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2 posts from March 2017

March 29, 2017

There's a Hot New Ingredient in Town

By Piet E. Jones

Nope, it’s not some rare plant with an odd sounding name that’s only available on alternate full moons. Nor is it some high end heritage meat with a genetic line that exists only on some remFried-egg-burger2ote mountain farm. The hot new ingredient is actually one of the oldest ingredients of all - the egg. Now, it’s not an unusual egg that’s hot. Quail, goose, duck, even ostrich eggs can be found on menus all over but that’s not what the buzz is about. No, it’s your garden variety chicken egg that’s showing up on the hottest dishes in town.

Think About It

Heavy sauces aren’t really in vogue anymore. People want to taste their food. Simple is in. And what is more simple yet tastefully alluring than an egg? Of course, you do need the right preparation for the right dish to really make that egg sing. Scrambled eggs would be kind of silly on top of a burger. But put a fried one on top, so the creamy yolk oozes out over the juicy burger and you suddenly have a winner.

That mixed green salad with lovely sliced radishes and crisp cucumber? Try dressing it with a perfect egg. What is a perfect egg, you ask? Well, set water to a boil and then let it go back down to a low simmer. Add your egg and let it steep for five minutes. Move immediately to an ice bath to stop the cooking process and make it easier to peel. What you have is an egg where the white is firm but still slightly soft and a yolk of creamy, runny perfection. Serve it plain on the salad or roll it lightly in salt and pepper, or other spices and herbs of your choice. No need for dressing, maybe a squirt of citrus or flavored olive oil, when they slice into the egg it will run beautifully onto the greens taking some of the spices with it. Perfection.

There’s No Need to Limit Your Perfect Egg to Salads

That heritage pork chop that you serve with the fat perfectly crisped? Top it with a perfect egg. The small batch stone ground grits that are the platform for the massive shrimp? Top it with a perfect egg. Any number of dishes could benefit from the richness of a creamy yolk oozing out onto it. Sure, you could achieve a similar result with a poached egg but the improved visuals and mouthfeel of the perfect egg really can’t be beat.

Ramen and Asian style noodle dishes are showing up in all manner of restaurant, not just Asian ones. Besides the broth and noodles, often painstakingly made in-house, the star of the dish is often the egg. A perfect egg would go wonderfully on top of the slow braised broth and hand pulled noodles but you could also go another route. Instead of a 5 minute egg, how about a 4 hour one? Initially, the thought of such an egg conjures memories of grey yolks and a lingering sulfur smell. Not so if done correctly. If you’re making your own broth you already have a slowly simmering pot filled with all manner of goodness. Toss a few eggs in. After an hour remove them and slightly crack them, rolling them lightly to crack uniformly around the egg. Then put them back in the braising dish. Under the low heat, the eggs will slowly absorb some of the flavors of the broth (the low heat will also avoid the discoloration and noxious odor). Before serving remove the shell, you should have a gorgeous broken glass pattern all around the egg. You could even mix it up a bit, instead of steeping the eggs in your broth, do it in green or black tea to add a new element of flavor to your noodle dish.

Get Creative

Another creative angle being used is to sous vide the eggs. The precise temperature control really allows chefs to run the gamut from soft to extra firm with precision. A little olive oil in the bag, perhaps infused with herbs, or fine chopped cooked bacon or house made charcuterie can create tiny bites that are sure to please as either an appetizer or as part of a larger dish - almost like a dialed up deviled egg.

Regardless of which method or dish you choose, adding an egg is elegantly on trend, bringing a creaminess and feeling of homey comfort to most any plate. That is it relatively inexpensive and so easy to work with helps make it a winner ingredient behind the line. All around, perhaps the most perfect ingredient.

March 1, 2017

Pollock – America's Other White Fish

Gray pollock2

By Piet E. Jones

“Monday fish hardly worth elevating to Friday.” That was how James Beard award winning British food writer, Jane Grigson, dismissed pollock in her 1973 tome, Fish Cookery.  “Tasteless” and “muddy” were some of the other words she used to describe the poor, lamented pollock.

But that was many years ago, tastes change and what was once out is now hot.  Diners today don’t want strong, fishy seafood.  What Grigson called “tasteless,” today we describe as “delicate.”  The “muddy” color that offended her?  Our eyes see a beautiful ivory fillet.  Don’t forget, in colonial America indentured servants in New England demanded a clause in their contracts not to be fed too much lobster - a burden many of us today would gladly welcome.

 

A Blank Slate

The delicate flavor is actually the perfect blank slate for the creative chef.  Nearly any sauce pairs easily.  Plus, the firm flesh and low moisture content lends itself perfectly for breading or batters - holding up well even in deep fryers.

Pollock also has a few more things going for it. These days savvy diners, especially Millenials, don’t just indulge, they look for enjoyable foods that also give a little extra.  They want to know if seafood is sustainable, wild caught, and even good for you. In this case, 400-500 milligrams of Omega-3 fatty acids per three ounce serving.  This “good fat” is considered essential and experts believe it can help ward off age related diseases like Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes. And yes, to your diners’ delight, Alaskan Pollock is both wild caught and sustainable.

 

The Alaska Angle

More and more diners also want to know where their food was sourced from. The Portlandia skit where they make light of the farm-to-table movement and the journey Colin the Chicken made to their plate may have been funny, but there is more than a grain of truth to it.  The Alaskan fisheries, where American Pollock comes from,  are some of the best managed in the world.  Strict quotas and regulatory oversight ensure that the fishery will be productive for generations to come, providing good jobs.

There is even more to that Alaskan angle. Marketing research indicates that adding “Alaskan” or “Wild Caught Alaskan” can significantly increase sales over a menu item simply described as “Pollock.”  Diners are also willing to pay a premium for dishes labeled “Alaskan” over those that aren’t, a huge benefit in times of tight margins.

 

Budget Friendly

Also, Pollock won’t destroy your budget.  It is increasingly difficult to maintain quality and portion size without changing your price points - a real challenge in the face of stiff competition at all levels of dining in the restaurant industry.  Relatively inexpensive compared to similar wild caught white fishes, pollock can help you control your food costs while maintaining quality.

Pollock has come a long way.  Once out of favor, changing palates and increased awareness of environmental and health benefits point to it being the next hot fish.  Maybe it’s time for you to consider adding it to your menu.