CF: Exactly right. I got a call from my agent, David Blatt, and he’s like, “Pam Cannon at Random House wants to rerelease the book.” I’m like, “Great! Let’s do it.”
EL: That’s great. And did you revise or expand it at all?
CF: No. Apparently because it wasn’t digital there wasn’t a lot of room for recreating, because it was going to be prohibitively expensive.
EL: Why is it such a revered book? What were you trying to say with the book?
CF: I think I was trying to make restaurant desserts more accessible by deconstructing them.
EL: Not necessarily making them easier, but by deconstructing them.
CF: Yeah. Because the restaurant desserts each had several elements. I thought that each element in itself was a dessert.
EL: And could stand on its own.
CF: And could stand on its own.
EL: In other words, a dessert at the restaurant could be a granita with a slice of cake or…
CF: And some fruit. One of those elements is dessert. You know, after dinner… you have a dinner party… serve granita and store bought cookies if you want. People are so daunted by desserts.
EL: So you want to demystify them, but not by saying, “This is easy.” First of all… I hope you don’t mind me saying this… you’re an obsessive and a perfectionist. I think that’s what came through in the book. I remember when it came out. Everyone was like, “Well, we know Claudia. We know what her mindset is. And she put it on the page so that you could make the shortbread cookies or dark chocolate caramel tart or whatever and it would be right and would work.” It meant you had to be as mindful and precise as you are, though.
CF: And Melissa.
EL: And Melissa, for sure. Melissa Clark was your co-writer.
CF: Yes, and did all the testing.
EL: She’s become a formidable recipe developer and writer and bestselling author in her own right, all those things.
CF: How lucky was I?
EL: But why was it such a revered book? You talk to any pastry chef… I remember when I introduced Stella Parks… BraveTart… our pastry wizard… to you at the Beard Awards a couple of years ago and she was tongue-tied. She was star struck. She was literally like, “What? You’re going to introduce me to Claudia Fleming?” And BraveTart is nobody’s fool. She’s…
CF: That’s amazing. That book is amazing.
EL: She’s amazing, she is. She’s unbelievably talented and smart and a wonderful human being. But she was just like, “Okay,” and she dropped what she was doing and who she was talking to and we went over to you when you were plating desserts at the after… That’s the way they served dessert. Remember at that dinner at the media awards? Everyone walks around and eats various desserts.
EL: Do you think it’s the precision? Do you think it’s your point of view that informs multiple generations of pastry chefs to this day?
CF: I think it spoke to the time: the whole local seasonal phenomenon was happening. I think that I demystified a bit. But for pastry chefs… Today, people put herbs in desserts and use savory things in desserts all the time. People weren’t doing that yet. That was a function of being in the kitchen during service, watching cooks, and going, “I want to do that.”
EL: You were… to quote Tom Colicchio… thinking like a chef.
CF: Yeah. I think maybe I was or am a frustrated cook, so I started making dessert just like another course: the last course. It became less about sweet than about just another course that wraps up the dinner. It didn’t come out of left field, I felt like.
EL: Give a quintessential Claudia Fleming example of what you’re talking about.
CF: Let’s start with a simple cornmeal poundcake. Zabaione: that’s made if not to order than pretty close to order. Caramel in a pan. Throwing oranges in the caramel. Having candied kumquats. Throw those on top. Having toasted pistachios. Garnish with that. Having blood orange sorbet… I mean, I could keep going. That sounds like…
EL: Your mise en place was just as intense.
CF: It was insane. We were always cooking some element of that dessert, whether it was a roasted pear or caramelizing oranges or bananas or whatever the season was. We were cooking something on that plate.
EL: Right. And you were cooking desserts ala minute.
CF: Absolutely. The poundcake was made.
EL: Of the minute.
CF: Yeah. It was just…
EL: So you started with the cornmeal pound cake, which is… So you’re starting with, “What’s the best pound cake I can make?” Then you can go from there. You’re sort of building layers of flavor like a chef would build a dish.
CF: Exactly right.
EL: All right, I get it.
CF: And a lot of the mise en place for different dishes could kind of cross.
EL: Cross pollinate.
CF: Because you have all of this mise en place, so if you got someone special that came in who you know has had all your desserts, you’re like, “Look, I have mise en place from the pear plate that I can do this with and play with.” It was a freer way of playing with dessert.
EL: That’s cool.
EL: The book is out. You’ve sold the inn. Are you going to move back? Are you going to grace us with your presence?
CF: I’d like to spend more time here, yeah.
EL: Are you going to start making pastries? If I had money, I’d finance a bake shop. Claudia Fleming…
CF: I would love to have a bake shop if it didn’t have to make money. I’ll do anything if it doesn’t have to make money.
EL: You’d like to have a nonprofit pastry shop.
CF: I’d love to travel and explore. It’s been so long. Last weekend was my first weekend off in 15 years, I think.
EL: That’s incredible.
EL: Now it’s time for the Special Sauce all-you-can-answer buffet. No pressure. Who’s at your last supper? No family allowed.
CF: Does a husband count as a family?
EL: For you, we’ll allow Gerry to be there, but you still have to come up with three more people. It can be living or dead.
CF: Only because he was the best company ever.
EL: All right, you’re allowed. I’m making what will heretofore be known as the Claudia Fleming exception.
CF: Thank you. I appreciate it.
EL: Gerry Hayden is at the table. Three more people. Living, dead, artists, musicians, painters, politicians, religious figures, I don’t care. It could be anybody.
CF: Okay. Rafael Nadal.
EL: Rafael Nadal, I love it. Nobody has said Rafael Nadal.
CF: I’m obsessed with tennis. I’m the greatest spectator you have ever seen.
EL: But you’re not a player?
EL: That’s awesome. Rafael Nadal is a great… I think even though he’s probably not that interesting, he’s such a-
CF: How could you say that?! He is the most interesting…
EL: I just mean that what’s most interesting about him is how he moves on the court.
CF: He’s unreal.
EL: he’s a ballet dancer. That’s why you like him. And his spirit must remind you of Gerry’s spirit.
CF: He just never ever ever gives up. Never gives up. I’m going to respectfully disagree. He’s not a ballet dancer. I would call Djokovic or Federer more ballet dancers. He’s gritty and gets it done.
EL: It’s true.
CF: That’s a lot of me. I get it done. And he’s really cute.
CF: Just for a big helping of dignity, can we have Barack there?
EL: Of course.
CF: Would you come have dinner?
EL: I would.
CF: I’d like to see you and Gerry go at it.
EL: We went at it a few times when he was around.
CF: I think that would be super fun.
EL: I love the idea of Rafael Nadal and Obama together. That’s a great pairing.
CF: You think?
EL: I do. I think there would be such profound mutual respect.
CF: For sure.
EL: The question is whether there’s enough similar frame of references to facilitate conversation.
CF: I would do that.
EL: So what are you eating?
CF: We’re going to have some truffle risotto in there.
EL: Not with truffle oil. We’re talking-
CF: With what? No. Parmigiano risotto with a poached egg and shaved white truffles on top.
EL: Now we’re talking. I like this.
CF: Some fantastic bread. I love bread.
EL: Oh man, I went to this pizzeria last night that I should take you to.
EL: Razza in Jersey City. He makes his own bread and butter.
CF: Yum. My very dear friend worked with him for a couple of years.
EL: He’s great and his pizza is amazing.
CF: Do you know Kevin Mahan?
CF: He was the GM at Gramercy for a lot of years.
EL: That’s right. In fact, the first I walked into Razza he was there and he goes, “I know you.” That’s funny.
CF: Oh my gosh, he talks about that place all the time.
EL: It’s great. And he also served me some fermented butter last night that tasted like blue cheese.
EL: It was crazy. Okay, keep going. Some bread, some risotto. We’re a little carb heavy, but it’s okay.
CF: Okay, a big, giant salad. It’s a joke how much salad I eat. People make fun of me.
EL: And then a dessert. Everyone is going to be waiting with bated breath for what dessert you’re going to be eating.
EL: Cheese! Out of nowhere, cheese on the outside! That’s funny.
CF: And a chocolate bar.
EL: And a chocolate bar. And a good chocolate bar. We’re not talking Hersey’s.
CF: We’re not talking Hersey’s. Well, Hersey’s has its place.
EL: I understand. And what are you listening to? Will there be music there?
CF: I find music a bit distracting. It makes me always want to sing and dance.
EL: Do you have guilty pleasures, foodwise?
CF: Potato chips.
EL: Potato chips.
CF: Yeah. And penny candy.
EL: Preferred brand of potato chips?
CF: I got very attached to North Fork Potato Chips.
EL: Which are really good.
CF: They’re really good.
EL: What’s interesting is that even some of the big potato chip companies have come out with these small batch… Like, Lays makes a good small batch potato chip now.
CF: Is that right?
EL: Yeah, which is interesting. Sometimes those companies buy the North Forks of the work.
EL: Books that have influenced your life. Could be cookbooks. They could be anything.
CF: Certainly, Nancy Silverton’s dessert book.
EL: I’m not even sure it’s still in print. It’s an awesome book.
CF: I have three copies. Gerry had one, I had one, and then… I don’t know why we have a third one, but we do.
EL: Nancy was the founder of La Bhea Bakery and the seminal pastry chef.
CF: She should really be at the dinner, too, actually.
EL: All right, we’re putting Nancy at the table. And now owns the Mozzas with Joe Bastianich. Two more books.
CF: That food science book from way back.
EL: Harold McGee?
CF: Harold McGee.
EL: Harold McGee is in many ways the godfather to Kenji Lopez-Alt.
CF: Is that right? But now Kenji is an incredible researcher and cook.
EL: And Harold wasn’t as much of a cook.
CF: He was more of a scientist.
EL: Harold is a hardcore scientist, but I think Kenji would say that he was influenced by him for sure.
CF: Does Kenji have a book?
EL: Yeah. The Food Lab is like…
CF: Oh, cool.
EL: Yeah. While you were recovering from the inn and Gerry, he rocked a book big time. Food Lab has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It’s crazy.
CF: I’m sorry I don’t know that.
EL: That’s okay. We have to get you…
CF: I was living under a rock… inn, as it were.
EL: Yeah. Three things in your kitchen that you can’t do without.
CF: My bowl scraper, a whisk…
EL: These are pretty low-tech items.
CF: Super low tech. I don’t do high tech.
EL: Bowl scraper, whisk.
CF: I guess my KitchenAid, yeah. It’s hard to work without that.
EL: What do you cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat?
CF: Yeah. I used to say to Gerry, “I love you more than eggs.” Eggs are my favorite. I love eggs so much.
EL: Scrambled soft?
CF: I don’t do scrambled so much. I liked over easy and poached, again with truffles on them preferably, on toast. Grilled bread.
EL: This is why you had financial problems when you were running the inn. You were putting truffles in every dish.
EL: It’s just been declared Claudia Fleming Day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?
CF: Everyone is nicer to each other. Everyone is a bit more understanding.
EL: It’s getting harder and harder, isn’t it?
CF: And just more compassionate and realizing that everybody is going through shit, man. You’ve just got to be a bit more understanding.
EL: Universal empathy. It would be Universal Empathy Day.
CF: Like that person that didn’t hold the door open for you. They’re just in their own world. Oh wait, this is so huge and I don’t know why the world doesn’t get behind this: stay to the right. Everybody stays to the right and nobody bumps into each other.
EL: Nobody has ever said that. Everybody has to stay to the right.
CF: If you stay to the right, you’re not going to bump into anybody. It’s like driving. Imagine you’re in a car all the time. Would you just go straight in front of somebody? No, you wouldn’t.
EL: You’d stay to the right.
CF: You’d stay to the right. And they passed you’d go behind them.
EL: I might have to think of that.
CF: When you are going anywhere… I want to have T-shirts made: stay to the right. Especially in the subway.
EL: Claudia, thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us.
CF: Thank you for having me.
EL: It was awesome. If you want to know the genesis of many pastry chefs’ thinking, pick up a copy of Claudia’s The Last Course, or if you just want to cook something great yourself. It’s just been reissued and it’s awesome.
EL: Now it’s time to head over to Serious Eats test kitchen to discover what our managing culinary director Daniel Gritzer is cooking up. No need to take notes. Details of Daniel’s recipe are at seriouseats.com.
DG: Grilling pork chops can present similar problems as chicken breasts. The meat is lean and prone to drying out, even with the slightest overcooking. With a few simple steps, though, you can guarantee that your pork chops will be juicy and perfect every time.
First, you want to brine them. Given enough time, salt breaks down the pork chops’ muscle proteins helping it retain moisture as it cooks and leading to far juicier results. But there are two ways to brine: wet and dry. A wet brine involves dissolving salt and sometimes sugar in water and then soaking the meat in that solution. Dry brining is as simple as sprinkle salt all over the chops, then letting them rest uncovered in the fridge. You can do each of these in as little as one hour or leave them as much as one to two days. Tested side-by-side, though, a clear winner emerges: the dry brine. Unlike the wet brine, which leaves the pork chops swollen with liquid, the dry brine and near-dried pork chops develop a drier surface that browns much quicker and deeper, leading to more flavorful chops by the time they’re cooked through.
To grill them, start by setting up two zone indirect fire. Place the chops over the hot side of the grill, seasoning with pepper and a bit more salt if you want, then cook them until well browned on both sides and they reach 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the meat. If they’re browned and charred but not quite done in the center, you can move them to the cooler side of the grill to finish. For very thick chops… ones that are an inch and a half to two inches or even more… you can use the reverse sear, which means starting them on the cooler side and then finishing on the hot side once they reach about 130 degrees in the center. That’ll be enough to brown them on the exterior and get the internal temp a bit higher to where you want it. This method can deliver a more evenly cooked interior for thicker chops, but it’s not necessary for ones that are thinner.
That’s it. Perfectly grilled pork chops that are deeply browned, flavorful, and juicy throughout.
EL: Details of Daniel’s recipe and a video are at seriouseats.com. That’s our program for this week. Next time, Kenji will return to answer your question of the week with his usual scientific precision, and back to culinary school, also known as Serious Eats test kitchen, and as always a conversation with our special guest. I’m Ed Levine. So long, serious eaters. We’ll see you next time.