The diminutive stick of culinary dynamic, HG”s daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko, is HG’s favorite chef (as noted, her hubby, SJ, is also a dab hand in the kitchen). EM has been delighting fans of her creative Japanese cooking at Brooklyn Smorgasburg, a recent pop up in Manhattan and other venues. But, it is at home that EM’s artistry shines. So, last night EM took over the Viking range in HG/BSK’s New Mexico kitchen and produced a succulent fish dinner. EM started by crisping garlic slices and seaweed in olive oil. Removed them to a paper towel. EM sautéed Petrale Sole in the flavored oil. When lightly browned, EM turned the heat to low and let the fish steam for a few minutes in sake and a dash of soy sauce. Put the fish on a warmed platter. Moistened the filets with the the sake-soy-oil in the pan. Dotted the dish with the crisp garlic slices and seaweed adornments. Accompanied it with highly sautéed and steamed bok choy, spinach and oyster mushrooms. It was a fish dinner whose taste will long linger in HG’s memory.
It’s a delight hanging out with SJ and family. Among the pleasures are the magical dinners turned out by Exquisite Maiko and SJ. Yes, EM is a renowned chef (a star of Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg among other venues). But, SJ also has a mighty arsenal of culinary skills. SJ’s barbecue is splendid. SJ’s pasta dishes are exemplary. HG maintains SJ’s chicken gumbo is his parade dish. Much better than any gumbo served in New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and other gumbo-centric locales. The basis of a good gumbo is the roux (the slow cooked mix of flour and oil). Burnt or too dark roux makes the gumbo bitter or inedible. SJ is patient and painstaking. His roux is the result of almost 30 minutes of constant stirring until it reaches a lush mahogany color. That’s the base. The other elements are the New Orleans “Holy Trinity”: Chopped celery, green peppers and onions/garlic. Chicken, of course. Stock. Carrots. Okra. Lots of spices. File powder (thickens the gumbo). Slices of Polish kielbasa sausage. Rice. HG has never observed the cooking process closely. SJ may have some secrets. In any case, SJ Chicken Gumbo was dinner last night. Succulent. Spicy. Full of complex and tantalizing flavors. Very filling. HG could only manage one and a half bowls. (Well, they were pretty big bowls).
HG is very fond of fried fish. During the summer, HG is a devotee of fish (haddock or cod) at Rick’s Fish and Chips in the town of St. Peter’s (five minute drive from HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island oceanfront home). When resident in New Mexico, HG relies upon Whole Foods for Petrale Sole from the Pacific. This firm fleshed fish is usually available at WF end of the week (HG calls in and order in advance). Dipped in beaten egg and rolled in fish fry seasoning. Then sizzled in hot canola oil. A treat with plenty of lemon juice and a dash of Tabasco. When HG was a journalist more than 60 years ago, a night of heavy boozing climaxed at an after hours coffee shop. Illegally, the shop served vodka and whiskey in coffee cups (to befuddle any lurking authorities). Accompaniment was chunks of cold fried fish covered with grated garlic and hot red pepper. Nice taste treat before retiring to the Russian baths on Second Avenue for steamy therapy. When HG was a college student at City College, he often haunted the streets of Harlem searching out delicious fried catfish sandwiches served on white bread with lemon, Tabasco and tartar sauce. Best fried fish ever were those served (once a summer) at the community hall (also a church and a music venue) in the Ocean Ridge neighborhood of Fire Island, NY. The late “Hobby” Miller was the cook and host. Fish were caught by Hobby and pals hours before in the Atlantic Ocean (Fire Island is a slim barrier beach with the Atlantic to the East and Great South Bay to the West). Hobby dusted the filets with salt and peppered flour and sizzled them in hot lard. Final touch was a splash of vinegar enhanced by hot peppers (a Louisiana condiment). Ice cold beer. Jolly eating. Ah, those balmy Fire Island summers.
Happy times full of love and food. SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and Teru, small Queen of Cuteness are in New Mexico for a Passover/Easter visit with HG/BSK. Gorgeous Zena B. flew in for a too brief visit. Non-stop feasting. BSK’s special chile. Pork and green chile stew. Sopapillas. Green chile cheeseburgers (for Haru). Great spread of barbecue from Rudy’s Country BBQ (in Albuquerque). Abondanza, indeed. The traditional Passover Seder was ecumenical and diverse. It was decidedly feminist. Unlike traditional Seders which are dominated by male supremacy — oldest male conducts the ceremonies, youngest male asks “the four questions”, etc. This time BSK was in charge of the ceremonies and they went smoothly and joyously. Yes, Haru asked the four questions since very feminine Teru is still too young to read. Food was splendid. BSK made an unconventional salad of golden beets and mache. Main dish was a beautifully rare boneless leg of lamb accompanied by a potato and cauliflower gratin. SJ was in charge of the starter. Chicken soup with matzo balls. SJ’s matzo balls were sublime. Light, fluffy and full of flavor (SJ added chopped parsley to the matzo meal mix). HG would have been content to consume a dozen matzo balls and call it a meal. (that’s how good they were). Much wine, of course, and for dessert: Japanese cookies called Cigares (thoughtfully provided by EM). Passover kashruth (kosherness) was not observed but the Seder was a rousing tribute to Jewish survival even though HG was the only 100% Jew present. In any case, the diverse group voiced urgent wishes that we will soon be rid of a new Pharaoh.
The Santa Fe grocers are quirky. Products appear and disappear. Staples change location as the grocers are always remodeling. HG was delighted when Trader Joe’s began displaying excellent canned Indian food (paneer and spinach was a big winner as was dal). Suddenly disappeared. When HG inquired, the manager replied that they were so popular that customers stocked up with dozens of cans. Had no idea if those good things would ever reappear. TJ’s bone-in, Frenched pork chops appeared on HG /BSK’s dinner plates frequently. Gone from TJ’s meat section. Whole Foods could always be relied upon for preserved lemons, an essential in BSK’s Moroccan tagines. No more. Gone. Fresh herbs (except for cilantro) can no longer be found at Pojoaque Super Market. Fortunately, it seems as one product disappears, a new delicious treat will take its place (for a time!).
HG is very fond of (almost) everything Irish. That includes Guinness Stout, Bushmill’s Whiskey, corned beef and cabbage; Irish butter. HG does not fancy Irish lamb stew. HG prefers the French culinary approach to lamb. Sadly, HG has never made it to Ireland so hasn’t had the chance to dine on Irish oysters, salmon, cheeses and authentic Irish soda bread. HG’s mentor in journalism and style was Howard W., an ex-IRA gunman. HG’s favorite protege in the PR business is Irish-American Bruce M. (he has far surpassed his mentor). HG has fond memories of his sturdy comrades in the rough and tumble world of 1940’s Bronx sandlot football–Irish-Americans Binny K., Mike D., Jackie B. and Kevin M. There is music in an Irish brogue. HG often visited Croke Park Stadium in The Bronx to watch exciting Gaelic football and hurling matches with a background of a few thousand brogues cheering for their heroes. HG’s favorite writer is James Joyce. Yeats is HG’s favorite poet. Sean O’ Casey is a favorite playwright. Yes, there have been some very bad Irishmen. Father Coughlin ( “The Radio Priest” ) and Joe McCarthy lead the list. And, Der Trumperer has recruited a cluster of Irish-Americans–Bannon, Spicer, Pence, Mulvaney — to aid him in his neo-Nazi schemes. Meanwhile, across the sea in Ireland, The Land of Saints, Poets and Warriors, an extraordinary liberal renaissance is taking place.
In HG’s last post, the greedy fellow was rhapsodic about pasta. However, with the exception of chow fun, HG did not give sufficient credit to Asia and its many varieties of noodles. Ramen, of course, is the greatest of all noodle soups. (Sorry, Mom in Heaven, it tops your chicken soup with lukshen). HG loves a bowl of Japanese udon noodles topped with pork or chicken. Vietnamese rice noodles are a staple in HG/BSK’s kitchen. Mixed with a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil, and a pinch of sambal oelek, they accompany a variety of stir fries. They are the base for great cold chicken salads with Vietnamese flavorings (fish sauce, etc.). Lovely in soups with watercress and slivers of smoked ham. Great cold semi-soup dish is daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko’s buckwheat soba in a soy broth covered with slivers of nori. Fans of Thai food dote on the pad thai stir fry noodle dish. Unfortunately, HG has never had a good version. Chinese egg noodles (fresh or dried) are used in a number of BSK dishes. They accompany chicken bulgogi (see the David Leibovitz recipe). BSK uses them in stir fries with vegetables, chicken or ground pork. The egg noodles cook fast and have a nice, springy, al dente mouth feel. Are they the noodles Marco Polo brought back to Italy from Cathay?
Pork rinds are crisp, crunchy chips of pork skin that have been fried in lard. Sound unhealthy? HG (like George H.W. Bush) loves them, but eats them in moderation. There is a growing trend of dieters hoping to lose weight on high protein, low carb diets and they are eating pork rinds in abundance. That’s because pork rinds have no carbohydrates (but lots of cholesterol, sodium and fat!). Doctors are beginning to issue warnings as pork rind sales have soared over the past few years. The porky tidbits are called “chicharrones” or “cuchifritos” in Spanish. They are an omnipresent accompaniment to many Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian and Mexican dishes. HG’s favorite meal, when activist BSK is not cooking but busy saving the blessed New Mexico environment: HG gets a package of Bueno pork green chile stew out of the freezer. Adds an eight ounce take out container of green chile menudo from nearby El Parasol Restaurant. When piping hot, HG tops a big bowl with chopped onion, slices of avocado and squeezes of lemon juice. Eats this with chicharrones made by local women and sold at Pojoaque Super Market. Drinks shots of 100% Agave Tequila chased with icy Samuel Adams Ale. Jolly solitary feast.
Yes, if you love down home, authentic Japanese cooking this is the culinary event of the year. Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer are doing five pop up restaurants at 33 Great Jones Street right next door to their celebrated Vic’s Restaurant. Vicki thinks her sister-in-law Maiko Sakamoto aka Exquisite Maiko is the best Japanese chef in New York and HG agrees. There is no other chef HG/BSK would rather dine with. Maiko’s stand–Oni Sauce– is one of the stars at Brooklyn Smorgasburg and Vicki has been pleading with her to do a tasting menu of all the wonders she’s tasted at Maiko’s Brooklyn home. Maiko relented and now you’ve got your chance. Maiko and Oni Sauce will be doing a 12-course tasting menu on March 23. There are two sittings: 6:30 PM and 9:00 PM. Limited seating, so act fast. Expect among many other delights: Sake steamed clams. Fluke carpaccio. Mackerel tataki. Pork belly and daikon radish stew. Reserve at Eat@onisauce.com . Cost is $75 per person. Much cheaper than air fare to Tokyo or Osaka (plus hotels, etc.). You’ll leave the Oni Sauce experience with a happy, enlightened appreciation of what Japanese cuisine is all about.
Surprisingly, HG has never had good choucroute in Paris. For the uninitiated, choucroute is an Alsatian dish of simmered sauerkraut topped with a variety of piggy parts: Pork knuckle, smoked pork chops (kassler ripchen); frankfurters, bratwurst, thick cut bacon, sausage, etc. At Brasserie Boulingrin in Rheims, HG was occupied by butter drenched sole meuniere while a waiter walked by with a sumptuous, huge platter of choucroute. HG will certainly order it when (hopefully) HG/BSK get back to Rheims. Choucroute at two Paris stalwarts. Chez Jenny and Brasserie Balzar, lacks zest. Last night was chilly in New Mexico so dinner was hearty. BSK answered the dining challenge by constructing an estimable choucroute. BSK simmered the sauerkraut in a base of olive oil, sliced apples and white wine. Killer kraut. Cut up a Smithfield Farms Polish Kielbasa and let it heat with the kraut. Topped it with boiled all beef frankfurters. Accompanied the dish with small boiled potatoes. Three kinds of mustard on the table: Super hot Keen’s, Maille Dijon, Maille Whole Grain. Kosher dill pickles. Bass Ale. Let the winds blow. All is merriment in the HG/BSK household.