Friday, July 31, 2009

Chef Recipe: Casellula's Miso Pickles with Megan Johnson

If I could set up an electronic direct deposit to a house account at Casellula, I would. This charming bar on 52nd Street (@9th Ave.) is my newfound haven-one which breaks the perfunctory wine-cheese-bar mold with whimsical, handcrafted dishes.

A pedigreed staff (C.V. includes Blue Hill Stone Barns, Gramercy Tavern, and The Modern) helms an equally pedigreed daily artisanal cheese menu that doesn't take itself too seriously. Irreverent flourishes a la "Pig's Ass Sandwich" and a cheese flight named "Me And Ewe And Everyone We Know" could endear even the most poker-faced foodie.

No detail is overlooked; take for example, the housemade miso pickled vegetables, Moon River Chattel lighting, and a playlist that includes the likes of Phoenix and Franz Ferdinand.

More importantly, they note:
...because not every cheese goes with quince paste we take pains to pair each cheese with it's perfect condiment. We work with over 100 different compliments, including a variety of honeys, nuts, compotes, jams, pickles, nuts, herbs, pastes, candies, cookies and cakes.

Um, you had me at "hello."

Special thanks to Chef Megan Johnson for sharing Casellula's prized miso pickles recipe with pickle girl.

Casellula Miso Pickles (Recipe yields approximately 6-8 quarts)
2 cups rice wine vinegar
4 cups red wine vinegar
6 cups water
4 cups distilled vinegar
2 heaping cups Dijon mustard
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup miso paste
2 cups fresh horseradish, grated
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
12 fresh bay leaves

1. Bring all ingredients to boil; allow to boil for at 10-15 minutes.
2. Pour brine over fresh, cleaned vegetables of your liking i.e. Asparagus, green beans, cucumbers, radishes, and baby zucchini. If you use carrots, be sure to blanch them before hand.
3. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for up to one week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pickles in the News: Guss' on the Move! Pickle Palace to Leave LES After 90 Years!

Yesterday, Eater reported that Guss'--the famed pickle palace on the LES--is moving its digs to Brooklyn. Another sign the handcrafted food revolution has found a home in our own version of the East Bay.

As with numerous independently owned businesses in NYC, Guss' has been priced out by insatiable landlords. The cost of doing business for mom-and-pop shops is higher than ever, while consumer spending in this Recession is at an all-time low. New York City's family-owned restaurants are closing at a record pace, changing the culinary landscape of this foodie town. Let's hope this historic storefront does not morph into a Bank of America or Duane Reade.

Pickles in the News: 12 Pickle Facts Everyone Should Immediately Commit to Memory

Thanks to Kim G. for alerting pickle girl to this mental floss piece of pickle trivia.

1. In the Pacific Islands, natives pickle their foods in holes in the ground lined with banana leaves, and use them as food reserves in case of storms. The pickles are so valuable that they’ve become part of the courting process, helping a man prove he’ll be able to provide for a woman. In Fiji, guys can’t get a girl without first showing her parents his pickle pits.

2. Cleopatra claimed pickles made her beautiful. (We guess it had more to do with her genes.)

3. The majority of pickle factories in America ferment their pickles in outdoor vats without lids (leaving them subject to insects and bird droppings)! But there’s a reason. According to food scientists, the sun’s direct rays prevent yeast and molds from growing in the brine.

4. In the Delta region of Mississippi, Kool-Aid pickles have become ridiculously popular with kids. The recipe’s simple: take some dill pickles, cut them in half, and then soak them in super strong Kool-Aid for more than a week. According to the New York Times, the sweet vinegar snacks are known to sell out at fairs and delicatessens, and generally go for $.50 to a $1.

5. Not everyone loves a sweet pickle. In America, dill pickles are twice as popular as the sweet variety.

6. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American eats 8.5 lbs of pickles a year. [Image courtesy of Dangerous Intersection.]

7. When the Philadelphia Eagles thrashed the Dallas Cowboys in sweltering heat in September 2000, many of the players attributed their win to one thing: guzzling down immense quantities of ice-cold pickle juice.

8. If it weren’t for pickles, Christopher Columbus might never have “discovered” America. In his famous 1492 voyage, Columbus rationed pickles to his sailors to keep them from getting scurvy. He even grew cucumbers during a pitstop in Haiti to restock for the rest of the voyage.

9. Speaking of people who get credit for discovering America, when he wasn’t drawing maps and trying to steal Columbus’ thunder, Amerigo Vespucci was a well-known pickle-merchant.

10. Napoleon was also a big fan of pickle power. In fact, he put up the equivalent of $250,000 as a prize to whoever could figure out the best way to pickle and preserve foods for his troops.

11. During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, H. J. Heinz used pick-shaped pins to lure customers to his out of the way booth. By the end of the fair, he’d given out lots of free food, and over 1,000,000 pickle pins.

12. Berrien Springs, Michigan, has dubbed itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World. In early December, they host a parade, led by the Grand Dillmeister, who tosses out fresh pickles to parade watchers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pickle Passport: Japanese Tsukemono

Every Sunday night, when Ned and I keep Monday morning at bay with a True Blood drinking game (i.e., when Vampire Bill yells, "SOOKIE!" we sip Hendrick’s martinis), I have to stop myself from yelling: SOOKIEMONO!

What I mean to say is I have tsukemono on my mind, or literally, pickled things, in Japanese.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to tackle the behemoth subject of tsukemono in one blog entry, but I have to at least introduce you to this magical, technicolor world we experienced in Japan.

There are nearly 4,000 varieties of tsukemono and a reported 100 different techniques to make them. Their recorded history dates as far back as 1,500 years ago in the Japanese Alps; all this to say, we have a lot to cover today. Arigatou gozaimasu in advance for reading.

During our three weeks in Japan last summer, we ate tsukemono with every meal, including a traditional breakfast of broiled mackerel, rice with raw egg, and miso soup. In keeping with the other mind-blowing foods we ate (low to high, from street yakitori to ryokan kaiseki), tsukemono were a revelation as tantalizing on the plate as they were on the palate.

The New York Food Museum—host of the annual International Pickle Day and home to a dedicated “pickle wing—“ offers this expert synopsis of fascinating methods (including the use of rice mold and miso paste):

Shiozuke, or salt pickles, vegetables are salted in an earthenware jar and pressed with a heavy stone for several hours to several days. Today's modern Japanese kitchens use a tsukemonoki or "pickle press."

One-night salt pickles are called ichiyazuke. A long-term variety are umeboshi, tart, salty pickled plums or apricots. They were originally a disinfectant, then a medicine before becoming a favorite pickle.

Suzuke are pickles cured in vinegar, which has a low acidity; these pickles cannot be kept for long.

In nukazuke pickling, vegetables are covered with nuka, or rice bran, salt and dried chilies, for about three months. In many households, salt bran is kept in a cask or jar on hand. The most popular kind of nukazuke is takuan zuke, pickled daikon radish. Colored yellow with turmeric, the best season for natazuke is winter when the water freezes on the surface of the keg for keeping natazuke. Nukazuke have a pungent aroma, a tangy flavor, and gather vitamins and minerals from the rice bran.

Japanese radish preserved in rice bran (crisp, tart, deep yellow in color). The most popular way to prepare daikon radish, legend has it the pickle was named for the resemblance of the heavy stone used in pressing, to the gravestone of pickle inventor and vegetarian Zen Priest Takuan. But it is also said that the name came from "takuwae-zuke" = to preserve.

For kasuzoke, a white liquor called sakekasu (made from the rice left from making sake) is combined with sugar and salt to make a pickling medium.

The oldest known variety, misozuke, is made by embedding vegetables such as garlic, pumpkin, in miso paste. Miso pickles take a long time, sometimes years, to mature. To form the pickling base, miso is mixed with sake.

(From pickle girl: these are ubiquitous in the Kyoto markets, where barrels are filled to the brim with layers of eggplants and miso, squash and miso, and even meats in miso.)

Koji, rice mold, is used as the pickling base (koji is also used in the manufacture of sake, soy sauce, miso and mirin). Bettarazuke, one kind of kojizuke, is daikon pickled in koji. This winter pickle is known for its sweet flavor and alcoholic aroma.

Vegetables can be pickled in shoyu, soy sauce, and mirin, a sweet liquid flavoring. Fukujinzuke is one of the most popular kinds of soy sauce pickles, and is the standard accompaniment to curry and rice. To make fukujinzuke, a mixture of seven thinly sliced vegetables (which could include white radish, eggplant, lotus root, ginger, shiso buds, turnip, shiitake, udo, sword beans, shirouri) is salted and pickled in soy sauce and mirin.

The famous pickle of Kyoto is made from turnip, salt-pickled for up to a month with konbu (a seaweed), mirin or sugar, and chili peppers.

Iburi Gakko
Around October in Akita, people dry radishes over the daily cooking hearth. The dried and smoked radishes were then pickled with salt and rice bran for two to three months, making "iburi gakko," or "smoked pickles."

Further reading
Tsukemono: Pickled Japanese Vegetables

Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes

Stay tuned for Tsukemono Part II: the recipes!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Peter Hoffman's Pomegranate Molasses Sour Cherries

It's not summer without Peter Hoffman's preserved sour cherries. I've been making this recipe for years, slightly varying the ratio of sweet to sour each time. With my apologies to Chef Hoffman, this riff on the homemade maraschino cherries he makes at Savoy is my favorite yet.

3 1-quart canning jars with "shoulders"
2 quarts sour cherries with the stems
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 cup pomegranate molasses
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. whole allspice
zest of 1/2 lemon

1. Rinse cherries, reserving bruised or split cherries for another use. Leave stems intact.
2. Prepare jars by running through a hot cycle in the dishwasher.
3. Bring sugar, wine, water, molasses, and spices to a brief boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and molasses into a viscous syrup.
4. Allow jars to cool, then pack tightly with cherries, tapping down to fill jars with as many as possible.
5. When syrup is cooled, cover cherries by 1/2 inch and seal jars. Refrigerate for up to one year.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Discerning Pickler: Weck Canning Jars

pickle girl has been in hot pursuit of a design-savvy canning jar for nearly five years; shame on me for not knowing about these wonderfully simple Weck clamp jars from Germany. I picked up a case on a visit to the new Heath Ceramics store in L.A. You can order them through Heath's site. Thanks to Remodelista—my daily read—for the tip!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pickles in the News: Salon Jumps on the Trend!

Today's highlights the expense of artisanal ingredients embraced by the current pickling trend (if you can call a process that has been around for thousands of years a "trend").

Has pickling evolved from a necessity to an indulgence a la cucina povera? I'll ponder that over a martini with pickled sea beans ($14 for 1/4 pound, raw at Whole Foods). More to come tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Pickles in the News: Produce Preservation Is Hot

Trend Central, a self-described, "marketing Consultancy focused on Gen X, Gen Y and Tweens," has declared that canning is hot--not 212 degrees, boiling-water hot--cha-ching, marketable hot.

But you already knew that because you read pickle girl.

Still, it's exciting to see what started as an urban locavore movement gain recognition as a more mass-market trend.

Out of economic necessity, a commitment to a greener lifestyle, and a growing interest in the "throwback" comforts of yesteryear, chefs and home cooks are passionately delving into what is becoming a handcrafted food revolution. Their new approach to old-fashioned methods is yielding something altogether new.

As the current "stay-home economy" dovetails with a generation's growing commitment to sustainability and interest in handcrafted food, modern “foodies” are looking for fresh ways to sate their sophisticated palates.

After all, pickles are among the most democratic of edibles. Power to the pickle!