Not long ago, I met a friend for dinner at The Publican, a fine Chicago restaurant known for pork, oysters and an extensive Belgian heavy beer list. It’s really very wonderful. After some deliberation, we decided to order some oysters though I hesitated for a moment. You see, two years ago in Southwestern France, I became extremely ill eating raw oysters. TWICE. Horribly, violently, miserably ill. The second time, to my horror, was in an Arcachon restaurant famous for it’s raw seafood platters. Not being one to pass up an opportunity, I reasoned that it had been a week since the original bout and ordered up. My stomach choose to disagree with the decision. Apparently, it was too soon and boy, did it let me know. I barely made it out the door and across the street (to hide really) before I lost it in the flowerpots outside the town hall. It was a proud moment for me. Even puking into the Hotel de Ville daisies doesn’t make it any easier.
What I realized that second night was my body was absolutely rebelling against something I once adored. It was awful. I’ve been known to easily and happily suck down a dozen or two in one sitting. After this incident, the mere thought of slurping a briny bivalve made my stomach churn. I hadn’t been able to touch them since. That is, until a few weeks ago.
After considering the Publican options – we had 6 types to choose from – we went with the mildest and sweetest of the lot – Kumamoto. In the past, I’ve loved this variety – small, sweet, plump and juicy – and I thought I just might be able to do it. It was at least worth a shot. I had one, enjoyed it and considered it a small victory. It’s going to take me a while to get back on track but I’ll get there.
Now then, these oysters were served with the most delicious, obviously housemade saltine crackers. They were light and crisp; buttery and slightly herbal; salty and wonderful. I ate many. So many, the server took note and brought more. Whoops.
And it got me thinking … how hard is it to make crackers? Is it utterly ridiculous to make saltines? I’d been making refrigerator crackers for some time so this seemed like the next logical step.
I gave it a whirl and you know what? These were super easy. They’re very basic – flour, salt, butter, water – and bake up into a crisp little cracker. Not quite what I had that night at the Publican but very tasty in their own right and delicious with cheese or a bowl of soup. In fact, I made a batch this morning that I’m going to enjoy with some of that Bleu Mont cheese I picked up last week. I’ll figure out those Publican crackers one of these days but for now, these suit me just fine.
The only tricky thing here is the rolling, and that’s not even that bad. You can certainly do it by hand with an old fashioned rolling pin but it’s so much easier if you have a pasta machine. To do it by hand, flour the surface well and keep at it until they’re as thin as possible – you’ll get there. With the machine, work your way through the settings, 3x at each one, and x1 at #7. Start with a piece about the size of an apricot – too large a piece and the long sheet will become awkward to handle. Then cut, brush them with a little water, a sprinkle of salt and bake just a few minutes until crisp. Simple stuff.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: GOOD! You’re making crackers – not something many people do from scratch. They’re crispy and delicious and really not all that hard. These little beauties are far more interesting than anything you can pick up in the store too. And when you tell people you made them you’ll get one of two reactions: complete and utter amazement and enjoyment. Or that other one – the dumbfounded look that says “Why the hell would you do that?” These are the people you need to ditch, the unappreciative wretches.
HOMEMADE SALTINE CRACKERS
Makes about 60 2”x2” crackers but may vary based on how thinly rolled and size cut
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
water for brushing
kosher or sea salt for sprinkling
- In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and salt to combine.
- Add the melted butter and process until a coarse meal – less than a minute.
- Add the water and process until a dough is formed – about 1-2 minutes. It may not come together and look sort of crumbly. Turn out on the work surface and knead until it forms a moist dough.
- Let rest 30-60 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.
- Preheat oven to 400°F and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
- Divide the dough into quarters and roll thin. You have two ways to do this, I much prefer the pasta machine method but you can do it by hand.
- By hand – lightly flour the work surface and the top of the dough and using a heavy rolling pin, roll as thinly as possible.
- With a pasta machine – Roll ¼ of dough through twice on settings 1-6 then once on setting 7. You’ll have a long very thin sheet. Cut in half if it’s too long to handle easily.
- Cut into squares – I like about 2”x2” – brush lightly with water, sprinkle with salt.
- Bake 400°F for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden. Keep and eye on them as they brown quickly and rotate the pans halfway through baking.
- These will crisp up as they sit out of the oven and will keep, tightly wrapped, for a few days. Though if you live in a humid climate they may soften. If so, recrisp in a 350°F oven for a few minutes.