Sunday, March 26, 2006

Crudo: Olive Oil, Flavored Salts, Thyme, and Red Pepper

In last year's food issue of the New Yorker, one of the many suppliers who finds unsual fish for Dave Pasternak of Esca, described Pasternak's curious ability to taste a fish raw and know exactly what he wanted to do with it. With no thoughtful fish wholesalers to look after my interests, I must rely on trial and error.

This can be an expensive hobby. It requires that you buy small chunks of multiple types of fish. Ordering less than a quarter pound of fish can make a monger scowl. So it was that I came home from Hapuku Fish Shop with quarter pounds of escobar, opah, and sabelfish.

It can be tough to know what you'll be getting with a given raw fish, but I was pretty comfortable with these choices. I'd had opah and sabelfish at a recent dinner at Bar Crudo.

All three were preapred with La Amarilla de Rond olive oil, citrus flavored salts, thyme, and a small dice of dried red pepper.

I was skeptical of the sabelfish's appearance, but its flavor and texture (almost velvety) made it the winner of the batch. The opah had a mild taste that allowed the flavor of these seasonings to really come through, but the texture prevented the olive oil from being absorbed. The escobar was similiarly mild, but accepted more of the oil.

Fish: Sabelfish (aka Black Cod or Butterfish)

Sabelfish is also referred to as Black Cod or Butterfish, though Epicurious maintains that it is actually neither. Sabelfish is found in the waters off of Alaska and in the Pacific Northwest.

I've only seen the fish around town recently. First at Bar Crudo (where they served it with a blood orange reduction) and then at Hapuku. The State of Alaska has apparently taken an interest in their Sabelfish population. They have an open job listing for a research surveyer - fishing vessel a must, strictly catch and release.

Sabelfish filets are an unusually solid white, though the flesh is soft and easily sliced. The fish is oily and well-suited to smoking and grilling. I also enjoyed it raw with olive oil, thyme, and a meyer lemon scented salt.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Penny's Candied Lemon Peel

One of the more poorly kept secrets here at Consumptive HQ --right up there with most of the food photos being of left overs-- is that our restaurant-managing friend Penny punches the clock at Chez Panisse.

This gig exposes her to some pretty serious food schwag, which she shares quite a bit of with us. Other-worldly dried peppers, epic zinfandel dinners, and the occasional bottle of wine.

This Candied Lemon Peel is different though, as she made it for us with lemons from her own tree. Recipes abound, but they all include lemons, sugar, and water. The final product can be used in baked goods or eaten whole. Unless I miss my guess, these lemons are Eurekas - brighter and slightly more acidic than Meyer Lemons.

We've been eating ours with 1996 Rivesaltes Ambré Domaine Fontanel.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Market Recap: 2006: Weeks 08

An integral part of the whole Happy Consumptive thing is social ritual. There are food experiences that you can only come by through a kind of perseverance, the due dilligence of the regular. With the farmer's market in particular, this has something to do with a commercial commitment to the cause.

Last weekend weather was the talk of the market. Not so much how good it was Saturday, as how lousy it had been the week before. Doug Stonebreaker of Prather Ranch was rained on two Sundays ago, and was pounded by hail last Thursday. The guy working the Lagier Ranches booth said Thursday was miserable too. The Hamada Farms folks didn't have Cara Cara oranges last week, because the weather prevented them from getting out to pick them.

The relation of food to the reality of its production, the physical circumstance of its context, is the sort of thing that grocery stores conspire to render irrelevant. All that waxed and irradiated freshness.

No general photos this week, but here's a shot of some cress I picked up at the County Line Harvest stand.

Salt: Flavored: Citrus

During a recent episode of Iron Chef America, Mario Batali whipped up an herbal salt by throwing a handful of taragon into a food processor with some kosher salt. The salt immedaitely turned a vibrant green.

A week later, with a heaping crate of Meyer Lemons ripening in the kitchen, I decided to try the same trick using sel gris and lemon zest. In home kitchen quantities, the mixing is easiest to do with a mortar and pestle. I was really only working with the idea of color, but the flavor was surprisingly pleasant. While the sel gris has a mild flavor that pairs well with the zest, the color really pops when you use kosher salt.

The idea was new to our guests that night, and while my wife and I consider ourselves salt fans (there are ten distinct varieties in the house) we haven't seen a zest-flavored salt on store shelves or menus.

Over time, the salt seems to leech the essential oils out of the zest. There should be a way to separate the salt from the zest once this process has taken place, but I haven't been able to pull it off yet. Any potential business partners out there?

Garlic: Green Garlic

Green garlic is regular garlic --allium sativum for you Latin fans-- that hasn't matured into its more familiar form. It also hasn't captured the imagination of bay area residents in the way that other young forms of vegetable and herb have - baby lettuces, and their extremely diminutive relatives 'micro greens' for instance. Spring onions are in the same boat. In this regard, I believe we compare poorly to the people of Valls in Catalonia - who muster an actual festival in honor of their second growth onions.

The Babbo website has a useful comparison of green garlic and ramps, another up and coming alternative to leeks and green onions. Here's the chunk on garlic:
Green garlic is actually white garlic that has been picked while the long stalks are still tender and green (adolescent, if you will), and before the bulb has had a chance to fully develop into common garlic. Much more mild than mature garlic (one stalk of green garlic is equivalent in pungency to about 3 cloves mature garlic), green garlic stalks can be used much like any other greens.
I consistently read that green garlic is more mild than the full-grown adult version, and this may be so, but I find that it is somehow more redolent.

Doug Stonebreaker, who works the Prather Ranch booth at the Grand Lake Farmer's Market, said he picked some up last week to marinate lamb steaks in. At Dopo they use it in potato soup and on pizzas. There are several recipes for green garlic located at the bottom of this page on Gourmet Sleuth dot com.

Greens: Water Cress (Nasturtium officinale)

Water Cress is a peppery herb that is commonly used as a salad ingredient. Though sometimes deployed as the main ingredient, I prefer it in a supporting role - a cress, potato, and egg salad they do at Chez Panisse comes to mind. I picked up this bunch from the County Line Harvest folks.

According to Texas A&M Plant Answers, there are several varieties of cress:
...such as Garden Cress or Pepper-grass (Lepidium sativum), Upland or Winter cress (Barbarea vernapraecox) , Bitter-cress (Cardamine pratensis), Indian-cress (another name for nasturtium) or Tropaeolum majus, Penny cress or species of Thlaspi, rock-cress or species of Arabis, Stone-cress or genus Aethionema and Wart-cress or species of Coronopus.
Incidentally that Texas A&M page manages to sneak in terribly specific generalizations about the culinary practices of people who live on the east coast, and also "Chinese" [sic]. Which is enough to make me want to question their curiously prosaic description of cress growing conditions:
Water-cress is a hardy, perennial, European herb (Nasturtium officinale) which grows naturally in wet soil along and in spring brooks, dithces and pond margins and is cultivated under such condition for use as a garnish and a piquant salad.

Preparing cress for use in salads generally requires removing the leaves from the stems. As the photos may suggest, when cooking for more than a handful of people, this can be both tedious and relatively expensive. Consequently, arugula tends to be the weapon of choice when peppery greens are called for here at consumptive HQ.

Citrus: Orange: Cara Cara

Cara Cara oranges are, apparently, a recent hybrid of navel orange varieties. According to Produce Hunter the likely suspects are the familiar Navel --known as the Washington variety -- and the new to me Brazil Bahia Navel. I'm not sure all of this washes - other histories describe the Washington as a renamed Bahia. If you have the straight dope, go ahead an send it my way.

Most descriptions of the Cara Cara flavor relate it to Moro Blood Oranges. At first blush though, I tasted sweet grapefruit. These photos don't really convey just how pink the flesh of the orange is.

I have a confession to make. We get our Cara Cara oranges from the Hamada Farms booth at the Grand Lake Famer's Market. I noticed them just as I was getting over my unfortunate malreaction to Satsumas, and found no mention of them on any of the web sites describing seasonal citrus. I assumed that they were an incidental rathern than deliberate hybrid of navel orange and grapefruit.

I shared this assumption as fact with several folks, to whom I will now openly apologize. In a fitting bit of irony, my presumption was done in when my wife pointed out that she had seen them in a post to I blame the Patriarchy.

Bread: Phoenix Pastaficio: Rustic Olive Bread

Phoenix Pastaficio opened not long after I arrived in Berkeley. At that time, I would stop in after classes for balls of fresh mozarella - they cost $1 a piece. It would be several years before I got hooked on their olive bread.

The olive bread loaves are dense, irregularly-shaped rounds - baked so dark that they verge on burnt. It's an extreme loaf. The crust is intensely salty and sharp. The olives are purple and meaty. They have a pronounced fruit taste that reminds me of blue berries. The photos here are of a baguette version that they are selling now at the Grand Lake Farmer's Market.

Half the time I went in for olive bread, they wouldn't have it. As near as I could tell they made a handful of loaves a day. The guy who owns the place (his sister is co-owner) would always perform the act of looking through the bread bins for bread that, on some level, I suspect we both knew were simply not there. This was a gamble I was less willing to take when we moved from Berkeley to Oakland.

We recently discovered that a friend of my wife's worked at the Pastaficio - for one day. She was told it probably wouldn't work out, because of her aura.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Market Recap: 2006: Weeks 07

Winter seems to be arriving late this year. Last night a winter storm blew into the bay area, and before the rain and lightning really got going I witnessed the slow erratic descent of snow flakes in our backyard. When we hopped in the car this morning, the temperature read out was showing forty-four degrees.

The market was hopping though; took us twice around the parking lot to find a spot. A new stand with fish and shellfish appeared today. I was unable to establish the sashimi-grade ahi price index, but yellow tail filet was showing at 12.99 a pound.

On the prepared food side of the market, I verified the presence of a Phoenix Pastaficio stand. A friend had tipped me off to their arrival last week, over dinner at B. The Pastaficio draw for me is their Rustic Olive Bread. The olives they use are dense and meaty, with a pronounced fruit taste that borders on blue berry. The crust is treacherously sharp, and almost always bordering on burnt. My fondness for all things idiosyncratic is definitely a factor in my appreciation for this loaf.

I did not catch the name of a recently-arrived prepared meat stand, but did note that they had various sausages, black truffle pate, and duck rillette.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Restaurants: San Francisco: Bar Crudo

Just back from dinner at Bar Crudo with my friend the New Belgium Brewing Company guy. My wife and I had been meaning to go since October, but circumstances prevented us from making it across the bay. Long time readers probably know that I am down with the raw cause.

Still, friends of mine would probably have placed even money on our making it to Esca before Crudo.

Looking around the various review websites (Yelp, Citysearch, Gayot) you see a lot of posts with positive reviews of various dishes, including the seafood chowder, and the friendly service. Negative chatter on the boards has to do with dish size, dish price, and occasionally slow service.

The crudo sampler included:

  • Arctic Char with Wasabi Tobiko and dill

  • Black cod with Quail Eggs, Tobiko, and Blood Orange

  • Scallops with Fennel and Grapefruit

  • Spicy Yellowfin Tuna cubes

  • I'll save detailed comments until I can pull together a review, but I'm philosophical about the Raw Premium. Also, service was generally quicker than my friend and I were as we ordered wine and dishes. I expect to head back next week with my wife.

    Apologies for the photos, which were taken with a phone.