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Dish of the Week.....In the Gallery

Dish of the Week:

Yellow Fin Tuna 'Summer' Carpaccio with Crispy Basil Rice Croquettes

When Giuseppe Cipriani made the first Carpaccio at Harry’s Bar back in 1950, he had no way of knowing that thousands of recipes for a dish with the same name would follow, or that his creation would move well beyond raw beef to fish, veal and venison. (Then again, as this was the same Giuseppe Cipriani that also ‘invented’ the Bellini cocktail at Harry's, perhaps he did).

Food lore has it that Cipriani came up with the dish at the behest of a wealthy customer, the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo, whose doctor had suddenly prescribed a raw meat diet. While culinary history is silent on what in the Countesses' constitution the good Dr was trying to cure (anemia? flagging sexual prowess? ), Amalia found the taste of raw meat repugnant so Giuseppe pounded it paper thin and smothered it in mustard sauce for her.

Whether you pound it with a meat mallet like Giuseppe, or wrap it in saran wrap and just whack it once or twice with the wide end of a chef’s knife as Ryan did with beautiful yellow fin tuna this week,  Carpaccio is a dish that has the potential to be a lot more than just a novel technique that transforms a base protein's thickness and texture.  Whatever the protein, it’s a dish where a delicate approach is required when it comes to the accompanying sauces, spices, and key ingredients.

Ryan’s great with dishes like these. For a big man he has an incredibly light, deft touch, coupled with an attention to detail that is immediately apparent in the artistry of his plating well before you take your first bite. While I doubt he ever sits down to count the steps it takes to arrive at the moment when a diner lifts a fork, stops, looks, and thinks, ‘oh my, this is beautiful ’, there are often many laborious ones his crew must practice and master.  God is in the details with this guy.

In the beginning of our professional relationship I often wondered if all this precise cutting, slicing, and dicing ~ though it goes a long way in defining his style ~ was really essential. Most professional and home cooks accept that having ingredients the same size when you are going to apply heat is important  ~ but until Ryan came along I never considered how synchronicity can be a game changer when it comes to what we taste.

This week’s Yellow Fin Tuna Carpaccio is a case in point. Ryan conceived the dish as a play on sushi and rice, one that takes Yellow Fin Tuna for a jaunt through a bountiful Sonoma County summer field at the height of August. Avocado, watermelon and golden beets ~ all cut to exact dimensions ~ brought key elements of creamy, refreshing and earthy to the plate.  Even with light assist from favas, chive flowers and purslane, everything on the final plate was meant to dance with (and around) the fragrant flavor and almost transparent texture of the tuna ~ enhancing, but never dominating its subtle taste.  The visual joy of Chef's plating wasn't subsidiary to the success of the dish, but an elaborate seduction, through color and form, integral to the experience of eating it. But that wasn't all. He also had a few surprises in store. The first was a deliciously crispy basil rice ball that referenced the sushi while extending its normally cold bland taste profile with surprising heat and crunch. By using Carnaroli rice instead of Nishiki (Sushi rice), and a touch of pecorino, Chef also brought more cream to the bite instigating an Asia meets Italy moment. Then there were the bright flecks of preserved lemon rind scattered through the dish which exploded in tiny bursts when you least expected it. Not sweet, but not overwhelmingly tart either they had the effect of bringing all the other subdued flavors forward while paying direct respect  ~ as only citrus can ~ to the fresh fish taste of the tuna.

The lemons had been preserved in equal parts of salt and sugar five months ago. I don't mind harping on it: preserved  lemons are a really great condiment to keep around.  Traditionally stored in ceramic or glass jars, Ryan uses sous vide pouches to cure and hold them, which take much less space in the fridge and uniformly bathes the lemons so you never even have to turn them (a great help if, like me, you always forget anyway).

Every mouthful of this dish was about what’s best in summer here in Sonoma County.  Whatever ailed her, I'm betting The Countess would have loved it.

New In the Gallery

WOVEN WITH PASSION, NOT WITH POWER is the mantra of SlowColor, a company that produces extraordinarily beautiful linen textiles we have just started selling in the gallery. Made in and around Hyderabad, India, exclusively on small pedal looms using only natural plant dyes, this politically focused enterprise was started by two Americans, Jala Pfaff and Sanjay Rajan, who hope their C2C (cradle to cradle) efforts will help keep ancient textile traditions alive by providing commerce to the hundreds of hand loom and natural dye co-ops struggling to survive in India. It wasn’t long ago we wrote about the tragic increase of small farmer suicides in that country which were directly triggered by a Monsanto-led movement which encouraged mega-scale chemically dependent farming over the small and sustainable methods India has used for centuries.  (Courting Armageddon, April 28, 2010) Well, it seems that for some time now thousands of small village textile weavers and dyers have also been driven to take their lives faced with obsolesce as the world has increasingly moved toward large scale factory production.

SlowColor textiles are made from premium organic flax, actually a more sustainable raw product than either cotton or bamboo as growing it is lighter on the land, and requires less water.  Gauze woven on foot pedal looms before being turned over to separate dye cooperatives in the same village, the line uses an “adjective” dyeing process where only natural mordants like saffron, tumeric, annatto, walnut, and cochineal are added to a dyestuff's natural color.  For indigo, Slowcolor follows the traditional method of fermenting indigo in earthen pots underground to create blues because, as Hindu, they will not use cochineal, or insect carcasses.
Pricing on the scarves (depending on the vegetable dye used and the length of the textile) ranges from $70-$120.  Hand-washable, these resilient pieces will only grow softer and more beautiful with age. No two are alike ~ except to the extent they are all intrinsically beautiful, and carry in their making the same life affirming message.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski  (unless otherwise noted)

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Dish of the Week.....In the Field with Friends

 

Dish of the Week:

Chesapeake Bay Soft Shell Blue Crab BLT

Summer is Blue Crab season all along the Eastern Seaboard, especially in the fishing villages off the coast of Maryland where the fresh waters of the Chesapeake Bay empty into the Atlantic. These soft-shelled delicacies ~ still listed as a “good alternative” on Seafood Watch ~ are a decided luxury for those of us living on the West Coast where they usually arrive frozen, if at all. Happily, ours arrived alive, freshly (and properly) packed in straw. Following a recipe that was as traditional in its judicious use of Yankee spices as it was Fancheresque in style (California Modern Country from first bite to last) our blue crabs reached the plate by dinnertime. A "soft" shell crab may sound like a crustacean oxymoron until you consider that technically they are without any shell when they are harvested, just after molting, only a few hours before their new shell begins to harden. Blue crabs shed their hard carapace in order to grow, burrowing deep in the muck to protect themselves from predators ~ but while an experienced fisherman (and most along the Atlantic are third generation or more) are canny at finding them, and can tell with a glance when to harvest, nowadays it is considered less harmful to the seabed for migrating crabs to be trapped and held in large shedding tanks until the witching hour.  Males have blue claws and a narrow abdominal apron, referred to in local parlance as the 'Washington Monument', while females have red tipped "painted fingernails," and a broader apron ~ ergo 'the Capitol Dome'. (There's a joke in here somewhere, but I'm not finding anything to do with Washington particularly funny at the moment)

Ryan prefers not to deep fry them, believing a lighter batter stands less chance of interfering with the blue crab's fragrantly delicate meat, which tastes more of the estuary than the sea.  The crabs were broken down, cleaned, and lightly tossed in seasoned flour and Old Bay (Celery Seed, Salt, Paprika and goodness knows what else), his play on a Southern Fricassée sauté.

To cook he placed them directly into an extremely hot pan, shook it a few times, then added a generous knob of butter and a few cloves of garlic. This instantly turned the pan into a furiously bubbling, fragrant morass.  All very dramatic, and over in a few minutes, precisely the time it took for their cool blue to turn a gorgeous russet around the edges. The finished dish was the perfect cross between the best parts of a BLT ~ think heirloom tomatoes and crunchy prosciutto ~ and the briny mayo you find in a lobster roll, though Chef upped the ante by dropping the roll and substituting the mayo with a rich housemade aioli that took its color from letting the saffron 'bloom' in white wine.

As dramatic as the cooking process was, at this point the slices of heirlooms stole the show visually, bringing, along with brilliant color, a subtle taste comparison. While the red tom's were sweet, the green, with less residual sugar in the flesh, tasted tart on the tongue with a more pronounced, firmer texture. (full disclosure: I never get much from yellow tomatoes.)

My God, this was a good dish, with mouthfuls of soft crunchy crab giving way to the vinegar from the tomatoes and an ethereal, buttery sweet seawater juice flooding the palate as it mingled with aioli.  Eating it brought me back to a night I spent on a beach somewhere on the Eastern Chesapeake years ago when, after an epic meal, one of locals stood drunkenly to his feet and began to recite the names of  tidal creeks and small harbors surrounding us in the dark. They rolled off his tongue like poetry ~ Pocomoke Sound,  Ape's Hold Creek, South Marsh, Devil's Island to the Head of Tangier Sound.  It all came back to me in a rush ~  stomach full to aching, the heat of the bonfire, the smell of the sea. Then again, food this good makes it easy to speak in tongues.

If you'd like to read more about what threatens the Chesapeake Bay's historic Blue Crab population, click on the link below for an article that succinctly summarizes most of the data I read on the current health and methods of harvest for this remarkable crustacean, which once drove the local fishing economies of both Maryland and Virginia.  We're so used to reading about overfishing, you may be surprised at the main culprit. Or not.

Click here.

In the Field with Friends

Mix Garden Garlic

So many reasons we feel blessed to have Mick Kopetsky and Alex Lapham in our lives, not least the joy of having access to this lovely collection of garlic they grew which recently showed up on the Mix wholesale list.  I baked and tasted through them all and the descriptors below, from Mix, were right on the money. What was most surprising beyond the different levels of heat and bite each brought to the mouth was how much their texture varied, from the Chesnok Red, which held its shape (one reason we use it for confit) to the Northern Italian Red, which went a bit too mushy for me. My favorite: Rose of Lautrec, which Drewski uses for our garlic chips (though to be fair, it had me at hello with the name).

Chesnok Red: One of the best cooking garlics with large easy to peel cloves Late Italian: This softneck variety is very pungent

Silver Rose: Rose-colored cloves are ideal for storing Northern Italian Red: Large bulbs are sweet and spicy

Rose de Lautrec: French variety that has a complex sweet flavor Drew with fresh garlic chips

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales  (unless otherwise noted)

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