If it's Sunday, it's time for more Food Network Good Eats: The Return. That means mad scientist/chef Alton Brown is back with episodes 3 and 4 of the 15th season of his groundbreaking show. This week, he delivers a sequel to his classic episode about basic saucemaking and breaks new ground by teaching us about sous vide, the immersion cooking method that promises perfectly cooked and tender meats– and perfectly infused booze and cheesecake? Just like last week, he's combining following a trusted formula while also taking on new trends that didn't exist when the show took its 8 year hiatus earlier this decade.
Even better, he's loaded these episodes with pop culture and nerdy references that warm the geek soul. When commenting on how his grilled fish turn out, he remarks, a la Jaws, "This was no boating accident!" In talking about sous vide, he invokes time travel and his obsession with it. A certain blue police box even shows up to help out the self-proclaimed "Thyme Lord" as Brown explains how sous vide is (arguably) as helpful as a TARDIS in our kitchen.
Hittin' the Sauce II
The third episode of Good Eats: The Return starts with a confession: Alton's grilled seafood game is, in his own words, "Meh." However, his diners love his food because of his sauce game. (He has graphs and charts to prove it.) The first is a simple tomatillo salsa verde that's as good on tilapia tacos as a side for tortilla chips. His secret ingredients? First, cilantro– and yes, he talks about why it is that some people only taste soap when they eat it. Second, xanthan gum. Yes, the difference between a salsa with and without is the difference between these two salsas. Seeing is believing.
His second sauce is Romesco, and he offers a history lesson of its origins to the Muslim occupation of Spain. His best tip comes about how to store tomato paste in a can– in the freezer! Watch to find out how. It's a game-changer.
There's also a great breakdown of different varieties of sherry vinegar. And then, the piece de resistance, Alton breaks out his home smoker in the cardboard box!
— Alton Brown (@altonbrown) September 2, 2019
His final recipe is for umami mayo, which combines Japanese and French methods and cuisine to give a sauce that will "rescue" even the most overcooked tuna steaks. This looks particularly good, and Brown also teases that it's especially good on. . . french fries? Sold, sir.
These three sauces seem great, and anything that helps us eat more lean, healthy protein is always a good thing. Truly, these sauces make things into Good Eats.
Ahhh, sous vide. It would be a massive oversight if Alton didn't use Good Eats: The Return to take on the newest culinary trend of the last decade, as immersion circulators have become more and more common in both him and restaurant kitchens. (For example, the 2015 Bradley Cooper film Burnt is, largely, a repudiation of sous vide culture.) But Brown embraces the immersion circulator and shows it isn't a dreaded kitchen unitasker. Indeed, he compares it to a culinary time machine. He explains exactly why immersion cooking is a great idea in the best sequence of the episodes involving a chicken crossing the culinary temperature threshold road:
— Food Network (@FoodNetwork) September 2, 2019
On top of that, Brown manages to find the cheapest cut of meat he can find (top round) and turn it into a perfect roast. The secret? By keeping it at the exact temperature for a "medium" roast, he can cook it as long as he wants without ever drying the meat out! Because it's enclosed in a bag submerged in water! On top of this, he also goes into a short history of Worcestershire sauce. But really, when it's all done, it's all about turning this cheap roast into, well, Good Eats. Just look at this:
Those last two probably count as "food porn." I'll. . . I'll be in my bunk. Or kitchen.
But Brown isn't done, as he then infuses vodka with several flavors. Then, in a final coup de grace, he makes individual cheesecakes. Both of these are skilled, technical procedures rife with problems under different circumstances. But with an immersion circulator, Brown makes it as easy as pie. (Cheesecake, technically, is a custard pie, so that's very literal.) But the thought of making personalized infused liquors for friends and family for the holidays. . . the money you'd spend on a home sous vide could well pay for itself.
These episodes are Good Eats, not Great Eats. In terms of recipes and techniques, they're pretty good. The chicken thing was fun, but compared to last week's episodes, these are just serviceable and utilitarian, not groundbreaking. This is Help! and Magical Mystery Tour, not Abbey Road and Rubber Soul.
Last week's episodes not only tried to fill our bellies, but also our souls as they defended the American immigrant experience and criticized colonialism and destruction of indigenous cultures. That's rare. And while it's folly to expect a mere cooking show to bring social commentary to every episode, that's ultimately the difference in getting that final Michelin star.
However, please take this as the faintest of criticism. Last week's episodes had that secret "sauce" (to borrow from tonight's episodes) to take it to 11. Tonight's helpings of Good Eats are still amazing, and far better than most shows on television. And these ones had a TARDIS! And a guy in a chicken outfit! And a Jaws reference! But if we're grading on the curve of everything Alton Brown can offer, they just barely miss the "beyond two standard deviations from the mean" mark. (Nerd alert!)
Regardless, I'm lining up for another helping next week and every week after. You should not only watch, but also tweet along with the show, as Alton Brown loves to interact with his fans, tweeting replies not only on Twitter, but in handwritten notes pasted to his screen. It's unique and so perfectly Alton Brown.
— Alton Brown (@altonbrown) September 2, 2019
You heard the man. Watch, or the greatest show on television goes away again. Good Eats: The Return airs new episodes Sunday nights at 10 ET / 9 CT on Food Network.