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Vol. 3: No. 193 – March 19, 2015

Recipe for mussel soup, traditionally made for springtime slurping.

A few years ago, everyone waited for fresh mussels only available at winter’s end. Now they are available year round and their appearance no longer marks the moment when spring has arrived. But in a move to revive this custom, the New York Times has published a recipe for mussel soup calling it a ‘Times Classic.’ See here.

Eager to welcome spring we put on our spring coat (a bit prematurely) and went to the St Lawrence Market where we found a barrel of fresh mussels from PEI. Be warned that the recipe suggests that the soup can count as a meal in itself but this means everyone consumes half a pint of whipping cream. Satisfying as it was, we concluded that it might be better to serve the appetizer portion also suggested in the article, requiring only a quarter of a pint.

This is comfort food at its richest and a great recipe!

Sulfites in white wine

Most of us have a friend or friends who say they get headaches from sulfites in white wine. Please have them consult this article which debunks this theory. Rather like gluten it is very rare that a person is allergic to sulfites. The article states that less than 1% of the population has this problem and they are invariably chronic asthmatics. It turns out that Senator Strom Thurmond, a teetolaler, was responsible for forcing vintners to include a sulfite warning on wine labels. The article points out that many foods for example, canned tuna and dried fruit, routinely contain much higher concentrations of sulfites and are not required to warn consumers.

Also this article states that, despite contrary advertising, there are no wines that do not contain sulfites.

Sorry Virginia, your headache was likely caused by the quantity of wine you overdrank.

Wine School – Californian Cabernets

This month Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine critic introduces us to Californian Cabernets. As usual he writes about them and suggests ways to drink them with questions to be determined over an evening of drinking them. We have never been too keen about them as their flavours tend to overwhelm Chef’s food.

Nevertheless, the article is worthwhile reading because he sets out the main differences between California wines and those from Bordeaux. He says, that you must pay over US$50 per bottle to get a half decent example. With the value of the dollar, Ontario’s huge mark up and the less than subtle food-friendly flavour, we rule California Cabs out.

Cooking Fish Seminar by Chef Loseto

Recently the Chef conducted a “Fear of Fish” seminar to introduce us to how to cook fish. This is a summary.

He told us that there were two factors for success. First, fish has to be fresh. You need to have a trustworthy supplier. Even so, raw fish should be ever so slightly oily but not slimy and should not smell. Look particularly at gills to be sure they are clear and definitely not slimy. The eyes should be clear and glossy.

Secondly, do not overcook fish.  Fish is heated, not cooked like beef is. In the case of ocean-going fish, think of three types: black cod which is very oily, tuna which is meaty but lean and salmon, which is in-between oily and lean.

Instructions for each type

Oily

This group includes black cod and other fish like glacier bass and wild striped bass.  They are the easiest category to cook since they are difficult to overcook as they contain so much oil in their flesh. Cut the cod into 11/2-2” cubes or chunks and season with salt.

Take the fish out of the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cooking. It is very important that they be at room temperature when cooking starts or you will never cook them properly.

Dust with a seasoned flour like fennel or paprika flour to impart some flavour. Fry on medium stove with oil. Brown them for a few minutes. Preheat oven at 375 and put the frying pan in the oven after browning. Make sure the pan is medium/low, not super hot. If it starts to burn, transfer it to a sheet pan. If the pan is dry, add some oil or butter before putting it in the oven to give it some moisture. Cook in the oven for around 5 to 10 minutes. When cooked it should flake apart.

Meaty and lean

This group includes tuna, swordfish, mahi mahi and scallops.

Be sure they are at room temperature. Cut them into cubes as above. Since they are lean, coat with a dressing. The Chef suggests equal parts miso, honey and mustard with a bit of white wine.  Keep the heat down if you are broiling or grilling. They just need to be warmed up. Each side will take about 2 to 5 minutes. They are done when the crust or edge is about 1/4′” thick with the interior red. In the case of tuna. It will keep cooking when you remove it from the heat but it should be served rare except for the ¼” crusted edge.

In between

This includes salmon and white ocean fish like halibut or cobia. Here you can buy the whole fish if you like, cleaned. Inspect it as above to ensure it is fresh. With a sharp knife remove the head and cut down the backbone. Then keep cutting so that the flesh lifts neatly off the bones. Remove the fin and the pin bones near the neck

Again, be sure the fish is at room temperature. Season with salt, and if you are frying it coat the fish with flour and something like a peppercorn sauce. If you are grilling or broiling it just use the sauce. Make sure the heat is not too intense. A whole salmon will be done when each side is just starting to get warm at its thickest part or at the backbone if you leave the bones in (say 2 to 5 minutes per side depending on the weight). Then flip it to the other side. Remember, it will keep cooking after you remove it. To test it, take a fork or a thick needle and see whether the thickest parts are becoming translucent. Rub the fork or needle against your lower lip. If the fish is done the fork or needle should be warm only. If it is hot, it will be overcooked. If it is stone cold, keep cooking. Generally speaking, remove the fish when you think it is still slightly under done because it keeps cooking after you take it off the heat. Our experience is that your friends watching will wrongly express dire warnings to cook it longer.

Don’t worry about leaving a mark with your fork or needle.

When making stock from bones and the head or tail, use white fish only. The red fish will be too strong

Signs of spring at the Ontario Food Terminal

Chef Loseto reported that despite the cold he sees signs of spring in the air. More farmers are present and they have been removing produce from their trucks which allows the Chef to pick over what looks good. Up to now the farmers have kept produce in their trucks and vans instead of displaying it. Further, a lot of hothouse Ontario produce has now returned. The best of this produce is the hothouse rhubarb crop. The Chef claims it is better looking, deeper colour, more delicate and being better tasting than the field crop coming in the spring. The chef is poaching it for his crab dish and roasting it for a dessert he is creating.

Apart from the Ontario rhubarb, the best things he saw at the Terminal were Italian blood oranges, really nice Ontario fingerling potatoes and US butternut squash. He had to search the entire market for non-Mexican produce but did come up with the squash which only one vendor carried. He could not find brussel sprouts and substituted black kale for his current recipes.

The Chef reports there is still lots of good Ontario root veg and apples available but again, warns that you should consume them quite soon after you buy them because they will not keep in your refrigerator.

US pomegranates are winding down and being replaced with less desirable South American ones and good but costly ones from Israel. There is other good Israeli produce particularly herbs the Chef reports. There were crates and crates of Mexican asparagus but the Chef advises to hold off for Washington State and California asparagus which will be here later this month or in early April.

Fiddleheads from Oregon are starting along with stinging nettles and this means that BC will not be far behind. Citrus from California is now abundant and good. We noticed that there is no Florida citrus available here presumably because of the catastrophic blight which continues spreading there. The Chef notes that he never sees US limes now. They all come from Mexico and he does not understand why. There are lots of oranges and lemons form Spain in the market.

Wild bass and cobia from the mid-Atlantic are returning to our markets. The Chef looks forward to beginning to receive wild tuna, halibut and wild salmon from Nova Scotia. He expects to start receiving spot prawns and scallops from BC in early April.

Squabs remain difficult to source. Their shortage was attributed to high demand at Chinese New Year but it continues following this event. The supply of Quebec bison cheeks had also dried up.

GEORGE was fortunate to receive some of the first production from the new Saskatchewan based Qu’Appelle natural beef production facility started by one of our sons. It’s a promising beginning. The beef has a light flavour and delicate texture which the Chef loves to cook with.

The Chef experimented with a more elaborate composed cheese plate offering. This lasted two days as diners insisted on returning to the simpler presentation highlighting the cheeses themselves. The Chef has nearly completed development of his almond and rhubarb tart.

Climate change and wine, Jancis Robinson’s take

In a recent article, the eminent UK based wine writer, Jancis Robinson, wrote about the connection between global warming and winemaking. She states that as summers have grown hotter, the alcohol in wine has risen. “Growers have observed to their dismay that grapes have been accumulating the sugars that ferment into alcohol much faster than they have been accumulating all the interesting elements that result in a wine’s flavour, colour and structure or tannins, the phenolics. This is highly inconvenient. Who wants to drink a wine that can offer little other than alcohol?” The trade-off between limiting alcohol levels and reducing flavour seems to be a devilish problem.

Jancis Robinson discusses all the technologies which vintners use to deal with this problem. If you have been wondering about the connection between climate change and problems in wine production, this article is a wonderfully clear review of what is currently happening. You are sure to find the conclusion interesting.

— Le Patron

A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.