Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jelloware: Edible Agar Agar Cups (SquishyCups)

Squishycups! Cite: TheWayWeSeeTheWorld
Such a simple and clever idea.  Agar Agar is a hydrocolloid derived from a sea algae, making it vegan.  It has all kinds of great culinary purposes, and now we can add another one.

Many great applications ahead for the use of edible, flavored cups... if they aren't too squishy or slimy.

Would this work for cocktails?  Pour some Patron into a margarita shot glass.  Tomato glass with horseradish infused vodka?  Think that's gross? No worries, it is also biodegradable/compostable.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Escolar: The World's Most Dangerous Fish

Escolar is the most controversial fish that you are likely to find in your fish market. This firm, white fleshed fish has an incredibly rich flavor, often described as 'succulent', or a fattier version of swordfish. Why so rich? It turns out that Escolar's diet contains food high in wax esters. Wax esters that are really difficult for Escolar to digest. As a result, these esters build up in the fish.

Where is the controversy in a buttery, delicious fish? I would say it is in the laxative like effect it has on a certain percentage of the population. Well, a 'laxative like effect' is how my fish monger described it. Others would describe it as closer to diahhrea. An expert would call it 'keriorrhoea'. Literally translated, it means 'flow of wax'. Oily orange droplets pouring out your pooper.  Keriorrhoea occurs because the wax esters in the flesh of the fish pool up in your intestine.

Some reports of Escolar related illness include cramping, nausea, diarrhea, the itis, and other abdominal pains.  This could be the result of severe Keriorrhea or could also be Scrombroid poisoning.  Escolar related Scromboid (or histimine poisoning) is the result of high levels of histidine being converted to histimine usually as a result of poor storage.

Hong Kong Protest Over Oilfish Sale.
Why would you eat a fish that has such terrible downsides? Two reasons:
  1. Escolar is delicious. Most likely, the same fatty ester in Escolar that makes you sick also makes it taste so damned good.
  2. Taste the danger! If you enjoy a sense of dining adventure, then consider Escolar the log flume of the culinary world.

Apart from all of the poop jokes I wanted to make, what really inspired me to write about Escolar is the lack of credible information on the subject.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suggests grilling, while Queensland's Health Agency states that cooking method does not matter.  It is really confusing because not only is Escolar sold under other names, but other fish are sometimes mislabeled as Escolar.  Doing some quick google searches, I created the following chart based on all of the references to escolar and oilfish being sold as other fish.  The most common form of Escolar trickery is to be found at your local sushi bar.  Any place selling white tuna or 'super white tuna' is more likely than not selling you Escolar.  White Tuna can technically be either Albacore Tuna or Escolar.  Albacore looks like pale tuna, while Escolar looks strikingly white.

This isn't confusing at all...
There are a number of reasons for this confusion.  Mostly, it is because suppliers and restaurants mislabel fish, either out of ignorance or fraud.  Another reason for the confusion is that Gempylidae, the family of fish that both Escolar and Oilfish belong to, has several other names.  According to Wikipedia, this family of fish is also called Escolars or Snake Mackerels. I have also seen at least one reference referring to Gempyldae as 'Oilfishes'. This means that the family name and the common species name can be the same.  There is also a segment of the population that thinks they were served Oilfish instead of Escolar, and that is what made them sick.  However, I haven't seen much scientific literature to back that up.  Both fish seem to have about equal chances of making you ill.

So I have a couple of quick tips to reduce the likelihood of getting sick from Escolar.  It is mostly gleaned from the Internet, but the most credible source I found was an excerpt of Nick Ruello's Report On The Oil Content, Composition, And The Consumption Of Escolar.
  1. Limit Quantity. Obviously, less is more when it comes to Escolar. Conventional wisdom suggests no more than a six (6) ounce portion. I suggest an even smaller amount the first time you try it.
  2. Tail portion. While oil distribution varies per fish, the cuts near the tail generally have lower ester count.
  3. Cooking Methods. Don't appear to make a difference. There are some sources that claim grilling will reduce the wax esters but there is at least one scientific report that found this to be untrue.  Wax esters are heat stable, so the only potential benefit of grilling is that they somehow leak out of the fish.  This can also be achieved by baking the fish on a rack causing the juices, which may or may not contain wax esters to drip into the pan below.
  4. Deep Skinning. With certain fish, this oil resides just under the skin of the fish. By removing the flesh close to the skin, you can reduce the amount of wax ester. While it is recommended to do remove the skin because of its high oil count, there isn't much evidence that deep skinning will help much.  
  5. Freezing.  also does not work.  Wax esters are not damaged by cold, even after extended stays in the freezer.
  6. Fishmonger Trust. Since there are other fish that also contain high level of wax ester, it is best to go to a reputable fishmonger.  Also, Escolar has some other toxins that can result in histimine poisoning if the fish isn't stored properly.  
  7. Pre-Existing Conditions. As always, pregnant women have no fun. Also, people with malabsorption or bowel problems should probably just stay away. Unless you find your bathroom comfortable and you dislike your pants.  
I followed most of the advice above the first (and only) time I prepared Escolar at home.  I still had ended up with my own British Petroleum style oil leak, endangering most of the local habitat, with several failed attempts to contain the spill.  If you find yourself in this situation:
  1. Well it depends. Actually, no it doesn't... wear Depends. 
  2. Replenish your bathroom reading materials. 
  3. Call in sick, or plan your day around proximity to the bathroom.
  4. Avoid Escolar in the future. The truth is, all you can really do is ride out keriorrhoea. It should only be a couple of days.  
Finally, if you developed a case of Keriorrhoea and you didn't knowingly order Escolar, then you should  think back the the last time you ate a piece of a mysteriously delicious white fish, and give them a piece of your mind... or a stool sample.

Now that you know the risks, and how to reduce the likelihood of soiling your pants/couch/good name, you can now buy escolar from Catalina Offshore, one of the best online providers of sushi grade fish:

By now it has occurred to you, that sharing a name with this fish is terrible.  And this is true.  But there is some serendipity between the fish and the author.  We are both simultaneously fatty, delicious, and will likely make you sick to your stomach when we are over-consumed.

If you have had any experiences with Escolar or Oilfish, or found anything inaccurate in this post, leave me a comment.

Due to the popularity of this post, I wrote a white tuna survival guide.  If you liked this post, please share it via one of the methods below.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fat Tuesday: Weighting For Godot

It has been several months since The Health Scare That Was Mostly In My Head.  This blessing in wolves' clothing was the final push necessary to affect change. The good news is that the time it is taking to lose weight is lightyears faster than the time it took to gain it.  The bad news is, I still have a ways to go.

I gained weight gradually.  Maybe, a pound or two a year.  

It's easy.  You just sit there.

The weight finds you.

Every couple of years, my pants would go from fitting well, to getting tight, to fitting well again, to not fitting.  It wasn't till the second time it happened that I realized the fitting well again stage was just my waistline moving south.

The secret to my success is not rocket science.  I do the following:
  1. Exercise:  Not even that much.  I try to go 2-3x a week for 30 minutes.
  2. Eat More Good Stuff:  Salads.  Chicken.  Fish.  
  3. Eat Less Bad Stuff: Red Meat.  Pork.  Fat.  Pork Fat.  
  4. Eat Out Less:  For me, restaurants means fatfuckery.  I order more to hit delivery minimums, and I order poorly.  Also, at restaurants, I get an extra course and I tend to eat bread and butter.
  5. Eat Less: A corollary to #4, eating at home means smaller amounts of food.
Three months ago,  I was surfing the line between obese and morbidly obese.  Today, I am fucking thrilled to report that I am surfing the line between overweight and obese.

The weight loss will hopefully continue and I will be surfing the line between average and overweight.  If it continues past that, I'll be between average and underweight.  If it continues past that, don't just stand there, give me a foie gras donut topped with bacon.

Fu-uck m-e.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Altered Tastes: Epoisses

I am sorry for folks who are new to the blog, expecting me to be all sous-vide this and sous-vide that.  I promise I will get back to you with your regularly scheduled broadcasting.  But in the interim, I need to continue to write about the trip to France.  Paris was amazing, and there were many delicious meals.  Summing them up quickly: Bistro Paul Bert, Comptoir Du Relais, Chateaubriand, L'Atalier du Joel Robuchon, and the wedding I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.  I am pretty sure those five meals accounted for about 30 individual plates of food, if not more.  All of them awesome, special and deserving more detail than you are going to get.

Day 1 Route

After the aforementioned wedding, we rented a car with the plan of driving around France looking for adventure and cheese and wine.  We left Paris and headed for the number one place I wanted to go to.  Epoisses.  The actual town where the cheese is made.

The first time I had this amazing cheese was at Artisanal, a cheese-centric bistro helmed by Terrance Brennan.  The stank of a thousand cheeses kick your teeth in the second you arrive. The first time I ate there, someone at the table ordered this cheese. As it made its way around the table, a pattern started to emerge.  Take a bite, eyes roll back in head, moaning.  By the time it made its way to me, it was being called 'The Orgasm Cheese'.  One bite later, and I pretty much had made a new friend-with-benefits for life.

And now I get to meet her parents...

If you want to know how serious this country is about cheese, I shall simultaneously present to you Exhibit A, and my closing arguments, in the form of a single picture:

The above picture was taken at a GAS STATION off of a highway. A GAS STATION.  Have I mentioned that you can PURCHASE GAS AND EPOISSES at the SAME FUCKING PLACE.  I wish I had taken a second picture so you could see that this place looked exactly like a GAS STATION.  There were refrigerated units with the usual array of softdrinks, pre-packaged sandwiches, maps, potato chips and, oh yeah, intricate, complex and downright funky cheeses that if you opened up in the confines of a car would surely kill you.

I digested that experience for about 45 minutes, before we finally arrived in Epoisses.
Epoisses.  Population: Om Nom Nom

Turns out, Epoisses isa sleepy little hallow.  And not so much sleepy as it was completely.  closed.  I mean it.  Only signs of life were these fine ladies:

Cows in Epoisses.  Let's Pretend Their Milk Makes Epoisses.
So, onward we marched... arriving in Dijon.  Dijon is larger than Epoisses, but still pretty dead.  Still having some fight left in us, we took the Burgundy Wine Road down to Beaune. On the way to the wine road, we drove by the Gaugry Fromagerie, one of larger Epoisses manufacturers.  Also closed.

Paradise Closed.
We finally stopped in Beaune.  After getting settled in the Hotel, we went into town to grab dinner, and, during the Dessert course, I finally found my precious Epoisses.  It was, of course, amazing.  It was hands down the best piece of Epoisses I have ever had.  The texture simultaneously gooey and firm, best described as uni-like in texture, combined with the incredible complexities of this pomice-brandy washed-rind cheese.  My memories of eating this cheese mostly converge on a moment where I believe I was wielding my knife like a broken beer bottle, menacing waitstaff and my girlfriend alike if they made any sudden movements towards the cheese.

The best piece of Epoisses I have ever eaten.

Even though Fromagerie Gaugry was closed, the next day we backtracked up here (~40 minutes) in an attempt to get to the source.  Of course, it was. still. closed.  But this time just for the standard French lunch hours. yeah, hours.  Fuck those guys.  Finally, it opened and we did a little tour of the factory.  Moneyshot:

Paradise Found.

Escolar: The World's Most Dangerous Fish

Escolar is the most controversial fish that you are likely to find in your fish market. This firm, white fleshed fish has an incredibly ric...