Food and Drink

Weekend Project: Homemade Pumpkin Pie

There's no shame in phoning it in with a store-bought pie, but this year, try your hand at making it with one of the easiest recipes on Earth.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

It is safe to assume that you have, at some point in life, purchased a store-bought pumpkin pie, in all its gooey, occasionally dewy-from-precipitating-in-plastic, glory. I know you. You’re like me: you took that pre-baked seasonal sludge out of its container and paraded it on some charming ceramic dish of your own to pass as semi-home-made. (Here’s looking at you, Sandra Lee.) 
 
The custardy crevice that’s slightly discolored in the center that pulls and cracks from the middle, with those perfect factory crimped edges tells us what we already know. You phoned it in. There’s no shame here, I have an intimate knowledge of those spiced autumnal flavors. And, as an advocate of the ‘work smarter not harder’ mentality, the grocery store pumpkin discs serve their purpose with dignity and rarely disappoint. That said, I needed a break from the 24-hour news cycle during past election week, so here we are, scratch baking one instead, trying to outdo the Costco classic. Callista Mei, host of her own baking show and brand of the same name, Six Sweet Under and head baker at Magnolia Bakery in Los Angeles, shares her recipe. I’m here to tell you that damn: this might be one of the easiest baking recipes to execute, so you can stop telling fat pie lies on Thanksgiving and put a little heart into your potluck this year. 

PSA: STOP READING if you do not have either a hand held or standing mixer. Yes, this recipe is very manageable, but it includes a boozy chantilly whipped cream. As someone who has previously committed to a recipe unknowingly needing a mixer and almost reached an early death from whipping 3 cups of egg whites by hand, I am warning you here and now… You will not want to do this portion of the recipe manually, unless you’re a beef cake with a point to prove. I whipped the cream first, simply because I prefer it pretty chilled and it can hang out in the fridge while I accomplish other tasks. If the cream appears to be too firm after fridge time, fold in a splash of leftover whipping cream or whole milk to soften. Or don’t do it as a first step, this is your world. The recipe calls for brandy. I accidentally grabbed a bottle of cognac from my grandparents’ cabinet, so now I have cognac chantilly cream. They are quite nearly the same; cognac is just brandy made in the Cognac region of France, so apparently now my pie has a French accent. Grandpa says, “it’s good.”
 
This pie is a fun diversion from the pre-made ones primarily for its graham cracker crust. Typically the store bought pies are a dough crust – you know this. Here at home, we can smash the grahams into dusty smithereens. I found this part to be a good time, and I wish that for you too, as you continue on in your live-streamed quarantine journey to become the next Food Network star. The recipe calls for a food processor but you can just as well blitz the crackers with a rolling pin and a heavy hand. With two ingredients and a 15 minute bake time, it’s already very loveable.The filling feels very familiar, with pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract to keep you cozy. After two slices and some reflection, I appreciated that this recipe could withstand a little at home remix-a teaspoon or two of ground ginger, cardamom or five-spice blend would fall nicely into place here. If you’re a real go-getter, you can sub out the canned pumpkin puree for the whole, bonafide fruit, seeds et al. Get yourself a one pound pumpkin, or a Kabocha squash will do. Jenna Fuscher, pastry chef at Los Angeles’ Gjusta Bakery suggests this method for the more committed. Should you choose that mission, cover your pumpkin in olive oil and roast whole at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until soft and skin can be pierced with a fork (about 30-40 minutes). Let cool, then remove skin and seeds. Brown 4 ounces of butter, and integrate pumpkin with an immersion blender. I don’t have an immersion blender, I have a can opener. If you’re like me, canned puree is listed below and proves delicious, just as Callista says. 
 
Callista also says the pie should cool for at least three hours. Something to keep in mind, if you’re on a holiday schedule. I cheated and let it sit for one hour, then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. It set up nicely and cooled down enough to decorate with the cream – I dotted the pie with a piping bag (Ziplock with a hole.) If you’re a minimalist, the cream can be served on the side. To make a recipe testing story short, this pie slaps. The brandy (cognac) chantilly has a nice way of cutting the sweetness, but the booze is subtle. Its filling is smooth and rich, with a touch of baked, buttery crunch from the cracker crust. If you’ve been wounded one too many times by the promise of a user-friendly baking recipe and ended up with an unexpectedly and heavily involved dish, this is not that moment. On my honor, this pie is very approachable and delivers the goods. You’ll get way more ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ for it than you would for a last minute market run – enjoy the praise, chef. This recipe is also great because now I’ve meal-prepped breakfast for the following five to seven days.

Pumpkin Pie with Cinnamon Graham Crust & Brandy Chantilly Cream

Ingredients:

Crust:

Pie Filling:

Brandy Chantilly Cream:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp brandy

Directions:

Crust:

  • Blend graham crackers in food processor until a fine crumb
  • Mix with melted butter and press evenly into a 9 inch pie dish
  • Bake at 350 for 15 minutes; set aside 

Filling:

  • Mix all ingredients together until well incorporated and smooth
  • Carefully pour into prepared crust
  • Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 60-75 minutes or until the filling looks set and slightly jiggly in the center
  • Allow to cool completely (about 3 hours) 

Brandy Chantilly:

  • Pour heavy cream into a clean, chilled bowl, whip on high until slightly thickened
  • Turn down the speed to low and add powdered sugar; when combined, turn speed back up to high
  • When soft peaks form, add brandy and whip until medium peaks
  • Serve with pie

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Greer Glassman is a Thrillist contributor.

Food and Drink

What We Learned About Fish From Spending An Afternoon With Josh Niland

It’s time to stop putting your fish in water, you’re killing the flavour

fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“How do you want your fish,” says a fishmonger dressed head to toe in black, to a customer ordering a kilo of Greenback Flounder from Coorong, SA. The customer is unsure of how he wants the fish but asks the fishmonger for advice after telling him what he plans to do with the fish. Immediately the fishmonger knows how to cut the flounder, wraps it in paper, and hands it off to the customer—but not before giving a tip or two on how to cook it. 

“This is how we sell trust and instil confidence,” says Josh Niland who appeared from around the counter, donning his chef whites and a crisp white apron. We’re in Fish Butchery, Niland’s fish shop in Paddington, 20-metres down the road from his two-hatted seafood restaurant, Saint Peter. It’s a humble fish shop that feels luxurious when you walk in. Perhaps, it’s the cased sausages hanging in the front window, or the glass cabinet with one of everything they’re selling that day on display. You won’t find piles of fish or large blue trays of ice with fish lying on top. Everything is in controlled cabinets, including the oysters.

The shop is long and narrow with exposed brick walls, which Niland explains had a previous life as a hair salon. “I never wanted the shop to be uptight, but I did want it to be beautiful, a place you could walk in, order fish and chips, or a piece of fish to cook at home,” says Niland. In the middle of the room, there is a slab of white-marble serving as the backbone. This is where the fish is descaled with what Niland likes to call a ‘beartrap on a stick’. Although some fishmongers wield the beartrap, flinging scales up their arms, others use a knife, slicing the scales in one long strip, resembling snakeskin. 

“The fish here will be used for sushi and sashimi,” Niland explains pointing at the fish being scaled by a knife. “What we’re trying to do here is to get between the scale and the fish, so we can control the texture of the fish and remove moisture from the fish.” 

Removing moisture from the fish is something we don’t see often, but as Niland explains, it is the most important step in preparing the fish. “You know that fishy fish smell you get a waft of walking into a fish market or other fish shop,” Niland asks. I briefly pause to remember smelling nothing when I walked into Fish Butchery, except the faint smell of fries sizzling in the fryer. “Well that’s because moisture gets into the skin, and when that happens water rapidly breaks down into ammonia, resulting in a fishy smell.” It’s another reason Niland often gets lost when a customer asks for a fish that’s not too fishy.

As he explains, fishy fish are only “fishy” because of the way it’s stored and handled. Which explains why the fish scaled with the bear claw are immediately hung, away from moisture. 

descaling fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“When the scaler rips up the scale, it leaves an open pocket where the scale used to be. This pocket is quite deep and what usually happens is the fish is washed down then dipped in water. The water sits in that pocket, and after some time creates a fishy smell,” explains Niland. 

This is the core of Niland’s philosophy. Removing moisture from the fish opens up a realm of opportunities that exists beyond the conventional method, according to Niland.

Our next step takes us to the cool room, where rows of gutted fish are hung up on silver hooks as butchers do to meat. They’re not swimming in buckets of ice or water, instead, they are dangling a safe distance from each other, careful not to touch one another. The coolroom is set to an optimal temperature, there is no fan blowing in the room, and only when the fish is ready to be served, then it will be unhooked and dealt with accordingly. 

“Every step from the catching, killing, and preparing is important in achieving flavour,” says Niland who points out a row of garfish in a dry tray. “If you kill a fish properly, there shouldn’t be any lactic acid, which you can tell by the flesh—it looks cooked.” 

So what’s the best way to humanely and effectively kill a fish? According to Niland, brain spike or bleeding the fish keeps the fish from flopping around, building up chemicals that can affect the flavour later on. 

Bringing the attention back to the garfish, Niland explains there are moments when fish tastes better. This tray of Garfish is ready to go, but then Niland points to a hanging coral trout which has until Friday before it’s served on someone’s plate. 

chef showing fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“This fish arrived today, it’s been scaled and gutted, but it won’t be ready until the end of the week. That’s not the case for all fish though, this tuna I would serve on day 8 or 9,” says Niland. “There’s a point where a fish’s fat is more prominent, which again comes back to removing as much moisture as we can and controlling the handling and environment from day one.”

Niland sources produce from fisherman around Australia and he takes only whatever he can get. 

“I go to the airport to pick up fish once or twice a week from my sources, and I’ll visit the Sydney Fish Market daily to see what they have, but at my shop, I serve whatever I can get my hands on,” explains Niland. “Our customers ask for recommendations so we tell them, King George Whiting is excellent today, and we might offer tips on storing it at home, how to cook it, and if I have a recipe card, I’m more than happy to share.”

As Niland explains it, not everyone knows how to cook a certain fish, and he wants more people to choose an unfamiliar fish, something they haven’t had before or cooked before. The best way to do so is by helping his customers understand the product. “The bottom line is we want people to have a better experience with fish,” says Niland. 

This stays true to his sustainable approach to fishing and his pioneering nose-to-tail eating method for fish. “The global standard is that half goes in the bin, which breaks down to about a 45% fillet yield,” says Niland who remains unaffected after 10-minutes of chatting in the cool room. “For every two fish, we only need one. I use about 95% of the fish.”

We finally leave the coolroom, to approach a small fridge, where fish are being dry-aged, but in a different control to the dry ageing fish in the coolroom. “It’s just another way to experiment with the flavour and natural method of prolonging shelf life,” says Niland. 

“I’m always thinking, how can I articulate the flavour of fish differences between coral trout and snapper.”

cuts of fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

Niland’s experimentation finds him continually exploring low-temperature storage, probing which fish works best for it, and noting when a fish reaches its sweet spot. More like a mad scientist, Niland is far from a conventional fishmonger, as he dives deep to push boundaries on how seafood is caught, shopped, and cooked whether at home or at Saint Peter. 

One look at his book, The Whole Fish Cookbook, is enough to convince you of his outrageous, funny, and loopy suggestions on what to cook, including coaxing delicious dishes from fish eyeballs. liver and even fish blood. 

If there is anything we can take away from spending an afternoon with Josh Niland, it would be his pioneering penchant for demystifying fish, his care and attention to preparing fish, and his sustainable seafood philosophy, that we hope catches on around the world. 

Niland enjoys the complexity of fish, yet breaks it down for us so that we can enjoy and achieve a perfectly cooked piece of fish at home. His humble approach to seafood is nothing short of inspiring. He wants to change the world, but it’s not going to be easy and you get the sense he knows that, but he continues, one fish at a time, to change how we cook, eat, and look at fish.

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