Sunday, January 31, 2010

Local Flavor

Eating more organic, local, sustainable foods has been a steadily growing trend over recent years. This is a very good thing in my opinion, for a number of reasons. Those who are trying to eat more in this fashion do it for reasons of environmental concerns, health concerns, supporting local small farmers or to cut down excess energy consumption among many other reasons.

The one that I'd like to talk about now though is the flavor aspect that foods of this nature bring to the table, literally.

I personally believe that a contributing factor to our food having more fats, more sugars and more salt is that the base ingredients for a lot of the foods we eat have become less flavorful. Large-scale commercial farming quite simply gives us blander food. The same processes that make our vegetables less nutritious; practices such as replanting the same crop on the same land year after year, using chemical fertilizers that replace a fraction of the natural nutrients there should be in the soil, the speeding up of the growth cycle as well as picking fruits and vegetables before they are nearly ripened in order to make them transportable and storable not only deprives them of nutrients, it also deprives them of flavor.
If you doubt this it easily tested, simply go to a local farmers market and by an organic carrot and then go to your local supermarket and buy a commercially farmed one. Cut them both into sticks and taste them side-by-side. I think you'll be surprised by the difference in flavor and quality.

Commercial food producers are forced to add more salt, sweeteners and the like to their products in order to make up for the flavors their ingredients lack.

Simply put if you're eating local and organic you're eating better, you're eating healthier, you're supporting your community and you're supporting the planet. It's a win all around.
Plus, I really like the idea of shaking the hand that grows your food and your local farmers market is one of your best opportunities to do that.
Not everyone has access to year-round farmers markets but even if you don't, spring is coming and with it, for most of us, that means local produce. Here's a resolution you might want to try making for the coming year. As soon as your local farmers market is open resovle to make a shopping trip there at least once a week to stock up on whatever produce you can use. It's a habit you be glad you've gotten yourself into. Besides it's just so much cooler to get food from Rick the lettuce man, Jerry the vegetable guy, Bob the mushroom forager and Mary & Phil the apple growers rather than getting all that from Super-value Mart.

Okay, let's talk some cooking. I went to a local farmers market today, the Ballard market for those of you in Seattle, and picked up some lovely carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic among other things.
One of my purveyors gave me a sample of flap meat, a cut becomes just above where the short ribs. Being a food service professional free samples like that are one of the perks you get sometimes.
Now a lot of Asian and Mexican places will take us cut and do a hot fast cook on it but I want to try cooking it slowly like I would short ribs. Now normally I would do that at about 200° for about 12 hours and if I was cooking is at work I would do that on a braising pan in the oven. However, I'm making these at home and plan on having for dinner tomorrow night with my lady friend. So I'm going to cook some in my crockpot. I just feel safer doing that than leaving my oven on unattended all day.
I prepped them up tonight and tomorrow when I get up Ill start them on low and by the time I get home from work they will hopefully be tender and delicious.
Since this is the first time I'm testing out this particular cut I'm going to keep the seasoning simple and let the meat and vegetables do the talking. So I just coated the four pieces of meat with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and seared them on all sides in a hot pan. Then took them out of the pan and placed them in the crockpot insert.

Here they are:

It may be hard to tell from the picture but I have a large crock pot and there's enough meat in that pot to easily feed eight or nine people. When it comes to cooking dinner at home that's kind of how I like to roll. When I go to the effort of making a good hearty meal I like having leftovers around to enjoy later in the week. After all, with all the cooking I do at work it's nice being able to come home at night and not have to worry about cooking there as well, at least not every night.

Anyway, getting back to it, while the meat was searing I was dicing up one large onion half dozen of those beautiful carrots and four small but very nice parsnips. I also peeled one whole bulb of garlic.
When the meat was out of the pan I kept the heat on high and I poured off the excess fat. Now I know that that fat is flavor but that little bit is really not needed. This meat has plenty of intramuscular fat, or marbling as it's also called, that will slowly cook out tomorrow the crockpot. I'll be able to skim that off but the meat will still retain a lot of that flavor:
& delicious. *wink*
I then added e onions to the pan and let them start the cook and get a little color to them. I like starting the onions first because I like them to be a little bit more caramelized than the other vegetables. That's just my personal taste.
As soon as they started getting some color I added in the carrots and parsnips and allowed them to start to caramelize as well. I waited until the end before putting the garlic because I wanted to be careful not to let that darken.
Here are the veggies in the pan when they were almost but not quite done getting the color I wanted:

As soon as the veggies got to the color I wanted added about 3 cups of red wine. Now I could've added fresh herbs or more spices but as I said before a want let the meat and veggies do the talking on this one. So I turned off the heat and used my wooden spoon to scrape along the bottom of the pan to free up all this delicious little cooked bits of meat and veggie that were stuck there. Then I poured all this over top of the meat and I'm then letting it cool right now a bit before putting it in the fridge.

Tomorrow morning I'll put the insert into the crock pot and turn on low and I'll add probably about a quart of beef stock. When I put the lid on I'll put it slightly ajar. A fully closed lid even on low with my crockpot could have the mixture coming up to a medium simmer and that's hotter than I want it to get. With the lid slightly ajar the excess it to be for the long, slow braise.

Tune in tomorrow and I'll let you know how it came out.


  1. Nick & I recently joined a local CSA. I was amazed and delighted by our 1st box! I think I am hooked. Speaking of hooked, my fave local sushi joint has gone 100% sustainable!!!!! if you want details.

  2. I've been considering doing that myself. I'd like to talk to you more about the CSA sometime.

    And yes, Mashiko is a restaurant I feel good about dining at for multiple reasons.

  3. Great post! I'm really happy that folks like you are helping others understand that we don't need the added fats and salts, we just need ingredients that have all the flavor they are supposed to have!

  4. I have an awesome grocery store near where I live that specializes in local produce - much of it organic or at least pesticide free, and grown at small farms. It is affordable and way better than what I get at the regular grocery! Especially during the summer when all the good fruit is in season - yum!

  5. It all looks fabulous! Thanks for such a great post!