My first inclination upon opening the box of citrus was to sit down and have myself a citrus feast, but that would have been purely indulgent and more than a little irresponsible. After all, it's not everyday that I have access to such rare and exotic jewels with at least one, the malaysian lime, of ambiguous origin. Gene Lester tells me that he planted it many years ago from seeds brought back from Malaysia and speculates that it may be an Egyptian lime.
I felt it was important to document their characteristics, if only for my own reference, as that has already been done to a greater extent over at Citrus Pages. Many of the photos and much of the information on the website is based on the fruit that Mr. Lester grows. After photographing, collecting data, and preliminary tastings, I was ready to get cooking.
New products, especially those of exceptional quality, always incite my creative monkeys. But with so many avenues and so little fruit, I had to reign them in and focus on a preparation that would capture the essence of the individual cultivars— not just the flavor of the juice, but also the rich aroma of the rinds.
Ever since stumbling on yuzu gama, I've been fascinated with the concept. I'll admit that using citrus as a kettle is a romantic notion. But it's also a practical one: the porous rind insulates, breathes, and permeates the contents with aroma.
The first thing I learned was that not all citrus make suitable cooking vessels. Those with bitter albedos— lemons, limes, grapefruit— impart unpleasant bitterness.
And yet those with thin, tender rinds— kumquats, clementines, mandarins— are surprisingly palatable and can be eaten along with the contents. Many of the fruits that I was given were petite— just the right size to snugly hold a scallop.
The Thomasville citrangequat (below left) is a cross between an orange and a kumquat. Like the kumquat, it has a sweet rind and tart pulp, though the fruit is larger (about 2" diameter), and the pulp is sweeter. After cutting off the top and bottom and removing the pulp, I steamed the rind for a few minutes to soften it. A scallop was stuffed into the citrus band and seared on both sides. The cintrangequat juice was reduced with saffron and blended with egg yolk and olive oil to form a mayonnaise that accompanies the scallop and steamed baby artichoke. The bright, fresh rind cut through the richness of the scallop and brought to mind the evanescence of spring.
The Silverhill mandarin (below right) is an Unshu satsuma with a rich, sweet flavor and aroma. It was hollowed out (an easy task as the pulp separates easily from the rind), stuffed with a scallop, seasoned with salt, szechuan pepper, a dab of butter and a sprinkle of its juice, then sous vide at 50ºC for 40 minutes. The scent escaping from the opened bag was incredible. It was glazed with a sauce made from the juices in the bag, reduced with the rest of the mandarin juice and mounted with sweet butter. Served with crumbled, dehydrated Cerignola olives and pureed black garlic, it made a sweet and resonant autumnal starter; rind and all.
Over the winter, my quasi-obsession with citrus has been interlaced with an increasing interest in old-school terrines, though up until now nothing has materialized. For this terrine, I chose the Temple tangor, a cross between a tangerine and orange, because it was the largest specimen with a sweet rind. The hollowed out tangor was filled with a cylinder of foie, surrounded by black truffles folded into prepared sweetbreads (soaked, blanched, cleaned, pressed, seasoned), and bound with transglutaminase. The terrine was cooked sous vide at 65ºC for 90 minutes, pressed overnight, and sliced. Again, the mingled scents of foie, truffles and orange was not to be believed. Other components are: pickled beet with tangor sections, brioche crouton, and a leaf of liquid salad made from watercress fluid gel, finished with olive oil and lemon juice.
Note: Although the rind of the tangor was sweet, it was a bit leathery. I had hoped that it would have softened more than it did in the sous vide process. If I were to repeat this dish— which I intend to (perhaps with a pate de campagne), I would precook the rind. Alternately, the rind could be used as a scented mold.
*Admittedly, foie, truffles and sweetbreads were rather decadent ingredients to experiment with, but these were left over from a job.
I don't recall the last time that I made a proper cassoulet, but I remember the first. It was after reading Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of Southwest France" sometime in the mid 80's and feeling an overwhelming need to be connected to that place and its food. It was my introduction to duck confit, pork braised in milk, and the wantonly rich cassoulet. For years, I looked forward to the winter ritual that began with making lamb stock on a Friday night and culminated with a liberal topping of bread crumbs and duck fat on a Sunday afternoon. The crust was always the deal-breaker. This cassoulet-inspired dish features Gigante beans cooked in duck stock, duck confit, and Cara Cara orange* segments, layered and baked together in the orange rind. The crust is a variation on chicken skin croquant, substituting duck skin, and dusted with orange zest and parsley.
*Cara Cara is a navel orange, a mutation that naturally occurred on a Washington navel orange tree, with sweet pink pulp. It was not in the box of citrus that chef Kinch sent me but I needed a fruit large enough to hold an entree-sized serving. Unlike the other dishes, this rind is used for aroma and presentation, not to be eaten.
High up on a remote mountaintop on the coast of central California, there lies a paradise of citrus with over three hundred different varieties of rare and exotic cultivars from all corners of the earth. The fruit there is not grown for commerce, but out of a strong interest, curiosity, and love by Gene Lester, a citrus-enthusiast.
This box of sunshine comes to me via Chef David Kinch, whose longstanding friendship with Mr. Lester and mutual interest, curiosity and love of exceptional product allows him access to the private collection of trees.
These are exceptional specimens—each one a jewel— and I am grateful to the spirit of generosity and sharing that brought them to me. In the same spirit, I'd like to share them with you— in the only way that I can— through pictures and words.
For further information and descriptions of these cultivars, I've compiled a downloadable catalog.
*the T&L article fails to recognize McCrady's in Charleston, where Chef/Farmer Sean Brock grows an amazing array of vegetables for his kitchen, among them heirloom varieties indigenous to the lowcountry, as well as raises pigs for an extensive charcuterie program.
"At night with the 'kettle' of yu-miso on the fire I hear it reproaching me" —Ryota
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a a way of life that transcends rituals and customs. Throughout its four hundred year history, it has inspired philosophies and aesthetics that have come to define the Japanese culture. One aesthetic principle that arose from the Zen influence is wabi-sabi.
Wabi-sabi is an intuitive appreciation of the transient beauty that exists in the humble, modest, imperfect, and even in decay. It is finding refinement in the unrefined.
It might be said that wabi-sabi is seeing a flower in a dying bulb.
Or, maybe even, finding poetry in a citrus kettle.
Yuzu miso, as the name implies, is a yuzu-scented miso from the Shizuoka and Nagano prefectures in Japan. It is typically used in Dengaku, an ancient form of miso cuisine, where various foods are lightly grilled, glazed with miso, then finished grilling.
Commercially prepared yuzu miso is made by simmering white (shiro) miso with sugar, then blending in yuzu zest. The ancient preparation, yuzu gama (literally, yuzu kettle), where the seasoned miso is cooked in a hollowed-out yuzu, is far more romantic in concept and exemplary of the Japanese approach to cooking.
To make yuzu gama miso: Blend together 150g shiro miso, 38g sake, 50g mirin, and 17g sugar. Slice the tops off of 4 yuzu. Remove all of the pulp and membranes from the insides, leaving only the rind. Pack the seasoned miso into the hollowed-out yuzu and replace the tops. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes at 350F/178C, or until miso is bubbly. Will keep in refrigerator for up to a month.
Over the years, I've attempted to grow nearly every type of allium that I could find seeds for. Shallots and cipollini are perennial favorites because they require little space to grow and will keep throughout the winter when stored in a cool, dark place. I'm still experimenting with garlic, looking for a variety that will flesh out into plump heads instead of the paltry ones that I've been getting. And with onions being so readily available, I don't usually grow them unless I find an interesting variety.
Last fall, a friend gave me a bag of a sweet onion variety called "Candy", which I promptly deposited in a makeshift root cellar. Months later, I found they had begun to sprout. Sweet onions, because they have a higher water content, are not great keepers.
When bulbs sprout, the new growth draws on the energy that is stored in the parent bulb. In the case of alliums, the quality of the edible flesh becomes compromised and, eventually, consumed. Instead of composting them, I decided to force them like hyacinths, if for no other reason than to watch something grow.
Many flowering bulbs such as hyacinth, tulips, and narcissus can be forced to flower out of season, provided that they have been exposed to temperatures between 35-45F for a minimum of 12 weeks. I buy bulbs in the fall and store them in bags of peat moss in a spare refrigerator to force after New Years. To start them growing, simply place in a vessel with a mouth that is just narrow enough to allow only the base of the bulb through. A glass with tapered sides is perfect. Fill the glass with just enough water to cover the base of the bulb (left image). Submerging the bulb will cause it to rot. Alternately, bulbs can be supported by filling bowls with small stones and maintaining the water level. After about a week (center image) the roots begin to emerge and the shoots start to take off. After 2 weeks (right image) the bulb sends out multiple roots to support the vigorous growth. Bulbs forced in water can take 3-5 weeks to bloom.
I had intended to watch them grow— perhaps to flower— but upon tasting the new shoots, I found they were mild and sweet and begging to be braised with yuzu miso.
Many foods are defined by their aroma and yuzu is no exception. In fact, the distinct aroma of yuzu has earned it its very own aroma compound, Yuzunone, as documented in this recent study.
In Japan, yuzu is most enjoyed in its ripe stage, when the albedo has softened and the skin turns a bright yellow-orange. When ripe, the terpenes mature into an intoxicating blend of musky-citrus-floral-pine notes. In its green stage— before the chlorophyll is destroyed and the carotenoids develop— the fruit displays sharp herbaceous-pine notes.
Yuzu kosho is a condiment from Kyushu Island in southern Japan that utilizes both stages of yuzu. Green yuzu kosho is made from unripe yuzu zest and green chilies. Red yuzu kosho uses yellow yuzu zest and red chilies. Though they use the same products, they are unique in taste and a good example of the vicissitude of flavor in developing fruit.
To make yuzu kosho, whether green or red, simply blend finely minced chili flesh (leave out the seeds and white membranes) with finely minced yuzu zest and salt to taste. Depending on the level of capsicum present in the chilies, and your tolerance to it, the proportions are typically 6:3:1 (chili:yuzu:salt). The mixture can also be pounded in a mortar with a pestle for a smoother paste.
In this dish, I liquified the yuzu kosho with dashi to mimic the smooth texture of the chawanmushi and to contrast with the firm, meaty texture of octopus.
Octopus and I have a long, complicated history. On the one hand, the presence of octopus on the tables of my childhood marked the joyous occasions and holidays when friends and family would gather together. On the other hand, it was a challenging flavor and texture for a child to deal with and certainly not something I looked forward to eating. Even the rice in the ubiquitous dish, Arroz de Polvo, cooked in the acerbic braising liquid, was hard to get down. I was, however, fascinated with the suckers. Noting how they resembled the plastic suction cups on the ends of toy darts, I entertained myself by attaching them to every available surface, including myself. It's possible that octopus suckers were the precursor to a lifelong fascination with the genius designs found in nature.
Fascinations aside, I avoided octopus for most of my life— until I was unwittingly served a grilled octopus salad that changed everything.
According to Harold McGee, in his opus On Food and Cooking, "[octopus} must be cooked either barely and briefly to prevent the muscle fibers from toughening, or for a long time to break down the collagen. Cooked quickly to 130-135F/55-57C, their flesh is moist and almost crisp."
I already knew this was true of squid and abalone but the memory of the long-cooked octopus was too deeply ingrained to put it together. And if I'm being truthful; even if I had, I wouldn't have bothered. Why waste time preparing something that I wouldn't enjoy?
And although I was served a plate of octopus salad that I hadn't ordered, I accepted it as a challenge to myself. One bite of the flash-grilled octopus not only exposed my prejudice, but proved it wrong. The pleasure that I found in the snappy texture and clean flavor reminded me of why it's important to play with food— it's only with an open mind and a willingness to explore that we discover things that please and delight us— whether it's source lies in the maturity of an exotic fruit or a creature from the deep sea.
I've been yearning to get my hands on yuzu— the fresh fruit, that is.
I've been using the bottled juice, which is easier to source, for some time now but I suspected that it lacked the vitality and edge of fresh juice— kind of like champagne without the bubbles. I knew that the liquid in the bottle wasn't telling the whole story of yuzu.
Even more than the juice, I was curious about the zest. Citrus zest is where the essential oils are found and the yuzu, I'd heard, was full of piney, floral aromas.
Now that I've gotten my hands on fresh yuzu, I can attest that all of the above is true. The bottled juice is, indeed, but a whisper of the fresh. And the zest is a scratch 'n sniff teleportation into a garden of jasmine hidden deep in a coniferous forest.
But now, I'm curious about the leaves since I've learned that they're as fragrant as Kieffer lime.**
And the flowers! Well, I can only dream about experiencing the yuzu flower.
It could happen, though, as I've also learned that yuzu is among the most hardy of citrus trees, capable of surviving temperatures as low as -10F. That makes them a borderline candidate for Zone 5. I have a perfect spot picked out where they'll be protected from late and early frosts and kept warm by the radiant heat from a stone wall.
Who knows— with some luck I may one day have a windfall of yuzu. And— if I should ever find myself with more than I could cook with (impossible?), I would treat myself to the ultimate luxury; a Toji yuzu bath, as they do in Japan.
Wouldn't that be an embarrassment of riches?
** It's been brought to my attention that the term 'kaffir' is offensive and derogatory in some parts of the world. Henceforth, I will refer to this type of citrus by its alternate name: Kieffer lime. Won't you do the same?
One of my clients, an elegant elderly woman, has an insatiable sweet tooth. Seriously— how she has survived as long without developing diabetes should make her a medical curiosity. Because her disposition is as sweet as her tooth, I made her something special for the holidays: marrons glacés. I knew she would like them because of her fondness for all things sweet and French.
Making marrons glacés is a labor of love. It's a four day process that requires an investment of time and careful attention— though not the kind that one would lavish on creating one of the Great Gateaux. The bulk of the labor is in peeling the pellicle from the chestnuts— a tedious task that I have yet to find a shortcut for. I did experiment with microwaving them in 10-second intervals, with mixed results. While some of the nuts peeled easily and cleanly, one out of five turned out hard and dry. But once they're peeled, the rest of the process requires little time and effort. Twice a day, a sugar and glucose syrup is brought to an increasingly higher temperature and viscosity, then poured over the chestnuts for a twelve hour soak. The process is repeated six times, followed by a drying period. Impregnated with sugar, the chestnuts become a denser, silkier version of themselves.
As I'd hoped, Ms. Sweet Tooth loved them. She ate her way through the box while recounting stories of childhood holidays in Paris, where her mother treated her to the candied chestnuts. Curiously, she stopped in mid-sentence, her attention clearly swept away by another memory, turned to me with wide eyes and whispered "Can you make Nesselrode pie?"
Not knowing what else to say, I told her the truth: I had no idea what Nesselrode pie was.
Apparently, I wasn't alone— the internet is full of people who were as much in the dark as I was. And some of those who knew what it was confessed that they had never laid eyes on one. And yet others waxed about it in mythical proportions. Was Nesselrode pie the unicorn of desserts?
Further searching led to several articles in the New York Times. One, from 1988, stated the following: "While for years it was a popular American Christmas dessert, Nesselrode pie left our collective culinary consciousness about 30 years ago and has hardly been heard from since." Another, on thefoodmaven.com, Arthur Schwartz claims "It's extinct now— no restaurant serves it, no bakery makes it— but this old New York dessert still lives vividly in the taste memories of many."
So, Nesselrode pie isn't a unicorn after all. It's more of a Javan tiger. But what exactly is it?
In the 1988 edition of "Larousse Gastronomique", Nesselrode is described as "The name given to various cooked dishes and pastries, all containing chestnut purée, dedicated to Count Nesselrode, the 19th century Russian diplomat who negotiated the Treaty of Paris after the Crimean War." It goes on to describe a salted chestnut purée, served with sauteed sweetbreads or roebuck steaks or used to fill profiteroles that are served with game consomme. Larousse makes no mention of Nesselrode pie, but says of its predecessor Nesselrode pudding "It consists of custard cream mixed with chestnut puree, crystallized fruit, currants, sultanas, and whipped cream." This edition of Larousse doesn't mention that original versions of the recipe include maraschino liqueur and were served frozen.
By most accounts, Nesselrode pudding was created by Count Nesselrode's chef, Monsieur Mouy, although that claim was contradicted by Eliza Acton and Mrs. Beeton, who both give credit to the French chef Antonin Careme in the recipes that are published in their books. In fact, Careme himself accused Mouy of copying his chestnut pudding and was outraged that he named it after a [non-French] foreigner. The feud was put to rest when E. S. Dallas published Mouy's recipe in "Kettner's Book of the Table" in 1877, pronouncing it "the most perfect of iced puddings."
In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, Nesselrode pudding was a fashionable holiday dessert in Europe and then in New York. As was popular at the time, iced puddings, or coupes, were molded into fanciful shapes by skilled pastry chefs. The pudding did not freeze hard because of the liqueuer, challenging Victorian pastry chefs to devise ways to prevent them from melting on the table. In "The Royal Pastry and Confectionery Book" (London:1874), Jules Gouffé illustrated a meringue cloche modeled after a thatched beehive that he designed to slip over an iced pudding to act as an insulator.
Because of the skill needed to make and serve an iced dessert, Nesselrode pudding was exclusively available in restaurants and hotels that catered to the upper classes or in private homes that employed a capable staff. It was just a matter of time before a creative and enterprising baker adapted the challenging iced version into a more approachable pie.
Enter Mrs. Hortense Spier, credited with serving the original pie at her restaurant on the Upper West Side of New York City. The restaurant closed before World War II, but Mrs. Spier continued to make the pie for many of the city's leading restaurants including Lindy's and Longchamps. According to Bernard Gwertzman in a NYT article, "My memory [of Mrs' Spier's pie] is of a lot of whipped cream, chocolate shavings on top, candied fruits in the custard of the pie, and a rum flavor throughout. The original Nesselrode had chestnut puree; later recipes omit this ingredient." Sounds delicious, doesn't it? So, what happened?
Like all things popular and trendy, Nesselrode pie ran it's course. As the neighborhoods surrounding the restaurants where the pies were served changed, so too did the tastes of the residents. Unceremoniously, Nesselrode pie faded from our tables and now lives in the realm of forgotten dessserts alongside Baked Alaska and Charlotte Russe. I'm told that they're holding a place for Molten Chocolate Cake.
So now that I know more than I ever thought I'd care to know about Nesselrode pie, I could answer Ms. Sweet Tooth's question; "Yes, I can make Nesselrode pie". And I did.
But I did one better. I made my version of Nesselrode— with marrons glacés, and candied buddha's hand citron, and real maraschino cherries (sour cherries macerated in simple syrup, cherry juice, maraschino liqueur, and some toasted cherry kernels tossed in for a boost of benzaldehyde).
For Ms. Sweet Tooth, I made a traditional pie, based on the the description of Mrs. Spier's, with a creme bavaroise base in a pastry crust, studded with the candied chestnuts and citron and the maraschinos, crowned with whipped cream and a dusting of chocolate shavings. She was very grateful.
For myself— well, I just played around with the components in a modern design.
And— I made Monsieur Mouy''s recipe for Nesselrode pudding* (it's actually just a very decadent ice cream), mainly because I wanted to taste its origin, but also because It provided me with an excuse to dig out my vintage jello molds. Abandoned and forsaken— the Nesselrode, just like the molds— were begging to be unearthed. Dusted off and polished up, they look shiny again.
*Monsieur Mouy's (Mony) original recipe can be viewed in Kettner's Book of the Table. Scroll to page 312 for Nesselrode Pudding. (note: 1 gill= 142g/5oz) Caremes recipe (from Mrs. Beeton) can be found here. Scroll halfway down the page for Nesselrode Pudding.
Historically, the Brassica family, whose members are collectively known as cabbages, has seen its ups and downs. At its high point in ancient times, cabbage was prized by the Greeks and Chinese. It hit its low point in the Middle Ages, when medieval superstition suspected leafy greens of causing disease and it was deemed too coarse for the delicate European aristocracy. For centuries following, cabbage and its ilk were regarded as food fit only for peasants and livestock.
Today, the genus Brassica has the distinction of containing more important agricultural and horticultural crops than any other genus. The Brassicaceae family is remarkable in that all parts of their species have been developed for use as food:
seed- mustard and canola/rape flowers- cauliflower and broccoli leaves- cabbage, kale, collards, brussels sprouts, mizuna, bok choy, arugula, and watercress stem- kohlrabi roots- turnips, rutabagas, radish, horseradish, wasabi, and daikon All of these plants are united and identified by their four-petaled flowers that form the shape of a cross (hence, the old classification of Cruciferae) and by their pungent flavor attributed to glucosinolates.
Glucosinoltes are a type of organic compound that contain both sulfur and nitrogen. Plants use this compound as a powerful defense system. Nutritionally, glucosinates are dichotomic— on the one hand, they can be toxic to humans and animals when consumed in massive doses, but in subtoxic quantities they become beneficial and are even known to produce anti-cancer enzymes. Glucosinolates are directly responsible for the strong, bitter flavor of Brassica that we either love or hate. I have to side with the Greeks on this one.
Brassicas, in one form or another, are always present in my vegetable bin. I'm a fan because they lend themselves to many different preparations. I love them all.
There is something fundamentally satisfying about the snappy texture of barely-cooked broccoli and cauliflower that appeals to the grazer in me. When I want something heartier, I slowly braise them in stock until they practically melt. Braising works well with leaves, stems, flowers, and roots, though vivid colors turn murky when cooked this way. Alternately, I toss the blanched, fleshier Brassicas in olive oil, spread them out on sheet pans and roast them in a hot oven. Their frizzled, dark edges are irresistible.
Brassicas contain varying levels of glucosinolate depending on their species, with brussels sprouts leading the pack and cauliflower trailing at the end. Cooking methods directly affect the levels of pungency. A quick plunge in boiling water leaves the flavor molecules intact, while a long, slow braise leaches the molecules into the liquid, and gradually transforms them to a mellower, but funkier goodness. The dry heat of roasting intensifies flavor and adds a layer of complexity from the caramelized sugars.
Last spring, I tried the deep fried brussels sprouts at Momofuku. The outer leaves were blistered and singed, nearly black with char; their cores soft and pungent. It was a level of flavor— intensely bitter-sweet and nutty— that once experienced, you are changed forever.
turbot with a blanket of braised green cauliflower, white beans, preserved buddha's hand citron, and black truffle blanched broccolini stems, deep fried flowers