I watched the premier of the Next Iron Chef on the Food Network this weekend (a blow-by-blow account can be found here). Eight already-famous chefs (at least to foodies) from around the country were invited to compete to become the fifth Iron Chef. Their first challenge was to disassemble several types of protein and vegetation (debone a chicken, fillet a salmon, French a rack of lamb, shuck some mollusks, etc.). This was probably a tough challenge for some, as all of these chefs have brigades working for them whose job it is to prep ingredients — Chef Traci Des Jardins even admitted as much. Anyway, I initially thought this to be all about speed, but in reality it was about efficiency — in other words, quality speed. The winner wasn’t the first chef (Morou) who finished, rather, it was the first chef who finished everything up to host Alton Brown’s exacting standards – Aarón Sanchez.
The second challenge was a bit more difficult for two reasons. First, it was a dessert challenge, — and if you watch any reality food shows, you know that chefs usually have no dessert chops whatsoever. Second, the Chairman apparently likes weird desserts, because the chefs were required to incorporate some very odd proteins into one of their two sweet concoctions. The other had no requirements, save for using what was available to them. This was made even more difficult because standard dessert components like cream, sugar, or butter were not available. Improvisation abounded and some fairly decent looking desserts were made.
The weirdest thing I noticed, though, was that two chefs — independent of each other — made a goat milk rice pudding as their non-weird dessert. The judging panel wasn’t exactly wowed by the rice pudding (in fact, one was deemed to al dente) — but the thought of making rice pudding with goat’s milk haunted me (in a good way) all day. I already knew what I would do — as soon as I got home from work, I would just replace the cow’s milk with goat’s milk in my favorite rice pudding recipe. Luckily, my grocery store carries Meyenberg Goat Milk (in both whole and low-fat varieties) and I had everything else I needed.
The results? Nothing short of wow. I love rice pudding, but often find that its flavor is kind of one-dimensional — it usually needs cinnamon, orange zest, or a little rum to wake it up. Not anymore. The goat milk brings a complexity to the pudding that is, to quote the fake James Lipton (played by Will Ferrell), scrumptrulescent. It is grassy and reminiscent of spring, although the warm rice pudding would be a great addition to a cold autumn night.
I urge you to try it — the sugar kind of tames the “gameyness” normally associated with goat milk. This single substitution elevated rice pudding from stodgy (if not comforting) to sublime.
goat milk rice pudding
2 1/2 c water
1 1/2 c goat milk
1/3 c sugar
1 c arborio rice
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
toasted pistachios for garnish
Combine the water, milk, sugar, salt, and rice in a 3 quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low (the mixture should be just barely simmering). Cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The pudding should be thick but still wet and the rice should be cooked through. If the pudding is too stiff toward the end of cooking, feel free to add water a tablespoon at a time until the pudding is the consistency you desire. Add the vanilla off the heat. Serve warm or cold, sprinkled with pistachios for crunch.
If you are a sweet-n-salty lover and want to get real adventurous, sprinkle some crumbled feta on top as well.