Meat, Fish, Poultry and Cheese

Ilse's All-Star Herring Salad

If you are of a saving disposition, you know how satisfying it is to be going through old storage boxes looking for, say, a potato ricer and among the hoarded tools find a great saucepan you’d completely forgotten you had.

You also know what’s coming next; the find was a recipe. I was searching for a pre-computer Good Food column about 3 Day Black Fruitcake (requested by Colleen back on Halloween – eek!). This involved pawing through many boxes of ancient clippings. And there among them was a guide to herring with the recipe for Ilse’s Salad, the great converter of herring haters into passionate fans.

Ilse's Salad, with beets, potatoes,apples and onions - and herring

Ilse's Salad, with beets, potatoes, apples and onions - and herring

When the piece came out in 1985, the things that herring had going for it included great taste, moderate price and lots of health-promoting fatty acids. Now we can add: less endangered than most of the fish you’d actually like to eat and less well-seasoned with toxic pollutants than most other fatty fish.

I’m speaking here of pickled herring, a dependable staple available almost everywhere. Fresh herring, one of the world’s tastier foodstuffs, more or less doesn’t exist because it has a shelf life of about 5 minutes. Like mackerel, bluefish and similar delights, it gets disagreeably fishy so fast only those who’ve eaten it right off the boat know how delicious it can be, and it’s almost never sold in U.S. fishmarkets. Of course we never used to see edible fresh sardines, either, so maybe eventually…

where was I? Oh, the recipe Read More…

Roast Turkey 101.2 ( the upgrade), with wild mushroom stuffing

Things that have not changed an iota in the last 3 decades:

* If you go by the standard Thanksgiving story, all the way back to 1622 (which in fairness to history you probably shouldn’t), tradition favors venison. But tradition as usually understood demands turkey. No other meat – or poultry – will do.

* It is impossible to roast a whole turkey and have both light and dark meat come out equally delicious.

* It is impossible to convince people that this means turkeys should not be roasted whole.

Things that have changed considerably:

* Wild turkeys are back, big time, although not yet back on the table

* Wild turkeys are back, big time, although not yet back on the table

* Cooks have discovered that brining the turkey does a great deal to help keep the meat moist. (Best dissenting opinion award: Harold Magee in the New York Times).

* The USDA has discovered it’s not necessary to create bird-flavored sawdust, i.e. internal temperature of thigh 180 degrees. The agency now allows you to stop at 165, still around 10 degrees hotter than essential for safety,  but only about 5 degrees hotter than best for succulence.

* It’s no longer enough that the turkey be fresh, unpolluted by “self-basting” additives and unpierced by pop up buttons. Fresh and local is now the gold standard, except when you can get fresh, local and heritage, the high end turkey trifecta.

tips for dealing w/heritage turkeys, whichtend to be leaner and smaller than the modern standard, can be found at the end of this post.

tips for dealing with the modern standard, and the stuffing recipe follow

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Wild Turkeys – Thanks but no thanks


Kristi and I are discussing the last bits of putting the garden to bed. We’re wondering about the winter rye, our standard cover crop for the Maine vegetable plots. She planted it 10 days ago but nothing seems to be coming up. Big Mystery. Seed was fresh, there has been rain…


Mystery solved first thing in the morning.  I look out the bedroom window into the rosy dawn and there in the garden is a flock of wild turkeys, busily scratching and eating.

wild turkey dining on rye and clover

wild turkey breakfasting on rye and clover

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Eggs, the best eggs, and Eggs Benedict

Having just said goodbye to too many reminders that eggs are – or were – seasonal, and thus a symbol of spring rebirth, I won’t go into it except to point out that the best eggs still ARE seasonal, and that there’s a huge difference between an egg that’s as good as an egg can be and a conventional mass-produced egg.

Well-treated chickens that are not fed things you don’t want to think about produce tastier eggs year ‘round, but the eggs that are really worth crowing about are super-fresh local eggs from hens that spend a lot of time outdoors getting exercise and fresh air, eating bugs (concentrated protein, lots of minerals) and green vegetables. ( Many kinds of dark green leaves are rich in carotenes, precursors to vitamin A and a much better way to have deep yellow yolks than putting annato – a spice that acts as a yellow dye – in the chicken feed).

These eggs come from Ilana Nilsen, who sells her backyard eggs at farmers markets and at a store in Millbrook, NY called Best Creations. This is nice to know if you happen to live near Millbrook, but what’s nicer is that there are good local eggs just about everywhere, if you bother to look, and there are likely to be more and more because Ilana isn’t the only person who just wanted a few heirloom chickens and wound up with more than she bargained for.

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