The Pleasure of a Steak at Home

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times.

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times.

After staring at the bill for a ridiculously overpriced and not very good rib-eye at a famous steakhouse in Chicago — replete with a sauce so banal it may as well have been ketchup, and served with attitude, too — I remembered I could do better at home. I went to my local butcher (which in my neighborhood just happens to be called the Local Butcher Shop) and paid $60 for a glorious, two-inch thick, fat-laden rib-eye. The plan was to blow the minds of three guests with a piece of meat so good it needed no sauce — and then pair it with sauces that were irresistible on their own.

Sixty dollars may sound like a lot of cash for a piece of meat, but if it’s local and well raised, with better flavor, texture and karma than cheaper commodity beef, it’s worth it for a table of four. While the idea of creating a one-night steakhouse at home may sound self-indulgent, it’s also unreservedly fun, and as you do the work yourself, the final bill is actually pretty tame.

Because I don’t cook 100 steaks a day, I knew I’d have to be careful not to ruin this gorgeous slab. I grilled it, although if I’d cooked it in a pan, my method would have been similar. It’s actually possible to achieve nicely cooked meat, with moderate portions of everything from rare to medium in one steak, using two unusual but easy techniques I’ve refined through years of mistake-making.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

What’s the Buzz About Wild Bees?

Among all the pollinators, honeybees get the most publicity, deservedly, because of the problems around their survival. Claire Kremen’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, looks at diverse pollinators — not just bees, but also birds, moths and many insects — and the issues affecting them as emblematic of the broader problems of the food system. Pollinators are critical to global food production and about 75 percent of crop species depend on them to produce food that is more abundant and nutritious than it would otherwise be.

Monoculture — a single crop in an open field that may measure many hundreds of acres — increasingly depends on importing thousands of hives (by truck, usually) for the pollination of crops, especially in places like California. For example, the state produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, which has concentrated the need for bees way beyond the capacity of native pollinators.

Focusing on a single crop reduces the biodiversity pollinators need to survive, and the timetable they best work on. It’s also a risky endeavor to rely on one species, especially when there are diseases, management problems and the inherent risks of transportation. Yet the large single-crop farms require the large apiaries to get the job done.

Read the rest of this article here.

Preserving: August on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for conversations from past months.

Photographs by Sam Kaplan for the New York Times

Photographs by Sam Kaplan for the New York Times

The peak of summer—for many of us, right now—is when a huge variety of fruits and vegetables are at their very best, and in abundance if you’re eating locally. What to do with bumper crops? Aside from eating salads at breakfast, lunch, and dinner—not a bad idea with ingredients this good—preserving them is a smart solution, especially if you’re a gardener or shop at farmer’s markets or farmstands and like to stock up. This month on #BittmanTopics, let’s talk about how you’re preserving the summer harvest (or what you’re doing instead).

Preserving can be a full-on, old-fashioned affair with canning tongs and Mason jars, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to make any jam, the shortcut way; or, if you prefer savory condiments, try preserved lemons or DIY kimchi (an oldie from long before kimchi was hip). What do you think works best in the freezer? Any dehydrator fans out there? Show me all the ways you hang on to summer.

Posted in Bittman Topics, Produce

Looking Back: Eating Outdoors on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past months’ conversations.

This month’s topic gave an inspirational glimpse of how many of you are enjoying your meals al fresco: at cookouts and food trucks, on picnics and in gardens, from NYC to the south of France. No- and low-cook meals seem to be the perfect food in this sweltering heat—that is, when your grills aren’t fired up for searing local produce and pizza.

Here’s just a handful of my favorite ideas from July; keep tagging your posts with #BittmanTopics so I can follow along, and check back here tomorrow for August’s topic:

Happy 4th of July! A photo posted by @lizpotasek on


Where—and What—You’re Eating

Alpine provisions {tarte du champsaur} + route planning near Col du Lauteret …

A photo posted by julia spiess (@dinnerswithfriends) on

“Champlain Valley, Vermont. Grilled king salmon, roasted corn, fresh tomatoes with cucumber and balsamic vinegar, baby summer squash.” –@cckinvt

“Central Park’s Great Hill; fresh fruits, homemade hummus, pretzels, pearl couscous salad, wild rice and grape salad, lemon cookies.” –@reinamaureen

“Gazpacho andaluz, made with fresh farmers market ingredients, garnished with melon and micro mustard greens!” –@lornina

“On our courtyard, watching the sunset over Santa Monica Bay, with great food, great wine and great friends!” –Ann Carley Johnson, Facebook

“My garden. Eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers every possible way from around the Mediterranean. Lots of feta and lots of fruits. It’s that time of year.” –Clio Tarazi, Facebook

“Aix en Provence, South of France. Watermelon and feta salad !” –@kadee_jah

“Lobster roll on Nantucket” –@sjadad27

“Neighborhood food truck – woodfired pizza in our backyard! #ilovepittsburgh #driftwoodoven” –@leahnorthrop

“LOVE summers in Truro, eating outdoors as the grill master (usually me) finishes the last touches, Chicago-style hotdogs, several amazing summer salads and delicious local craft beer! Throw in some local seafood = Grand Perfection! Cheers, Mark Bittman!” –PiaDora PiaDora, Facebook


Cold Soups

Dinner #alfresco at the Lake House #bittmantopics #yyc #amazing #SummerWeather A photo posted by City Palate (@citypalate) on

Lots of interest in this genre—no surprise—during the #BittmanTopics tweetchat:

“what is your favourite summer cold soup? I love de gazpacho of course & vichychoisse.” –@riucafe

“i gotta go off-topic. just made this gazpacho: almonds, almond milk, cukes, grapes, mint, oil, lemon… sorta ugly. but really delicious. and drinking it outside so it counts.” –@bittman

“.@bittman Just had a version of this at @contigosf, but w white garlic & no mint. Very tasty. Do you blend almonds? Presoak?” –@PlantAndPlate

“.@PlantAndPlate forgot. i used a touch of garlic too. and roasted almonds. no soaking. but used almond milk.” –@bittman

@bittman I LOVE a cold cucumber soup- we make a Bulgarian version w walnuts a la Joy of Cooking” –@deb2525

“That gazpacho sounds perfect to take along. Many Bay Area picnic opportunities are in places where flames would not be good.” –@EyeEmEff

Sour cherry crisp made on the grill! 👌🍒 Great way to celebrate summer fruit

A photo posted by Civil Eats (@civileats) on


Low-Cook Summer Meals

Another hot topic during our tweetchat—very fun bouncing around ideas with all of you:

Discussing the shape of the chickpea. #picnicinthepark #chickpeas #garbanzobeans

A photo posted by reinamaureen (@reinamaureen) on

“.@bittman I don’t have a grill (apt dweller) – what are some ways to prepare my abundance of summer squash?” –@stephestellar

“.@stephestellar slice zucchini thin. saute in oil. toss with mint, raw egg (like 1 per 2 servings), parm. so great.” –@bittman

@bittman What is your go-to summer vinaigrette/marinade/sauce for all those salads and no/low-cook meals?” –@NeedleInHay

“.@NeedleInHay You’re all going to hate this answer. Ready? Olive oil, lemon, and salt. Maybe pepper.” –@bittman

coffee ice cubes and otherworldly rocks. go utah. #BittmanTopics

A photo posted by Rémy Robert (@remyrobert) on

Wage Justice Is on the Menu

When I first wrote in some small detail about food workers in the United States, it was thanks in part to Saru Jayaraman, a leader of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. I’ve since come to rely on her for news about labor in general and food workers in particular. At that point, three years ago, her main focus was on tipped workers, who in 43 states are still paid sub-minimum wage (as low as $2.13 per hour) under the often-flawed and completely unfair assumption that tips will routinely make up the difference. Mostly, evidence shows, they do not.

But the 11 million-odd food service workers in the United States are subject to many other injustices, as Jayaraman discusses in this video: underpayment no matter what the scheme; sexual harassment; part-time work with unpredictable hours; lack of health insurance, sick days and paid vacation, and so on. In those terms, the plight of most workers in the food industry resembles that of industrial workers in the United States 100 years ago. What changed that, at least in part, was organization and, ultimately, unionization. That is what food workers need today.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, California Matters, Food Politics

What Oysters Reveal About Sea Change

This is kind of the good news/bad news department, as so many things are: The good news is that terrific oysters are being farmed in several locations in California; the bad news is that ocean acidification — the absorption of carbon dioxide into the sea, a direct result of high levels of carbon in the atmosphere — is a direct threat to that industry.

I saw both when I visited Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, an operation north of San Francisco on Tomales Bay. (Actually, I’ve eaten at and of Hog Island dozens of times, and even shot video there for a PBS series more than 10 years ago.)

I went with Tessa Hill, who’s been researching ocean acidification at Bodega Marine Laboratory for eight years. Hill studies how changes in marine chemistry impact a variety of marine animals, including oysters, whose shells are getting thinner, smaller and more susceptible to predators. Her research looks at current conditions and develop a baseline for tracking the effects of climate change going forward.

Read the rest of this column here.

The Ultimate (for now) Pasta with Clams

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TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

I’ve made many pasta-with-clams recipes. This is the current, simplest, and I believe best version. My mouth waters just thinking about it; I’d say three of the best meals I’ve had in the last six months were just this. Is that too hard a sell? Try it.

Good olive oil as needed
24* hardshell (“littleneck”) clams, the smaller the better, scrubbed and dried in a salad spinner or a towel
¼ cup (a little splash) of good white wine (or use water)
6 to 8 ounces linguine or other long pasta
1 tablespoon, more or less, minced garlic
Dried red chile flakes to taste
½ cup chopped parsley

1. Salt a pot of water for pasta and bring it to a boil.

2. Put olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the clams in one layer; be generous – the oil should thickly coat the bottom. Heat until shimmery, then add the clams and, quickly, the white wine. There may be some spattering but it’s worth it; don’t cover the pan; keep the heat medium-high to high, depending on your stove.

3. Start cooking the pasta.

4. The clams will open one by one, and exude a lot of liquid. (You probably will not need to salt this dish but you’ll see later.) Keep cooking until the pasta is nearly done. When the clams are all, or mostly open, add the garlic and chile. Stir a few times, drain the pasta, and toss it with the clam mixture and the parsley. Cook if necessary, tossing, until the pasta is perfect.

5. Add salt if necessary — you might also add a little splash of olive oil — and serve. Do not fall for the trap of discarding clams that appear not to have opened; just open them with a butter knife. If the clams were unbroken and tightly sealed to begin with, they are fine.

*: You can use 36 if they’re real small or you just want more. Or you can use cockles, which are tiny, and use 48. Your call. All should be firmly closed – any that you can pry open with your fingers are dead and should be discarded. And don’t buy any with broken shells.

Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Alice Waters’s Perfect Aioli

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 10.14.28 AM

In Berkeley, where I currently live, ‘‘Alice’’ is a one-name celebrity, like Madonna. This is completely justifiable. In her lifetime, there has probably been no more important American in food than Alice Waters.

It was a matter of timing, of course — Alice is not a superwoman. She is, however, a dreamer and an uncompromising visionary. Some 40 years ago, when she settled in Berkeley — she had graduated from the university and then spent many summers in France — she had already recognized that good cooking was not about fancy French ingredients or techniques, but about taking the best local food you could find and not messing it up.