Homemade Sashimi

I did not get to go fishing as much as I wanted to lately, and a recent winter flounder trip that despite amazing weather resulted in only one keeper fish is not a highlight of my fishing career. But the flounder sashimi that I made out of it was absolutely awesome.

Fluke Sashimi

Here’s a picture of striped bass sashimi that I made a few years back. I’m told that the dark brown (looks red in the picture for some reason) meat should be removed from fillets. It was very tasty anyway.

Striped Bass Sashimi

Food safety is not something to be taken lightly, of course. A lot of people gasp – homemade sashimi? That’s suicide! But if you ask me, food police, fear of lawsuits and American germophobia goes a little too far.

Over the years I ate a lot of potentially deadly stuff. Street vendor food, for example. Did you ever wonder how those guys go to the bathroom? Cafeteria food. Oh, and not only American street vendor food and cafeteria food. Soviet too. I ate a lot of sushi and sashimi. I’ve had raw Korean beef. A lot of oysters, some rare steaks (usually I order medium-rare). In Ukraine I liked to snack on raw chicken eggs. I ate fish that I caught in the uber-polluted Black Sea. I even ate raw mussels (and they concentrate all the bad sea crap) there.

And you know what? While long term health effects of my omnivorous eating are not known yet, I had a very mild case of food poisoning only once. From a reportedly unexpired can of Alaskan salmon.

Alleged time traveler John Titor wrote this about American food:

“What are people thinking? You willfully eat poisoned food. It’s very hard for me to find food here. It all scares the Hell out of me. I am amazed at the risks people here are willing to take with processed food. All of the food I eat here is grown and prepared by my family or myself.”

I am scared myself. Food here for the most part does not taste right. The large scale growing and processing does something to it. I highly suspect that it’s one of the major contributing factors in the obesity epidemic.

In any case, I remember watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” where he sat in a French bistro and pointed out half a dozen things that would be completely illegal in an American restaurant, but actually make a eating in that bistro amazing.

As far as homemade sashimi is concerned, I hear a lot of talk about freezing fish overnight in a freezer to kill parasites before eating it. I’ve tried this, and it makes the texture of the fish mushy. I am not sure about this, but it seems to me that the only fish that gets that treatment is tuna – I’ve seen huge frozen carcasses in the Tsukiji fish market. In any case, raw fish that I caught myself if probably the freshest that it can be. The only way this sashimi could be any fresher is if I cut and eat the still alive fish right on the boat.

A Pineapple Grows In Brooklyn

There’s one piece of Americana that I do not like. Lawns. Suburban grass lawns. Keeping a good looking lawn is difficult and expensive. The amount of watering and cutting and fertilizing is mind boggling, considering that you are simply growing grass. Lawns do have a nice, neat appearance, but in my opinion they are way too sterile.

Of course, I am not alone in lawn-hating. Various hippies are also unhappy with vast water-hogging expenses of grass they can’t smoke. They propose various solutions, such as replacing grass with clover, wild flowers, etc. I actually very like one solution I’ve seen somewhere (can’t find the link) – they’ve replaced the lawn with a vegetable garden. It’s not as neat and sterile, but still green most of the year. And you get your own organic berries and vegetables.

Oh, and I got to mention this, my wife always liked this black grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus, I think) that grown across from the waterlily pond in Brooklyn Botanical. Now, that would make one nice gothy lawn.

In any case, my McMansion-owning friends can have their humongous lawns and tractor lawnmowers. Living in an apartment, all I can operate with is a windowsill.

Speaking about windowsills. I grew up in a very old apartment in Odessa, Ukraine. The windowsills there were huge – you could sleep on those things. Some of the newer houses in America don’t even have windowsills – they have picture frame moulding around them. The older, Art Deco era apartment where I live now has decently sized windowsills. They are big enough for a couple of cats to sleep on.

In any case, there’s a lot of super cool stuff you can grow on your windowsill. I, for one have a couple of real pineapple plants.

For the longest time I thought that pineapples grew on palm trees, like bananas and coconuts. Well, I just found out that bananas also don’t grow on palm trees and are technically herbs. Live and learn.

Anyway, pineapples grow low on the ground, kind of like corn. The first pineapple plant that I grew on my windowsill I got from Brooklyn Botanical Garden gift shop. It already had the small fruit and cost me about $30 bucks. That was years ago. It has proven to be amazingly resilient – I generally have a brown thumb, and frequently forgot to water it. It survived a cold New York winter, and finally I ended up eating the slightly bigger pineapple. It was small, but very pineapply.

The plant that you see in the picture is one of the two that I picked up from Ikea in Elizabeth, NJ. They set me back only 20 bucks, together. Thank you, Ingvar.

I bet there are other cool plants that I could grow. Various dwarf citrus plants – lemons, oranges, kumquats, etc. Coffee tree. Maybe even a dwarf banana. The trick, of course if finding plants that already have fruit on them (if you know a good supplier, please let me know) – growing something from a seed is a huge pain in the ass.

Can You Smell What Deadprogrammer’s Cooking?

And now welcome to yet another edition of “Gastronomic Adventures with Deadprogrammer”. Since I wrote previous installments I’ve noticed that I am not the only blogger who takes the time to purchase and eat weird stuff. The Sneeze is home to outstanding section called “Steve, Don’t Eat It!”

I’ve read an article (though I can’t remember who wrote it) about the fact that many gourmet foods are initially repulsive to most people. The first signal your brain sends you when your are having oysters, stinky cheese, scotch or caviar is “Dude! This stuff is spoiled, spit it out right now!”. But then, you consciously think, “Come on, brain, this is 25 year old Talisker we are having here. I just paid $225 for the bottle, you better relax and try to enjoy it. Yes, I know that it tastes like peat a little bit. It’s supposed to. It’s a good thing”.

The ultimate gourmet food for which you need to fight with your brain is Durian. Available in most oriental stores in New York, this pointy skinned exotic fruit is widely known for smelling awful but tasting heavenly.

Recently I purchased one on my trip to Avenue U, which is more and more becoming Brooklyn’s Chinatown. Here it is, sitting innocently on my Naked Chef-style cutting board.

When you cut it with a knife, you find several sections filled with custard-like flesh and big seeds.

I have to say that the smell was not as horrible as most places describe it. It was definitely odd, somewhat unpleasant, but not completely overpowering. I found it similar in strength and quality to the smell of expensive sulfur spring mineral water that you might find in many resorts. Nothing even close to the horrors that you might find in any article describing Durian on the web.

The taste and texture of the fruit flesh was absolutely great. It had the texture and sweetness of a creamy custard, very smooth and buttery, tasting somewhat like pineapple, lemon and banana at the same time. It was very sweet, but not in a nauseating way. An absolutely unique taste, very, very exotic.

I can also happy to report not having any gas or any other digestive problems widely reported as associated with the fruit in question. On the other hand I did not eat the entire thing as I am still trying to watch my carbohydrate intake.

Apparently picking Durian is sort of a hit and miss experience. I had the most expensive kind my store had, an 89 cent/lb Mornthong variety. There are other varieties that are maybe stronger smelling and of lesser quality.

Gastronautic Updates

I wrote about the caterpillar infecting fungus called cordyceps, right? Well I went to one of the herbalist shops on Avenue U and purchased $40 dollars worth. In fact that was the smallest amount I could buy since the damned fungi cost about $200 an ounce.
Here’s about a quarter of my haul:

They smell faintly of chocolate and dust. The caterpillar part tastes like cardboard and dust. The protruding fungus has a tingly – sour taste, not unpleasant at all. I did not notice any health effect.

Moving on. I also wrote about a corn infecting fungus that the Mexicans call Cuitlacoche. I ordered a can of Monteblanco brand Cuitlacoche through Amazon and Mexgrocer.

The giant fungus infected corn kernels have a texture similar to slippery jack mushrooms and a slightly smoky flavor. The ingredients include onions , jalapeno peppers and epazote ( Skunkweed aka Wormseed, aka Mexican tea aka West Indian goosefoot aka Jerusalem parsley aka Hedge mustard aka Sweet pigweed which supposedly has “antiflatulent powers” ) which kind of make it hard to say what it really tastes like on its own.

Steak ala Deadprogrammer

The previous poll showed that there is about the same amount of interest in all the things that I am planning to write about, so I am going to write these articles in no particular order.

So, here goes. Steak ala Deadprogrammer.

Since I am on the Atkins diet, I get to have a lot of steak. So I did a bit of research about dead cow and bull cookery and figured out a pretty decent way of making an almost perfect steak with the minimum of hassle and mess. It’s quick too.

Before reading Kitchen Confidential I used to order my stake well done. What stupidity it was. Me, a person who cancatch Jersey fish and make sashimi out of it, eat burnt steak? Craziness. A normal steak should be medium or medium rare.

There are three things you need to cook good steak. First, a piece of meat. Second, a cured cast iron frying pan. Third, tongs to turn meat over. Fourth.. You need four things to cood a good steak. Fourth, you need a meat thermometer.

The meat part is usually not tricky. I like Rib Eye steak from my favorite Italian store. There is this awesome tip that I learned from Tog about how to buy $10/lb steak for $1.69/lb, but I could never find that particular cut at my local Key Food. That tip isn’t very usable. Hah, get it? Not usable.

The frying pan must be heavy, well seasoned and be made of cast iron. There are a lot of sites extolling the virtues of cast iron pans, so I am not going to write about that. I have a ridiculously expensive Le Creuset pan, but that’s absolutely not necessary. A good heavy 15 dollar pan will do. Just remember, a Teflon coated pan is absolutely no good for frying steaks.

Cooking tongs you probably have already. Now, onto the meat thermometer. You see, the cheapo digital or analog thermometer is rather slow and imprecise. There is a fine line between a steak that is overdone and steak that is unsafe to eat. It’s possible to tell the doneness of a steak by cutting it, but it’s kind of messy. So my solution to this is getting a thermocouple — a digital lab thermometer. I don’t have one yet, but I am definitely going to purchase a Fluke 51 thermocouple with the K type probe. This is what Schomer uses for calibration of his espresso machines.

Cooking steak is simple. There are two steps. Searing and actually frying. Searing is rather simple. Turn the gas on full, and wait unstill the pan is very, very hot. I’ve heard something about checking by throwing salt into the pan and listening, but I know about that. Just wait till it’s very hot. While you are heating it up, cut off a bit of fat from the steak and grease the pan with it. It’s best to have the steak at room temperature (but I sometimes take it straight out of the fridge). Rub the steak with seasoning (or just with a bit of salt). Make sure that the steak is dry and plop it into the pan. Wait one minute and turn it around. After another minute take the steak off and turn off the gas. Let the pan cool down (this is important) and turn the burner to medium. Put the steak back and cook it while turning it over every few minutes.

Now, the only tricky part is figuring out how long to keep frying. The thermometer and Thermyâ„¢, the food safety mascot are your guides in this.

Rare Meat gives easily when touched, no juices appear on surface. 150° F.
Medium Meat feels firm but slightly springy, and juices begin to appear on the surface. 160° F.
Well Done Meat is covered with juices and does not yield to pressure (you ruined it) 170° F.

Now one last fancy shmancy thing that you can do. It’s called deglazing. Basically, after you are done with the steak, splash some alcohol and add some butter to the pan and swirl it around with a wooden spoon. Alcohol will dissolve the gunk that is stuck to the pan, and together with butter will make awesome souse which you can pour over the steak or serve in a little dish. This will also make the pan much easier to wash.