I have heard that all wild fish taste different – they are gamey – a quality I am slowly learning to appreciate. By living in a city, I hardly get to eat anything that is both non-commercial and wild. Hence, an invitation to savor a wild-caught bounty from Hudson River was a rare opportunity.
The allure of fishing lies somewhat due to the fact that it is a quiet and enduring pursuit of unknown – we don’t know if a trout or mackerel or anything at all would be our meal as the result. The wild-caught fish I was getting for dinner was trout. I’ve heard that the rainbow trout are the best tasting freshwater fish in the United States. But do they taste different than their store-bought counterparts?
My chef’s mom used to steam-bake the whole fish. We stuck with the method, stuffing the fish with a mixture of sautéed garlic, crushed almonds, mayonnaise, some knickknack spices, freshly grounded back peppers, and sea salt. Trout were topped with sliced lemons, then carefully wrapped in stapled wax paper pouch, and cooked for approximately thirty minutes at three hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit.
Cooked trout retained its delicate flavor. Other additions acted more like a side condiment, optional to use, not necessary. Wild trout seemed to have a superior flavor, better texture, as well as lively color than their mass “hatchery” produced cousins. A better flavor may be due to romantic notion or really because the wild ones eat fresh natural diet while the stocked ones are largely fed on fish pellets.
The experience of eating wild food reminded me where our food really comes from. Most people in this world grow, fish, hunt, or at least cook their food from scratch. On contrary, most of us struggle with even properly nuking a frozen box of entrée from Trader’s Joe. We import higher percentage of seafood than oil in this country. Are we eating too much easy fish?
At the end of the meal, my chef asked me playfully how much these wild fish fetch in a DC restaurant? I didn’t answer, but quietly thought the experience of eating non-commercial wild-caught fish is far valuable than market price of fish.
Posted in: Cooking |
So what was the difference? Was it simply my mom’s touch that made cauliflower so delicious?
Cauliflower sautéed with potatoes. Kauli, was my favorite vegetable growing up in Nepal. It’s basically a North Indian version of gobi (cauliflower) aloo (potatoes).
The recipe is easy. Stir fry cut potatoes in oil with turmeric and cumin powder, maybe add a stick of cinnamon to add savory flavors.Add cauliflower florets and leave it until cooked. I tried to recreate my mom’s Kauli in the United States for many years without much success. Getting the spices right was easy. Just use what mom packed. But the texture and flavor were always off. The floret came out overcooked mushy or under-cooked crunchy, and always very watery.
Some people thought cauliflower needed a lot of oil, but my mom never put too much oil. Others believed the cultivar of cauliflower was different. I tried different cauliflowers from many grocers including ethnic stores, farms – but they didn’t really bring me closer to my mom’s Kauli. Many other hypothesis included difference in cooking utensils, cooking on gas stovetop instead of electric, types of salt used, etc.
Just before hurricane Sandy, I purchased a big beautiful crown of a cauliflower from a local farmers market. But even with my mom giving me directions on Skype, I failed to perfect her recipe. Half of the head was still unused. During that weekend, I lost power and cauliflower stayed outside instead of the cool vegetable chest inside my refrigerator. When the power came back on, I cooked it and surprisingly it tasted closer to my mom’s Kauli.
The difference in cauliflower was not the cooking methods, but how it cauliflowers are stored and sold. In Nepal and India, vegetable vendors don’t use refrigeration. As a result cauliflowers stay outside, slowly evaporating excessive moisture. Loss of moisture may make cauliflower pale, but it concentrate the flavors and makes it less watery.
Lesson learned. I can cook my mom’s cauliflower; I just need to let mother nature do her job sometimes.
Posted in: Cooking |
Although my mom did most of the cooking during my childhood, I learned more about cooking from my dad. My dad cooked fun stuff, while my mom made the daily staples.
My first memory of my dad’s “fun” cooking comes from a dish he made for us using leftovers. One of my favorites is what he calls an “Italian omelet”. I don’t think there is a traditional dish called Italian omelet. My dad’s signature Italian omelet is a regular omelet stuffed with leftover noodles, spaghetti, or lo mein, with a dash of ingenuity. While simple eggs can be used, my dad adds little bit of flour and milk to give eggs crepe-omelet hybrid like texture.
Oil/butter for cooking eggs
Beat eggs, milk, flour, and salt together.
Cook the beaten egg mixture in a greased pan like any other omelet over medium heat.
When eggs are half way done, add noodle.
Lower heat and fold eggs to cover noodles. Cover the pan and cook for a minute or so.
Through his omelet, he taught me the delicate balance between overcooking and undercooking, creatively using leftovers, joy of kitchen experiments, and tricks for using kitchen gadgets if you lack skills. Overall, he made cooking fun for us kids and inspired us to experiment and develop our own cooking styles.
Posted in: Cooking |
“Really, stuffing and eating animal lungs,” you flinch? Allow me to address your moral and culinary qualms.
Forget eating, most Americans haven’t even seen or heard of a dish made from lung meat. In the United States, it is uncommon to consume the lungs of cattle and many of its internal organs (offal). In fact, the only way you can get hold of lungs is by buying an entire animal although I didn’t find any federal regulations against selling lung meat.
Lungs, often referred to as “lights”, are savored in many other parts of world. Scottish haggis or lungmos (mashed lung) are savory pudding made of lungs, beuschel is traditional lung stew in Vienna, Zuppa di Polmone is Italian lung soup, and also popular in Indonesia and Malaysia is paru, which is fried lung coated with turmeric and other spices.
In Nepal, goat lungs are filled with flour batter, steamed or boiled, and then pan-fried into a perfect fusion of light bread and meat. This traditional Newah dish called Swonphuka or Swon (pronounced show-fuka) is still very popular in Kathmandu, where it is served as appetizer with local moonshine.
This very unique way of preparing lungs in Nepal and Tibet does not have a counterpart in any other culinary culture of the world (or I haven’t found one yet). It is hard to describe light and airy texture that culminates from a flour-batter filling, steaming, and frying of tender cattle lungs. I would say it is meatier version of a French toast. But such a comparison falls short of describing how the flour batter fills up the tiny holes (alveoli) of the lungs and results in a unique texture and taste that is unparalleled to anything I have tasted yet.
1 pair of lungs of lamb or goat
Batter. Mix all the ingredients until it reaches the consistency of a cream. Put it aside.
Lungs. Use fresh lungs that are not punctured. You can check integrity of lung by blowing air into it. You can use plastic tip/guard on used with hookah to blow air through lung pipe (trachea) or use a manual air pump. Traditional way of blowing air into lung is done by holding trachea at one end of loose fist (so that the fist acts as a small pipe) and blowing the air by mouth from other end that is not exposed to the meat. Make sure not to blow excessive air or blow too hard to avoid puncturing.
Cleaning the lungs. Clean lungs by pouring and removing couple of cups of water through its trachea. Repeat twice and turn the lung upside down to make sure all the remaining water and blood gets out. Finish up cleaning by pouring a few tablespoonful of oil into each lung.
Filling the lungs. Pour the batter into the lungs though the trachea. Start by pouring the batter by cup. Later use ziplock bag filled with batter to press down the batter.
As the lungs become full, they get shiny and smooth in texture and become lighter-colored. Seal trachea by folding and tying with a string. Make sure the batter does not flow out of trachea.
Prepping the lungs. Cook the lungs by boiling.
Once cooked, let them cool down, then slice each lung into half inch thick pieces and a couple of inches wide. You can store these for future. You can even individually freeze them and use them later.
Cooking the lungs. Sprinkle choice of your choice of seasoning and salt. Heat oil in a pan. Pan-fry until edges are slightly crispy.
For the life of the animal whose life has been taken to become your food, it is more respectful to utilize all of its body parts and strive to bring it up to the level of a prime rib.
During commercial meat production, lungs like many other unwanted offal are used to manufacture other food products and animal feed. Chances are you have already ingested cattle lungs indirectly in its processed (and inferior) form.
So, why would you throw out perfectly delicious part of an animal?
Hearty thanks to the cousin who bought the entire goat and the uncle who showed us how to prepare delicious lungs.
Posted in: Cooking | Tags: beuschel, Indonesia paru, Lung as food, lungmos (mashed lung), Lungs as food, Malaysia paru, Nepal Fried Lungs, Nepal Lung Recipe, Newar Lung, Newari Lungs Recipe, Scottish haggis, Swon, Swonphuka, Zuppa di Polmone
The word “Lox”, which means cured smoked salmon, conjures up images of bagel, cream cheese, and smoked salmon to most Americans.
Salmon cream cheese should be a good idea, right? Smoked salmon cream cheese from a popular brand, named after the city of brotherly love, was disappointing. It just didn’t seemed like enough smoked salmon and looked off.
I found these differences after scanning through the ingredient list between their smoked salmon cream cheese and regular cream cheese. Although smoked salmon was the third most abundant ingredient, fourth and fifth, were milk products. Regular cream cheese has only whey as extra milk ingredient, albeit we don’t know exact percentages.
Salmon flavor is enhanced by monosodium glutamate, sugar, natural smoke flavor and preserved by sodium nitrite. The reddish salmon color is given by oleoresin paprika (Color) and Rd 40.
These are differences are even sharply differentiated in table below, where items found in salmon are in red. The salmon cream cheese had twice as much ingredient as regular cream cheese from same manufacturer.
* the number inside parenthesis are the order on the list of ingredients.
It doesn’t mean that I give up my lox cream cheese dream if they don’t make a decent smoked salmon cream cheese. It’s really simple to make, skip extra ingredients and just add smoked salmon to cream cheese.
Gently fold cream cheese to salmon. To soften cream cheese, make sure to keep it at the room temperature for at least ½ hour.
Eat lox cream cheese with furikake bagels. It’s good even with burnt ones.
Posted in: Cooking - Food Science | Tags: Salmon cream cheese, Smoked salmon cream cheese