OMG! Ramps! They’re all anyone can talk about for a few weeks, and then, suddenly, they’re gone. They’re like the Macarena of the food blogosphere. Now I get that they’re one of the first excellent greens to arrive in the spring (though a month later than my favorite, the ubiquitous wild garlic) and historically they have provided a much-needed jolt of vitamins and chlorophyll to people crawling out from under a hard winter. And they truly are a complex and stanky delicacy. But just because they’re wild doesn’t mean you should eat as many as you can before the season is over.
Month: April 2011
I had a hankering for Korean-flavored beef skewers grilled out on the porch, but lateness as always altered my plans a bit. The result was less elegant than it could have been, but sure tasted good. Plus, it’s a safe bet that nobody has ever made Korean-flavored water buffalo meatball sandwiches with ramps, charred green onions, pak choi, and homemade feta-yogurt-ramp sauce before.
Freshly returned from a few days in the city for spring break (truth be told, I really spent most of it at a Hooters in Paramus, NJ with Camille Paglia working on her script for a musical version of Caligula) I have a renewed sense of purpose when it comes to food. There’s so much about the city that I don’t miss: the parking, the noise, the smells, the noise, the expense, and how loud it is. But the food can be good. Having said that, though, I find that the older I get the fewer restaurants really do it for me. There’s the cheap ethnic hit, sure, and I could never make Indian or Thai meals as well or completely as the places we used to order from in Brooklyn, but beyond that category there are few joints in the middle range that succeed for me. Even among the high-end establishments (which every now and then I get to try) it can be hit or miss. Mostly I like to cook at home.
There’s a good fish market that’s just far enough away that I don’t make it there very often. When I do, though, I always try to hit their freezer section to allow for more future meals than the fresh cases can provide. On my last trip, I got the unagi we had the other night, and I also bought a package of frozen crawfish. This was right around the time I was curing the shoulder for the tasso ham, so you can probably guess what I had in mind: jambalaya.
I was talking to a friend the other night in the city about how exciting it is to watch the greens positively burst forth from the confines of the ground after a particularly long winter, and how the thrill is tempered by the frustration of waiting for them to grow. I’m desperately eager to stop buying vegetables as soon as I possibly can, and yet good-sized greens are still a few weeks away. As with so many culinary problems, the answer to this one is right outside the door.
Last night I went to Nobu Next Door with a couple of friends after a thing in the city. It was far from our first choice, but since it came on the heels of another event and I had 110 miles to drive afterwards, we settled for what was right there, around the corner. I haven’t been to a Nobu franchise since a lunch party several years ago at the decorative trainwreck that is Nobu 57–it looks like 5 different interior designers mudwrestled to see who would get to ornament which surface–but I still have respect for his Peruvian-influenced ability to actually change Japanese cuisine from outside Japan. I had a few epic meals at his joints in NY and Miami back in the day, and because of who I was with luckily didn’t pay a penny for any of them. One’s standards tend to be a tad higher when one foots the bill, I have noticed. Today it feels like a hilarious Clinton-era time capsule all the way down to the too-loud lite house music, but it was convenient. Had I known that they still have bluefin on the menu, I would have kept walking.
This month’s Charcutepalooza project was hot-smoking, which is something I’ve done a fair amount of since buying my trusty smoker back in 2001 when we moved to the Brooklyn place with a deck. It has gotten a lot of loving use since then, helping ducks, chickens, pork bellies, briskets and many other things attain shiny umber patinas and diabolically delicious depths of flavor. As with so many other culinary urges, the seeds for smoking were planted long ago by since departed family. My Grandfather had a smoker, and his smoked chickens were truly things of beauty. Being an engineer–and one who built furnaces at that–he had long, complicated theories about how to control the smoking environment to achieve the best-tasting results: his favorite formula was that the humidity should increase over time in inverse proportion to the temperature inside the chamber.
The best thing about succeeding at something new and technical in the kitchen is that it builds one’s confidence for other projects. The Camembert and other cheeses made me realize that doing is everything; after a few tries one develops the beginnings of a feel for the method, and the results provide positive feedback in the most encouraging form: excellent food. Every time I make a food that seems to fall outside of the “normal” homemade category (vinegar, cheese, bacon, maple syrup, etc.) I am astonished not only at how easy it was but at how much better the result is than almost anything I could hope to buy, even for a lot of money.