Dish,etc.

The Fisherman’s Wife, by Stephanie Villani and Kevin Bay

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

It’s high summer, and farmers markets from Maryland to Maine are finally showing crimson swaths of local tomatoes. Fragrant bunches of fleshy Genovese basil burst extravagantly from CSA bundles. Even grocery stores have produce sections strewn with corn silks and husks, the detritus of excited customers looking for the sweetest, plumpest ears.

This is the season when – at least from the the Mid-Atlantic states to Down East – eating is finally easy. People are satisfied with platters of the simplest, fresh garden produce, a drizzle of olive oil and handfuls of fresh herbs the only extra ingredient, except if you score some local mozzarella, fresh ricotta, or a creamy burrata cheese. A grill and a cast iron skillet are all you need to cook anything, and everything goes on a platter family style

This is high season for local fish, too. The warm summer waters fill with stripers, blues, swordfish, tuna, halibut, butterfish, herring, whiting and squid. A fisherman’s life is never easy, but the blue skies and calmer seas of August, along with brimming buckets of shimmering catch, remind fishermen there is still a lot to love about what they do. August is a fisherman’s reward for enduring the year of dark 3:00 a.m. starts, iced Grundens and crippling government regulation.

Here is the cookbook you need right now: The Fisherman’s Wife, Sustainable Recipes and Salty Stories, by Stephanie Villani and Kevin Bay. I met Kevin Bay at one of NAMA’s Seafood Throwdowns last year in the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in Brooklyn, New York. Blue Moon Fish, the company Stephanie and her fisherman husband, Alex Villani, run, is a vendor in the Farmers’ Market, and had supplied the local fish for the throwdown.

I talked with Kevin Bay that day about how hard Stephanie and Alex work, and that Kevin and Stephanie had co-written a cookbook. Below is a portion of my story from that day in the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, a wonderful urban market with that Brooklyn je-ne-sais-quois, and my first introduction to Blue Moon Fish. The cookbook, recently published, addresses local fish the way the Villanis do: treating everything that comes out of local waters with environmental respect and culinary reverence. The chapters are divided sensibly into sections like “Round White Fish,” “Flat White Fish”, “Flavorful Fish,” and “Shellfish,” because this is a great way to think about cooking fish; the basic techniques apply to the shape of the fish, not the name of it. So smart.

 

So here is my little bit of local color on Brooklyn and a bit of story about Blue Moon Fish. Farther down is the recipe from the book for “Kevin’s Fish and Scallop Ceviche,” an indispensible summer recipe, and not just any old ceviche. The corn and cilantro make this the ultimate high summer recipe.

 

Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, 2016

The winged goddess of victory, flanked by her horse-leading, trumpeting attendants, marches in frozen glory high above the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, NY. Chariot, horses and gods lunge from their statuesque perpetuity on top of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’Arch that declares the entrance to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Designed in 1867 by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, the goddess-crusted arch is meant to echo the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, ours a triumph of the Civil War’s defenders of the Union.

The arch stands in the middle of the largest and busiest traffic circle in Brooklyn, where Flatbush Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Eastern Parkway, Prospect Park West, and Union Street all converge. Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln pose more soberly in relief from the arch’s sides. Within the assault of noisy speeding traffic and death-defying crosswalks, the massive Olmstead/Vaux structure feels like a footnote to a grander, quieter New York. It takes looking up to notice the drama on top – Victory lunging forth, her friends with their horses cutting loose from the sides. But the whoosh of traffic, and the need to cross an avenue safely keeps eyes closer to the pavement. Only tourists and visitors like me still lift their head to see what all that hooved drama is about above.

The Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket feels like a snug harbor away from all this monumental and noisy. It is a tented village of leaves, stalks, pods, blossoms, fruits and flowers underneath a colossal monument to those that kept the country united and ultimately slaveless, in and around the racing traffic. The white cloth tents, one after another, cover tables piled a foot deep with June produce: snap peas, English peas, spring onions, green garlic, garlic scapes, and rhubarb. The market smells like fresh strawberries and basil. Almost everyone is carrying bouquets of local peonies. Not only are there more dogs here than I have ever seen at a farmers’ market, but they are the best behaved. Leashes are as tangled as the garlic scapes, but the dogs stand calmly waiting for their owners to finish a purchase.

The Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket is run by GrowNYC, which began in 1976 with a dual mission: to allow small regional farms a way to sell their goods directly to the consumer and to provide New York “with the most nutritious, locally grown food the region can offer,” its website declares. “What began with twelve farmers July 16, 1976, in a parking lot on 59th Street has grown to over 200 farmers and producers in over 50 Greenmarkets throughout New York City.” Grand Army Plaza is also where gritty Flatbush Avenue meets Park Slope, a neighborhood which has an almost perfect quotient of baby strollers to bars. There are exactly 5061 trees in Park Slope, and probably an equal number of self-described Bohemians. Along with an excellent public school system, this data makes the neighborhood one heck of a good place to have a farmers’ market.

Blue Moon Fish Mongers are the very first booth to greet you from the Union Street side of the market.  Kevin Bay used to be one of the fishmongers in that stall.  Bay, a Manhattan fiction writer and band member, was pulled in, like so many artists, to the fresh food movement years ago. Bay met the Villanis who own and operate Blue Moon Fish at the Union Square Greenmarket. He said he knew right away, of all the odd jobs he had taken to support writing and playing music, “this was the right odd job for me.”

“Working with fish is addictive. It’s romantic. There’s a narrative there; as a writer I got sucked right in.” For eight seasons Bay stood under the Blue Moon tent at the Union Square, Tribeca, and Grand Army Greenmarkets, just like the six fishmongers working the stall that day. The Blue Moon fish cases are built with worn old wood boards painted Delft blue. That morning, the ice in the cases was snow-blind bright with the sun angling into the tent. Buckets of gleaming striped bass fillets, squid, flounder, and blues shone in the the ice as brightly as if they had just been landed.

Another case held a variety of hot-smoked fish, ruby and golden chunks of cured fillets. Stephanie Villani, wife of Alex Villani of the Blue Moon husband and wife partnership, smokes the fish herself twice a week. “It’s a good way to use up leftovers,” Stephanie said. She smokes bluefish, monkfish, tuna belly and eels when they can get them.

The sign above announced the fresh fish available along with that day’s fishmongers: Sally, Andew, Joe, Nick, Phillip, Patrick and Boaz. Smack in the middle of the sign a circle declared in red what Blue Moon Fish DIDN’T have that day: shrimp, salmon and crab, three species that Americans have come to expect for sale everywhere, whether or not there is even a body of water around. But Blue Moon sells the fish that Alex Villani lands in Long Island Sound. There are no salmon or shrimp in Long Island Sound, and he doesn’t catch crabs to sell. Blue Moon doesn’t sell lobsters either.

“There are no lobsters on Long Island. They all died in 1998 after the region was sprayed for West Nile virus. That, combined with the warming water temperatures, and the Connecticut and Long Island lobster industry got wrecked,” Stephanie Villani said. Many people have come to imagine that certain species are always available everywhere, forgetting that these are live animals that live in specific ecosystems. Many fish markets fill their cases not with fish being locally landed but what their customers want, and they all want the top four: salmon, scallops, shrimp and cod. Most fish markets today do business with fish dealers who are shipping fish around the world, so everyone has forgotten that there is no Gulf Shrimp in New England and no wild Atlantic salmon anywhere.

Why and how did this happen? How did we forget that there are one hundred other species being landed on New England and mid-coast Atlantic shores alone? – The rise of large fleet, corporate efficiency. It’s easier and ultimately more efficient to make a hundred thousand dollars from one load of one species of fish, ship it around the world, rather than manage many different boats and their diverse catch.

Alex Villani, 64, has been a commercial fisherman for forty-five years now. Going to the Greenmarket to sell his fish began as a way to make some extra cash, and now it’s become a ten-month-a year job. To become their own version of “efficient,” Blue Moon set up a separate business to land the fish, weigh it, report it to NOAA, and deliver it. Basically, Villani the fishermen sells his fish to his own business, which then manages the landing and distribution costs. It’s a lot of hard work, but also a brilliant way for a fisherman to use “efficiency” to his advantage.

That makes a huge difference in the price of fish, and a fisherman’s income. “It’s a lot of extra work for us. It takes two days to prep for a market,” Stephanie Villani says. Along with all the extra work, she says that most fishermen simply don’t enjoy doing all that talking and dealing with the public.

Emily Peterson, from Heritage Radio, was at the market that day.  She is also the daughter of a former commercial fisherman. (Her favorite smell is low tide.)  Peterson said, “like any other species, the best way to keep fish alive is to harvest and eat them. I grew up to be a chef, and I think having the opportunity to teach people how to eat fish is critical for keeping fish alive – it’s good for the species and good for our health.”

To that, I say find The Fisherman’s Wife, and then find some good local fish.

 

 

Kevin’s Fish and Scallop Ceviche

from The Fisherman’s Wife, by Stephani Villani and Kevin Bay

serves 4-6 as an appetizer

Ingredients

1 pound combination of scallops and fish white fish. (we used fluke fillet.)

7 limes, juices 1 orange, juiced

1 tablespoon salt

1 red onion, sliced as thinly as possible

1 red peper, diced

2 ears fresh corn, kernels cut from the cob, or 1 can of corn drained and rinsed

1 bunch of fresh cilantro, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

Tortilla chips (optional)

Instructions:

1. Juice the lines and orange. Strain and refrigerate in a non-reactive bowl until ready to add ingredients.

2.  Remove and discard the tough muscle on the side of each scallop and cut scallops into cubes.  (about 1/2 ” to 3/4″).  Cut the fish fillet into strips, making sure the flesh contains no bones, and cut fish into cubes about the same size as the scallops.

3.  Combine the scallops and fish with the lime and orange juice; it should be swimming in get bowl.  If not, make more juice.  Add the salt, and then refrigerate for 3 hours.

4.  Add the onion, pepper, corn, cilantro and paprika.  (and garlic if using).  Continue to refrigerate for at least another hour.

5.  Srve cold or at room temperature with tortilla chips.

Note, if you double, triple or otherwise multiply the amount of fish in this recipe, don’t add more than two tablespoons of salt during the marination.

This is the way to dare to eat a peach.

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

 

My problem with fruit desserts is this: The cherry clafouti, the fresh fig tart, the peach pie should all be made with the ripest fruit at the peak of its season.

But their seasons are so short! We don’t get enough of these gifts simply in a bowl on the table!

I don’t want to poach, bake, or crumble them in anything else; I want to enjoy the pure fundamentals of each fruit as it enters its season. We just don’t get enough of them to exhaust their one ingredient deliciousness.  A bowl of cherries.  Three squat, gibbous figs.  A cold, dewy peach.

That’s why I love this recipe (really just assembly) from Gabrielle Hamilton’s cookbook Prune, the recipe box for the chefs in her East Village, NYC restaurant of the same name.

 

 

Find some really good butter.

Slather it “wall-to-wall” on rounds of baguette (untoasted).

Lay slices of peeled, fragrant peach over the butter.

Sprinkle with sugar.

Drizzle a 1/2 teaspoon of icy-cold (keep it in the freezer) Peach Schnapps (ideally peach eau de vie) over each serving.

Serve.

I have served this as a dessert and as an appetizer. Even with that Schnapps, you could have it for breakfast. This is a way to dare to eat a peach.

Jose Duarte’s Spring Squid Ceviche

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Calamari Season!

While woody Chilean strawberries continue to mock the seasons from their shelves in large chain grocery stores, more and more farmers are tilling local soil. More and more farmers’ markets are setting up on town greens and in parking lots allowing us to purchase local, seasonal food. The principle of eating from the calendar, eating seasonal local foods, has thankfully, at least in some communities, survived big supermarket’s grip.

Not so much for fish.

Rarely anymore does a fish market or the fish counter of a grocery store reflect what is seasonal and local. Most fish markets fill their cases with haddock, cod, Chilean sea bass, tuna, swordfish, and some shrimp and oysters all year long. Almost never do we feel either the absence of a fish out of season or the arrival of a fish in season because there is always Norway, Iceland, and Southeast Asia to fill the gaps. The local food movement is leagues ahead of the fish local movement, but the same principles apply.

In southern New England, late April – early May is squid season, as regular as lilacs. New England fishermen say that when the buds pop out on the trees the squid “come in,” and all the fish follow. Longfin Inshore Squid (Doryteuthis pealeii also known as Loligo pealeii) spend their winters in deeper waters along the edge of the Continental Shelf. Their arrival inshore – they come to spawn – marks the start of spring for those living close to the Nantucket Sound waters. For the fishermen, the squid are like the gunshot in the air declaring the start of the year’s fishing season.

In Nantucket Sound in early May, if the fishermen they aren’t landing squid they are landing fluke with bellies and mouths full of squid.

It’s described as “a sweet time,” because everything is coming in from off shore or coming North. The water temperatures are up. The Cape Cod and Rhode Island boats all head to Nantucket Sound, because the squid have arrived there, and with them everything else.

 

Jose Duarte’s Spring Squid Ceviche

With local spring ramps from the Boston Public Market and traditional Peruvian ingredients, chef Jose Duarte created a May in Boston edition of  “leche de tigre,” the classic Peruvian ceviche classically made with lime, salt, onion and garlic.  The cool freshness, the brightness of the sauce over the creamy squid makes this a winning dish for even squid-squeamish; sweet potato, a sweet, earthy counterpoint to the verdant sauce, confirms the win.  

“In Peru ceviche is cooked, marinated fish,” Duarte says, describing the process of flash scalding the squid as “scaring the squid.”  They are plunged into boiling water for just under a minute, then removed to an ice bath.  

No bow to Peruvian cuisine would be right without Ahi Amarillo, the Peruvian word for peppers, essential in that cuisine.  Peruvians have cultivated peppers for over 7000 years.  Over 300 types of chili peppers find their way into modern Peruvian dishes, but Ahi Amarillo, the Pervuian yellow pepper, is the most familiar.  

Duarte uses Ahi Amarillo Paste and Huacatay –  dried black mint paste, flags of his native land..  Ahi yellow peppers are a medium-to-high heat pepper with a unique fruity flavor.  Haucatay is a fragrant Pervuian herb described as a combination of basil, tarragon, mint, and lime.  They are difficult to substitute, and Duarte recommends you don’t.  The point of this dish is to frame this beautiful local squid in some Peruvian and New England tradition.  Both products can be found in ethnic grocery stores, and in some standard grocery stores with Brazilian ingredients.  

 

 

 

serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as an entree, is easily doubled

Ingredients

For the Squid

1 pound cleaned, skinned squid, body cut into 3/4” rings, legs whole

boiling salted water

ice bath

 

For the Sauce:

4 limes

3 teaspoons ahi paste

1 teaspoons black mint

2 spring ramps or small spring onions (1 ounce)

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only

3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt

 

To Finish:

1/2 small red onion, diced

1 sweet potato, baked, allowed to cool (room temperature), peeled, and cut into cubes

2 tablespoons chopped roasted pecans (optional)

1 sliced radish to garnish

 

Instructions

  1. Clean squid, and cut into 3/4 “ rings, leaving tentacles intact.
  2.  Prepare ice bath beside boiling water.  Drop squid into boiling salted water for exactly 1 minute.  Remove immediately to ice bath.  After squid is cool, about 3 minutes, remove to paper towels and pat dry.
  3.  To make the sauce, put all the ingredients in a blender, and blend on high for 3 minutes, or until everything is highly processed.  Set aside.
  4.  Put squid in a medium bowl, and toss with diced onion.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of sauce at at time, and toss well.  Add more sauce to taste.
  5.  Serve squid in bowls or on small plates, placing cubes of sweet potato around.  Sprinkle pecans over all if desired, and scatter 3-4 radish slices around plate.  

About Frozen Fish:  Freezing can break down the cell structure in a fish.  The frozen liquid expands in the cell structure, slightly breaking down that structure.  When the  fish is defrosted, the water runs out.  Some suppleness is lost because your are left with mostly a connective-tissue like flesh, which results in either a mushy or tough texture.   Charles Draghi

 

 

To Prepare Squid:

  1. Lay your squid out beside each other on a cutting board.  They should be a beautiful gray-white-to pink color with no aroma.  Pick up the first squid, holding the body in one hand, and the tentacles in another.  Give a gentle tug, pulling the tentacles away from the body.  The guts should have pulled out of the body, remaining attached to the legs and tentacles.  
  2. Now you have the body and the legs and tentacles (with guts attached) in two parts.  Pick up the body, and remove anything left inside.  Feel the wider end of the body for the hard, plastic-feeling quill or pen, actually pointy at the end.  Find that, and give a tug.  The pen should pull right out of the body in one piece.  Discard.  
  3. There is a pink outer skin with flaps still on the squid body; simply pull that away and off, and discard.  The wings can be cut off at this point.  Reserve them.  
  4. The tentacle section is a length of parts:  guts (with ink sack within), eyes and then tentacles.  First cut off the tentacles right in front of the eyes.  Feel the top of the tentacles for a hard, white, 3/4” sphere.  That is the beak.  It pulls out easily with your fingers.  Remove and discard.

 

Seared Squid with Black Olive & Saffron Sauce

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

This squid recipe was created by Charles Draghi, chef and owner of Erbaluce in Boston, at last spring’s Boston Public Market Seafood Throwdown, sponsored by NAMA.

Draghi says, “there is nothing I don’t like about squid; they are easier to breakdown than a lot of fish. I love their versatility, and their texture. They have a clean flavor and a creamy texture; it’s almost a latex-y bite, but it’s very pleasant.”

“When squid first come in shore there is a minerally taste to them. Then they start feeding on the inshore fish eating the blue green algae, and they become more flavorful – sweeter and creamier.”

Drag creates here a pungent black olive sauce, made with fresh herbs and one of his favorite ingredients, saffron. For a little added briny flavor, he pours a bit of the liquid collected at the bottom of the bowl holding the squid – a mixture of ink and squid “juice” – into the sauce.

Draghi says this sauce would be equally delicious over fresh grilled sardines, or whole scallops served with the roe. A dense, light fish like halibut or striped bass would also love this sauce, but for striped bass change the olive paste to green olives. Ironically, neutral flavored fish like strong flavors, Draghi points out.

“Halibut and rosemary are a great combination.” Olives, he says, are perfect with fish, and the black olives add an extra smokey flavor.

Uncleaned, squid weigh approximately a 1/2 pound a piece. Don’t rinse the cleaned squid too well; leave a bit of the ink on the surface.

“You want a little flavor of land and sea,” Draghi says.

Last words of wisdom from Charles Draghi: “there is no such thing as too much lemon.”

 

serves 4 as an appetizer Ingredients:

For Squid
1 pound cleaned, skinned squid (5-6 whole squid), body cut into 3/4” rings, legs whole pinch salt
pinch pepper
pinch sugar
drizzle olive oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon

For Sauce:
3 tablespoons black olive paste (tapenade) 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
juice from half a lemon (or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar)
dried anise hyssop (or tarragon) – optional
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons juice and leftover ink from squid – the drips at the bottom of the bowl that held the squid

Instructions:

Put squid in a medium bowl, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sugar. Toss well, then drizzle in olive oil, and toss again.

Heat a medium skillet to high heat. Place squid in pan in a single layer, and DO NOT MOVE. (This may be done in stages or use 2 pans at once to cook all the squid.) Leave still in the pan for a good 2 minutes, allowing dark caramelization to occur, and the edges to char.

After the bottom has achieved dark marks, begin to move around in the pan. Allow squid to cook go medium rare, about 3-5 minutes. Squeeze lemon half over all, and remove squid to a platter.

Mix together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

To serve, place squid on a platter, and drizzle sauce attractively around and over. Serve immediately, while squid is still warm.

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Mahroussie's chicken

You know Mahroussie Jabba as the smiling brunette of Markouk Breads, creating her warm, paper-thin rounds painted in Lebanese aromatics at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market.  A Gloucester resident of 15 years (Jabba married Gloucester native Richard Jabba 17 years ago), Jabba creates a variety of incredibly high-quality Lebanese products, recipes from her native home in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.  My personal favorite is her Lebnah, rounds of yogurt cheese preserved in olive oil.  Jabba spreads the yogurt cheese on warm garlic bread, or on pita with cucumber, fresh tomato and a little onion or scallion.

M's labneh

I bumped into Jabba recently, and she offered me this recipe from her mother.  The basic love in this dish is much like the Singaporean “Chicken Rice” that I published recently:  poach a whole chicken and then cook the rice in that delicious broth.  The rice absorbs the chicken fat becoming a suave, luscious product, nothing at all like the bland, fluffy, white piles beside the protein on many American plates.  

But, Jabba’s mother adds aromatics – cinnamon stick, fresh rosemary, and bay leaves –  to the broth, along with tomato. The rice therefore absorbs that fragrance; it is almost more special than the chicken.  Jabba told me that her mother also makes variations of this dish, stuffing the chicken in advance with seasoned browned lamb or beef and rice, sewing the chicken closed and poaching it like that.  The chicken and meats are served beside the rice when served.  

Jabba’s mother also browns dry vermicelli noodles in butter so that they are dark and crispy, and then adds them to cook with the rice, creating a lovely texture and color to the starch.  

Sometimes Jabba’s mother adds toasted pinenuts to the dish.

Even this simplest edition, like the Singapore “chicken rice,” strikes a kind of collective, nourishing deliciousness that makes everyone keep spooning out more.

Markouk products can be found all year round at Cape Ann Fresh Catch, 46 Commercial St. in Gloucester, MA.

M's chicken and rice

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

Serves 6 with rice leftover

Ingredients

1 3-4 pound chicken

Salt

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups broth

1 can chopped tomatoes (28 ounces)

2 cups water, approximately

1 cinnamon stick

3-4 sprigs of rosemary

2 bay leaves

Salt to taste

2 cups rice

Toasted pinenuts for garnish (optional)

 

Instructions

  1. Salt the chicken all over.  Add the olive oil to a large dutch oven and heat to medium high.  Add chicken, whole.  Turning the chicken often, brown it well on all sides.  
  2. Add the broth, tomatoes, and enough water so that the liquid almost covers the chicken.  Add the cinnamon, rosemary, and bay leaves (tying them together with string makes them easier to remove.)  Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for an hour or until the chicken is almost cooked through.  This, of course, depends upon the size of your chicken.  Err on the side of the chicken being cooked completely through, as it will still be fairly moist cooked in this broth, and you don’t want to serve raw chicken.
  3. Remove herb bundle.  Taste the broth for salt and pepper.  Add the rice to the broth.  Cover again, and continue cooking for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.  
  4. To serve:  Some recipes remove the chicken from the bones, but I was going to serve my chicken immediately and it was very hot.  So I removed the chicken from the rice, and cut it into serving pieces.  Spoon all the rice out onto a platter, and cover with the chicken pieces or the boneless chicken meat.  Garnish with pinenuts if using.  

 

Donkey & Goat wines – favorites.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

D & G stonecrusher

Tracey and Jared Brandt, wife and husband winemakers, have created their Donkey & Goat wines the way most of us would want the world to be:  no plastics, all natural ingredients, structure and flavor encouraged from the vineyard’s terroir and soil, not manipulated.  These are “encouraged” wines, not produced.  

I’ve tasted six Donkey & Goat wines now, and can only describe them as uniquely dynamic; each has almost a rascally quality of surprise.   The velvety, unfiltered body and that bold balance of acid and structure just plain startles.  Their inexplicable freshness conjures a French farmer in indigo work clothes crossing a stone courtyard for this bottle of his house stuff.  

D & G box

The Brandts are minimalists:  Donkey & Goat wines ferment using only wild yeast and bacteria in the air and from the aged oak casks.  No additives are used except the tiniest bit of sulphur, far less than other wines.  No fining, cloudiness is embraced.  Like parents uninterested in test scores, the Brandts ignore their grapes’ sugar content, or brix, considered by most a cornerstone in the winemaking process.  The Brandts harvest grapes rather for flavor and variety.  

D & G wines

My affair with these wines started first with Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat, a bottle-fermented style of sparkling wine considered “Champagne’s hip younger sister” http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/07/peak-season-for-petillant-naturel.html.

Pet Nats, short for Pettilant Naturelle, are produced with only the grapes’ natural sugars and no added yeasts, ideal methodoise for the Donkey & Goat minimal intervention style.  We were not just startled but wowed by the deliciousness therein:  ginger and pear inside minerally-bubbles.   (Pet-Nats are considered rougher and thus less expensive than other sparkling wines.  Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat was on the high side for these wines at $45; Pet-Nats generally run from $18 – $28, but the Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat is truly a celebration-worthy bottle.)

“The Stone-Crusher” Roussanne is a beautiful example of an “orange wine,” meaning it has spent fermenting time with the grape’s skins, giving the wine a gauzy orange color and sometimes a cloudy cast, a wholesome “ding” that in a charming way signals the wine’s process.  Stone Crusher’s flinty feel and surprising body recall a bright cider but with the beautiful wine flavors of spice and dried apricots.  I am in love with this wine.  .

The Carignane was bright with a toothsome body, light fruit, and a little pepper.  After tonight I would nick-name it the “Shitake-Firer,” as it sent up flares of flavor around the shitake mushrooms in our dinner.  

“We make our wines for the table, not the cocktail glass,” Tracy Brandt writes on her blog.  I am not a wine writer, so I will leave more descriptions to the Donkey & Goat site, or to Robert Parker, but I can say each of the Donkey & Goat wines I tasted – including the above, “Eliza,” “The Bear,” and “Carginane” were consistently lively, dynamic, and vibrant; they are wines that drive conversation.  One sip, and suddenly everyone is trying to figure out what is going on here.  

Ranging in price from $30 – $50, Donkey & Goat wines are available on Boston’s North Shore in the Salem Cheese Shop and Savour Wines in Gloucester.  

D & G cork

 

Coq au Vin

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

coq au vin

 

Perhaps the best loved French dish in America, Coq au vin, has become so iconic it needs no translation.  Menus from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon print those three little French words with confidence if not casualness.  

Coq au Vin is classically a stewed old rooster from Burgundy.  If you lived in Burgundy a hundred years ago, and didn’t want to waste a tough old bird that crowed no more, you would cook it in your famous wine.  That’s how the whole dish started.  And there are other versions from other French regions – Coq au Reisling and Coq au Champagne.  But the Burgundian version – with bacon and mushrooms – turned out to be a sublimely famous combination of flavors, something repeated around the world.

There are issues to recreating a French farmhouse dish in modern times, mostly being that it began as a way to cook old roosters.  Few people have old roosters – or old laying hens, also called “fowl” – anymore.   A burgundian grandmere might cook that rooster for hours to ease some tenderness into it, but if we did that to a Market Basket chick we would have rubber poultry very quickly.  The original recipe threaded pork lardons through the tough meat, not to add bacon flavor but as an additional means of tenderizing the meat as it simmered.  

Coq au vin owes its American fame to Julia Child, who included the recipe in her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” published first in 1961 and a second volume in 1970.  In the early 1960’s only the extreme wealthy, some journalists, and academics had traveled extensively to France.  Most Americans were just exiting the great food trend of the 1950‘s:  commercially produced, frozen, canned, prepared meals.  American kitchens had been updated to be clean, sleek labs in which good moms warmed tv dinners in immaculate ovens.  

And then, “voila!”  Julia Child, along with Louisette Berhtolde and Simone Beck, published “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” and suddenly Americans wanted copper pots.  They wanted to understand wine.  The American love affair with French cooking began, and its poster child was coq au vin.

Child knew American cooks would not be using old roosters.  Her recipe calls for a 30 minute simmer of chicken in red wine.  Truthfully, it is impossible to build the levels the true recipe created this way.  To start, an older chicken might be tough, but it inevitably has more flavor.  The dish’s complexity depends upon simmering the chicken for 2-3 hours in that pork and Pinot Noir.  Some recipes call for marinating the chickens in red wine for days in advance, but most chefs confess it does little more than stain the chicken red and make it difficult to brown as it is too moist.  Truthfully, the best coq au vin is made with an old bird – either a rooster or a fowl – that demands long, slow cooking to tenderize it.  The flavor starts with the chicken, and builds in that slow process.

The lardons concept gets adapted in dozens of ways.  Child uses bacon, but blanches it to remove some of the smoky taste.  Others use salt pork or pancetta.  The original lardon intention of adding fat to soften the meat seems to have been lost here when we have access almost singularly to fat, tender chickens.  The modern coq au vin seems to have honestly become a “bacon-flavored” dish.  So be it.

There ARE a few sources on Cape Ann for retired chickens – Seaview Farms, Salt Marsh Farms, Grant Family Farm.  It is truly worth trying to find an old bird, if only for the singular earthy, lusty bouquet coq au vin creates in a long simmer.  If you have your “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” available, by all means follow Julia Child’s.  The recipe below takes the best of many recipes, while adhering to the premise that it’s that old chicken and the wine that matter most.  If you cannot find a rooster or fowl, simply reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes, testing for doneness.  This is a dish best spent preparing on a slow, snowy day, and best served by candlelight (that wine-dark chicken and those bronzed onions!). It’s a dish that proves winter has its blessings.   

 

Coq au vin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil (to keep the butter from burning)

3 ½ -4 pound stewing hen or roasting chicken), cut in serving pieces

8 ounces good quality bacon, (not smoked, preferably uncured) cut into 1” pieces

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 bottle hearty red wine, ideally Pinot Noir

One bouquet garni (thyme, bay, parsley tied with twine)

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cups chicken stock, more if needed

 

For the mushrooms and onions:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3/4 pound pearl onions or white 2” onions, peeled and left whole

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

To thicken the sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 

Instructions:

    1. Melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. When the butter is hot, brown the chicken on all sides, doing so in two batches if necessary. 
    2. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the bacon. Brown it on all sides.
    3. When the bacon is browned, add the chicken back to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine over all. Add the bouquet garni and the garlic, and pour in just enough chicken stock to cover the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat so it is simmering, cover and cook until the chicken is tender, almost falling from the bone, 1-1/2 – 2 hours.
    4. While the chicken simmers, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. When it is foaming, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are nicely browned, 10 – 12 minutes. Season lightly, remove from the heat and reserve.
    5. In a shallow skillet put onions, 2 tablespoons butter, and water barely to cover.  Simmer until water evaporates and onions begin to brown and glaze.  Continue to cook in the remaining butter until the onions acquire a beautiful bronze color.
    6. When the chicken is done, remove the meat to a side bowl.  DIscard the bouquet garni.  
    7. Blend the last butter and flour in a small bowl to a homogeneous paste.  Add 1/4 cup of the cooking juices into the flour and butter mixture, then pour that mixture into the sauce. Stir it in and let it cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened. Return the chicken to the sauce and rewarm all.  
    8. You can serve the dish two ways:  put the warm chicken in a bowl, generously spoon sauce over it, making sure the bacon pieces land on each serving, and tumble some mushrooms around. Tuck some onions in on the side.  Or, you can add the mushrooms and onions to the whole pot, let the dish sit overnight, and serve all as a warm stew the next day.   

 

Local Girl goes to MasterChef Junior

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Lila

 

One young girl about to compete in this season’s Fox MasterChef Junior television series grew up among the pea tendrils, strawberry beds, and yards of chard at Appleton Farms.

Lila Deluca’s parents signed up for an Appleton Farms’ CSA share before she was born. Now ten years old, Lila has spent her whole life visiting this North Star of local foods every week, spring through fall. Kale makes Lila very happy.

“We cook kale a lot at home; we bake it, saute it, put it in smoothies; we are always looking for more recipes!” Lila says brightly, nothing kale-tired about her.

“And we cook fish a lot, too,” Lila says. “In the summer we catch fish off our boat – stripers, sometimes flounder.”

Lila grew up in Rockport. When she was only seven, Lila and her younger brother Anderson pressed their faces as closely as possible without singeing noses to the chefs’ stovetops at the Rockport Harvestfest Seafood Throwdown. Sister and brother have remained front row faces ever since.

“Every year we go to Harvestfest,” Lila says, “we watch the Seafood Throwdown because we cook fish a lot, and we are looking for ideas, and then we make them at home.”

Nurtured thus on local fare, Lila has developed a serious dedication to cooking, an excitement that has landed her sunny, bespectacled face on the Masterchef Junior promotion page with her 39 other kid competitors.

Modeled on the adult version of MasterChef (Gloucester resident Christian Collins made it to the #3 position out of 100 on MasterChef Season 2 in 2011.), Masterchef Junior takes forty talented kids between the ages of 8 and 13, and puts them through a series of whimsical challenges in which some cooks get eliminated, and the field gets more and more narrow. Ultimately one lucky child takes home the MasterChef Junior trophy and the $100,000 grand prize.

Fittingly, it was television cooking that sent Lila originally into the kitchen.

“Every summer we would go visit my mom’s college roommate on Martha’s Vineyard. She had older kids who loved watching cooking shows. That’s how my brother and I learned to love them. We started watching them at home – I liked Masterchef Junior a lot.”

“I knew something was happening,” Lila’s dad, Scott, said, “when after one evening of watching Masterchef Junior, we heard Lila down in the kitchen the next morning at 6:30. She was making croquembouche.” Croquembouche is an elaborate tower of cream-filled profiteroles held together in a crystaline web of spun sugar.

Lila now slips on an apron and turns the handle on a pasta-machine in her Rockport kitchen like a professional. She hasn’t lost that Appleton Farms good taste; when asked what some of her favorite foods are Lila says, “I really like carrots, if you mix them with butter and brown sugar and almost caramelize it. I like this with fish because the sweetness complements the fish.”

The Deluca family travel often and far, therefore Lila has picked up some favorite International cuisines; she loves the simple beans and rice from Nicaragua, enchiladas from Mexico. At home she loves to prepare with her family Chicken Tikka Masala; “We love the yogurt sauces; we marinate chicken overnight in yogurt and mint,” Lila says.

Here is one of Lila’s favorite fish preparations, a simple white fillet – Lila loves cod and striper for this – coated in a Ritz Cracker and butter crumb. What makes it a little special is the onions and lemon underneath the fish, which create a bright, fresh sauce to counter those rich crumbs.

“I love it when the lemon and onions underneath the fish make juices,” Lila says. “We pour that over the crumbs on the fish when it’s served.”

Lila recommends serving this with roasted potatoes and, of course, kale. She sautés her kale in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and garlic slices, and finishes it with lemon juice and salt.

When asked to describe her cooking style, Lila responds, “farm to table.” She’s a girl nurtured on Appleton Farms.

MasterChef Junior Season 5 starts February 9th on the Fox network.

Lila's fish and kale

Lila’s Baked Fish

Ingredients
2 pounds cod, striped bass, haddock, pollock, or substantial white fish fillets
salt
8 ounces (about 2 sleeves) Ritz crackers
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 medium onions, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
1/2 – 3/4 cup white wine

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375
Rinse the fillets under cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
In the bottom of a baking dish that will hold the fillets in one layer, lay out the onion slices, lemon slices, and pour in the white wine. Lay the fillets on top. Cover the fillets thickly in the cracker crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the fillets are cooked through and the crackers are browned. Serve with roasted potatoes and sauteed kale with garlic.