Frank Chen

Frank Chen

power outages and sauce making

There's been a string of power outages in the Bay Area. The first time was because of wind. The second time was wind and rain, and the third, wind, rain, and probably a tree branch. I guess these outages come with the west coast storm territory, albiet "mild" storm territory, given that it's California.

In the first instance, the power was out for almost eight hours. I didn't think much of it, mainly because I was in the process of waking up. It didn't really occur to me even after the audible "clunk" you hear when the power goes out and the piercing silence that comes after it.

The second worst thing that could happen after waking up is not having hot water to make a decent cup of coffee. The first is having your water shut off and not being able to take a shit or wash your face. Power outages suck.

Opening the fridge was out of the question, since I didn't want things in there to get warm. I couldn't heat up water for a cup of joe, and I forgot to charge my phone the night before. Two hours had already gone by and with the PG&E website alternating between "sorry our website can't handle the volume of requests right now" and "no estimate has been provided yet," my options began to weigh heavily on me.

Coffee was my number one priority. For some reason my brain was stuck in the local minima of "I don't have power", and I wasn't thinking about easier solutions. I was going deep into the rabbit hole. "Maybe I can use my cast iron pans on some hot briquettes and collect some of the local tree branches to get some kind of jerry-rigged fire going. Then I can boil water in a pot outdoors, have some coffee, and maybe even make lunch."

My brain finally snapped out of it. "Just walk a couple blocks, get a cup of coffee and a croissant and shut it." There were plenty of easy solutions, but they all sat uneasy with me.

I'm the type of person who hates being caught unprepared. It slightly concerns me that cities are the first to be fucked when shit hits the fan, since nothing in a city naturally "grows" there, if you know I mean. Food arrives through various distribution channels from farmers who are further out. Water arrives by some magical form of irrigation. People are tightly packed in a city and are mostly living "resource to resource", like one might live paycheck by paycheck. When the well dries up, everyone will fight over what's remaining. Power, for the most part, helps keep our perishable resources safe and edible, and by analogy, keeps the well consistently stocked.

While I'm not a doomsday prepper, it pays to be prepared, either to escape out of a city or still be able to carry on some semblance of normalcy (read: what absurd way can I dream up to get some coffee?). Or, maybe I'm just a pyromaniac that likes to cook over fires.

sauce making

I've been exercising some sauce making skills recently. I usually take one of three routes. There are quick pan sauces, the more complex stock-roux-reduction route, and also the lazy reduction route.

When doing anything involving reduction, try not to over-season before you're done reducing, unless you want to eat mouthfuls of salt.

We all know the purpose of sauces. It's just to hide shitty, dried out meat that you fuck up when cooking. Obviously, try not to fuck your meat up, but if you do, go for those sauces.

Don't be scared, sauces are not hard. It's just a combination of building dry and wet flavors and then turning it into an emulsified liquid that has a certain consistency.

Pan sauces look something like this.

  1. sear off some meat, sauté some veggies, get some browning going
  2. deglaze the pan with some alcohol, reduce the alcohol
  3. add some stock, whisk and reduce to desired consistency
  4. taste, add salt, eat the sauce, or strain then eat the sauce

Sauces using a roux (flour + butter, cooked) look similar, except you're using the roux to thicken the sauce.

  • extra pre-step, make a roux
  • steps 1 & 2, same dealio as a pan sauce
  • at stage 3, instead of reducing, you strain the liquid and add it slowly to a roux, and that thickens nicely to a gravy
  • then taste, add salt, eat
  • sauces utilizing a roux can be quite meta. A demi-glace for example, involves making espagnole (brown stock + extra aromatics + brown roux) and then reducing a 1:1 ratio of espagnole with brown stock. But, don't be intimidated with all of that, just understand sauces are a combination of extracting flavors using dry and wet methods, and then thickening it in a way that you like.

Sauces using just reduction are the easiest. Tomato sauce is a great example.

  • similar to step 1 of a pan sauce, roughly chop some garlic and shallots, sweat in olive oil, get some light browning going
  • add some tomato paste, sweat that off
  • add canned San Marzano tomatoes, reduce
  • leave overnight, and it gets reallll good the next day, season before eating
  • if you're really lazy, you can also do olive oil, San Marzonos, and garlic powder with reduction and it's still really good.

on menu

Here's a cheap, delicious vegetable addition. Get some rainbow chard, chop on the bias into pieces about the size of your thumb. Get a pan searing hot with some oil, chuck it in, throw in some chunky garlic, and sweat everything off. Add a pinch of salt and taste. Don't crowd the pan. Right before the chard is too soft, give it a healthy squeeze of lemon, toss for another second, and slap it onto a plate.

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