Pastrami – I love your sweet/salty cure, your steamed tender fatty slices left thick, the smoke, and that subtle crunch of your rub. The smoke and sweet/salty combo make pastrami so appealing, but what sets it apart from, say, bacon or ham is that crust of spices. That crust not only adds great texture to the cured meat, but a boost of flavor in addition to what is imparted by cure or smoke. Truly a magical meat. Continue reading
Each week this Spring, it seems, a new flashy cookbook is released from one of the world’s cooks. We are talking about some of my favorites: Cosentino, Bloomfield, Pelaccio, Aduriz, but with limited time and resources, how can I choose? Damn that I have to choose, but I do. For me, instead of choosing between these new cookbooks, I have decided to wait to be gifted these books (given a May birthday and Father’s Day, there is still time) and to back fill my collection with some more classic cookbooks for cents on the dollar. Continue reading
I love living in the city, but as time passes, I long for a house with a yard, and more importantly, a garden. For my birthday, my dad’s birthday and mother’s day, we visited my folks in Wisconsin and despite it being too early for much in the garden (seeds are still in jars), the perennials were popping up. Asparagus and green garlic in particular. While I have had my fair share of asparagus this year, green garlic has not gotten the attention it deserves from me due to the mad rush for other Spring produce. Continue reading
In April 2010 when I took a Slagel lamb belly and made both bacon and pancetta from it, there were virtually no examples of either in the real food world, online food world or in books. That made things difficult for a novice meat curer, but recently lamb bacon has been a very popular item not only on menus and blogs, but in cookbooks as well. Hell, even lamb pancetta made it to a blog or two since my first go around. Continue reading
The business of fancy cocktails is booming right now and along with it the vest and pocketwatch business go as well, but it was a few years ago while dining at Schwa, here in Chicago, I saw the future. It was a Hendrick’s Gin course where they made a gelee from Hendrick’s Gin with ribbons of Cucumber and rosewater. It made me think about gin as a set of flavors and not something to drink on a hot day when I want to relax. After that night where all of the dishes wowed creatively (despite a few that did not flavor-wise), when I had a drink of Hendrick’s, I tasted the juniper, rose and cucumber instead of simply enjoying the fizz of the tonic and the buzz as I slugged the drink down.
Charcuterie making is a hobby that requires patience – hell the whole point is to let time, salt, and fat evolve and enhance over time to create something greater than the sum of their parts. The original intent is to preserve, yes, functionally, but in modern times with all of the tools that come with it, the purpose is now to enhance. It is odd to those who really know me for me to choose a hobby that features a character trait with which I have inherently struggled for decades. I am not a patient person, but project like this one, a long-cured Spanish chorizo, reminds me how patience pays off by showing me that, sometimes, it doesn’t. Continue reading
You hear it all of the time in interviews with cooks, “My dishes are inspired by walking through the market and seeing what looks good.” In a recent (and great) essay, St. Fergus asks “what were they cooking before? Food not in season and from very far away? Maybe if this had been pointed out it would have opened our eyes. Do you really have to say this every time you cook?” and then he goes on the answer his own question by saying “Sadly you do, as the people who provide most of our food are the mighty supermarkets who feel it is their job to sell us strawberries in winter and organic avocados from Peru, all in the name of the illusion of abundance. When it’s a commodity in their eyes, not a good lunch, they lose all sense of where the pleasure in food comes from. My local supermarket sells what I think of as behind-the-counter food: much like the contents of the tawdrier shelves at the newsagent, it shouldn’t be on display. They stock nothing that hasn’t been tampered with: butter that spreads straight from the fridge, bacon that goes crisp almost automatically, and everything – everything – has 99 per cent less fat.”
St. Fergus goes on to discuss common sense cooking and his realization of how common sense does not equate to boring. As one of my favorite local cooks said recently, “Simple isn’t easy” and how one of his best lessons was to start taking things away from a dish to make it better. I have been trying more and more lately to keep things simple, not always being able to hold back, but to do my best to follow that guideline. Continue reading
Like music, art, and movies, there are key words in food, and charcuterie in particular, when you hear them, you know that you are talking to someone who knows. To me, when I heard someone talking about nduja, regardless of how they pronounce it, I knew that I was talking to someone when knew. The thing is, even those who know do not have access to enough examples to really assess what is good, bad or other – myself included. Lately however, it has popped up in more spots to results that have not met my limited expectations of what nduja should be – a spreadable Calabrian pork product made with a heavy dose characteristically red Calabrian chilis that bring serious red color and major heat.
Of the 7 or 8 versions that I have tried over the past few years, I have thought most were decent, but in all of the reading that I have done, only two really fit the bill for what I expected from nduja. The first was made by Rob Levitt, while at Mado, which featured the right texture and face-melting heat, but not the deep red color that I expected (likely because Rob opted for local chilis instead of the Calabrian variety) and the other was made by Craig Deihl and Bob Cook at Cypress in Charleston, which featured the texture, color, and flavor that I had in my mind every time that I searched out nduja. Other versions lacked heat, spread-ability, or flavor generally, but in every case, an nduja sighting became a Paul Revere-type announcement within the appreciative community. Continue reading
Inspiration can come from anywhere and, to me, that birth of the idea has always been the most fascinating parts of the creative process. Once I am set on exploring an idea, I like to trace it back to inspiration, just to see the roots – to understand what steps and iterations took place to get from thought to action. When I traced this project back to find that spark, I found that, like many, it was born from a series of mistakes. Continue reading