Play Me a Recipe

Kristen Miglore makes Tony Kim's "Cacio" e Pepe

Episode Summary

Lifelong Genius hunter and host of The Genius Recipe Tapes Kristen Miglore makes Tony Kim's utterly foolproof, non-traditional "Cacio" e Pepe with miso butter, ramen noodles, and three (!) types of pepper.

Episode Notes

On Play Me a Recipe, your favorite cooks will walk you through their most treasured recipes, offering all the insider tips, stories, and tricks you won't get from a written recipe—and you'll be right alongside them, every step of the way. Feel free to pause, jump back, or navigate the steps via the podcast chapters.

If you're cooking along, here's the recipe we're making today. Go ahead and grab the ingredients below (Kristen starts listing them at 1:52) before starting the episode.

Tony Kim's "Cacio" e Pepe

  1. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mash together the butter and miso with a fork until smooth.
  2. Melt the miso butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chicken stock, Sichuan pepper, white pepper, and black pepper, and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the noodles into the boiling pot of water and cook until they are relaxed but still firmer than al dente, since they’ll continue cooking in the sauce, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Using chopsticks or tongs, lift the noodles out of the water and into the miso butter sauce. Stir and toss the noodles in the sauce until the noodles are cooked through and the sauce is thickened, about 1–2 more minutes, adding a little bit more chicken stock if the sauce gets too thick. The noodles should be lightly coated in a buttery, peppery sheen. Taste, add a pinch of salt if needed, toss one more time, and heap onto a plate. Sprinkle lightly with each of the peppers, and serve immediately.
  5. **Tony Kim's original recipe called for a teaspoon of each type of pepper, which I wimpily scaled back—because I know some of you will be as wimpy as me (though the Roman chef Marco Baccanelli does describe traditional cacio e pepe as "violent," so a tablespoon of pepper isn't out of place). Adjust the pepper amounts to your taste.

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Episode Transcription

Kristen Miglore: Hi, this is Play Me a Recipe, and I'm Kristen Miglore. Today we'll be making Tony Kim's genius, unusually hard to screw up cacio e pepe. The recipe is linked in the show notes if you need to refer to it, but otherwise we'll be gathering ingredients and cooking everything alongside each other, so feel free to pause or jump back if you need a sec. 


Kristen: So traditional cacio e pepe is a classic roman pasta that is notoriously tricky to get right, because you're trying to make a creamy, emulsified sauce out of ingredients that don't inherently like to meld together. It's dry, aged pecorino romano cheese, black pepper, and starchy pasta water, typically. Making a sauce out of these things requires some skill and some practice and some very aggressive tossing, all of which is actually a very fun challenge and well worth mastering, but sometimes I don't want a challenge. So when I heard that this recipe from Momofuku chef Tony Kim makes a cacio e pepe-like sauce that comes together pretty much all on its own with ingredients I usually have lying around, I was obviously sold. And even more importantly, for those people who insist that this isn't a true cacio e pepe, they're right. It's cacio e pepe with the air quotes, but it is completely delicious in its own right. 


Kristen: So here are those very well behaving ingredients. You might want to get ready to gather them up. The recipe only has eight core ingredients, but I'm going to give you a bunch of different substitution ideas, so it might sound like a lot, but I wanted to do that just in case you don't have some of these ingredients lying around right now.

So what I'm looking at here is, got a big box of kosher salt. You can use whatever salt you have, but basically you'll want a lot because you want to use it to salt your water for cooking the noodles and you want it to taste about as salty as the sea. So, salt, butter--I'm just using unsalted, but you can use whatever you have, even vegan butter I've seen some Food52 commenters have used successfully, so that's fine too. Miso--I'm using white miso, which is on the milder side, but if you have red or another variety, that's fine too. Chicken stock, or whatever stock you have. I happen to be using this Better Than Boullion base because Food52 community member Emily Nun loves it. This recipe, instead of just calling for black pepper, calls for three kinds of pepper. It calls for black pepper, white pepper, and Sichuan pepper. If you need to mix and match and only do some of them, that's okay. And then the noodles, which in the original recipe were fresh ramen noodles, which are nice and chewy and springy. But I've also found that just regular dry packaged ramen noodles will work great in this recipe, and other cooks on Food52 have used all kinds of noodles. They've just used regular spaghetti or other Italian types of pasta. So just use those if you like. 


Kristen: You will also need a few pieces of equipment. Not very many. You'll just need a pot to boil the noodles, a medium sauce pan or skillet to make the sauce, a liquid measuring cup, a small bowl, a fork, and a pair of tongs or chopsticks for hauling your noodles out of the pot.

Step 1: Boil water & prep sauce ingredients

Kristen: So once you have all that gathered, the recipe comes together in just a few minutes. The only thing that takes any time at all is just getting your water up to a boil. So let's get that going now. (water running sounds) I'm gonna salt my pasta water. Shaking it straight from this giant kosher salt box. And while that's coming up to a boil, I am just going to make the miso butter base for the sauce, which is as simple as taking some softened butter--for a single serving it's a tablespoon plus a teaspoon of softened butter. So just cut your butter stick at a tablespoon and a third, and you'll have the right amount. And then some of this white miso. Don't mind that sound, that's just my water trying to boil. If you are just grabbing your butter out and it's still cold, get really aggressive with your fork, and all you're gonna do is mash the butter and miso together into a paste. (stirring sounds) Okay, I just tasted a little bit of that miso butter and it is really good. I think it would be great on other things, besides as the base of this cacio e pepe-ish recipe: putting it on baked potatoes I think would be great. Smearing it on fish or steak or green beans or other vegetables. Just smearing it on toast, cooking some eggs in it. I think this would be really great in a lot of places. 

So for grinding the peppercorns, you have a few options. Of course, if you already have them set up in a grinder, that's great. You can also use a spice grinder coffee grinder. I like to do them in a mortar and pestle, because I just--A, I think it's kind of fun. B, I think it is the quickest way to just break out a few spices at a time and get them to be exactly the coarseness that I want. So I'm just going to eyeball it. If you're not eyeballing, I would say start with roughly half a teaspoon each of the different kinds of pepper and then you'll add more as a garnish at the end. (grinding sounds) I really love grinding pepper by hand in a mortar and pestle, I have to confess. Sometimes I run out of peppercorns in the grinder and I just don't bother refilling, because I find this more fun, and you get the hit in your face of all the pepper oils and the pungency.

Step 2: Make sauce & cook noodles

Kristen: Okay, now everything really is ready, and all of this is going to happen extremely fast. So I actually forgot to mention earlier that you might want a silicon spatula, or you could just use your fingers honestly, to scrape all of that miso butter out of the bowl into your skillet or your saucepan, whatever you're gonna be cooking your sauce in. So I'm just turning the heat on now and I'm going to scrape all this good miso better in. And as soon as it's melted, I'm going to add in the chicken stock. Which actually reminds me, I need to reconstitute my chicken stock from this boullion. I'm just going to use some of that hot pasta water. That is smelling good and chickeny. 

So as soon as the miso butter is melted, chicken stock goes in, and you bring it up to a boil, hopefully at the same time your water for your noodles has boiled, and you're ready to dunk in your noodles to cook for just a minute or two. You won't want them to be totally cooked or even al dente, you'll want them just a little bit shy of al dente so that you can then transfer them into the sauce and finish cooking them there. And it doesn't really matter that much if your timing is just right, it's all gonna come together and be delicious in the end. 

Ok, my miso butter has melted. It does not look like it's all going to come together, it looks a little bit separated, it's melted butter and a little, uh, foamy bits of miso. But as soon as the chicken stock goes in, I am confident that it's all going to simmer together and become a nice creamy sauce without me having to do really anything to it. It is very well melted. And I'm gonna just add my chicken stock now, and my peppers. So first goes the chicken stock. And here's the pepper. So all of that pepper is going to infuse into this sauce. The sauce already looks like it's coming together nicely. And then as the noodles go in and it reduces, it's just going to become this really creamy sauce that clings to the noodles. It is already smelling so good. I'm getting waves of spice and chickeniness and umami, and my water is boiling. It's time to open that package of ramen, and drop it in. 

(musical interlude)

Kristen: And it's not going to need more than a minute or two. Now that my noodles are going, it's a good time to take a quick break. If you're cooking along, don't walk away from the pot. We'll be right back.


Kristen: I'm Kristen Miglore, and I am making Tony Kim's genius, unmessupable, cacio e pepe. You can find the recipe in the show notes. Right before the break, I dropped in some ramen noodles and made a quick miso butter sauce, and I am just about to pull out the noodles and plunk them in the sauce. Okay, my noodles just broke apart from their little block, and I tasted one, and it is perfectly chewy, and a little bit more resistant than I would like. So I'm going to haul it with my tongs into the sauce. (timer beeping sound) Right on time.

Step 3: Finish cooking noodles in sauce

Kristen: So first when you get the noodles into the sauce, you're gonna look at it and think, "Oh, this is all watery. How is that ever going to really look like a creamy sauce?" But you're just kind of gently stirring it around until it's evaporated enough that it looks like a creamy sauce, and you just want to have your bowl or plate handy so that you can eat it as soon as possible. Okay, the sound has already changed. It's higher pitched, because the water is basically gone. It looks really creamy. So I'm going to haul it off. (sizzling and scraping sounds) Okay, that is so creamy looking. It almost looks like mac and cheese, or a really, really good cacio e pepe that didn't break, that didn't come out too watery or too dry. It's just perfect. 

Whew, that all happened fast. So what I'm looking at now is a lovely bowl of springy noodles that are covered in a buttery, creamy, pepper-flecked sheen, and they are cool enough that I can take a bite. Wow, that is so good. It is perfectly seasoned. This would be a moment where you could decide if you want to add a little bit more salt, and how much you want to garnish with your extra peppers. I'm gonna do a little bit of pepper just to have sort of a crunchy counterpoint, and um, I don't know, because I feel like I should. But it's already plenty fiery, enough to get my heart kind of racing and make me want to just keep diving in for more. I hate to say it, but as perfect as cacio e pepe is traditionally, I actually think that I like this more. It's got such a well-rounded savoriness from the umami and the miso and the chicken stock, and the pepper is many-dimensioned instead of just one kind of pepper. 


Kristen: So how'd it go? Let me know how it all went by leaving a rating and review. We'll be playing new recipes weekly, and if there's a Food52 recipe, you'd like to hear us make, email it to us at Happy noodling.