Seasonal Fish—What’s Available?

Seasonal Fish—What's Available?Here in California, we are spoiled by the abundance that grows, literally, in our backyards. The concept of seasonality has some pretty blurred lines when you can get whatever you want year-round. What you may not know is the same is true for fish.

Avid fishermen are very aware that certain fish can only be harvested at certain times of the year. Yet, meat counters across the west coast always seem to have what we are looking for whenever we need it or have a craving. Though there are some fish that are available year-round, here is a general guide to the seasons of some of your favorite seafood sold in the SF Bay Area.

Albacore Tuna
Available June through October. Look for line or pole caught tuna to promote sustainability. Also, the line/pole caught tunas tend to be younger fish which means they haven’t had the mercury exposure of older resulting in lower mercury levels in the fish itself.

Clams
Farmed clams are available year-round. Wild clams are available October through June. If you are planning to harvest your own clams, make sure to check with state regulations regarding the harvest of the several varieties available on the West Coast.

Dungeness Crab
Available from November through February in the southern West Coast and June through August in the Pacific Northwest area. This fishery spans the coast from just south of San Francisco up into Canada. The opening of Dungeness crab season usually coincides with Thanksgiving in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recent occurrences of high toxin levels in the crab due to water temps caused by global warming as well as pricing disputes with the fisherman have sometimes delayed or even prevented the opening of crab season in the Bay Area. Read more…

Cooking with Pork

Cooking with PorkWhen considering what you are going to have for dinner on any given evening, how often do you think about a juicy pork chop? Despite being a mainstay of cuisines around the globe, chances are pork is not the first option that comes to mind. While there is any number of reasons why this might be true, the most likely one would be because there is the perception that pork is a tough, dry and flavorless product. This belief is born out of the idea that pork needed to be cooked long enough to make it safe to eat. The quality of the pork could have been excellent—but the finished product was ruined by overcooking. While that may have been the case years ago, recent changes in pork production and cooking guidelines are altering the way we cook and eat pork. And, pork dishes of all kinds are being found on the menus of the country’s top restaurants.

The truth is pork can be a very succulent and versatile source of protein. Pork’s natural marbling for juiciness and its ability to absorb flavor make it an optimal choice for a variety of cooking styles. It is in the leaner cuts like the pork loins, tenderloins, and chops where the way you cook it can be the difference between a fantastic meal and something tough and hard to eat. So, why the concern about undercooking it?

The USDA recommended cooking guidelines for pork were established because of the concern over the trichinosis parasite. Making sure that your pork reached a certain temperature would ensure that the parasite was destroyed and you wouldn’t get sick. The current reality though is that trichinosis has been almost completely eradicated in American pork with only a few cases appearing each year, usually with pigs that are homegrown and not inspected by the USDA. While that is great news, we still need to be cautious and cook the pork correctly. But, we don’t need to incinerate it.

Trichinae are destroyed at a temperature of 137 ºF but to be completely sure, it is best to cook pork to a temperature of 150 ºF to 165 ºF. The meat will still be noticeably pink but is considered to be cooked medium. This means you should be taking the meat out of the oven or off the grill when it reaches 145 ºF and let it rest.

Another reason not to overcook your pork? This is not your Grandma’s pig. As recent as 50 years ago, the pigs that went to market weighed an average of 300 pounds and had a thick, beautiful multiple, inches-thick layer of fat along the ribs. And as we know, the fat is where the flavor is. There was more fat on the animal in general which made for a richer, juicier meat that could stand reaching temperatures as high as 180 ºF and longer cooking times without drying out.

That is no longer the case. Today’s pigs go to market at an average of 240 pounds and have a fat layer less than an inch thick. For those who are watching their fat and cholesterol intake, this is fantastic news because today’s pork has less overall fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories than an equivalent amount of skinless chicken thighs. This gives you options when choosing what protein to fuel your body. When cooked correctly, this makes for a much more flavorful and satisfying meal than serving chicken day after day.

Thick Pork Chops with Spiced Apples and Raisins Recipe
Pork and apples are a delicious flavor combination. This recipe for Thick Pork Chops with Spiced Apples and Raisins is adapted from Tyler Florence. The pork chops are definitely tasty (brining is a must!) and a pork roast will work well, too. But for some, the main reason to make it is the warm compote. Read more…

Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat BurgerPlant-Based Burgers
If you have been watching the news lately you may have noticed that plant-based foods, burgers especially, have been featured prominently. The buzz is because unlike the meatless burgers of the past, Beyond Meat in particular has managed to produce a burger that they say comes as close to cooking, looking, and tasting like an actual beef burger as you can without the cow.

How is that even possible? you might ask…the answer is pea protein.

Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas that have been dried and then ground into a fine powder. The starch and fiber are then removed, leaving a powdered concentrated protein substance also known as pea protein isolate. This protein isolate is completely plant-based, unlike some other protein alternatives—which means it is ideal for vegetarians and vegans. What is amazing about pea protein is that it can be made in such a way that it mimics the way ground beef cooks as well as it’s texture. It even bleeds like a burger thanks to added beet juice. Added coconut oil is what gives the burger it’s juiciness.

Being plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you, though. Reality is the calorie count for one of these burgers is essentially the same as the real thing, hovering at around 280 calories. Same goes with the saturated fat content. The sodium is on the high side too. Also, If you are someone who is trying not to eat processed foods keep in mind that this product, though plant-based, is highly processed. Lastly, the peas used are legumes. Anyone who has a peanut allergy or reacts to other legumes might want to steer clear to avoid a reaction.

Ultimately, the choice to eat a plant-based burger v.s. a real beef burger is an environmental one as well as a personal choice. The less beef we eat, the less stress we put on our resources and our planet which we can all agree is a good thing, but then again so is the occasional double cheese burger.

We put the Beyond Burgers to the test with some hardcore carnivores and we were pleasantly surprised. All of them said that while they still prefer the taste of a beef burger, the Beyond Burger is something they would actually buy and eat as a a healthier alternative like they would a turkey burger or black bean burger.

Beyond Meat is not just about burgers. They also make sausages and their version of ground beef. We are currently using their ground product in a number of our meatless pasta dishes available in our Deli Grab N Go section so if you are curious, pick some up for dinner tonight…

Prime v.s. Choice Beef

Prime v.s. Choice BeefIf you are someone who consumes beef with any regularity, you have most likely seen the USDA Prime or USDA Choice grade symbols either on the package or as part of an advertisement. But, do you know what they really mean? The easy answer would be to say that the USDA Prime option is the better cut of beef…which would only sort of be true. You could have a cut of USDA Choice that can be as good or sometimes even better than Prime. So how do you choose?

The guidelines the USDA uses to determine what is Prime, Choice, or Select beef all revolve around two words, marbling and abundant.

Marbling is the easy part. Marbling is the amount of fat that can be seen within the cut of meat. The more fat marbling, the better the flavor.

Abundant is a little more complicated. A cut of beef can have moderately abundant marbling, slightly abundant marbling, moderate marbling, slight marbling, and everything else in between. It’s enough to give someone a headache.

To help soothe the ache, below is a quick guide to the two most popular grade, Prime and Choice:

USDA Prime
USDA Prime beef refers to high-quality cuts of beef with slightly abundant to abundant marbling. Though Prime beef can now be found at more and more food retailers, Prime beef is most often sold to restaurants and hotels. Prime beef is high quality and tender and comes with a price tag to match. Prime roasts and steaks are best suited to roasting or grilling.

USDA Choice
USDA Choice beef is also high-quality tender beef but with less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts or steaks that come from the loin and rib areas will be very tender and have great flavor with a much more affordable price tag. The less tender Choice cuts will come from the round section. These are the cuts that are better used for braising or slow roasting.

The grade of beef you choose wholly depends on you, what you are cooking and what your budget can allow. There is no right or wrong option. A lot of times it depends on the person preparing it.

If you ever get the opportunity to try a bit of each option side by side I encourage you to experiment and see if you can tell the difference.

How to Grill a Perfect Steak
Here are our instructions for grilling a steak to perfection. Read more…

The Benefits of Fat

The Benefits of Fat — Rib Eye Steaks with Herbed ButterThose of us of a certain age fondly remember the can of rendered bacon fat that your grandmother kept in the fridge (or some kept under the sink). It was used to prevent fried eggs from sticking to the pan on Saturday mornings or to slowly caramelize onions for Sunday night. (Frighteningly, some used to spread it on toast for lunch. A throwback to an era when money was tight and nothing was wasted.) But the main purpose for that can of fat was to add more flavor to everything.

For decades doctors have been telling us that fat is bad and because of that grocery shelves are filled with products that are fat-free. We have been told that fat will clog your arteries and raise your cholesterol levels. While it is true that the wrong fats will do this, it is also true that the body needs fat to function. What is also true? Fat is flavor. So what is a foodie to do? Finding the happy medium between healthy and yummy is what’s important when trying to lead a healthy yet tasty lifestyle. In other words, everything in moderation. Knowing when to go all out with a beautifully marbled steak and when to dial it back is key.

Fat is essential in cooking because it not only adds flavor but moisture as well. For example, you can make a burger out of lean ground chuck but it will never be as juicy or as packed with beefy meaty flavor because the fat needed to produce those results is missing. You could get away with using lean beef in a Bolognese sauce though because the meat will already be in a moist environment and it will lower the chances of your sauce tasting greasy.

BBQ aficionados know that a ribeye from the grill is one of the best things you can put in your mouth because of the extensive marbling in that particular cut of meat. You could also throw a nicely marbled New York steak on the grill and produce great results but, because New Yorks have less fat marbling, you have to be a bit more vigilant to keep them from being overcooked and dry. A filet mignon steak, while very tender, does not have as much fat marbling and therefore should not be cooked for long periods of time because it will be dry and you ruin a beautiful and expensive piece of beef.

Pork fat is a beautiful thing. Its flavor is the preferred addition for sausage makers who use their own fat to meat ratio in their recipes to create the perfect bratwurst, breakfast link or other sausages. Anyone who has had the pleasure of consuming a pork shoulder that has been slow roasted for hours should agree. The high-fat content in a pork shoulder breaks down and slowly bastes the meat as it cooks thus adding flavor and moisture to the meat that melts in your mouth. And then there’s bacon…

Pork loins have very little fat in them and because of that, they make a healthy alternative to always eating chicken breast. The lack of fat though means that they will dry out much faster when cooking. If you are cooking the full loin, it’s best to add moisture with a brine—or slice the loin into 1/2 inch chops and sauté them in a pan.

The bottom line is this. If your goal is an awesome steak dinner right off the grill, you are better off going with the cut that has the higher fat content, or risk disappointment. Leaner cuts are great too but save those for the recipes with more complicated ingredients than salt and pepper.

Rib Eye Steaks with Herbed Butter
Adapted from Rea Drummond on the Food Network
Yields 4 servings Read more…