Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sailing to Philadelphia

I am a big Mark Knopfler fan, both with Dire Straits and in his solo career, but Sailing to Philadelphia takes on new meaning as we leave tomorrow for a few days in the City of Brotherly Love. Of greatest import is a planned journey to Hendricks Farm to meet Trent and Bob delGrosso!

I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Umami and Idiocy

Some things just set me off.

While I am aware that scientific studies now suggest that none of the "tastes" actually exist (see the new Gourmet article), I am a big fan of the idea of umami, the so called fifth taste. Even if tastes don't exist as such, I love those foods loaded with the sensations associated with Umami. I even wrote a spec article for a proposed magazine on my favorite source of umami - Fish Sauce, my secret ingredient! I have posted it online here.

Janice Okun, the esteemed food editor of our local paper, wrote a commentary on umami this week. I did not agree with everything, but at least it brought the subject up for discussion. In her usual casual tone she had one statement that might be misinterpreted: "umami is also available commercially in monosodium glutamate . . ." This was quickly jumped on in a letter to the editors of the News:

Perhaps readers ought to thank Janice Okun for introducing us to umami — inasmuch as it is contained in MSG, a toxic substance for many — in her Aug. 6 column. We can now be on alert for what the use of umami might indicate, namely, foods containing monosodium glutamate. But Okun’s mentioning that MSG is “said to be” the cause of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, or worse” is not enough to offset her praise for this additive, which can trigger, among other problems, excruciating pain for many migraine sufferers. Moreover, high-quality and well-prepared foods simply do not require it.

That's moronic!

Umami is not a substance. It cannot be bought, sold, traded, consumed or inhaled. It is a proposed fifth taste, along with hot, sour, salty and sweet.

The umami taste has been traced to the concentration of glutamic acid in the substance. It is especially present in aged or fermented foods, and the foods that I crave are usually high in umami. MSG is simply the extracted salt of that glutamic acid.

I am not a shill for the MSG industry, and I don't use it in my own cooking, but there are no impartial studies which show that MSG (or the many prepared foods which contain MSG under a variety of pseudonyms) causes the so called "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". Dr Andrew Weil recently stated that ". . . overall the studies have produced no evidence linking MSG with any serious reactions".

I leave my mind open to the possibility of an allergy like reaction for a few people who are especially sensitive, but calling it a "toxic substance" is just fear mongering.

Sounds like a letter to the Editor . . .

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Anatomy of A Burger, Part Four - The Bacon

Bacon. Pork Belly, cured and smoked. One of the most delectable flavors on the planet. I don't eat it as much as before - as I have said, Lipitor cannot do everything. But, I love it on a burger!

Using the guidance of Charcuterie, making it is relatively easy, even with a basic home grill. The only ingredient other than the belly that may not be easy to acquire is the Curing Salt. Yes, as I have mentioned before, The Sausage Maker is here in Buffalo so getting Instacure is easy. But, if you get into doing this, you'll pay the modest shipping charges and order your Curing Salt there or Butcher & Packer or someplace else. Another option is Morton's Tender Quick. Unlike the pink salts, which are interchangeable, Tender Quick is a proprietary formula including some sugar. But, 1 tablespoon per pound of meat is the accepted proportion. (They produce a guide for $5.99, but they only only ship FedEx at a cost almost twice what the pamphlet costs . . .)

As for the pork belly, well in these parts you are not likely to find it in your grocers meat case, and while our local grocery stores will special order anything for us, finding someone who knows what they are doing is often tough. The only store in which I have ever seen pork belly locally is Ni Hoowa, an oriental grocery on Sheridan Drive. However, things like that are hit and miss there, and in the weeks that formed my window for curing and smoking there was none to be had.

So I turned to one of our few remaining independent butcher shops - Valint's - the Cadillac of Meats. They didn't bat an eyelash when I asked for belly, and it arrived in a matter of days.

The preparation is simple the cure is made from Kosher Salt, Pink Salt, Maple Sugar and Maple Syrup (I prefer Grade B which can be tough to find) The latter two from Maple Glen Sugar House in Gowanda. The cure is applied liberally to all sides of the belly, after which it is placed in a bag or nonreactive container and refrigerated. Every other day it is flipped. After a week, the belly is removed, rinsed and and placed on a rack in the fridge for a day to form a pellicle. This version is hot smoked to 150ยบ (I did it over pear tree trimmings).

After smoking, I removed the skin (I cannot wait to make baked beans with a piece!). I sliced some and saved some as a slab.

Oh, it was great!!!!!!!

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -