Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pork Secreto for sale at The Meat Hook!

UPDATE: 20120419 I did some more sleuthing and put up a post with some more details about the location of the secreto cut on the pig.

At long last, my years long quest may be nearing its end.  The Meat Hook (here's its blog) in Brooklyn has started selling the secreto [UPDATE 4/2012, just realized that last link was broken, now fixed], the mysterious cut of pork I had only encountered in Portugal and Spain, way back in 2007. What I specifically tried was secreto Ibérico, from the famed black footed pigs, and we had it several times over the course of the trip, and each time was fantastic. It is a highly marbled cut of pork, but not too fatty; the veins of fat are small and well incorporated into the meat, in a similar fashion to kobe beef and not large streaks of fat like a typical belly. You simply grill it quickly over very high heat, and the surface gets crispy while the interior fat melts and leaves the meat moist and bursting with flavor. It also retains the texture of a nice steak.
picture credit
I returned from the trip determined to find if there was something equivalent I could get here, but I was utterly stymied. Even when overseas, I asked every time to get an explanation of where on the pig the cut came from, but between the language barrier and my host's uncertainty, I never got far. I figured I could always ask google, and even he was stumped. I found a handful of pages in Spanish which google translated but left me still confused, and there were some blogs (some with with pictures) proclaiming how great the stuff is (here, here, here, here, here, and here).  There were a couple discussion boards with some info but mostly leaving me in a wash of other terms for Spanish cuts. I even found a site that had a diagram with the cut labeled, but it was cartoony and didn't help. I asked a Portuguese waiter I had at an excellent meal at Cru one rainy evening when most every reservation had canceled and Chef Shea Gallante was really showing off for us.  I asked anyone and everyone who I thought might know, but I was still at a loss for useful info. I asked the butcher Tom Mylan at one of his early pig butchering classes in the back of the Brooklyn Kitchen store in 2008.
He too had no idea.  It was time for me to give up.  But two long years later, Tom Mylan has come through for me.  I read about it in Time Out last week:
We didn’t think that pork belly could get much better, but leave it to the Spanish to prove us wrong—turns out they’ve been hiding the best part of the pig for years. Fortunately for us Yanks, Tom Mylan, of artisanal Brooklyn butcher The Meat Hook (100 Frost St between Manhattan and Meeker Aves, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-349-5033), has done some sleuthing abroad and returned with a little-known porcine gem: The secreto—literally “secret” in Spanish—is a tender strip of pork hidden beneath a thick layer of belly fat...In Spain and Portugal, where he first tasted the cut, butchers traditionally carve out the meat and save it for themselves, eating it seared with garlic and herbs.
Miracle of miracles!  I can almost taste it. I have not gotten a chance to get over there to get some yet, but I intend to soon. As luck would have it, Mylan was serving some tasty bacon sausage at the Bid Against Hunger event I attended on Tuesday so I mentioned the secreto and how I had asked him about it years ago, fulling expecting that he had no recollection and his new find was a coincidence, but it turns out he did remember and my query it was what got him on the trail at first. Like, me, he first tasted it in Portugal, but he was able to figure it out. And then bring it to me. Sweet.

If you have not tried the butchering classes, I recommend them; very fun. I did a lamb class as well. Since I can't find, or apparently neglected to take, pics of my secreto dishes, I've leave you with some butchering pics from years ago before my blog was born.  Someone else claimed the head:
 The final display:
From the lamb class, I got some belly and shoulder, as well as the tounge and the sweatbreads which I took home and cooked:
 Blanching these guys:
 All peeled and sliced:

City Harvest's Bid Against Hunger

Tuesday night we returned to Bid Against Hunger, the annual charity event benefiting City Harvest. We had an awesome time last year, where we won at auction a package consisting of a cocktail class with Eben Klemm, a spread of caviar, and a private cooking lesson with Tom Colicchio. (We've actually yet to use those last two, but we finally scheduled the cooking class for a couple weeks from now, stay tuned.) This year's event was no less fun. While we didn't end up winning any of the bidding this year, I did bid up several items so I like to think I did my little part to help. Other than the auctions, the draw here is the excellent food from over 60 of the top restaurants in the city, along with stations pouring wine and cocktails, including Le Bernardin's sommelier extraordinaire Aldo Sohm pouring some truly delicious wines in the VIP room.

The event raised over $1 million, not too shabby. If you want to get in on the action there are still some items still running in the online auction, auction runs until Nov 3rd I believe. I was too busy stuffing my face to take more than a couple token pics, but you can find lots at metromix or guest of a guest. Off the top of my head, among some of my favorite bites were Ripert's poached shrimp with foie gras, Le Cirque's Craig Hopson's escargot brochette skewers, short rib tacos from Stanton Social, a smoked trout on blini from Telepan, the luscious foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, sliced duck from Seäsonal, L'Artusi's lamb slider, SHO Shaun Hergatt's hamachi tartare, anyway, you get the picture. Good stuff. There were many more I don't recall, and more still I missed. It's impossible to even try half of the offerings there was so much good stuff.

Here are my token pics. These are the guys from Sweet Afton served up pickled martinis and pickleback shots (although we had drank them out of whiskey for the picklebacks and were relegated to vodka for the last one of the night.)  There was also a cocktail station from Ward III pouring old fashioned's and a tasty cucumber, vodka, and cocchi americano cocktail. I unfortunately neglected the painkiller table.
This was the early scene before most people arrived, it got much busier but not so crowded that lines were a problem.
Stanton Social's tacos:
Gramercy Tavern's offering:
This is the Hudson Valley Foie Gras's quite generous serving, topped with cured ham.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coq Au Maïs

After my first drink for the "A-Maize-ing" Thursday Drink Night (TDN), I still had an ounce of corn water to use so I tried a variation of my Yardbird cocktail.  Since most people don't have White Dog, I swapped it out for another corn whiskey, Bourbon of course. However, I noticed I had some bacon infused bourbon stashed in the back of the fridge and figured the savory bacon would pair well with the corn.
Coq Au Maïs
  • 1½ oz bacon-infused bourbon
  • 1 oz corn water
  • 1 oz egg white
  • ¼ oz maple syrup
  • 1 dash Bitter Truth Celery bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
shake and strain
This was similar to the previous drink, but a bit richer and more savory, and it had some more flavors going on other than the strong corn note.  I used maple syrup to stick with the breakfast theme I was getting from the bacon, eggs, and corn.  I also wanted to stick with the bird name, and somehow my mind wandered to Coq au Vin.  Perusing Alton Brown's recipe, I had the chicken (via the egg) and some bacon, so for another note echoing the dish I grabbed the celery bitters for a dash.


I'm a bit slow posting this, but a few weeks ago the theme for Thursday Drink Night, or TDN, was "A-Maize-ing", calling for drinks using ingredients made from corn.  I had recently read about Jim Meehan's Imperial Silver Corn Fizz, and was intrigued.  So I decided the occasion called for me trying to whip up some corn water to play around with for TDN.  I took some fresh Jersey corn off the cob and threw it in the blender, and then strained it through cheesecloth.  It seemed to work, yielding about 2 oz of bright yellow sweet liquid with a bright aroma.  While I was borrowing ideas from Meehan, I kept the egg white component, and decided to up the corn factor by using some moonshine and reached for the Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1, which has an aroma also redolent of fresh corn.
  • 1 oz Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1
  • 1 oz corn water
  • 1 oz egg white
  • ¼ oz gomme syrup
  • 1 dash Fee's Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters
shake and strain
This certainly made for an interesting drink. It had a full mouthfeel from the gomme and the egg white, and lots of corn flavor. Between the corn's sweetness and the fact the corn water lent the drink a creamy quality, it was almost like a dessert drink. It did have a bit of an uncooked flavor that I'm not sure how I felt about, but was interesting enough to keep me going back for another sip to figure it out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beer Cocktails at EMP's Beer Bash

My last post covered the overall event, here I'd like to quickly touch upon the beer six beer cocktails offered, or at least the four of them I tasted. He is the cocktail menu they were serving up:

I ordered the 'Old Fashioned' for myself, and sampled the Brooklyn Mule, Alagash Rose, and Blood and Saison. The Mule was most similar to its base drink, unsurprisingly since it simply subbed fresh ginger and beer for ginger beer. But it was a successful turn, with a pleasing strong bite form the fresh ginger:

My 'Old Fashioned' diverged more from its inspiration, but mostly in body. The flavor was instantly recognizable, but it was unintuitively lightened by the porter. I would not have been able to pick out porter, or beer at all, as the addition to the drink, but it made for a light mouth feel and a pleasant drink for the afternoon:

Pictured here along with my 'Old Fashioned' are the other two drinks I tasted:

Of the four drinks, the Blood and Saison was my favorite. Like the 'Old Fashioned', it reminded of the base drink but with a lighter hand. The flavors were all there, but much less scotch forward than a Blood and Sand. In fact, there was a strong smoky aroma from the scotch, but only a subtle flavor. Very well composed. I was paying too much attention to my sip of this drink to mentally note much about the Alagash Rose, but we all enjoyed it.
I had intended to go back and try the Ceylon Sophie, but the bar was packed and there were so many other things to try I never made it back to the bar. This was in no small part due to my friend turning my on to the Goose Island Sophie Farmhouse Ale, an ingredient in the Ceylon Sophie, and conveniently being poured outside where we spent the last part of the bash listening to The Crooners and drinking said ale.

Brewer's Bash at Eleven Madison Park

Last Sunday I skipped my usual routine of NFL viewing and headed up to Eleven Madison Park for the first annual Brewer’s Bash, the finale event of NY Craft Beer Week. The football sacrifice is one i hope to repeat next year; we had a grand old time.

It was a clear and crisp fall day, and they had set up picnic tables in the small outdoor area, which is where we ended up spending most of the day between runs inside for beer and grub because the band playing outside, The Crooners, were really rocking out. Their bluegrass stylings were the highlight of the day for me.  (They apparently also play the Big Apple BBQ Block Party as well as EMP's Derby Party.  Now I really want to hit that next time.)

I started with some Ommegang Cup o Kyndness from an outdoor station and then wandered in and got some Smoked Foie Gras Terrine as well as some Fried Chicken and Pickled Vegetables. The chicken station is the one food we kept going back for more of. The succulent thighs we figured has been brined and given the sous vide treatment before being battered and crisped quickly. This was one of the juiciest examples of chicken I have come across, and the crunchy batter proved an excellent foil. The foie, coming from chef Humm's kitchen, you can imagine, if you are lucky enough to have sampled some of his before.

There were far too many beers to try everything, but a few of my favorites were the Captain Lawrence Imperial Smoked Porter, a farmhouse ale using a special yeast that strikes fear into the heart of winemakers from Goose Island (Sophie Farmhouse Ale), and my top of the day a quad from Allagash aged for three years in wood with strawberries.

A remarkable thing about the event was that it was not completely overrun, as so many other events with food and drink stations i have attended have been. Granted, this pic is from very early before many people arrived, but they definitely did not go overboard on the tickets. I believe they sold 250, which made for a very pleasant experience. I never encountered a line more than a couple deep at either the food or beer stations, only the bar where they offered six different beer cocktails individually prepared was slammed. I only waited once there because I was enjoying the band outside too much to wait at the mobbed bar. The cocktails, btw, were excellent, I'll cover them separately.  Update: beer cocktail post up now.

Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Barbeque Beans and Weissewurst with Bavarian Mustard and Pretzel Roll. The wurst had a nice snap, and the belly had been smoking since dawn:

The Dark Chocolate Macarons were very nice and not too sweet, but the Salty Peanut Macarons, which had a lick of jam in the middle, were the best. I also saw Caramel Popcorn Cotton Candy and some Smoked Almond and Honey Ice Cream Lollipops going around, but never got around to grabbing any.

Here is the outdoor scene soon before the bash began. The weather and the tables gave it an Oktoberfest feel:

They offered two casks from Brooklyn Brewery for tasting in the upstairs private dining room. The left was a very aromatic pennant '55, and on the right was a stout aged with cacao nibs. The stout was really delicious, like eating really dark chocolate, with a pleasant deep bitterness:

Looking out from the PDR:

This was a very special beer Goose Island brewery was pouring we got the last sips of. The Bourbon County coffee stout was whisky like, with very deep and complex wood notes and only a very light fine carbonation:

Here is the giant smoked foie gras terrine they were serving:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Halley bobbing for toys in the pool

Nothing can keep Halley from getting at her tennis ball, even when it falls in the pool:

A brief moment of panic before it drifted close enough:

This time she shows off her paddling technique when it falls in the spa, leading to another successful extraction:

We do this all day, there is no tiring her out.  But she will sleep in very late the next morning.

Toloache's Chapulines Tacos (Fried Grasshoppers!)

As I tweeted the other day, my wife had gone out to dinner with the girls to Toloache, a restaurant that has been on my (ever growing in length) list to try for quite a while, because I've been dying to try the grasshopper tacos I'd read about many moons ago. I got the next best thing, perhaps even better, in having them delivered to my couch as my wfie got some to go on her way out. Check out these beautiful guys, "Chapulines, Oaxacan-style dried grasshoppers, onion, jalapeño":

These little suckers are addictive, crunchy, nutty, and so unusual, yum! At first I just started munching on the individual bugs to get a sense for what they were like on their own, and ate nearly half of them off one taco before i forced myself to try the components together. And they worked well together indeed. These tacos will hardly replace pork or beef (or barbacoa!), but I'd gladly have one as an addition to a meal or as a snack. They were lighter than a meat taco, and the crunch really satisfies.

If you are still curious about insects in meals, here is a story about a recent insect dinner in Brooklyn that sounded awesome. (Why didn't anyone give me the heads up on this?) Here's a Q&A with Andrew Zimmern extolling the virtues of bugs as well, both talk about Chapulines. They are also mentioned in Sifton's one star review.

As an extra bonus, my wife also brought me a delicious "Quesadilla de Huitlacoche y Trufas,manchego cheese, corn, black truffle, huitlacoche salsa":

Corn smut, or huitlacoche, is a fungus that grows on corn under certain conditions and turns out to be utterly delicious. It is earthy and musty and rich, a very unique flavor and one of my favorites ever since I first tried it years ago.

Monday, October 4, 2010

finally signed up for Twitter

As you may have gathered if you noticed the widget in the sidebar, I bit the bullet and signed up for twitter, with the handle @wpantagruel.  I still haven't really figured out exactly how it works, or know what if anything I'll do with it, but it's there.  So far it seems I've tweeted quick hits on stuff I'll eventually blog when I get around to it, like the opening night dinner at Lincoln, my recent dinner at SHO Shaun Hergatt, or yesterday's Brewer's Bash at Eleven Madison Park to send off NY Craft Beer Week.

Oh, before you ask, I'm not on facebook, never going to happen.  That's my hard line in the sand.  Fuck facebook!  I hate it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lunch at Aldea

The other day I was out running an errand and decided to stop into Aldea for lunch. I'd been meaning to lunch here for a while after reading raves about the uni sandwich offered during the day. I started with the "CURED FOIE GRAS - fig "salad", lemon verbena, fig sorbet, brioche." The dish also included some crumbled cacao on the fig salad and two delicious little husk tomatoes. This was a very nicely composed dish, the foie impeccably prepared - smooth and luscious. The fig components were a good complement for the rich foie and kept it on the lighter side. The husk tomatoes were a real delight, intensely fruity despite their diminutive size, and seemingly an expert crossing of a tomato and a grape in flavor.

I finished my lunch with the uni dish that had drawn me here, the sandwich of "SEA URCHIN - open-faced, heirloom tomatoes, sea lettuce":

The reviews had not led me astray. I'm not sure if for me it quite rose to the level of best of lists, but it was very good and really hit the spot, I'd gladly have one of these guys much more often. At first glance I initially feared that the bread was too substantial for the toppings, but my concerns were unfounded; the bread was very light and toasted to a slight crispness which proved a perfect textural contrast and nice balance for the softer tomato and urchin. Also, you really get two distinct sandwiches, as the different heirloom tomatoes brought different qualities to the party. The deep red tomatoes on the left had a higher acidity and brought extra brightness to those bites:

While the yellow tomatoes were quite fruity:

Both were excellent, and I did not have a favorite, but i enjoyed going back and forth from one to the other. In both cases the uni tasted clean, sweet, and briny and was thoroughly delicious. It was also just barely warmed through due to a quick trip under the salamander i believe, which left it right at the edge of melting as soon as it hit your mouth and boosting the perception of the unctuous flavor.

I'll certainly return to repeat the pleasant experience next time i find myself in the area around lunchtime. If serendipity does not send me there soon enough, I'll have to make a special trip.

For comparison they also offer on the dinner menu another sea urchin dish which I sampled back in Jan. It is also very good but I find the lunch offering above superior. Here is "SEA URCHIN TOAST - cauliflower purée, mustard seed, sea lettuce":