This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
I had to improvise a Thanksgiving meal today because plans with family members fell through. Unfortunately none of the convenient grocery stores were open, so I had to use things I already had. Luckily I've been cooking a lot lately and I had a decent amount of stuff to work with. Except I had almost no vegetables and no thawed or easily thawable meat except bacon. But our meal, while slightly odd, ended up being pretty tasty.
A few days ago I had made an impulse purchase of two matsutake mushrooms, also known as pine mushrooms both for their habitat and their coniferous taste. I wasn't sure what exactly to do with them since it was only two, but I'd been wanting to make pecan brittle for awhile and I thought mushrooms might be an interesting addition. Some of my favorite restaurants, including Elizabeth, use mushrooms in desserts. I also had some kafir lime leaves I needed to use up from a Vietnamese market on Argyle st. and I knew those were good with nuts because I used to buy cashews roasted with them from Nuts + Nuts at the New Amsterdam Market when I lived in NYC. Another thing I needed to use was some roast duck fat leftover from my bi-monthly duck cooking. The base recipe I used was from Elena's Pantry, because it looked pretty easy.
I chopped the mushrooms and sauteed them in the duck fat in a cast iron skillet with a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, which I used in my recipe instead of cinnamon. Instead of all honey I used a mix of honey and birch syrup leftover from my trip to Montreal last year, which I whisked together with the egg white and salt the recipe calls for. I also chopped up the kafir lime leaves into tiny pieces and mixed them in with the egg mixture before mixing in the pecans. Then I threw everything in my skillet with the duck fat mushrooms, mixing around to get the mushroom pieces into the brittle. I baked that in the pre-heated 300 F oven for 30 minutes.
I was worried about the egg white causing the mixture to stick, but they didn't and they turned out great. I was pleasantly surprised at how dominant the matsutake flavor ended up being. The resulting brittle was aromatic and exotic, reminding me of forests near and far.
I broke up little bits of it to use today for my main Thanksgiving recipe, a cornbread stuffing. For the cornbread I used Sean Brock's skillet buttermilk lard cornbread recipe. I then cooked some bacon and japanese chilis in my larger skillet. The broth I used was from some lamb necks I made using Ferran Adria's mustard mint lamb neck recipe from The Family Meal. I mixed a cup of that up with some butter and homemade harissa (I used The Domestic Man's recipe). I chopped up the cornbread and tossed it with an egg, then threw that in the bacon pan with some of my leftover pecan brittle and mixed it all up. Finally I poured in the broth mixture. I baked it in the oven at 350F for 35 minutes then tossed in some grated grass-fed cheddar and broiled on high for five minutes.
It was weird having stuffing at the holiday meal centerpiece, but this was hearty and delicious enough to serve as that. It was spicy and crispy and fatty with little bits of sweet goodness. I mixed up some leftover homemade aioli with some sliced carrots, apples, and kimchi to make a side salad. I'd actually never made stuffing before, but now that I know the basics, the possibilities seem endless. I'm dreaming of a pastrami buckwheat stuffing with chicken soup broth and chicken cracklings and mini crispy latkes now…
My friends and I got a mention in the Chicago Reader's Food Edition for our themed dinner club that we call The Sup Club. It's been a fun year of cooking with them. We've cooked foods inspired by all kinds of places and times. I've marinated goat legs in beet juice, learned to cook sardines, eaten awesome "egg baos", and had more fun than I can possibly recount here.
We also rustled up a little Wordpress site with some of our favorite photos and stuff. People have asked me how they can get one of these started. And honestly I don't know how. It was pretty much always something I wanted to do, but it was hard to find like-minded people. I guess going to a lot of good food events is a way- it's how I met most of these people. But this is something that probably couldn't have happened in NYC. in NYC who except the super rich have big enough dining rooms to host 15 people?
To clarify though, I don't think 1950s food is "bad" per-se, but researching it I was surprised how monotonous, bland, and full of industrially processed ingredients it could be. Of course not all of it is that way. I have some good 50s cookbooks. But some I just keep to laugh at.
I liked the Viking food, minus the stockfish smashing in my living room.
Also I'm on the BoingBoing Gweek podcast this week. I'm always a little terrified to listen to these things, so I hope it's good!
A few months ago when my friends and were planning another themed dinner party, I submitted the idea for Mesopotamia on a whim and it was picked. So I delved a bit into cooking from the Fertile Crescent, where many foods we eat every day originate. There are "recipes" that exist from this time and place, in the form of tablets from Babylon in the Yale collection written in cuneiform. The problem is that these terse "recipes" have certain ingredients that have not been conclusively translated. Perhaps archeology will fill in the gaps. Archeologist Patrick McGovern, for example, used chemical analysis of pottery residue to reconstruct an ancient Phrygian drink and brew something similar for Dogfish Head called Midas Touch.
Jean Bottero published the most complete translation of the Yale Tablet recipes, but interestingly, food bloggers have contested some of his translations. Jean supposedly loved to cook, but perhaps held a French contempt for other cuisines, declaring the Yale Tablet recipes not fit for anyone except his "worst enemies."
It is interesting because a lot of the recipes are for broth and I've been been thinking about the influence French cooking has had on how many people make broths. I sometimes get emails about how I prepare broth and sometimes people are shocked I don't remove the fat from my broth. I leave it in the vast majority of the time.
But in traditional French cooking, which has influenced so much of the Western world, the fat is often removed in various ways such as skimming. This reaches its pinnacle in French consommé, in which egg whites are used to effectively remove the fat. That's cool, but I don't really feel the need to do that at home. I think this is partially because I have been so influenced by Korean food, in which broths are often purposefully cloudy or fatty.
The removal of fat is probably a recent development. The first broths ever made were probably made in the later paleolithic as part of a survival strategy known as grease processing. The very purpose of breaking and boiling bones was to probably acquire extra fat with the added bonus of the savory umami bones impart into liquid. I think a paleolithic human would be horrified by the process of consommé, which involves essentially wasting both the egg whites and a bunch of fat (though if you have a dog at home, they appreciate eating the leftover "fat raft").
Apparently Babylonian broths were similar to paleolithic and Korean broths, in that they were nice and fatty. If you don't like fat, you might call them greasy, but a good cook should be able to design the rest of the recipe in order to make them more balanced.
Similarly, whereas most modern cooks use purified salt, ancient cooks were probably more likely to cook with salted condiments (similar to fish sauce or soy sauce)and other foods like salt-fish or salt-pork. And probably if they were making beer, they were also making other fermented foods like pickles. Unfortunately, the fragments on the tablets don't have much information on the specifics of these things, but I would not be surprised if pickles or salt-cured foods were some of the unidentified ingredients like suhitinnu, though some believe there are spices or even vegetables.
Either way, it was an excuse to whip up some Middle Eastern ingredients that possibly have a long history. Harissa was out, because it relies on peppers, which didn't exist in Babylon since they came to this region of the world through the Columbian exchange. But like how Korea was making kimchi with other Ingrid before the Columbian exchange introduced peppers, it is likely the Babylonians made something like harissa, which is so good because it's essentially a bunch of delicious spices marinating together. I made my regular harissa recipe, but used more garlic and other spices: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and caraway being the dominant ones (you can see what spices I have on my Trello board). I also made some delicious preserved lemons, though the Babylonians would have more likely had a type of citron.
One ingredient I had a lot of fun with was some tears of mastic I bought in Greektown here. I first had mastic in New York City at a goat ice cream shop (yes, really) called Victory Garden, where they used it to flavor soft serve ice cream. I have a strong affinity for evergreen flavors that evoke both forests and cathedrals, so I was addicted to mastic immediately. It is often sold as "tears", since it is the harvested resin of the mastic tree, and I bought the lowest grade small ones to experiment with. I ground them with a mortar and pestle and made some teas, which are supposed to be very good for your stomach lining, though you have to be careful when adding the mastic to liquid. If you don't add it slowly it literally turns to gum and you realize where humans probably got the idea for chewing gum. There is evidence that ancient humans chewed tree resins. But that doesn't bother me too much, it actually makes a rather nice gum, albeit with a fickle texture. Mastic has a very complex flavor, being both bitter and sweet, but that makes it actually rather perfect for balancing fatty foods.
The small mastic tears I use
I decided to make a goat leg since I had one in my freezer. I hadn't cooked one in a long time, so I googled for some recipes and found one that suggested marinating in beets in order to give an attractive red color. I thought I'd go one further and use the beets for the acidic component of the marinade as well by using some Scrumptious Pantry pickled beets I had in the fridge. Full disclosure is that Scrumptious Pantry invited me to the Localicious event at the Chicago Good Food Festival, but I've been buying their excellent products from the Green Grocer since I started shopping there. At Localicious I sampled many good local foods, like the genius Billy Sunday deviled eggs that had liver mousse whipped into the yolk, and cider from Red Streak. While I was getting some locally cured ham from the chef at Big Jones, my friend and I bumped into a man and we promptly apologized, only to realize it was Sandor Katz, who is largely considered a fermentation god. I love my copy of his Wild Fermentation. We chatted a bit and various things, including the excellent practice of marinating meat in pickles, which he has also tried with good results. God knows what marinating meat in pickles does, I get the impression that pickle juice is a much more complex in its actions than plain lemon or lime juice.
The rest of the goat leg marinade was Midas Touch beer, Wild Blossom mead, and good olive oil. The next day I made my spice/aromatic mixture, which was plenty of shallots, olive oil, garlic, preserved lemons, pistachios, sesame seeds, mastic, cinnamon, fennel, licorice, black pepper, fish sauce, cumin, dates, and fig vinegar processed until smooth and rubbed all over the leg. I braised the leg in the marinating liquid diluted with duck stock for a couple of hours. It was delicious- tender, red, meaty, earthy, slightly sweet, and highly aromatic. I served with some full-fat Greek yogurt mixed with sumac.
Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
I wish I could give exact ingredients to my recipes, but I usually improvise when I cook. I didn't grow up with fancy food- I loved Hot Pockets, Lunchables, Chick File A, and Kraft Handy Snacks. But I was lucky enough to spend a lot of my childhood outside in the woods. I think that helped me develop a "nose" for flavor, and flavor is as much about the nose as the mouth. I have found memories of sweet honeysuckle, crisp wild chives, pungent tulip trees, balmy pine needles, and the fragrant vines of wisteria. When I have my own children, I hope they can be as exposed to things like these as I was, as I think they are not just important in giving children an appreciation of nature, as to give them other sensory experiences that can help them appreciate many other things that draw on nature for inspiration later in life. If you didn't grow up in such an environment, I think educating yourself about flavors and just trying lots of diverse and interesting foods can help you learn to improvise. As far as educating yourself about flavor, I started a book recently called Taste What You're Missing which is written by a food developer who had to develop her palette as an adult on the job, and so far it's pretty good. Also, have plenty of spoons so you can taste while you are cooking and adjust. I tend to use at least seven different spoons a day, which makes me feel very glad I now have a dishwasher.
An incomplete list of my favorites- I set the timer on 30 minutes to sift through my photos (makes me realize why I take them- Schwa, Ruxbin, Blackbird's dinner menu are absent because I didn't take any) and here is what I picked.
@home: lingonberry(frozen w/ no sugar/crap added from Erickson's Delicatessen & Fish), seaweed (Seasnax), reindeer pate (Smoking Goose Meatery), and buckwheat pancake (buckwheat from Chicago winter Greenmarket, soured in sour cream for a day, mixed with egg, cooked in butter)
@home: chestnut flour (Chicago greenmarket)-battered smelt with sambel oelek aioli
@Hotel Lloyd in Amsterdam: a dinner of caraway gouda, fresh lettuce, pomme frites, mint tea, and sweetbreads
also their cheesy/beefy/quark coffee delicious breakfast
@Dahlgren's in Stockholm PERFECTLY cooked local lamb on earthy rye
@Frantzen/Lindeberg in Stockholm: raw beef tartare from an older dairy cow with SO much flavor, smoked eel, creamy bleak roe
@Publican in Chicago cooked by Chris Cosentino of Incanto in SF: noodles made with pig skin
Pork belly egg buns with sardine katsuobushi from my friends Nick and Shannon
@One Sister (now Elizabeth): oyster, mushrooms, meringues
Pork belly with sour cherries and herbs, cooked with "ancient roman" spice blend (cumin, coriander, black pepper, fish sauce, etc.)
@Next Sicily The most perfect tiny bit of handmade pasta with bottarga (fermented fish roe)
@Blackbird fluke with sea beans (soo deliciously oceanic) and lardo
Fantastic SE Asian food at SM Underground here in Chicago. Didn't get great pics, but the chicken curry wrapped in banana leaves was amazing.
Almost everything I ate at Vera (I eat their often since it's next to my office)- like this perfect spicy blood sausage hidden under these eggs, the skewers of tongue and octopus, and the divine uni deviled eggs
Seafood sausage at Saigon Sisters: I was skeptical, but it was just the right amount of fishy balanced with perfect curry spices and kaffir lime leaves
Another Asian-style sausage was this bone marrow sausage that used squid as a casing at Embeya. Every part was perfectly cooked, a feat considering that squid seems to overcook easily.
The absolutely perfect gravlax wrapped in turnip at Elizabeth. Salmon tasted completely balanced with the herbal notes.
Warabi Mochi at Next. I'd always wanted to try this mochi, made with earthy brown bracken starch. It was a little pillow of pleasure. I also loved the matcha. The sweetfish/ayu on the menu were also a revelation- their flesh really was sweet in just the right way.
Fish and custard? Who but Doctor Who would have ever thought this could work, but it did at Elizabeth, where I was served a Loup De Mer (Branzino) dish with just the right amount of terrestic custardy sunchoke and apple cider vinegar
The crispy duck heart hash at Au Cheval is the dish that made me like breakfast again, even though Au Cheval isn't open for that meal except on weekends. The crispy potatoes, creamy cheese, fatty gravy with bits of mineralistic duck heart, flecks of chives, and crowned with a perfectly cooked egg, yolk just waiting to be popped so it can join the fatty party.
No really, this is a bowl of new potatoes covered in autumn leaves at the Publican book release dinner for Faviken. But the potatoes are perfectly cooked and the summer butter you dip them in reminds you that simple foods can be absolutely perfect.
Everything I ate in Montreal was incredible, but I'll never forget this duck fat poutine at Au Pied Du Couchon
The silky beef tartare served by Thurk
More pork skin noodles, this time in a "Pad Thai" at the Trencherman's brunch that was actually more like a ramen down to the savory salty broth
Sweet potato with torched marshmallow ice cream from Jeni's was as good as it sounded...except better in every way. Better than the real thing. Grass-fed milk too and no weird gums or anything like that.
Senza's (the GOOD gluten-free restaurant) playful itty bitty cup of chicory "coffee" and flourless dark chocolate brownie with tiny marshmallows served at the end of the meal
The lardcore grits and cornbread at Carriage House, as well as the pimento cheese...I never had good memories of that stuff, but they make it with good ingredients and it is TASTY
My own simple lard-pastry buckwheat mini-mincemeat pies meat with real suet and some roadkill deer someone gave me
The boyfriend's perfect chicken ballantine stuffed with pork sausage, mushrooms, walnuts and arugula :)
Well, time's up, sure I missed a lot, but the whole point is that I ate well this year. If I can eat this well next year...life will be good.
It struck me as a sliced off lingering slivers of lovely red meat from the bones of the duck that I was doing something both very ancient and also very similar to the dreaded pink slime. Hear me out on this- pink slime's defenders talk about how it let's them use the whole carcass of an animal, which is an admirably thrifty concept. Of course it's been demented by desire for "low-fat" products, so the perfectly good little bits have to be mangled and treated like garbage in order to get the lean meat from it.
I wasn't concerned about fat or sinew. In fact, the fat was exactly what I wanted, but I'd take the rest too. The duck, along with the old lard breed pigs and dual-purpose cattle breeds, is an animal of the old farmstead, where farms had a level of diversity and self-sufficiency I don't see very often today. The duck, like a lard-breed pig such as the mangalita, provides a complete meal. On the foot, it is crafty and resourceful, able to defend itself and survive where modern breast-bloated birds (also in pursuit of the inferior lean meat) flounder. In the kitchen, it's an all-purpose culinary wonder. At the slaughterhouse, it's an anachronism, banished by many because those feathers that are so useful in life are difficult to pluck. Some farms I called have had to stop selling them for this reason. It's a shame, because really, duck is about a million times better than any other poultry except maybe goose, another hard to find old farm animal.
Home cooks also seem to be a bit intimadated by ducks. Some make the mistake of treating them like the more common chicken, which causes some problems. An average duck is more active than an average chicken, so the meat can be a bit tough if just roasted. Also, the fat, which is truly one of the best things about a duck, can turn into a problem if not treated properly. It's also just not chicken, it's meat is a bit like beef. You really don't want to overcook the nice juicy steak-like breast. Just roast the average pastured duck the way you might roast a chicken and you end up with overcooked breasts, tough legs, and a pan full of fat that you don't know what to do with. So I taught a class for Chicago Meatshare that showed how to do it right (or at least better than average) with a duck from Paulie's Pasture, a local farmer I sometimes order from.
The right thing to do, in my opinon, is to divide and conquer, yielding ingredients that will last dozens of very good meals. Luckily, you pretty much can break down a duck like you can a chicken (I learned how to do this mostly from Youtube to be honest). I did, into breasts (careful to keep the skin on), legs, wings, and carcass. Here is where it is different- this duck has globs of fat, particularly around the neck, but really everywhere. Those precious bits of fat I trimmed and put in a pot on low, starting a dry fat render. Usually I use my crock pot for that, but I wanted it to be ready sooner this time. Duck fat is like liquid gold, yellow like olive oil with probably the most appealing flavor of any animal fat besides butter. I wanted as much fat as possible. The bits of leftover solids in the pot are cracklings, I saved those for later too.
And then I did what pink slime tries so hard to do, but fails to, something that people have been doing for many millenia. Perhaps it was among the first types of food processing. In archaology it's called "bone grease processing" and appears to have become very popular during the upper paleolithic as a way to obtain as much precious fat as possible. I stripped little bits of meat from the carcass, my homemade "pink slime" after breaking down into the basic parts, reserving those to use later. Then I broke the carcass up and covered it with water in my crockpot, leaving it on low to make broth. In ancient times they smashed the bones, creating tell-tale fragments, in order to get as much of the inner bone fat as possible. The broth itself has plenty of great stuff and I reduce it and put it into ice cube trays. But you should also get a second smaller yield of duck fat from that, which you can seperate with a fat seperator or simply by cooling it in the fridge where it will collect on the top. That fat is a bit less pure so I use it soon for cooking everything from omelettes to vegetables.
I've been experimenting lately with flavor schemes. I have several that I use in my kitchen. The main principle I use is savory/sweet/acidic. I use all three elements in every dish, often adding spicy to the mix. Some ingredients have several elements. The main ones I used here are:
Northern: Hen of the Woods Mushroom/Birch Syrup/Cider/Lingonberries/Mustard
Asian-ish: Tamari/Fish Sauce(I used Red Boat)/Rice Vinegar/Sambel Oelek (garlic chili paste)
French-ish: Stock or Broth/Mirepoix (celery, onion, carrot)/Cider
The skin-on breasts were the first thing I cooked. Because, well, they are impressive, tasty, and quick. All you really have to do is season with a bit of salt and pepper, cross-hatch the skin with a knife, and place in a medium-hot pan, without any oil, skin side down. The skin renders and produces more than enough cooking fat for the breasts and many other things. That's all the fat I needed for cooking for the rest of the night. I wanted the breasts nice and rare because honestly, it's just damn delicious that way. I did medium-high for 7 minutes, low for three minutes, flipped, then cooked on low for an additional 4 minutes. Then I let them rest in the pan for a bit while I softened the frozen lingonberries in a pan. In another pan I cooked some hen of the woods mushrooms in some of the leftover duck fat. I also glazed the breast with a bit of some sour cherry mustard I had. I sliced and garnished with thyme. I wanted this dish to reflect the flavors of autumn and northern forests.
The next dish was a bit more pedestrian, but no less delicious. I simply took some leftover haiga rice and fried it in the duck fat with the little bits of meat and egg, adding my "Asian-ish" elements to make a delicious fried rice.
The main failure was that I browned than braised the legs with the "French-ish" flavors, random autumn vegetables (sweet potato, celeriac, blue potato), and some homemade stock I had for an hour in a dutch oven...which was really not enough time to make the legs tender, but they were still OK. If I had more time, I would have done a confit or a rilette. Luckily, I did save the wings, which I browned and braised overnight in a crock pot and they came out really nicely, especially with a nice mustard cranberry glaze and the leftover vegetables.
I broke down the duck fifteen days ago and I am actually sitting down eating another meal from this same duck this evening, a ramen I made with the duck broth cubes, the Asian-ish flavor palette, and some over-salted pastured pork a friend gave me, garnished with carrot and seaweed. If you ever over-salt something you can sometimes save it by making a soup or other brothy dish out of it, which is one reason I don't pre-salt my broth before storing it. I used these 100% buckwheat noodles, which are pretty amazingly easy to cook, particularly compared to regular buckwheat soba, which turns to glue if you look the wrong way while it's boiling. I also have used the broth in risotto (also added some duck cracklings to that) and congee, which uses leftover rice in a broth that I flavor with the Asian-ish flavor palette. Overall, I probably got 20-30 meals out of one duck. I can't wait to cook one again!
Thanks for the photos Erik! Also, I couldn't have done the class without Tom, my "sous chef", and all my awesome attendees!
One of the most hilarious articles I've come across lately is by low-fat vegan diet promoter Dr. McDougall. It's titled The Paleo Diet Is Uncivilized (And Unhealthy and Untrue). Who the hell uses words like "uncivilized" these days? The whole time I was reading it, I imagined Dr. McDougall as a snobby British gentleman with a tophat and monocle, as well as a Richard Dawkins-like scowl, pontificating on the savages.
Part of the blame can be placed on Loren Cordain, who is the paleo diet paradigm that McDougall chooses to attack. You can tell that both are actually quite uncultured when it comes to food.
Dr. Cordain writes, “For most of us, the thought of eating organs is not only repulsive, but is also not practical as we simply do not have access to wild game.” (p 131). In addition to the usual beef, veal, pork, chicken, and fish, a Paleo follower is required to eat; alligator, bear, kangaroo, deer, rattlesnake, and wild boar are also on the menu. Mail-order suppliers for these wild animals are provided in his book.
More than half (55%) of a Paleo dieter’s food comes from lean meats, organ meats, fish, and seafood. (p 24) Eating wild animals is preferred, but grocery store-bought lean meat from cows, pigs, and chickens works, too. Bone marrow or brains of animals were both favorites of pre-civilization hunter-gathers. (p 27) For most of us the thought of eating bone marrow and brains is repulsive. But it gets worse.
Seriously what is wrong with these people and where do they live? Where I live in Chicago, there is LINE in the rain to eat at places that serve bone marrow and liver. The bone marrow at Au Cheval goes for around $20. In NYC, Montreal, San Francisco, London...any major city, these are common menu items. They are damn delicious and I refuse to take any dietary advice from people who clearly do not enjoy life. Although in my experience with such wretched diets, I eventually stopped desiring everything as I succumbed to being a catatonic libido-less appetite-less zombie.
Sorry, people in the centers of civilization are eating bone marrow, not disgusting veggie burgers or lean chicken breast and broccoli.
And does anyone else think it's hilarious that he says we should dismiss the paleolithic diet because there is some evidence for cannibalism and then says "Men and women following diets based on grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables have accomplished most of the great feats in history." His example? Genghis Khan. Yeah, because that guy never participated in bloodshed. Also we should refrain from eating any cuisines from cultures where people have resorted to cannibalism in hardship...which basically throws out almost all of them.
I'm all for starch, but like Genghis I'd love some butter on my potatoes.
But guess what? People like different things. They do well on different diets. I've met people who had success on McDougall's high-starch diets. But I guess it's hard to sell a dogma if you admit that.
Also this is a perfect example of how diet guru doctors are so manipulative. Even though McDougall is linking to sources, if you follow the trail, you will find many are not good sources. They are in scientific journals, but they are letters or commentary. Or they don't support his assertions.
In a weird turn of events, I have had two ancient-Roman inspired meals in the past month. It started when my friends and I decided to have a dinner party inspired by Apicius, an ancient Roman cookbook considered by some to be the first real cookbook. A translation is available for free online.
I procrastinated in planning my recipe and realized pretty quickly that this was not going to be particularly easy, since this book was written well before the Columbian Exchange, which brought Europe the gifts of tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, which I use often in my normal cooking. I was forced to experiment. I settled on a sausage recipe, but being a procrastinator, I knew I wasn't going to be able to make actual sausage or to smoke anything:
LUCANIAN SAUSAGE [or meat pudding] ARE MADE SIMILAR TO THE ABOVE: CRUSH PEPPER, CUMIN, SAVORY, RUE, PARSLEY, CONDIMENT, LAUREL BERRIES AND BROTH; MIX WITH FINELY CHOPPED [fresh Pork] AND POUND WELL WITH BROTH. TO THIS MIXTURE, BEING RICH, ADD WHOLE PEPPER AND NUTS. WHEN FILLING CASINGS CAREFULLY  PUSH THE MEAT THROUGH. HANG SAUSAGE UP TO SMOKE.
I also found it rather hard to find savory, laurel, or rue, so I substituted elements from other recipes. I didn't know what "Condiment" was, but I assumed it had to do with the famous Roman "garum," a type of fish sauce made from fermenting fish guts. When I took Latin in high school, I remember thinking that I couldn't imagine eating something so absolutely disgusting. Little did I know I would fall in love with Southeast Asian cuisine and by 25 I would be putting fish sauce on everything. I didn't have to worry about finding fish sauce, because I already had my lovely Red Boat fish sauce, even if it isn't exactly like garum.
The annoying thing about making up recipes on the fly is that I never write them down, so when I stumble upon something amazing I have trouble replicating it. This is one of those cases, but I will try to remember.
I had pork belly already from The Butcher and The Larder. I put some cubes of frozen chicken stock on the bottom of the crock pot, put in the pork belly, poured in some apple cider to cover, and then started spicing. I believe I used black pepper (I was pretending to be a rich Roman), cumin, bay leaves, coriander, a small spoon of honey, and quite a bit of fish sauce and a touch of fig vinegar. I cooked it on low overnight. I like to cool it and then slice it thin so I can brown it in a cast-iron skillet, but I didn't have time. Obviously it crumbled with I tried to slice it, but whatever. I heated up some lard, added more black pepper, cumin, and mustard seeds, and browned the belly until nice and crispy, seasoning it with fish sauce to taste. I then reduced the leftover liquid and cooked some pitted sour cherries in it with more of the fig vinegar. For the final dish, I layered on fresh mint and parsley. It was amazingly delicious.
Obviously, I didn't take this picture. Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
Someday I hope to replicate this dish again, going from the basic premises I always start with, which are: salty, sweet, and sour. It was obviously a little lazy because pork belly is like my culinary trump card, a dish I have been doing over and over again for several years now, so any variation I do is usually good.
The rest of the dishes at the party also had some similar flavors.
Thanks Jen Moran Photography!
From the couple who brought us egg baos (who need to do a blog post on it and all their amazing recipes *hint hint*), was an incredibly rice risotto made with pine nuts in the foreground. Saffron-spiced chickpeas were also delicious and I was very surprised at how good the eggs with pickled fish sauce were. Even the dessert made with roast peaches and fish sauce was delicious. There were also lamb ribs, cooked lettuce salad, honey roasted nut tarts, and many other wonderful dishes.
So when Chicago Foodies announced a dinner at Balena also inspired by Apicius, a bunch of us signed up for that too, particularly since I had read of chef Chris Pandel's experiments with making his own garum.
The dinner was held in a cool wine-cellar looking lair and the chef announced he had pretty much followed Apicius' recipes as closely as possible, with no refined sugar, salt, or flour. All cooking was done in their wood-fired oven. Garum was to stand in for salt. He said he was trying to do a fairly average middle class meal. The drink pairings were pretty interesting too. One was a gruit beer. Gruit was the main bittering option in ancient beers, before hops became widespread. There has been revived interest in gruit, partially because scientists have discovered that hops are probably far more estrogenic than even soy. Some say that hops are an ancient lust-reducing reformation conspiracy. But the German beer laws that enshrined hops came before the reformation and beer usually doesn't have enough hops to make a difference. Either way, there are several gruits on the craft brew market at this point. I have tried the Fraoch Heather Ale and I think some of Dogfish's "Ancient Ales" series are also gruits. I know I've had the Finnish Sah'Tea, which uses juniper berries.
Another drink was a super concentrated wine with amaro, which was diluted with water, since this is also what was done in Rome too. To drink undiluted wine was barbaric.
The food was interesting to say the least, but there were definitely some things that looked more delicious than they actually were and the lack of salt was kind of off-putting. The gooey sweetbreads and the onion-filled lamb brain "patina", which was like an omelet, were not my favorite offal dishes and it took some wine to get them down. I like my sweetbreads grilled...with lots of salt. Same for the boiled turnips. Turnips just aren't as good as potatoes anyway.
I was very surprised with how much I liked the boiled honey leeks and raw mackerel, which was very fresh and not fishy like many mackerel dishes. The mushroom cups in garum had a wonderful umami flavor. And you can't go wrong with goat cheese and figs.
stuff quail, the lighting here wasn't good for many pictures.
The next course was stuffed quail, which had an excellent egg-fish sauce topping. I was not thrilled with the mullet in vinegar, which was very fishy. Parts of the boiled pigs head were good, but I did miss the salt.
For dessert we had sweet sausages stuffed with berries, which were a bit too sweet for me. But the best thing in the meal was definitely the sweet cheese custard with star anise and peaches.
My dining companions and I all agreed it would be hard to overeat this kind of food. Even though some of the dishes were a bit "Spartan," I respect the chef's choice to not embellish them much to show us what Roman food was probably like. In my own cooking, I was glad I was forced to explore other flavors instead of falling back on tomatoes and peppers. And I really like that the elements of Apician Roman food: organ meats, a variety of meat and seafood, fresh herbs, and fish sauce.
I love that this is the entire dessert section for Zakary Pelaccio's Eat With Your Hands cookbook:
I think I've mentioned his restaurant Fatty Cue in several posts. It is where I ate my first pig's head. And where I learned that if you boil fingerling potatoes in shellfish stock, smash them, bury them in Kerrygold, and assault them with large amounts of freshly ground black pepper, you get something that is economical, but absolutely decadant and delicious.
Speaking of decadent, I am not always so great about keeping up with my inbox, but I was grateful to receive this:
Thanks a million for your post, "Paleolithic Post Modernistic Cuisine."
It is far and away one of the pivotal reads that helped to brighten up my whole evolutionary adventure.
Granted, I'm on a shoe-string budget and live on carrots, ground beef, round-eye steaks, and a revolving selection of broccoli, asparagus, and brussels sprouts. Exposure to El Bulli and the Adrias has opened my eyes up to how beautiful food can be. A win since I once deemed myself as simply a "functional eater.
More than anything, following Anthony Bourdain has reawakened a strong wanderlust, and gotten me excited about eating my way around the world. In a clean, healthy, whole way, of course.
Speaking of which, I feel I'm not the only one who thinks a primal life-way can potentially help Anthony extend his television career, and get him off that wretched Lipitor. I think the fact that he loves pork as much as he does is actually what's keeping his heart still beating.
Adieu, and keep fighting the good fight... or something like that ;)
Aw thanks! Speaking of Bourdains, I love this interview with Anthony Bourdain and carnivore martial arts badass wife Ottavia Bourdain:
Anthony Bourdain: We go to Japanese restaurants and ordering yakitori, and we're ordering these things on skewers like 16 at a time. They're doing double takes, especially when she says, 'The chicken hearts were good, I'll have 12 more.' There's this look of mute horror, and this expression that polite Japanese get when they're trying to conceal their shock and disgust at what's happening. It's a lot of fun [laughs].
Ottavia Bourdain: I always get checked out and make sure my cholesterol is fine and my blood sugar is ok. That's always really low. My blood pressure is also super low, so I haven't encountered any problems with my crazy diet. I wouldn't advise it to anybody else, but it works for me.
I think she wins a lot of hearts because notice she never demonizes other foods or insists her way is the best way. I would say that super low blood pressure is not always a good thing. Doctors aren't really that used to seeing it I guess, but I and several other athletic lean relatively or very low carb women I've known have developed absolutely frightening syncopes. My blood pressure is one of the reasons I can't do a very low carb diet.
I've had some incredible meals lately, despite being very busy. I have a bunch of books I need to review, but you know how that goes. I think things will calm down for me after my work gets a real office and I also move into a new apartment. And stop traveling so much.
I have a bunch of new cookbooks I've been trying out. The first is April Bloomfield's A Girl and Her Pig. I only ate at her famous restaurant, The Spotted Pig, once. It was quite an ordeal since they don't take reservations. I remember waiting for four hours and being very very very hungry. Luckily she is known for her fatty British-style food. Later she opened up the Breslin. Back then I wasn't exactly rolling in money, so I lurked outside at the Ace Hotel and ate the snacks at the coffee shop there, which included homemade pork rinds and fried lamb belly.
The most memorable dish I had at the Spotted Pig was a parmesan custard with asparagus and prosciutto. I was thrilled to find this in her book. I had only made custard once and that was probably two years ago when I was an idiot and didn't understand that there was a reason for cooking it in a hot water bath/double boiler. I was unfortunately making frozen custard. What resulted was a terrible ice cream with bits of scrambled egg throughout. If you ever want to make ice cream that you aren't in danger of overeating, this is an excellent method of food unreward.
This time I actually followed the instructions. The result was delicious and it tasted good on everything I put it on.
Farm egg + parmesan custard + grilled asparagus
I also used another of her recipes as a complement to one of my own. I've been in love with fresh pork belly for several years, ever since having it at Momofuku. I think I love it more than I love bacon. When the Momofuku cookbook came out, I started cooking it at home, riffing off their recipe. I use less sugar than Chang and more umami. I'm now quite happy with my method, which involves just putting a cube of it in my crock pot, drizzling it with a little honey + lots of tamari + a few drops Red Boat fish sauce + a bit of lime juice and leaving it on low overnight. Then I chill it and slice it (it is easier to slice when chilled). Because it's pork belly you get fat to sear it with accumulating at the bottom of the crock pot. I sweat some chilies in that and sear the belly a little. Then I season to taste with salt and pepper.
It is rich though, so it's nice to have something to cut it. This night I used a crispy and bright radish salad from April's book, which involved a nice technique of rubbing the radishes with herbs and flaking parmesan on top + some delicious pickles that my guest brought me. Pork Belly's bonus, which is the rendered pork fat and jelly, is absolutely fantastic for cooking everything. So I cooked some fingerling potatoes in it and dressed them with little tiny lumps of farm butter and freshly ground black pepper.
The fun doesn't stop there, because what doesn't taste better with the flavored pork fat? These shrimp that I cooked in it were incredible.
Another cookbook I bought recently was Beginnings by Chris Cosentino. I first encountered him in college when I was writing about food law. He was an ardent critic of the foie gras ban in Chicago (which was later overturned) and received death threats from animal rights activists. He is also known as "Offal Chris" because he promotes the use of offal. I credit him for piquing my interest in the subject. So when I heard he was coming to one of my local favorite restaurants, the Publican, to cook for a night, I took out reservations immediately. The meal did not disappoint.
Every dish was really really good, but a standout was the spaghetti. When it came to the table I was not very happy because to be honest it looks like it was pasta made out of onions. And to be honest I don't like spaghetti very much and never have. But our waiter told us it was actually pasta made out of pork skin! Don't ask me how he does it, the recipe is not in the book. The sauce was amazing, it had some kind of oceanic element in there that worked really well with the briny olive flavor and the bright tomato. Chris needs to perform a valuable public service and tell the world how to make this.
Another dish I really want to learn how to make is his pork belly with clams. The sauce tasted very much of egg yolks, but I have no idea how to make it. Maybe some kind of light bearnaise-like sauce with stock?
The next day I tried my hand at one of his recipes for a sardine "iron chef" party. This required fresh sardines, which I got at Issacson and Stein, an excellent place to get cheap fish. The cost is that they are not going to baby you and help you with things. And while I sometimes fry smelt, which is a whole fish, this recipe called for fileting the fish, which I had never done in my life. I had some help, but he didn't know anything either. We followed some instructions from youtube and the result was some mangled, but passable, filets. Cosentino's recipe calls for just marinating them in olive oil and serving them raw, but this isn't San Francisco, and we pan seared them. And then layered them on sourdough crostini with Cosentino's Boccalone nduja, which is a delicious rich spicy sausage that spreads quite luxuriously. I don't know if I will be doing fresh sardines again for awhile, since I live in a studio apartment that reeked for days, but I definitely could stand to have some more nduja, which can be found at Publican Quality Meats.
But one of the most innovative dishes at the party was from my friends Nick and Shannon. I told Nick he could make a zillion dollars if he had a stand selling this. Nick made his own katsuobushi from sardines. I can't explain how, but they have their own blog and hopefully they will post on it. But katsuobushi is a umami flavor goldmine, which he grated on to braised pork belly and spread on pickled ramp aioli. But the amazing thing was that the bao bread here was made with just baking soda + bright yellow farm fresh egg yolks (from Paulie's Pasture), which is somehow steamed in a pressure cooker. The original method is described here.
I was at Belly Shack and I noticed they have gluten-free items, but they are all also vegetarian and somewhat miserly considering the rest of the menu is so decadently fatty. I definitely did not order them. I notice this pattern at other restaurants, where anything non-standard, vegan/XYZ-free/etc, is relegated to some low-fat bland "healthy" ghetto. How much awesome would it be to be able to get something that normal people want to eat, like these delicious bao?
Apparently if I wear almost no makeup and a cute ruffled shirt, I look very young. At a party the day before my birthday, two people told me I looked 12-13, which I thought was hilarious. I turned 26 the next day and went out to the last night of One Sister, an underground supper club. It was the last night because chef Iliana Regan is opening up a restaurant called Elizabeth in Lincoln Square. I'm very much looking forward to that, because I love her style of cooking. It reminds me a lot of the New Nordic movement. Lots of foraged goods and naturalistic presentations.
Where else can you get a cured Alaskan wild bear wild rice crispy treat with Wisconsin cheddar?
Or chocolate covered chicken liver mousse? If only I could eat such things every day. You can see much better photos of her menus at Jen Moran's photography page.
It was an amazing birthday dinner. As I've written before, Iliana is a chef to watch.
Unfortunately the weather here in Chicago has been quite hot lately, which coupled with low air quality ratings I have trouble tolerating due to lung damage that occurred when I was younger. Perhaps I need to move away from the city (or at least far away from anywhere with a real summer), but for now I am heading to visit my cousin in CA, to read and eat oranges. Food recs in the South Bay area are welcome!
An old lady about half my size almost pushed me into a bucket of fish today. I had just wanted in to Isaacson and Stein and I was kind of disoriented. I felt like I hadn't walked into a fish shop, but a school of fish already organized in a way I could hardly comprehend. Immigrants from around the world, Chicago old-timers with heavy accents, cooks from restaurants, and a few random confused white people circling bins of every possible fish I could imagine. Mainly whole fish, of course. I didn't ask questions, I just tried to figure out what to do and how I could obtain some fish without getting fish goo all over my clothes and shoes. One thing I've learned from traveling is just try your best to do what everyone else is doing. I saw a woman reach for a bin labeled "gloves" and grabbing plastic bags. I did the same.
I escaped with a bad of whole head-on smelt for less than $2.00. The French Market nearby had smelt too, in a less chaotic environment, but missing the heads and for twice the price. Sorry, but as I've written before, I think the head is an essential part of the experience. You should look your tiny tiny fish in the eye before devouring it.
But it's a typical case of culinary creep for me. Because you can't have smelt without homemade aioli. And I can't seem to make that without destroying my tiny kitchen with some mixture of oil and duck fat. I'm almost tempted to go to DMK burger bar and try to buy their aioli because the chef says it's made with only olive oil, a rarity in the world of Hellman's.
I'll definitely be back at Issacson and Stein because I just got a new cookbook I'm kind of excited about. I've already written about Ferran Adria's influence on fine dining, but The Family Meal focuses on the kind of relatively-simple meals shared by the staff "family" at elBulli. Not "fancy" like the food served to the restauarant's visitors, but still elegant and tasty.
Being Spanish, there are lots of great fish recipes here that I'm looking forward to try. Most of them feature the whole fish, though he also has a good recipe for fish stocks and several recipes that feature it. Interestingly enough, a lot of the recipes are already gluten-free, even the baked goods. Spain already had a history of using ground almonds in cakes. But a lot of the desserts of just simple fruits and custards.
The only depressing thing about buying fish in Chicago is that so few options are local. Which is stupid since Chicago happens to be right on Lake Michigan. My father gets some amazing fish from the lake, including salmon, but I'm more concerned about the pollution than I am from ocean fish. The last advisory I read said to remove as much fat and organs as possible, AKA all the good stuff, from fish caught from the lake. Mercury and PCB pollution sucks. Imagine- I would be able to walk just a few blocks and get fish for almost nothing if we hadn't messed the ecosystem up so much.
I think The Family Meal is exactly what American fine-dining chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home should have been. Family Meal has better pictures, showing each recipe step-by-step, which is important for those of us who don't have much experience with things like cooking with whole fish (though this is quite funny since so many of my family is fisherman, but I was too picky when I lived around them). Also, Keller's cookbook contained lots of canola oil, which I'm not a fan of and is also somewhat mystifying considering that olive oil is now produced in Keller's home state of California. In Spain, almost everything is cooked with olive oil (and I was surprised to see that studies there show you can fry in it without damaging it, which is probably a testament to the protective effect of antioxidants) as a "neutral" oil, but in the United States, the flavor of olive oil is not considered neutral.
Anyway, after I bought the smelts, I headed to Publican Quality Meats, where the owner, Paul Kahan, was holding court. He looked the part of a butcher, because he is one, but he's also a chef and owner of several of Chicago's best restaurants. It's awesome to walk into a shop where everyone who works there seems to like the same things you do. Like offal. And authentic fish sauce. It's worth the price. After chatting with one of the butchers about blood, I walked out with my Red Boat fish sauce, heart, blood sausage, and Pok Pok drinking vinegar.
I've also been shopping at The Butcher and The Larder. Their liver pate is truly excellent and they will cut some great marrow bones for you to go. So far there isn't much in NYC that I miss, except the Asian food in Queens and the raw offal/meat at Takashi.
And my meatshare buying club. I've not started it up because I haven't had the time, my own family's farm isn't producing that much, and I was super lucky to have Spring Lake Farm to work with there. Seems like the market for lamb and goat, my typical starting point for shares, is much tighter here. So far all the farm's I've contacted have been sold out, but I guess I need to be more systematic and do a day of calling.
I will say that if you are in Chicago and you want to try lamb, it's easy enough to find Mint Creek Farm's stuff at farmer's markets and specialty shops. A lot of people tell me that they don't like lamb. And I understand, because a lot of it does have that acquired "gamey" taste going on that Americans don't really like. The New Zealand lamb at Whole Foods is a perfect example of that gamieness. But Mint Creek farm doesn't have any gamey taste and it's delicious, if a bit expensive. I recommend the Italian Sausages.