Do You Like Your Salads Well Dressed?

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Summer is the season for salads.

The northeast is hot and humid during July and August and the last thing anyone feels like doing is spending hours in a hot kitchen. We want cool and refreshing. And we want it now.

Local farmers markets provide a variety of fresh greens. After that, it depends on what is available, seasonal, and handy.

But whatever you decide to throw in, please don’t be stingy with the salad dressing. Salads don’t make it to my table unless they’re well dressed.

Pictured above is a salad I put together recently. Red leaf Boston lettuce, small tender inner leaves of an escarole, some avocado, a couple of hydroponic tomato, a scallion, one whole chopped cucumber, a hard cooked egg, some nice canned tonnino, some chickpeas, and one of my favorite Italian imports, Roman artichokes that still have their stems intact.

For the vinaigrette, I make my own with California cold pressed Arbequina olive oil, imported sherry or wine vinegar (7 – 8% acidity), and salt. And I used a very generous tablespoon of my artisan vinaigrette for each 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) salad.

Wait a minute! You’re a dietitian aren’t you?  Isn’t your job to remind us not to use too much oil and to cut back on salt?

My more zealous colleagues do just that. Especially those who work in weight loss or food addiction. Other colleagues separate healthy fats from unhealthy fats but will still recommend restraint. But not me. So I’m the first to admit that what I’m about to say is controversial.

Because flavor reigns supreme at my table, I use LOTS of vinaigrette because my well dressed salads tastes better than a salad topped a skimpy amount of dressing or worse some of that fat free stuff.

Putting an irresistibly delicious salad on the table makes it easy for folks to eat more vegetables. And getting folks to eat more vegetables is what we want right?

Found a wonderful quote in my facsimile edition of The Original Picayune Creole Cookbook originally published in 1901. The book says it is an old Spanish proverb. Who knows? Whatever the source it’s makes good culinary sense.

To make a perfect salad there should be a miser for vinegar, a spendthrift for oil, a wise man for salt and a madcap to stir all these ingredients, and mix them well together.

So please unless you’re committed to a low fat diet or limited fats to promote weight loss, don’t worry about olive oil. The fats in olive oil are mostly unsaturated and have a favorable fatty acid ratio.

Salad greens and vegetables are rich in potassium, fibers, and phytonutrients. Plus carotenoids are better absorbed in the presence of fat. Add some protein to your well dressed salad as I did with a locator mix of tuna, egg, and chickpeas. Serve with crusty whole grain bread and voilá a complete meal.

We normally eat about 2 1/2 cups or so for a meal or roughly 500 calories per plate not counting bread.

COUNT WHAT MATTERS

Heres how the conventional nutrition facts label looks for 1 cup of my well dressed salad:  16g total fat, 250mg sodium, 300 mg potassium, 6g total carbohydrate, 2g fibers, 0g added sugars, 10g protein.

We used to obsess about calories from fat and I’m so relieved the FDA has finally agreed to update the label. This well dressed salad clocks in at 68% calories from fat with a fat profile that reflects predominantly unsaturated fatty acids. Many of my zealous colleagues still obsess about sodium and, don’t get me wrong, for some sodium restriction is critically important. For most of us however it’s probably more important to take a look at how we’re using salt.

 

 

The Naked Berry.

imageSo why do I want my strawberries naked you may be asking when I could have sorbet or shortcake or even a strawberry tart?

Why you ask?  Because they taste sooooooooooooo good.

A seasonal local strawberry picked at peak ripeness is ephemeral and incredibly delicious.

So when strawberry season rolls around each year, I leave recipe round ups to others.

Just make my berries naked straight up to savor all by themselves.

Nature is a harsh master and sometimes here in the northeast, the berries aren’t quite sweet enough and I’ll serve them with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of brown sugar. But when nature, weather, and timing line up, you can’t beat the taste of a naked local berry.

Our strawberry growing season is short. Sometimes I get greedy and buy more strawberries than we can eat. So these berries get macerated in brandy and maple syrup for safekeeping. Almost as delicious as straight up.

Strawberries are sold in the farmer’s market by volume and not by weight. How much each container of strawberries weighs depends on how many strawberries fit in each container. Strawberries range in size from SMALL (1/4 ounce / 7 grams) to EXTRA LARGE (1 ounce / 28 grams). The smaller the berry, the more that will fit in the container. That means you get a little extra weight when you buy a dry quart or a dry pint of small berries.

BUY GOOD STUFF.   The berries above are Earliglow Strawberries, grown on the North Fork of Long Island. They were picked, boxed, and sold within 24 hours to folks like me willing to go out of our way for local berries.

Strawberries imported from California or Florida are sold by the pound, but my local berries come in dry quarts or dry pints. Thanks to my scale I know the berries in the dry quart weighed about 680 grams / 1.5 pound. At $5.99 per box that costs me $4 per pound. California conventional berries are price competitive with these local berries but California organic cost more.

Earliglow strawberries are considered by some to be the best tasting berry around. New York State actually can grow another dozen or so varieties which is good because these excellent berries have a short lived season.

COUNT WHAT MATTERS.   One serving of Earliglow strawberries (140 grams or 12 berries):   45 CALORIES, 0 gram fat, 0 mg sodium, 11 gram carb, 1 gram protein (91% water)

We already know eating more fruits every day is healthy and a really good habit to get into. Lots of good nutrients and not so many calories. So you may be asking why bother running the numbers? Read on and you will find out why.

You could almost say naked berries have no calories. Naked strawberries as noted above certainly don’t have a lot of calories. Why is this? Because strawberries like most other fruit are mostly water.

Just think of fruit as the best vitamin water. Fruits have vitamins as well as fibers, minerals, and phyto-nutrients. All this good stuff gets infused in naturally sweetened water and is ready to savor in its own edible package.

Strawberries macerated in brandy with maple syrup doubles the number of calories to 90 calories. Naked berries with sour cream and brown sugar raises it even more to 110 calories.

Now for the answer as to why I need to run the numbers. Because I want to compare my naked strawberries to more ambitious plates. And you will see, the more complex the recipe, the greater the calorie increase.

We need two things. First a couple of good recipes for real desserts that use strawberries. That part is actually not too hard. It’s the second part that can be a challenge. These recipes also need a reasonable reliable nutrient analysis. Up until recently, I would have needed to run those numbers myself. But thanks to the marvels of modern data analysis tools, almost every recipe circulating the internet today comes with a nutrient analysis.

My favorite source for great classics recipes is The New York Times Recipe Box. It’s an amazing site and an amazing collection of well written recipes from some of the best food writers our country has produced over the last 50 years. And now each one comes with an analysis.

When I went looking for what was listed under strawberries and pulled up 260 recipes for strawberries, even I was surprised at how many recipes I found. From sorbets to soups and tarts to shortcakes, anything and everything you could ever think of doing with strawberries has made its way to the collection.

Everyone loves a real dessert on the table when we are in celebration mode, but my preference is always naked berries for daily fare.

And now for the numbers. Here’s how my naked berries ranging from 45 calories to 110 calories per serving compare with a couple of real desserts culled from The New York Times Recipe Box:

• Strawberry sorbet for 300 calories

• Strawberry tart for 350 calories

• Strawberry shortcake for 750 calories

Links to recipe collections / websites with nutrient analysis in sidebar

 

 

 

Delicious, nutritious, sustainable mussels.

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If you’ve never cooked mussels before but are willing to try, you get a gold star. So go for it. And trust me, mussels are delicious no matter how you serve them.

A good place to start would be with a mussels and pasta dish for supper this evening. Proportions are for two people. Not hard either once you get the hang of it. Here is what you will need to get started:

  • 1 kg (2 pounds) farm raised mussels, rinsed and sorted
  • 100 ml (1/2 cup) white wine or dry vermouth
  • 40 grams (3 tablespoons) olive oil
  • 70 grams (2 1/2 ounces) linguine, measured dry
  • couple cloves smashed garlic
  • handful chopped parsley

Rinse mussels and check each one, removing any that do not close when tapped. Add dry vermouth or white wine to 3 liter pot, pour in mussels, raise heat to high, cover, and steam mussels until they open. Discard any that do not open. As mussels begin to open, remove the meat from the shell being careful to catch every drop of cooking liquid, a delicious combination of “mussel liquor” and wine. Discard shells.

Meanwhile, start pasta water to boil. Add olive oil to a sauté pan and gentle sweat crushed garlic. Add chopped parsley. Set aside until mussels are cooked and shells discarded. Then add mussels along with the cooking liquid to the olive oil mixture. Add salt to boiling water and cook pasta al dente. Combine with mussels, olive oil, garlic herb mixture, and serve.

Taste always comes first. That’s the delicious part and it’s easy to like these tender little mussels sweet like the sea, steamed in wine, steeped in olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and served over linguine.

Some of us are adventurous eaters and some of us just want good taste. And that’s okay. Next step for folks like you is to go out, get yourself some very fresh recently harvested mussels, start cooking up a storm, and have fun.

Some eaters demand transparency and full disclosure. They expect more from the plate and have the patience to dig a little deeper. So here’s an ingredient audit, nutrient analysis, and allergen alert.

Mussels – Mussels grow wild in shallow waters along the east coast from Long Island to Newfoundland and are sustainably farmed in Canada.

The mussels I used for the recipe were farm raised from Prince Edward Island. The mussel seed is collected from the wild, not hatcheries, and mussels are harvested from collector ropes suspended in the ocean. Mussels feed on natural food particles, which are present in the water column and do not require feed. They get all their nourishment naturally, from the pristine ocean waters that surround them while they grow.

My preference is farmed from an environmental perspective and from a convenience perspective. Farmed mussels aren’t muddy or covered in silt and usually don’t have “beards” those pesky little hairy outgrowths found frequently on wild mussels.

Mussels also bring minerals like manganese, selenium, iodine, iron, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium. Sodium is just part of the total mineral package.  And like all seafood, mussels are a source of omega 3 fatty acids (1 mg per 100 grams cooked).

Linguine – Refined durum wheat slow dried bronze cut imported from Italy. Refined grain has the fiber removed. The linguine is deliciously chewy when cooked al dente, but had I used whole wheat linguine, the fiber count would have been higher.

My pasta amounts are small by American standards. The usual amount of pasta listed in most recipes is 2 ounces (56 grams) per person. The bigger the portion size of pasta, the more calories you put on the plate

Olive Oil – Extra virgin olive oil from trustworthy brand harvest date clearly marked. Use within a year or two of harvest.

Dry Vermouth – Good quality imported vermouth. White wine is a good substitute.

Nutrition Analysis per 1/2 recipe: 520 calories, 25g fat, 470mg sodium, 35g carb, 28g protein.

CONTAINS: SHELLFISH, WHEAT

 

 

 

Homemade artisan vinaigrette.

 

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Why do I bother making vinaigrette?

Because I really like good olive oil. And no one makes a bottled dressing made with olive oil!

I used to cheat and buy the bottled stuff and believe me I bought the most expensive stuff on the shelf. I looked for front of the package labeling and when I found one with olive oil, that’s the one I picked.

Then one day I turned the bottle around and read the ingredient list. The first thing I noticed was the olive oil was not listed first.  What I found was canola oil or soybean oil. Those are not bad oils, but they are NOT olive oil. And where was olive oil listed? Much further down on the list.

Ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. For those of you who are not label mavens, it’s okay to market a product and label it olive oil on the front of the label as long as olive oil is listed somewhere in the ingredient list.

That was the day I started making my own homemade artisan vinaigrette.

Now take a look at my vinaigrette pictured above. The ingredient list is short and simple. Olive oil, vinegar, salt.

I should add my cost for ingredients is about three times what I would pay for even the most expensive brand of bottled dressing because good olive oil is not cheap.  This cost factor explains why most people are okay with a blend.

My oil of choice is Arbequina olive oil from California. Olive oil is shelf stable, but unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t benefit from aging. Every November after the harvest, I order 6 liters so my vinaigrette is always made with an oil that is less than 12 months old. I use a good vinegar (7% acidity) and salt.

Most recipes I see for vinaigrette are volume based. My preference is weight based and I use my scale. No measuring cups to wash. No waste. And that’s good because at the price I pay for my olive oil, I can’t afford to waste a drop. Both volume and weight are referenced below however because most of you probably do not have a scale yet.

275 grams extra virgin olive oil like Arbequina (300 ml or 1 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon)

100 grams Sherry or wine vinegar (100 ml or 7 tablespoons)

5.8 grams salt (2 level teaspoons)

Why count when it all tastes so good?

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Beautiful. Delicious. Let’s Eat.

The perfect late spring supper for our north east coast growing season. Planting has started but only asparagus and ramps are coming in right now so I’m still dependent on California, Texas, and Florida. The arrangement on my plate is what the French call a Salade Composée. Call me a thwarted graphic designer, but I have always loved making stylized plate designs.

Simple ingredients:  greens, vegetables (tomato, cucumber, legumes, red cabbage), grains preferable whole grain, protein, and dressing.

Homemade vinaigrette is always on hand because I make my own and we eat salads all the time.  Basic extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, and salt.

Legumes are always on hand too because I buy dry beans in bulk and cook batches as needed. The only component that requires cooking is the grain.  The one I used for this salad is freekeh, an ancient grain with roots in the Middle East. Traditionally, it’s made from wheat so freekeh is not gluten free. The berries are harvested while still green or yellow, then roasting during processing. Smoky. Nutty. Chewy. Freekeh is a perfect grain for a savory salad. But it needs to be cooked first and that takes about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the grain is cooking, I wash and trim all the vegetables. I don’t measure when I’m doing a quick supper like I did the night I made this salad. But I know from past scrutiny I want about 16 ounces (450 grams) on the plate and look for a distribution by weigh of 40% vegetables, 20% legume, 20% protein, 10% grain, and 10% dressing.

Once everything is washed, peeled, chopped, drained, cooked, and ready to go, the fun begins.

The plate starts with a bed of arugula and green leaf lettuce.

Then portion the protein. That is canned tuna you see up there in the upper right. A couple of tablespoons of a Spanish line caught tuna packed in olive oil. Tonnino Ventresca. Really delicious but on the expensive side.

Next in line going clockwise is the grain. My personal choice is freehka, but farro or buckwheat or quinoa work just as well.

Now some chopped red cabbage. Cabbages are good keepers and help to bridge the gap between the end of the last year’s harvest and the green shoots of spring.

Next are some Kirby cucumbers.

For legumes, I used chickpeas because that is what I had on hand.  Use what you like or use what’s sitting on the shelf or in the frig. Home cooked tastes better, but canned is more convenient when time is a factor.

The final touches are a hard cooked egg cut in six pieces, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a scallion for garnish. With a couple of generous tablespoons of vinaigrette, the salad is dressed and ready to go.

So at this point you may be asking me why mess up the meal with counting?

I don’t disagree. But I feel a responsible. A cook needs to know what the people they feed are eating. Pleasure and good company is key to healthy eating. But so are healthy food choices. And that means you count, even if it’s only miles travelled between farm to table. Here are some good examples of the kind of counting I do.

  • Portioning the Protein.  Prep cooks in restaurants portion protein for the line cooks for two reasons. The chef needs to manage costs and the customer needs to feel the portion is good value. Some of us, chefs and eaters alike, check for sustainability. But nutritionists like me portion protein for other reasons. We like to know the grams and we like to know the distribution between animal (egg and tuna) and plant (legumes and grain).
  • Salt and Sodium.  Whichever side you take as the salt wars rage on, knowing how much you use and where it comes from is required for baseline.
  • Balance the Plate. The Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate get criticized from both sides of the food spectrum. Manufacturers and producers don’t want to count anything that can be perceived as a negative. The healthy eating crew has for understandable reasons lost faith in the government’s ability to provide valid advice. But here are some observations. Using 16 ounces (450 grams) as the reference amount, my salad provides 3 cups of vegetables, 2 ounces of protein, and 1 ounce of grain. Bonus points for fish, plant protein, leafy greens, and whole grains.

The calorie count for the 16 ounce (450 gram) salad which includes 3 generous tablespoons dressingis 590 calories. As for the other nutrients:  26 grams protein, 41 grams fat, 41 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fiber. The largest contributor to those 16 ounces is the water weight from the vegetables which accounts for 74% or about 10 1/2 ounces.

And for the usual suspects:  720 mg sodium, 6 grams saturated fat, no added sugar.

Salt sources in descending order:   vinaigrette, chickpeas, tuna, freekeh, egg, vegetables.

Saturated fat in descending order:  vinaigrette, egg, tuna, chickpea.

So why bother counting when it all tastes so good? Because the cook need to know. The people at table don’t necessarily need to know. And it’s important to keep in mind that too much obsession with eating healthy can be as detrimental to good health as too little. But the cook still needs to know that nutrition bases are covered and that salt and fats have been put to good culinary use.

The bounty of the harvest in the middle of winter.

sauerkraut, potatoe, sausage, mustard
sauerkraut, potato, sausage, mustard

Home made sauerkraut braised with potatoes and modest serving of Italian sweet sausage served with good mustard. That was supper last night. Delicious!

Sauerkraut was my cottage industry project last fall when the CSA sent me a humungeous green cabbage and my challenge now mid January is to find creative interesting ways to plate it.

Before the wonders of modern industrial production, most of us had no choice but to eat sauerkraut and potatoes and other good keepers. Being the obstreperous creatures we humans are, lots of people like me are looking past the present back to a simpler time. I plead guilty to occasional episodes of pastoral romanticism mostly because it’s fun and I have a little discretionary time to spend on my favorite pastime which is food. I’m also curious and love to study the science behind why things like sauerkraut work.

We have been working our way through the sauerkraut I make last Fall for the last three months. I never made my own sauerkraut before so I can’t say this is the best I’ve ever made, but I can say it’s the best sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted because the only sauerkraut I ever had before was off the shelf commercial. What a difference my artisan sauerkraut made on a simple and totally American hot dog!

So here we our in the middle of January and the sauerkraut still smells sweet and still tastes good. Amazing what can be done at home! Well you may be laughing but I really do think this process is wondrous. And even more relevant the process is considered safe.

What was once survival and necessity has become an activity for people like me privileged enough to have the discretionary time for experimentation. Fermentation has been part of human history and was vital in human survival in the days before refrigerators, freezers, and processed food. Fermentation allowed us to preserve food in a nutritional and safe way when there was no supermarket to provide it. Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, olives, salami, jerky, even bread are examples of fermentation used for preservation.

I have made my own yogurt and bread, but don’t do it anymore because an off the shelf product will meet my quality standards and I choose to spend time experimenting in other ways.

Supper last night was a home run. Totally delicious.

Fermentation is marked to become one of the most important food trends of 2015. But because there is no off the shelf product as good as my cottage industry sauerkraut yet, there’s a good chance I will make up another batch next year.

 

Just don’t do anything that will poison us!

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Those were Jeff’s words of encouragement when I told him I wanted to make a sauerkraut.

Why you may be asking did I want to make sauerkraut? Here’s why. My CSA had put a gigantic humongous incredibly heavy 5 1/2 pound cabbage in my box and, along with other 10 pounds of assorted vegetables, I had one week before the next delivery to figure out what to do with the lavish abundance. Besides I never made a sauerkraut before.

Now I am not a complete novice. I did ferment some cucumbers once. Granted it was way before I met Jeff, but I didn’t poison my self that time. And that was really before I had a clue what I was doing.

Just for the record, those fermented cucumbers were the best pickles I have ever eaten.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing now, but I’m a lot more knowledgeable today and even more important I know where to start looking. So with Jeff’s words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I began my search.

For do it yourself sauerkraut, the Internet really excels. So I did my due diligence reading up on the matter and determined that fermentation is one of the older forms of preservation practiced by us humans. As it is technically called, lacto-fermentation has been practiced for centuries as a method for preserving excess vegetable at the end of the growing season.

During the fermentation process, the vegetables are cut or shredded, and salt is added. The salt draws out the vegetable liquid and the vegetables ferment in their juices.

State Extension Services seem to have the more detailed technical information like percentage of salt solution and temperature ranges most favorable to promote the growth of the good guys i.e. lactic acid and discourage entry of the bad guys i.e. spoilage or food poisoning microorganisms otherwise know as the stuff that makes you sick.

I also checked a FaceBook group for people who love to ferment all kinds of weird stuff. I got a lot of moral support and realized there were lots of people out there who ferment cabbage into sauerkraut and have lived to talk about it.

I need to Follow directions. Need to be careful. It’s times like this I am glad I took microbiology.

Okay, if primitive illiterate humans can ferment a cabbage and live to tell about it, a well educated, intelligent, twenty-first century female should certainly be able to rise to the occasion.

So I gathered my references, pulled out my biggest bread bowl, washed and sliced my caggage, measured out my salt solution, and set it all to ferment at the appropriate temperature. And I checked it every day.

The fermentation process appears to be variable. As little as three days and as long as three months. Depends on which source you read and which person you talk to. However on day ten, here in New York we got hit with a cold spell so I decided it was time to close down the cottage industry. I packed the sauerkraut into to liter glass containers and moved them to the frig. We had pork chops on Sunday, so I served some kraut alongside with sweet potatoes.

Jeff’s responce “This tastes pretty good … It sure tastes like sauerkraut … “.

Next step is to build up enough courage to take a taste straight up. I tagged it safe. Now I need to follow through and taste it without heating the kraut up first.

The brutal business of steaming clams.

Long Island little neck clams
Long Island little neck clams

I have a lot of culinary respect for Chef Dan Barber. Never been to the restaurant, but I have read his recent book The Third Plate. It’s a good read.

Earlier this summer, Dan Barber did an interview with Eater New York

“Why Farm-to-Table King Dan Barber Believes Meat Is Hyper-Seasonal”. Here is the response to a question posed by the interviewer: “Do you believe people who eat meat should see an animal being slaughtered at least once to gain appreciation for what’s on their plate? If so, why?”

Intuitively I subscribe to that, but I don’t know that you need to see the sacrifice to be worthy of eating meat. There’s a part of me that believes that all cooks should, which is what we do here at Blue Hill. We make them part of slaughter because they’re working with these animals, with a ton of meat throughout the course of a week. I feel that it’s pretty important that they get that kind of side.

If you’re eating meat and you’re knowing the farmer and you’re supporting the right kind of ecology I think that’s enough. Or I’ll put it to you another way, if I were to demand everyone who eats meat thoughtfully should also slaughter or be a part of a slaughter of meat I would say the same thing about the harvest of a plant of kale or the harvesting of a tomato. You need to be there for the harvest.

Now you may be asking what in the world does a carniferous celebrity chef have to do with me learning how to steam clams? Let me explain.

I have always believed that people who eat meat should be prepared to slaughter and butcher the animal. Or the chicken. Or the fish. So to find someone of Dan Barber’s statue actually saying this out loud is notable. To me at least.

Would I actually be able to do it? Slaughter and eat an animal? I don’t know. I’ve never had a chance to try. But that is the connection with clams and this is the rest of the story.

Linguine and clam sauce is a truly delectable dish. One of the first restaurant meals I had after arriving in New York and it was love at first bite.

Being a California girl, the only clams I had ever heard of before moving to Long Island were Pismo clams. Pismos grew big up to seven inches and I think folks made chowder with them. I had never seen a small delicate clam before I arrived in New York.

We all tend to feel comfortable doing the things we are used to. So the first time I saw a native Long Islander dig up a clam, break it open, and eat it raw, my stomach wretched. It was way out of my comfort zone. Still can’t do it to this day.

But love is a powerful motivator and I really love linguine and clam sauce. So a couple of years ago, I took action. My analytic left brain knew if I ate clams someone had to get them from the shell onto the plate and logic demanded either I forgo the pleasure or I be prepared to do the job myself. Mind over matter is easier said then done. So for almost a year I just looked. Then one beautiful summer day I took the plunge and purchased a dozen little neck clams.

And yes the linguine and clam sauce was delicious. Been making variations ever since.

So I say thank you Casey, my greenmarket fishmonger, for picking out the smallest ones just for me. And I say thank you Dan Barber for giving me the courage to say out loud something I have felt in my heart but have been reluctant to say before.

Here is one healthy sustainable fish.

Porte or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov
Porgy or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov

Stenotomus chrysops, more commonly called porgy or scup, is one of my favorite whole fishes. I didn’t know how to call the fish the first time I bought one, but it was love a first sight. The right size and so fresh I could smell the sea. I like my fish whole. Grilled, steamed, broiled, pan fried. Just give me a whole fish.

I lived on the south shore when I first moved to New York, so I had good access to fresh fish. My curiosity and sense of culinary adventure have always been my best teacher, so although I never heard of a fish called a porgy or a scup before, it was the right size and the right price and I bought a couple on the spot.

Living on the South Shore of Long Island provided good access to fishmongers and local catch and we ate a lot of scup. The fish is just the right size for two modest portions or one big e.g. generous restaurant size portion.

Calculations for whole fish are easy. Count 50% edible and 50% for bones, skin, cooking loss, and all that other stuff. A fish that weighs 1 1/3 pounds (600 grams) as purchased means about 10 ounces (300 grams) cooked. The nutrition nerd in me really diggs those kind of calculations. I prefer using the gram amounts because I can do the arithmetic in my head.

My scup was a resounding success. They do have bones, but practice makes perfect and my daughter learned to tackle whole fish by the age of 12 with skill and gusto.

I no longer live so close to the shore and I have discovered that scup is not easy to come by. Greeks are fish eaters and whole scup or porgy is often served in Greek restaurants. And I also know there have been periods of intense regulation due to over fishing which has periodically limited the catch.

But my favorite Greenmarket fishmonger was the person who told me the real reason. Although scup is plentiful now, they just don’t sell.

“I bring them but no one buys them so I am stuck with the whole lot.” Next question of course is why don’t your other customers like them as much as I do. “Probably because they are sold whole.”

Since early 2013, an national organization called Chefs Collaborative has been holding Trash Fish Dinners around the country to bring attention to undervalued and underutilized species of fish. The goal is to encourage chefs and diners to focus on fish that have historically been left off menus to help to take pressure off of overfished species and help support our fishing communities

Sounds to me like scup fits that description well. It’s plentiful, sustainable, local and underused. Personally I like it much better than tilapia, another popular inexpensive mild flavored fish. The flavor profile is more interesting to my palate and because it’s local I can buy the fish whole. And serving it whole means the filet gets cooked protected by the skin so moisture and flavor are better retained.

So there you have it. For you fish eaters who live on the east coast and are looking for an underutilized “trash” fish to cook whole, give scup a try. Healthy. Sustainable. Delicious. Who can ask for more?

OMG Just picked up 8 pounds of tomatoes!

8 pounds do tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics
10 enormous tomatoes | photo gourmet-metrics

I had planned to start putting down some preliminary thoughts on a controversial issue GMO and then my CSA box arrived with 8 pounds of tomatoes. OMG!

One weighty issue immediately replaced by another weighty issue. They were big ones 13 – 14 ounces / 370 grams each. We can’t eat that many tomatoes in one week so now what to do?

I’ve done canning in the past but it’s a hassle and I can’t even remember who my canning equipment got donated to. So I pulled out the iPad and went to work. Pulled up a Household USDA Food Facts Sheet on fresh tomatoes.

• Tomatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place. Do not store in a plastic bag. Store in a single layer, as stacking tomatoes may cause them to become mushy.

• Fresh tomatoes may be frozen whole, chopped, or sliced. Wash tomatoes and remove the stem, store in a tightly closed plastic bag, then freeze up to 8 month

That’s it. I’ll freeze them. Minimal labor, easy, quick, and I have some extra freezer space. All I need is some fresh basil, my trusty tomato knife, a good scrubbing brush, ziplock bags, and some discretionary time.

First step was to wash and scrub well. Remove the core and outside blemishes. Need to work quickly to preserve freshness. Each day they sit on the counter increases risk of further deterioration.

The whole process took me about 40 minutes. Two chopped tomatoes plus a handful of basil per bag. Push out the extra air, zip it up, weight it, and put it in freezer. I ended up with five bags 700 grams / 1.5 pounds each. Cheaper and better than a brick pack and did it myself.

Tomatoes come in with a vengeance this time of year, but those bags are going to look pretty good over the next couple of months. Do I need to count them as processed food? Yes, technically that’s exactly what they are. I’ll settle on minimally processed.

Now for that other weighty matter. Tomatoes got me to thinking about availability. With a seasonal crop that only comes in once per year, cooks need to make adjustments. During the winter when tomatoes are out of season here in the North East I fall back on hydroponic tomatoes usually from Canada. Then I got to wondering. Do you suppose anyone has ever tried to genetically modify a hydroponic tomato for increased flavor?