It figures that I get the worst stomach bug as soon as I start reading “50 Foods, The Essentials of Good Taste”. Usually I get cravings when I read books about good food… but not this time! I haven’t had a stomach flu since I was a little girl, I honestly can’t really remember having one! I spent 5 days feeling weak, pitiful and pretty gosh darn pathetic. I love food more than almost anything and I’m prone to getting hangry if I don’t eat for a few hours. This flu kept me out of the eating real foods game for a few days. Regardless, this book was pretty darn amazing and being bed-ridden on my own prescription definitely helped me plow right through the pages.
I’d never heard of the writer before, but the way he writes is obnoxious and pompous in the best kind of way. You get the sense that he can write in this snobby tone because he actually knows what he’s talking about. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he had to say (though he did list an awful lot of cheese, what’s that all about? gross!) and finding fun tidbits I wanted to share.
-Baguette means “stick” and is prone to drying out quickly because of the bubbled interior and strong crust exterior. Because of this, people used to buy baguettes as a daily luxury. French flour is said to be better than American bleached flour. So much so, that bleached flour is illegal in France!
-After reading his description on the taste of Boletes, a woodsy fungus, I’m dying to try them! He recommends steaming in foil with salt, or sautéing in butter or oil. He even recommends grilling them over coals or stuffing them with bread crumbs, egg, onion and cheese.
-Poor Cabbage is so overlooked by so many and I have no idea why! So many cultures use cabbage in traditional meals, that you know it must be good! As an avid cabbage-lover, I never knew that red and green cabbage flavor profiles aren’t all that different, and the longer you cook cabbage the more it results in a sulfur taste so a quick boil is best. The best sauerkraut (people either love or hate sauerkraut) is made after the Sept-Oct harvest. Pack the shredded cabbage with salt, which draws water to form a brine for the kraut to ferment in for about 3 weeks. Kimchi (one of the only spicy foods I will eat) is typically made during the summer and eaten quickly, or make in November to keep all winter long.
-I’m not usually a melon fan, and I’ve never once craved a melon until reading his chapter on Cantaloupe! How to choose a good cantaloupe? Smell, and look for a yellow or brown color.
-I’ve never had caviar. I’ve always wanted to at least try it, but the occasion to never really came around. After reading his poetry of the slight pop caviar gives in your mouth and the salty sweet taste, I MUST try caviar. Preferably as soon as possible! Caviar comes from sturgeon only and wild caviar is harder and harder to find (and expensive), making farmed options a better, more economical, bet.
-Chickens don’t actually start to have taste until they are 9 weeks old, which makes the whole “fatten chickens and sell them asap” plan of the food industry work even less in our favor. Dry-plucking is better, but more rare because it has to be done by hand, and it’s important that the birds stay calm as they die, with no surge of fear or adrenaline.
-65-75% Chocolate is most popular and indications of good chocolate are a reddish brown color, a bright shine and a good snap. Chocolate loses flavor over time, try to use it within a few months. Also, very surprising to me, most wines don’t pair well with chocolate at all.
-Blue crabs are best when from Maryland or Virginia and turn red when cooked. I’ve never had soft shell crab before, but after reading this book’s description, I feel like I must!
-Olive oil must be created in clean environments, because they absorb the aromas and flavors around them. Many people think rancid, old olive oil is what real olive oil should taste like because it closer resembles the taste of eating olives. It’s important to buy olive oil with low free acidity and each region has a very different taste. Olive trees don’t grow tall, but they grow wide and sometimes sprout other trunks. The older the tree, the better the olives and olives should be picked while still green or just turning color and pressed right away. Greener oil usually has more flavor and lasts longer.
-Fatter Oysters are usually more sweet and less salty because they are grown in less salty areas. Dry shells are bad, tight shells are good. When ordering, you could ask for firm, briny, metallic or mild, nutty, soft oysters. The French leave the oysters attached to the shell, but if you do remove, be careful not to scramble the oyster. The best season for eating oysters is when the water falls below 42 degrees and in Seattle from September-April. The Olympia oyster is small, about the size of a half dollar, and is considered one of the best oysters.
-I am not a fan of cheese, but I absolutely love Parmigiano-Reggiano. There’s a lot of rules around this special cheese: it must be made within Parma, weigh 66 pounds minimum, made by two types of cows, fed only hay and grass. Proteins and fat are higher in fall milk, and therefore have a richer taste and keep longer. The best buy is an older cheese, 2-3 years old.
-I’ve written a lot about Pasta, I know. This book recommends visiting Parma and Bologna to find the best cooking in all of Italy (so… when can I go?) and now dried pasta has become more accepted across Italy. Sealed in a plastic package, pasta will last indefinitely. North American unbleached flour has good flavor, but is more difficult to roll thin.
-Salmon holds freshness longer than other fish, but tastes best when eaten right away. The fish should still be firm and show no signs of drying. Very fresh salmon actually has an unfish-y and somewhat cucumber-y scent. Salmon actually pairs very well with cucumber and foods like lemon, dill, potatoes and onions. White or rose wines pair best, but surprisingly very fresh salmon tastes best with reds. Summer-Fall is salmon season.
-European plums are oval and sweeter, while Japanese/Chinese plums around rounder, juicier and tarter (I prefer the latter) with a clingstone.
-Pigs are the same species as wild boar. Wild boar has a delicious meat, but grows tougher and stronger-flavored as it gets older and tastes best if it’s less than a year old. While boar tastes better braised, cooking pork longer drys the meat out and takes away the flavor.
-Suppli is a street food in Rome that is breaded, deep fried balls of rice mixed with egg, butter, Parmigiano with mozzarella. YUM.