Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Name that Pig Part!

I've been spending some time with the butchers at Cook Family Butcher Shop in Kearny Mesa for a story I'll be posting in early January on my Close to the Source blog on Edible San Diego. It's a very cool place, owned by Cook Pigs Ranch in Julian that I hope you'll visit and buy from.

But, there's one cut that I recommend that as of now still has no name. While I was watching owner and plant manager Nick Bartsch, head butcher Travis Stockstill, and their crew transform halves of pigs into more familiar roasts, hams, loins, and chops, there grew a pile of longish strips of meat and fat--perhaps one to two inches wide and four or more inches long--that grew increasingly appealing to me. This was the strip that sits between the long bones of tomahawk chops. To get that handle just right, they have to cut out the connecting meat between the bones and, well, I couldn't see that going to waste.

As it happens, Nick couldn't either. He had taken a pile of them home and was marinating them in a blend of Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. I think he was in day four when we were chatting about it.

I was ridiculously enthusiastic about this and he sent me home with about half a dozen to try. I figured it would be simple enough to enjoy them cut up into bite-sized pieces and stir fried with vegetables. But what I really wanted to do was marinate them for a few days and then run them under the broiler to see if they'd crispen up.

So, I piggybacked on Nick's idea and created a marinade of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes. I marinated the strips of meat for three days.

Then under the heat they went for about five minutes total. They had a lovely gloss to them and curled up, almost like grilled octopus. Next time I'll try weaving them on skewers.

Regardless, they were delicious. It turns out they didn't get especially crispy. The texture was on the chewier side--not tough, but a mouth satisfying resistance with every bite. And, they had the most incredible sweet salty garlicky flavor, warmed by the sesame oil. 

So, I'd like to suggest you ask for them, but they have no name. We joked around at the time with some ideas, like  boneless ribs (not exactly accurate).

Do you have a good idea for a name for this obscure pig part? Give me your suggestions and I'll pass them on to Nick and Travis.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two Chefs, One Catch: The Holiday Gift for Seafood-Loving Home Cooks

We San Diegans love our seafood. If we have a regional food, for better or worse, it's fish tacos. But the world of seafood is complex and many home cooks are nervous about preparing it, fearing they'll overcook pricey fish or that for all their work, it just won't taste right.

To help home cooks get over their fear, chefs Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver of The Marine Room have just published their second book, Two Chefs, One Catch: A Culinary Exploration of Seafood (Lyons Press, $35). The book, beautifully photographed by Marshall Williams, contains about 120 recipes, about 80 percent of which were created specifically for the book. In fact, you probably won't find any of these dishes on The Marine Room menu. "They were engineered for the home cook," Oliver says.

With the exception of the first chapter of small bites, the book is organized by species, with plenty of little facts and trivia about them, nutrient information, and recipes listed by country and region. Guillas and Oliver are avid world travelers, who collect recipes and culinary inspiration like tourists collect special trinkets. "The recipes in the book are the accumulation of a lifetime of travel," says Oliver.

In fact, there were surprises. Guillas loves mussels and was surprised to find green-lipped mussels in the Indian state of Goa. Thanks to its southwestern coastal location, Goa was discovered by Portuguese traders back in the 15th century, when they were searching for a trade route. The colonial influences of Portugal still can be found in the cuisine, including seafood curries. Guillas enjoyed these curry pots and created a dish, Goa Mussels Hot Pot, based on his experience--and using green mussels.

Goa Mussels Hot Pot. Photo by Marshall Williams

Writing a seafood book was actually the duo's original idea, before they published Flying Pans, their first book. But, at the time, the publishing world wasn't interested, so they shelved it. Their agent, however, still had the proposal, and with Flying Pans in bookstores, shopped it again to publishers--and surprised them by selling it.

Since their initial idea, they went even deeper, addressing sustainability issues, discussing the pros and cons of farmed versus wild seafood. Their dedication is a virtual mission statement of that approach, "To preserve this enjoyment for generations to come, it is everyone's responsibility to care for our oceans, support sustainable fishery, and make well-informed decisions when purchasing seafood."

Wild Baja Shrimp Cocktail. Photo by Marshall Williams

The recipes are accessible. And they're not all seafood recipes. The chefs create meals with a focus on the seafood, but that also include side dishes, dressings, salsas, salads--anything that they would plate the seafood with. The fun, though, is that while you can create that entire meal as they structured it, you can also pick and choose to pair the seafood recipe in one section with an accompaniment from another. Guillas and Oliver also created a section in the back of the book that addresses seafood substitutions, important given how seasonal and regional various species are. The fundamental idea is to always use the freshest seafood possible. They also include other "bait and switch" options--for pork, fruits and vegetables, herbs, oils, vinegars, spices, and wine and spirits. You'll get quick tutorials on cooking techniques from braising and baking to en papillote and poaching in the back of the book, while in the front they pair their favorite cooking techniques with various seafood species. In the front is also "Ocean 101," which describes the seafood and various varieties, along with how to select and store various fish and seafood. Finally, they include a list of essential tools and utensils that include scales, cast-iron skillets, kitchen shears, fish spatula, and fish descaler.

I visited with the chefs at The Marine Room last week. They prepared their Bacon Wrapped Monkfish Tail for me, accompanied by a green salad with a slice of chevre, cherry tomatoes, and beets. This is a dish created by Guillas, who was raised on the coast of Brittany in France. Monkfish is local to the region and his Uncle Bernard used to prepare it by wrapping the tail in bacon and roasting it over the fire. The result is a sweet and tender fish with a smoky crust.

Bacon Wrapped Monkfish Tail. Photo by Marshall Williams
Last night I made their Olive Oil Poached Salmon with the Crushed Fennel Potatoes. Mine looked much different than theirs, perhaps I overcooked it a bit, but the interior was still a brilliant orange and the texture was luxurious. The aromatics that infused the oil--garlic, sage, thyme, and tangerine zest--gave the fish a sublime, complex flavor--mellow from the sage and garlic, but bright from the thyme and citrus zest. The dish was simple to make, something that the chefs emphasized throughout the book.

"We wanted to focus on simple techniques," says Guillas. "Seafood can be expensive so people want something that will guarantee them a good dish. We're trying to take the intimidation out of preparing seafood."

Olive Oil Poached Salmon. Photo by Marshall Williams
I'm sharing this recipe from Two Chefs, One Catch for you to enjoy.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Crushed Fennel Potatoes
from Two Chefs, One Catch
Serves 4

Crushed Fennel Potatoes
2 pounds small gold potatoes, washed
14 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
to taste sea salt
to taste ground black pepper
1 bunch watercress leaves

Add potatoes to lightly salted cold water in large stockpot. Place over medium heat. Bring to simmer. Cook 15 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile add 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet over medium heat. Add fennel. Cook 3 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Drain potatoes in colander. Add to fennel. Gently crush each potato using the back of a fork. Add watercress and remaining olive oil. Stir to combine. Season again with salt and pepper if needed.

14 cup hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 tangerine, zested, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped,
toasted hazelnuts
14 cup pitted, quartered
kalamata olives
12 cup quartered teardrop tomatoes
to taste sea salt
to taste ground black pepper

In small mixing bowl, combine hazelnut oil, chives, Champagne vinegar, and tangerine juice and zest. Whisk together until well mixed. Add hazelnuts, olives, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

8 sprigs lemon thyme
4 sage leaves
12 teaspoon cracked
black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced
1 tangerine, zested
4 cups olive oil
4 salmon fillets,
boneless (6 ounces each)

Combine thyme, sage, peppercorns, salt, garlic, tangerine zest, and olive oil in wide heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat to infuse oil. When garlic starts to sizzle slightly, turn off heat. Use tongs to immerse salmon into oil. Steep salmon in oil 10 minutes or until slightly underdone. If necessary, return briefly to low heat to finish cooking process. Salmon should be translucent and bright orange in the middle but flake easily. Transfer salmon to serving plate atop crushed potatoes. Spoon Vinaigrette onto plate. Garnish with thyme sprig and sage leaf. 


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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Breaking Bread with the Prager Brothers

Louie and Clinton Prager at their bakery in Encinitas

It took way too long for me to finally connect with these guys, but it was worth the wait. I was first introduced to  Prager Brothers Artisan Breads by my friend Catt White of SD Weekly Markets a couple of years ago. They had dropped off samples to her office in what I gather at the time was a way to get into her farmers markets. After tasting the breads she got in touch with me, telling me to come over and try some. They were that good.

Somehow emails got crossed, a wickedly rainy day at the Hillcrest farmers market last winter yielded an introduction to younger brother Clinton, 27, at another stall but I was so soaked to the bone I fled back to my car and skipped going over to chat with him.

All this is to say that the opportunity only came at an opening event a few weeks ago for the new Banker's Hill market Back to Roots, where they are selling their breads. They're still mouth wateringly good and I was determined not to let that opportunity pass. And last week I went up to their Carlsbad bakery to chat.

What strikes me about the two is what always gets to me about the most talented chefs and vendors I meet--their absolute dedication to and passion for what they create. Not to take away from Clinton, but Louie, 28, seems to have made bread making his sword in the stone. Trained as a biologist at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, it all began when he'd helped a friend out with a pizza place in Escondido. The pizza was simple--just cheese--and made on hot stone. Louie wasn't won over by the pizza business but he was intrigued by the crust, by the process of making the dough.

"When we get into things, we like to go back to the roots of it," he said. "So I learned everything I could about wood-fired ovens."

That included reading Kiko Denzer's "How to Build an Earth Oven." If you were resourceful enough, Louie explained, you could make an oven for under $175. So, he scrounged up leftover clay from Miracosta College. He found some bricks. He built his first oven and started making oven-fired pizzas.

Then Louie started in on breads. He met Richard Webb of the 3rd Street Bakery in Los Osos, near Morro Bay, who became his mentor. Webb's first assignment for Louie was to read Jim Lahey's book, "My Bread." Then came another reading assignment. Then Webb began selling Louie flour at cost. "I'd bring back loaves for him to check out. He taught me how to bake bread, but he advised me to be a biologist."

Around this time Louie also discovered Alan Scott brick ovens, traveling up and down California to learn what he could about them. Back in Encinitas, where he and Clinton were raised and still live with their parents and where Louie was building brick ovens, Louie was taking Webb's advice and looking for a job in his field of botany. But he'd heard about a pizza place with a wood-fired oven. He met the owner, Wayne Hageman; the pizza place would become Blue Ribbon Pizza. Hageman invited Louie to come in and bake bread at night, but this was before the restaurant opened. With its success, Louie found himself back in his parents' backyard, baking loaves and entering the farmers markets. But, he's grateful to Hageman and with the success he found at the markets, he never looked back.

This was about three years ago. "I'd bake from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., sleep for a few hours, then go to the markets. That lasted about a year and then we found our current spot, which fortunately, was zoned for both commercial and retail," he recalled.

Clinton, a musician, had been helping out both baking and selling at the markets, but as business picked up and Louie began to rely on him more and more, it became clear that both brothers had to be all in to make it work.

Today, they make close to a dozen varieties of breads, including a pain au levain, olive rosemary, raisin walnut, sesame semolina, multigrain, miche (a rustic sourdough), walnut whole grain, ancient grain made with spelt, and volkornbrot (rye sunflower). They also make some flatbreads and rolls, pretzels, and are starting to get into baking cookies (definitely indulge in their sable, all wonderfully grainy and buttery and salty) and granola as well as yeasted breads, like baguettes. Any excess loaves are donated to a nearby charity.

"We bake around 200 loaves a day now, mostly for farmers markets," Louie said. "But we're just going into Baker & Olive in Encinitas, Seaside Market, OB People's Market, and we're in Back to Roots. And we have our own retail shop here."

And the breads? Most find their origins in their housemade sourdough starter. So what you get in each bite is a hint of sourdough tang, rich flavors of the grains, with a nice crust formed from the heat and steam of their ovens. "We describe our breads as naturally leavened organic whole grain," said Louie.

"We learning as we go," he added. "Some of the best bakers in the country are our friends. The Bread Bakers Guild of America has been a great resource as has been the baking community. They're really supportive because the business is so difficult."

Noted Clinton ruefully, "There's a reason no one's doing this anymore."

But for the brothers, this is something they passionately want to do. "It's now about artisan food, but is it realistic? Is it sustainable," questioned Louie. "We need to find the right balance between being an artisan business and having sustainable volume."

To that end, they have another project they want to launch: creating a flour mill, what they call a "community grain project." With more people demanding quality flour, they would have the volume to buy heirloom grains and make flour for the public or other bakers. And, they'd start classes for the public to encourage more home bread baking.

But the emphasis remains on their own bread baking. "We want to be a small and high quality, to do something unique," said Louie. "We want customers to know the bakers by name when they come in."

You can find Prager Brothers breads at the above shops, as well as the Hillcrest Farmers Market, Leucadia Farmers Market, Vista Farmers Market, State Street Farmers Market in Carlsbad, Encinitas Station Market, and Little Italy Mercato. Their retail shop is 5671 Palmer Way, Unit J, in Carlsbad.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Holiday Treats: Angel's Salumi & Truffles

Seven years ago when I belonged to a book club and it was my turn to host I decided to make a pork loin roast. I had found the recipe on the Food Network and it sounded like the perfect main course for our group. So, I went over to Iowa Meat Farms and consulted with butcher Stan Glen. I was just going to use conventional pork, but he encouraged me to also try a roast made from Berkshire pork, a hog variety long known for the quality and flavor of its meat. To maintain that quality, farmers raise them free range and richly fed like they used to be more than 40 years ago--before pork was touted as "the other white meat." This results in meat that has more marbling, moistness, and tenderness. I made The Barefoot Contessa recipe—it calls for a mixture of rosemary, fennel seeds, lemon zest, garlic, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper blended into a paste and pressed onto the top of the roast. The conventional pork roast was just fine, but the Berkshire pork version was over-the-top delicious. I never looked back.

So when I heard that Chef Pascal Besset had launched a new business, Angel's Salumi & Truffles in Carlsbad, and was using Kansas-raised Berkshire pork to make his salumi, I wanted to get a taste of it. Plus, I'm awfully fond of truffles.

I spent an afternoon with Besset in his warehouse and retail shop, which will also be where he holds cooking classes. Not only does he use Berkshire pork, but he also uses wild boar, bison, duck, and New Zealand venison for his different salumi varieties. The products are processed in a production facility in the L.A. area, which has three large dry rooms, each holding 43 racks filled with 680 pounds of product. Besset does all the buying and creates the recipes.

So, what does he make?

There's the wild boar prosciutto, very sweet and light, thanks to dried herbs, peppercorns, rosemary, sage, mace, and garlic. This smooth meat is a perfect pairing with dried fruits and nuts, a strong cheese, and craft beer. His duck prosciutto is just what you'd want to include in a charcuterie plate or add to pizza, pasta, soup, or salads. Besset says it's his number one selling product.

Then there's the black truffle pork salami, which incorporates black truffle oil and peelings. It has a heady aroma and would go well with champagne.

The white alba truffle salami uses white truffle puree (which Besset sells to restaurants for making dishes like risotto). Not surprisingly, it has a much more subtle flavor than the black.

Soppressata is one of my personal favorite salumis so I was curious about how Angel's would compare. I loved it. Usually, I'm psyched to get a punch of heat and garlic, mixed with fennel. This one was different, more sophisticated in flavor. I still got the fennel but instead of heat, there were sublime smoky overtones, thanks to his use of Spanish pimentón. Here's something that would pair wonderfully with a Pinot Grigio.

The dried, cured Berkshire Lomo Embuchado was stunning. It's made from the loin, which is massaged with four Spanish paprikas and then slowly air dried. Try this with a rosé.

That's not even all of them. Then we get to the truffle products. Now, I know the disdain people have for truffle products like oil and salts. But Besset gets that and as a chef he's keen to create products that colleagues will want to use and that customers will enjoy. He sent me home with a 500 ml container of white truffle oil, white and black truffle compound butters, and a small jar of truffle "caviar,"winter truffle juice created into tiny pearls that are color enhanced with the use of squid ink. (He also sells truffle juice, truffle carpaccio, truffle salt, and porcini butter.)

Have I had fun with these products. The truffle oil has gone into popcorn, been drizzled over roasted vegetables, and incorporated into salad dressing. I indulge with the truffle butter with its large flecks of truffle in the simplest ways, like spreading on my favorite toasted sourdough rolls or adding to baked potatoes. And that truffle caviar was stunning just topping scrambled eggs.

While Besset sells to restaurants like Sea & Smoke (chef/owner Matt Gordon is a big fan), his products can also be found in L.A. and Irvine, and in San Diego at retailers like Specialty Produce, Venissimo, Bottega Americano, Brothers' Provisions, Major Market, Baker & Olive, and We Olive. The company is also in the process of setting up an online  retail store.

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