Monday, October 30, 2006

Pittsburgh Salad with Rutabaga Fries

Pittsburgh Salad does not enjoy the glamour of New York Cheesecake, Boston Cream Pie, Chicago Style Pizza, or Seattle Coffee. If you haven't lived in da 'Burgh, you probably never even heard of this French-fry-topped salad, and don't realize what you've been missing.

Well, it's about time we put Pittsburgh on the culinary map. I know what you are thinking, "She plans to do that with fries on a salad? Pah - lease!" All I can say is, don't knock it till you try it. A fork loaded with crunchy romaine, well-seasoned waffle fries, and barely-melted cheddar can be remarkably good. My husband introduced me to this culinary wonder on our first date at the Union Bar and Grill on Craig Street, also known as the "Silicon Alley" of Pittsburgh. It was love at first bite.

Why am I telling you about this salad? Bear with me. We got a rutabaga in our CSA this week with "It’s edible. Really!" explanation in the farm newsletter. Poor rutabagas. How did they get such a bad rep? They are sweet and yummy when roasted, particularly when cut into French fry shapes. This maximizes the surface area that touches the roasting pan and helps rutabagas brown. Although they don't turn crispy like potatoes, rutabagas caramelize beautifully and get those addictively sweet edges.

I piled the rutabaga fries on arugula with a little cranberry goat cheese, and pomegranate-almond topping. "Guess what we are having for lunch?" I called out to Jason from the kitchen. He took one look at the plates and said "Pittsburgh salad!" Ok, so maybe this salad is more like Pittsburgh meets California. The fries are not really fries, and it's suspiciously healthy. If you are a Pittsburgh native, please accept my apologies for yuppifying your culinary specialty and defeating the purpose of a properly bad-for-you salad. I just thought that a little change and a few yuppies can do our dear 'Burgh some good.

Pittsburgh Salad with Rutabaga Fries

Make 1 batch of Rutabaga Fries.
Toss mixed greens, arugula, or baby spinach with your favorite vinaigrette (see this salad post if you want a basic recipe for a vinaigrette).
Put the salad on plates and sprinkle with some chopped nuts and/or pomegranates for crunch. Then top with rutabaga fries and, if you wish, some cheese.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Roasted Delicata Squash Salad

Once upon a time, before the blogs roamed this planet, I used to write about food on my little site. There were no templates, and photography was scarce and scary, but the recipes were good, and once in a while I’d get comments the old fashioned way known as e-mail. The most popular recipes in those good old days were Jason’s 4 Minute Tuna and Roasted Delicata Squash Salad.

I just made it again last night with the squash and lettuce from our CSA. For a while I was wondering if this salad could ever be made in New England with all local ingredients. It seemed that the lettuces were only available in the summer, the squash in the fall, and never the two would meet. But yesterday, we got both. It was a sturdier lettuce, not as fragile as mixed baby greens I usually used, and it matched the texture of delicata even better.

Serves 4

For the squash:
2 Lb Delicata Squash (2 medium)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the dressing:
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
8 cups mixed greens
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Finely shaved parmesan for garnish (optional)

To cook squash:
  1. Place a rack into the bottom third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Do not peel. Cut the squash into 3/4" cubes. Place the cubes in large baking sheet that can hold the squash in one layer and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet.
  3. Roast squash for 20 minutes. Stir the squash, and roast another 10-15 minutes or until very tender and starting to brown. Cool until warm (about 15 minutes). While squash cools, make the salad.
To make dressing:
  1. In a small bowl mix lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard with a fork until well blended.
  2. Pour the olive oil in a slow steady stream whisking constantly. Whisk until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Tips on dressing: This is a basic vinaigrette dressing. It is made by combining 1 part acid with 3 parts oil. I find the combination of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar to be particularly good, but you can use any white wine vinegar or lemon juice for the acid. The mustard helps the dressing emulsify (keeps oil and acid from separating). If you don't have Dijon mustard, just skip it (do NOT use yellow mustard).

To make salad:
  1. Put the greens into a big bowl and toss with the dressing and salt to taste. Only use as much dressing as you need to coat the greens lightly (otherwise the acid in the dressing will wilt them).
  2. Arrange salad on plates, top with roasted squash.
  3. Sprinkle with dried cranberries, pine nuts, and parmesan.

Sauerkraut with cranberries (miraculously home-made)

When you like to cook, people automatically assume that cookies, cakes, preserves, and pickles are things you should do well. I must admit that mastering these skills does come with a number of perks. You can make many friends in the office if you make good cookies, and ability to preserve foods is a sure sign of home cook’s practicality and resourcefulness. Unfortunately, I posses neither talent. Cookies and cakes require measurement, and pickling takes meticulous cleanliness (sterilizing the jars, etc). The worst thing is that both require tremendous amount of patience. You can’t just stick your finger into it every few minutes and see how it’s doing.

Imagine my surprise, that in spite of my lack of precision, sterile cleanliness, or patience, I was able to produce amazingly good sauerkraut. It was so good that even my Grandma would be proud of me -- and she is a Russian sauerkraut maker extraordinaire. The Russian sauerkraut is a completely different story from anything you could possibly buy in an American store.* It is crunchy with a slightly prickly tang reminiscent of horseradish (though that’s not one of the ingredients). It’s way less sour than store bought stuff and more crisp.

I remember the huge bucket that took residence on my Grandma’s balcony in Moscow come autumn. I wasn’t particularly patient even then and was always bugging her – “When, oh when do we get to try the sauerkraut?” – until the big day would arrive. Finally, she’d remove the brick weighing down the cabbage, remove a few whole cabbage leaves coving the top of the bucket, and there it was – the most addictive cabbage known to man, dotted with ruby red cranberries.

Eating this stuff straight from the bucket is like licking peanut butter with your finger out of a jar. Who cares if it’s not how it was meant to be eaten; it’s just so darn good! Sauerkraut is one of those wonderful foods that can be as at home on a weekday supper table as on a holiday one. Once dressed with chopped scallions, fresh herbs (we like parsley, cilantro, and dill), and sunflower seed oil (the olive oil of Russian cooking), it is a dish of really beauty.

As much as I love sauerkraut, the idea of making it would have never crossed my mind if it wasn’t for our CSA. Did I tell you how much I love my CSA yet? I needed to find a use for a huge cabbage we got in our last share. Braising is always my favorite bay to cook it, but a large head of cabbage takes about a stick of butter and I was not in a stick of butter mood. Then I saw a pile of cranberries in my local produce market, and they immediately reminded me of my Grandma’s sauerkraut. I googled for recipes and found one by Joanie Grow on Sauerkraut Recipes Site. Joanie Grow didn’t sound particularly Russian (hey, neither does Helen Rennie), but her recipe seemed like the real deal with cranberries and all. I followed it the best I could. The only changes I made were skipping carrots and apples because I didn’t have any, and proclaiming my cabbage done after only 5 days instead of 10-12. Well, she did say to taste it, and it tasted pretty excellent to me after 5 days (or maybe that’s my impatient side talking). This sauerkraut is kind of like half sour pickles. It doesn’t have the overly pickled taste or texture, and that’s exactly why I love it.

You might wonder why I didn’t ask my Grandma for a recipe. Experience taught me that asking the women in my family for recipes doesn’t work. If I watch them, I can remember what they did, and then successfully recreate the process at home. But if I just ask them, I’d get a recipe like this: “Take a lots of cabbage, sprinkle with some salt, put in a bucket, and wait for it to ferment.” The recipes on many Russian recipe websites were not much more detailed, so I am really grateful to Joanie. Her recipe was the next best thing after watching my Grandma.


* There are some exception. Real Pickles in Western Massachusetts makes outstanding Russian style sauerkraut and pickles and they are available in Whole Foods and gourmet stores around Boston. They don’t market their products as “Russian style,” but I am sure any certified Russian would give them a stamp of approval.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Glazed Salmon with Dijon Mustard Sauce

A recent post from Gluten-Free Girl made me realize that I need to stop worrying. What can I say – I am an obsessive person. If you are a food blogger, chances are you are a little obsessive too. Would normal people take pictures of everything they eat and think about stories surrounding their food while driving to work, all to find something so beautiful, so delicious, so funny, and so dramatic that it simply has to go up on the internet immediately? Lately, I’ve had more stories in my head than I know what to do with and less time than I need to lead a reasonable life. I’ve been so torn between all the possible projects and stories that I haven’t been posting much. I guess I am not a journal keeper by nature. Recording what I do on regular basis is very difficult for me and I always try to find something out of the ordinary to write about. But maybe, with all this search for something really interesting to write, I’ve been ignoring the beauty and simple pleasures of everyday meals.

This recipe was born one weekday night when I needed a 10 minute dinner. It was surprisingly good.

Glazed Salmon with Dijon Mustard Sauce

Fish substitutions: steelhead trout, arctic char, or any pink fish

Serves 4

For the fish:
4 salmon fillets with skin (6 oz each)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp apricot preserve, honey, or maple syrup
Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp plain yogurt or sour cream
2 Tbsp mayo (Hellmann's "Real" please, not low-fat)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cognac, whiskey, or white wine (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped mint, cilantro, parsley, or dill (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

To make salmon:
  1. Preheat the broiler and wrap a broiler pan with aluminum foil.
  2. Rub the salmon with salt, pepper, and olive oil on both sides. Place in the broiling pan skin side down.
  3. If using apricot preserve try to avoid the chunks as they will burn under the broiler. Spread your preserve, honey, or maple syrup on the flesh side of salmon that’s facing up (I used the preserve, but I am sure the other sticky sweet things will work too).
  4. Cook salmon for 6 minutes per inch of thickness for medium doneness (8 minutes for well-done). Start it under the broiler (4 inches away from the flame) and check it every couple of minutes. As soon as the top browns, turn down the oven to 400F, and move the salmon to the middle of the oven to finish cooking.
  5. To test for doneness, separate the flakes in the thickest part of the fish with a fork and peek inside. Salmon is cooked to medium when you can separate the flakes at the surface, but get a good bit of resistance in the center of the fillet; the flesh will look very translucent. After salmon rests for 5 minutes it will flake, but still be a little translucent in the center. If you prefer your salmon well done, cook it until only a trace of translucency remains in the center. After 5 minute rest, it will be completely opaque.
To make the sauce:
  1. While salmon is cooking and resting, make the sauce. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
  2. Thin out the sauce with 1-2 Tbsp of water until it’s barely thicker than heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place salmon on serving plates (if the salmon skin sticks to aluminum foil, just leave it there), pour the sauce on top and serve.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Branzino Tartar with Apples and Ginger

I wish I could take the credit for this brilliant combination of raw materials, but it goes to Ethan Stowell, the chef of Union Restaurant in Seattle. I had his fluke tartar with apples and ginger on a trip to Seattle this July, and it made such a lasting impression on me that I set out on a crazy saga to research the topic of serving raw fish at home. Of course, I could have just posted a picture and a recipe and some poetic description of how crisp the apple tasted against the silky flesh of the fish (as you can see I am not very good with those). But I didn't want this to be just food porn or food poetry. This dish tasted so good, that I wanted more people to experience it first hand. I haven’t made it with fluke yet, but with branzino, it was just fabulous (that's the one in the picture).

Suppose I told you to buy some "very fresh" fish, chop it up and serve it raw. Raise your hand if you'd be comfortable doing that? I have a feeling very few hands went up. So, let's go over some basics of serving fish raw

1) Mitigating the bacteria risk:
Buy your fish from a reputable market that has good turn over. Here is all you need to know about finding such fish market and buying fish. Great fish markets might be hard to find in some parts of US, but if you are in a large coastal city (Boston, New York, San-Francisco, Seattle, etc), you have that option even if you haven’t discovered it yet. If you are in Boston, go to New Deal. Tell your fishmonger you plan on serving fish raw and ask what they recommend. Fish you can use for this dish are branzino, hamachi, kampachi, hiramasa, arctic char, and salmon (I recommend farm-raised for serving raw -- here is why). There might be others, but I haven't tried them yet. My guess is that tuna would be too meaty. If the fish you bought is fresh (glistening, not mushy, and odor free), bacteria is not an issue. If fish is not something you cook on regular basis, you might want to practice buying fish and establish a relationship with a fishmonger before attempting this dish.

May 3 update: Farm-raised salmon turns out not to be as parasite free as I thought when I wrote this post. I suggest freezing it for 7 days before using, or using arctic char instead.

2) Mitigating the parasite risk:
If you bought fish that is farm-raised in closed-circle system (branzino, arctic char, hamachi, kampachi) or large wild tuna (yellowfin, bluefin, big-eye), you can use them as is. If you use any other wild fish or farm-raised salmon, you'll need to freeze the fish for 7 days to kill potential parasites (that is if you want to completely eliminate the risk of a parasite infection). To freeze your fish, remove the skin from the fillet, wrap it as tightly as possible in plastic wrap and freeze for 7 days. Move it to the fridge 24 hours before using. Keep in mind that only fatty fish freeze well. Lean fish (halibut, cod, fluke, etc.) turn to mush after freezing, so it's best to avoid them in raw preparations.

May 3 update: I updated section 2. Originally, I was suggesting that all farm-raised fish are safe to eat raw without freezing. That turns out to not be completely true. Fish farmed in the ocean (such as salmon) have a lower risk of parasites that their wild counterparts, but it's not insignificant.

3) Preparing the fish:
Since branzino is usually sold whole. Each fish is about 1 Lb, yielding 1/2 Lb of flesh you’ll need for this dish. Ask your fishmonger to fillet, skin, and debone it for you. He or she is much better at it than you are; it’s a free service at most fish market. Salmon, and kampachi are usually sold filleted with the skin. You can ask your fishmonger to remove the skin, or you can skin it yourself.

That's all there is to it. You are ready to make tartar.

The key ingredient in this dish (besides excellent fish) is knife skills. This is a great opportunity to perfect your brunoise. Brunoise is a vegetable cut of 1/8 inch dice, in other words very small. Cut your apples and onions any bigger, and the dish loses its fine texture and elegance. Use a food processor, and you got yourself a mush resembling baby food. Small amount of crunch is essential to this dish, so you've got to sharpen your chef's knife and be a little patient. But once you are done chopping, you are only 1 minute away from one of the coolest raw fish dishes.

Branzino Tartar with Apples and Ginger

Fish substitutes: kampachi, salmon

Note on apples: you need an apple with good acidity, so stay away from red delicious (they taste absolutely awful anyway). Granny Smith is the most widely available variety, but if you are making this dish in the fall, look around your farmer’s market for Northern Spies, Honey Crisp, or Cortland.

Serves 2-3 as an appetizer

1/2 Lb skinless, boneless branzino fillet, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup diced tart apple (1/8 inch size dice)
2 Tbsp diced red onion (1/8 inch size dice)
1 tsp finely minced ginger
1 Tbsp finely minced cilantro, mint, or dill
2 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients together and mix well. If you want the restaurant presentation, place ring molds onto serving plates. Pile in tartar, and then lift off the ring molds. Well rinsed tuna cans, with top and bottom removed, make excellent home-made ring molds.

Correction note on 10/22/06:
The original post listed fluke as one of the fish you can use in this dish. After defrosting a piece of fluke this evening, I must advice against using it unless you are willing to eat it without freezing (thus taking a small parasite risk). It turned into an absolute mush after I defrosted it. I suspect this was due to fluke having absolutely no fat and very high water content. Branzino on another hand froze and defrosted quite well without losing its texture.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Delicata Squash Stuffed with Meats and Cranberries

After weeks of researching fish parasites, non-stop writing, re-writing, and checking my sources, I am pooped. I just wanted to cook something that felt like autumn and harvest. Something that required no more introduction than “This was really yummy. Try it – you’ll like it.”

The opportunity presented itself yesterday in the form of delicata squash from our CSA. Delicata are from the winter squash family and have orange flesh and yellow skin with green stripes. They are the easiest winter squash to work with (easy to cut, and don’t require peeling), and are some of the sweetest and most flavorful. I roasted them first to get as much flavor out of these little pumpkin cousins as possible, then stuffed them with a mix of ground meats, cranberries, and some other stuff. All I can say is “Yum!” We opened a nice bottle of Barbera d’Alba and something about this meal made me feel like fall in Piedmont. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was ground veal (something I don’t often cook). But it had that warmth and simple pleasure of good home cooking.

Delicata Squash Stuffed with Meats and Cranberries

Note: You can use any ground meat for this dish. The more types you mix together, the more complex the flavor will be. Avoid lean meats. They’ll make your stuffing too dry.

Serves 4

3 delicata squash
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Stuffing:
1 Lb ground meat (some mix of beef, pork, veal, lamb)
2 diced yellow onions, cooked slowly in oil until golden brown
2 minced garlic cloves
2 inches ginger, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp chopped thyme, sage, or rosemary
1/2 cup dry cranberries
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp kosher salt (start with 1tsp and add more as needed)
1/4 tsp black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 475F and set the racks in the lower third and middle positions.
  2. Cut squash into 1 inch rings and scoop out the seeds.
  3. Spread squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rub the squash to coat it all over with oil and seasoning. Place the squash rings wide side down (if they have a wide side -- some rings will come out perfectly even). Roast in the lower third of the oven until the bottom of squash rings browns, about 15 minutes.
  4. While squash is roasting, mix all ingredients for the stuffing together. Cook a tiny piece of stuffing in the oven, skillet, or microwave and taste for salt. The stuffing should have the salt level of sausage, so don’t be too delicate with your seasoning. Add more salt as needed. Stuffing can be prepared a day in advance and stored covered in the fridge.
  5. Flip the squash and stuff with the meat mixture. The stuffing should stick out of the squash.
  6. Turn down the oven to 400F.
  7. Bake squash in the middle of the oven until the top of stuffing browns slightly, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately, or cool completely, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat in 375F oven for 20 minutes.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Parasites in Fish, Part 2 -- Anisakis and Tapeworm

Now that we know all about cod worms, we are going to venture in the world of the more dangerous parasites: anisakis simplex and tapeworm. If you are cooking fish, you need not worry. According to FDA, you are 100% safe if the fish reached an internal temperature of 140F. Surviving the human intestinal track isn’t easy and requires that anisakis and tapeworm be at full strength. So, if you “only” raise the internal temperature to 120F, a parasite might survive (if he’s positioned in the middle of the fish fillet), but will be so weak that it will most likely die shortly after reaching your stomach.

Anisakis simplex is most common in fresh water and anadromous fish, like wild salmon, which are born in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce. It is also common in certain small salt water fish, such as herrings and sardines. However, anisakis is rare in other salt water fish, such as tuna, swordfish and farm-raised salmon. Just like cod worm, it originates in seals. Tapeworm is mostly found in pacific wild salmon and fresh water fish. It originates in bears and land mammals. They are fascinating organisms and you can read all about the anisakis life cycle and the tapeworm life cycle on wikipedia.

Becoming a host to anisakis worms by eating them live can make you very sick---this disease is known as anisakiasis. According to wikipedia, its symptoms include violent abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. "Occasionally the larvae are coughed up. If the larvae pass into the bowel, a severe eosinophilic granulomatous response may also occur 1 to 2 weeks following infection, causing symptoms mimicking Crohn's disease." This isn't a life threatening disease (unless you have a weakened immune system) and is quite common in Japan where consumption of raw fish (that isn't previously frozen) is more wide spread. Unlike anisakis, tapeworms don't always manifest themselves with clear symptoms and can live in humans for decades if untreated, resulting in weight loss, Vitamin B12 deficiency, and potential anemia.

What used to bother me is the possibility of eating the eggs of these worms. Wouldn't they be too small for me to see, and what would happen if I eat them? Dr. Palm, from the Institute for Zoomorphology, Cell Biology and Parasitology in Düsseldorf, Germany, put my worries to rest by explaining the life cycle of these worms. While anisakis and tapeworm are in fish, they are in larvae form (not egg form). They can't reproduce until they find a mammal host (in the case of anisakis and cod worm, it has to be a marine mammal like a seal, so they can't reproduce in a human), and tapeworms rarely make it into humans.

Are you ready to swear of sushi yet? Not so fast. If you are a US resident, keep in mind that you live in a country that just threw away every single bag of spinach because of E.Coli threat. You don't think FDA would allow anything remotely dangerous to be served to the US public, do you? That's why FDA requires all fish with a potential hazard of parasites that is intended for raw consumption to be previously frozen. Freezing fish to -20ºC [-4ºF] or below for 7 days or -35ºC [-31ºF] or below for 15 hours will kill the parasites. Since the restaurants don't want to take any risk and want to avoid supply and demand price fluctuations, most go even further and freeze all fish (not only the ones that could be infected) before serving them raw. So, all that "fresh" sushi you've been eating is previously frozen.

What's counter-intuitive to most cooks is that farm-raised salmon is much safer to eat raw than wild salmon. Farm-raised salmon is served pellet food, which is ground-up, processed fish meat. Any parasites in the fish meat are killed in the processing and grinding stages. Since salmon only obtains dangerous to humans parasites via food, farm-raised salmon simply isn't exposed to them. So, next time you use salmon for gravlax, tartar, or sashimi, go for the farm-raised stuff. When the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tested various fish for parasites in 2003, no parasites were found in any farm-raised salmon species , whereas parasites were frequently found in wild salmon (section 5.1.4 of Huss et al., 2003).

Does salting fish like for gravlax or curing it in acid like for ceviche kill the parasites? Maybe. The salt or acid used for curing prevents bacteria from growing. It may also weaken or kill parasites. However, it’s not a full-proof method. Opinions in the scientific literature vary as to the degree to which salt/acid harms parasites. Most sources say that salting is more effective than curing in acid. Also, according to Dr. Gardner from Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology at the University of Nebraska, the acids in your stomach and intestines are at least as strong as lemon/lime juice. So, if you are making ceviche, I would suggest taking the same precautions as you would for eating the fish raw.

To put all this in perspective, the risk you take downhill skiing is an order of magnitude greater than the risk of eating raw, not previously frozen fish. Whether that risk is worth it is up to you. I hate downhill skiing and I love raw fish, so you can guess which risks I choose to take. In fact, the risk of driving or just walking down the street is probably higher than the risk of eating raw fish. I know plenty of people who were in life-threatening car accidents, and I am yet to meat a person who got infected by anisakis simplex or tapeworm. And let me tell you, I get way more pleasure from a bowl of sashimi than my morning commute.

Do parasitologists eat sushi in spite of their intimate familiarity with parasites? Both Dr. Palm and Dr. Gardner said “yes”. In fact, Dr. Palm just got back from Japan where he had really yummy not-previously-frozen sashimi.

What does all this mean to the home cook who wants to make sushi and ceviche? Buy your fish from a reputable source and use it that day if serving raw. Regardless of the parasite issue, fish that was not stored properly, or for too long, will grow bacteria and make you sick. Freezing fish that is not fresh will not help with the bacteria issue, but it will kill parasites. If you are not planning to freeze fish and want to eat it raw, I would limit your purchases to:
  • Large Tuna (Yellowfin/Ahi, Big-eye, Bluefin)
  • Hamachi
  • Branzino
  • Arctic Char
  • Scallops
  • Kampachi (farm-raised)
  • Farm-raised Altantic salmon (relatively low, but not insignificant risk of parasites)
If I find out about other fish that have extremely low occurance of parasites, I'll post them on Beyond Salmon.

What if you want to freeze your fish to eliminate even the slightest chance of getting sick from parasites? What’s the best way to freeze fish? Is all frozen fish equal? Can you buy frozen tuna from Trader Joe's, defrost it, and voila -- $5/Lb sashimi is served? In my next post, I'll answer all these questions and more.


H. H. Huss, L. Ababouch, L. Gram. Assessment and Management of Seafood Safety and Quality. 2003. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 444.

Questions about cod worms

Before I introduce you to more fish parasites, let me answer all the questions I got about cod worms.

Q: How do you remove cod worms? Do you have to use a match like you would for a tick to ensure that no part of it remains in the fish?
A: No match. They’re only potentially harmful if you ingest them live. I just pull them out with my fingers (wearing gloves since I am a squeamish wimp), but as Stephanie suggested, tweezers might be an easier way to remove the worms.

Q: What would happen if a cod worm were to survive in your stomach?
A: Nothing life threatening or permanently damaging will happen, but you are likely to experience a terrible stomach ache, nausea, and vomiting. If you experience these symptoms after eating raw fish, it’s important to tell the doctor which species of fish you’ve recently eaten raw, cured, or salted. In US, the instances of parasite infections (anisakiasis) are so rare that they are often misdiagnosed as appendicitis, ulcer, or some other gastrointestinal disease. If diagnosed correctly, anisakiasis can pass all by itself (when the parasites die), or be treated with a drug called albendazole. In rare cases, surgical intervention might be necessary.

Q: I found a worm in tuna at a sushi restaurant. What do I do?
A: What you probably found wasn’t a worm, but rather a strand of fat or sinuous tissue. Worms in large tuna (such as yellowfin, bluefin, and big-eye) are exceedingly rare. Even if what you found was really a worm, don’t worry. All restaurants in the U.S. are required to freeze fish before it is served raw. The freezing process will kill any worms that aren’t removed via inspection. However, if that “strand of fat” was really moving and wriggling on its own, then it’s not a strand of fat---it’s a live worm. One possibility is that the sushi restaurant served you a small tuna (such as Bonito), which is susceptible to worms. Most fresh fish sold as “tuna” is large tuna. As an extra precaution, you can ask your fishmonger or sushi restaurant the tuna species. If it’s yellowfin/ahi, bluefin or big-eye, then you shouldn’t need to worry about worms/parasites.

Q: Is eating fresh, raw yellowfin, bluefin or big-eye tuna dangerous?
A: No---at least, not as far as parasites are concerned. Your chances of dying in a car accident driving to/from your fish market to buy a loin of tuna are much higher than your chances of getting sick from a parasite from the tuna you buy. Parasites are virtually nonexistent in tuna meat sold fresh in the U.S. A more important concern is bacteria. Fish meat is more susceptible to bacteria growth than other types of meat (e.g. cow, pig, duck). So, it’s important that you buy from a reputable source and keep your tuna on ice at all time before serving (I bring a cooler with ice-packs with me to the market).

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Cafeteria lunch a la Google

We were in Palo Alto Movie Theater to see “Little Miss Sunshine” (which was a great movie, by the way) and I had to use the bathroom. “After Google, no toilet is ever good enough,” said a young woman to her friend in the neighboring stall. “No cafeteria is ever good enough either,” I thought out loud as we were washing our hands. “Oh, you work there too?” she asked. “No. I was just visiting a friend there for lunch today.”

Out of all the great restaurants, bakeries, and cafes, the most remarkable food experience of our trip was Google. We were visiting our friend Kai, who moved to CA about a year ago. After the tour of Goggle campus with treadmill swimming pool, laundry room, on-site haircuts, and persimmon trees, we headed to the newest of seven cafeterias for lunch. “They take food pretty seriously here,” said Kai. “I even got to interview a chef once.” “So what did you ask him?” I said naively. “Oh, we didn’t ask him anything. He had to make a 6-course meal for 50 people and we filled out a form about our impressions. His tangerine sorbet was really nice.”

We walked through the door with a “Farmer’s market” sign. “You have a farmer’s market on site?” I wanted to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. “Oh yeah, but I’ve never tried it,” said Kai. “Actually, I haven’t cooked since I started working here. You see, the food’s free for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and there is prepackaged stuff for the weekends.”

We picked up trays and silverware and got in line. Kai explained to us that this was the “tapas” cafeteria – not really Spanish, but everything was served in appetizer portions. The stations included antipasti with mini salami sandwiches on baguette, roasted veggies, pesto, and tapenade; a raw bar with hamachi tartar, seared scallops, and raw salmon stuffed with crab salad; a soup station with watermelon almond gazpacho, white asparagus soup with fresh ricotta crouton, and bouillabaisse; hot station with shrimp tempura, miso-marinated steak, and at least 5 other dishes I didn’t get a good look at because the cheese station distracted me with its bounty of blues, cheddars, bries, fruits, nuts, and little cakes with blackberry coulis for dessert. Not only was real china used instead of ubiquitous Styrofoam containers, but you got a different plate for each little dish so as not to mix your sauces.

I probably don’t have to tell you that it was the best cafeteria food I’ve ever had. The question is just *how* good was it? Let’s put it this way – it was better than any catered corporate event and even better than many “nice” restaurants. But it wasn’t as good as the restaurant I find worthy of eating out at, but hey – I am picky and I love to cook. Comparing Google cafeteria to the meal we had at Cyrus in Healdsburg is just not fair. $100/person meal was obviously at a whole other level. And if I was judging the pure deliciousness of the food, even the casual places like the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, or the Downtown bakery in Healdsburg were way more memorable than Google cafeteria, showing more artistry and integrity. But all these establishments had the luxury of making food to order and Google cafeterias had to feed a huge hoard of people and thus required more advanced prep of ingredients and plating everything as a buffet. What amazed me about their food was that in spite of the scale (Google has over 4,000 employees in Mountain View), the freshness of ingredients, the seasoning and doneness didn’t suffer (or at least not much). The steak was medium-rare, the seafood was fresh (if not transcendent), and everything I tried was well-seasoned. It was also refreshing to see that healthy choices were not limited to limp lettuce. The raw seafood and a watermelon almond gazpacho that I had for lunch were both light and satisfying and I wouldn’t feel guilty having this kind of food for lunch on regular basis.

I wish I could’ve taken pictures of the food, but photography inside the building was strictly forbidden. Hmm, I wonder if the NDA I signed to go inside covered the food. I am sure a cafeteria this good can be patented.

It was time for Kai to get back to work, so I asked to use the bathroom before having to leave the utopia called Google. I couldn’t put my finger on what made me feel so warm, cozy, and relaxed. Then I realized – the toilet seat was heated. Now if only they could add such advanced features to Blogger…