Freddy Small's Bar and Kitchen
Tapas style. Alkeehols n’ ethanols to start. Fried brussel sprouts. Chicken liver toast. Marrow, with Yorkshire pudding, corned beef and homemade pickles n’ sauerkraut.
I had the eerie sense after eating at Freddy Small’s that my judgement of the food was drastically altered by the presence of a pre-dinner cocktail. Being a lightweight, it didn’t take much for me to feel the intoxicating effects of an egg-white-sour-whisky something. Before dinner had even started, I fell victim to a swirly hurricane within my own head. Sad I know, but true. Now that we’ve gotten my particular mental state out of the way for this restaurant (impaired), it’s up to you (the reader) to trust my judgement. Or not.
I was most curious about the brussel sprouts at this place, as I have tried my best to seek out the most idiosyncratic brussel sprouts that every restaurant has had to offer, so far. By no means am I a taste expert or connoisseur, but I’ve had my fair share of brussel sprouts. Surprisingly, unlike most chefs and normal eaters, I don’t give much of a hoot for the bright green color of vegetables. Yeah, there’s the whole plating gig, preserving the crispness of vegetables, and honing the technique to perfectly to retain their crunch without the rawness. Yet, I believe there is a time and place for everything (being lazy about chewing). When I cook at home, I actually prefer my cruciferous vegetables on the side of mushy with a duller hue of green (yeah, yeah heretical, hang me up, burn me). I find that the texture of mushier greens is somewhat comforting. But…
Do softened vegetables tend to absorb flavors better?
I did not find any current research suggesting that completely obliterated olive-green vegetables absorbed sauce or vinaigrette at any sort of accelerated rate. If we break down the composition of a vegetable, it essentially boils down to (pun intended) to a bunch of enclosed cell walls that are fairly firm, but at the same time, flexible. Depending on the turgidity of the cell wall, a vegetable is placed on a spectrum of limp or firm. Turgidity of the cell wall basically means, “it’s filled with water/fluid, to the point of alllmost breaking.” (Think a really full water mattress). Cells that are not turgid (half-full air mattress) are less “tight” and don’t hold their shape well. When something doesn’t hold its shape well…it’s limp.
There are two stages of achievable limpness that I’d like to define. One is purposeful limpness, and one is natural limpness. Natural limpness is reversible. The other…not so much. At least, not yet (Bill Nye, where you at?).
The irreversible type of limpness is boiling vegetables, and “forgetting” that they were on the stove. Result? Olive green, drab, but fall-apart vegetables that are basically just mush. (I reiterate that I, surprisingly, prefer this). Vegetables are essentially cellulose, pectin, and other structural factors that contribute to vegetable texture and firmness. When boiled (or steamed), the pectin and other structural factors partly degrade and leak into the water, leaving the cellulose. (This is why vegetables don’t disappear after long periods of boiling; a kid’s dream).
The reversible type of limpness is when fresh vegetables are neglected for too long in the back of the fridge. The refrigerator is a very dehydrating place, so by evaporation, water is eventually lost by plant cells. Plants won’t lose their color for extended periods of time in the fridge, but they do lose their turgidity. They become limp. The solution is to resoak them in water in order to perk them right up. Lucky Peach (issue two) writes about vegetables having their “perfect moment;” obviously, leaving them until limp in the refrigerator is sort-of disrespect for the food you bought, and is an obvious negligence to the vegetable’s “perfect moment.” (which may have already passed, given how supermarkets pick shit too early and let it sit around. End rant). What about saving that particular moment? As told by Daniel Patterson, once you’re past the point…there’s no return.
BUT WAIT. (O RLY?).
Even if vegetables become turgid after re-soaking in water, the nutrient density and flavor profile will have been degraded. That’s a fact of life and time. But what about soaking reversible limped vegetables in cold, flavorful, sodium-less broth? If I can’t get the same nutrient density out of my vegetable, hell, I want it to taste awesome. The broth has to stay sodium-less so the solution outside would not draw more water out of the vegetable by osmosis. Given those conditions, would the plant uptake the broth, and subsequently taste like that? What about micro-slits within the vegetable? Micro-needles that pump cells up full of broth and flavors? (It’s like a micro-vegetable profiterole. Butterscotch broccoli?).
My gut sense, for the re-uptaking of broth, is no (sadly). If it occurred that simply, all our vegetables would taste like soil. But I hold out that someday, science will give me butterscotch broccoli.
Back to limped vegetables. Because I didn’t find any current research suggesting irreversibly limp, overcooked vegetables could absorb flavor, I did some brainstorming as to why they seemed good.
I came up with texture and increased flexibility. Lack of resistance by leakage of pectin and other structural factors make it so that the vegetables easily break down, almost like baby food. This is perhaps reminiscent of comfort foods. (Potatoes, dense cakes, etc). The last factor, its ability to pick up more sauce, is simply increased malleability, so it can conform to the curves and flats of a bowl or plate. Visual clarification is below.
Next time you’re out eating those vegetables, pay attention to the texture, and how it interacts on the plate. Do you like it or…not?