Posted in Ingredients

Foodstuff- Ostrich Meat

Ostrich 1

I have seen Ostrich steaks offered on restaurant menus a few times within the past decade or so, but, on each occasion, other items were more appealing for one reason or another. Accordingly, I had always passed on the opportunity and it was not until recently that I saw ground Ostrich meat offered for sale in the freezer cabinet in a local store.

The product is Canadian, as it turns out. The company, Blue Mountain Fine Foods™, is located in Thornbury, Ontario, but, unfortunately, I was unable to learn whether they were actually raising ostrich in that location or just packaging meat raised elsewhere. In any event, while I would have preferred to be trying steaks, or other whole, cuts of meat, I was pleased to see that the ‘Burger’ meat they were selling contains just ‘100% Ostrich’, with no seasonings or other ingredients listed. As such, I was at least going to be able to taste the bird without other flavorings getting in the way … Continue reading “Foodstuff- Ostrich Meat”

Posted in Ingredients

Guanciale

Guanciale 1

Most people have had, or even cooked, some sort of ‘Carbonara’ style pasts dish at one time or another (Spaghetti alla Carbonara, being especially favored), and generally, this will be made with the unsmoked Italian style bacon known as ‘Pancetta’, or, sometimes even, the regular, everyday smoked bacon commonly served with breakfast. The favoured traditional pork product, however… the ne plus ultra one might say, is Guanciale… which are salted and dry-cured hog jowls, or ‘pig-cheeks’ for the more genteel among you.

The preparation of guanciale is a bit more complex than for the belly pork equivalent represented by Pancetta. The fatty jowls are rubbed with salt, sugar and spices (pepper, thyme and fennel are common), and then hung and air-dried for three weeks or so. In the above picture, you can see a 200 gram piece I bought in Ottawa… You should be able to make out the mixed herb and spice mixture that was used, as well as the string that was looped through one corner in order to hang it.

The beauty of Guanciale, in contrast to the belly, is the dense, white, very creamy fat that lends a lovely sweet unctuousness to pasta carbonara, or, indeed, to any other dishes where it is employed.  As the product is cured, it can also be eaten ‘raw’ as is and, before cooking myself a carbonara with some of my current chunk, I tried doing so… I was a little hesitant as the cut has a very high ratio of fat to meat, but it actually proved to be delectable. I cut it a little thicker than paper-thin and it was delightfully chewy and unctuously tender at the same time, with the sweet, slightly apple-like flavor of a good prosciutto.

Mostly, of course, Guanciale is used as the decadent focus in several different pasta dishes… Continue reading “Guanciale”

Posted in Ingredients

Foodstuff: Camel Meat

Camel Meat 1

A little while ago, one of our local stores was offering several different types of exotic meat for sale, all packaged by a Canadian company called ‘Blue Mountain Fine Foods’ based out of Thornbury, Ontario. I grabbed several types for later examination and the first I tried was the rather interesting sounding ‘Moroccan Camel’. I am glad I got to try it, of course, but I found the experience a little disappointing for a couple of different reasons… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Camel Meat”

Posted in Ingredients

Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder

Instant Dashi 1

Some years ago, I wrote a post featuring the Japanese soup stock known as Dashi. In that post, I mentioned that Dashi could be a simple mushroom stock, or a stock made using just the seaweed called Kombu, or, more commonly, a more complex stock combining Kombu and the dried, smoky tuna known as Katsuobushi

Anyway, in my Katsuobushi post (see the above link), I showed several varieties of the proper fish product and one the ‘instant’ powdered versions. I was, it must be said, a bit scathing of the latter, indicating that it wasn’t, for several reasons, as good as the ‘real’ thing, but, while that is generally true, the same can be said for homemade chicken stock versus one made using bouillon cubes or extract. One uses homemade if that is practical but, sometimes, especially if only a little stock is needed, using an ‘instant’ substitute is perfectly acceptable…

Today, I thought I would take a little more detailed and closer look at the basic product, and also do a bit of a comparison of a few different brands. There are literally scores and scores of different instant dashi products to be found but the ones you see pictured here are three of the bonito tuna based ones that I have most commonly come across in my part of the world… Continue reading “Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder”

Posted in Ingredients

Baby Octopus

Baby Octopus 1

To be honest, I am not 100% sure that what you see here are, in fact baby octopuses. It said so on the package, but, for all I know they are the adults of a very small species. Thus far, though, the only sort I have cooked at home from fresh have been much larger sorts and so I bought a couple of packages when I saw them in my local supermarket freezer cabinet.

These little guys are only 5 or 6 inches long overall (the red thing in the corner of the picture is the handle of a pairing knife, for comparison’s sake). If you recall my previous ‘Foodstuff’ post on Octopus, the larger sort generally require a bit of tenderizing before being cooked. I figured, however, that these tiny ones can probably be fried or grilled without any other preparation. I decided to try a simple deep-fry to test… Continue reading “Baby Octopus”

Posted in Ingredients

Beef Marrow Bones

Beef Marrow Bones 1

Marrow, the rich, fatty substance in the center of certain animal bones, has long been used as a food by humans. It is very nutritious, and thus has been used for eminently practical reasons, but it has also, at various times, and in various cuisines, been regarded as something of a delicacy.

Chiefly, one finds bones being used in the preparation of hearty stocks, and occasionally  extracted and eaten as sort of a ‘side benefit’ in certain dishes, but, for a long time, the idea of marrow being a treat in and of itself has been a bit dormant in the west. This, however, has been changing in recent years, and the appetizer of roast marrow bones you see posted above, and for which a recipe will follow, is a common representation of the trend … Continue reading “Beef Marrow Bones”

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Octopus

Octopus 1

Until recently, I had yet to see octopus in any stores locally. Even in the south, I generally encounter them frozen and, so, when I saw a fresh whole octopus here in my local supermarket I snapped up, despite the price tag of $50 for a 2kg specimen…

Actually, the price I paid is not that bad given that I will get several dishes from this single purchase… before getting to that point, though, the octopus needs a little preparation … Continue reading “Octopus”

Posted in Ingredients

Foodstuff: Fish Maw – 魚肚 (or 魚漂 or 花膠)

Fish Maw 1

The picture above shows what appear to be three very different things but, in fact, they are just different forms of a product used in Chinese and South-East Asian cookery, and commonly referred to as ‘Fish Maw’. The word maw actually means stomach, or gullet, and, as such, the term for this product is a bit of a misnomer as it is really the ‘Swim bladder’ of certain bony (non-cartilaginous) species of fish. The swim bladder, is a gas filled sac that lies in the belly and allows the fish that possess them to maintain and control buoyancy at different depths.

As with a number of products in Chinese cookery, this item is used primarily for its texture. Some sources state bluntly that it has no taste of its own but, like tofu, takes on the flavors of other ingredients in a dish. In fact, it does have a certain, mild, ‘fishiness’, but it is still the texture that is important. It is rich in collagen, which not only gives a pleasant texture itself, but the collagen will dissolve into soups and braising liquids to lend added richness.

Several species are harvested for their bladders (Yellow Croaker is a favored type), but I do not know what from what fish any of the ones you see picture were taken… the packages I have, all written exclusively in Chinese characters, are silent on that point… In any event, the two basic forms are the plain dried article (the yellowish things at the bottom right of the picture), and the sort that consists of the same thing that has been deep-fried before being packaged for sale… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Fish Maw – 魚肚 (or 魚漂 or 花膠)”