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.

Fat, Salt, and Split Pea Soup

 

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Thank goodness fats are no longer considered a toxic substance. I did my nutrition studies during the height of the low fat is healthy years. Just imagine how confused I felt when I ran my own numbers and discovered my daily pattern was based on an unhealthy amount of fat.  That was just 20 years ago and as you know things have changed.

My split pea soup depends on fat to bring out the flavor of aromatic vegetables – onion, carrot, and celery. Finely chopped and sweated in lots of olive oil, this mirepoix adds color, hearty flavor, and sweetness to the soup. Without that generous dose of olive oil, the recipe wouldn’t be as delicious.

Salt of course is the other critical component. I learned I use too much fat but I also learned I under salt.  Salt is critical to good cooking but if you know your way around the kitchen you know how to squeeze flavor out of all the ingredients so there’s no need to use so much salt.

Recipe writing is not my strength. I do provide proportion but in both metric and common measure and some instruction. But if you’re a beginning cook and need basic instruction or technique, I suggest you check out a website like Simple Recipes or New York Times Recipe Box or one of the reputable collections available via the internet.

Rest assured that messing up a split pea soup is really hard. Burnt onions. Rancid olive oil. Confusing table salt with kosher flake salt. These are mess ups. But proportions of split peas to onion, carrots, celery can be highly variable as can the amount of liquid. So making this soup is good practice for trying your hand at no recipe cooking.

RECIPE for 3 liters (12 cups)

• 500 grams split peas (2 1/2 cups – generous pound)

• 400 grams mirepoix (1 1/4 cup chopped onion; generous 3/4 cup chopped carrot; generous 2/3 cup diced celery)

• 100 grams olive oil (7 1/2 tablespoons)

• 2 to 3 liters water or stock (8 to 12 cups)

• 12 grams salt (4 teaspoons Diamond Crystal® Kosher Salt or 2 teaspoons table/coarse sea salt)

Start by rinsing the split peas. Then gently sweat chopped onions in olive oil until golden browned and aromatic at least 30 minutes. The longer the onions sizzle softly in the oil the more aromatic they get. Add carrots and celery and sauté another 30 minutes. Now add liquid, split peas, herbs of choice, salt, and gently simmer partially covered until split peas are fully softened and starting to fall apart. Pass the soup through a food mill for an even textured consistency.

INGREDIENTS – Good flavor starts with sourcing the best ingredients. Look for split peas from the most current harvest. Sometimes these dates are hard to find. Store managers often really don’t know and in all due respect many could care less. Best to buy from a trusted supplier. As for the olive oil, no reason to use your best. High heat destroys some of the healthful properties and delicate taste aromatics. I use an everyday extra virgin olive oil from California. As for the liquid use water or vegetable stock or chicken stock in any combination. What’s important is the final volume, about 3 liters or 12 cups.

NUTRITION – I run numbers on all my recipes but I don’t post label results, however I’m happy to send you those numbers if you want them so just let me know.

I prefer using common measure. Most folks can visualize a cup of soup and once you know a cup of soup puts about 230 calories in the bowl, you can do the math yourself. Serving sizes always vary depending on how the soup gets served.  Appetizers are usually less than a cup. Main course soup for supper is usually more than a cup. Snackers I’m sure have their own favorite amounts.

Here’re a breakdown for the nutrients per cup that I check for:

• Protein. This soup qualifies as vegan so all 10 grams per cup are plant protein. Ham hocks or bacon or cheese are common additions to split pea soup. They add more protein and you’ll end up with an animal plant protein mix.

• Fiber. Both soluble and insoluble dietary fibers are beneficial from a health perspective. All legumes are fiber rich and split pea soup has lots of fiber, about 11 grams per cup.

• Fat. Olive oil is the source of fat and contribute 35% of the calories as per proportions used above. Using olive oil ensures that the fat profile will be predominantly unsaturated fatty acids. Adding ham hocks or bacon or cheese adds saturated fatty acids and changes the fat profile.

• Salt. Essential for a good tasting soup. Keep in mind however it’s important to salt to your own taste. So the most important step is learning to salt is to know your own salt tolerance. Always keep in mind that under salting is safer. You can use a sprinkling of finishing salt just before serving. Desalting an over salted soup is hard.

Using 4 teaspoons Diamond Crystal® Kosher Salt Diamond for 3 liters soup, one cup of soup has about 410 mg sodium. Sometimes I use only 3 teaspoons of salt which works out to 320 mg per cup. I don’t seem to need as much salt as many other cooks and eaters like to use. For me, a little bit of salt goes a long way. Salting to your own taste is really important because we don’t all taste salt the same way.

Why you may be asking do I specify salt by brand name? The answer is because brand and grind make a difference. So I’m not writing a sponsored post. There are two brands of kosher salt and one brand sits much lighter in the spoon than the other brand so it makes a difference which one you use.

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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

 

 

 

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?

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.

Does it matter where my garlic came from?

photo | gourmet metrics

 

That is one beautiful, robust clove of garlic pictured above. It came from a small local market where I do a lot of my shopping. It stored well down to the last piece, no shriveling or mold spots, and cooked up beautifully with all the rich umami flavor I expect from an honest clove.

The garlic was imported. The sign above said “IMPORTED GARLIC” but no information on the country of origin was included.

So I started looking around for someone to ask. The store is run by a bunch of guys who love the business I give them but do not always have time or inclination for all my questions.

Now I am not easy. I want to know everything about everything. That’s me. A real pain in the ass. So when I shop for food I am always attentive to managing a constant tension between my desire to know and someone else’s desire not to be bothered.

And my observation over the years is that guys who work in the food business usually do not appreciate curious ladies with questions, unless they work at Whole Foods. But I was not shopping Whole Foods that day.

My first try was the young man attending to scallions. His English was at best somewhat broken but he understood my question, just smiled when I asked if he knew where the garlic came from and he just said ” Nooooo … ”

One of the managers would probably would have known was elbow deep in piles of delivery papers so I decided not to interrupt.

Then I saw one of the principles, usually tolerant of my insatiable curiosity. As I approached he took a quick turn from my path into the refrigerator storage room. So I gave up, paid for my purchases, and left the store garlic in hand.

In the parking lot behind the store is a holding shed for produce to wait before it goes into the store for sale. I was parked near the holding shed so I put my bags in the car, went back to door to the shed, and looked in.

No one there. But I could see lots of boxes. I know the country of origin always appears on shipping crates or boxes. So I went in and started poking around and I found it!

Printed clearly on one of the boxes were these two words: GARLIC Argentina. No other indicators like organic or fair trade or nonGMO, but I had my country of origin.

But I got to thinking on the drive home, is it my right to know? Where do you draw the line between frivolous curiosity and legitimate need? Sometimes it is critically important. If there is a recall for example, where that cantaloupe or peach came from becomes critically important. Clearly a legitimate need.

And then there is that very long list of other nice to know things like fair trade or nonGMO or organic or heirloom. These labels are good marketing tools, but do they fall into the category of legitimate need?

Thinking through the issue on the drive home, I conceded that it’s not really my right to know unless it is a safety issue.

Developing a good relationship with your customers has encourage many vendors to make it their business to answer questions. That is why I have such good relations with many of the Whole Foods staff. But this particular store I shop at does not have that kind of business. It’s a family affair and run by people who have been in the produce for two generations. Twice a week they go to the Hunts Point distribution center and refresh the stock. I shop there because they are expert at buying produce. And for perks, they bring in blood oranges from Sicily in the winter and green figs from California in the late summer.

Besides there is more than one way to discover a country of origin. I had my answer and came home with a great garlic. So I have decided to cut them slack on this country of origin issue.