Newsletter for March 2007
Your source for whatís cooking at OBW
25 South Indian Alley
Winchester VA, 22601
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Itís not very often that someone cold calls the restaurant and gets my attention. But a pink slip came across my desk recently asking me to call a gentleman who professed to make malted whisky here in Virginia. Scotch fiend that I am, I was on the phone within minutes talking to Rick Wasmund, distiller of Wasmundís Single Malt, of Sperryville, VA. Long story below, short story here: we have arranged a tasting of his malts on Tuesday, March the 13th. There is excellent whisky being made in Virginia; come prove it to yourself.
Shad roe is starting to trickle onto the market. We got our first bucket on February 16 and I immediately presold it all to known shad roe lovers. Generally I expect to have shad roe on the menu fairly consistently during the month of March and into a bit of April. But, last year, I got two buckets, 16 sets, and I didnít even get to taste any or send any to my own mother (sorry!). This year, who knows? Iím starting an email list that I will notify when I get some in. If you want to be on the list, send me an email.
And this month, my specialty goods guy found the most amazing salt that you foodies will love. Iím offering to put in a group order next week, so if you want some, let me know. Weíre featuring sablefish this month at the restaurant and in a recently filmed episode of WVPT Cooks. Finally, all this infernal snow makes me want comfort food, so I explore braising and give you a recipe for braised chicken.
Slots for the beer dinner on the 22nd are almost full. Please reserve soon before we are full.
All my best,
Ed Matthews, Chef/Owner
Every Wednesday is Tapas Night
Each Wednesday night, we serve tapas from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. Tapas are small, fun dishes, designed so that you and your friends can try and share a range of foods. Last week we featured 31 dishes, of which 9 were vegetarian. My favorite tapa was Grilled Eggplant with Marinated Grilled Fennel and Green Olive Olivada (tapenade).
Tuesday, March 13, Virginia Whiskey Tasting, 6-7:30pm
Iím excited to offer a tasting of at least two batches of Wasmundís Single Malt whiskey (from Sperryville, VA). By ABC regulations, I have to charge you for the whiskey ($12), but Iíll throw in some light hors díoeuvres gratis! Iíve got a salmon curing right now. Distiller and owner Rick Wasmund will be in house so you can meet him and ask any questions you like. If you want to stay to dinner, weíd be happy to have you. If you want to incorporate the whiskey tasting into the appetizer course of your dinner, again, no problem. Come whenever you like during this time; reservations are not necessary.
Thursday, March 22, Annual Spring Beer Dinner Featuring the Foods of New Mexico
Northern Sonoran Desert cuisine is incredible: if youíve eaten in New Mexico, you know what Iím talking about. Itís not Tex and itís not Mex: itís a whole other beast. And, thereís nothing better to wash down New Mexican cooking than a good cold beer.
Thursday, April 26, Annual Spring Garlic Dinner
It wouldnít be One Block West cooking without garlic and at this dinner, we celebrate garlic in all its glory. Last yearís dinner was the first and was so popular that weíre doing it all over again. Book early. Weíll have a blast, guaranteed.
Mike, my specialty goods purveyor, started our conversation thus, ďEd, I donít push a lot of stuff on you. But, Iíve got to ask you to buy this salt and try it. I taste a lot of stuff at our sales meetings and most of it is forgettable, but I couldnít keep my fingers out of this salt. And hereís the catch. Itís flavored with black olives.Ē My relationship with Mike is such that when he recommends something, I take it immediately.
What I received was 150 grams of Mallorcan flor de sal (perhaps you are more familiar with the French equivalent fleur de sel), the rarest and finest kind of salt crystals flavored with crushed Kalamata olives. The flavor is excellent, deep olive and salty without being bitter. I can get flor de sal anywhere, but this flavored salt is most unique. It has earned a place in my kitchen and I have found it excellent for garnishing both roasted fish and grilled lamb.
These salt crystals form on the surface of salt ponds and are skimmed off with a special rake, as has been done for centuries. The crystals have a delicate texture, a pleasant crunch, and are always off-white in color reflecting the mineral content of the salt. Each body of water produces a slightly different taste and color because the mineral content of the water is different. These minerals, missing from refined table salt, are what give flor de sal its unique flavor.
Flor de sal is naturally expensive because its production is extremely limited, but its incomparable flavor and texture make it the choice of chefs everywhere for a finishing salt. It would be a shame to use such a salt in cooking; we use it only to garnish the finished dish.
If you are interested in getting some for yourself, I will be ordering on Wednesday March 14th for delivery on Thursday March the 15th. One hundred and fifty grams, a bit more than half a cup, which will last you months as a finishing salt, is $20 plus tax, a cheap luxury.
We have been serving sablefish at the restaurant from time to time since the beginning of the year and I demonstrated cooking it on one of the programs that I shot recently for WVPT. Our fish comes from Alaska from Jim Hubbard via his sister Beth Nowak at the Freight Station Farmerís Market (now relocated back to the freight station), where you can buy it too.
Sablefish is also known as black cod and less frequently as butterfish. Although sablefish resembles a cod, it is not a cod at all. Common to the northern Pacific, most of our catch comes from Alaskan and Canadian waters. Itís a deep water bottom feeder that is taken on long lines, literally long lines weighted to the sea bed, with hooks every few feet.
Much of the catch goes to Japan where this fish is prized. Itís not well known on the east coast except as smoked sablefish, which I first encountered in Jewish delis in New York some decades ago. I never encountered it other than smoked except in the last ten years and am happy to have a local supply
What I like most about sablefish is that it is totally unlike any other fish that we have the privilege of working with. The flesh is snow white and very high in healthy omega-3 fats, so it is very soft, succulent, and almost velvety in texture. The flavor is sweet, somewhat reminiscent of scallops. And when the fish is cooked, the flakes separate or fan out in much the same way that skate does.
Not only is sablefish prized in Japan, but Japanese preparations are a natural fit for this marvelous fish. I have to fight myself to prepare it in any other fashion than teriyaki glazed, which is what I demonstrated on TV. Depending on demand, we have enough supply to last three or four days, so come try some.
Itís not very often that someone cold calls the restaurant and gets my attention. But a pink slip came across my desk recently asking me to call a gentleman who professed to make malted whisky here in Virginia. Scotch fiend that I am, I was on the phone within minutes talking to Rick Wasmund, distiller of Wasmundís Single Malt, of Sperryville, VA. The result was a tasting at One Block West last week of a bottle of batch number 3 that I got from ABC and a bottle of number 9 that Rick brought along.
The whiskey is good enough that I have set up a comparative tasting from 6-7:30pm on Tuesday March the 13th. Come meet Rick and taste for yourself. Meanwhile, here is his story.
At the Copper Fox distillery down in Sperryville, Rick, his friend Sean McCaskey, and Rickís mom Helen are the trio that make this uniquely different whiskey. It starts with Virginia-grown barely from the Northern Neck, a variety called Thoroughbred developed at Virginia Tech, which Rick says is ideal for making whiskey.
If Rick werenít crazy enough to be tilting at the windmill of the global whiskey producers, heís downright crazy to be malting his own barley. As a small business owner, I appreciate that particular kind of craziness. To put this in perspective for you, nobody, but nobody malts his own barley, a process of steeping the barley and letting it start to germinate. I bet there are not a handful of whiskey distilleries in Scotland that still malt their own barley. Rather, commercial malters malt barley to each distilleryís specifications.
In traditional Scotch production, which Rick started learning during a six-week internship at the Bowmore distillery on the island of Islay, the germinated barley is then kilned over peat fires, giving the final product its renowned smoky quality. In Rickís case, peat is not an option, so he uses apple, cherry, and oak wood. This gives the final product a smoky flavor yes, but one that is very different in character from Scotch.
The whiskey making at Copper Fox proceeds in a fairly standard manner from here, given the limitations of their equipment. The next real innovation (or deviation from standard practice as naysayers would have it) is in the finishing of the whiskey. Most whiskey ages in oak barrels for years, an economic disincentive to any startup. Rick wanted to age his whiskey in fruit wood, but stumbled on the idea of chipping the whiskey with sacks of fruit wood chips, a process that must surely drive whiskey purists to the verge of breakdown. This process works extremely quickly and Copper Fox gets color and flavor very quickly. After chipping, the whiskey is transferred to a fairly neutral aging barrel for a minimum of four months (compared to years for traditional whiskies).
So, how does it taste? Well, at 96-proof, it needs a touch more water than I am used to with 86-proof standard Scotch. The first nose is a touch smoky and fruity. The taste is young and woody and a bit sweet. Over time as the whiskey stands in the glass, the nose really blooms and the fruit comes much more forward. After the overt woodiness of the mid-palate, the finish is quite long and it is then that the fruitwood shines through. Bottom line, itís not Scotch and itís not Bourbon, but Iím a fan.
We braise a lot of dishes at One Block West, especially during the winter months when we are aiming for comfort food. A lot of our staff and customers wonder what we mean when we describe something on the menu as braised. We all know a braise when we see one, for it is a very familiar cooking technique. If I told you that beef stew was a braise, you might start to form a picture. And there are a lot of other braises that you are well acquainted with: pot roast, osso buco, coq au vin.
The term braise, from the French "braiser" means to cook with moist heat. This is done in a tightly covered pan using a small amount of liquid, which turns to steam, condenses on the lid of the pan, drips back over the braising food keeping it moist and picking up flavor, over and over until the food is done. Long slow cooking like this breaks down connective tissues and collagens in meat, rendering even the toughest cuts fork tender.
Our standard technique is thus. We generally flour the meat in seasoned flour and then brown it in hot oil in the braising pan. As the meat browns, we remove it from the pan. When all the meat is browned, we add aromatic vegetables (onions, celery, leeks, carrots, etc.) and let these cook a minute. Then we might stir a bit of the seasoning flour into the vegetables, letting it cook and scraping up all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. At this point, we are likely to add seasonings such as garlic and a bouquet garni.
Next we put the meat back on top of the vegetables and add wine and water or stock to come about a third of the way up the side of the meat. We cover the pan until it comes to a boil and transfer it to a slow oven (we donít have thermostats so donít ask what temperature). We check every half an hour for liquid level and doneness. When fork tender, we remove the meat and convert the braising liquid to a sauce.
This is the general technique. Naturally there are as many exceptions and variations as there are cooks.
Recipe: Braised Chicken Thighs with Leeks
Hereís a simple and inexpensive Sunday dinner that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. This recipe demonstrates the technique of braising, discussed generally in the previous article.
8 chicken thighs (skin on, bone in)
flour seasoned with salt and pepper for dredging
oil for sautťing
2 leeks, sliced and washed
2 cloves garlic, minced
bouquet garni of parsley stems, bay leaf, sage leaves, thyme branches
1 c dry white wine
1 c chicken stock (or water or more wine)
salt and pepper to taste
There are two keys to successful braising: a heavy pan with a good cover and long slow cooking. Donít fret terribly about the pan, I have braised successfully in a disposable aluminum pan covered with aluminum foil. But in general, use a heavy bottom pan with a heavy lid.
Before starting, preheat your oven to slow, 275 or so. Heat your braising pan over a moderate flame, then cover the bottom with oil. Dredge the chicken thighs in the seasoned flour and place as many as will fit uncrowded in a single layer in the pan. Brown the chicken on both sides. You may have to do this in several batches.
When the chicken is browned, remove to a plate and add the leeks, garlic, and bouquet to the pan. Wilt the leeks for a minute or two, then add the wine, and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Place the chicken back in the pan and add stock or water to come a third to half the way up the chicken. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in the oven. Check for liquid and doneness every 30 minutes. A small quantity of chicken thighs like this will take 90 minutes to two hours to become very tender.
To serve, remove the thighs from the braising liquid and season the liquid. Spoon some of the liquid over the chicken and enjoy.
Now, letís talk about the fun stuff: theme and variation. Rather than use vegetable oil, what would happen if you rendered some bacon and browned the chicken in the bacon grease and tossed the bacon back into the braise? Suppose you were to add a handful of dried porcini mushrooms to the pan? Or twenty minutes before the chicken were done, what would happen if you threw in a bunch of pearl onions or cipollini? When the chicken is done, what about defatting the braising liquid, putting it in the blender and finishing it with a splash of cream? Suppose that you braised the chicken with pancetta and then finished the dish with a handful of fresh morels, fresh local fava beans, a splash of cream and put it over those wide noodles that you showed your kids how to make? Suppose you said ďTo heck with Edís recipeĒ and added mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrots to the pan, then braised with crushed tomatoes and red wine? What ifÖ.? Now youíre cooking!
My kids and I just finished making and devouring souvlakiógrilled and marinated pork (or lamb) kebabs that we rolled up with Greek salad in pita bread. Have you ever noticed how much food on a stick appeals to the kid in all of us? Or food that you can eat without utensils? If you have kids in the house, be sure to include them in dinner preparations. Show a kid that cooking is fun today!
All my best and come see us when you can,
Copyright © 2007 Shenandoah Food and Beverage Holdings, LLC
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