I've never really liked seafood...

Maybe it was the smell of the fish hatchery at Newport Beach when I was a kid, or that dinner during my high school senior prom. We ate at a very well-known seafood restaurant down at the end of Portland's Waterfront. I ordered fettuccine with scallops. I'd never had scallops and figured just like any other white protein, it had to taste just like chicken, right? So I ordered it. And I sat next to my date in my fancy dress with my fancy hair and fancy make up and, gracefully, dug in to my fancy plate of fettuccine with scallops. I took my first bite and chewed on something that definitely did not have the texture of chicken and absolutely not anywhere near the flavor of it. It had a spongy feel to it. I then swallowed. What I felt was something slimy and slippery slide down my throat. It was unappetizing and not what I had in mind. I finished my pasta minus tiny bites of the scallops. And I'm pretty sure it was that moment that I decided I was not a sea-foodie.

With all that said, I have recently began to give seafood - okay, at least fish - a try. I will eat white fish and during Culinary Skills II last term we did make shrimp, cod and steamed salmon, all of which I truly enjoyed. Given this, I was ready to start my new class rotation today: Meat and Seafood Identification and Fabrication. In this course we'll be guided through the basics of product identification, ordering, receiving, storing and cutting. And tonight we wasted no time jumping right in. Funny, the majority of the course looks like it will be focused mainly on meat, but today we dove in to...seafood!

"When we go up into the kitchen, you'll notice that the scallops and the squid will be dead; the oysters, clams and mussels are alive so it will be a little more challenging to crack them open and dig out the meat," Chef Rolf.

After an hour and a half of lecture on shellfish we headed upstairs to room 503: Butchery and Charcuterie. The room was a bit smaller than the former kitchen we were in a couple of weeks ago, and instead of long, metal tables, we were welcomed by about six long, thick, wooden tables set around the room forming a big U-shape. The table positioned at the front of the room had a large mirror fashioned above it, allowing us students to watch wide-eyed as Chef Rolf grabbed a few of his first subjects for demonstration; oysters.

Chef quickly scrubbed the oyster shell clean in a small tub of water, took a wadded up paper towel in his hand and held down the left side of the shell. He then proceeded with placing an oyster knife at the right end of the shell, lightly wiggling it until he felt the shell pop. He moved his knife around the circumference of the shell to completely dislodge it from its other half. He then took a pairing knife and scooted it underneath the oyster, removing any connection of the meat to the shell, and flipped it over to present the mollusk's more attractive side. He went on to tend to the clams, scallops and mussels in a similar fashion. Then came something very unlike a clam or an oyster or anything that required cracking or popping open. The next victim was a squid. Even though squid have no hard outer shell, they are considered mollusks and so were on the list for today. Oh the look of it was just not good for my eyes to see. I don't get too queasy with live things that are to be eaten, but the squid was just too much. What is it about this specimen that gave man the idea that it would be great sauteed in a light butter sauce or breaded in flour, egg wash and panko and deep fried? Even the name makes my skin crawl a bit. Squid. It just sounds like something squishy. Squid. Squish. Squeamish. Moving on...
The six steps to cleaning and preparing squid:
a) Pull off the head. The interior organs will come out with it. (OMG!).
b) Pull off the skin. (Yah!)
c) Pull out the plastic-like quill from the body sac (There is a whole lot of "pulling" going on here!). Lay the body flat and scrape your knife across it, pushing out the innards. (Oh you are kidding).
d) Cut off the tentacles just above the eyes. Discard the head and organs. (My eyes are glazing over and I'm feeling faint).
e) Be sure to remove the hard beak, which is found at the center of the tentacle cluster. (To do this one must squeeze the tentacle cluster, the beak will then pop out. Fabulous.).
f) Leave the body sac whole for stuffing or cut into rings for frying or sauteing (Why??).

But watching Chef Rolf was not enough, of course. Now it was our turn.

"Everybody grab six oysters, six clams, 12 mussels, 12 scallops and three squid," he said.

Ok, oysters, clams, mussels, etc. fine. But THREE squid. Oh my goodness, I thought, how was I going to get through this one? I gathered all of my product into my metal bowl and headed over to the tub that contained the squid. Taking a quick breath I grabbed the first one, and I dropped it. I grabbed it again, and dropped it, again. The feel of the squid was so undesirable that I could barely stand to have it in my hands for more than two seconds. I mustered up enough strength to finally grab my three friends and we headed back to my spot on the chopping table, their eyes looking up at me. I popped open my oysters. I cut open my mussels. I separated my clams and took apart my scallops (quite messy, I might add). And the three squid were just staring at me. Well, I thought, I have to do this. I might as well get over it right here an now. With a few short breaths that resembled that of a woman giving birth, I took my first squid. I separated the skin and slid it off the body (Yah!). I grabbed the head and tugged on it until I saw the internal organs follow behind it (OMG!). I pulled out the plastic quill (Interesting. It looks like something you can really write with). I pushed out the remaining innards (Oh!). And finally, I cut below the eyes and pushed out the beak (Ew!). But I made it. And quite honestly, the next two were a breeze.

I never really liked seafood, but have recently been giving it a try. Today was the first day of meat and seafood identification and fabrication and for someone who is just now opening up to trying fish and seafood, tonight was like being in the express lane of getting into the middle of it all! I touched and got personal with more seafood this evening than in my entire lifetime. But when I say this I'm actually smiling. This is the part of culinary school that I love. It's so adventurous and I'm doing things that I never dreamed of doing.

Tomorrow night we're sure to be doing some more cutting, but will also be making crawfish etouffee, seafood pasta, crab cakes and fried calamari and oysters. And I'm going to try it all!



Sustainability. What is it good for?

During the past few months I've heard the word used in various ways many times. Sustainable Agriculture, sustainable growth, sustainable practices. Sustainable development. Sustainability. Sustainable. I finally started to ask myself, what's all the hype around it, and what does it really mean anyway?

I decided to first browse through my favorite writing companion that keeps me company during long days in front of my laptop, the Oxford "Color" Dictionary Thesaurus, to see how the internationally famed university press described sustainable. Sustainable adj. (of development etc.) able to be continued without damage to the environment. Ok, so something that can live on in the world without hurting the environment. What else? Wikipedia cited a definition of sustainable development from the Brundtland Commision - led by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland - as a development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." It also goes on to say that sustainability relates to the continuity of economic, social, institutional and environmental aspects of human society, as well as the non-human environment. One last note, Sustainability is one of the four Core Concepts behind the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures. Very interesting. But enough with the formal definitions. Last week I was given a tip on an organization that has set off on a 38-day journey across the U.S. to promote sustainability throughout our many great communities.

The organization is Sustainable Table, a group that celebrates the sustainable food movement, educates consumers on food-related issues and works to build community through food. It's most recent mission? To embark on a U.S. road trip dubbed The Eat Well Guided Tour of America, which kicked off on August 2nd in West Hollywood, CA.

The tour consists of a few Sustainable Table staff members, a tour bus and a map that is taking them on an adventure through some of the best sustainable farms and restaurants that the U.S. has to offer. And, as duly noted from their website, to find the best pie ever!

I'm not sure what they've experienced in terms of great pie thus far on the tour, but I think it's safe to say that the ST team received a great breakfast and an interesting time at one of their stops along the way. I attended the breakfast at Bob's Red Mill last Friday. I arrived at the unmistakable Bob's Red Mill store in Milwaukie, entered the front door and was greeted by a cheery staff ready to guide me to the breakfast. I've seen Bob's Red Mill products all over my local grocery stores and am embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize the company was operated in my own backyard! Founded in 1972, BRM has been dedicated to manufacturing natural foods in a natural way. The family at BRM pride themselves on being proponents of including stone ground whole grain products into every meal of the day.

At breakfast I had the honor of sitting right next to Bob himself! And he really does look like the photo on his product's packaging. He also told a story of how the BRM plant in Redding, CA (where the original business began) suffered a fire in 1988. It was then that he had to make the decision to either rebuild or quit altogether. He decided to go on and partnered with Dennis Gilliam, who is still with him today. Bob and Dennis attended a food tradeshow in Anaheim, CA in 1989 with no sales person, not even a sales sheet and a booth that was stuck in the back hall of the convention center. BRM was one of five companies that offered a sustainable solution for customers. Other health companies at the tradeshow caught wind of that and the rest is history.

That Friday I got an amateur's introduction to sustainability through the mouths of northwest farmers, bakers and Bob himself. And on that day I saw, first-hand, how growers, farmers, food producers and retailers all work together in one region to produce good, natural food. And that day I learned the importance of practicing sustainability to continue the domino effect of keeping regional businesses moving, the freshest ingredients growing and the availability and delivery of the highest quality ingredients coming to local communities.
Ever since the breakfast I've paid more attention to products, restaurants and even wineries that claim to be sustainable. It's out there - it's everywhere! So the next time you're out and about, look for it. And know that sustainability is good for a lot!


A little research

Have you ever wondered what is so intriguing about the creation of sauces like hollandaise, bearnaise or mayonnaise? Here's a little research...

Emulsions: The Mystery and Science Behind Getting it Right

Day four of Culinary Skills II was the big day of preparing Hollandaise. A rich, buttery sauce with a hint of lemon, hollandaise receives praise for its unforgettable flavor when it’s served warm over steamed asparagus, a pan-seared fish or a plate of eggs Benedict. Hollandaise also seems to cause faces to adopt a look of worry for those embarking on the adventure of preparing it. When day four had finally arrived, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Why does the preparation of hollandaise get such a bad rap? What is it about the delicious and savory sauce that causes people to get psyched up to prepare it?

What I learned right away is that hollandaise is an egg-thickened sauce that’s contents work together by emulsion. An emulsion is a combination of two liquids that usually do not go together, such as oil and water. In the case of hollandaise, the two liquids are melted butter and water (this includes the water within the lemon juice in a classic hollandaise sauce). Ordinarily, if one puts melted butter and water together in the same container, the two ingredients will not blend. Instead, the oil ingredient forms tiny droplets which are surrounded by the water and can create a grainy looking sauce. In order for these two ingredients to combine successfully into a creamy, smooth sauce, a third ingredient is needed. This third ingredient is called an emulsifier and many foods can act as emulsifiers. Egg yolk is the most popular emulsifier, and egg whites, gelatin and even skim milk are also known to play this role. These foods are also referred to as chemical emulsifiers. Some powders, such as dry mustard and cayenne can also act as emulsifiers but aren’t as effective as chemical emulsifiers. Emulsifiers act as the glue that holds the oil and water together, forming a stable sauce. They contain molecules that can bond with both oil and water and act to coat the oil droplets to prevent them from forming a single, oil mass.

To make an emulsified sauce, like hollandaise, the oil product (in this case, butter) is added to a mixture of water and an emulsifier in a quick, whisking action. When the oil is added to the mixture it is broken up into tiny droplets, but immediately coated with by the emulsifier yielding a smooth, consistent product. Enter the trick with creating a successful emulsion for hollandaise: the temperature. Emulsion sauces all contain proteins. If the proteins become too hot, they will coagulate or change from a liquid into a semi-solid ingredient. In the case of hollandaise, the temperature must be watched closely. It must be hot enough to melt the butter, but not so hot that it coagulates the eggs, which can lead to the creation of scrambled eggs within the sauce; not exactly the desired outcome or a perfect hollandaise.

An alternative explanation of how the process of emulsion works is that the emulsifiers change the inward pull, or surface tension, of one of the liquids in the emulsion. The liquid loses its inward pull resulting in it becoming juicy, allowing it to run between the droplets of the other liquid, thus forming a smooth bond. An example of this is the process of making mayonnaise; another popular emulsion sauce. In the case of mayonnaise made with whole eggs, most of the liquid comes from the egg whites. The emulsifiers within the egg yolks dissolve in the egg whites and drastically lower its surface tension. Oil is added while the liquid ingredients are whisked together vigorously and the oil is broken into tiny droplets. The egg yolks coat the droplets and water with a very low surface tension allowing the water to flow easily between the oil droplets, paving the way to a good, smooth mayonnaise.

Additional, popular emulsion sauces include: béarnaise sauce, vinaigrettes, maltaise and mousseline (sauces spawned from hollandaise), Caesar dressing and emulsified French dressing.

At the end of day four of Culinary Skills II, my hollandaise was a success. I was even shown and experimented with how to break up the smooth emulsion of the sauce and bring it back together. As a recap of creating a successful emulsion sauce: a) start with a thick base, this will help make the sauce thicker; b) use a good emulsifier, emulsifiers coats the droplets of one of the liquids to prevent it from running together with the other liquids; c) whisk liquids rapidly as the oil or butter is added, this helps break up the liquid into tiny droplets that can be surrounded by the emulsifier; d) make sure there is enough liquid to surround the droplets, there must be enough or the droplets will be forced together and create one oil mass; e) keep an eye on the temperature, proteins need heat to unwind, but too much heat can cause them to coagulate and make scrambled eggs out of your hollandaise.

(Sources: Cookwise, The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking with over 230 Great-Tasting Recipes by Shirley O. Corriher, Professional Cooking, Sixth Edition by Wayne Gisslen, On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of The Kitchen by Harold McGee.)


Did You Know...?

That at sea level, water's maximum boiling temperature is 212 degrees F? And no matter how high the burner is turned up, the liquid temperature will not go any higher that 212 degrees at that altitude.

That meat is 75% water?

That there is a restaurant in Portland that serves a Kobe beef hamburger for $28? (I love real restaurant burgers and I must find it!)

That salt is arguably the most important seasoning for sauces? And that lemon juice is the second most important? And cayenne and white pepper come in third and forth.

That in English, Liaison means communication and cooperation, or a sexual relationship? But in French, Liaison means a thickening agent made mostly of eggs and cream?

That fiber cannot be digested?

That salt is one of the best things for you? (Ok, maybe it's not, but I honestly believe that if we all put are heads together and believe faithfully that it is good for us, it will be! Come on! Let's hear it for SALT!)

What else?

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