Local Strawberries

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Strawberries from Kimball Farm in Pepperell, MA

I think of Strawberries in the same I think of tomatoes.  The best of the best are grown locally, here in New England.  At some point in June every year we start with berries from Connecticut, then Massachusetts working there way through New England, ending once we see berries coming from Quebec.  Though the Quebecois berries are still quite good they no longer fit our standard of serving locally grown ingredients.  Just like tomatoes, at EVOO we only serve strawberries when they are in season locally.  Like tomatoes most of the strawberries you find in the grocery store are crap.  Like tomatoes they are grown in chemical laden soil, picked unripe, so they will travel better, they ripen, well turn red anyway, during transport.  Not ripening on the vine they do not have a chance to develop any flavor.  Buy local berries in season directly from your local farms.  Enjoy the treat, overindulge on them for a short period of time each year, it will make Strawberry season as special as it should be.

Strawberries

A couple of weeks ago we received our first case of Connecticut berries.  I was excited to see them available, I put them on our menu in a strawberry – rhubarb crisp.  The next day I ordered more and California berries were delivered instead.  More crisps were made using the California berries before any of the chefs noticed (including me).  The difference was astounding, the California berries were awful. They lacked any real flavor, they had a tart-mineraly flavor not at all reminiscent of a real strawberry.  They were red on the outside and Styrofoam white on the inside, unlike the local berries which are red all the way through.  When the crisps were cooked, the liquid that oozes over the top of and down the sides of the baking dishes, which is usually bright red was more of a caramelized dirt pink color, not at all appetizing.  Needless to say, we did not serve these substandard crisps to our guests.

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Strawberry – Rhubarb Crisp

Now the local strawberry season is going strong we are using them in the previously mentioned crisp as well as a strawberry gazpacho (recipe below) a nicely seasoned chilled soup which receives rave reviews every year.  At both Za locations we are offering a Strawberry – Arugula Salad.  Support your community by eating locally.

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EVOO’s Strawberry Gazpacho

EVOO’s Strawberry Gazpacho

At EVOO we garnish the gazpacho with diced strawberries, seedless cucumbers, cilantro, red onion, EVOO  and toasted almonds.

Ingredients:

3 qts         halved Strawberries

1½ cups    Orange Juice

2 TB        Lime Juice

2 TB        Rice Vinegar

1 cup       Water

3 TB        Agave Nectar / Honey

¼ cup       EVOO

1 ts           Tabasco

2 ts           Kosher Salt

1 ts           Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Method:

Puree all ingredients together. Strain if desired.

Death of a pig (part 10)

The head cheese is all gone.  We served it at our bar, on our homemade charcuterie menu, as is, just a few slices in a board with some of our homemade bread.

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We also cut it into bigger chunks, breaded and deep fried it, serving it with some of last summer’s raspberry jam, pickled green tomatoes and a butter basted egg.

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Now that it is gone we have moved on to rillettes.  A traditional french preparation of cooking meat, usually pork, very slowly in fat until the meat is so tender that it shreds apart. Its then chilled enough for the fat to congeal and form a paste.  Typically it’s served at room temperature with grilled or toasted bread.

We are serving the rillettes of Hoosier with pickled green beans, which we pickled last fall, first of the season chives from our rooftop garden, prunes we soaked in lots of booze with some sugar and grilled bread.

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We are scraping the bottom of Hoosier’s barrel; all that remains is some smoked skin and bones, which we will soon use.

Death of a pig, (part 9) Head Cheese

Nearly 4 months after he was delivered to us Hoosier’s hoof-prints are still making big imprints on our menus.  We are using the leaf fat for the biscuits being serving with fried chicken on our lunch menu.  His jowls, that we cured to make guanciale are being served with a locally produced Buratta cheese.

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Peppered Coppa

On our Charcuterie Chalkboard we are still featuring spiced coppa,  his back fat is in our kielbasa and chicken sausage, and the fat from the hams we smoked are being used to make ham fat – potato croquettes.  The remaining freezer fodder includes some smoked skin and bones, a fair amount of back fat and a few pounds of meat that will end up as sausage, rillettes or even braised.

 

Beyond all that, I just made a non-traditional head cheese, inspired by the head cheese I had at  Cochon a great restaurant in New Orleans.  A few winters back Colleen and I happened by, walking for miles, as we do every time we visit an unfamiliar city.  I had heard of Cochon and since it was about time for a refreshment break, mid-afternoon, we sat outside in the hot February sun, we ordered up some drinks and one of their house-made charcuterie platters.  All of the charcuterie was good, but the head cheese was memorable. It changed the way I have approached making it ever since.

head cheese

Typical Supermarket Head Cheese

Typically it’s the bits of the head; the tongue, ears, cheeks, skin and fat separated by overly gelatinous substance, resulting in a barely palatable concoction. It’s like eating a salty version of that Jello-canned fruit crap my mother would make for us back in the seventies.

 

At Cochon it appeared as though they pureed together some of the head fat with some reduced braising liquid from cooking the head and then folded in the other bits before pouring in all into a terrine to be chilled.

 

 

 

I made it like that a few times with great results, it really is so much better than the traditional version.

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EVOO’s Head Cheese

I decided to take it one step further and smoke the head before braising it, wow, head cheese went from barely palatable to really good to I want some now!  The smoked version is by far the best; sweet, smoky, salty and super rich.  We currently have it on our charcuterie chalkboard, as is, sliced on a board.  On EVOO’s dinner menu we have made a croquette out of it, breading and deep frying a thick slice, serving it with last summer’s raspberry jam, pickled green tomatoes, scallion – green peppercorn sour cream and a butter basted egg.

 

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Head Cheese Croquette

We’ll see if Hoosier offers up any other delicacies worthy of another post. He has had an amazing run on our menu, we greatly appreciate all that he has given us.

It’s Not Spring Yet!

not spring

From 4 days ago.

I know the calendar tells us spring has sprung, however, local ingredients are still telling us it’s late winter.  Right now, April 5, locally it’s still all about cellared root vegetables, cabbage and greenhouse greens.

Don’t let those restaurant menus filled with fiddlehead ferns, asparagus, ramps and peas fool you, none of it is local.  With the big snowfall last week and still chilly temperatures, it seems as though spring will be running a bit late this year.  Fiddleheads and ramps are still weeks away, asparagus a month maybe more, and peas closer to two months.   Every year is different and as soon as the real local spring ingredients are available our what-are-we-going-to-make-with-this-root-this-time anxiety is lifted, and the real local spring ingredients are plastered on our menu.

The first signs of spring are happening in our rooftop garden, the chives are about an inch out of the ground.  That’s it, the weeds haven’t even started yet.

making agnolotti

Making Agnolotti

The first food harbinger of spring is usually spring-dug parsnips, this root, wintered in  frozen soil, turning the starches into sugars.  What you end up with is an amazingly sweet full-flavored parsnip.  We received our first batch this week from Hutchin’s Farm, an organic farm located in Concord, MA.  We currently have them on our menu stuffed inside agnolotti pasta, fried chips at we are serving on a beef heart dish, and in a cake as a dessert served with smoked maple ice cream.  They are also roasted or pureed and make a great sweet or savory custard.

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Spring-dug Parsnip Cake with Smoked Maple Ice Cream

The recipe I am including for parsnip cake is really just an adaption of a traditional carrot cake, substituting parsnips for carrots.  I came up with this recipe when a writer from the Boston Globe asked me for an original recipe using parsnips.  At the time I had know idea how this would come out, knowing I just wanted to have a recipe included in her article.  I can’t say I was surprised with the results, they’re great, especially when using super sweet spring-dug parsnips.  As with carrot cake the better the carrot / parsnip tastes the better the cake will be.

Click Parsnip Cake for a link to the recipe.

Sockeye Salmon

Why would a restaurant that prides itself in being part of the community, with a menu where almost every dish is based local sustainable ingredients be using wild Alaskan  Sockeye Salmon?

Well, there are several reasons, first and foremost it is extremely sustainable.  The fisheries are currently very well managed, once the quotas are met the fishing stops, leaving plenty of salmon to swim up the rivers and estuaries to spawn and become bear food.

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Secondly is traceability, we are able to verify where and how the fish was caught down to the boat.  Unless you know the fisherman, or are purchasing from a quality fishmonger, you are not able to do that with most east-coast fish.

We purchase our sockeye through Sea to Table a company based in Brooklyn, NY that distributes only wild, domestic, sustainable and traceable seafood.  They’re getting the sockeye from Naknek Family Fisheries a small family-owned business in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  As soon as the fish is caught it’s sorted, keeping the highest quality fish for their fillets.  The fillets are then flash frozen, vacuum sealed and stored until they shipped.  With the salmon run (season) being short and the number of fish caught so large, freezing the fillets for year round delivery is necessary.  Much of the salmon is also smoked and / or canned.

I never thought I would be happy to use frozen fish, I have to admit I was skeptical up until the moment I cooked and tasted it.  The skin crisps beautifully, the flesh is firm and moist.  This fish is a very high quality product; I don’t think it has diminished at all from its fresh state.  I highly recommend everyone eating Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon.

You may see Atlantic Salmon in stores or on menus, don’t buy it.  It is all farm raised in overcrowded pens, eating more fishmeal than the flesh it is producing and polluting the bays all the while.  There have been great strides made in recent years to make a better-for-the-environment and better tasting farmed salmon though it still pales in comparison to any wild salmon.

Another great thing about sockeye salmon is people love it, it tastes great, with the added bonus that it is also very good for you, high in omega-3 acids, vitamins A, C, D, and E, niacin and Vitamin B-12.  All that and it’s a cinch to cook, very adaptable to many cuisines.

Here some of photos show a few of the ways we have been preparing it.

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Korean Barbecue Glazed

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In a Banh Mi

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tea-cured hors d’oeuvres

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with pig’s skin risotto and apples

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hot-smoked dip with chips

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soy glazed with kimchi and mushroom mayonnaise

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with soldier beans, escarole and bacon

 

Eat well. Eat wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon from Bristol Bay.