On Finding and Shucking Oysters

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by Cathy Erway

It was something I would have normally found awe-inspiring: a platter of freshly shucked oysters, placed ceremoniously on a chrome stand. The opened half shells dotted the perimeter of the dish, sunken into a bed of crushed ice. In the center lay lemon wedges and small cups of cocktail sauce, horseradish and vinaigrette, with spoons dug provocatively down in. In their pools of clear brine, the silver flesh of the oysters seemed to quiver gently even seconds after being set down, and their juices threatened to drip into the ice. These were served up at a well-heeled restaurant with much recent hype, no less, at a table that was the envy of every person waiting patiently outside. It was, by all standards, a real foodie’s dream. But it just wasn’t the same for me.  

You see, the day before, I had foraged for oysters on a calm and sandy beach. I wasn’t expecting to find them, nor the quahogs, hermit crabs and miniature shellfish that lay half-hidden at my feet. But I recognized the teardrop shape and craggy surface of the first oyster from afar, and spent the next hour or so peeling the beach for more. Once home, I shucked them open one by one, to enjoy with friends. I’d collected ten oysters in total, and they ranged wildly in stature: the smallest being the size of a baby’s ear and the largest one, a round and deep-bowled object that held a mouthful-sized mollusk. Some had translucent green strands of seaweed clinging to its shells, which I could never get off. One had another oyster shell impossibly stuck against it like a Siamese twin. Slipped into the mouth, some oysters gave with a subtle crunch, like a softened piece of cartilage, while others went down as a smooth, cold lobe of blubber. All of them were very easy to shuck. Perhaps it was this particular species, but the way the tiny crevice between the pointed ends of both shells – the sweet spot – gave so easily with the shove of a shucker made it seem as if they had been waiting to be opened, too.  

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Posted in Farming, Seafood

Early Birds Abroad

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By Edward Schneider

A perennial problem for visitors to Spain is the dining timetable. Many Spaniards have their main meal at lunchtime, eventually going back to work and staying there until well into the evening. Only then do they start to think about going out for a stroll, a drink, another stroll and something more to eat. But if my wife and I were to have a full-blown sit-down lunch, we’d be useless for the rest of the afternoon and would miss a precious half day of sightseeing. So going native is not for us.

Before a brief trip to Córdoba, our first, we asked friends for dining ideas that were a little off the beaten track – that might take us out of the ancient center of the city into neighborhoods that most tourists don’t see. The one that particularly struck our fancy was about a twenty-minute walk east of our hotel (the dreamy Palacio del Bailío, which for a September stay, for example, can be booked on hotels.com for $233 a night). Continue reading

Posted in Travel

Fix the Farm, Not the Salmon

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By Paul Greenberg

[Paul Greenberg is author of the newly released “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food” and a frequent contributor to the New York Times on fish, seafood and ocean issues. As far as I’m concerned, he’s fast becoming the country’s most knowledgeable writer about aquaculture, a difficult topic if ever there was one. – mb)

When the New York Times reported in June of 2010 that the US Food and Drug Administration was “seriously considering” approving a genetically modified Atlantic salmon for American consumption the cries from environmentalists and food reformers were, predictably, almost audible on the streets. The AquAdvantage® Salmon uses a “genetic on-switch” from a fish called an ocean pout (a very different animal) in combination with a growth gene from a Chinook salmon to achieve double the growth rate of unmodified Atlantic salmon.

The animal’s creator, AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, MA, asserts that the fish will be sterile and grown in out-of-ocean bio-secure containment structures. (We’ve heard that before. – ed.) Nevertheless the emotional worry of genetic contamination of wild fish, the public preoccupation with health risks a modified salmon could pose, and just the overall ick-factor consumers have about GMO food were all on display across the foodie and environmental blogosphere a few days after the Times article ran.

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Posted in Food Politics, Seafood

My AOL Piece About Noma, And Some Comments:

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If you haven’t read the AOL piece, you can do so now; or after you read this. -mb

Someone said to me yesterday “If you’re skeptical about the ‘best restaurant in the world’ awards, why did you go to Noma”?

It’s a good question. The fact is I’m often slow, perhaps not uncommonly so, but in any case I’m busy, with many things drawing my attention. And I don’t always listen to good advice. In the mid-90s Colman Andrews told me to go to El Bulli; I got there five years later, after Jose Andres and others told me I was a moron for not going earlier.

Two years ago, Dave Chang told me to go to Noma. I responded similarly: I didn’t go.

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Posted in Behind The Scenes

This #$!% Has Got to Stop: Part Seven, Local Gone Stupid

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- mb & Kerri Conan

A greenhouse, a real greenhouse – with sun and soil – this makes all the sense in the world. But hi-tech lettuce? Dumb. Yet a Subway in Tokyo is growing five percent of its lettuce hydroponically, in the shop. This is local? This is junk. No soil, no sun means hi-energy input (lights) and hi-nutrient input (fertilizer). A complete waste, and tasteless no doubt to boot – flavor comes from sun and soil, not from water and lightbulbs. Sheesh.

 

 

 

Posted in Behind The Scenes

Score One for the Oceans

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By Casson Trenor

In the embattled world of seafood, it’s nice to see positive change in a major public venue. As heartwarming as it is to hear from someone who has pledged to stop eating unagi, it feels even better when a sushi restaurant – or even better, an entire seafood distributor – drops it altogether in the name of environmental preservation.

So I’m thrilled to see a spark of light appear in the otherwise relentlessly dismal saga of the bluefin tuna.

No doubt you’re familiar with Food Network’s Iron Chef America, a culinary contest wherein a visiting chef races against time to prepare an assortment of gastronomic delights for a panel of judges. At the same time, one of the resident masters – a star-spangled group known as the Iron Chefs – embarks on the same task in an effort to defend his or her title against the upstart challenger. The dishes are linked by the requirement that they must all involve the day’s secret ingredient, which is revealed only moments before the contest, which takes place in a regal arena known as Kitchen Stadium, begins. The chefs are allotted one hour to prepare their items and are judged on the relative merits of their menus. The chef whose culinary tour de force is deemed to “reign supreme” by the panel is the winner. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics, Seafood

About “Better” Supermarkets

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Tony Naylor, from the Guardian, writes here about rethinking his relationship to Waitrose, the UK’s principled (and generally upscale) supermarket chain that puts Whole Foods to shame.

We should unquestionably support good supermarkets, but we should also be pushing them to:

-          carry sustainable seafood exclusively

-          carry ethically raised meat and poultry whenever possible

-          carry organic and/or local fruits and vegetables whenever possible

-          buy from suppliers who themselves have a conscience whenever possible

-          pay their own staff a living wage, with benefits

-          think about their energy usage, their waste, their community service

And so on. All of which will, yes, make food more expensive. It has to: crap is cheaper than real food, and treating your employees like indentured servants or worse saves employers (and consumers) money, as does treating the environment as a dumping ground and the oceans as if they were inexhaustible. Reversing these policies will raise food costs. (Though there is an argument that reducing food waste will allow us to raise quality while raising prices less.) Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics

Meat Politics and the CAFO: An Interview with Daniel Imhoff

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By Paula Crossfield of Civil Eats

[I can’t help but notice in this fascinating interview by Paula, Daniel Imhoff describes himself as a “less-meatarian” – a word-phrase I coined. Maybe it’s starting to gain traction. – mb]

A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, is an Environmental Protection Agency designation for a farming facility that keeps numerous animals raised for food in close confinement, with the potential to pollute. These facilities often produce extreme amounts of waste, which ends up in toxic lagoons, sprayed on the land, and eventually in the watershed; require the use of high doses of antibiotics, thereby adding to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria; and are exempt from most animal cruelty laws. I spoke with Daniel Imhoff, editor of The CAFO Reader – a new book featuring essays by farmers Wendell Berry, Becky Weed, and Fred Kirschenmann, religious conservative Matthew Scully, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, and journalist Michael Pollan, among many others – about recent legislation and the future of the CAFO. 

Our last interview was before Obama was elected. How do you feel now that there is Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, and a Secretary of Agriculture that is actually discussing making changes in agriculture?  Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics

Sunday Supper: Sweet Couscous

I know, it’s not a supper, but somehow a simple, light dessert just seems to fit the bill this week. Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Sweet Couscous with Pistachios

Makes: 4 servings

Time: 15 minutes

A quick, simple,  fat- free dessert that really can’t go wrong; the couscous is cooked the same way you make it for dinner, but with some sugar in the water. You can dress it up even more by using warm milk or cream. And you can vary the seasonings any way you like, from the traditional  cinnamon- nutmeg combination to ground chiles or fresh ginger.

Cooking the couscous in juice is great way to add loads of flavor and sweetness without adding more sugar.

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup regular or whole wheat couscous

2 teaspoons grated or finely minced lemon or orange zest

1 cup chopped unsalted pistachios

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 or 2 teaspoons rose water (optional)

1. Put 1 1/2 cups water and the sugar in a pot and bring to a boil; add the couscous, zest, pistachios, and cardamom; cover and continue to cook for a minute, then turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

2. Fluff the couscous with a fork and sprinkle on the rose water if you’re using it. Serve warm or room temperature with a sauce (see headnote) or some milk or cream drizzled over the top.

 

Posted in Middle Eastern, Recipes