December 6, 2014
Speaking of Tongues
It's not pretty.
But have you ever tasted tongue? Forget what it looks like. Forget what it is. Close your eyes and take a bite. The texture is stunningly soft and extremely seductive. The flavor is mild and barely meaty. There's nothing gnarly about the way it eats: even the most offal-resistant person can fall in love with tongue.
For first-timers, there's nothing better than the pickled beef tongue they make at Formaggio Kitchen. It's ever-so-slightly pickled, with a gentle brininess that removes every vestige of funk. This tongue tastes as if the flavor of the entire animal has been condensed into a single slice. Shave it very thinly and put it on a cracker; your salume plate is instantly enhanced.
It is not, however, cheap. If you're a frugal shopper, you might consider preparing tongue at home. Begin with a tongue from a sensible purveyor, and make sure it isn't gray. This is just about the easiest meal you'll ever make; you basically put it in a pot and forget it for a couple hours.
Boiled Beef Tongue:
1 beef tongue (around 3 pounds)
Several cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced
Scrub the tongue thoroughly. If you have time, brine it. Put a cup of salt and a half cup of sugar into 4 quarts of water, throw in a few sprigs of thyme and let the tongue sit in it, in the refrigerator, overnight. Drain before cooking.
Put the tongue, brined or not, in a large pot and nearly cover it with water. Add all the aromatics and a teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a boil, skim off the scum, lower the heat and simmer gently for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until a knife moves easily through the center of the tongue.
Remove from pot. When it’s cool enough to touch, peel off the thick skin. Trim the tongue and slice it.
That's all there is to it. With boiled potatoes and a bit of mustard it makes a wonderful dinner for 6 to 8 people.
December 5, 2014
Home Grown Pepper Powder
Warm heat. Fruity. Complex. This is flavor that stays with you, reverberating in the mouth.
Think about the sweet, appealing fruitiness of habanero. Now remove the knockout punch. That will give you an idea of ezpeleta peppers. For years I've been using piment d'espalette, sprinkling it on everything from uni pasta to soft boiled eggs. But the stuff I buy in stores is often so antique there's little left but color.
A few months ago, walking through the Portland farmers' market, I discovered Viridian Farms. Specializing in seeds from Spain and France, they've been growing their own peppers, slowly drying them and grinding them into powder. Their piment basquaise is powerful stuff; I'll never be without it again.
If you have a heat fiend on your list, you might want to consider buying some seeds for them to grow. Viridian farms sells all kinds of exotic pepper seeds – including rare Spanish varietals like pimientos de padron- which makes this a perfect place to shop for gardeners. Another appealing idea: terrific looking haricot tarbais, for everyone eager to cook authentic cassoulet.
December 4, 2014
For a Walrus or a Carpenter
There is, for me, something magical about getting a box of oysters just hours out of the ocean, on the far side of the country. Aroudn my house the holidays wouldn't seem quite right without a few dozen Pacific oysters.
I order mine from Taylor Shellfish Farms, a family-owned company that's been raising oysters (and geoducks and clams) in Puget Sound for more than a hundred years. I'm fond of the Shikogus (above), but this time of year they also have Kumamotos and small Pacifics as well.
Oysters keep well in the refrigerator for a good week. Take them out of the bag, snuggle them into the refrigerator and cover them with a damp cloth: they'll live there very happily.
You might also want to throw in an oyster knife: this one, also sold by Taylor, makes opening oysters seem extremely easy.
As for those expensive metal oyster mitts, I no longer bother. I've found a durable rubber oven mitt like this one protects you better, is more comfortable and is only a fraction of the cost.
December 3, 2014
We all know a few people who obsess over hard-to-find cooking ingredients. They were eating Sichuan peppercorns years ago, regularly incorporate candlenuts into stews, and know every non-New-American restaurant in town. Their fever may seem showy to some, but to me its just a love of food, full tilt.
These friends are great to hang out with, but they’re frustrating to shop for. Until now. Tucked into the legendary Jean-Talon market in Montreal, Épices de Cru sells a head-spinningly exhaustive variety of spices. You’re guaranteed to find something that even the most rabid spice enthusiast still hasn’t added to her cupboard.
Check out dried goraka: a sweet-sour fruit used in South Indian and Sri Lankan curries. Since that hardly breaks the bank, throw in a bottle of DIY West Indian essence. Each bottle contains a few vanilla beans, mace, sapote, and tonka. All your friend has to do is fill it with rum. In two months, they’ll have a tantalizing alternative to pure vanilla extract.
No less cool: a masala dhabba spice box. It comes with coriander, brown mustard seed, cumin, reshampatti pepper, fenugreek, turmeric and paprika, so next time your friend makes Indian food, they’ll have a few essentials right at hand. Pat yourself on the back if you can stop at three; this website doesn’t end.
December 2, 2014
A Great Burger
I'm married to a burger connoisseur, a man who would rather eat hamburgers than steak and would gladly do it three times a day. I often hand chop the meat; I like the texture, and the fact that it allows me to use really good dry-aged meat in the mixture.
But when I buy pre-ground burger meat, I get it from DeBragga. The flavor is fantasic – rich, complex, slightly funky. Their burger blend is made from beef that's been aged at least 28 days – and you can really taste the difference.
This meat is, in my opinion, too good to grill. Cook it in a skillet so there's nothing to disguise its wonderful flavor. Add lettuce, onion and tomato if you must – or just eat it, naked, on a bun.
If you've got a meat-loving friend, they'll love this gift. The hamburger meat comes frozen, in 2 one-pound packages. Since you have to pay postage, you might as well buy more; your friends will surely thank you.