A Pungent Punch
I still remember my first adventurous bite of sashimi in the late 1970s while on a work trip in La Jolla. Raw fish, with the exception of oysters, was not the norm. The fresh clean taste of unadulterated fish and the alert sensation caused by the wasabi stunned me. I was already working my way to Japan but this culinary experience sealed the deal.
Sushi and sashimi are so ubiquitous now that it is hard to remember that they were an intimidating novelty not so long ago. However, being served authentic wasabi is still a rare experience, especially outside of Japan. Most often, it’s a stand-in consisting of horseradish, mustard flour, cornstarch and food coloring. Real wasabi is a member of the Brassicaceae family and related to cabbage, mustard and horseradish. Growing the plant commercially is a labor of love because of the temperamental conditions. The Japanese have grown wasabi for about one thousand years in river valleys and mountain streams, protected from direct sunlight, its roots stretching into running underground water. It can take up to eighteen months before the wasabi is ready to be harvested. The tricky growing conditions and the bigger demand than supply can drive the price as high as three hundred dollars per kilo as compared to the five dollars per kilo for the imitation. The precious price is a primary reason why genuine wasabi is so rarely served.
Real wasabi is described as having a fresher, more complex flavor, with some fruity or floral components, greenness and a bit of sweet in addition to the nasal spice. It is subtle compared to its substitute and enhances the sashimi flavor rather than overpowering it. The lower part of the plant, the stem is brushed clean and then shaved with a special grater. The grated wasabi will lose its flavor in about 15 minutes, so it is grated as needed. It also loses its flavor if mixed with soy sauce. I appreciated reading about Tyler Malek’s tasting experience. He is the ice cream creator responsible for green apple and wasabi sorbet at the inventive Portland, Oregon ice cream store, Salt & Straw, “It’s almost like eating ketchup all your life, thinking you know what tomatoes taste like, and then, one day, eating a fresh tomato and allowing it to blow your mind.”
Consuming wasabi is considered to be good for the body’s defenses and is said to be an anti-inflammatory. Wasabi contains the chemical alkyl isothiocyanate which has anti-microbial properties and hence, its prudent pairing with raw fish. The chemical is also responsible for its pungency.
The leaves, stems, buds and flowers of the plant are all edible as well. The leaves can be enjoyed raw, pickled, deep fried or added to cooked dishes for a punch. They can be layered into sushi or puréed into sauces or dressings. The buds can be thrown into salad or used as an edible garnish.
Last Monday, our chefs enjoyed a day of R&D with fresh wasabi and wasabi powder supplied by The Wasabi Store. Executive pastry chef, Cathy Ferguson, created wasabi parmesan crackers incorporating the wasabi powder. Chef Cathy commented, “I was surprised at how much more powder was needed when making the crackers than the wasabi we’re used to. Freshly grated, the wasabi alone tasted very spicy but didn’t overwhelm the dough.” Chef Basseron prepped and served red snapper sashimi and ahi tuna with freshly grated wasabi. Chef Bas commented that “It’s less strong than the product we’re used to and has a much cleaner taste. It was a tad sweeter as well.” Consuming fresh wasabi was a delightful way to warm our taste buds and bodies during a particularly cold stretch of winter.
The Pratt Test Kitchen is a series of programs launched in the fall of 2021 by the Enoch Pratt Free Library to celebrate the diversity and creativity of the Baltimore (and beyond) culinary scene. There is a kid’s virtual cooking program with ingredient kits supplied by the library, gardening seminars and engaging conversations about food and social justice. In addition, The Pratt Test Kitchen hosts free evening talks by several well-known authors, (one of whom we have previously spotlighted in our monthly book review). On Wednesday February 23rd, the library will host Baltimore transplant, Toni Tipton-Martin, the Editor-in-Chief of Cook’s County Magazine by America’s Test Kitchen and author of The Jemima Code, Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks and Jubilee, Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking. Tipton-Martin is a culinary journalist as well as an activist and recently announced her plans for the Toni Tipton-Martin Foundation to support future generations of women in food.
She and her husband are restoring a 100-year-old row house, one of the “Painted Ladies” in Baltimore, in which to live as well as house her large historic cookbook collection. “Part of what excited me about coming to Baltimore was the opportunity to reclaim this historic architecture and to explore its food history and to share its message of hope with the generations that could benefit from role models in the food world” Tipton-Martin mentioned in an interview with the Baltimore Sun.
The free virtual event will be on Wednesday, February 23rd at 7:00pm and will be streamed on the Pratt’s Facebook and YouTube pages. The program is part of the Pratt Test Kitchen, but also is a feature of the library’s robust Black History Month programming. Please tune in to hear more from this wonderful asset to our culinary community.
| Harriet’s Book Pick: The Food Almanac: Recipes and Stories for a Year at the Table by Miranda YorkI have no recollection of how The Food Almanac: Recipes and Stories for a Year at the Table found its way onto my stack of books, but I am pleased that it did. It is a great companion for the cold and dark winter days. Arranged month by month according to the calendar year, Miranda York highlights the seasonal ingredients in the cook’s larder, includes stories, poems, menus and recipes from new and old culinary icons and writers and concludes each month with an enticing reading list. The writing is, excuse me, delicious and varied and the topics, unexpected and new. I loved learning about pikelets (essentially untidy crumpets), Portuguese Prawn pancakes and samphire, which grows in the summer and is found in wetlands and tidal creeks. There are also entertaining essays on everyday subjects like the lemon, soup and the life of a thermos. The minimalist illustrations add to the appeal of this delightful new kind of almanac. I hope it brightens your day as it did mine.|
|When the Super Bowl & Valentine’s Day Meet|
by Chef Mario Raymond
|I happen to really love St. Valentine’s Day. For the past five or six years, my family has celebrated this weekend in cabins at the beach. It’s February, usually bitter cold, windy and rainy, but we hunker down and enjoy the company, play games, drink wine, and of course, cook massive amounts of soul warming food. It’s not the roses and chocolate of the “Hallmark holiday”; it might be a very large roast and root vegetables, soups, and stews, sausages or bacon, but it is cooking with love… and my brother Jonathan brings a giant bag of subs from the shop where he works, because sharing is love. |
This year is a double whammy with the Super Bowl being Valentine’s Day weekend so I thought about a recipe that I will be making at the cabin and that can also be a great football day dish: Kansas City Chili! So, as I write this, the contestants have not yet been decided, but I love this chili. Also, all due respect to Cincinnati and Skyline lovers everywhere, if the game were being played by the chili, I’m going with Kansas City.
Kansas City Chili
4 pounds pork butt, bone in
¼ cup dark ground chili
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne
12 oz lager beer
1 qt chicken stock
1 lg white onion
1 ea 16 oz can cento tomatoes, crushed by hand, juice reserved
8 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 tbsp ground ancho chili
2 tsp Aleppo pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
Optional: 2 cups canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Garnishes: sour cream, shredded cheddar, lime wedges
Preheat oven to 525
Mix all the dry ingredients for the rub in a bowl. Coat the pork on all sides with the rub, then put into a Dutch oven with just a drizzle of olive oil. Place in the oven, uncovered for 15 minutes. Flip the pork when it is nicely browned on top and brown the under side, 10 minutes.
When the pork is browned all the way around, place the pot on the stove top over medium low heat and add the beer. Let the beer simmer for 5 minutes, then add the chicken stock. Cover the pot and return to the oven. Lower the heat to 325 and cook for 2 hours, covered.
Remove the pot and let rest, covered for 10 minutes. Uncover and remove the pork from the pot. Let it rest for 10 minutes until you can handle it without scalding your fingers. It should pull away from the bone and shred easily with a fork.
Pour all the remaining liquid from the pork into a bowl and reserve, you are going to need that pot.
Place the pot on the stove over medium heat. With a tbsp of olive oil, sweat out the onions for 3 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook and stir, 3 minutes. Add half of the chili and aleppo pepper. Cook until fragrant. Add the tomatoes with their juice. Cook 10 minutes. Add all the reserved pork cooking liquid and the remaining chili and aleppo. Bring up to a simmer and add the pulled pork and tomato paste. Also add the drained and rinsed beans at this point if you choose. Cook over low heat until thickened, 12-15 minutes. You can adjust by adding chicken stock if you do not have enough liquid left from the pork.
Garnish with a squeeze of lime, sour cream, and shredded cheddar.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.
by Katelyn West
Many Ways to Say I Love You
While conversation hearts and romantic dinners may be the trademark for America’s Valentine’s Day, other parts of the world have different plans for celebrating.
The Welsh can’t wait until February to share their love and give hand-carved “love-spoons” on January 25th. The spoons have hidden messages – for example the number of beads on the spoon could represent how many children the man wished to have with his beloved. The historical art originated over 350 years ago and are traditionally made from a single piece of wood. Sailors would often carve the spoons during their long journeys incorporating nautical themes and also ideas from their travels.
In Germany, lebkuchen, popular during Oktoberfest and Christmas, takes on new life in February and become lebkuchen Herzen, gingerbread hearts decorated beautifully with frosting and shared with loved ones with a ribbon attached so that the recipient can adorn themselves with it. We think it is a very sweet way to say “ich liebe dich”.
In Japan, it’s not only about receiving chocolate but the type of chocolate. In the 1950’s, a Japanese confectionary company and department stores saw an opportunity for a Valentine’s Day sale which brought a Valentine’s Day tradition to Japan. Many stores today have colorful displays with flavors, packaging and chocolate making supplies. Honmei-choco is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband and represents true love. Japanese women often prepare Honmei-choco themselves as many of them think it is not true love if they buy it from a store. “Giri-choco” is meant to be for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. “Giri” means “obligation,” hence this Giri-choco has no romance involved. “Tomo-choco” is gifted among girl friends, and if you’re feeling a bit self-indulgent you can enjoy “jibon-choco” all for yourself. Women are the ones presenting the chocolate, it’s a part of kokuhaku, or expressing feelings. The men reciprocate a month later on March 14th and give 2-3 times what they received.