Trying to reduce something as radiantly complex as food down to a couple of nutrients is insane.

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That’s not to say that nutrients aren’t important. Because they are. They’re very important. But nutrients are only one of many parts to a complex story.

Take my beautiful salade composé pictured above. There is so much more going on than a string of numbers can communicate.

THE NUTRITION FACTS STORY

First take a cold hard look at that small little subset of information called nutrition facts.

660 calories, 48g fat, 8g satfat, 660mg sodium, 30g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 6g sugar, 26g protein.

It’s hard to say whether that string is healthy or not. My first though is always that I need more information. Without checking the ingredient list and without the picture, there’s no way to tell what foods are on the plate.

AND NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORIES.

Every recipe has a story to tell. Even when as is the case here, there was no recipe. Its confession time and that means I’ll have to admit that I didn’t actually follow a particular recipe. I followed a pattern. For those who feel more comfortable with a recipe, however, there are hundreds available via a google search.

When I put a salad like this one together, I use what’s on hand. Each salad is different. Depends on what’s is the frig, how big the plate is, what’s in the pantry, how creative I am feeling, and who else will be sitting at my table.

Some recipes have a backstory, but I checked my Larousse Gastronomique and all I could find was the fundamental distinction between tossed salad versus composed salad. Tossed gets well tossed. And composed just sits. Timing of the dressing is the same in both cases, just before serving.

Every ingredient has a story too. Pictured above are arugula, chickpeas, tuna, cucumber, tomato, egg, farro, red cabbage, parsley. All artfully arranged or “composed” on plate and dressing with a classic vinaigrette.

Where were the chickpeas sourced? Canned or home made. And how were they grown? Organic. Conventional. Regenerative. And how about how old are the chickpeas because age really does make a difference when you’re cooking chickpeas from scratch.

What about the tuna? Is it domestic or imported. Line caught or net caught. Skipjack or yellowfin or albacore or one of the lesser known species. Jared or canned or fresh. Just for the record, the tuna pictured above is Tonnino, a branded product packed in Italy.

What about the vegetables? Where were the cucumber, red cabbage, and parsley, tomato grown. Organic. Regenerative. Conventional. Local. How long they kept in storage before hitting the supermarket shelf or were they picked up that day from the farmer’s market.

Are the eggs from pastured hens or caged hens? Is the farro imported Italy or home grown in the US? Is the vinaigrette classic clean home made or an off the shelf branded?

So many, many stories to tell for one very simple salad …

WHERE DOES FOOD FIT?

Up until recently, neither recipes or ingredient lists were counted by the experts.

Most home cooks and chefs and other foodies however figured out long ago food does count and perhaps that’s why this group tends to pay so little attention to what the government does and does not say is healthy.

Our FDA has only recently agreed to reconsider what constitutes healthy, but other countries has been more aggressive. The Brits worked out their traffic light system of food labeling over a decode ago. The Australians implemented their Health Star Rating System a couple of years ago. And last year, the French approved a voluntary front of the packaged label Nutriscore that counts vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts.

AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH A SALAD?

While trying to reduce something as radiantly complex as food down to a couple of nutrients really is a bit crazy making, putting food back into the equation might actually work.

So I began to wonder what would happen if I borrowed the French approach to consumer packaged goods and applied it to a recipe?

First identify the Negatives, which do happen to be nutrients. Then identify the Positives, which are a combination of nutrients and foods. Then balance the Negatives against the Positives and assign a color coded range.

Using this concept, my salad scored reasonably well. Not completely healthy because I use more salt (sodium) and lots of olive oil (satfat). But better than somewhat healthy because the salad is a good source of protein and fiber and is mostly plant based. The salad is 52% plant based (cucumbers, tomatoes, chickpeas, arugula, cabbage, parsley) and that’s not counting the grain farro.

If the salad were completely healthy, I could put a dark green circle. If the salad were somewhat healthy, I could put a light orange circle. So let’s say the salad is reasonable healthy and give it a light green circle. Not sure if it works for the FDA but it works for me. How about you?

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Rethinking healthy starts with rethinking nutrients.

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This year looks to be pivotal for rethinking healthy. At the highest governmental level, the FDA has committed to release new guidelines for label claims. As the FDA commissioner put it earlier this year:

“Healthy” is one claim that we believe is ripe for change … Traditionally, we’ve focused primarily on the nutrients contained in food in considering what is healthy. But people eat foods, not nutrients. This is why we’re asking the important question of whether a modernized definition of “healthy” should go beyond nutrients to better reflect dietary patterns and food groups …

Emphatically my answer is yes.

An FDA mandate for nutrient claims only covers consumer packaged goods. And maybe even restaurant menu labels at some point in the future. But what the FDA decides makes a packaged food healthy permeates the general food ecosystem. When FDA defined healthy in the early 1990s as low fat and low sodium, low fat reigned supreme for a decade.

Nutrients are important. No argument here on that point. As a dietitian and culinary nutritionist, I spent a couple years learning just how important they are. But so is food. And taste. And culture. And tradition. Not to mention enjoyment. So I applaud the decision to acknowledge that food is as much a part of a healthy pattern as nutrients. Defining healthy as the sum of the nutrient parts is called a reductionist perspective.

The problem with a reductionist perspective.

Reducing a food to the sum of its nutrient parts tends to skewer the meaning in a negative direction. Especially when, as was the case in the 1990s, healthy was defined in terms of 4 nutrients to avoid:  sodium, cholesterol, total fat, saturated fat.

Now feast your eyes on my shrimp and greens salad pictured above. Note the variety of vegetables on the plate: a generous handful of arugula, a dark green vegetable, some radicchio, a couple of small tomatoes, and some sliced scallions. The greens make up the bed for those lovely freshly steamed wild caught North Carolina shrimp.

Remember that under the original concept of healthy, food did not count. Well, those pristine steamed shrimp are salty. All shrimp are salty. Shrimp live in the sea and the sea is salty. When healthy was measured by counting milligrams of sodium per 100 grams, shrimp are automatically knocked out.

Remember too under the original concept, palatability did not count. Salads taste better when they are served well dressing, but a couple of tablespoons of fine olive oil and sherry vinegar added too much fat and saturated fat.

In other words, the only way to make this plate healthy under the original concept was to remove the shrimp, hold the vinaigrette, and serve the greens naked.

This reductionist view of healthy did a lot of damage. Is it any wonder so many folks rejected such a austere approach and labeling a food healthy became the kiss of death?

What a difference a couple of decades makes.

A lot has changed since 1994. That’s the year the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act became law and the draconian nutrient content claim for healthy was cast in regulatory cement.

In 2016, The FDA released a preliminary working document indicating their thinking on revising the nutrient criteria for labeling food healthy.

Use of the Term “Healthy” in the Labeling of Human Food Products: Guidance for Industry.

And with the release of the most current Dietary Guidelines in 2015, a healthy pattern took precedence over unhealthy nutrients.

Previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines focused primarily on individual dietary components such as food groups and nutrients. … The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines provides five overarching Guidelines that encourage healthy eating patterns, recognize that individuals will need to make shifts in their food and beverage choices to achieve a healthy pattern, and acknowledge that all segments of our society have a role to play in supporting healthy choices.

So what do these changes mean for my shrimp and greens salad?

Bottom line is that my simple little salad of greens, tomato, shrimp, and vinaigrette just got a whole lot healthier.

Thanks to revised thinking from the FDA, the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats is now more important than just the grams of saturated fatty acids. Olive oil, although it does contain a significant franction of saturated fatty acids has a stellar ratio of almost 6 to 1.

And thanks to the Dietary Guidelines, the pattern and the whole plate are now important. Food counts and you get bonus points for more fish like shrimp and more dark green vegetables like arugula.

We’re not there yet, but my sense is we may actually be moving in the right direction.

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Eating more fish is healthy. Finding good fish is hard work.

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That’s what I call a beautiful piece of fresh tuna. Good fat marbling for flavor and nutrition. Drills down to fatty acids including omega-3 fatty acids. Beautiful color. Pan fried with just a little salt and pepper and we’ll be good to go.

My fishmonger assured me it was caught off Montauk point Long Island. And I have no reason to doubt him.  There’s good reason to find folks you trust and buy from them. Yes I know it’s a gut response but I believe it’s the best way to source.

My first experience shopping for fresh fish was the local farmer’s market was in Garches, a suburb outside of Paris. The men did the fishing, wives and daughters did the selling, and my French was good enough to establish myself as a serious customer. I learned how fresh fish smells and tastes. And what it looks like. And I experienced firsthand the value of relationship building.

It’s been a couple of years now that I have been cultivating my relationship with the fishmonger at the farmers market. At one market I buy from the fisherman himself. At the other I buy from the fisherman’s wife. Sometimes they make fun of my curiosity but most of the time I seem to be able to get answers my questions. More important, over the last couple of years that I have been cultivating relationships.

Trust is not something you can build with just any old person or any old supplier. Building a good relationship happens on a personal level. Building trust is important with any person you buy from, but to my way of looking at the world it is especially important to establish trust with the person who sells you fish because there are so many issues out there. Mislabeling. Adulteration. Sustainability. Toxicity. And exactly how long ago was that fish was caught and exactly how has it been handled. I can count on one hand the places I have enough faith in to feel comfortable buying or eating fish.

So during the summer farmer’s market season, Wednesday is fish day and we are eating very well.

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

 

 

 

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 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?

My favorite sustainable seafood linguine.

clams, scallops, shrimp, linguine | photo gourmet-metrics
clams, scallops, shrimp, linguine | photo gourmet-metrics

Sustainability is not technically a nutrition issue or a health issue, but it’s a noble goal. So why not eat more sustainably when we can?

As with many noble goals, what is and is not sustainable is not always easy to decipher, so I am starting with something really obvious. Local fish and shellfish. Fish that are locally sourced and responsibly gathered so as to maintain the population. Living as close to the Atlantic Ocean as I do, seems logical to me.

And since I was in Long Beach, I visited one of my trusted fishmongers and picked up some clams, scallops, and shrimp. Ooooooooops! Clams and scallops are local. Shrimp is not. Baby steps.

My recipe is my own version of that classic dish linguine and clam sauce. My method is really straightforward. Get everything ready to go, prepare any side dishes before you start, decide the time you need to serve, and be prepared to multi-task like crazy!

1 dozen small littleneck clams / 540 grams
2 – 3 dry sea scallops / 100 grams
4 large wild caught domestic shrimp / 100 grams
7/8 cup dry white vermouth / 200 ml
Couple cloves smashed garlic
fresh parsley or basil
2 ounces Italian linguine / 60 grams

Assemble and prep all ingredients before starting. De-sand clams if necessary. You will need a 3 liter covered pot for steaming the clams, a sauté pan large enough to hold cooked pasta, a 2 liter pot for cooking pasta, and a couple of small bowls.

Remove shell, devein shrimp, cut lengthwise, and set aside. Cut scallops in half and set aside. Scrub clams and place in bottom of large pot. Add vermouth, raise heat, cover pot, and steam open. As clams start to open, remove each one to a bowl carefully retaining any cooking liquid. As the shells cool, remove clams from shell, cut in half, and set aside. Strain remaining liquid to remove any sand or grit and set aside.

As clams steam open, add olive oil to sauté pan, sweat garlic, and sauté shrimp and scallops removing each piece as it finishes cooking. Then add reserved clam juice to pan, increase heat, and reduce volume if necessary.

As clam steam open, start pasta cooking water. Do not salt pasta water. Start to cook pasta about 10 minutes prior to serve time. Cook al dente and add to reduced clam juice / vermouth. Add herbs of choice, the clams, shrimp, and scallops back into pasta. Drizzle with good olive oil and serve immediately.

The proportions above serve two people. Those bits of red you see in my photo are the plum tomato I added at the last minute, part of this weeks CSA pickup. Not part of my usual recipe but a delicious addition.

Now this is exciting. I have arranged to get a Porgy at the market next week. Porgies are a locally caught, wonderfully flavorful fish that is not easy to filet because of the bone structure. According to my fishmonger, most of his customers are unwilling to tackle a whole fish so I had to put in a special order. I have no problem cooking the whole fish. In fact, I find it’s the best way to preserve delicate flavor.

So far sustainable fish looks like a good way to go.

How do I feel about GMO labeling?

shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics
shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics

Labeling has been getting lots of buzz lately and there are a couple of really hot issues out there. Natural. Organic. Sustainable. But far and away the hottest and most fiercely contested is GMO.

Last April I attended my state dietetic association meeting and had occasion to talk to a nice lady from Monsanto. I opened by telling her I choose not to eat GMO foods but had come to learn more about the issue. She was informative, engaging and knowledgeable. Surprisingly, not many of my colleagues shared my curiosity so the nice lady and I chatted uninterrupted for a good 40 minutes. She made the case against mandatory labeling but we both agreed voluntary labeling was a good thing.

Now I like labels as much as anyone out there. My reason for studying nutrition in the first place was to learn how to run numbers and make nutrition labels.

Sometimes I use food labels, but I have never looked to the label as my only source of information. So my conversation with the nice lady got me to thinking. How do feel about GMO labels? And what I have come to appreciate is that neither voluntary or mandatory labeling makes much difference to me. Let me explain.

Pictured above is a shrimp salad I put together at the beginning of the summer. I took the picture because the salad presented well on the plate and I selected it at random for this post to explain why a label often doesn’t tell me things I don’t already know?

The shrimp are wild caught from North Carolina purchased from my favorite greenmarket fishmonger told me the origin when I bought them because I asked. The shrimp looked fresh, smelled of the sea, and cost a lot of money. Many places sell shrimp a lot cheaper but I don’t want to eat those shrimp. With or without a label. So I pay more to eat less of an excellent protein.

Those scallions, arugula, radicchio, and cucumber all came from California. No labels because they were fresh and hand selected. Industrial production yes, so not organic or heirloom or local, but carefully selected just the same.

Those tomatoes are hydroponic and they did come in a package with useful information like country of origin so I know they are from Ontario. I use a lot of hydroponic tomatoes because they do the job until local or heirloom tomatoes become available at the end of the summer.

As for the dressing, I make vinaigrette with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Now these labels have value to me because they tell me things I don’t already know. The olive oil label tells me where in California my oil was pressed and even more important the pressing date. The vinegar label tells me the percentage acidity. The salt label tells me the salt is flake and not table. All critically useful information to an obsessive eater like me.

So you see my style of sourcing and eating takes me out of the GMO marketplace. I prefer cooking to opening packages and most of the food I buy has no label because it’s fresh or local.

So what would a GMO or a nonGMO label tell me that I don’t already know? Not much.

As for the larger issues, I am not concerned per se about health risk and GMO. I’ve done enough research over the last few months to determine to my satisfaction that seeds modified in a laboratory are probably as safe as any other seed breeding technique.

As long as the food is safe, I am okay with honoring choice. Some people want food cheap. Some people want food convenient. Some people want food certified and labeled. I am okay with as much diversity and choice as the market wants to offer.

This issues of genetic modification has aroused more passion that any other I can remember. But for now, I don’t need to get into the fight because in terms of how I choose to eat it’s just not going to make much difference.

Can we eat healthy and high fat?

summer flounder | gourmet metrics
summer flounder | gourmet metrics

 

Wednesday is fish night and summer flounder is what I served for supper a couple weeks ago. The piece I picked out weighing about 2/3 pound (300 grams) so at $15 a pound, I paid about $10.

At my table small is beautiful, so a little bit of protein goes a long way. Just the two of us that night and we split the flounder. That piece pictured above was my half. Cooked and ready to serve let’s say about 4 ounces (120 grams) which by American standards is on the skimpy side. But taste wise and protein wise (15 grams) it’s enough for me.

Some of my more zealous colleagues look at flounder as a low calorie / low fat option because the fish is so lean. Not me. Now I love flounder or fluke as some call it because the flesh is so delicate and the taste so subtle, but even this eater has to admit that all by itself flounder tends to be on the bland side.

My way to cook flounder is to pan-fry in olive oil, season with salt, kiss with pepper, finish with whisper of unsalted butter, and serve with a twist of lemon. Delicious but not low fat.

For the rest of the plate, steamed local spinach and farro. Local fresh spinach has plenty of flavor and to my taste at least needs nothing else, not even salt. I added some farro for whole grain carbohydrate but I took the picture before putting it on the plate. We finished off with a salad of finely diced kohlrabi, red Boston lettuce, Napa cabbage, and a couple of hydro-tomatoes dressed with my vinaigrette. And local blueberries for dessert.

The calorie count ran around 650 per person. Not a big meal by American standards but more than enough for us. It was a work night and we prefer not to have a heavy meal before going to bed.

Sounds pretty healthy doesn’t it? Let’s take a look.

Protein. A modest portion. Bonus points for seafood.

Vegetables. 6 different kinds of vegetables, total of 2 cups. Bonus points for dark green.

Fruit. Blueberries, rich in Anthocyanins, 1/2 cup. Bonus points for whole fruit.

Whole Grain. Farro is a wheat (not gluten free) and one of my favorite ancient grains. Bonus points for whole grain.

Fatty Acid Ratio: excellent which means more olive oil and less butter.

Sodium. 780 mg for the meal and 33% DV.

And for added value the meal qualifies as sustainable and affordable. In New York, flounder is local and not currently overfished. And despite the high price per pound, a modest serving size makes the cost manageable.

But there is always that question from the back of the room. How about fat? No problem. I’m a nutrition nerd and I always have the numbers. The percentage is above the recommended cut off which puts my meal into the high fat range. Not a meal for someone who needs to adhere to a low fat regime or who believes only low fat meals are healthy.

And because regulatory compliance is cast in concrete leaving little flexibility for humans to exercise judgment, labeling my meal healthy would be illegal.

It’s what I call healthy versus healthy.

And that’s why, when it comes to my own table, I exercise culinary judgment.

“Judgment is to law as water is to crops. It should not be surprising that law has become brittle, and society along with it.” The Death of Common Sense, Philip K. Howard, 1994