Quick Bite: Wizard of Mozz
Cru Cafe’s John Zucker explains how to hand-pull fresh mozzarella
There’s nothing like the Wine + Food Festival, plus the March 20 arrival of spring, to get you in the mood to work some new ingredients into your menus. And John Zucker, chef-owner of Cru Café and Cru Catering, has just the one: freshly pulled mozzarella.
“Once you get comfortable with the mozz-pulling process, it’s easy and only takes about 10 minutes,” he enthuses. The Le Cordon Bleu graduate worked with top chefs, including Wolfgang Puck at Las Vegas’ Spago, and served as a restaurant consultant before opening his catering business in 1999 and downtown eatery two years later.
In his efforts to serve the freshest of fare (Cru Café doesn’t even have a freezer), he’s been making his own mozzarella for some 15 years. “You truly taste the difference. When fresh, the cheese can take anything from pizzas to tomato salads to an entirely new level.”
Convinced? Start by procuring mozzarella curds from Cru Catering or through online sources such as goldenagecheese.com or todarobros.com. “You can buy more than you need and freeze some for later, which won’t effect the quality of the cheese.”
As for pulling the mozzarella, “the most intimidating part of the process is putting your hands into the hot water that’s used to melt the curd,” says Zucker. “Protect your hands from the heat by plunging them into a bowl of ice water right before handling the cheese.” After that, it’s just a matter of stretching the mozzarella until it is smooth, shiny, and elastic enough to form into a variety of tasty shapes.
(Makes about 1 lb.)
In a saucepan, add salt to water and heat to a rapid boil. Meanwhile, crumble half of the mozzarella curd into a medium mixing bowl. Fill another medium mixing bowl halfway with ice and water.
Ladle the boiling salted water over the crumbled curd until cheese is completely submerged. Take a wooden spoon and slowly agitate the curd. The mozzarella will begin to look like it is melting.
Dip your hands into the ice bath to cool them down before touching the hot mozzarella. Very carefully gather the mozzarella in your hands and remove it from the bowl. While holding the cheese over the hot water, stretch it out between your hands. Tuck each end underneath, using your fingers to seal it to the string of curd, then stretch again. When the cheese begins to cool, return it to the hot water, dip your hands back into the ice bath, and pick the cheese up again. You’ll need to do this a few times until the cheese achieves a firm, shiny consistency. Then place it in the ice bath to cool for a couple of minutes.
Repeat process with the remaining mozzarella curd.
Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to three days.