Monday, June 17, 2013

Worms in Fish (Video)

YouTube link: Removing Worms from Fish
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

I first wrote about fish parasites 7 years ago (part 1, part 2), and hundreds of comments poured in ranging in their content from incredulity to oaths of never eating fish again.  That made me sad.  So before you swear off fish, I'd like to ask whether you go on hikes or nature walks on the East coast of the US?  What does that have to do with fish?  Let me explain.

Ticks are a very common problem in this part of the country and they spread lyme disease.  Hopefully, you find the tick, remove it correctly, and get a course of antibiotics.  But if you don't notice the tick, you could get lyme disease.  In an effort to compare whether fish worms or ticks are more harmful to human health, I looked up statistics for lyme disease in Massachusetts and anisakiasis (gastrointestinal disease caused by fish parasites) in Japan.  Why Japan?  Because the incidence of anisakiasis in the US is so puny, it's laughable.  Japan on the other hand consumes an incredible amount of raw fish and has the highest rate of anisakiasis of anywhere in the world at the whopping 1,000 cases per year [1]!  How many cases of lyme disease do we have in MA?  In 2011, we had 1,800 cases and that's not bad, because in 2009, we had 4,000+ cases [2].  Population of Japan is 127.8 million.  Population of Massachusetts is 6.6 million.  If we do a bit of math (using the smaller 1,800 cases of lyme disease), we get that lyme disease is 35 times more likely in Massachusetts than anisakiasis is in Japan and that's on a good year.

The point of this argument is not to stop you from hiking, it's to explain that the risk of getting sick from a fish worm is way smaller than many other risks you are probably already taking in life.

If you find fish parasites really icky, here are some fish in which parasites are practically non-existent:
  • Anything farm-raised except for salmon 
  • Tuna
Here is a list of fish that could in theory have parasites, but they are extremely rare:
  • striped bass
  • mahi-mahi
  • red snapper
  • farm-raised salmon

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Possibility of San Sebastian

View Larger Map
Wellesley Moms travel in groups, even if it’s something as routine as a trip to the playground.  Once there is more than one such Mom in one place, the conversation quickly turns to choosing the best private school, soccer practice, and maintaining a vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard.  I can discuss those topics as well as nuclear physics, so I usually stay quiet or talk to nannies.  But one day, an intriguing thing happened.  I heard a woman speaking Spanish to her little girl. Half of Wellesley nannies speak Spanish, but the woman was obviously little girl’s mother. “Where are you from,” I asked timidly.  “Spain,” she replied.  “Where in Spain,” I continued?  “Oh, a very small town, you probably never heard of -- San Sebastian.”  “San Sebastian!”  I cried excitedly.  “I might be going there this summer!”  My knowledge of Spanish geography is quite rusty, but if there is one city I can point on the map with my eyes close, it’s San Sebastian.  It’s in the Basque country, 25 km from the French border, on the Northern coast of Spain, with some of the best fish markets in the world, and the most exciting food in Europe at the moment (at least according to some sources).  Raquel, the lady from San Sebastian, was surprised at my enthusiasm until I told her I ran a cooking school.  “Ah, food!” she said.  “Yes, we do have amazing food.”  

A few months after I got back from Tokyo, Jason started asking me where I want to go next.  “Really?  I can do this again?” I asked tentatively.  I was worried that after I abandoned my family for 10 days last year, he won’t let me go anywhere until the kids were in college.  “The trip to Tokyo increased your sushi making skills tenfold,” said Jason.  “I am just doing it for the food,” he said smiling.  I doubt his heroism has much to do with sushi.  Culinary travel is my psychedelic drug of choice, and Jason likes seeing me happy.  I felt like I just won the lottery.  Whatever did I do to deserve his generosity?  A few destinations have been on my list for a while: Spain, Morocco, Turkey, and Mexico.  After looking into the possibility of cooking classes in English and availability of interesting restaurants, the answer seemed obvious.  San Sebastian.  

Meeting Raquel was like a sign that I should stop dreaming about it, and go search for cooking classes and airfare.  Here is what my itinerary looks like at the moment.  I plan to take a Basque cooking class focused on seafood, go on a pintxos tour, and go on a tour to the French side of the Basque country where we plan to visit the market, slurp oysters, and eat out.  I also might have a chance to visit Raquel’s family.  Her father is an avid cook and belongs to a gastronomic society.  Gastronomic society is like a private dining club meets Seinfeld’s make-your-own-pizza concept.  Basically, it’s a commercial kitchen where you can cook your own meals.  They are so widespread in the Basque culture that about half the men belong to one.  Traditionally, women weren’t allowed to join, but that’s starting to change.  The only way to visit a gastronomic society is to be invited by a member.  

The problem is that Raquel’s father doesn’t speak English.  But Pimsleur Castilian Spanish CDs are a blessing.  As of last week, my Spanish was limited to a few phrases I picked up from my restaurant internship 10 years ago, and whatever Dora Spanish my 5 year old took upon herself to teach me.  Not that “necesita la trucha (I need trout),” “rapido, por favor! (quickly, please!)” and “Hola, soy Dora!” aren’t a good start, but I have a lot to learn.  

Will Helen learn enough Spanish in two months?  Will she get a chance to visit a Basque gastronomic society?  You’ll find out in the end of August.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been to the Basque country and have any advice on what to see and where to eat, I am all ears.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Salting Proteins (fish, meat, and poultry) Video

How do you know how much salt to put on your steak or roast chicken?  Most recipes say "season generously" or "season to taste."  Both are ridiculous statements, don't you think?  Here are some tips for developing intuition of how and when to salt the things you can't taste until serving.

YouTube link: Salting Proteins
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

Geekiness Award
I’d like to take this moment to announce a home cook geekiness award. The first 3 people to get the award, will win a gift certificate to one of my classes. Or if you are not in the Boston area, you win a copy of the Zuni Cafe cookbook by Judy Rogers. Not only is it a great book, but it has one of the best explanations of how to salt proteins.

Here is what it takes to win:
  • Get yourself a regular scale and a tea scale 
  • E-mail me a picture of yourself using them to salt something
  • E-mail me what salt percentage you used and how it worked out
This challenge is in effect until the end of 2013.  All the winners (not just the first 3 people) will be profiled on my blog in the end of 2013.

January, 2014 update: 
The 2013 food geekiness award goes to... drum roll... The Lewis family!   Congratulations to Rob, Janice, and 8 year old Sarah  Here they are in a Pasta class.

Frequently Asked Questions

What about proteins with bones?  Do you use the same ratio of meat to salt by weight?
No, bones don't count.  For example, if I am salting a rack of lamb or roast chicken, I use less salt than I would if all their weight was muscle.  Of course, there is no way to tell exactly how much of your meat's weight is bone.  If you are doing the scale exercise I show in a video, use a boneless protein.  After you'll practice on boneless proteins for a while, you'll cancel out the bones intuitively when seasoning meat on the bone.

Are there cases when you need to increase or decrease the salt level?
Here are the cases where I intentionally deviate from 0.7% of salt by weight.
  • Stews and Braises -- the meat loses way more moisture when it's cooked to the fall-of-the-bone consistency than when it's cooked to medium-rare.  This means you have less meat left in the end, so you need less salt to begin with.
  • Sous-vide -- in normal cooking methods, at least some salt falls off the meat when you cook it (it ends up in the skillet, on the grill, etc.)  When you cook proteins in a vacuum sealed bag, it all stays in, so I find it's best to reduce the salt level slightly.
  • Shrimp, lobster, and crab are naturally very salty, so you need less salt (or no salt at all).  When I cook the lobster, I don't salt the water.
  • Beef, pork, lamb, and chicken generally need a bit more salt than fish.  Fat dulls the sensation of salinity, so when I am salting a nicely marbled steak or a burger, I usually increase the salt level to about 0.8% by weight.