Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fried Homemade Mozzarella, Apple Chile Salad

For The Dinner to Fight Hunger, my theme for the menu was to take typical popular menu items from any given American restaurant, and then elevate them in some way. All of them were successful to some degree, so for posterity, I am laying down the recipes here. Please email me if you have questions, since a lot of this was made up on the fly, and is thus difficult to pin down in an actual repeatable recipe.

The first course was my interpretation of a fried mozzarella stick. Who doesn't love those? Literally one of the worst things you can put into your body, nutritionally, but DELICIOUS. My first step toward getting more out of a cheese stick was to make my own cheese. That sounded intimidating to me, too, but with a little internet research, a trip to the home brew store, and a gallon of milk, it was a piece of cake. My first attempt was an utter failure, but that was totally due to my inability to follow the perfectly clear and simple directions. Try #2 made perfectly delicious mozzarella. Try #3 made even better cheese, and more of it. It just takes a second to perfect your technique.

There are tons of options online that describe in detail how to do this. The one I had the most success with was this one. I used vegetable rennet solution instead of animal rennet tablets, so I just followed the dilution directions on the bottle. Also, this recipe doesn't go into detail about salting the cheese, but that was ok, since I knew I would be breading and seasoning it later on. I added about 2 teaspoonsful of cheese salt roward the end of the process, and it was just right.

Ingredients needed:
1 Gallon Milk                                    *I got the citric acid, rennet and cheese salt at 5th Season
1 1/2 tsp citric acid
1/8 tsp rennet
2 tsp cheese salt

Purists will say that what I made was not REAL mozzarella. Purists live sad, boring lives. Most Italian mozz is made from a specific breed of buffalo milk, and is made all on the stovetop, and pulled in a water bath. My cheese was made with a gallon of fresh Shenandoah Pride whole cow's milk. I finished it in the microwave and pulled it on my cutting board. Get over it.

It is utterly unbelievable that four ingredients and 45 minutes can produce a perfectly perfect pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, but believe me, you'll never buy it at the store again.

I formed the cheese into 2 inch diameter rolls, and wrapped them in plastic and put them in the fridge. When ready to cook, I sliced the cheese into 1/2 inch thick discs, dredged them in flour, dunked them into a milk/egg wash, then breaded them in bread crumbs seasoned with salt and dried parsley. Chef Keevil recommended a second trip to the flour and then back to the breadcrumbs, and this made a much better crust, so I would do that for sure. We fried the cheese in oil for about 3 minutes until golden brown, then drained on a paper towel.

They were perfectly crispy on the outside and stretchy and gooey on the inside. Best mozzarella stick ever.

Rather than serving a marinara dipping sauce for dipping, I topped it with a salad variation from a fried halloumi cheese recipe I made when auditioning for Chopped. They never called me back, which I credit to them not wanting it to be unfair to the other competitors.

Apple Chile Salad
1 sweet apple, matchsticked
1 tart apple, matchsticked
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 yellow pepper, julienned
1 hot chile, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, coarsely chopped

1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all dressing ingredients except oil with a wisk. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking furiously until dressing is well emulsified.
Add all salad ingredients to a bowl, and toss with dressing until all is lightly coated. Try not to over dress so it doesn't get soggy.

Serve a small pile of salad on top of your piping hot cheese stick.

I was going to brag about this being a 100% vegetarian dish, but then I forgot that milk comes from animals. I really suck at vegetarianizing. Sorry guys.

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