Ffish Custard?

September 19, 2014

A single bright orange salmon roe doesn’t amount to much. But when it bursts into the mouth it dissolves into something primal – both sweet and salty – the taste of life itself. 

But imagine if the roe stayed intact. Imagine that you could barely chew it. Now imagine that chewy rubber married to dates, almond meal, milk and rosewater. If your imagination can stretch that far, you're eating ffish custard. 

I can’t remember how I came across Rare Cooking, a blog that recently featured this dish. Dreamed up by two PHD students with an interest in archival oddities, Rare Cooking chronicles their attempt to translate early American recipes into something that might actually taste good. Recently, they found a recipe for something called ffish custard, likely at least two hundred years old, and decided to whip up a batch. 

There’s a critical humility in their approach: if an old dish sounds terrible, perhaps  we’re wrong.  Is there another reason why we no longer eat it? Can early American cooking teach us "new" flavors?

There’s only one way to find out: make the dish. In the case of ffish custard this required a bit of guesswork. The recipe called for a pound of almonds, the roe of a pike, dates, milk and rose water. That’s it: mix it together, strain it, and pop it into the oven. 

To impressive result, Rare Cooking decided against the straining step. Check out their result (and the comments) here



So Brave

September 17, 2014


Paula Wolfert has always been one of my heros.  She has the best palate of anyone I've ever met, and her cookbooks are meticulously researched, beautifully written and completely reliable. I've been cooking from her books since I first discovered Couscous and other Good Food from Morocco in 1973.

But now she's doing something even more admirable: going public about the fact that she has Alzheimer's, talking about the problem, raising money for research.

She is wryly funny about the problem.  "It's great to see you," she told me last Sunday at a fundraiser in her honor in Sharon, Connecticut, "although I probably won't remember it tomorrow." 

It was a wonderful afternoon.  The event was organized by Serge Madikians of Serevan Restaurant, who catered the lunch.  This is what we ate:


Amazingly delicious smoked lamb, cooked by our host Ken Tyler.  Mr. Tyler, who is one of the world's most famous art printers (he started Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles), turns out to be as good a cook as he is a printer. "You trying to take credit for my lamb?" he asked Serge (standing to his right).


Unusually tasty coleslaw, with cauliflower, jicama, cranberries and chayote in Arakh vinegar.


Sweetly sour roasted carrots withe pomegranate and spinach.


Eggplant, mint, labenah





Sumac-sprinkled feta with local tomatoes. 

The food was fantastic. The speeches were moving. But the highlight of the day had to be the chance to wander through Ken and Marabeth Tyler's beautifully simple house, a showcase for their remarkable collection of art. Looking at a lovely little Hiroshige hanging over the bathroom sink, I had this thought: I bet Paula will remember this. 


A Better Bird

September 16, 2014

Guinea Hen

Full disclosure: this was a gift.  I ordered some steaks from DeBragga, and when I opened the box I found this guinea as well. 

It didn't look like much – a scrawny bird, feet still on, very long wings, its deep red flesh glowing through the skin.  I threw it into the refrigerator thinking, "I'll deal with you later."

Truth be told, I've never cooked a guinea hen before.  So I went onto the Debragga website, where I read this:

"The meat of the guinea fowl is similar to chicken but higher in protein, lower in fat and intensely flavorful. These guinea hens – more moist and generous than regular chicken! – are raised on Mauer Farms in Bloomville, New York, in the heart of Delaware County. As part of the Catskill Watershed Management project, these birds are raised in a way that protects them as well as the land they live on.  These fowl are fed a custom blend of grains and corn supplemented with seasonal greens.  Antibiotic- and hormone-free, they are humanely raised and handled at every step, finishing with a unique air chill process that preserves them to cook up crispy skinned and juicy every time."

Okay, I thought, I'll cook it like chicken.  And then, looking at the bird, thought I ought to do a little bit more. So I cut off the feet (saving them for soup), washed the bird inside and out, dried it well and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours.  Then I made a blend of mustard and butter, gingerly pried up the skin and rubbed that onto the flesh.  I preheated the oven to 400 degrees.  I put an onion into the bird's cavity, some carrots and onions into the pan, spread some butter on the bird, showered it with salt and put the pan into the oven for about 50 minutes, occasionally basting the bird.

Then I made a quick pan gravy: I added a cup of chicken stock to the juices in the bottom of the pan and boiled it down until it had thickened into a suace.  

It was, hands down, the most delicious bird I've ever cooked.  Moist. Flavorful. Completely wonderful.

Would I spend $30 for one of these birds again?  To be honest, it seems like an extravagance if it's just for us. But for a company dinner? Absolutely!  These are truly terrific birds.  





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Things I Love

September 8, 2014


Hand Harvested Salt

Am I crazy?  Maybe. This salt cost $12 for 4 ounces.  But I love the way it looks skittering across the top of a fried egg – or just about anything else – and I love the way it feels in my hand.  I love the taste too – like a mouthfull of arid ocean.  

Jacobsen salt is taken straight from Oregon waters.  Which is exactly what it tastes like. One bonus: the stuff is so expensive that you end up using it very sparingly. 


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Things I Love

September 5, 2014

Two Interesting New Zealand Discoveries

Why isn't anyone in America making a product like this?  What we have here is wasabi powder, made of dried and colored horseradish, which passes for the more expensive (and difficult to grow) wasabi. 

Purewasabi, produced by a former policeman (hence the name), is real wasabi root, grated and mixed with a bit of lemon juice. It's a wonderful spread for sandwiches, great mixed into mayonnaise or added to scrambled eggs.  I'm only just starting, but I'm sure I'll come up with dozens of uses for this really delicious stuff. 



I don't usually bother bringing olive oil back from a trip – it's too heavy, and the possibilities of breakage too real – but this Rangihoua stopped me cold when I tasted it on Waiheke Island, a half hour ferry ride from Auckland.  Pressed a few months ago from Picual olives, it tastes like no other oil I've encountered. People often describe Tuscan oil as peppery, but this one goes beyond that.  To me it tastes very much like watercress, with a serious bit of bite. Intriguing.  And delicious.


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