Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

On the virtues of *really* slow food

I think this is now a category for me. Over the past few years, I've added several of these recipes to my repertoire. They're all for elemental foodstuffs, and they share only one thing in common: they get the best results through using *very* low heat, for a *very* long time. None are original to me, but I suspect not everyone has come across them all, so here's a quick review.

Sun Tea: I drink iced tea by the bucket, and prefer a good Japanese Hoji-cha -- the flavor is clean and interestingly smoky, and it is best unsweetened (more precisely, the idea of sweetening it is horrifying), so I can drink it with little guilt. But I found that making large batches of it with the usual 180-degree water tends to come out bitter unless I am *very* precise.

So instead, I've gravitated towards making Sun Tea with it. This is pretty straightforward, but it took a while for me to pick up the crucial tricks:
  • Sun Tea requires, well, sun. Choose a clear, sunny day to make it. Ideally, start it early in the morning, so that it has plenty of time to steep in the sun.

  • Don't skimp on the tea leaves. Sun Tea intentionally isn't trying to strip every last bit of flavor out of the tea, so be generous. I use six heaping Tbl for about half a gallon of tea.

  • Start with seriously warm water. Not tea-kettle hot, but as hot as will come out of an ordinary tap. This gives the tea a crucial running start, because it's enough to darken the water. The darker the water, the more sunlight it absorbs; the more sunlight, the better it will hold temperature. If I start with the water at about 120 degrees, and it's a good strong sun, it can stay at 90 all day, even in mid-winter.

  • You can make it inside, but the blinds are your friend. Originally, I only had success making Sun Tea outside, on a hot day, so it could keep up to temperature long enough. The above two points were essential to making it work inside, but to make it really hum along, I put my pot on the window-sill and draw the curtain behind it. That way, the sunlight reflects back on the tea from the curtains, helping to keep it nice and warm.
Obviously, you need the right "teapot" to do this. I use this one -- it makes a huge amount at once, holds tons of tea leaves, and is nicely clear to catch the sun.

NB: see ladysprite's comments below, about the possible health risks of sun tea.

Cold-brewed Coffee: I grew up as a fairly serious coffee drinker -- Dad taught me at a young age that high-quality coffee is the prerogative and crutch of the serious programmer. Problem is, about fifteen years ago I began to have serious reflux problems, and my doctor eventually convinced me that the coffee was one of the main causes: the acid in coffee was wrecking my stomach lining.

They do make some low-acid coffees, but there aren't an awful lot of good ones around, and even most of them are borderline in terms of my tolerance. So I was overjoyed when a friend of mine (I think it was dsrtao) introduced me to the concept of Cold-Brewed Coffee.

Cold-brewed means just that. Whereas ordinary coffee is brewed with more or less boiling water, and extracts very quickly, cold-brew is done with room-temperature (even cold) tap water. It turns out to work just fine -- it simply takes a long time. The tricks are:
  • Get a good french press to make the coffee in. It can be done other ways, but a press is really convenient for cold brew.

  • As with Sun Tea, use ample amounts of ground coffee. I don't go completely over the top, but I'll typically use twice as much as I do for hot-brewed, to get a strong, rich flavor.

  • Put the grounds in the press; fill with water and stir; mostly ignore for 10-24 hours. Stir once or twice. Then press the coffee, to separate out the grounds, and put the coffee into the fridge, where it will keep for a week.
Not only is the result drinkable, I find it practically ambrosia. It's super-strong, almost coffee concentrate -- I will typically drink it iced, with equal parts coffee and milk plus a lot of ice cubes, to get a good medium-strength coffee. But it is far less bitter than standard coffee, and *much* lower in acid. I still can't drink an abusive amount of it without pain, but a big cup does me no harm. It's the yummiest way I know to get my morning caffeine, especially in the warmer months where I don't want to start with hot tea.

(I will note that the flavor won't be to every taste: since it is specifically not bitter, folks who like the Starbucks "bold" end of the spectrum are likely to find it pallid. But I love it.)

Low and Slow Bacon: we told everyone that we didn't want presents for our wedding, because we already had way too much Stuff. But Mara convinced us to accept a gift of three pounds of artisinal bacon, on the grounds that it was a consumable. And she (along with several other people) recommended the low-heat method of bacon cooking.

I tried this out for the first time last month, and I'm sold. The technique sounds bizarre if you're used to frying bacon the usual way, but it works:
  • Preheat the oven to a pretty low temperature. Recommendations vary -- I find 250 degrees to be a good compromise, but some folks prefer 200 or even lower.

  • Lay the bacon on wire racks, elevated over pans big enough to hold the grease. (I use rimmed cookie sheets, but am only doing one rack per sheet. Some folks do multiple layers of racks, in which case you want a deeper pan.)

  • Cook until the bacon is done to the proper consistency. Depending on the temperature and your tastes, this can take 1-3 hours.
The result is Bacon As Candy, in my book. Very crisp but not crunchy or burned, with the fat deeply rendered. It is almost too good to put *in* things -- I keep it in the fridge and mostly just have a slice as a snack.

(As a bonus, the resulting fat is as clean as anything you can get, and is great for cooking with. I keep it in a small lidded tub in the fridge.)

The general theme seems to be that our speed-oriented society runs deeper than I'd ever realized. All three of these recipes are similar in that they are very slow versions of something that is normally cooked fast, at high heat. The revelation to me has been that all three come out better if you're willing to put some more time and preparation into it, and give it a few hours. I find myself wondering: what other foods does this guideline apply to?
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