April 3, 2009
Two things in life that I LOVE: charcuterie and cheese. I get happy when I think about crumbly, fermenty hard cheeses, dripping with forest honey, followed by mouthfuls of prosciutto and jamon, thinly sliced bread drizzled with olive oil is washed down with an artisan ale. Okay, it all sounds a bit pompous, and I know it’s all the rage amongst the hipster crowd to go for $30 plates of dick-all at the minimalist eateries hidden in back-alleys near skid-row, but I love it nonetheless.
My love affair with cured meats began when I went to Spain last September. I remember trying prosciutto that my dad bought me at IGA when I was in high school, and I clearly remember not liking it. It was cold, clammy, and altogether too weird for my teenage palate. Fast forward seven years and I can’t get enough of it, although, call me a snob, but I steer clear of the supermarket variety these days. There is an amazing salumi vendor on Granville Island, Oyama Sausage Co., and from what I hear, they supply many of the hip eateries in Vancouver.
Anyways, back to Spain, it had been some time since I’d tried cured meat, mostly because I had just come out of a five year period of vegetarianism, and my memory of it was less than thrilling. Well, it took about half a bite of Jamon Iberico to change my mind. Shaved razor thin, served on a small slab of bread, or just on its own, and washed down with a quarto of beer, I was in love.
Spain was a veritable meat-fest. Jamon and chorizo became daily staples as I trekked across the country on the Camino de Santiago. The best part was that it was almost cheaper than water. I’d find myself in a tiny cobbled town that you’d be hard-pressed to even locate on a map, and in my broken Spanish I would ask for directions to the grocer. This often consisted of a big wooden door that might, if you were lucky, open after five minutes of doorbell-ringing into a little old lady’s pantry. Of course the bigger towns and cities all had proper supermarkets where you could find any number of meats and cheeses, but it was the romance of stumbling into a gloomy little cellar and asking for cheese, meat and bread, and walking away with a slab of cheese carved off the wheel, a chunk of chorizo that had been hanging from the rafters, and a loaf of fresh bread that made the experience so unforgettable.
I won’t lie, after a month of this I never wanted to see another piece of chorizo again, but to meat and cheese I was hooked. When I got back to Vancouver, I was a fully fledged carnivore, with a new found taste for all things cured. I dabbled in duck confitting, read up on sausage-making, and became smitten with spreads. This love-affair led me to start searching out the hip little eateries that served up these simple treats. Imagine my shock, coming on the heels of 2 dollar chunks of chorizo the length of my forearm, when I went for a charcuterie plate and all I got was two pieces of cheese and a couple slices of sausage for $15. Add a couple beers or a nice wine, a few extra pieces of meat, and you’re looking at $45 a head for a late night nibble. That’s about 1/5 of the price of a meal at French Laundry, and all it consists of is a palm sized serving of meat and cheese washed down with a few swigs of beer.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s fun once in awhile, but frankly, I’d rather go straight to the source. Short of setting up a curing room in my garage, that means heading down to the aforementioned Oyama. And let me tell you, the menus at these eateries pale in comparison to the selection offered by Oyama. We’re talking 10 different types of chorizo alone, 20 different salamis, a good 15 pates, not to mention a range of wild-meat sausages, and a whole slew of cheeses. And so I loaded up:
-Brick of parmesan: $8.50
-Brick of pecorino: $6.50
I splurged and bought a fancy beer from Dogfish for six bucks, Midas Touch, made with barley, honey, white muscat grapes and saffron, and backed it up with a six-pack of Liberty Ale. And so for less than my measly palm-sized serving in hipsterville, I’d gathered enough goods to eat myself silly over the course of the coming week. The prosciutto was rich and buttery, the chorizo brought me back to Spain, but it was the pate that stole the show (of course by pate I mean pâté but I can’t be bothered to search for the accents everytime I go to type it). I bought two sorts: duck and apricot pate and porcini mushroom pate. WOW. The porcini was the real showstopper; rich, silky-smooth meat and fat infused with the intoxicating earthiness of mushrooms.
Anyways, tonight I put together a simple plate with some bread, prosciutto, chorizo, both cheeses, smoked himalayan salt, olive oil, and fig-stuffed green olives. This was accompanied by the Dogfish ale, which I might add was phenomenal. If you don’t know it, go out and find it, you will not be disappointed.
March 24, 2009
The landscape is awash with colour. The air is alive with the cries of vendors hawking their goods. I pause and take a deep breath, my senses overwhelmed with the smells, sights, and sounds of summer. The sweet scent of ripe figs is shattered by a sharp piercing hit of a hundred cloves of garlic, just as quickly forgotten as pungent wild mushrooms take over, only to be swept away by a stinging sensation and a mouthwatering zing as I spot a curtain woven of chili peppers. This is just another day at the Jean-Talon Market, but for me it is a day in paradise.
The sweltering concrete jungle that is summer in Montreal is momentarily forgotten as I find respite in this cool oasis. At least this is how I remember it. It is now the tail-end of winter in Vancouver, when the endless cold and rain is bringing me to the end of my rope. All that keeps me going are warm, steamy days in the kitchen, and the thought that the luscious Westcoast spring is just around the corner. I’ve just stumbled across a CD of photos that I had taken while visiting Montreal last August, the first stage in a journey that culminated in my walk across Spain (more on that another time).
I’d altogether forgotten about my day at the market in Montreal, and it has reminded me of the simple joys of good, fresh produce; this comes as a pleasant reminder at a time when my diet consists mostly of oatmeal, various incarnations of pasta, and meat. There is still produce available, but it’s either the anemic, flavourless variety that’s been shipped half-way across the world, or it is the ultra-expensive boutique variety found at Wholefoods and other such designer grocery stores. Since I’m currently unemployed, the latter is not of much use to me, as I spend what little money I do have on overpriced organic, free-range, grass fed, cruelty-free meat 😉 and specialty pastas extruded through copper by artisans in Italy (see Heston Blumenthal’s episode on the perfect bolognese). As such, my vegetable intake is fairly limited right about now, my skin is yellowing, and I am longing for the fresh abundance of the summer crops. Until then, I will hopefully absorb what vitamins I can by gazing longingly at these photos.
March 24, 2009
I love porridge. I eat it daily if I can, and as such, I need to be forever finding creative new ways to jazz it up. This usually involves some combination of dried fruit and nuts, plus apple or banana for some backbone.
However, no matter what, I always find that all of the flavours are a little ‘flat’, they’re all kind of low-notes, if that makes sense. In a moment of clarity, I realized that citrus would add that necessary lift, that little extra zing, and so I grabbed a lemon wedge and went to town with it.
WOW! It made all the difference. That hint of sharp acidity cut through the richness of the butter, and the thickness of that oatmeal. There’s no going back!
Score: 9/10 (-1 because it was a bit cold by the time I got around to eating it)
March 24, 2009
200,000+ scovilles. yikes!
March 20, 2009
Iphone pic so the quality is shite. Flavours were out of this world. Sea bass never fails to impress. Almost enough to make me forget that I’m eating an endangered species.
March 20, 2009
Bloody tasty! Bloody hard to roll! Gained immense respect for Romanian grannies worldwide.
March 20, 2009
Perfect for a cold winter day. Simple. Tasty. Warms you to the core.
March 20, 2009
March 20, 2009
Pasta: Rustichella D’abruzzo Linguine
Sauce: Sofrito of shallots, celery, and carrot with a porcini reduction, garnished with toasted walnuts, skillet roasted telicherry peppered mushrooms, oven-dried grape tomatoes, baked butternut squash cubes, topped with lemon-butter asparagus wrapped in roasted red pepper, garnished with flat-leaf parsley and reggiano.