Cook’s Science Behind the Scenes: Volume 14

The story behind our April Fool’s Day prank.

In this weekly series, associate editor Tim Chin and test cook Sasha Marx take you behind the scenes of Cook’s Science and give you a glimpse into our recipe development process, from how we come up with recipe ideas, to test kitchen failures, to discoveries we make along the way. This week, Sasha takes you behind the scenes of our April Fool’s Day prank.

“Should we do anything for April Fool’s Day?” our managing editor, Kristin, asked during our team meeting last Thursday, March 30th. I jumped at the opportunity and suggested developing a gag recipe we could publish on Saturday, April 1st. What, exactly, the recipe would be was the next question. We needed an absurd dish, fast. (It seems we have a knack for procrastinating on special occasion recipes.)

I had jelly beans on the brain after a recent company-wide “guess how many jelly beans are  in the jar” contest. So, I was immediately inspired to pay homage to, in my opinion, one of the great television characters of our time, Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with a rendition of his favorite dish: Milk Steak with Raw Jelly Beans. While not everyone on the Cook’s Science team was familiar with the reference, we all agreed that the recipe sounded bizarre enough for our April Fool’s prank, even without the background knowledge. If I could get a “working” recipe ready to publish in 24 hours, executive editor Dan Souza would make milk steak happen. Challenge accepted.

On a mission, I got to work in the test kitchen. The first issue at hand was ingredient sourcing. I didn’t want to waste food developing a fake recipe. Also, there was no time to order ingredients. (Our amazing Kitchen Operations team typically needs 24-48 hours to track down the ingredients Tim and I order.) The components for milk steak needed to be quickly foraged from what was in the test kitchen that day. As luck would have it, one of the test cooks on the Photo Team (read more about their role at America’s Test Kitchen in Tim’s recent Behind the Scenes post) was wrapping up a shoot that featured a lot of grilled meat. I was able to barter, Oregon Trail-style, for one of the leftover steaks. Score! All I needed now were the jelly beans.

With a little sleuthing I tracked down the winner of the aforementioned jelly bean jar challenge (congrats, Amanda!) on the fourth floor of the building. She was more than happy to part with some of her winnings in the name of April Fool’s shenanigans. I hustled back to the kitchen and cobbled together a quick dos leches milk sauce by cooking whole and sweetened condensed milks left over from some recent baking projects with a little cornstarch. With the milk steak mise en place good to go, the next step was snapping some photos.

Luckily, test kitchen photographer Steve Klise (he’s responsible for much of the awesome photography on Cook’s Science) happened to walk by my station just as the sauce was reducing. “What are you getting up to with that steak?” he asked, intrigued. I filled him in on my milk steak machinations and asked if he had some time to snap a few shots of the final product. Always up for a good joke, his response what exactly what I wanted to hear: “Bring me milk steak, and I will make time!” With the sauce at the perfect nappé consistency, I plated the final dish and grabbed Steve. We found an empty photo studio and took a couple of “beauty” shots. Jelly beans have never looked so good.

Milk Steak with Raw Jelly Beans
The “beauty” shot of Milk Steak with Raw Jelly Beans.

I really didn’t want to let good food go to waste, and I was curious if Charlie Kelly was onto something, so I grabbed a knife and fork and dug in. I can’t say that Milk Steak with Raw Jelly Beans is a dish I want to revisit, and I don’t recommend making it if you’re looking for a great way to enjoy steak. But, I will say that some bites were not as terrible as others. It really depended on what jelly bean flavors wound up on my fork. Banana was the most . . . challenging. Buttered popcorn was, surprisingly, the least offensive. I was only able to convince one other test cook to try a bite, which she promptly spat out. Milk steak, like haggis, appears to be an acquired taste.

With cooking and photos complete it was time to write the recipe. Note to self: fake Cook’s Science recipes are much quicker to write than real Cook’s Science recipes—no gram-to-traditional measurement conversions, no detailed testing, no fact-checking. A couple of edits from the rest of the team, and the text was ready to go. With the help of our awesome image production department (who loved the idea and took time out of their busy schedule to help us), Steve’s photo was cropped and looking even better than expected in record time. We were ready to publish. All that was left was the seal of approval from our chief creative officer, Jack Bishop. After what seemed like an eternity, his verdict came in: “I’m a bit worried about your sanity but this is fun . . . Can’t wait to see the pic.”

Milk Steak with Raw Jelly Beans had the green light. We hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did—we loved reading all of your comments on the site and on social media!

P.S. It was a joke, guys!

Photography by Steve Klise


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