Friday, September 28, 2012

Roasted Apple Sauce

If your children are as prolific apple pickers as ours, you are probably faced with a bag of apple so large it doesn't fit in the fridge (the best way to store apples, by the way).  The answer to this overabundance of apples is apple sauce, but not the kind you think. The words "apple sauce" usually conjure up images or baby food and school lunches.  It's so mild and bland that American pediatricians recommend giving to a kid who is recovering from a stomach bug.  I always found this strange.  Any old world doctor would recommend chicken stock, but I am guessing American doctors don't expect you to have real chicken stock on hand, but they have faith in you opening a jar of apple sauce.  You can of course make this kind of apple sauce from scratch instead of opening a jar of Mott's, but why bother.

Luckily, an extraordinary apple sauce does not take much more effort.  Brown your apples in the oven for 20 minutes before simmering them, and you'll be rewarded with a deep caramel specked sauce that's thick enough to stand a spoon in, and tasty enough to make 20 Lb of apples disappear in one week.  You'll think of apple orchards and tart Tatin, not baby food.

I make this sauce with Cortland apples, but any soft flesh tart apples will work.

Roasted Apple Sauce

3 Lb Cortland apples (or Rhode Island Greening, McIntosh, Gravenstein)
4 tsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450F and set a rack at the bottom of the oven.

Peel and core the apples.  Cut eat apple pole to pole into 6 pieces and spread on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.  For 3 Lb, you'll need a half sheet (13x18 inches).  Drizzle with olive oil and rub the apples all over so that they are coated with a thin film of oil.

Place on the bottom rack of the oven.  If you have a convection fan, turn the heat down to 400F and turn on the fan.  If not, keep the heat at 450F.  Roast the apples until golden brown, 15-20 minutes, checking after 10 minutes and rotating the baking sheet at that point.  Without convection, the tops might not brown, but don't worry about that.  As long as there are some brown surfaces, you'll get lots of good flavor.

Move the apples to a heavy saucepan (I use a dutch oven).  Cover and cook on the stove top on low until apples bubble up and fall apart, about 20 minutes.

Stir thoroughly, scraping any caramelized bits that stuck to the bottom of the pot and distributing them through the sauce.  Serve hot, warm, or cold. Will keep in the fridge for a week.

Tips on large batches:
Roast the first batch of apples while peeling, coring, and slicing the next 3 Lb batch.  When the first batch is roasted, move it to a big pot while roasting the next batch.  When all the batches are roasted, cook them together in the pot.

Serving suggestions:
This apple sauce is robust enough to stand up to a pork shop or duck.  But it's also great turned into a parfait.  To do that, warm up the apple sauce and alternate it in a glass with vanilla ice-cream.  Top with crumbled ginger snaps, or granola.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 Harvard Public Lecture Series on the Science of Food

Every fall, Harvard holds a public lecture series on the science of food and cooking.  Here is the schedule for 2012.  Luckily, all the lectures will be available on YouTube and iTunes, so if you can't make it to the actual lecture, you can watch it on video.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sakanaya in Allston

Want to know the number one rule of food blogging?  "If you don't have any thing nice to say, don't say anything at all."  Since my views on food are often controversial, I try to avoid reviewing anything in the Boston area like the plaque.  But when it comes to fish, I can't help it, particularly when it comes to raw fish.  A friend of mine told me about Sakanaya in Allston.  It's a Japanese fish market that carries varieties of fish rarely seen in the Boston fish markets.  How exciting is that?  I packed my camera and ice-packs and headed to Sakanaya.

As I was battling Boston traffic, I couldn't figure out what I felt more nervous about.  Suppose I loved it and wrote favorably about it.  Would that upset my standby fishmongers?  Suppose I wouldn't like it.  Would that upset Sakanaya and its cheerleaders on chowhound?   So, before anyone gets upset, let me just say that I am describing an experience of a single person on a single day.

Let me start with the good.  Sakanaya has a very friendly staff who knows a lot about fish.  One of the questions I ask when I sea fluke, mackerel, or other parasite prone fish sold for raw consumption is "Was it previously frozen?"  Freezing will reduce the risk of live parasites to almost zero.  But freezing sounds unappetizing to most consumers, so many stores like to dock the question.  H-Mart told me that their fish is so fresh it doesn't need freezing.  Hmm?  Chef's usually joke that if the worms are moving the fish is fresh, so that's not a good answer.  Kotobukiya (used to be in Porter Square, but now closed) told me that they freeze all their fish to kill bacteria.  Not a good answer either.  Freezing temporarily stops bacteria growth, but doesn't kill them.  No beating around the bush at Sakanaya.  Yoshi, the fishmonger, knew which species are parasite prone and need freezing.  He said that everything they carry was flash frozen.  They don't have to freeze tuna, he said, because tuna doesn't get the parasites harmful to humans.  But the day I came all the tuna they had was previously frozen too.

Indeed, the varieties Sakanaya carries are not easy to find at other stores.  Besides salmon, hamachi, branzino, and yellowfin tuna that I can get at other markets, there were needlefish, cobia, sweet shrimp (raw -- not the usual shrimp you get at sushi restaurants), and fatty big-eye tuna.
Cobia, Sweet Shrimp, Mackerel

Shiso leaves, needlefish, fatty tuna

Octopus, cooked shrimp, squid

Salmon, Tuna
Mackerel, branzino, sea urchin
The prices seemed on the high side at first.  But when you realize that you get relatively even blocks of fish that are easy to slice, they are not necessarily higher than what New Deal or Marden's would charge.  Most fish were around $30/Lb.  The only big splurge was fatty bie-eye tuna that was $60.  Their price for prepared nigiri puts it in perspective.  It's $1 per piece.  A pound of fish will easily give you 30 slices and by sushi standards, that's dirt cheap.  So, don't think $30/Lb of fish.  Think $1/slice sushi.

I tried both nigiri made in store and bought fish to make my own.  So, how was it?  Unfortunately, it was lackluster.  The fish tastes tired.  There was none of that glow or juiciness one gets from a perfect piece of fish.  Most fish had no flavor (including the fatty-tuna).  Eel tasted pasty and dry -- freezer damage?  Cobia was exceptionally tough, but not due to mishandling.  I've only had Cobia cooked before.  It's a very firm fish.  I was surprised to see it sold for sushi and wanted to try it.  Maybe it's just not my kind of fish.

Of course, it's possible that I caught them on an off day when they don't get new deliveries.  But if they are freezing the fish, why should it matter?  Besides, New Deal and Marden's get deliveries daily, so there is no bad day to shop.  The only thing that might differ day to day is the variety, but the quality is uniformly high.

I find that there is an aura of authenticity around Japanese markets selling fish for sushi.  But freshness is not that complicated.  If a market moves a lot of fish, the fish is fresher. I don't remember last time I set a foot into my usual fish markets and found myself to be the only customer.  Fish is constantly sold and replaced by other fish.  At Sakanaya I was the only one during 20-30 minutes I spent there.

If you are not sure of your butchering skills and want slicing to be easy, Sakanaya is worth a shot.  But if you want the freshest, tastiest fish in Boston, you should look elsewhere.