Special Sauce: Kenji on Cooking With Starch, Simon…

Overhead shot of a bowl of mixian noodle soup from Little Tong Noodle Shop

[Simone Tong photograph: Courtesy of Little Tong Noodle Shop. Mixian photograph: Vivian Kong]

This week’s Special Sauce kicks off with our new culinary Q&A segment, “Ask Kenji.” This time around, Kenji schools us and serious eater Paul Anderson on the differences between cornstarch and flour when used as thickeners. Among them: Unlike flour, “cornstarch tends to break down when you hold it hot,” Kenji says. “So you’ve been to a Chinese buffet, and they have the pot of hot and sour soup that’s been sitting there all day, that’s usually thickened with cornstarch, and as it sits in that steam table over the day, it’ll actually get thinner and thinner…. [it] breaks down over time. So, a sauce that you made [that] was nice and thick and glossy the day before, when you microwave it and reheat it the next day, it might end up really thin and watery.” Keep that in mind next time you’re wondering why your takeout leftovers don’t hold up so well—and when you’re making big batches of your own saucy dishes that you hope will last the weekend.

After that, we meet Little Tong Noodle Shop chef and restaurateur Simone Tong, who has made her Yunnan-style mixian noodles required eating (and ensured their place on our list of best NYC eats under $15). Tong tells us about her initial experiments in cooking, as a high school student in Melbourne, Australia. In Australia, she first discovered the joys of Vietnamese pho, and cherries: “I had cases and cases of cherries. I have this microwave, so I’m like, I want to make fried rice in the microwave with egg. And so I ate that for a week, and then during exam time…I decided to mix salad with Caesar salad dressing and soy sauce.” Despite her adventurous tastes, there’s one very basic ingredient that Tong still can’t personally get behind—of course, you’ll have to listen to the episode to learn what that is.

Finally, we check in on what’s been happening in the kitchen lately at Serious Eats HQ, where Senior Culinary Editor Sasha Marx describes his process for making homemade trapizzini, a terrific Italian street food invented by Roman pizzaiolo Stefano Callegari. “It combines Roman pizza al taglio, which is our equivalent of pizza by the slice, and the tramezzino, which is a type of sandwich served in Italy that’s made on white bread cut into triangles,” Sasha explains. The result is a thick, puffy, beautifully golden focaccia-like bread, ready to be split open and filled with whatever strikes your fancy, from meatballs to stracciatella cheese to marinated artichokes. You can get the recipe and/or watch Sasha making this elevated take on a Pizza Pocket here.

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Transcript

Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce 2.0, Serious Eats podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we begin with Ask Kenji. Where Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats chief culinary consultant, gives the definitive answer to the question of the week that a serious eater like you has sent us.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: Corn starch is a pure starch, whereas flour has other stuff in it.

EL: After Ask Kenji, a conversation with our guest Chef Simone Tong, who has blessed New York city with Mixian.

Simone Tong: Mixian, yes.

EL: The platonic form of the Yunnan noodle.

EL: Finally, on today’s podcast, a teachable moment from the Serious Eats test kitchen.

Sasha Marx: We’re here today making trapizzino, a great Roman street food snack invented by Stefano Callegari, who is a pizzaiolo in Rome.

EL: First up, our chief culinary and consultant, author of The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt. Kenji, serious eater Paul Anderson wants to know the differences between using flour versus cornstarch as a thickener in various dishes, such as a flour based roux versus a cornstarch slurry. When do you want to use flour and when do you want to use cornstarch?

JKLAThat’s a good question. You know, as I think many of these questions, often the answer comes down to, trust the recipe writer, but I think the question is more generally, what is the difference between the two and how do they behave differently?

Corn starch is a pure starch. Whereas flour has other stuff in it. There’s starch, there’s protein, there’s a bunch of other stuff in there.

Corn starch, and you’ll notice this difference most clearly, if you just make a very clear sauce, say just chicken broth that’s thickened up, or it’s even just water that’s thickened up. When you thicken up with flour, it becomes a little cloudy. That happens because there’s other stuff in the flour, not just starch. Whereas when you thinking up with cornstarch, it’s translucent and glossy.

So it starts out a little pale. As soon as the corn starts gelatinizes, absorbs all that water and starts to thicken up, it becomes clear and glossy. It’s sort of the characteristic look of Chinese American buffet style dishes, that glossy gravy look that’s-

EL: Yeah, it’s shiny.

JKLA: Exactly. That’s the look of cornstarch. You can feel that texture also, it has a sort of very, very smooth, almost slick texture to it.

Whereas a flour thickened sauce has a bit of a creamier, more, I wouldn’t say emulsified, because they’re both emulsified, but a creamier sort of, I don’t know, heavier texture to it. You can definitely feel that there’s something in there that’s not just liquid, whereas cornstarch you can’t, it’s very slick.

Functionally, there’s a few differences. First of all, you can incorporate flour in most of the ways that you incorporate cornstarch. Usually, it’s by making a slurry and pouring it into your liquid, by tossing cubes of fat or massaging it into cubes of fat, like butter.

EL: How do you define a slurry, Kenji?

JKLA: Oh, slurry is just a liquid, so it could be water, soy sauce, vinegar, chicken stock, whatever the liquid in your sauce is going to be. A little bit of it mixed with your starch cold. Usually, about equal parts liquid to cornstarch or liquid to flour and then you just pour that into your main sauce. I mean that’ll thicken it up.

But, flour often you’ll also make roux and roux is when you take the flour and you cook it in butter or oil, before you start adding your liquid.

This is something that you wouldn’t really do with cornstarch. The main reason you do it in flour is because it has those raw proteins in there and it gets rid of some of that raw flavor. Whereas with cornstarch, you don’t need to do that. There’s nothing really that toasting cornstarch in a roux in butter before adding liquid would do that. I could think of.

The final difference is a sort of storage and practical one. Cornstarch tends to break down when you hold it hot. So you’ve been to a Chinese buffet and they have the pot of hot and sour soup that’s been sitting there all day, that’s usually thickened with cornstarch and as it sits in that steam table over the day, it’ll actually get thinner and thinner. That’s assuming that it’s not so hot that it’s evaporating and that’s causing it to thicken.

But anyhow, corn starch breaks down over time. So, a sauce that you made and was nice and thick and glossy the day before, when you microwave it and reheat it the next day, it might end up really thin and watery.

When you get leftover Chinese food, when you microwave it the next day, often it’s a lot sort of waterier and the sauces thinner and that’s because cornstarch breaks down with time, whereas flour will keep its thickening power.

EL: You know, I’ve always been sort of thick-headed about this whole idea of cornstarch versus flour, but now I’m very clear and I think Paul Anderson will feel clear as well.

JKLA: Good.

EL: Kenji Lopez-Alt is Serious Eats chief culinary consultant and author of The Food Lab. Do send in your questions to [email protected]

Now it’s time to meet Simone Tong. Simone Tong is the chef proprietor of Little Tong Noodle Shop in New York city. It’s a place where I have consumed more carbs than I care to remember, I have to say, but they were delicious carbs. At her noodle shops, there are two locations about to be three. She specializes in a long round spaghetti like rice noodle called…

Simone Tong: Mixian.

EL: Mixian.

ST: Yes that’s correct.

EL: From the Yunnan?

ST: Yunnan province.

EL: Yes, from the Yunnan province of South Western China.

Welcome to Special Sauce, Simone Tong.

ST: Thank you, thank you so much.

EL: It’s so nice to have you here and I have, I think had every kind of noodle and every kind of small plate. I’m a little embarrassed. I hope my wife’s not listening, but I have, I have, I know I have.

ST: Please come back.

EL: I will. I will. So, tell us about life at the Tong family table. You were born in Chengdu province?

ST: Yes, I was born in the city of Chengdu, which is Sichuan province is known for its tingling, spicy flavors. Beautiful women, there are men there too. And panda and bamboo and the Tale of Three Kingdoms.

EL: Oh right.

ST: Yeah. We’re known for bamboos and pandas.

EL: Got it. So, what was the Tong family table like?

ST: Wow, we are a family that’s obsessed with food. My dad usually gets home and he gets really hungry and angry. So, if there’s no…

EL: Also known as hangry.

ST: Hangry. Yes, hangry. I was about to say that word, I was afraid to mispronounce. So he gets hangry and he slammed the table. He’s like, where’s my food? And I remember he told me, my grandmother told me that one time he goes so hangry, he throw the only pressure cooker at home off the balcony onto the floor. And then his sister has to pick it up.

EL: Sounds like he’s taking his cues from chefs in restaurant kitchens.

ST: He’s a hangry child. So in the family table, we need meat. We need lots of real meat, like pork belly, rib, braised pork belly, twice-cooked pork belly. He loves pork belly. Beef stews with daikons. We need fish. My mom loves vegetables, so we need a lot of different kinds of vegetables. Chinese broccoli, pea shoots, green beans. I love green beans. I love edamame, we call it hairy beans. I love soup. We have chicken soup. So we have a lot of food.

EL: So it’s not like a one-dish, it’s not a one-pot dinner.

ST: No, it’s not very humble. And sometimes during lunch, my parents would be like, let’s buy this pasta maker and make noodles. So when we moved to Singapore, we would make noodles at home of different kinds, different shapes. I don’t like them. I didn’t like them.

EL: And what did your dad do?

ST: He cooks.

EL: He cooks professionally?

ST: No, he doesn’t cook professionally. Oh, you mean what does he do professionally? He did many different kinds of, he’s an entrepreneur. He did many kinds of jobs. He was an art dealer. That was why we moved to Singapore from Macau in Hong Kong and before that he teaches English.

EL: Wow.

ST: That was many years ago.

EL: It said in your bio, you lived in a lot of places by the time you got through high school.

ST: Humbly so. Mostly because my parents moved out of China in 1984 to Hong Kong and Macau because they were like, we could do something else for the little kid, me. Or venturing to different kind of society.

EL: And the Chinese government allowed you all to emigrate?

ST: I think allowed is not the right word. I think my mom was very clever, so she did something like, she sweet talked the embassy. My dad’s oldest sister, my aunt was already in Macau, so there was a letter of invitation. So, we went there and then we got the ID, eventually.

EL: You weren’t going to go back.

ST: Well, we went back afterwards. We were allowed to go back afterwards because, Macau then was already plan to return to China in 1999, Hong Kong 1997 but in 1996 I think they got invited by the Singapore government to move to Singapore.

EL: Got it.

ST: Immigrate, migrate.

EL: So your mom was the cook?

ST: No, my mom’s terrible cook.

EL: So your dad’s a hangry worker.

ST: Yeah.

EL: Your mother’s a terrible cook. So who cooked?

ST: They’re both entrepreneurs.Oh, this is a longer story. So my sister, my adopted sister, she cooks. She is a great cook. When we first moved to Singapore, we had to, we had big house parties. So we invite the Vice Prime Ministers to art and education, all to the house and she will make some amazing, amazing food.

EL: Wow.

ST: Whole fish, whole duck, whole goose, crabs, prawns. She could do that in four hours. I would just go and get some birds of paradise, the flowers in the garden and some other exotic leaves and decorate.

EL: And that was your contribution to the fancy dinner.

ST: In addition to eating lots, of eating.

EL: You were a serious eater?

ST: I was a serious eater.

EL: And did you get interested in cooking right away from watching your sister?

ST: Absolutely not. So I only eat and, like my dad, I was, I was a picky eater. I only like specific things and I don’t like other things. I’ll tell you the truth. You know what? I hate scallion.

EL: You hate scallions.

ST: I use scallion. As a chef, I understand the beauty of using scallions. It’s very important flavor for fowl, I hate scallions. I don’t like it raw. I don’t like cooked. I like it grilled.

EL: You like grilled scallions.

ST: And then put it in a puree. I think that’s beautiful. But I hate scallions.

EL: So you weren’t interested in cooking?

ST: Not until I had to.

EL: And when did you have to?

ST: So I went to high school in Australia, Melbourne.

EL: Man, you got around!

ST: I have to eat and I got so hungry and you know, when I’m hungry, I’m desperate.

EL: I know the feeling!

ST: I decided that I should really go for elaborate shopping. So I bought all this beautiful fruit. There was also the place when I first discovered the beauty of pho, Vietnamese noodle and cherries. I had cases and cases of cherries. I have this microwave, so I’m like, I want to make fried rice in the microwave with egg. And so I ate that for a week and then during exam time, I was such a good student…I decided to mix salad with Caesar salad dressing and soy sauce.

EL: And so this was college?

ST: High school? I did a year before college.

EL: Got it. And then you ended up going to college in the US? How did that come about?

ST: Yes, that came about because I was the first generation, the first few years where internet first started, I did online dating.

EL: You did online dating.

ST: Online dating, there wasn’t Tinder then. There was some very, very humble Chinese meeting, Chinese overseas website. I wasn’t really just meeting Chinese.

ST: Anyway, my boyfriend then was in Florida, University of Florida, MBA student. This is very scandalous because I met him online. I was in Melbourne, he was in Florida. He flew all the way from Florida to Melbourne, which is a huge distance.

EL: That’s hard to do that weekend.

ST: The first time I met him. I saw him in the airport and then we spent three weeks together. Not many people know this.

EL: I’ll never tell!

ST: Well, only 3 million people are listening to this. And then I flew from Melbourne to Florida, in the name of taking SAT to, 10 days after 9/11.

EL: Wow.

ST: That was the first time I landed in American soil.

EL: In 2001, so you end up taking the SAT.

EL: You must have done pretty well because you ended up at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

ST: Yes. And he told me it was a great school and I believed him.

EL: And it was reasonably close to Florida?

ST: I think. I didn’t visit chapel Hill. I took the SAT in Florida.

EL: Right.

ST: It was far away from Australia.

EL: How did you find chapel Hill after living in really exotic places?

ST: Yes. Melbourne was ran like one of the most livable place, at the age of 18 we could drink wine. I had wine tastings, cheese tastings. We were drinking beer. I would study hard, of course. But when I landed in Chapel Hill, I was obviously culturally very shock and I was like, this is, I don’t know. What is this place? I can’t live here. I must go. After three months I fell in love with the place. I make friends. I fell in love. I love Chapel Hill. Now I’m proudly Tar Heel, but it took me a while. I lost ten pounds because everything was too sweet and I gained 20 pounds at the end of senior years because I was eating everything.

EL: So did you discover barbecue? Like were you a fan of Allen and Sons?

ST: I discovered biscuits and gravy. I discovered pancakes, milk and cereal, pizza, all the food from the school campus, and cinnamon buns. I’m like, wow, everything is so different here. And definitely barbecue.

EL: Yeah.

ST: Obsessively, barbecue.

EL: Obsessively.

ST: Yes, they’re all new flavors.

EL: My kind of woman, you’re obsessively BBQ oriented.

ST: I also discovered American Chinese food.

EL: Did that seem like something completely different and foreign?

ST: Completely different. Completely different, yet familiar. But when I first tasted it, I’m like, I’m so homesick. Let me order some food. And then the food came. I’m like, what? What’s going on? What happened here? What is this? I was angry.

ST: But now I fell in love with it. I understand the significance, historically and how many people it has fed and how many people has developed loyalty towards American Chinese food.

EL: Right.

ST: I feel very blessed to have such experience—

EL: So were you eating like egg rolls and…

ST: Yes I was eating egg rolls…

EL: General Tso’s chicken…

ST: General Tso, moo goo gai pan, kung pow chicken, they’re all very different, mapo tofu, they all tasted different.

EL: Right.

ST: Mapo tofu is from my hometown. And that doesn’t …

EL: The way that the Americans were making Mapo tofu is not the way that they made it in your hometown?

ST: No. The way that the Chinese in America making mapo tofu in Florida or in Chapel Hill is very different from how it was made.

ST: However, I must say the, the way that Mapo tofu was made maybe in the 80s, it’s also very different.

ST: So time and place and people, they all make same thing differently.

EL: At Chapel Hill, it sounds like you were still obsessed with eating, something I truly appreciate.

ST: Definitely.

EL: But did you get into cooking?

ST: Yes. In junior year I got into cooking because, in the summer of junior year, of sophomore year, I went back to Chengdu.

ST: Then my mom sort of retired and decided, in her brilliant mind, she should open a restaurant cafe, as a retired woman. So she named this cafe restaurant, Cafe Firenze because of the Renaissance art.

ST: And one day this French chef stopped by, this restaurant cafes right across from US Consulate. The French chef worked in United States for a long time, work for many, many amazing restaurants, fell in love with a Chinese woman in Chengdu, due to internet internet dating. Came to my mom’s restaurant and look around and said in his French-American-English accent, I want to cook here. So I translated all this desire of his to my mom and my mom’s like, that’s a great idea. Welcome to the restaurant, and I was like, mom, whoa, whoa, whoa, what about profit sharing?

ST: She’s like, oh, very fair. 50/50. I’m like, you’re such generous woman.

EL: Does everyone speak English, because you lived in so many places?

ST: My mom is not an expert in language learning. So she bought 30 books of like, chapter one basic English and she didn’t say much English.

EL: And did living in Australia, is that where you hone your English language skills?

ST: Yeah, I spent seven years in Singapore, seven eight years in Singapore as a teenager. And then I went to Australia for one and a half year. So I think gradually my English doesn’t suck as bad—

EL: And so when you got to Chapel Hill, it wasn’t a big deal. You could understand the lectures?

ST: Yes, I could understand lectures, but it’s very hard for me to pick up the Southern accent, in the beginning. I did not really understand.

ST: Once you drive I’ll have trouble here.

EL: So you studied economics and psychology?

ST: Yes, the studies of business and the study of mine.

EL: Which sort of is good preparation for opening restaurants. And what did you think you were going to do with those areas of study?

ST: I don’t know. I wasn’t very practical. I was never a practical person. So I just picked that up. Because I gave up on studying actuarial science, that’s what it is. I couldn’t do computer programming. So I decided to go to economics because that was the easier choice. Please don’t get offended. All economists in the world.

EL: I struggled, man. It was not easy for me, man. I really struggled with macro and micro economics.

ST: Don’t ask me any question about that. I don’t know it anymore.

EL: So what did you do when you graduated?

ST: Well, I moved back to Chengdu for a little bit to work for my dad, who then was developing real estate.

EL: Your dad is like, he’s done a lot of stuff. And your mom too. I’d like a list of both of their curriculum vitae.

ST: They’re great people. They’re very interesting people.

ST: I just want to say the, I developed a passion for cooking because I was watching the French chef dancing in the kitchen, so artfully.

EL: The French chef in your mother’s restaurant?

ST: Yes. So I was translating for him during service in the summer. I was a summer intern. I was like, wow, tomato, confit, duck, confit. I mean, I didn’t know what confit is, but I just like had this in my mind.

ST: And then I went back to Chapel Hill, and I’m like, ah, dinner parties, everyone or invited dinner parties. So I just make something.

EL: And there aren’t that many dancing French chefs, especially in China.

ST: Yeah. When I say dancing, I meant him, dancing with his knife.

EL: Ah! I thought he was dancing with his feet.

ST: Oh no, he’s very serious, he smokes red Marlboro.

EL: Was he an inspiration to you?

ST: It was the earliest inspiration. Yes.

EL: And do you think that was one of the reasons you ended up in culinary school?

ST: Yes, Yes. Playing chef was very sexy, but the main major decision was because I watched a chef Daniel Boulder’s show called After Hours with Daniel.

EL: I was on the first episode!

ST: I have to watch it again so that I can see your orange hair…That beautiful red hair.

EL: You’ll see that I was not kidding. I really did have red hair then.

ST: I loved that show.

ST: On the third episode it was chef Wylie Dufresne. That was when I’m like, I could maybe, can I try doing this.

EL: Wow. And so that’s when you decided that you would apply to culinary schools?

ST: That’s when I decided to tell my parents I want to be a chef. And they almost dropped it.

EL: Yeah, I was about to say that’s not usually a popular pronouncement.

ST: No, my moms say you’re crazy. Because I have many ideas. I want to be a lawyer, doctor, architect. I actually want it to be all of those, but I give it up. So she just thinks I’m crazy that I will give it up again.

EL: You know Kenji Lopez-Alt, still works serious eats.

ST: Big fan of Chef Kenji.

EL: You know he went to MIT to study architecture and-

ST: That was my dream school.

EL: -when he told his mother that he wanted to be a chef or a cook and she said, I sent you to MIT so you could flip burgers at McDonald’s?

ST: Can I tell you a joke? I was working at WD 50 we have this new year’s Eve menu-

EL: Would would say the WD 50 was a seminal, gastronomic palace in New York?

ST: Yes.

EL: The Lower East Side, helmed by Wylie Dufresne, closed a few years ago.

ST: Institutional.

EL: All right, so you’re working there?

ST: Yes, and I was folding dumplings, but I was folding dumplings that is infused with a herb oil. So the dumpling wrapper is green and we had this bone marrow filling. But still, I was folding dumplings and my best friend now, then my chef de cuisine, chef Samantha, she came closer to me and the sous chef JJ, they were like, Oh my God, what a treat. Simone, you know you are, you are working in New York in this dream restaurant, but you’re folding dumplings fresh off the boat. I was like chef, it’s not fresh off the boat.

ST: It was fresh off the first class airplane, still folding dumplings cause I’m proudly folding dumplings for my chef.

EL: And did you love it right away? Like as soon as you set foot in the in kitchens, tell the truth.

ST: I many times I wanted to quit, many times, like 3000 times a day because my brain’s everywhere.

EL: And let’s face it, back then, what year are we talking about?

ST: 2009, 2010—

EL: hard to be a young woman of color in a-

ST: Kitchen?

EL: Kitchen in New York.

ST: I have to say it. It’s probably the best kitchen of young woman of color.

EL: That kitchen?

ST: That kitchen is the best kitchen because after I was there, a lot of women came and a lot of Asians also came, we’re the ninjas—But we had a great time.

EL: You had a great time. And then you worked for his, there are other restaurant he briefly opened called Alder.

ST: Yes. Briefly. Yes.

EL: And where they had really good either corn, beef or pastrami. I can’t remember which one.

ST: Oh they had great pastrami and the pasta. I love that dish.

EL: That pastrami pasta, I still remember. You worked at 15 East so-

ST: Very briefly-

EL: Very briefly.

ST: I humbly staged at 15 East. Yes.

EL: And did you think, okay, I’m going to work towards having my own restaurant. Was that always in the front of your mind?

ST: Yeah, I was so naive. I probably am still very naive to think that I could open restaurants after one another. Yeah.

EL: And so you ended up working in restaurant kitchens for three years?

ST: Four years. Four and a half. I also briefly worked for chef David Chang and did at where? Endo.

EL: Endo.

ST: Endo was the delivery concept.

EL: Oh yes, yes.

ST: In the very beginning of some food R and D thing.

EL: Got it.

ST: That was the last place I worked for someone else. Yes.

EL: I mean you had an amazingly, adventurous life. Between all the places you lived, your decision to go to Chapel Hill because of an online relationship by way of Florida and you fall in love with barbecue at Chapel Hill. Then you go to culinary school and you end up working for these very serious chefs, but you still had in the back of your mind that you were going to open your own restaurant. Did you know what kind of restaurant?

ST: It gotten clearer and clearer towards the end of WD 50 that I think I should cook for, I mean I should open restaurants that are Chinese. Chinese restaurants, in New York City,

EL: Simone, we have to leave it right here for this episode, but you’ll be back next time to answer my questions until my, Ce-

ST: Mixian.

EL: Bowl is completely empty and thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us.

ST: Thank you so much for having me.

EL: And now it’s time for us to check in with the culinary team at Serious Eats world headquarters in lovely Brooklyn and see what they’re up to this week.

SM: So we’re here today making Trappizino, a great Roman street foods snack invented by Stefano Callegari, who’s a pizzaiolo in Rome.

EL: Sasha Marx, Serious Eats Senior Culinary Editor.

SM: It combines Roman Pizza Al Taglio, which is our equivalent of pizza by the slice and the Tramezzini, which is a type of sandwich served in Italy that’s made on white bread cut into triangles. So as with any baking project that involves making your own dough, this takes a little time. But you’re rewarded with focaccia like bread that you get to split open and fill with toppings of your choice. Really delicious.

So this is a high hydration dough, which is pretty typical for pizza al taglio style doughs. We have a queue of bread flour, 800 grams of water that translates to an 80% hydration dough. Before we introduced the water though, we’re going to combine our dry ingredients. We have 20 grams of kosher salt, seven grams of instant yeast. This is our preferred yeast for almost all baking and bread projects. Whisk all of this together and make sure that everything is well incorporated and you don’t have pockets of yeast, pockets of salt along in the flour. Once everything is whisked together, homogenous we’re ready to add the water. So, as with other no knead doughs, just stir it all together until no dry flour remains. Periodically scrape off dough from the wooden spoon. Otherwise you tend to end up with one piece of dough that you’re kind of constantly stirring around. Our flour has been incorporated and dough looks homogenous but still lumpy. You’re not worried about getting a super smooth dough.

This point we add in 40 grams of olive oil here, stirring it around with the spoon. We’ll incorporate it somewhat, but you’ll find that there are pockets of oil that don’t get incorporated. This is when I use my hands to get dirty. The dough is a little bit caked onto the sides of the bowl here; and we want it to proof in a nice clean bowl. So getting another large, clean bowl, lightly oil it with olive oil and transfer this dough into that bowl. Now we’re just going to wrap this in plastic and set it aside at room temperature for one hour. During this hour that it sits out at room temperature, you’re allowing the flour to fully hydrate and you’re allowing the yeast to get its first action on the dough.

Our dough has had its initial proof for one hour. And we’re ready to do the folding process. At this point you want to form it into a rough rectangle. So you pat it out into an even surface and you’re going to start the folds. We’re going to do three folds. It starts with bringing the far, long edge into the center, followed by the lower edge. As you’re working, keep flouring the top of the dough and you’ll feel underneath if it’s starting to stick, you can flour your board a little more as well. Rotate it 90 degrees. And we’re going to repeat that folding process. Now what you’re going to do is cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it hang out for 15 minutes to relax the gluten that you’ve developed. So after 15 minutes, we’re ready to do our second round of folding. None of this has to be perfect. You just want to get a uniform piece of dough that you’ll then proof overnight in the fridge for pizza-making the next day. Then wrap your bowl in plastic wrap. And you’re just going to pop it in the fridge overnight.

Our dough has proofed in the fridge. It’s now sat out for 10 minutes at room temperature. We’re ready to turn it out into our sheet tray for it’s final proof before we bake it off. Start by spraying your sheet tray and make sure to get the sides because you don’t want it sticking on the sides when you’re trying to get it up. Then olive oil. Then use your hands to sort of spread that oil out, especially onto the side edges. You want to get golden brown color all around and you don’t want your dough sticking.

Now, you just have to turn out the dough onto the sheet tray, like so. You can see the great air bubble action that we’ve got, this is from folding the dough the day before. Now you just want to use your hands and spread the dough in the general sort of area of your sheet tray. Then lightly flour the surface of your dough and spread a clean kitchen towel over it. Set it aside to proof for one and a half to two hours at room temperature. So now we’re going to pre-portioned the dough. Divide it in half horizontally and then you’re going to make four rows, so you’re creating eight rectangles, using your bench scraper to make perforations in the dough. We’ve preheated an oven to 550 Fahrenheit, with the rack set at the lower middle and we have a baking steel on that rack. Pop the sheet tray directly onto the baking steel and you’re going to set a timer for 16 minutes, but we’re going to rotate the sheet tray halfway through. These look pretty good. It’s cooled down a little bit and we have them at a point where we can transfer them out of the sheet tray. We definitely want to get a little more color on the bottom crust and some crispiness. Whenever you’re ready, you can pop them on your baking steel or pizza stone to crisp up the bottom. And that should only take two to three minutes or so. Looking really good. Sounding really good. So we’re ready to cut them into triangles. Create a little pocket.

So let’s talk toppings. The trapizzino definitely an Italian thing so you can keep it Italian, which is kind of what I did here. The fillings are up to you. We’ve got some meatballs, mortadella, prosciutto cotto, some nice stracciatella cheese, marinated artichokes, braised broccoli, raw parmigiano, anchovies, cherry tomatoes. You can do it pizza party style where you have people fill up their own or you can be the MC of your Trapizzino party and fill up for people. What I did for this is I Googled how to make some paper hats and use that as a guide for making little Trapizzino holders. Do some broccoli rabe, some shaved Parmigiano.

EL: Sasha Marx, Serious Eats senior culinary editor.

SM: Now it’s time to dig in.

EL: For more details on that recipe and to see the video, go to seriouseats.com. Next week on Special Sauce, Kenji will be back to answer with his usual scientific precision, your culinary question of the week. Do send in your question to special sauce at seriouseats.com, plus the rest of Simone Tong’s amazing story. All this on next week’s Special Sauce, so long serious eaters, we’ll see you next time.

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