Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Cheese Shop of Concord Turns 50! Upcoming Events.

The Cheese Shop of Concord opened its doors 50 years ago, in 1967. Back then, America was familiar with just a handful of cheeses: cheddar and Swiss, meunster and havarti, cream cheese, brie and roquefort. Today’s consumer is familiar with, and obsessed to buy, dozens more.

Cheeses from New England, California, and every state in between. Cheeses imported not only from France and Holland, but New Zealand and the Azores. Cheeses made from cow, sheep and goat milks. Tiny wheels and giant wheels; at up to $50 per pound.

It’s a sea change from 1967. Today’s cheesemonger, therefore, must be knowledgeable about thousands of cheeses, and keep them in stock and ready for consumption.

For 50 years, The Cheese Shop of Concord has been a regional resource for all things cheesey under just three proprietors: the first from 1967-1976, the second from 1976 to 2003, and Peter Lovis from 2003 to the present. The shop is obviously doing something right, but what is it? Locals say it all boils down to the shop’s motto: “Where shopping is an Old World pleasure.”

There’s something to be said for the old fashioned give and take between merchant and customer that was taken for granted in 1967, but is missing in today’s impersonal, e-commerce environment,” says Lovis.

In celebration of its 50th birthday, The Cheese Shop of Concord plans a variety of public events in 2017.

Going To Txotx On Sunday 
Sunday, May 21 from 1-4 PM
A txotx (pronounced chuch) is a traditional Basque festival that heralds the readiness of hard cider pressed from regional apples. This unique outdoor event will take place at the scenic Concord Rod & Gun Club, located on Strawberry Hill Road, just a few miles north of downtown Concord. In case of rain, the event will be moved indoors, to a vintage sportsman’s lodge overlooking the club’s private pond.

A highlight of the event will be the Blessing of the Barrel, when a 55-gallon wooden barrel is tapped, and its contents literally spurt into one’s glass like a faucet. Attendees can also watch as local cider apples pass through an apple press for bottling and drinking later this summer.

Each $65 admission ticket entitles the bearer to enjoy: a take-home cider glass from which to quaff unlimited samples from New England’s top hard cidermakers, and a bounty of Basque-inspired food including grilled steak, cod frittatas, olives, nuts, cheeses and more. At press time, these 8 cidermakers have confirmed participation:

* Artifact Cider
* Bantam
* Carr’s Ciderhouse
* Good Life
* Pony Shack
* Shacksbury
* Snowdrift
* Zoll Cellars

In addition, attendees will receive a complimentary 22 ounce bottle of hard cider, made from apples hand-pressed at the event on May 21 and carefully fermented until late July. Folks will be advised when the cider is ready to drink, and bottle pick-up will be available at The Cheese Shop of Concord.

Tickets for Concord’s first-ever txotx will be on sale at beginning May 1st.

Birthday Grill-a-thon 
Saturday, July 22, 11 AM-3 PM
The Cheese Shop of Concord’s 50th birthday will be celebrated on this day with a gargantuan birthday cake, and slices are free to anyone who stops by. In addition, the shop’s executive chef will have a “sausage stand” set up out front to sell grilled brats, wursts and hot dogs all afternoon. The party coincides with the Town of Concord’s annual Sidewalk Sale, so plan to come and spend the whole day.

In-Store Classes
Beginning in September, from 6:30 - 8:00 PM
A series of four evening classes, after-hours in the shop, are open to enthusiasts who are curious about the countless varieties of cheeses being produced, about aged meats like salami or prosciutto that pair well with them, and about beverages that love to accompany cheese. Enrollment is limited to 12 students per session, and the cost is $40 per student. Dates and times are shown below:

* Tuesday, September 13: Cheese 101 with proprietor Peter Lovis
* Tuesday, September 20: Beer, Wine and Mead with Mike Reilly
* Tuesday, September 27: Charcuterie 101 with Chef Justin Kopaz
* Tuesday, October 4:Easy Entertaining with Cheese, with Keir Weinberg

Crucolo Cheese Parade
Thursday, December 7, starts at 3:30 PM
For the eighth consecutive year, the Cheese Shop and the Town of Concord welcome a 400-lb. wheel of crucolo cheese from Trentino, Italy with a lively street parade of flags, speeches, horses, live music, dancing and of course, tasting. Video of the 2016 and previous parades can be viewed at the Cheese Shop’s YouTube channel.

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) The Massachusetts Historical Society is hosting a series of programs on how Boston has changed the American diet. They have five programs coming between the end of April and the middle of June, featuring culinary historians, chefs, librarians, and ice cream pioneers.

Eating Other People’s Food
April 27, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Boston’s role in introducing America to a more cosmopolitan cuisine; touching on the bland period of the early/mid twentieth century and contrasting this with the influences of Julia Child, Joyce Chen, and more recent celebrity chefs
Speakers: Laura Shapiro, Alex Prud’homme, Stephen Chen, and Megan Sniffin-Marinoff (moderator)

Where to Go
May 3, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
The great places and great personalities that put Boston on the map; looking at some of the big name restaurants like Anthony’s Pier 4, Locke-Ober’s, Jacob Wirth, to important innovators such as Tony Maws, Jim Koch, Chris Schlesinger, Lydia Shire, etc. to socially important neighborhood spots
Speakers: Corky White, Jim O’Connell, Erwin Ramos, and Peter Drummey (moderator)

Sweet Boston
May 18, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Boston’s obsession with sweets as seen through 19th century candy making, 21st century candy making, and the rise of chocolate and the cacao trade in Boston
Speakers: Joyce Chaplin, Michael Krondl, Carla Martin, and Gavin Kleespies (moderator)

Ice Kings
June 6, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Looking at the unusually strong interest in ice cream from the early 19th century ice trade to the rise of premium ice cream through institutions like Steve’s
Speakers: Gus Rancatore, Jeri Quinzio, and Judy Herrell

Final Courses
June 15, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
A guided walking tour of the final resting places of some of Boston’s great culinary figures, including Fanny Farmer, Joyce Chen, Gian Franco Romagnoli, Walter Baker, William Schrafft, and Harvey Parker, of Boston’s famed Parker House
Led by the docents of Mount Auburn Cemetery

2) Committee is excited to announce an additional installment of their Monthly Wine Dinner Series on Wednesday, April 26, from 7pm-9pm, celebrating Cretan cuisine and wines from Rhous Winery. Chef de Cuisine Theo Tsilipanos, Wine Director Lauren Friel, and Consulting Chef Diane Kochilas team up with winemaker Maria Tamiolakis of Rhous Winery for a special Cretan Wine Dinner.

Rhous Winery is a boutique winery owned by the Tamiolakis family and situated near the village of Houdetsi in Greece. It is part of the Appellation Peza, the largest wine-producing region in the Heraklion Prefecture. Tamiolakis is a young female winemaker who is part of the “next generation” winemakers of Greece. She, along with her husband, both run Rhous Winery which is a super small production/artisanal winery on Crete (an area that has been known for bulk/industrial wine making in past years). This wine dinner will be extra special due to the fact that she will be onsite to educate attendees and answer any questions they may have

Chef de Cuisine Theo Tsilipanos will present a five-course Cretan menu for the evening, featuring distinct dishes and flavors of the area in a variety of meze and full size dishes.

The full menu for the Cretan Wine Dinner is as follows:
Marinated Spring Salad (shaved artichokes, asparagus tips, fresh peas, fennel, dill, Cretan barley rusks, shaved graviera)
Burke (potato zucchini terrine with fresh cheese, mint, & feta)
Octopus (braised with orange wedges & green olives)
Oregano Roasted Goat (sfakiano pilafi)
Cretan Honey Cheesecake (raisin spoon sweet)

Featured wines include:
Muscat of Spino/Vidiano Blend
Rhous ‘Estate’ White
Rhous ‘Skipper’ White
Rhous‘Skipper’ Red

The Cretan Wine Dinner is $75 per person. Reservations are required so please call 617-737-5051

3) This May and June 2017, the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) is once again offering Bostonians an exclusive opportunity to mingle and cook with some of the city’s top chefs, as part of its ongoing celebrity chefs cooking series.

Students will learn the craft of cooking in hands-on classes taught by local celebrity chefs. Each chef will emerge from their renowned kitchens and into the BCAE’s state-of-the-art kitchen facilities for a one session interactive cooking class. Under the guidance of these top chefs, students will learn how to create the perfect dishes for all their spring get-togethers, These delicious courses will leave everyone wanting more.

Class Schedule:
Southern Inspired Fried Chicken Feast with Alex Saenz of Bisq
Monday, May 1st from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Restaurant-Quality Comfort Food with Francis Flores of Coda
Monday, May 8th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Pasta By Hand with Douglass Williams of Mida
Monday, May 15th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Classic Greek Home Cooking with Theo Tsilipanos of Committee
Monday, June 12th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Authentic French Bistro Cusisine with Michael Denk of Bar Boulud
Monday, June 19th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Fine Dining Desserts for the Home Kitchen with Allen Morter of Bistro du Midi
Monday, June 26th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Reserve seats now; space is limited. To register, or for more information please visit or call the Boston Center for Adult Education at 617-267-4430 to sign up.
COST: $70 for Non-Members, $60 Members, and $15 material cost.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Enderle & Moll Basis: An Intriguing German Pinot Noir


A German word for what you will likely better know as Pinot Noir. German Rieslings get most of the attention so many people don't realize that Pinot Noir is produced in Germany. In fact, Pinot Noir has been grown in Germany since at least the 14th century, though it never attained the fame of Burgundy, partially as the wines just didn't seem as good as those in Burgundy. However, their quality has greatly improved. Currently, there are approximately 12,000 hectares of Pinot Noir grown in Germany and we're starting to see more of those wines in the U.S. market.

Streetcar Winesin Jamaica Plain, has an excellent and fascinating selection of wines, primarily from small producers and their prices are very reasonable. This is a wine lovers store, an intriguing place for people to explore and expand their palates. Recently, while perusing their shelves, I found the 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir ($30) and owner Michael Dupuy told me that it might be his favorite German Pinot Noir. I chose to buy a bottle, as well as a number of other fascinating wines.

The Enderle & Moll winery, which is relatively new, is named for its two German owners, Sven Enderle and Florian Moll. The winery is located in the Baden region, in the Black Forest foothills between Offenburg and Freiburg im Breisgau. They have a small, 2.4 hectare vineyard, in the village of Münchweier, which they farm organically and they also purchase some grapes from another small, organic vineyard. Their Pinot Noir vines are some of the oldest in the Baden region and purchase aged barrels from a small estate in Burgundy. Enderle and Moll are seen as "contrarians," very different from many other neighboring German producers. They are very hands-on, producing wines which many might consider "natural wines." They also have a reputation for making some of the best Pinot Noir in Germany.

The 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir is their entry-level Pinot and it is created from two different barrels. One barrel is from whole clusters that were foot-stomped while the other barrel was only 30% whole clusters. And this wine has only an 11.5% ABV, an amazingly low alcohol level compared to most other Pinot Noirs. This wine has a very light red color and on the nose, its present an alluring scent of cherry, mild spice and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you'll be impressed with its elegance and complexity, its bright acidity and delightful flavors of red fruit, spice notes, earthy elements and a touch of herbs.

With a lengthy and pleasing finish, this is a killer Pinot, one that can easily compete with Pinots from any other region. It seems like a wine reflective of place, and it was easy to finish the bottle over the course of an evening. And if this is only their entry level wine, then I very much want to explore their higher end wines, to see the vinous magic they produce. I highly recommend this wine and also highly recommend you check out Streetcar Wines.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rant: Eat & Drink The Bunny

"Put the bunny back in the box."
--Cameron Poe in Con Air

Yesterday was Easter, a holiday which partially showcases the Easter Bunny, who delivers candy-filled baskets to children. Numerous people enjoyed traditional choices, ham or lamb, for dinner. I pondered recently though whether any local restaurants would serve rabbit for Easter dinner, but I didn't learn of any spots doing so. Last week, I also wrote about a Mezcal made with rabbit, which I thought would be a great choice for Easter. Not everyone seemed thrilled with that idea.

Why are so many people opposed to eating, or drinking, rabbit?

Some will ask, how can anyone eat a cute, fuzzy bunny? Some people may have had a rabbit as a pet, keeping it in a small hutch, and thus feel squeamish about eating something they once had as a dear pet. These feelings are relative modern and that sentiment wasn't an issue for many prior generations. We need to return to those earlier sentiments as the consumption of rabbit is good on several fronts, as it is the most nutritious and sustainable meats that exists. 

Around 1100 B.C., when the Phoenicians first came to Spain, they found rabbits there and it is probable that they then spread rabbits throughout the Mediterranean region. The ancient Romans enjoyed rabbit meat, and they even created leporaria, walled areas where they raised rabbits for later slaughter. There once was even a Roman law that all young women had to eat rabbit because it was thought it would make them more beautiful.

Rabbits have continued to be eaten as food throughout history, though consumption in the U.S. has apparently declined greatly at least over the last hundred years. Have you ever noticed that it seems almost every movie about the Middle Ages shows rabbit being eaten? Nowdays, Europeans are far more amenable to dining on rabbit and France is the largest producer and consumer of rabbit.  My first time eating rabbit was when I was in Spain over 15 years ago.

Why should we eat more rabbit?

First, it is an excellent sustainable choice, far more sustainable than beef, pork, lamb or poultry.  Rabbits eat grass and marginal forage, thus they do not compete for resources with people and are more easily fed than many other animals.  They will even eat food scraps, which would be a great use for all of our vast food waste. We all know how rapidly rabbits can reproduce and they are available year round.  Rabbits require little space, certainly much less than other food animals.  You could even raise rabbits at home, which is relatively easy to do. It is said that a rabbit can produce six pounds of meat for the same amount of resources which a cow needs to produce a single pound. 

The carbon footprint of raising rabbits is far lower than other common food animals, and thus much better for the environment.  As the demand for meat continues to increase, it may be impossible to meet that demand without causing significant environmental problems due to increased resource intensity. Beef may be the largest offender, requiring significant resources which could be instead used for other purposes which might better feed more people.  The increased consumption of rabbit could alleviate these issues, as rabbits require far lesser resources.  It is something that needs to be seriously considered.

Second, rabbit meat is very healthy and nutritious. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has even stated that rabbit is the most nutritious meat. Rabbit has only 795 calories per pound, compared to chicken at 810, turkey at 1190, beef at 1440 and pork at 2050. Rabbit also has the highest percentage of protein of any meat. In addition, rabbit has a lower percentage of fat and less cholesterol than chicken, turkey, beef, or pork.  Rabbit is easily digested, and has very high levels of Omega-3's and other good fats. Those are all good reasons to opt for rabbit.  

Third, and a very important reason, rabbit tastes good. It has a mild and slightly sweet flavor, in some respects like chicken, though it can also remind you of veal or even pork. You won't find it to have a gamey flavor, which can be offputting to some. Plus, nearly all of the rabbit is white meat, which appeals to many people.  It is generally lean meat, so be careful about overcooking it. In addition, different parts of the rabbit have different characteristics so you can get a variety of flavors within the rabbit.  If you tasted rabbit blind, you would very likely enjoy the meat though you probably would not realize it was rabbit.

The main resistance to eating rabbit appears to be primarily psychological. It is seen more as too cute to eat, too much like a pet. Yet those who actually eat rabbit find out how delicious it can be. Plus, as it is so sustainable and nutritious, more people should be eating rabbit. Break through that psychological wall and try some tasty rabbit. It is good for you, good for society, and good for the environment.

Eat & Drink The Bunny!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Origins of Pechuga, Pierde Almas, & Mezcal de Conejo

I've found the perfect Mezcal for celebrating Easter, the Pierde Almas Mezcal de Conejo. Why is it so perfect? Because this unique Mezcal is made with a wild, cottontail rabbit. Anyone for some liquid bunny?

Mezcal is a distilled spirit from the agave plant and for some background information on it, please check out some of my prior Mezcal articles, including Rant: 400 Rabbits Say "Drink More Mezcal"Mezcal Bars in the Boston AreaMezcal & Beyond, and Amuleto Mexican Table, Mezcal Vago & "A Slap To The Face." Tequila gets loads of publicity but Mezcal too often gets ignored and needs additional promotion. It is more than worthy of your attention, being complex and intriguing, and often made by more traditional methods.

There is a special variety of Mezcal known as Pechuga, a flavored version that often is made with some type of meat. The Spanish term "pechuga" basically translates as "breast" and generally refers to a "chicken breast." This type of Mezcal likely acquired its name as chicken breasts were probably the first meats used to produce it. Currently, you'll find versions of Pechuga made from a variety of animals, including turkey, deer, goat, cow, pig, rabbit and even iguana.

To make Pechuga, a Mezcal is commonly distilled for a third time with a raw piece of meat suspended inside the still. In addition, various fruits, herbs, nuts, grains and/or spices are added into the still. The specific recipe of that melange of ingredients will vary from mezcalero to mezcalero and as there is no legal definition for Pechuga, the recipes can be quite diverse. The heat of the still will cook the meat and the vapors will pass through and into the meat. Sometimes, a few mezcaleros will conduct this process during the second distillation instead of adding a third.

How does the meat affect the taste of the Mezcal? Some claim the meat helps to mellow and soften the Mezcal, and others state it gives the Mezcal a fuller body. If you taste a Pechuga, you probably won't be able to identify the specific type of meat that was used, but will likely detect more savory notes, and possibly even some gamier elements.

Pechuga is sometimes referred to as a harvest Mezcal as it is commonly produced during November to January, when the wild fruits are ripe, such as apples, plums, red plantains, pineapples, and more. It is also usually produced from Espadin agave, one of the most common, hearty and least expensive agaves used to make Mezcal. Placing all of the various ingredients into the Mezcal will tend to overwhelm any subtlety of the agave so it would make little sense to use some of the rarer agave varieties to make Pechuga. Pechuga is often drank at various celebrations and holidays.

The origins of Pechuga are murky, both its date of origin as well as the reasons behind its initial creation. When I initially surveyed the current information about Pechuga, there was some evidence that it reached back at least to the 1930s as there were bottles labeled Pechuga from this decade. As for printed evidence, the earliest, as stated by Ron Cooper of Del Maguey Mezcal, appeared to be a book from the 1950s which mentioned a Pechuga made from baby goat breast that was added during the second distillation. It seemed likely that Pechuga originated before the 1930s, but the evidence was lacking.

Until now.

My own research has to the discovery of printed evidence of Pechuga extending back to 1864, meaning it is at least 150 years old. In addition, I've located multiple other printed references to Pechuga, ranging from 1864 to 1904, which provide more insight into this unique type of Mezcal. Since I originally published this article, I've revised and expanded it once and now have returned to revise and expand it again, as I've uncovered additional evidence.

It is possible that continued research might lead me to revise and expand this article in the future as well. Despite my fascinating discoveries, there are still significant questions remaining about the history of Pechuga. Additional research is certainly needed to address the unknowns and I strongly suspect there is more to find out there.  

As I conducted my initial research to write this article on Pechuga, I was quite surprised when I discovered a newspaper from 1901 that mentioned Pechuga. As far as I was aware, that appeared to be the oldest known printed reference to Pechuga. That newly uncovered information meant Pechuga was at least 116 years old and probably even older. I also felt that it could be a starting point for additional research on the history of Pechuga.

In the Saturday, January 5, 1901 edition of The Oasis, an Arizona newspaper, they published an article, Mescal Making, though the author of the article was not identified. The article discussed the Mezcal being produced in the Sahuaripa district of the Sonora state in Mexico, stating the area was "...noted far and wide for the excellence and quality of the mescal there produced,..."

There was a further explanation of how Mezcal was produced, including information on its quality levels, which mentioned Pechuga. “Of the finished liquor there are three qualities determined by the number of distillations to which subjected. The product of the first distillation is called “vino,” and is the cheapest grade of mescal. The “vino” when subjected to a second distillation loses about thirty per cent in weight and then is known as “Bacanora.” This is a much finer and more expensive liquor than the “vino.” In the third distillation the “Bacanora” loses another thirty per cent, by weight, of the “vino” and the product, known as “pechuga,” is a very fine and costly liquor, within reach of the purses of the wealthy only. It is a soft, smooth liquor, having all the strength of the “vino,” contained within forty per cent of its weight but losing none of its fiery qualities and pungent taste.”

It is important to note that this article didn't specifically mention that Pechuga was made with meat, but it was stated to be produced from a third distillation. Did the author misunderstand the actual nature of Pechuga? Or did the term Pechuga once only refer to a higher quality of Mezcal? It doesn't seem logical that this Pechuga didn't include meat. Why else refer to it by a name meaning "breast," especially "chicken breast?"  There doesn't appear to be any other historical evidence that the term Pechuga was ever used for anything but Mezcal flavored with meat. I think it is probably most likely the author made a mistake, an omission error, failing to mention the addition of meat in Pechuga.

We also see that Pechuga was very expensive, and tasted soft and smooth, though still possessing the fiery character of Mezcal. This article also raises the question about whether Pechuga might have originated in the Sahuaripa district or not. We can pinpoint the presence of Pechuga there at least 116 years ago. At the very least, this article provides a lead for further research, that maybe more evidence could be found in this district. It was certainly fascinating to find such an old reference to Pechuga, though I didn't know at that time that I would soon find an even older reference.

Before I get there though, I should mention that on Saturday, May 24, 1902, The Oasis published a second article, Mezcal Manufacture, mentioning Pechuga. However, the article was simply an expanded version of their prior article, using much of the same information, and didn't add anything new about Pechuga.

Though this was an intriguing find, pushing back the known origins of Pechuga, I didn't stop my research, using this new information as a springboard. My continued efforts paid off and I made another compelling discovery, finding a printed reference to Pechuga in a book from 1891! What made this even more interesting was that the reference was very clear that the creation of Pechuga included the addition of a chicken.

The book, El Maguey. Memoria sobre el cultivo y beneficio de sus productosby Jose C. Segura, was published in Mexico in 1891. Jose Segura (1846-1906) was an agronomist engineer and a professor at the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, having written several other books and numerous articles. This book, published in Spanish, discussed the many uses of the agave plant, including its use in making Pulque and Mezcal. It is probably worth a deeper examination as it may contain other intriguing information about agave, Pulque, Mezcal and more. It would also help if there were an English translation.

There is a passage in this book that references the term Pechuga: “El primer producto que se obtiene y que se llama vino ordinario, sufre una segunda destilacion, que pro duce el vino refino, que se expende en el comercio con un grado de 46° (Gay Lussac). Las primeras porcio nes que pasan en esta segunda destilacion, toman el nombre de flor primera, segunda, etc. Hay un vino que - rectifican añadiéndole gallina y no recuerdo qué otras cosas bien poco volátiles, que llaman vino de pechuga, el cual lo preparan solamente para regalo."

This passage mentions "vino de pechuga," which is made by adding chicken and other unstated ingredients. It is also noted that this Pechuga was prepared only for a gift. However, after a closer examination of the book and additional research, I learned that Mr. Segura did not actually author that passage, but was quoting a prior writer, D. Manuel Payno. And Mr. Payno's original article containing that passage is from 1864, pushing back the calendar on Pechuga even more.

In the Boletin de la Sociedad Mexicana de Geografia y Estadisticathere was a lengthy article, Memoria Sobre El Maguey Mexicano Y Sus Diversos Productos, written by D. Manuel Payno (1864). The article contained the above passage on Pechuga which Mr. Seguara included in his book. Unfortunately, Mr. Payno didn't include anything else in his article about Pechuga, though we now know Pechuga existed in Mexico over 150 years ago. This is now the oldest known printed evidence of Pechuga.

Returning to Mr. Segura's 1891 book, there was another reference to Pechuga, one which appeared directly attributable to him, but it used a different term. He wrote "Dos clases de Mezcal se conocen en el Sur de Mexico: el mezcal de cabezas, que es el que se obtiene destilacion del liquidoen donde se han puestoa fermentar las cabezas, y el que llama de sustancia, que es el que se obtiene distilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera. Tambien acostumbran en algunas partes, aromatizar el mezcal, destilandolo sobre cascaras de fruta."

He referred to it as mezcal of sustancia, substance, which is made with chicken or legs of veal. There was also a mention that sometimes fruit peels are added to the mezcal. This was not the only work to use a different term for Pechuga. For example, published in 1882, the Memoria de la Primera Exposicion Industrial De Queretaro, y Lista de los objetos presentados en la misma (Memory of the first exhibition industry of Queretaro and list of objects presented), written by Celestino Diaz, mentioned this term a couple times.

The first mention was of "mezcal de sustancia, que los Srs. Becerill y Ordonez fabrican en San Angel." There was another mention, noting that mezcal de sustancia won a first class award at the Exposition. Interestingly, there was also a reference to "Pechuga Naranjado," which won a first class award too.

In addition, the Diccionario de Aztequismos: ó sea, Catálogo de las palabras del idioma Nahuatl, Azteca ó Mexicano, introducidas al idioma Castellano bajo diversas formas, written in 1904 by Cecilio A. Robelo provided a list of various types of Mezcal. It defined "Mezcal de sustancia" as "el que se obtiene destilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera." That is essentially the same language as used by Mr. Segura.

Beside these discoveries, I also found multiple other references to Pechuga from 1872-1901, which add to our understanding, as well as raise additional questions, of this unique type of Mezcal.

A Colorado newspaper, Out West (November 21, 1872), provided a travelogue, written by Rosa Del Monte, who journeyed with a group to various parts of Mexico. At the Hacienda de Quesaria, the group had breakfast, checked out their sugar mill and were amazed by "chicken wine." As the passage states: “But the most remarkable product of the estate is “Chicken Wine.” As any-one may imagine, we greeted the member of the party who made the discovery with shouts of derision, but he stuck to his statement, and soon a bottle with “Vino de Pechuga” (the breast of a chicken) on the label was produced. We tasted the decoction, and found it very bad rum, with no perceptible taste of feathers. Three barrels, worth $36 the barrel, are made daily, and two chickens are boiled in every four gallons of the wine. Such is the fact—but the reason why remains a mystery to this day.”

This is an interesting passage and the writer might have been confused as to the actual method of production of the Pechuga. This was likely created with Mezcal and not wine, as Pechuga is sometimes referred to as "vino de Pechuga," despite no actual wine being involved. It is also surprising that this Pechuga is allegedly made every day.

In the Mexican newspaper El Padre Cobos (November 6, 1873), there is a brief mention of "Vino de Pechuga," which is made in Tequila, that will soon be available for sale: "Gran Lecheria! En la calle de la Alcaiceria entre los numeros 27 y 28 se vende leche pura garantizada desde las cinco de la manana adelante y chocolate superior de varias clases, al estilo de Guadalajara. Proximamente se recibera de esa ciudad un abudante surtido de vino de Pechuga febrido in Tequila, Frijol garbancillo y Cigarros de la Conchita y el Buen Gusto todo legitimo y a precios comodos."

Another newspaper, La Patria (March 31, 1878), noted Jesus Flores won a prize at an exposition for his "vino de Pechuga." Unfortunately, the article didn't provide any additional details about this winning Pechuga but now we see that Pechuga was sometimes entered into competitions.

In La Patria (February 1, 1879), there is an advertisement from a seller, Nicolas Andrade, of Tequila and Pechuga. The ad lists the prices, in Mexican dollars, for various containers, from a cup to a barrel. It is interesting to see that Pechuga generally cost twice as much as Tequila. A cup of "Grande Tequila" costs $0.03 while a cup of Pechuga cost $0.06. A bottle of Tequila cost $0.37 while a bottle of Pechuga cost $1.00. A Jar of Tequila cost $3.50 while a Jar of Pechuga cost $7.00. A Barrel of Tequila cost $25.00 but there wasn't a price for Pechuga by the barrel.

More prices were provided by the El Municipio Libre (April 3, 1879), in an advertisement by a liquor store. Mescal de Tierra Caliente cost $1.50 for a bottle and $20.00 for a Box (though there is no indication how much the box contains). Tequila Superior cost $3.00 for a bottle and $40.00 for a Box. And "Legitimate" Pechuga costs $7.00 for a bottle and $90.00 for a box. These prices are higher than the other advertisement though Pechuga is still the most expensive. What is also curious is that this ad states its Pechuga is "legitimate," raising the question whether some people were selling fake Pechuga. Maybe that is why the other seller's prices were so cheap.

In 1880, Mariano Barcena presented a study to the Secretary of Development, La 2. Exposicion de “Las Clases Productoras” y descripcion de la ciudad de Guadalajara. There was a list under the heading, Bebidas Azucaradas y Otras, which included a number of Pechuga references, usually as "vino de Pechuga." There were also references to “vino de Pechuga y almendrado” (Pechuga and Nuts), “Pechuga Almendrado,” and “Pechuga Naranjado” (Orange Pechuga). These terms seem to indicate the additional ingredients added to the base Pechuga. It raises the question then whether originally Pechuga only contained chicken, or another meat, and not the fruits, nuts, and such known to be used to create later versions of Pechuga. This study also mentioned that Sr. D. Carlos G. Sancho presented a "very good" Pechuga.

The book Estudio quimico-industrial de los varios productos del maguey mexicano y analisis quimico del aguamiel y el pulque (Chemical-industrial study of various products of Mexican maguey and chemical analysis of aguamiel and pulque) was written by José G. Lobato and published in January 1884. One of its passages is: "El estado de Zacatecas posee varios distritos mezcaleros; pero entre ellos el de Pinos es muy notable por las plantaciones y cultivo de sius magueyeras, que producen much mezcal, alcohol de primera y segunda clase, llamdos chorrera el primero, y pechuga el sugundo. Esta misma denominacion se les aplica en San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, Queretaro y otros Estados."

This passage mentions that the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, has several Mezcal producing districts and that the Pinos district is notable. This district is best known for two classes of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga. It continues noting that this also applies to other Mexican states, including San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, and Queretaro, indicating the prevalence of Pechuga Mezcal.

Another passage goes into some additional detail, "El mezcal de pechuga de San Luis Potosí, de Pinos en Zacatecas, de Tequila en Jalisco, etc., es un alcohol muy aromático, muy sápido, muy carminativo, debido esto al aceite esencial del maguey, al ácido agávico y á la agavina encontrada por el Sr. Fernandez en 1876, con moti vo del análisis que exprofeso ejecutó, comisiónado por el Ayuntamiento de Guanajuato con motivo del envenena miento de este alcohol por el plomo."

It is stated that the Pechuga of San Luis Potosí, the Pinos in Zacatecas, and Tequila in Jalisco, are very aromatic and full-bodied. Strangely, it's also stated that these mezcals are "carminativo," which translates as carminative, meaning they can induce or prevent flatulence. Mezcal has long been said to cure many ailments, but mentioning its carminative properties along with it being aromatic and full-bodied seems to be a strange combination. The passage also mentions that these qualities are considered to be due to the essential oil of the maguey plant, agavic acid and its agavina (natural sugars).

The El Correo de San Luis (May 19, 1885) presented an ad, noting its low prices, for "Vino de Pechuga Almendrado," which is stated to be "propio para las senoras por su suavidad y buen gusto," ("suitable for ladies for its softness and good taste"). This is the first reference I've seen that refers to women as a specific demographic for Pechuga. Is it only because nuts were added to this Pechuga? This reference seems to raise more questions than it answers.

In El Agricultor Mexicano (June 1, 1901), there was a passage "En el estado de Zacatecas, que cuenta con mucho distritos mezcaleros, el mas notable es el de Pinos que produce un alcohol supremo, y que es de dos clases, la de primera se llama "chorrera" y "pechuga" la de segunda." It mentioned the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, which had many Mezcal producing districts and the Pinos district was considered the best. The Pinos district was best known for two types of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga.

It is abundantly clear now that Pechuga wasn't a 20th century invention, but extends back at least to 1864, over 150 years ago. These are fascinating finds, and I hope that it might lead to even more such discoveries in the future.
Though Pechuga is rare, it can be found in the U.S. market, primarily due to the work of Ron Cooper of Del Maguey. Around 1999, Cooper, after a few years of fighting the bureaucracy, was the first to bring Pechuga into the U.S. market. Currently, they sell two Pechugas, one made with chicken and the other with Iberico ham. Since then, a number of other Mezcal producers, including El Jolgorio (using a guajolote, a creole turkey rooster ), Wahaka (one also using a guajolote and another which is a vegan version), and Fidencio (using chicken breast). As Pechuga is made in small batches, it tends to be very pricey, and you can expect to pay $100-$300 a bottle.

Pierde Almas, a Mezcal producer which considers itself to be a socially, culturally and environmentally responsible company, also produces a version of Pechuga. Made in the village of San Baltazar Chichicapam and created by Master Distiller Jonathan Barbieri, this Mezcal de Conejo (about $300) is produced from Espadin Mezcal with local heirloom fruits, herbs, nuts (including apples, pineapples, almonds, pecans, citrus blossoms and anise) and the saddle of a wild, Cottontail rabbit. The fruit, herbs, nuts and rabbit are added during a third distillation in a copper pot still.

I recently tasted this Mezcal de Conejo at Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain, one of a handful of Mezcal Bars in the Boston area (and they have over 25 Mezcals on their list). A small tasting cup of the Conejo is $18.50 while a larger cup is $36. I was immediately struck by the anise notes in this Mezcal and then I could detect the ripe fruit flavors, especially pineapple, a mild smokiness, and a touch of a more wild and gamey element. It was complex and intriguing, a unique melange of flavors which should please any Mezcal lover. You wouldn't know this Mezcal was made with rabbit, but it still would make for an interesting addition to your Easter dinner. Or just drop by Tres Gatos to sample this unique Mezcal.

Have you tasted Pechuga? If so, what were your thoughts?

(Please be advised that my recent experience at Tres Gatos was comped, without any obligation to write a review or say anything specific about my experience. )

(Please also be advised that this article was revised/expanded on April 21, 2017, adding new information to the section on the origins of Pechuga.)

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) TAMO Bistro & Bar at the Seaport Hotel has launched three new, large-format Fishbowls for spring: the Monkey Bowl, the Regatta Bowl, and the TAMO Tiger Bowl. Made for two to share, these goblet-sized cocktails feature Bacardi Rum, exotic fruit purees and fun garnishes. Sip on these tropical concoctions with friends while relaxing in the sun on TAMO Terrace, tentatively opening on May 26th, weather permitting.

TAMO Terrace is a great place for after-work cocktails, lunch, dinner and even to catch the big game. The Terrace features a custom-made 11 foot bar with a Skyvue 52” LED outdoor TV, and half the terrace covered with a lavish umbrella system for those who’d prefer to relax in the shade.

Monkey Bowl ($35)
Bacardi Banana Rum, Bacardi Coconut Rum, strawberry puree, banana puree, Falernum bitters, dragon fruit, mint and plastic monkey garnish
Regatta Bowl ($35)
Bacardi Tangerine Rum, Bacardi Mango Rum, fresh lemon juice, lychee puree, blue curacao, bitters, lime boat garnish
TAMO Tiger Bowl ($35)
Bacardi Oakheart Rum, Bacardi Dragonberry Rum, guava puree, pineapple juice, egg whites, angostura bitters, dragon fruit garnish

2) It's time for 'Brinner' aka Brunch-Dinner. The Gallow's executive chef Scott Jensen is now offering his weekend brunch menu for dinner on Monday nights, from 4pm-11pm. You'll now be order such Brunch items as Shakshuka, Sunrise Poutine, and Crack-Wich, on Monday evenings. Plus, they will be serving Blackbird Doughnuts. If your weekends all too busy for you to get out for Brunch, then now you have Monday evenings to check out Brunch. I've always been a proponent of having breakfast items for dinner, and this is an appealing idea. Will we see other restaurants start offering Brunch menus during the week?

3) On April 22 and 23, Legal Sea Foods will honor Earth Day by offering two specials whose sales will be donated to the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM). Available at all Legal locations throughout the state, the specialty appetizer is a Lobster Spinach Oyster Trio baked with cheese and herbed crumbs ($12) and the entrée is Linguini & Clams sautéed with pancetta, garlic and white wine ($18.95).

Legal Sea Foods has partnered with ELM since 1996 and will generously give 100% of the proceeds, up to $10,000, of its two menu features on these days to help combat climate change and in protecting our land, water and public health.

4) On Saturday, April 29, from 1pm-5pm, The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, is bringing Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and Myers & Chang to the North Shore for a complimentary tasting of her famed Flour favorites paired with a selection of seasonal wines and fine cordials.

Guests can socialize and experience tasting a group of selected wines and cordials while sampling a unique take on Joanne’s famous Sticky Bun Kouign-amann, a round cake, made with viennoiserie dough containing layers of butter and sugar folded in, served with caramel goo, whipped cream and pecans. During the meet and greet with Joanne, guests will also have the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of her four published cookbooks.

Joanne is a super chef and I've often enjoyed treats from her bakeries. I'm also a big fan of her cookbooks, feeling they provide lots of valuable baking advice as well as many cool recipes. I strongly recommend you check out her visit to The Wine Connextion.

Tasting is complimentary. Walk-ins welcome all day, must be 21+.

5) Tonight, Scampo at The Liberty Hotel will debut “Jazzy Cocktail Nights,” a weekly late-night live music series that pairs sophisticated sounds with elegant cocktails and savory bites. Designed for Bostonians looking for a new twist on the nightlife scene, the Thursday night series, from 10pm-1am, will transform Scampo’s bar and lounge area into a sleek hideaway that showcases the talents of some of the region’s top music acts whose genres include jazz, vocals, Latin rhythms, funk and blues:

April 13: Ark, the duo of vocalist Danielle Angeloni and instrumentalist Alper Tuzcu that reimagine popular songs to Latin beats
April 20: Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, a traditional New Orleans jazz ensemble who also perform interesting covers and original music
April 27: The Sam Lee Trio, headlined by Mr. Lee, a top bassist in New England covering jazz, funk, R&B and rock
May 4: Paul Gaulin, a percussionist whose jazz trio spans genres including Latin, funk and blues
May 11: Mark van Bork, leader of VB & the Buzz, who transitions effortlessly through blues, soul, jazz and rock

With the new series comes a dedicated list of cocktails and bar bites available exclusively during the Thursday performances from 10pm-1am. For single-serve cocktails ($16 each), highlights include the Boulevardier, a stirred concoction of rye, Campari and sweet vermouth finished with an orange twist; Classy Champagne Cocktail served in a water glass with sugar cubes and a lemon twist; and, Roaring Violette with lychee, Violette, lavender, white wine and bubbles.

For those looking to take their imbibing game to the next level, there are sharable Punch Bowl Cocktails ($36) – that come shaken for two, served in festive brass pineapple-shaped vessels – like the Sparkling Jazz with Absolut, lime, Aperol and a prosecco float with floating orange pin wheels and Dubonnet Sangria with wine, fruit, anejo tequila and hibiscus with a ginger beer float and fresh fruit. For those with a late-night sweet tooth, there’s the Prohibition Milkshake ($36), a large format liquid treat of vodka, chocolate ice cream, crème de cacao, Kahlua and bubbles served with freshly made mini bacon doughnuts.

On the culinary side, there are a quintet of items that are available in addition to Scampo’s seasonal pizza offerings: Veal & Pork Meatballs in a 17-minute candeli sauce with shaved pecorino gremolata ($12); Fried Arancini with Pomodoro and parmesan ($10); Calamari a la Plancha with fennel salad and chipotle aioli ($10); Bruschetta with homemade ricotta, candied pistachios and warm guanciale ($11); and Lydia’s Stuffed Dates ($11).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SENA17: Chefs & the Business of Seafood

Chefs are on the front line of the promotion of seafood consumption. As I mentioned last Friday, Barton Seaver advised chefs that they should not ask for specific species but should ask for what is fresh. In addition, they should "sell the dish, not the seafood." At the recent Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I attended a seminar where several chefs offered their own take on the issue of seafood sustainability.

The Keynote conference session I attended at SENA was "Delicious & Profitable: Chefs Discuss The Business of Seafood" which was intended to discuss the following: "Everyday, chefs across North America make the important decision of which seafood products to buy and those choices have a strong impact on the business of seafood. They are faced with the challenge of offering new and innovative dishes, enticing younger consumers to the table while navigating the intricate waters of responsible sourcing. Ultimately, what chefs decide to put on their menus set consumer buying trends and influence consumer behavior at retail. In a quest to find the seafood options that make business sense while inspiring mouthwatering creations their clients crave, our panel of influential chefs will discuss the drivers behind their purchasing decisions and what the seafood industry can do to help them increase the amount of seafood served as well as insight into how chefs influence consumer trends."

The Moderator was Polly Legendre,  a Chef and a Board member of Aquaculture Without Frontiers, an independent non-profit organization that promotes and supports responsible and sustainable aquaculture in the alleviation of poverty. There were also four expert speakers, including: Chef Ned Bell, the Ocean Wise executive chef of the Vancouver Aquarium; Chef Jeff Black, who owns six restaurants and a bar in Washington D.C.; Chef Richard Garcia, a sustainable seafood proponent and the culinary director for a national chain of restaurants and hotels; and Chef Rick Moonen, a restaurateur and long-time sustainable seafood advocate.

Polly Legendre started off the discussion noting the important statistic that approximately two-thirds of seafood expenditures by consumers are at restaurants. Consumers are much less likely to cook seafood at home so it is vital that restaurants help to promote sustainability. Restaurants also stand in a strong position to persuade consumers to eat more seafood in general, to eat more diverse species, and to embrace sustainability. However, not all chefs are interested in such matters so we need to support and highlight those chefs who embrace these concepts.

Ned Bell then began the discussion, noting how seafood is the last wild protein on the planet yet the cowboy, corralling his cattle, is seen as possessing sex appeal while the fisherman is vilified. This is wrong and we need to see a cultural change in how fishermen are viewed by our society. Ned also stated that the chef possesses much power and that if you enjoy what they feed you, then you are more apt to listen to their message. Thus, it is of primary importance that a chef cooks well, presenting delicious seafood dishes. Once you have impressed your customers, then you will find them more amenable to embracing sustainability issues.

In addition, Ned stated that he would like to see less "squares" of seafood on a plate, and view the dish in its entirety, as a composition. It is all about how you present seafood dishes to your customers. Chefs should also use the whole fish, which is definitely a way to extend the value of seafood, which is often less expensive when purchased whole. And as some seafood can be pricey, just eat smaller portions. Americans often eat too large portions of everything they eat, and smaller dishes would benefit them in multiple ways.

Rick Moonen, who is always a compelling speaker, started off stating how he always preaches that consumers should embrace a diversity of seafood species. That is a sentiment I wrote about on Monday and which numerous other sustainable seafood proponents have promoted. Rick also likes to promote the next fishery which has improved significantly, celebrating the victory of that fishery in helping the species rebound. In addition, he believes consumers should eat lower on the food chain, the small fish which sometimes are seen more as bait.

He also believes we need to support U.S. fisheries, noting that there is a significant system in place to ensure that the seafood harvested locally is sustainable. It is vital that consumers learn and understand that this system is in place, and that it works. We also need to be honest with consumers and attain their confidence in that system. Currently, too many consumers have a fear of seafood and that must be defeated and eliminated. We must find ways to counter their fears.

Rick stated that "we don't tell enough stories" about seafood and that we also "don't celebrate our victories." Consumers are more willing to listen to stories than statistics. The media writes too many negative articles about seafood and that must change too. The media needs to write more positive stories about seafood, to convince people that it is safe and beneficial to eat seafood. Rick also mentioned that it is easier to have a successful shellfish story than one dealing with fin fish. I agree with Rick on these issues, that we do need to promote seafood more, especially highlighting the various success stories out there.

Jeff Black also agreed that chefs need to promote seafood diversity, serving less common species on their menus. Chefs shouldn't just showcase a single species, but promote a whole ecosystem. However, that isn't always easy and Jeff noted how he previously opened a more esoteric restaurant which didn't work so well. In response, Jeff scaled back the menu and eventually got more customers. At that point, he began slowly adding in the more esoteric items, and it worked much better in that manner. That is a good lesson for other chefs who might be struggling with a more esoteric concept. It might be easier to ease into it rather than jump in with both feet.

Rich Garcia indicated that it is extremely difficult for him to institute a seafood sustainability policy across all of the hundreds of restaurants under his control. They order millions of pounds of salmon, tuna and shrimp, and about 80% of their customers are business travelers. He does what he can, trying to create some sustainable restaurants within the larger chain. Rich is also one of those chefs who doesn't like the term sustainability, feeling it has been diluted too much, and he prefers to use "responsible." It is also important, that in the end, chefs are still running a business.

It is important to Rich that the discussion should start focusing more on the sustainability of people, those businesses that rely upon seafood production, from fishermen to processors. The discussion often seems to discuss those people last, concentrating primarily on the fish. However, sustainability needs to include the totality and not just concentrate on one single factor.

Commenting on Polly's opening statement, Rich noted how so few people cook seafood and home and that the industry hasn't done a good job of teaching people how to cook seafood at home. That really needs to change and people need to learn that cooking seafood at home is much easier than they believe.

For more info, check out some of my prior posts on cooking seafood at home: SENA15: How To Cook SeafoodHow To Cook Seafood, Vol.1How To Cook Seafood, Vol.2, and How To Cook Seafood, Vol.3,

What are your favorite restaurants for seafood?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

SENA17: Sea Urchin Master Class

"I've never been hurt by a sea creature, except for jellyfish and sea urchins."
--Peter Benchley, Author of Jaws and The Deep

Their gonads are a culinary delicacy, highly valued by many Japanese diners. You can find them available at a number of Japanese restaurants in the U.S. as well as some other high-end restaurants. I'm a fan and know plenty of others who enjoy them too. I'm referring to Sea Urchin, a spiny sea creature, and its "roe" which are actually gonads. You may know their gonads by their Japanese name, Uni. "Uni" doesn't mean "sea urchin" but specifically refers to their "gonads."

At the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), they offered a Master Class in Sea Urchin, presented by Chef Ned Bell of Ocean Wise, a sustainable seafood program, and Claire Li Loong of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. The presentation was sponsored by the Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association, an industry association established to examine fishery issues in the Red Sea Urchin in British Columbia.

Chef Ned Bell is the Ocean Wise Executive Chef at the Vancouver Aquarium, as well as a sustainable seafood ambassador. Bell founded Chefs for Oceans in 2014 to raise awareness about sustainable seafood. He has worked in a number of restaurants, including, most recently, the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver and YEW seafood + bar. The Four Seasons was the first hotel in British Columbia to be 100% certified Ocean Wise. Bell’s cooking philosophy is "globally inspired and locally created" and he has a cookbook due out in the fall. He was a personable and passionate speaker, and I was fortunate to see him at another seminar at the Expo as well.

He began with some general remarks on sustainable seafood, noting we all should "choose responsible seafood." Like a growing number of chefs, Chef Bell seems to prefer to use the term "responsible" rather than "sustainable." A growing number of people feel that the term "sustainable" has been diluted over time and have chosen a different term which they feel is more appropriate. Chef Bell stated that we need to build relationships with responsible fishermen, supporting those who do the right thing. I fully agree and it is those relationships which help to build trust, and when assessing sustainability, trust is very important.

Polling the audience, only about 40% of them had tasted sea urchin before. It was cool to see a significant number of adventurous attendees who were curious about sea urchin and willing to sample it. As I've often said before, including in yesterday's post, we need to eat more species than the most common ones. Chef Bell noted that in North America, sea urchin is a relatively new delicacy, and most sea urchin is exported to Japan. The domestic market in Canada for sea urchin is still small, but growing. The discussion centered on the Red Sea Urchin from British Colombia.

The Red Sea Urchin ranges from Alaska down to Baja, California, though about 80% of these sea urchin are collected on the North Coast. Last year, 4000 metric tonnes were caught in British Colombia, by divers in remote areas. They dive to depths from 12-60 feet, and the sea urchins they harvest are often available within 24 hours. The Red Sea Urchin is the largest in the world, with a maximum diameter of about 18 centimeters and spines up to 7 centimeters long. It takes them about five years to reach maturity and they have millions of eggs per spawning event. The harvest season is from October to May.

Sea Urchin has a shelf life of 7-10 days. The firmer and more well defined sea urchin is better used in sushi while the softer variety is better used in soups and sauces. Chef Bell recommended that we should eat less common seafood, such as sea urchin, which is certainly an excellent idea to take pressure off some of the more popular types of fish. As Red Sea Urchin is very sustainable, it makes for a good option.

Claire then took over the discussion to talk about Ocean Wise, which recommends sustainable seafood by scientific assessment. This is akin to the Seafood Watch of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These assessments are based on four main components: a) Heathy stock; b) Limited bycatch; c) Well managed; and d) Limited habitat damage. A numerical score is generated, ranging up to a maximum of 5, and a fishery needs at least a 2.8 to be considered sustainable.

The Red Sea Urchin has been assessed as sustainable by Ocean Wise. It has a healthy and abundant stock. Its main predator is the sea otter but there are not as many otters around so its population has grown. Harvesting sea urchin by individual divers means that there is almost no bycatch. That also means that is very limited habitat damage from those divers. The fishery is also well managed, with a quota system, minimum size limits, good enforcements, and even observers at the docks to help monitoring.

Locally, I know that Red's Best at the Boston Public Market sometimes sells Sea Urchins. You could buy some, take them home and prepare them yourself. Check out some Sea Urchin Recipes from the Pacific Urchin Harvesters Association. Or, the next time you dine out and see Sea Urchin on the menu, order it and enjoy its compelling flavors.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Tipsy Sensei Returns!

Nate Randall, the Tipsy Sensei, is back and facing terrible Kaiju, gigantic monsters that bear some resemblance to beasts like Godzilla and Ghidorah.

The Tipsy Sensei is the name of my fictional series of supernatural thrillers which feature Sake-expert Nate Randall who faces off against a variety of supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore. At his side is his friend, Hato, an immortal Samurai and a master of the katana, bow and other weapons. Currently, the Tipsy Sensei series consists of four short stories and three novels, with more forthcoming. And the Tipsy Sensei has now expanded from fiction to the gaming world.

A new role-playing game has just been released, Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters, which was created by game-designer Alan Bahr. With a minimalistic set of rules, you can pit giant robots against mighty monsters. As an example, think of the movie Pacific Rim. It is a fun game that is easy to learn, and is appropriate for all ages. A number of other writers were invited to contribute to this role-playing game, to create a variety of settings for the game. I was fortunate to have been chosen for inclusion, and one of my contributions is a setting that includes the Tipsy Sensei!

In my last novel, Halloween Nightmare At Fenway, Nate and Hato faced off against Doctor Toshio Yagi and Major Zannin Iwafuku, who were onryō, vengeful ghosts that wanted to replay World War II. As an alternate future history, I used these same villains and their goals to create a setting, Hyakki Yagyō, for the Tiny Frontiers game. Out of the mists of Japanese mythology, Doctor Yagi and Major Iwafuku were able to use potent magic to summon a myriad of Kaiju to the Earth, trying to destroy those countries which defeated Japan during WWII. In response, the U.S. and its allies created the Steelnecks, powerful Mecha which they hope to counter the Kaiju. And Nate Randall might be the turning point in this epic battle.

What will happen next? That is up to you as you can role-play many different scenarios and endings. In addition, you'll find eighteen other settings for the Mecha and Monsters game, providing a wealth of diversity. Plus, I wrote a second setting for this game called Mecha Chef.  Consider Iron Chef but where giant robots must first hunt down their ingredients, huge Kaiju, and then create a special dish from their flesh.

Check out Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters and experience the Tipsy Sensei's new adventures.

Rant: Be More Seafood Adventurous

"As Mark Kurlansky noted in his oyster-centric history of New York, The Big Oyster, up until the 1920s, the average New Yorker ate annually as many as six hundred local oysters as part of a locally sourced seafood diet of more than thirty-six pounds of fish and shellfish a year—more than double the current per capita level of American seafood consumption. New York oysters were so common as to be considered a poor man’s food, priced at less than a penny apiece."
--American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood by Paul Greenberg

As I mentioned in Friday's postBarton Seaver stated we need to eat different types of seafood species, and not just the top 10 most popular species. I've addressed this issue before in a few different posts but feel the need to discuss it again, providing some updated and additional information.

Let me preface by stating Americans need to eat more seafood in general, and that the scientific community advises you should eat seafood twice a week, an annual consumption of 26 pounds of seafood. Unfortunately, Americans only consume about 15.5 pounds annually, more than ten pounds less than advised. Since 2001, the highest annual seafood consumption was in 2005 with 16.6 pounds and the lowest amount was in 2012 with 14.4 pounds. Now consider the quote above, how New Yorkers once ate over 36 pounds of seafood annually. Why did we stop eating so much seafood?

(I also long for the days when oysters were only a penny a piece, rather then the $2-$4 a piece you find now. The same book also noted that "In the mid-1800s the average New Yorker spent more on oysters than on butcher meat.")

According to Seafood Health Facts, there are between 300 and 500 different species of fish and shellfish sold annually. What an incredible diversity is thus available, and it makes it even more unfortunate when American seafood consumption habits are so limited. In 2014, about 55% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. was limited to three types: shrimp, canned tuna and salmon. And 90% of what is consumed is limited to 10 different types. Let me break down those numbers in more detail.

In 2015, the National Fisheries Institute stated that the top ten seafood species consumed in the U.S. include: Shrimp (4 lbs), Salmon (2.9 lbs), Tuna (2.2 lbs), Tilapia (1.4 lbs), Alaska Pollock (1.0 lbs), Pangasius (.7 lbs), Cod (.6 lbs), Crab (.6 lbs), Catfish (.5 lbs), and Clams (.3 lbs). These Top Ten species constitute about 14.2 pounds of American's annual consumption, with another 1.3 pounds of miscellaneous species. Salmon, Pangasius, and Crab saw an increase in consumption, with Crab moving from 9th place to 8th place

Obviously, these statistics are an average for the entire country and are likely different in certain regions of the country, such as the Northeast. With our proximity to the coast and access to the vast bounty of the sea, our particular seafood consumption habits are probably different from the norm. For example, Lobster might be on our Top Ten species list and Clams, cause of all the fried clams and chowders, could also be in a higher place than 10th. However, it is still clear that even those in the Northeast don't eat enough different species of seafood. We far too often remain with the common and familiar rather than venturing out to something different. Try some mussels, dogfish, sardines, mackerel, fluke, and much more.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we put heavy pressures on those seafood populations, causing sustainability issues. It is why many of those species have quotas, because their populations would be threatened by unregulated fishing. We need to ease those pressures by lowering consumption of those species, and consuming other species that don't have sustainability issues. We have to give the populations of those ten common species more time to rebound and recover.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we are also hurting the economic situation of our fishermen, driving some of them out of business. With strict quotas on the most common seafood species, it gets harder and harder to make a living by catching those fish. Fishermen harvest many other different seafood species but there is little market for many of those species so they can't earn much money from those catches. If Americans started consuming more of those less common species, the market for them would grow, helping fishermen make more money. We should cherish our local fishermen and help protect them, especially when it is so easy to do so by simply consuming different types of seafood. Don't you want to help your local community?

Get over your psychological barriers! Don't be afraid of something unfamiliar and take a chance on a different fish. It is time now to stop eating the same old fish all the time and experiment with less common seafood, to broaden your palate to the pleasure of whelks and sardines, cobia and mackerel. You will enjoy the tastes if you only give them a chance, especially if you dine at a good restaurant which knows how to properly prepare seafood. For the sake of sustainability, to save our oceans and all of the endangered species, to save our fishermen, this is an excellent choice and one you should seriously consider.

Be more seafood adventurous!

Friday, April 7, 2017

SENA17: "We Don't Know How To Talk About Seafood"

"We don't know how to talk about seafood."

It might seem strange to hear that sentiment spoken at the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), but if you think more carefully about it, maybe it is the perfect place to discuss this statement.

The first conference session I attended at SENA was "How Can Market Measures Promote Sustainable Seafood Production and Consumption" which was intended to discuss the following: "What is the current situation, where are we headed, and how can we insure that sustainable practices are adopted to meet future demand? First, a statistical overview of global trends (FAO stats) in seafood production, consumption and trade, along with a comparison of model projections (FAO/OECD/WB) of future production and utilization. Second, identification of key factors that hinder sustainable production, consumption and trade of fish products that threaten our future seafood supplies, global food security, and achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals."

The Moderator was Victoria Chomo,  a PhD economist specializing in international trade and development who is currently a Senior Fishery Officer in the Products, Trade and Marketing Branch of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). There were also four expert speakers, including: John Connelly, the President of the National Fisheries Institute (a trade association advocating for the full seafood supply chain); John Henderschedt, the Director of the Office of International Affairs and the Seafood Inspection at NOAA Fisheries; Niklas Wehner, Advisor at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); and Barton Seaver, of the Sustainable Seafood & Health Initiative at the Center for Health & the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Initially, Victoria Chomo began discussing the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is involved in food security and sustainability. In September 2015, U.N. members agreed to a series of sustainability goals, adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For this conference session, they concentrated on Goal #12, "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns." However, Goal #14, "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources", would probably also be applicable here.

We then proceeded to learn about the worldwide role of seafood and how integral it is to the global economy and more. The global fish & seafood value chain was estimated at approximately $818 Billion in 2008. That can be broken down into Capture Fisheries $100 Billion, Aquaculture $98 Billion, Primary Processing $90 Billion, Secondary Processing $180 Billion, and Distribution $350 Billion. It is the most highly traded food commodity in the world. About 880 million people, 12% of the world population, subsist on these fish & seafood value chains for their livelihood.

About 3 billion people rely on seafood for more than 20% of their animal protein intake, and some as much as 50%. Unfortunately, approximately 30% of seafood production ends up as waste, which is a significant problem for our entire food industry. It is predicted that aquaculture will rise to 57% within the next 10 years, necessary to help feed the world's growing population. Though some oppose increased aquaculture, its conversion efficiency is better than terrestrial proteins, including beef, pork and chicken. In addition, it has very low on emissions with bivalves have the lowest.

John Connelly then spoke, first noting that most people, except for governments and NGOs, don't talk in terms of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This term needs to be translates into business practices. He also mentioned that he believes it is the government's responsibility to ensure sustainability as it is a common. In addition, he mentioned that the seafood industry wants better communication from the government. For example, he feels that NOAA doesn't talk enough about efficiency and fisheries, caring more about scientific assessments. Finally, addressing the issue of waste, he stated this was a new issue for the industry, which needs to examine the issue much more to learn how and where they can reduce waste. I'm not sure I agree that it is a new issue, though its importance might have only been raised in the recent past.

Next, John Henderschedt stepped up, agreeing with most of what Connelly already said. He added that the government can be informative, telling the market and public about what is sustainable and what is not. He stated that we want informed consumers, educated about seafood sustainability. The final speaker was Niklas Wehner, who discussed the rules of development corporations.

However, it was the speech from Barton Seaver that most resonated with me, which caused me to contemplate much of what he said. He began stating: "We don't know how to talk about seafood." He continued, noting that we don't have a great definition of "sustainable seafood," especially as there are so many elements of sustainability. Seafood often isn't included in discussion about "good food" despite it being maybe the only food with the term "food" actually in it. We need to look at seafood more from a cultural viewpoint.

Seafood suffers from "otherness," being seen as different from other foods. Over time, seafood lost its identity, partially from the advent of refrigeration and a decrease in home cooking. When people commonly think of proteins, they usually don't include seafood in their thoughts. It is also the only food that is considered guilty before being innocent. It is something people think must be analyzed, to determine whether it passes a person's standards or not. These same individuals don't conduct that same analysis with their beef, chicken, or pork.

The culinary aspect of seafood scares people, who feel intimidated when trying to cook seafood. Currently, Americans eat almost only 10 species of fish, 8 if you group the catfish together. Other fish and seafood is not seen as having the same value as these 10. Our fishermen catch so many other species and this is an unsustainable economic situation. We demand the market supply for fish rather than take what is caught. We must all start eating other species of fish and seafood, going beyond the common 10. We need to be less pressure on those common 10 and also help fishermen who catch all the other species. This is an issue I'll be writing about more in the near future.

Barton then raised an issue I hadn't considered before, but which makes much sense. He stated that one of the biggest obstacles to sustainability is the recipe. The problem is that recipes usually are composed to use a specific type of fish. For example, you will find recipes for Cod and Mussels, Salmon and Crab. Some seafood cookbooks break down into chapters for these specific seafood types. However, Barton feels that recipes shouldn't specify the fish type but be more generic, such as a "light, flaky whitefish."

The idea is to encourage home cooks to seek outside the common 10 and use other seafood species, which are similar to the common ones they already enjoy. That is excellent advice, though such a cookbook would probably need to have a list somewhere, grouping seafood species by the generic definitions within the cookbook. For example, the average consumer doesn't know what dogfish is like, so they would need to have some guidance as to what type of recipes it would fit within. Barton also had advice for Chefs, that they should not ask for specific species but should ask for what is fresh. In addition, they should "sell the dish, not the seafood."

Barton then moved on, stating that we need to "end the conversation of wild vs farmed." He feels it is an artificial distinction, that we should treat them both the same and stop arguing about aquaculture. In a recent online article, Barton expanded upon this issue and it is worth a read. He makes numerous valid points and I have long been a proponent of aquaculture as well. You'll find numerous articles on my blog discussing aquaculture.

As Barton says, "Seafood is such an amazing opportunity" and "Seafood sustains us." He also noted how valuable it is for our health, how numerous studies show that eating sufficient seafood can reduce your risk of heart disease by about 36%. A doctor from Tufts once told him of the 3 Ss of good health: Wear Seatbelts, No Smoking, and Eat Seafood.

"Fish lacks story." Barton is not the first sustainable seafood proponent that I have heard make this point, and its validity is without dispute. Barton feels we need to use other methods to connect people to seafood, and shouldn't start with the seafood. We need to connect it more to cultural issues. For example, we can talk about social issues such as the fact that 52% of the people involved in aquaculture are women. Aquaculture provides plenty of jobs and that is a great story. In addition, we should consider the story of how we keep fishermen in business, the civic values of helping members of our community. We all should "Talk about sustainability in any measure that is meaningful to you."

Barton Seaver provided me much to ponder and I hope it helped spark something within my readers as well. People need to eat more seafood, for an abundance of reasons, from improving your own health to helping local fishermen make a living. Stop treating seafood as an enemy and treat it as you would hamburger or fried chicken.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

SENA17: Fish Fun & Photos

Fish heads fish heads,
Roly poly fish heads,
Fish heads fish heads,
Eat them up yum
--Barnes & Barnes

Every year at the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I take plenty of photos of all of the fascinating things I find there, including numerous fish heads. I've collected a group of my photos for your viewing pleasure. Please enjoy this visual journey through the warped eye of the Fish Head Whisperer.

See you next year at the Seafood Expo!