Thursday, July 27, 2006

Herring, it must be in my genes

Ever since I can remember I have loved pickled herring. I used to eat it on Saturdays and special holidays at my grandparents' house. I thought it was something only Russians ate because I never saw it anywhere else.

On my recent trip to Stockholm I not only re-discovered the pleasure of herring but learned about dozens of different ways to prepare it. Summer is the season for herring there and it was on every menu. I would have to say that the most brilliant preparation was the one at Wedholms Fisk, Stockholm's classic and classically chic restaurant. They served a side of herring that was marinated like gravlax, served room temperature with warm brown butter, topped with red onions, chopped dill, and baby potatoes. Brown butter and herring? It was a marriage made in heaven, though not a dish for the calorie-obsessed eater.

I smuggled some fresh herring home so I could try pickling my own and it was a big success. The fishmonger gave me a very simple recipe, the opposite of every recipe I've read on the subject. I had some friends over and served mine with chopped red onion, boiled potatoes and créam fraîche along with the 2005 Bandol Tempier Rose. The wine was a perfect match and this has to be the second best meal this summer.
Here is his recipe: Rinse 1 pound fresh herring filets and make a mixture of 1 part cider vinegar, 4 parts water and lots of salt, (I used 1/2 cup sea salt) and 1 tablespoon crushed white peppercorns. Leave for two days in the refrigerator.

Rinse the filets and add 1 part vinegar, 2 parts sugar, 3 parts water, 1 tablespoon allspice, crushed, 4 dried bay leaves, one red onion sliced, 1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns and 2 tablespoons sea salt.
Marinate for 2 days…

Wedholms Fisk
Nybrokajen 17
S-111 48 Stockholm
Telephone 08.611.78.74_

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The best summer meal, so far!

Drop me in a country I've never been to before and I guarantee you I will find good food. You could say it's my calling. Which brings me to Stockholm. Stockholm is hot, especially the food scene, so anyone who loves food should make the pilgrimage as soon as possible.
Stockholm is made up of many islands, and in the summer people pass their time going from one to the other for meals and visits. The Swedes seem to spend the rest of their year planning for the summer: two to three months of warm weather and bright skies late into the evening.
Oaxen Skärgårdskrog is on the small island of Oaxen (100 inhabitants) and is one of the finest restaurants in Sweden, with a wine list that almost surpasses the food. Its owners, Magnus and Agnetha, also own Pumpen, a small restaurant on the dock opposite Oaxen Skärgårdskrog where they serve day-trippers and guests who stay overnight on a boat they've docked next to Pumpen.

My meal at Oaxen Skärgårdskrog took eating to a whole new level, but the simple menu at Pumpen was the most perfect and refined short menu I've ever seen. There were just four dishes. I sat there and thought, why restaurants in the United States don't have this kind of confidence? Pumpen gives you what everyone wants—a few beautiful choices made from the best of what is in season.

Here's what I had: A bowl of chilled smoked shrimp served with the silkiest garlic aioli, homemade bread, raw milk butter from Jarna, the Rudolph Steiner complex an island away, and a Swedish beer that I swear had a Darjeeling tea finish.
Here's their unusual method for cooking the shrimp. They put them in the oven frozen and cook them at a low temperature. Then they heat the chips over a burner in a cast iron skillet until they begin to smoke. They then cover the chips pan while it is still smoking hot and place it the oven below the shrimp and cook for several hours. (I'm waiting for the official recipe which I'll post when I get it). I think we can approximate this here even though we don't have the same kind of shrimp.
Anyway, you eat the whole meal with your hands, outdoors, in the most spectacular setting and you think, this is what summer is all about. When it comes to the most memorable and delicious food, I always go for something simple. When something beautifully simple is done right, it is the ultimate in refinement.

Oaxen Skärgårdskog_153 93 Hõlõ_Phone +46 (0) 8 551 531 05_Fax + 46 (0) 8 551 531 70_E-Mail:

Friday, July 14, 2006

Pasanella and Son Vintners

If I were giving out awards for the most stylish looking wine store, the first prize would go to Pasanella and Son Vintners. Let's just start with the 1967 Ferrari parked in the center of the store with its trunk open to display a gorgeous abundance of rosé wines (see below). Need I say more?

This store is the creation of Marco Pasanella, his wife Rebecca, and Mary Taylor. They have brought a whole new dimension to the experience of buying wine. The store is across from the old Fulton Fish Market and Marco, Rebecca, and their son live upstairs. The back of the store is a private tasting room which they also rent out for private parties, and let me tell you I am already planning one.

Just a few of the wines that caught my eye: the Moschioni Refosco from Friuli, 2003 Bussola Valpolicella; a Grüner Veltliner from Weingut Hofer (prize for coolest bottle—see below); 2001 The Maiden, a Pinot Gris from St. Innocent; and a great Viognier from Francois Villard, the 2004 Contours Des Poncins, for $24.99.

The selection of wines and spirits is excellent, and the wines under $15 are impressive too. I bought a bottle of the rosé of Bulotto and it was delicious and was only $15.99. Gorgeous fruit with a nice dry crisp finish. Perfect for the steamy weather we are having in New York.
The only negative thing I can say about this store is it is too far from my apartment, but what the heck, I always like a field trip….

Pasanella and Son Vintners, 115 South Street, NYC 10038. 212.233.8383

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Little Gems

Eating lettuce just got really exciting for me. Blame it on Little Gems which I ran across at a friend’s house in Northern California. This wonderful lettuce, a cross between butter and romaine, is grown there by Star Route Farms, an organic outfit run by Warren Weber in Marin County. When I called to inquire about Little Gems they told me that it originated in Britain.

What makes Little Gems so great is that it is firm and crunchy like romaine but sweet and delicate like butter lettuce. The leaves are small which makes it easy to eat and serve. If you love crunchy lettuce as I do you usually have only two choices—romaine or iceberg. I pretty much take romaine down to the heart to get at the crunchy part and unless I find an organic iceberg I avoid because it is so flavorless.

When I visited the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco I was thrilled to discover that Star Route has a stand there and were selling Little Gems. I made a salad with it, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and a shallot vinaigrette. Delicious. Also, I noticed that Chez Panisse served Little Gems with grapefruit, radishes and green chilies which sounds great too. I’m thinking of making a Caesar salad with it.

Though it is grown by several farmers on the East Coast, I have not seen Little Gems in any stores or farmers markets around here. If Whole Foods really means to help local farmers, instead of pretending to do so, why don’t they carry Little Gems…or some of the other great local East Coast produce?

For now I have taken matters in my own hands and brought some home so I can turn friends on to it and maybe some growers too. I can tell you I am really going to be sad when I run out.

Postscript to Little Gems
I've just spent a week with my friend Patrick Kinmonth, and since he lives in London I thought I would ask him if he has ever heard of Little Gems Lettuce. Not only did he know it but he rattled off his favorite recipe for them.
Remove the outer leaves and cut into the lettuce into quarters.
Melt two tablespoons of butter over a very low heat, don't boil, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, 4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped, and infuse over the heat for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and strain.
Immediately squeeze the juice of one lemon into the butter mixture and pour over the Little Gems. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Next time I get my hands on some Little Gems, I'm going to give this a try.
Find this amazing lettuce at Star Route Farms.