Week 4 – Brunch: hash brown breakfast pizza

At the dawn of this week’s challenge, it was clear a simple breakfast pizza, softball it may be, would be all too straightforward. With three-pounds of homemade hash browns squirreled away in the freezer for any and all breakfast burrito needs, I knew I could tap this stockpile for the base of this next project. This particular batch of hash browns was made with particular care in an effort to perfect this brunch-time afterthought. I did okay. The thawed hash browns were still soggy with moisture I had failed to wring out of them. Luckily, it wasn’t too late to correct this problem with a minor squeeze session over the sink. When it came time to cook, I could only hope my efforts would provide a crispy enough base that could be spread thin while also supporting the extra weight of toppings.

Hash Brown Breakfast Pizza

To begin, preheat the oven to 350°F and toss in a couple pieces of bacon until crispy (approximately 12-15 minutes). Oven-cooked bacon is one of the many life hacks that has so many benefits it should have its own brochure. Not only does it provides complete control for even cooking, it also frees up the stovetop, makes clean up easy and keeps those damned grease pops safely tucked away.

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Meanwhile, the bacon fat rendered can be used in cooking the goodies up top.

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Just as with latkes and fritters, a binding agent is needed for the hash browns to hold its shape, which in this case is the shape of pizza dough. One medium egg is scrambled and tossed with the potatoes, plus some chopped yellow onions and chives for some pizzazz.

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The mixture is spread into an oiled steel crepe pan over medium heat, evenly spread out and smushed into the natural circular shape of the pan. Once set in place, the potatoes are not to be fussed over until the bottom begins to crisp up (approximately 3-4 minutes).

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The trouble now is the flip, which is why the crepe pan is preferred for its mildly-sloped edges. Using a spatula, loosen the hash browns from the pan all around so that it can easily slide off onto a cutting board, cooked side down. Having very lightly coated the pan in oil again, flip the pan upside-down over the potato disc and then quickly flip the cutting board over to place the potatoes cooked-side up in the pan. Cook over medium heat while placing on toppings of cheese and bacon.

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Place the crepe pan, again crucial for its metalware, into the oven to melt the cheese fully. To secure this pizza in the breakfast realm, an egg can be cracked over top and cooked until soft at this time. After pulling the pizza from the oven, the spatula is once more utilized to carefully move the pizza onto a cutting board. More toppings of tomato and finely chopped chives are added just before serving to keep their delicate textures intact.

 

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The pizza is pretty outstanding. The mix of cheeses (cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella and cottage cheese) provides a medley of textures ranging from chewy to creamy. The gently-cooked onions offer a layer of extra flavor in each bite, the tomatoes pop with a subtle juiciness and the bountiful heaps of bacon on top and bacon fat throughout do not go unappreciated.

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As for wine, what better way to preserve the traditions of brunch than to pair this pizza with Champagne. All the grease and cream and fat of brunch dishes can easily be whisked away by refreshing bubbles and crisp acidity while more delicate mainstays like eggs are heightened by an equally light wine.

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Gosset – “Excellence,” Brut, Champagne, NV, the entry-level offering of the house, is the most complexity needed when brunching. There are hints of limestone and toasty brioche in the glass, and while there is a muskiness in the wine that mirrors the earthy elements in the pizza, the aromas do not inspire much reflection. It’s thoroughly enjoyable without the pressure of having to talk tablemates out of adding a splash of orange juice.

For those who indulge in this brunchtime combo, consider keeping sour cream close by for a truly hedonistic experience.

Week 2 – Sous Vide: Short Rib & Mashed Potato pizza

Upon the insistence sous vide websites or books everywhere, short ribs are the showcase piece for this next pizza project. According to these various resources, short ribs can take anywhere from 12 to 72 hours, depending on preferred texture.

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I decide to try a 72°C bath for about 24 hours so the meat would be just beginning to fall off the bone. As short ribs are new to my kitchen, a 24-hour projection allows wiggle room for mistakes, one of which almost flopped the entire pie in its final stages.

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The half-pound of bone-in short rib purchase looks somewhat scant, but for a single pizza it proves to be plenty. To keep to the classics, mashed potatoes a la sous vide seems a fitting accompaniment for the ribs. Getting saavy with russett potatoes, the outsides are cut for potato skins for immediate enjoyment.

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Meanwhile, the fleshy insides were wrapped up and tossed into the sous vide in the final hours of the short ribs’ bath. After taking the short ribs out to begin building the sauce, I upped the temperature to 90°C for the final 20-30 minutes for the potatoes to soften just enough.

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For the sauce, I made a red wine reduction steeping yellow onions, shallots, garlic and thyme aromatic richness while amping up the savory elements by adding in short rib juices, duck fat and a quick dribble of sherry vinegar.

IMG_7006While the reduction finished, I shredded the short ribs and hand-mashed the potatoes to a chunky texture.

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Preheating the oven to 550°F with pizza stone in place, I rolled out a homemade whole-wheat dough and built the pie using the reduction both as a sauce and a short rib glaze.

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To accent the mozzarella base, I topped off chunks of St. Agur, a winner of a blue cheese, and Marco Polo, a cheddar that derives its personality from cracked green and black peppercorn.

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When it came time to pop the pizza into the oven, I realized I had made a huge mistake. The weight of the ingredients and the crust itself can be enough to cause the dough to stick to its resting place, especially when not enough flour and cornmeal is used in preparing the peel. This can also be remedied by using parchment paper.

The whole night’s effort came dangerously close to getting scrapped, despite having poured all of the ingredients into the one pie. Fighting to maintain an already strained patience, I managed to salvage the majority of the pie, cutting off a crescent sliver, which eased my ability to flour underneath section by section until the pizza came loose from the peel.

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The end result is not the prettiest, but the flavors are still in tact. With eyes closed and wine in hand, the end result is still rather satisfying.

With notes of peppercorn and savory richness, this pizza calls for a bold red with the same kind of instant gratification that comes with comfort food built upon comfort food. Starfire (Columbia Valley, Washington 2006) is a fleshy, indulgent Bordeaux blend with a moderate range of more exotic aromas such as black licorice, fresh mushrooms and wet forest leaves. The splotches of blue cheese can be pushy and challenging, but the wine overcomes with creamy waves of plush dark fruit. The red wine reduction mirrors the inherent sweetness of the fruit while occasional bursts of peppercorn on the pizza enhance the earthy aromatics.

If I could change anything about this pie, I’d switch out the whole wheat flour for bread flour to gain a smoother texture, distracting less from the winning topping here, the mashed potatoes. That and I would have remembered the damn parchment paper.