March 17, 2015
Have you read Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate?
It’s the critical text for this moment in food. I recommend it to everyone.
In it, Dan argues that if we’re serious about a sustainable food culture, our understanding of “good food” must evolve to include the leftover bits: the stems, the bones, the wheys. Brilliantly, he shows how reconsidering garbage is also critical to advancing cuisine.
Most food traditions are challenged to make food scraps appetizing in lean times. Think of the ancient – and irresistible – peasant stews of France and China. Think of our own scrapple. But fast food has changed all that; now it's become cheaper than food. And we've become a nation of wasters.
Dan's latest endeavor aims to change that. WastED is a food-scraps pop-up featuring a different star chef each night at Blue Hill; I think it's the most exciting culinary event of 2015. And it's happening right now. The chefs' challenge? Make delicious food out of perfectly good “waste” from every stage of the food production process. Not only will diners play judge to masters at the top of their game – Dominque Crenn, Nancy Silverton, Sean Brock – but they'll get an education. And it's affordable: each dish is only fifteen bucks.
The pop-up runs through the end of this month, so make your plans now. Reservations before 9pm, walk-ins only after.
An example from last night: “rack of cod” with carrot top marmalade and fish skin-parsley vinaigrette!
March 16, 2015
So beautiful here! The sky is blue, mountains ring the city, and all around us the cactus are in bloom, spreading a surprising carpet of yellow, pink and red. The air sparkles.
"What do I eat in Tucson?" I asked friends. And the universal answer was this: Go to the Anita Street Market and order a red chile burrito.
The Anita Street Market is exactly what its title suggests: a humble market on Anita Street, in an ancient (and extremely picturesque) barrio on the other side of the tracks. You can't help feeling that you've walked onto the set of some old Western movie about a dusty town near the border. It's a surprise, then, to enter the market and find that the place is incredibly friendly. (And there's a lovely little picnic area outside.)
The tortillas – some the huge Sonoran size – are extraordinary. And the red chile is the real thing; slightly spicy, chewy, filled with flavor. I absolutely loved it.
The other "must have" in Tucson is a Sonoran hot dog. For that we went to El Guero Canelo, which might be the cleanest fast food place I've ever patronized. The hot dog itself is wrapped in bacon, served on a soft bun that looks like a canoe and topped with a large and improbable array of ingredients that includes beans, chiles, onions, tomatoes, canned mushrooms and cheese. I thought I'd take a bite; I inhaled the entire thing.
The irrepressible Janos Wilder took us (David Tanis, Jean-Pierre and Denise Moulle), on a small tour of his favorite places, which included the truly fabulous Mariscos Chihuahua on Grande street. (There are apparently many Mariscos Chihuahua, but they're independently owned and not a chain. So don't go to the wrong one.)
There are many reasons to come to this restaurant: the seafood is fresh, the limes plentiful, the salsa incredibly appealing. But for me the piece de resistance was Mexican scallops unlike any I've ever tasted. Called "manos de leon," (lion's paws), they are eaten sliced and raw. I've never had scallops as sweet as these; I felt I could have gone on eating them forever. (I ate one with the jalapenos, which was a mistake; these scallops are far too delicate to be bullied by chiles.)
We also had fantastic ceviche which we ladled onto crisp tortillas, topped with sliced avocados, squirted with juice from the tiny delicious local limes and some of the exceptional salsa.
We didn't try any of the cooked dishes – but given the quality of what we ate I can't wait to go back for that. We ended with this fantastic "cocktail" of small, tender shrimp.
From there we went on to Tacos Apson, one of the funkiest, funnest taco places I've ever encountered.
The fantastic ribs are cooked on an ancient grill, coming off crisp, chewy and completely delicious. We topped them with onions, salsa, cucumbers, radish and more of that wonderful juice from the tiny limes, then folded them into the tortillas. As David Tanis tends to say, "I like this."
The tongue was also great; they were, unfortunately, out of cabeza, but if you're interested in exploring various innards this is the place for you. They offer just about every possible part of the beast, including tripe.
Other highlights of my time in Tucson included a trip to the farmers' market at the race track, where I found these gorgeous greens
This refreshing turmeric and ginger tonic
and best of all, these absolutely incredible purple asparagus, which I ate raw, nibbling them all the way down to the bottom. My first taste of spring, and quite a promise.
I'm at the airport now, and I suspect more winter is in my future. But there's a lot more to explore in Tucson. I'll be back.
March 14, 2015
Two decades ago, concerns about overfishing and all the problems with farmed fish felt abstract. We didn’t expect most chefs to source seafood locally. We generally had no clue where the fish in the market came from. And we were buying terrible shrimp without even knowing it.
But the tide is shifting. Though the word “sustainable” has obscured the human cost of food production, it’s a real victory that "sustainable fish” has become important on a national level.
More than any other product of our natural environment, it’s difficult to keep track of international fishing and farm fishing conditions. For many years, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch has put out an app to address this difficulty. If you’re hoping to buy salmon at the market but can’t remember whether Atlantic farmed or Alaskan farmed is the better choice, Seafood Watch will instantly tell you. They'll also tell you why: they frequently update the information on every recommendation.
Though I can’t see myself pulling out Seafood Watch mid-shop, even a quick browse offers a terrific education. And if you're eating sushi? You can search in Japanese.
March 5, 2015
A Fantastic Way to Clean Copper
See this pot? I wish I'd taken a before photo. Fifteen minutes ago it was covered with a patina of grime. Now, however, thanks to an old book called Queen of Clean, it is shiny and proud.
What is the secret? A paste made of catsup and Worcestershire sauce. Really! You mix the two into a paste, pat it on, and then using a nonabrasive scrubber, simply take it off. I'm truly stunned.
March 4, 2015
Here's another bean-to-bar outfit I can’t resist: Dandelion Chocolate, made in San Francisco. Like Askinosie, Dandelion seeks out small-yield cacao producers and treats them fairly. Then they test the beans, intent on coaxing the most flavor out of each one by using different roasting methods. Finally they grind and "melange" the chocolate, adding a bit of sugar. Dandelion chocolate contains only two ingredients: sugar and chocolate.
If chocolate has terroir, then this one has it in spades. Each time I take a bite I can't help imagining the ground the beans were grown in. Why that fruity acid there, and how this caramel nuttiness?
My favorite? Their Liberian chocolate bar. Here in upstate New York, it's the perfect antidote to this last snowy gasp of winter.