October 7, 2013
One of my favorite pastimes is joining the Sunday morning hordes outside San Francisco’s Ton Kiang, a popular dim sum restaurant in the city’s Outer Richmond neighborhood. So when the opportunity recently arose to visit Hong Kong and not only dine on the bite-size delicacies but actually learn how to make them, I jumped at the chance.
Hong Kong is dim sum’s cultural epicenter and here, the cuisine is king. The name dim sum, which means ‘to touch the heart,’ derives from its roots as a simple snack food offered with tea to the weary travelers of Asia’s Silk Road. Even today, dim sum and tea go hand in hand, and going for dim sum in Hong Kong is known as going for yum cha, which translates to ‘drink tea.’
Cantonese immigrants first introduced dim sum to the U.S. during the mid-1800s, and the cuisine’s varied selection and small, convenient portions eventually caught the attention of Westerners. Still, although there have been about 2,000 types of dim sum since its inception, most dim sum eateries in the States stick to several dozen offerings that appeal mostly to westernized palates and incorporate easy-to-find ingredients, such as sui mai (pork dumplings), wah tip (pot stickers), and ha yeung (crispy shrimp balls). In Hong Kong, however, chefs have the advantage of utilizing a larger variety of tropical vegetables from nearby Asian countries, as well as catering to a clientele that’s grown up on dim sum and tend to be more adventurous in their tastes. This means exotic treats like Sun Tung Lok’s baked sea conch shells, or steamed hairy crab roe with pork dumpling at the InterContinental Hong Kong’s Yan Toh Heen.
For over a decade, Peninsula Hong Kong has been offering weekday workshops in dim sum making as part as their larger Peninsula Academy, a series of location-specific workshops that range from paper mache and Chinese puppet mastery to insights into the region’s contemporary art scene. The hour-and-a-half-long course takes participants behind the scenes of the luxury hotel’s 1920s Shanghai-inspired Spring Moon restaurant and into its industrial kitchen to learn the art of crafting both shrimp and vegetable dumplings. Henry Fong, Peninsula’s dedicated dim sum chef, has been working in the culinary world for nearly 20 years. He is also the workshop’s teacher and will be leading our group of six in our efforts to mix, roll and wrap restaurant-style cuisine.
With so many dim sum eateries across Hong Kong, it takes an extra something to stand out. To keep his clientele happy—and his creative juices flowing—Fong hits up local farmers markets and specialty stories like the region’s popular City’s Super on weekends, searching out fresh, new ingredients to incorporate into his menu. He says it’s the endless variety that makes dim sum more interesting to him then other types of cuisine. Though well-versed in creating traditional dim sum favorites like wah tip (pot stickers) and lo mai gai (sticky rice and meats wrapped in lotus leaves), Fong also likes coming up with innovative creations by mixing the conventional with the unusual, such as drumstick-shaped steamed dumplings filled with carrots, spider crab leg and pumpkin; steamed vegetarian dumplings packed with locally grown imperial fungus and topped with gold leaf; and baked crispy buns filled with minced Wagyu beef, onions and black pepper.
As the workshop begins, Fong provides us each with an apron and invites us to gather around a large stainless steel table. He then begins mixing what will be the translucent skin for shrimp dumplings. First, he measures out equal portions of corn starch and high protein powder and pours them into a bowl together, and then adds some boiling water and a small bit of vegetable oil. Next he begins working the mixture with his hands. As he presses, scoops, and turns the mix repetitively it becomes thick and doughy, almost like marzipan. Fong then offers each of us a try.
Once the dough cools, Fong rolls it into a long, thin, rope-like stretch and slices off half-inch pieces, using a blunt stainless steel Chinese cleaver to flatten them each into paper-thin circles. When it’s my turn, Fong shows me how to press down on the flat side of the cleaver with the palm of my hand, turning it as I go. My first attempt at creating a dumpling skin is nearly perfect, though my excitement is short-lived. As it happens, wrapping a shrimp dumpling is not so easy. Fong demonstrates, topping the skin with a teaspoon-size portion of dumpling filler—a blend of finely minced prawn meat, shredded bamboo shoots, and chicken power with some salt, sugar, and vegetable oil—and using two fingers, quickly creates a dozen uniform folds across its top, almost akin to a fan.
“The trick,” he explains through a translator, “is to not let the two sides touch in the middle.” When through my creation looks more like a shrimp-nado than dumpling, though it’s still perfectly edible (and delicious), which I find out soon enough. Someone then asks Fong if there are any natural dim sum makers. “Not too many,” he says, laughing. “If there were I’d be out of a job.”
For the next 45 minutes we continue honing our shrimp dumpling skills, and also give vegetable dumplings (easier to fold because they require less dexterity) a go. Once we’re through, Fong steams them all on a stove top. After five minutes, they’re ready to eat. Along with our own creations, Fong also treats us to plates of roast pork buns, custard balls, and—for the group’s vegetarians—mushroom dumplings. He then offers each of us a cup of jasmine tea.
We are weary travelers, after all.
Where to get delicious dim sum in the States? Fong offers his recommendations for a range of price levels:
Less expensive: “The food is good quality and comparable to dim sum in Asia,” says Fong.
365 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA
Moderately expensive: “There is a great variety of dim sum,” says Fong, “and the choices are the same as what we offer in most restaurants in Hong Kong.”
14 Elizabeth Street
New York City, NY
Most expensive: “Every dim sum dish is hand-made with the finest seasonal ingredients and the taste is authentic,” says Fong. “Also, the food presentation is outstanding.”
529 Hudson Street
New York City, NY
September 25, 2013
Though most people rely on commercial producers for their bread, baking one’s own at home is rather simple to do. Combined in a bowl with flour and water, dried yeast reacts marvelously, coming vigorously to life as it ferments sugars and creating a delicious balloon of gas-filled dough. Thirty minutes in the oven produces a house full of aromas and a hot, steaming loaf on the table. It’s easier, for sure, than pie. With white flour, anyway.
But using whole wheat takes things up a notch. Unlike white flour, whole wheat–like other unrefined grains–contains germ and bran. These two components bear minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber. They also add a nutty array of flavors to a loaf of bread, as well as a fuller texture. Thing is, they also make life harder for bakers. For one thing, bran and germ soak up water, which can dry out a loaf and make it crumbly–and largely for this reason, bakers cannot simply substitute whole grain for white. Rather, recipes must be entirely recomposed. Germ and bran also add weight to the dough, which can impede its capacity to rise, leading to loaves almost as dense as French cobblestone. But a properly made whole wheat loaf can be surprisingly light as well as healthy to eat in ways that white bread isn’t, and if one loaf should fail, it’s worth it for the home baker to try again for that perfect honey-brown bread.
It helps to try a few basic methods. First and foremost, you must use enough water.
“Probably the most frequent mistake in baking whole wheat bread is not using enough water,” says Dave Miller, a whole wheat enthusiast and the owner of Miller’s Bakehouse near Chico, Calif. “You really need to hydrate the flour. Only then can you get really beautiful, soft bread.” White flour dough can be made with as little water as just 60 percent of the flour weight–a so-called “baker’s percentage” of 60 percent. But whole grain flour demands significantly more. Most commercial bakers use at least a 90-percent baker’s percentage of water–that is, 14.4 ounces to a pound of whole wheat flour. Miller uses even more water than that–often a 105-percent baker’s percentage. That means he uses almost 17 ounces of water to 16 ounces of flour.
And in San Rafael, Calif., Craig Ponsford, of the bakery Ponsford’s Place, goes even higher–up to 120 and even 130 percent water. “My dough is like soup when I first combine the flour and water,” says Ponsford, who makes breads and pastries with nothing but 100-percent whole grain flour. “Bread is all about the water. Water is what makes light, fluffy loaves, and in the case of whole wheat you need lots of water.”
You also don’t want to over-knead your whole wheat dough. That’s because it contains flakes of bran which can actually cut the dough like knives.
“Those will slice through the gluten strands when you’re kneading the dough,” says Jonathan Bethony-McDowell, a research baker in Washington State University’s Bread Lab, a facility used in national wheat breeding programs. This cutting action, he explains, will damage the consistency and structure of the dough and curtail its ability to rise. Anyway, an extra wet, gooey dough may be too sticky to easily knead, and a quick mix will do.
You’ll also probably have to give your whole wheat dough more time to rise than you would white dough, thanks to the heavy germ and bran particulates. But Ponsford warns that there is only so much time you can give. That is, at a certain point, a ball of dough will reach its maximum volume. Then, as the fermenting yeast continues metabolizing the sugars in the wheat, the dough stops rising and reverses. “If you let your dough over-ferment, then the gluten deteriorates, and the dough can collapse,” Ponsford explains.
So, what’s the sweet spot? The rule of thumb when using a baker’s percentage of 1 percent yeast (remember, that’s 1 percent of the flour weight) says you can let whole wheat dough rise for about three-and-a-half hours at 75 degrees Fahrenheit before it attains its maximum volume, according to Ponsford. But Ponsford usually uses one-tenth of a percent yeast. (A gram-sensitive scale would be helpful here.) Thus, the yeast takes longer to attain its full vigor–and the dough longer to reach its maximum gas capacity. Some of Ponsford’s whole wheat breads spend 36 hours rising, he says–a time span that he explains allows great development of flavor as the yeasts work on the germ, bran and endosperm. Ponsford likens these day-and-a-half breads to the great red wines of Bordeaux. Like a good Cabernet Sauvignon, he explains, such complex, long-fermented whole grain bread will last longer on the shelf and can be matched to stronger-tasting foods.
Beyond bread, those with a sweet tooth can also bake using whole grain flour. That’s what professional pastry chef Kim Boyce has been doing since 2007, after she discovered while experimenting with a recipe just how good whole wheat pancakes can be. Today, Boyce owns and operates Bakeshop, a pastry house in Northeast Portland, Ore. For Boyce, using whole grains is not about the health benefits. Rather, she believes they make better pastries, plain and simple.
“Whole grains give you a toothsome texture and a little nuttiness,” she says. “There is so much more flavor in whole grains, and that lets me pair my pastries with fruits and wines.” For cookie recipes, Boyce uses entirely whole grain flour, but for items that require some fluff, like scones and muffins, Boyce uses a 50-50 blend of white flour to whole grain flour.
Boyce says it doesn’t take a pro baker to replicate her recipes, many of which she has published in her 2010 cookbook, Good to the Grain. “People can totally do this at home,” Boyce says. For those hoping to try their own creations, Boyce advises starting with a favorite baking recipe that calls for white flour and substituting in a quarter or a half cup of whole grain flour in a one-to-one swap. Those who proceed further toward entirely whole wheat pastries must start boosting the liquid volumes, she advises, whether milk, water or cream, to accommodate the higher levels of water-grabbing germ and bran.
Whole wheat baking, clearly, takes some effort and time to do well. But whole grain proselytizers believe it’s well worth it–that the health benefits of eating whole grain flour, as well as the bonus of improved flavor, outweigh the challenges of turning it into bread. White flour, says Bethony-McDowell, at the WSU Bread Lab, is nothing but powdery white endosperm–almost entirely void of nutrition. “It’s just starch,” he says. “Ninety percent of the nutrients in whole wheat go out the door as soon as you mill it into white flour.” Monica Spiller is another advocate for whole grains–plus making them with sourdough yeast, which she and others say are good for the digestive tract. She sells heirloom seeds to farmers through her online nonprofit, the Whole Grain Connection, and she voices an increasingly supported notion that gluten intolerance is a misidentified condition.”I think gluten intolerance is actually an intolerance to refined flour,” she says. Ponsford, too, has observed this, he says, in customers at his bakery who once sometimes reported stomach aches after eating refined wheat products but who can digest his whole grain pastries and breads just fine.
The verdict may not be in yet on this health claim–but the jury, anyway, is baking good bread.Following are two recipes from the experts.
Dave Miller’s Basic Whole Wheat Bread
16 ounces whole wheat flour
16.32 ounces water (102 percent of flour weight, though extra dry flour may call for 105 percent, or 16.8 ounces, of water)
3.2 ounces sourdough starter (or, for non-sourdough, 1 tsp activated dry yeast)
0.38 ounces salt
Mix the flour with 90 percent of the water in a bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes–a lapse of time called the”autolease,” during which enzymes activate and convert starches into sugar. Next, mix the dough in an automatic mixer or by hand for several minutes. Add the remaining water, sourdough starter and salt. The dough will be very gooey–almost like batter. Allow it to sit for three hours in a bowl at room temperature. Next break apart the dough and shape into loaves. Allow 20 minutes of rising. Punch down the dough loaves and allow one more rise. After three hours, place in an oven preheated to 520 degrees F (yes–this is very hot). After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 470 for 20 minutes. For 15 more minutes, open the oven door a crack, which allows moisture to escape and facilitates crust formation. Remove the finished bread.
Monica Spiller’s Sourdough Starter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
Directions: Combine half the flour and half the water in a glass jar and cover with a cloth. Stir two times per day. After about three days, the mixture should be bubbling. Using ph paper, measure the acidity. Monica Spiller suggests aiming for a ph of 3.5. Now, feed the starter half of the remaining flour and water. The ph should hit 3.5 again in slightly less time–two days, perhaps. When it does, add the remaining flour and water. This time, the increasingly vigorous starter will hit the desired ph in just eight hours. It is now ready to begin using. Always leave a portion in the jar to allow indefinite propagation. Maintaining the starter is easy. You must only remove about half of its volume every week, either to discard or (preferably) use in bread, and “feed” the starter with fresh whole wheat flour and water. If you bake less frequently, keep the starter in the fridge. Keep it covered with a cloth.
September 19, 2013
It’s September 19, which means it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, your once-a-year opportunity to embrace linguistic absurdism and greet your friends and colleagues with a cheery “Ahoy, matey!” Started in 1995 by John Baur and Mark Summers, the holiday is celebrated all over the world with the official Talk Like a Pirate Day website offering a vocabulary crash course in English, German and Dutch. But really, what’s a holiday without food to enhance the celebration? While we all have a communal sense of how pirates talked—or how we like to think they talked—our sense of how pirates ate sits, by comparison, in uncharted waters. Pirates had to survive on more than a bottle of rum.
From a food standpoint, a pirate’s life was problematic. Being at sea and without easy access to major seaports meant that there was rarely a steady supply of food and hunger was a regular aspect of day-to-day living. Much of their lives were spent on board a ship, and perpetually damp conditions put normal pantry staples such as flour and dried beans at high risk of mold. Climate also presented preservation problems: if sailing in warmer regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, keeping fresh fruits and meats was near impossible. Fresh water was also difficult to keep during long sea voyages because it could develop algae scum. By contrast, alcohol would never spoil, making beer and rum the preferred preferred beverages. Rum, in addition to being consumed straight up, was used along with cinnamon and other spices to sweeten stagnant water and make grog. Dried meats and hardtack, a relatively shelf-stable biscuit, were regular parts of a pirate’s diet, although the latter was frequently infested with weevils.
With such a bleak dining situation, what’s a pirate to do? For one, they pillaged. For pirates sailing the waters of Spanish America, beef was a hot commodity for pirates as a single head of cattle could go a long way when it came to feeding a hungry crew. In 1666, French pirate François l’Onnais promised to leave the Venezuelan port city of Maracaibo if, among other riches, he was supplied with 500 head of cattle. In 1668, Henry Morgan, the namesake of the rum, invaded Puerto del Principe in Cuba, also demanding a ransom of 500 cattle. And in 1682, Captain Jean Toccard took the Mexican port of Tampico for the sole purpose of slaughtering cows for provisions. In addition to beef, turtle was also a valued source of protein, and ideal in that it was readily found along beaches and could be kept alive and serve as a source of fresh meat when out to sea.
Pirates also had to be resourceful with the staples that they had—especially when it came to making pickled and salted foods palatable. In the West Indies, a popular pirate dish among marauders was salmagundi, a stew of the odds-and-ends of meat and vegetables thrown into a communal pot and heavily seasoned. In his book Pirates and Piracy, author David Reinhardt provides a litany of ingredients one might find in the cauldron and the manner of preparation:
Included might be any of the following: turtle meat, fish, pork, chicken, corned beef, ham, duck and pigeon. The meats would be roasted, chopped into pieces and marinated in spied wine, then mixed with cabbage, anchovies, pickled herring, mangoes, hard-boiled eggs, palm hearts, onions, olives, grapes and any other pickled vegetable available. The entire concoction would then be highly seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, and mustard seed and soaked with oil and vinegar.
Legend has it that Bartholomew Roberts, whose years of marauding earned him the posthumous Forbes magazine distinction of being one of the highest-earning pirates, was eating salmagundi when he was attacked—and killed—by the Royal Navy ship HMS Swallow.
The historical pirate diet may not appeal to the modern diner. Nevertheless, for those wishing to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day to the hilt by setting an appropriately-themed spread, you have a few options. The New England Pirate Museum has a freeform salmagundi recipe that’ll allow you to make the classic pirate meal, but without all the pickled and salt-cured ingredients. You can also use the day as a personal challenge to raid ye pantry and figure out how you can turn the provisions you have on hand into a hearty stew.
Although grog in its original conception was utilitarian more than anything else, it has since been re-imagined as a cocktail to be enjoyed for its palate-pleasing merits. Check out these three on-the-rocks versions of the cocktail here, with recipes using a variety of rums paired with grapefruit, lime and orange juices. You can also enjoy your grog hot, spiced with cinnamon and brown sugar. If you’re dying to try hardtack, recipes and videos are out there to show you how to make this classic survival food. Personally, I’d dive into a package of Wasa crackers and call it a day.
Breverton, Terry. The Pirate Dictionary. Canada: Pelican, 2004.
Marley, David F. Daily Life of Pirates. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012.
Hamilton, John. A Pirate’s Life. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company, 2007.
September 13, 2013
Last winter, salt farmer Ben Jacobsen opened a saltworks on the grounds of an old oyster farm stationed on a lonely stretch of the northwest Oregon coast. Jacobsen’s delicate, crunchy flake salt has quickly and quietly become the essential mineral underpinning some of the best cooking in America, beloved by the likes of Thomas Keller and April Bloomfield. (Or perhaps not so quietly: recently, Bloomfield sang its praises while preparing peas on toast for Jimmy Fallon on late-night television). Though he is little known outside the rarefied world of top chefs, Jacobsen is intent on bringing high-end American salt to the home table.
“Ben’s salt is all about the story, our connection to where the food comes from, which I respect,” the salt expert Mark Bitterman told Portland Monthly earlier this year. He carries Jacobsen flake salt at both the New York and Portland locations of The Meadow, his high-end salt boutique. “But he is a guy who has been playing with salt for a few years; he could never come close to a Frenchman following a hundred-year-old tradition for making fleur de sel.”
The slight stung. But as it happened, Jacobsen’s attempt at making America’s first-ever fleur de sel was already underway. Despite the fact that the United States is the second-largest industrial producer of salt in the world, behind China, very little of it is used for cooking; chefs have always looked elsewhere for their salts. The labor-intensive process of making fleur de sel, the most prized of the sea salts, traditionally involves harvesting by hand from the salt ponds of Guèrande, Brittany, on the coast of France, when the weather is warm and the seas still (between June and September.)
Paludiers, trained for years in the art of salt harvesting, carefully rake and collect the top layer of crystals (the “flower,” which only holds its shape in calm conditions). The salt is valued by chefs for its high moisture content — it maintains its integrity when finishing hot dishes like steak or fish — and for the mineral richness that imparts a sense of place. Flake salt, on the other hand, has flat, large crystals and a brighter, cleaner taste; it’s recommended for use on salads, vegetables, and baked goods. Ancestral salt fields have been found everywhere from Peru and the Philippines to Portugal, and the best fleur de sel today is still carefully picked in those places.
“It’s so peculiar that we haven’t had a fleur de sel to call our own,” Jacobsen said recently. Hanging out with Jacobsen in his Portland neighborhood shows him to be a surprisingly appropriate ambassador for the humble-yet-essential role of salt in cooking: he’s an unassuming, amiable guy in a plaid shirt and denim trucker hat who’s liked by all, and you don’t notice that he’s everywhere until you actually start looking around. (His flake salt is used in the city’s top restaurants, and carried in boutiques from here to the Atlantic coast.) Jacobsen is earnest when he says he thinks it’s about time for a great American salt, given that the country is surrounded by salt water. “As chefs and home cooks,” he observes, “we’ve forgotten about our resources.”
It turns out that the Oregon coast has a salt-making pedigree of its own, hosting an operation during the winter of 1805-1806, when five men on the Lewis and Clark expedition were dispatched to the sea to gather salt for elk meat that was already spoiling. For two months, they camped a hundred paces from the ocean and kept five brass kettles of seawater boiling around the clock, eventually producing three and a half bushels of salt for the return journey across the continent. Lewis called the product “excellent, fine, strong, & white.”
At the modern-day operations of Jacobsen Salt Co., not much has changed with regard to the science: it still involves boiling seawater down to make salt. But with regard to rigor, the process is a great deal more stringent (in scaling up, Jacobsen has hired a chemist to help streamline production with precision). To make his flake salt, Jacobsen pipes seawater up from pristine Netarts Bay, a protected conservation estuary; filters it through seven different systems; and boils it down to remove calcium and magnesium (the minerals give salt a bitter aftertaste, and also interrupt crystal formation). Once the desired salinity is achieved, Jacobsen evaporates the rest in custom stainless-steel pans kept at a constant temperature, so that salt crystals form on the surface. On a recent visit, I watched as series of crystals grew to completion and fell to the bottom of the pan, one by one, drifting like snowflakes.
Making fleur de sel — though laborious in its own way — involves even more waiting. At the time of this writing, Jacobsen is patiently evaporating the first batch of fleur de sel in a hoop house outside the main facility, using just the sun. Unlike flake salt, fleur de sel is made from unfiltered seawater, so that the natural minerality comes through. Each batch can take anywhere from two to twelve weeks, depending on the weather, and each pond can produce 100 pounds of salt. As the water evaporates, Jacobsen uses a pond skimmer to carefully collect the crystals. He is wrapping up plans to farm an acre of fleur de sel at a new location on the coast, with a facility dedicated to the specialty salt (with the use of greenhouses, he expects to be able to extend the traditional fleur de sel “season” by a month or two on either end).
According to Jacobsen, the quality of Netarts Bay seawater is among the best in the world, and it’s validated by the chefs who buy his flake salt every week. So it only follows that fleur de sel made from that water would have an excellent flavor profile that’s uniquely representative of this part of the Pacific coast.
Despite the care put into each jar of product, the salts are meant to be used, and not in a precious way. The fetishizing of artisanal food products, Jacobsen says, has made it difficult for the average American consumer to feel comfortable buying and using really good salt. “People will spend $150 for a bottle of wine for a two-hour dinner,” he told me. “But good salt is one of those things you can spend less than $10 on, and it will last a household for two months. It elevates everything, and it’s a luxury you can have at your table.”
You’ll be able to buy his fresh-off-farm fleur de sel for your table on October 3 from Jacobsen’s website and various retail outlets.
Good Salt for Your Kitchen
We asked Jason French — chef at the Portland restaurant Ned Ludd, and fan of Jacobsen Salt — to give us an easy home recipe that highlights what a good salt like fleur de sel can do. Here’s what he came up with.
Salt-and-spice-cured trout and arugula salad with capers and lemon cream
Serves four as an appetizer, or two as a main course
For the trout:
2 boneless skin-on trout fillets
6 thinly sliced lemons
For the cure:
2 T. Jacobsen fleur de sel
3 T. sugar
1 heaping T. garam masala (a traditional North Indian spice mix easily found in any supermarket)
For the salad:
1 large bunch arugula, washed, soaked in ice water, and spun dry
3 T. brined small capers, rinsed
1/2 c. parsley leaves
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
Jacobsen fleur de sel
For the lemon cream:
1 shallot, peeled and minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream
Jacobsen fleur de sel
1. Lightly toast the spices in a pan until aromatic. Cool and mix with the fleur de sel and sugar. Place the trout on a small sheet pan lined with plastic wrap. Coat the flesh of the trout fillet well with the cure and lay three slices of lemon to cover. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the trout and cover with another sheet pan and weight with some canned items from your pantry. Place in the refrigerator for 4 hours.
2. Make the lemon cream by macerating the shallots in the lemon juice and zest for 20-30 minutes. Season with a pinch of fleur de sel. In a separate bowl whisk the cream until just starting to thicken and mix with the shallots. Continue to whisk until lightly thickened. This should be made just before the salad is served.
3. For the salad, chop the capers and parsley together. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk lightly. Season with a pinch of salt. Toss with the arugula.
4. Divide the arugula between the plates. Rinse and dry the trout fillet and slice thinly at an angle using broad strokes, peeling the flesh away from the skin with each slice. Divide among the plates. Drizzle the lemon cream over the trout and arugula and serve. (Note: the trout may be done ahead of time, but make sure to rinse and dry it so it doesn’t over cure.
Bonnie Tsui writes frequently for The New York Times, and is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.
August 13, 2013
The science is pretty sound that carrots, by virtue of their heavy dose of Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), are good for your eye health. A 1998 Johns Hopkins study, as reported by the New York Times, even found that supplemental pills could reverse poor vision among those with a Vitamin A deficiency. But as John Stolarczyk knows all too well as curator of the World Carrot Museum, the truth has been stretched into a pervasive myth that carrots hold within a super-vegetable power: improving your night-time vision. But carrots cannot help you see better in the dark any more than eating blueberries will turn you blue.
“Somewhere on the journey the message that carrots are good for your eyes became disfigured into improving eyesight,” Stolarczyk says. His virtual museum, 125 pages full of surprising and obscure facts about carrots, investigates how the myth became so popular: British propaganda from World War II.
Stolarczyk is not confident about the exact origin of the faulty carrot theory, but believes that it was reinforced and popularized by the Ministry of Information, an offshoot of a subterfuge campaign to hide a technology critical to an Allied victory.
During the 1940 Blitzkrieg, the Luftwaffe often struck under the cover of darkness. In order to make it more difficult for the German planes to hit targets, the British government issued citywide blackouts. The Royal Air Force were able to repel the German fighters in part because of the development of a new, secret radar technology. The on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI), first used by the RAF in 1939, had the ability to pinpoint enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel. But to keep that under wraps, according to Stolarczyk’s research pulled from the files of the Imperial War Museum, the Mass Observation Archive, and the UK National Archives, the Ministry provided another reason for their success: carrots.
In 1940, RAF night fighter ace, John Cunningham, nicknamed “Cat’s Eyes”, was the first to shoot down an enemy plane using AI. He’d later rack up an impressive total of 20 kills—19 of which were at night. According to “Now I Know” writer Dan Lewis, also a Smithsonian.com contributor, the Ministry told newspapers that the reason for their success was because pilots like Cunningham ate an excess of carrots.
The ruse, meant to send German tacticians on a wild goose chase, may or may not have fooled them as planned, says Stolarczyk.
“I have no evidence they [the Germans] fell for it, other than that the use of carrots to help with eye health was well ingrained in the German psyche. It was believed that they had to fall for some of it,” Stolarczyk wrote in an email as he reviewed Ministry files for his upcoming book, tentatively titled How Carrots Helped Win World War II. “There are apocryphal tales that the Germans started feeding their own pilots carrots, as they thought there was some truth in it.”
Whether or not the Germans bought it, the British public generally believed that eating carrots would help them see better during the citywide blackouts. Advertisements with the slogan “Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout” (like the one pictured below) appeared everywhere.
But the carrot craze didn’t stop there—according to the Food Ministry, when a German blockade of food supply ships made many resources such as sugar, bacon and butter unavailable, the war could be won on the “Kitchen Front” if people changed what they ate and how they prepared it. In 1941, Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, emphasized the call for self-sustainability in the garden:
“This is a food war. Every extra row of vegetables in allotments saves shipping. The battle on the kitchen front cannot be won without help from the kitchen garden. Isn’t an hour in the garden better than an hour in the queue?”
That same year, the British Ministry of Food launched a Dig For Victory Campaign which introduced the cartoons ”Dr. Carrot” and “Potato Pete”, to get people to eat more of the vegetables (bread and vegetables were never on the ration during the war). Advertisements encouraged families to start “Victory Gardens” and to try new recipes using surplus foods as substitutes for those less available. Carrots were promoted as a sweetener in desserts in the absence of sugar, which was rationed to eight ounces per adult per week. The Ministry’s “War Cookery Leaflet 4″ was filled with recipes for carrot pudding, carrot cake, carrot marmalade and carrot flan. Concoctions like “Carrolade” made from rutabagas and carrots emerged from other similar sources.
Citizens regularly tuned into radio broadcasts like “The Kitchen Front“, a daily, five-minute BBC program that doled out hints and tips for new recipes. According to Stolarczyk, the Ministry of Food encouraged so much extra production of the vegetable that by 1942, it was looking at 100,000 ton surplus of carrots.
Stolarczyk has tried many of the recipes including Woolton Pie (named for Lord Woolton), Carrot Flan and Carrot Fudge. Carrolade, he says, was one of the stranger ideas.
“The Ministry of Food had what I call a ‘silly ideas’ section where they threw out crazy ideas to see what would stick—this was one of those,” he says. “At the end of the day, the people were not stupid. If it tasted horrible, they tended to shy away.”
Dr. Carrot was everywhere—radio shows, posters, even Disney helped out. Hank Porter, a leading Disney cartoonist designed a whole family based on the idea of Dr. Carrot—Carroty George, Pop Carrot and Clara Carrot—for the British to promote to the public.
Dr. Carrot and Carroty George had some competition in the U.S., however—from wise-guy carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny, born around the same time. While Bugs served his own role in U.S. WWII propaganda cartoons, the connection between his tagline, “What’s up Doc?,” and the UK’s “Dr. Carrot” is probably just a coincidence.