Taking the Fear Away From Eating Seafood

viking_fleet_tilefish

Let’s face it- there just aren’t enough fish eaters out there compared to land animal eaters.  People still have a fear of eating seafood, especially unfamiliar varieties.  I came from a generation (born in the 8o’s) where there just wasn’t alot of fresh fish options available to the average class consumer, especially in my land-locked community.  The grocery store salmon, cod, shrimp or crab was dull, not fresh, probably previously frozen and probably not even from this country.  I grew up turning up my nose at fish because it tasted ‘too fishy’ as I’m sure most of us did.  But this is what I thought all fish tasted like.

As we saw and became more exposed to how factory farms were treating animals we began to care more about making the right decisions when it came to what meat we ate.  We are investing time into heritage breeds, free range, humanely treated, and nose to tail eating now.  Fish, however still has some catching up to do.  We are and continue to be reminded that fish is a threatened food source.  Decades of pressure from overfishing has put this wild food source at risk.  However, there are a ton of small fisherman and fisheries out there that are doing the right thing and are deemed sustainable.  Why don’t we hear about them more than we hear about the problems?  Well, because they are just the small guys, big ocean.

It’s a no brainer to agree that, like meat, we need to support the endeavors of local fisherman and sources.  We as chefs, artisans, retailers, educators, or just ‘foodies’ need to help take the fear away about eating fish.  I started my exploration (now obsession) with this very.  Not just the salmons, cods, shrimp, but the lesser known species, the ‘heritage’ or forgotten species so to say of the ocean.  Fish like Tilefish, Mackerel, Porgy, Wreckbass or Hake are all examples of fish that a good chunk of us just don’t know anything about.

How do we start? With stories.  Nothing sells food more today than knowing how it came to be, how it came into your arms to sell, to cook or to eat.  Where was the fish caught?  What fishing method was used?  Whats the name of the fisherman’s boat?  What kind of clothes does the fisherman wear?   These are all questions that people gleam about when talking about food selling points.  Sometimes it’s not about the steak or fish fillet on the plate, It’s the story of how it came to be.

Today when I go to a restaurant or a market, I judge them overall on the fish they offer.  Great local, sustainable and interesting fish can be obtained anywhere these days regardless of your geographic relevance to the ocean.  The restaurants that continue to ‘hide’ the fish by offering poorly farmed options or imported don’t really do it for me.  However, when I see more exotic names of fish on a menu I am rest assured that there is a chef in the kitchen that is passionate about helping revive the overall perception of seafood through educating his customers and telling a story.

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Easter, 2013

This Easter was undoubtedly the best I have ever had. It began with attending Easter Mass in a Catholic church (I was raised Lutheran and haven’t been to church in over a decade…which makes me feel rather old…) and ended with bottle feeding an orphaned baby goat. In between was filled with everything that Easter is about; love, family, beginnings, closeness…and food. Here, I will focus on the food.

LAMB

Lamb Sirloin roasts with apricots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My wonderful girlfriend, Carley was kind enough to invite me to her family’s Easter gathering this year. Her dad prepared these amazing lamb sirloin roasts, dried apricots and rosemary on top of a sweet glaze, then roasted quickly in the oven for a wonderful medium rare.

Standing beef rib roast, rubbed

Standing beef rib roast, rubbed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mid-rare beef standing rib roast was also on the menu. Carley’s dad rubbed it with a Caribbean inspired concoction, and it was absolutely delicious.

I was so excited to eat everything on the table, I completely neglected to photograph the entire spread. There were glazed carrots, a fantastic salad with goat cheese and cranberries, brussel sprouts with candied walnuts, challah, potatoes au gratin, and this:

The most adorable cake ever.

The most adorable cake ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the food was amazing. It was a potluck of sorts, everyone contributing something to the table. It made me feel at home, welcome, accepted to be a part of the meal.

And then there was this little guy, who I fed…

Feeding the orphan baby goat, Campo.

Feeding the orphan baby goat, Campo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His name is Campo. His mother died during his birth, so he is now being bottle raised and is completely adorable. This is precisely what Easter is about, life and the promise of new beginnings. Many thanks for reading, and I hope your holiday was as enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


On Grilling

Tomahawk!

Far and away my favorite steaks. Bone in ribeye.

Grilling can be scary. I understand. You bought an expensive piece of meat, you don’t want to burn it, but you don’t want it to be completely raw (for reasons I don’t actually understand. As long as my meat is hot, it’s done.)

SO! Here are a few tips before the grilling season officially gets underway.

1. Directly over the flame is not always the best method of grilling. But, Tim! That’s where the heat is! Yes, it is. It is also where the flame is not. The closer to the flame, the higher the heat. You can experience this phenomenon quite easily by lighting a match and letting it burn all the way to your fingers. (Don’t actually do this.) Indirect grilling is usually best. I’ll go over indirect grilling later.

2. Know the fat! If you have a lean piece of meat, it will cook much faster than a fatter piece.

3. Pork DOES NOT HAVE TO BE WELL DONE. People often complain about dry pork chops. It’s already dead, you don’t have to kill it. Trichinosis isn’t really a thing anymore. According to Wikipedia, there were an average of 11 cases/year from 2002-2007.  I’ll take my chances to have a delicious pork chop.

My preferred method of grilling is natural wood charcoal. It takes longer, certainly, but the reward is so much greater. After natural wood charcoal, I’d use regular charcoal. Gas is my least favorite. I just don’t care for the flavor it imparts on the meat.

Indirect grilling. It’s easy. Don’t be afraid. Buy a nice thick piece of meat (at least 3/4 of an inch thick). Place the meat directly over the flame for 30 seconds to a minute on each side. Move the meat to a cooler area of the grill, away from the flame, and give it about 3-4 minutes/side for mid rare. Up the time to your desired state. Enjoy!


Merguez

While I was working with Austin (the Fishmonger) at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I discovered a lamb sausage called merguez. Shop proprietor Matthew Rubiner purchased the sausage from Jamison Farm in Pennsylvania. We grilled the sausages to order for service in the cafe and served them simply, on a baguette with a harissa paste. Gorgeous, simple, unique. After leaving Rubiner’s, I longed for these delicate, bright red, aromatic French tid bits.  I looked up recipes online, found a few that I thought sounded right, combined them and birthed my own.

Before beginning my journey to making merguez, I wanted to know where it came from. Knowing the roots of your food (so to speak) can greatly aid you in creating a recipe. You wouldn’t add star anise to a traditional bratwurst, for example, because star anise isn’t exactly native to the region in which the first bratwurst were made. The problem with merguez is…it’s complicated. It is North African in origin, specifically, it seems, from Tunisia, but today is widely regarded as a French sausage. I suppose it isn’t too hard to understand how this happened, as it’s only the Balearic Sea separating the two countries…and occupiers tend to make traditional, regional delicacies their own (Tunisia was a French protectorate from the mid 1800s until the 1950s).

Having origins in Tunisia, the flavors of merguez are more easily recognized. Highly spiced with cinnamon, harissa, fennel, garlic, etc, merguez is a sausage unlike any other. The piquancy of the sausage set it apart from anything you’ve ever had. It is truly a full mouth experience. The delicate lamb meat lends itself perfectly to the soaring notes of cinnamon, the sweetness of fennel, the heat of harissa. It is a unique experience that I guarantee you will enjoy.

Yes, Whole Foods has it. Jamison Farm has it. But mine is better.

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Dry Aging

Dry aging is a preservation method of animal protein, normally associated with beef. It is the opposite of wet aging, a preservation method that is absolutely disgusting, but which is much more cost effective. In dry aging, the carcass is left to hang, unprotected, in a temperature controlled, sanitary environment for a period of time ranging from a few days to a few months. As a former employer told me, “The longer it sets, the better it gets.” I have found this to be the case. You can tell the difference between a steak cut from a rib aged a week and one that has been aged six weeks. The proteins break down by natural enzymes in the beef. Moisture is lost, creating a concentration of flavor. Think of salt water in terms of flavor. The longer the solution sits, the more you will taste the salt. This is exactly the same thing that happens with beef. The moisture leaves, the flavor is left behind.

Dry aged beef is, as a rule, more expensive. There is much greater loss, much less yield in salable product. The following are photos of different stages of dry aged beef:

The rib roast on the left has roughly 2 weeks of aging. The rib roast on the right has been aged 6 weeks.

The rib roast on the left has roughly 2 weeks of aging. The rib roast on the right has been aged 6 weeks.

Right to left: 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks age time.

Right to left: 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks age time.

Close up of 6 week dry aged prime rib.

Close up of 6 week dry aged prime rib.

Clearly the ends are inedible. This is part of the loss factor I described earlier. Depending on the length of the aging process, these ends can get pretty gnarly, and the undesirable sections will reach deep into the meat.

Boneless ribeyes, 6 week dry aged.

Boneless ribeyes, 6 week dry aged.

Absolutely stunning beef rib. The steaks on the left come from the chuck end (large end in you recipe books). On the right, the loin end (small end in your recipe book.) Note how the steaks on the right look very similar to a New York Strip. This is because the rib turns into the loin as it moves from shoulder to rear of the animal.

Absolutely stunning beef rib. The steaks on the left come from the chuck end (large end in your recipe books). On the right, the loin end (small end in your recipe book.) Note how the steaks on the right look very similar to a New York Strip. This is because the rib turns into the loin as it moves from shoulder to rear of the animal.


Super Sunday Ideas

The Super Bowl would be so much better if they played hockey instead of football. So would the World Series, all of the tennis open championships, golf tournaments, college football games, soccer games…badminton…actually badminton is pretty sweet.

I digress.

 

RIBS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you are going to make ribs, do yourself a favor and go to the local butcher (as you of course should for any meat that you are going to put into your body). I hope, I really, really hope that your butcher can offer you these:

You can only find these things at a whole animal butcher. Guaranteed.

You can only find these things at a whole animal butcher. Guaranteed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But what are these magnificent meaty miracles destined for mastication?! I call them Columbus Ribs. I introduced them to Bluescreek Farm Meats a few months ago. They are the spare ribs still attached to the pork belly. Yes. Were you to buy this, brine it and smoke it, you would have bone-in bacon. Another way of thinking about them is extra meaty spare ribs. I am an evil, evil, delicious genius.

When I made these at home, I used a very simple recipe, and they were supple, succulent, unctuous, meaty…amazing. (I don’t measure, so these are all my best guess at measurements)

Prep Time: 15 min Cook Time: 8 hours

Ingredients:

5lb Columbus Ribs (3-4ribs)

1/2 C Apple Cider Vinegar

8 bay leaves

1tsp whole peppercorns

2Tbsp  cinnamon

1/4 C brown sugar

1tsp cayenne pepper

2Tbsp Kosher Salt

1-2 C water

Method

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F

Arrange ribs FAT SIDE UP in a large, deep, non-stick pan (I used a standard sheet cake pan and it was only just big enough). Pour Apple Cider Vinegar around the ribs. Add water to bring the liquid half to 3/4 up the ribs. Don’t submerge them.

Mix cinnamon, brown sugar, cayenne and salt in a small bowl, just to lightly combine them. Gently rub the mixture into the fat of the ribs. Sprinkle the peppercorns on and around the ribs. Place 2 or 3 bay leaves on the top of each rib.

Cover the pan with tin foil, place in preheated oven. Don’t touch them for 4 hours, or until you smell something odd. If you smell something odd, as I did, you will open your oven door to find that the fat has melted off the ribs, into the braising liquid (vinegar and water solution) and subsequently pooled in the bottom of your oven, much like a fruit pie boiling over. If you are lucky, you used a pan deep enough to prevent this from happening. I was not so lucky.

Seriously, though. You may check the status of the liquid every couple of hours. I had to pour off liquid twice during the 8 hour slow braise. The meat is done when a fork inserted into the meat twists easily.

Let the ribs cool for about 45 minutes. Have a drink. You’ve earned it. They should look something kind of like this:

Hey there, pretty lady...

Hey there, pretty lady…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the ribs have cooled down (not completely cold, just cool enough to handle without burning your fingers [learn from my mistakes!]), you should be able to cut them into neat little 3d rhomboid shapes. I deliberately did not say squares. They will not be perfect squares. Do not freak out.

Heat a cast iron skillet on very high heat (if you don’t have cast iron, a normal non-stick will be okay, but cast iron is just the bees knees for this part). Turn the pieces of rib fat side down, and carefully place them in the skillet. Let them sizzle and smoke for a couple of minutes. This isn’t part of the cooking process, necessarily. This is tightening the fat, searing in the juices, and simultaneously caramelizing the brown sugar from the rub. After you are done, they will look something like this:

Complete Columbus Ribs

Complete Columbus Ribs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This recipe seems really long and complicated, but I promise it isn’t. There are two cooking techniques used, and they are very basic: braising and searing.

I promise you, nobody at your Super Bowl party will have ever had these, and you will be as popular as Wayne Gretzky…er…John Elway.

 


Sustainable Fish At McD’s

McDsMSC_homepage

Apparently McDonald’s is now the first national US restaurant chain to adapt the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) label on all fish products.  Here’s the article from Seafood Source.

By SeafoodSource
24 January, 2013 – McDonald’s USA has become the first national restaurant chain to adopt the Marine Stewardship Council blue eco-label on its fish packaging in restaurants nationwide.

McDonald’s, which uses MSC certified wild-caught Alaska Pollock for its Filet-O-Fish sandwich, will begin displaying the MSC eco-label on product packaging, in-restaurant communications and external marketing beginning in February 2013 — coinciding with the launch of Fish McBites, McDonald’s newest fish menu item, which also uses wild-caught, MSC-certified Alaska Pollock.

In 2011, McDonald’s added its eco-label to its packaging in all U.K. restaurants.

More than 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants across the U.S. have met the MSC Chain of Custody standard for traceability.

“McDonald’s collaboration with the Marine Stewardship Council is a critical part of our company’s journey to advance positive environmental and economic practices to maintain the health and sustainability of fish stocks for the future,” said Dan Gorsky, senior VP of U.S. supply chain and sustainability. “We’re extremely proud of the fact that this decision ensures our customers will continue to enjoy the same great taste and high quality of our fish with the additional assurance that the fish they are buying can be traced back to a fishery that meets MSC’s strict sustainability standard.”