December 4, 2013
Italian culinary doctrine – a constitution held up by Italian home matriarchs where infractions can be punishable by no supper or death – is very clear on the subject.
Cheese and seafood shall not be mixed. Ever.
Yet, if you stumble around France long enough you’re bound to find someone who prepares mussels in an earthy blue cheese broth spiked with white wine and garlic. In Chile, you’ll find both millennials and retirees ordering plates of Machas à La Parmesana, clams baked in wine, butter, and a mild-tasting Chilean version of Parmesan. And who can forget social gatherings in the nineties where no party was without oyster dip packed with enough cream cheese to send a marathon runner into cardiac arrest?
If the idea of combining seafood and cheese is such a widely-accepted global phenomenon, why is the concept so distasteful to so many Italian home cooks? And, hey, let’s not just point fingers at Italians here. A lot of people in the United States have adopted this notion, if for no other reason that they’ve heard it since birth.
So where did this commandment originate? One explanation may stem from gustatory common sense: seafood tends to have a more delicate constitution, and those subtle flavors can be drowned out by a heady, assertive cheese. Since cheese is produced by fermenting milk, microbial factors such as molds, enzymes, and friendly bacteria cause drastic changes to the milk’s chemical components and their flavors often become more intense. Cheese also loses moisture as it ages, further concentrating its complex flavors and fatty texture. It’s no wonder cheese can easily overpower seafood’s understated qualities.
Some ocean dwellers are especially delicate — such as flounder, haddock, clams, oysters, and Atlantic shad — and they should be carefully seasoned when cooked. This is why many recipes involving these proteins rely on simplicity; a sprinkling of green peppercorns, a quick lashing of lemon juice, perhaps a pat of tarragon butter. The stronger personalities of some cheeses would stomp out those subtle sweet and salty notes, leaving no flavors behind except for, well, cheese.
Another explanation for this taboo may lie in Italy’s geography. Major cheesemaking regions such as Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardy, and Veneto are all largely landlocked. Their regions have a terroir that makes for easy grazing for livestock and, thus, their cuisines are largely accustomed to the addition of cheeses such as Grana Padano, Bra, or Asiago as both a primary and supporting ingredient. Given their distance from the sea, few people in these regions had ready access to a steady supply of fresh seafood (rivers or lakes notwithstanding, and not necessarily always a source of abundance). So, recipes may likely developed over the centuries without giving seafood any consideration.
As always, though, rules are meant to be broken. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t pair fish and cheese. Rather, we’re enthusiastic advocates for smartly coupling seafood and dairy, and in the hands of a skilled chef, recipes combining the two can raise the roof, elevating both ingredients to new heights. “When used correctly, cheese can enhance the flavors of many seafood dishes,” says Dennis Littley, a chef and culinary instructor with decades of experience under his belt. “Those old customs are falling by the wayside as chefs have become more creative with the blending of flavors. One of my most popular specials was a seafood alfredo that included shrimp, scallops and lump crabmeat. It was amazing!”
You don’t need to be a classically trained chef to pair cheese and seafood at home. Consider pizza, where cured fillets of oily, briny anchovies mingle their oils with those of melted mozzarella. Or look to classic dishes such as sea bass with fresh chevré and chopped herbs, bagels with cream cheese and lox, and our personal dinner party favorite, salmon fillets dredged in a Parmesan-bread crumb mixture before being seared in butter. Theses dishes work, and they work well.
And so it seems that seafood and cheese can indeed play nicely. “It’s really about finding a balance,” says Kirstin Jackson, trained chef and author of It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese. “Fish and cheese can be a touchy pairing, but when done right they can be as endearing as an eighty year-old couple walking down the street holding hands.”
Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord are the authors of MELT: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, available now on Amazon and local retailers.
Brigante with Tilapia, Shallots, Spring Herbs, and Fusilli
Tilapia’s subtle sea-life sensibilities are easily drowned out by complicated flavors, though a traditionally seasoned Béarnaise sauce play up the fish’s gentle nature. Here we’ve echoed that experience by pairing shallots, tarragon, and chervil – all classic herbal flavors – with Brigante, a smooth, buttery sheep’s milk cheese that contributes a touch of tang to the dish. Shredded tilapia makes this creamy stovetop mac an incredibly decadent experience without extra weight; a perfect marriage of cheese and seafood.
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1⁄4 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
4 teaspoons chopped chervil
1⁄2 teaspoon coarsely ground black peppercorns
1⁄4 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon Blanc
2 small tilapia fillets, about 1⁄2 pound total
8 ounces fusilli
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons flour
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 ounces Brigante, rind removed, grated
Lemon wedges to garnish
1. In a sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, then add tarragon, chervil, and pepper. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then add white wine. Cook, still stirring constantly, until a good amount of the liquid has cooked off—about 2 minutes. Transfer shallots and herbs to a small bowl and return the pan to the stove.
2. In the same sauté pan—do not rinse it—add 1 tablespoon of butter and turn heat to medium. Sauté tilapia fillets for 3 minutes on each side, making sure to get a nice, crispy layer where the fish touches the pan. Transfer to a bowl and shred coarsely with two forks. Set aside.
3. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and set aside.
4. To prepare the mornay sauce, heat the milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat. As soon as the milk starts to steam and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, turn off the heat. Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium flame. Add the flour and stir with a flat-edge wooden paddle just until the roux begins to take on a light brown color, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon—a finger drawn along the back of the spoon should leave a clear swath. Lower heat to medium-low, add salt, pepper, and sautéed shallots and herbs. Remove from heat and add cheese to sauce, stirring until completely melted.
5. In a large bowl, add pasta to the mornay and toss to coat. Gently fold in the shredded fish; you don’t want to smash it. Serve hot and garnish with lemon wedges.
Alternative cheeses: San Andreas, Berkswell, Shepherd’s way Friesago, Young Mahón
Wine pairings: Musca- det from the Loire Valley (Melon de Bourgogne grape), French Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto or Vermentino from Italy
Additional pairings for the cheese: Lucques or picholine olives, roasted red peppers with olive oil, smoked paprika
Mussels in White Wine Broth with Fourme d’Ambert
Light, tender, and briny, mussels love the spotlight when they’re onstage. In the supporting role, we recommend a flavorful broth that gently hugs each chunk of meat without acting like a prima donna. Here we buddy up our shellfish with Fourme d’Ambert, one of France’s oldest cheeses, to provide licks of earthiness and sweet cream, both of which play up the mussels gently salty qualities. Whoever said blue cheese and seafood don’t mix?
2 pounds Prince Edward Island mussels
8 ounces spiral pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces Fourme d’Ambert, crumbled
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Dash of finishing salt such as Kosher, Maldon, Sel Gris (do not use iodized table salt)
A loaf of crusty bread for serving
1. Soak the mussels in a large pot of cold water for about 30 minutes to coax them to spit out any sand or grit they may have. Toss out the water and cover the mussels again with fresh cold water for another 30 minutes to encourage them to cleanse themselves a bit more.
2. De-beard the mussels by taking their byssal threads (their “beards”) and giving them a good yank until they come off. Discard the beards and set the mussels aside. Toss any mussels that aren’t closed, as these are already dead and not edible.
3. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain the pasta through a colander and set aside.
4. While the pasta cooks, place a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter and allow to melt. Once the butter begins to bubble a bit add the onion and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the onions have softened a bit.
5. Add the white wine and pepper. Bring to a boil and add the Fourme d’Ambert. Once the cheese melts into the wine, lower the heat to medium and add the mussels. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and cook for about 6 or 7 minutes, being sure to give the mussels a stir after about 4 minutes. Discard any mussels that are closed as these were dead before cooking. (Some may be only slightly open; if you have to debate about whether it’s good to eat or not, toss it. Better safe than sorry.) Remove from heat.
6. Squeeze lemon juice over the mussels and toss together with the parsley and the finishing salt. Spoon the pasta into wide bowls, ladling mussels and broth over them and serve.
Alternative Cheeses: Gorgonzola Dolce, Cashel Blue, Roquefort, Cambozola
Wine pairings: dry Chenin Blanc, sparkling Chenin Blanc, dry Rosé
Additional pairings for the cheese, outside of this recipe: membrillo, quince jam, apple butter
September 11, 2013
In January, a single bluefin tuna was purchased by a wealthy restaurateur in Tokyo for nearly $2 million—something of a publicity stunt yet indicative of just how much the modern sushi industry values this creature. Japanese chefs handle cuts of red bluefin flesh as reverently as Italians might a white truffle, or a French oenophile a bottle of a 1945 Bordeaux. And a single sliver of the fat, buttery belly meat, called toro, or sometimes o-toro, in Japanese, can pull $25 from one’s wallet. The bluefin, truly, is probably the most prized and valuable fish in the world.
But it wasn’t always this way. Several decades ago, the very same fish were essentially worthless worldwide. People caught them for fun along the Atlantic Coast—especially in Nova Scotia, Maine and Massachusetts—and though few ever ate their catch, they didn’t usually let the tuna go, either. During the height of the tuna sport fishing craze in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the big fish were weighed and photographed, then sent to landfills. Others were mashed up into pet food. Perhaps the best of scenarios was when dead bluefin tuna—which usually weighed at least 400 pounds—were dumped back into the sea, where at least their biomass was recycled into the marine food web. But it all amounts to the same point: The mighty bluefin tuna was a trash fish.
The beef-red flesh, many say, is smelly and strong tasting, and, historically, the collective palate of Japan preferred milder species, like the various white-fleshed fishes and shellfish still popular among many sushi chefs. Other tuna species, too—including yellowfin and bigeye—were unpopular in Japan, and only in the 19th century did this begin to change. So says Trevor Corson, author of the 2007 book The Story of Sushi. Corson told Food and Think in an interview that an increase in tuna landings in the 1830s and early 1840s provided Tokyo street vendors with a surplus of cheap tuna. The meat was not a delicacy, by any means. Nor was it even known as a food product. In fact, tuna was commonly called neko-matagi, meaning “fish that even a cat would disdain.” But at least one sidewalk sushi chef tried something new, slicing the raw meat thin, dousing it in soy sauce and serving it as “nigiri sushi.”
The style caught on, though most of the chefs used yellowfin tuna. Occasionally, chefs made use of large bluefins, and one trick they learned to soften the rich flavor of the meat was to age it underground for several days. The way Japanese diners regarded raw, ruddy fish flesh began changing. This marked a turning point in the history of sushi, Corson says—but he points out that the bluefin tuna would remain essentially unwanted for decades more.
In the early 20th century, sport fishing began gaining popularity in the United States and Canada—and few fish were more exciting to hunt than the giant bluefins that migrated about the Atlantic and passed through near-shore waters in New England and southeast Canada. In Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, interest in catching giant bluefins proliferated among wealthy boat fishermen armed with enormous, crane-like rods and reels, and in 1937, local organizers held the first International Tuna Cup Match.
The event became a festive annual gala of wealthy boatmen vying for victory. Naturally, it was also a brutal bloodfest. The 1949 event saw 72 bluefin tuna landed—the highest number ever caught in the 28-year span the derby was held. The fish were giants, averaging 419 pounds. Such exact measurement depended on subduing and killing them, and almost certainly, most were later discarded. Author Paul Greenberg writes in his 2010 book Four Fish, which profiles the bluefin as among the world’s most important seafood species, that just like the Japanese at the time, “Americans considered bluefin too bloody to eat and had no interest in bringing home their catch.”
Many—probably thousands—of enormous bluefins caught last century by sport fishermen were killed, hoisted for photographs, then either thrown out entirely or sold to processors of cat and dog food.
The dramatic turnaround began in the early 1970s. Beef had become popular in Japan, and with a national palate now more appreciative of strong flavors and dark flesh, bluefin tuna became a desired item. It was also about this time that cargo planes delivering electronics from Japan to the United States and returning home empty began taking advantage of the opportunity to buy cheap tuna carcasses near New England fishing docks and sell them back in Japan for thousands of dollars.
“Bluefin tuna is an amazing example of something we have been made to think is an authentic Japanese tradition,” Corson says. “Really, it was a marketing scheme of the Japanese airline industry.”
Corson says that advancements in refrigeration technology at about this time facilitated what was growing quickly into a new and prosperous industry. Now able to freeze and preserve all the tuna they could carry at sea, operators of huge fishing vessels were able to return home with lucrative hauls. By the time sport angler Ken Fraser caught a 13-foot-long Nova Scotia tuna in 1979 that weighed 1,496 pounds, things had changed for the bluefin. People were still killing them—but not wasting them.
Even sport fishermen often purchased commercial licenses, intending to sell what they caught to the Japanese sushi market. Giant bluefin would no longer be sent to pet food factories. The species had become a delicacy. The popularity spread back across the ocean, and soon Americans developed a taste for bluefin meat. By the 1990s, the bluefin tuna was wanted almost desperately worldwide.
The rest of the bluefin story has been told many times, but the worsening scenario mandates a quick recap: The Atlantic species has crashed from rapturous, water-thrashing abundance to scarcity. It has been estimated that a mere 9,000 adults still spawn each year in the Mediterranean. A British scientist named Callum Roberts estimated that for every 50 bluefins swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in 1940 there was just one in 2010. By most accounts, the population is down by more than 80 percent. The Pacific bluefin, smaller and genetically distinct from the Atlantic species, has fared better over the decades, but the relentless sushi industry seems to eventually catch up with all fatty, fast-swimming pelagics. Fishery scientists recently estimated the Pacific stocks to be just 4 percent of their virgin, pre-fishery biomass. Ironically, in the days when the bluefin’s value has never been higher, sport fishermen are increasingly releasingthe tuna they catch.
Corson, once a commercial fisherman himself, no longer eats bluefin.
“It’s not even that good,” he says. “It’s got this distinct, not-so-subtle, tangy iron flavor, and it melts in your mouth. This makes it very easy to like.” Too easy, that is. Corson says that “old-school sushi holdouts who are still loyal to the older version of sushi” share the same opinion. Among these diners and chefs, the melt-in-your-mouth sensation that has proved so marketable and so devastating to the bluefin tuna is considered simplistic and unsophisticated. “They consider [bluefin] toro to be sort of for amateurs,” Corson says. Instead, traditional sushi connoisseurs enjoy the often crunchier, more subtly flavored muscle tissues of animals like squid, clams, various jacks, flounder and, perhaps most of all, sea bream, or Pagrus major.
To help reveal to others the authentic history of sushi and just how gratifying it can be to eat lesser known species rather than the blubbery bluefin tuna, Corson leads regular tasting classes in New York City. “I’m trying in my own little way to show one person at a time how great traditional sushi can be,” he says. Bluefin is not on the menu at these events.
Whether the culinary world will embrace the true traditions of sushi and turn away from bluefin before the species goes commercially extinct is unclear. Corson notes that he has never seen a species go from coveted delicacy to reviled junk fish. “It’s usually a process of expansion,” he says.
Indeed, restaurant owner Kiyoshi Kimura’s purchase of a 488-pound bluefin for $1.76 million at the Tsukiji fish market this January indicates that the bluefin is more valued than ever now. We might drop our jaws at this, thinking it obscenely wasteful. And though it was similarly wasteful to grind countless big tuna, from head to tail to toro, into cat food, it does seem that the bluefin might have been better off had we just gone on regarding it as trash.
July 29, 2013
Salmon are one of nature’s miracles, a resource of protein and nitrogen that feeds entire ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial. Far inland, within river basins of the Pacific Northwest, their biomass nourishes the soil, while at sea, nearly every level of predator–from rockfish to halibut to seal to orca–relies at least partially on this abundant source of food. Salmon are also one of the most revered guests in any kitchen. Their bright red meat is so distinct and so delicious that it hardly qualifies merely as seafood but, rather, occupies a princely culinary category of its own. But within the Pacific salmon genus, Oncorhynchus, there are five main species–and they are all very different. Some restaurant menus will specify the species–especially if the fish is Chinook, also called king. Other times, salmon is sold anonymously or under false marketing names–like “silverbrite” for the ill-named chum salmon. Some is, of course, farmed–almost always the Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar–but such cage-raised fish are not a part of this discussion. Here, we catch, taste and discuss the wild Pacific salmon–from the reddest to the biggest to the best.
What this little fish lacks in size it makes up for in sheer abundance. The pink, or humpie, salmon averages just several pounds in weight–like a large trout–but teems in ocean waters from Oregon to Alaska in the tens of millions. They surge upstream to spawn in astonishing numbers, actually clogging streams at times and making easy pickings for bears, birds, wolves and humans. In places along the Pacific Northwest coast, residents may notice a putrid scent emanating from the woods in mid-summer–literally the smell of a good pink year. Pinks caught in the ocean are the best, as with all salmon. But pinks are not known for their excellence as a table fish. Their meat at its prime–before it begins to deteriorate as the fish swim upstream to spawn and die–is grayish-pink. Indeed, many fishermen believe the pink is good for nothing but canning or halibut bait. Others–like this writer–have found sea-bright pinks to be excellent when wrapped in foil, seasoned and grilled.
Few, if any, fish are more prized by fishermen, whether commercial or recreational, than this giant of the salmon family. The Chinook can grow to the size of a human–more than 100 pounds–and also bears the highest fat content of all the five Pacific salmon species. It is generally considered the most delicious, and its secondary name–the king salmon–is absolutely appropriate in more ways than one. Chinook salmon grow largest in Alaskan waters but also spawn in rivers as far south as the Sacramento and the San Joaquin of California, where they are the only commercially caught salmon. A barbecued steak of king, lightly salted, peppered and drizzled with lemon juice, takes seafood lovers into epicurean heaven. Such a cut provides a cross section of the entire creature–from its crispy-when-grilled skin, to the firm back muscle, to the velvety soft and succulent belly meat–often named as the very best part. Can you believe that some fishermen intentionally cut away the belly flesh to use as crab bait? Chinook salmon have declined in numbers in the southern extent of their range, due mostly to destruction of river habitat, while a poorly managed sport fishing industry for the giants of Alaska’s Kenai River has caused a recent population crash–and an emergency closure on the season.
This large and powerful fish is the least known of the Pacific salmon and usually receives the least love–if only because we rarely have a chance to give it any. After they enter freshwater to embark upon their terminal spawning migrations, chums transform dramatically into the ugliest beasts in the Oncorhynchus genus. Their mouths curl into wicked, toothy snarls–especially on males–and their chrome bodies turn brown as large reddish bars and blotches appear along the lateral line. When caught at sea or outside of river mouths, where they often co-mingle with hoards of pink salmon, chums are bright, fresh and–when taken home to eat–perfectly delicious. Some sources suggest cooking chum salmon with a sauce to help moisten the flesh, which is dry compared to that of Chinook or Coho.
But chum, also called dog salmon, was once mainly fed to sled dogs in the far north. It’s rarely found in most American seafood markets, as much of the annual catch goes overseas. Efforts to create culinary demand for chum salmon have struggled and have generally relied on false marketing names, like Keta (the Latin species name of the fish) and Silverbrite (as though all ocean-fresh salmon are not both silver and bright).
Esteemed as a fighting game fish as much as it is a food fish, the Coho is unofficially ranked as number-two in the salmon clan. It grows large (up to 30 pounds), aggressively strikes lures and flies and fights wildly when hooked. On the table, it performs just as spectacularly. It has a high oil content (though not as high as the Chinook’s) and its meat is rich, red and delicious. In Alaska, Coho salmon remain abundant. The fish are able to spawn in tiny creeks and once did so in virtually every moving West Coast waterway from Santa Barbara to the Arctic. However, south of Canada, Coho habitat–often streams that have been drained, filled, buried or otherwise fouled by development–has dwindled, and so have the fish. Coho cannot be harvested in much of their sub-Canadian range, and most Coho that arrives on your plate is Alaskan.
This second-smallest of the Pacific salmon may be tied with the Coho in terms of table quality. Sockeye flesh is brilliantly colored–almost fluorescent orange–and even when canned is sold as gourmet-grade fish. When served fresh, it is top notch–firm, rich and flavorful. In fact, many salmon devotees consider sockeye the absolute best of all the salmon–even better than the king–however one decides to cook it. Sockeye salmon spawn almost exclusively in river systems connected to lakes, but this biological prerequisite hardly detracts from their abundance. They rival pinks in terms of millions and historically swam up the Columbia River in water-clogging millions, their heads turning green and their bodies brilliant red. Those days are gone south of Canada, thanks to hydroelectric dams, logging and other forms of habitat destruction, but in the Fraser, the Kenai, the Yukon and other river systems–many hardly wider than a sidewalk–sockeye salmon still thrive, and those fillets so red they seem like they’d glow in the dark remain perhaps the most abundant form of wild salmon.
May 15, 2013
There are plenty of examples of structures built from recycled materials—even Buddhist temples have been made from them. In Sima Valley, California, an entire village known as Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village was constructed from reused glass. But this is no new concept—back in 1960, executives at the Heineken brewery drew up a plan for a “brick that holds beer,” a rectangular beer bottle that could also be used to build homes.
Gerard Adriaan Heineken acquired the “Haystack” brewery in 1864 in Amsterdam, marking the formal beginning of the eponymous brand that is now one of the most successful international breweries. Since the first beer consignment was delivered to the United States upon the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, it has been a top seller in the United States. The distinctive, bright green of a Heineken beer bottle can be found in more than 70 countries today. The founder’s grandson, Alfred Heineken, began his career with the company in 1942 and was later elected Chairman of the Executive Board at Heineken International. Alfred, better known as “Freddy,”oversaw the design of the classic red-starred label released in 1964. He had a good eye for marketing and design.”Had I not been a beer brewer I would have become an advertising man,” he once said. When Freddy’s beer took off in the international market, he made it a point to visit the plants the company had opened as a part of its globalization strategy.
In 1960, Freddy took a trip to the island of Curacao in the Caribbean Sea and discovered that he could barely walk 15 feet on the beach without stepping on a littered Heineken bottle. He was alarmed by two things: First, the incredible amount of waste that his product was creating due to the region’s lack of infrastructure to collect the bottles for reuse. (Back then, bottles were commonly returned for refilling, lasting about 30 trips back and forth to the breweries). Second, the dearth of proper building materials available to those living in the impoverished communities he visited. So he thought up an idea that might solve both of these problems: A brick that holds beer.
The rectangular, Heineken World Bottle or WOBO, designed with the help of architect John Habraken, would serve as a drinking vessel as well as a brick once the contents were consumed. The long side of the bottle would have interlocking grooved surfaces so that the glass bricks, once laid on their side, could be stacked easily with mortar or cement. A 10-foot-by-10-foot shack would take approximately 1,000 bottles (and a lot of beer consumption) to build. Yu Ren Guang explains in Packaging Prototypes 3: Thinking Green:
“On returning to Holland [from Curacao], Alfred set about conceiving the first ever bottle designed specifically for secondary use as a building component, thereby turning the function of packaging on its head. By this philosophy, Alfred Heineken saw his beer as a useful product to fill a brick with while being shipped overseas. It became more a case of redesigning the brick than the bottle.”
A handful of designers have accepted Alfred’s WOBO as one of the first eco-conscious consumer designs out there. Martin Pawley, for example, writes in Garbage Housing, that the bottle was “the first mass production container ever designed from the outset for secondary use as a building component.”
There were many variations of the original prototype—all of which were ultimately rejected as many components were considered unworkable. For example, a usable beer bottle needs a neck from which to pour the beer and a protruding neck makes it harder to stack the product once the beer’s run out—problematic for brick laying. The finalized design came in two sizes—350 and 500 milimeters (35 and 50 centimeters)—the smaller of which acted as half-bricks to even out rows during construction. In 1963, the company made 50,000 WOBOs for commercial use.
Both designs (one of the wooden prototypes is pictured in Nigel Whiteley’s Design for Society), were ultimately rejected by the Heineken company. The first prototype for example, was described by the Heineken marketing team as too “effeminate” as the bottle lacked ‘approprate’ connotations of masculinity. A puzzling description, Cabinet writes, “considering that the bottle consisted of two bulbous compartments surmounted by a long shaft.”
For the second model, Habraken and Heineken had to thicken the glass because it was meant to be laid horizontally—a costly decision for an already progressive concept. The established cylindrical designs were more cost effective and could be produced faster than the proposed brick design. But what most likely worked against Habraken’s design was that customers simply liked the easy-to-hold, cylindrical bottle.
Though the brick bottles never saw the market, in 1965 a prototype glass house was built near Alfred Heineken’s villa in Noordwijk, outside Amsterdam. Even the plastic shipping pallets intended for the product were reused as sheet roofing. The two buildings still stand at the company’s former brewery-turned-museum, The Heineken Experience.
Where Heineken failed in creating a reusable brick bottle, the company EM1UM succeeded. The bottles, which were easier to manufacture for most automatic bottling machines than Heineken’s design, were made to attach lengthways or sideways by pushing the knobs of one into the depressions of another. EM1UM was mostly successful in Argentina and collected awards for bottle designs including prisms, cubes and cylinders.
In 2008, French design company, Petit Romain, made plans to make its own take on Alfred Heineken’s WOBO design, the Heineken Cube. It’s similar to the original concept in that it’s stackable, packable and altogether better for travel than the usual, clinky, cylindrical bottles. The major difference is that the cube is meant to save space, not to build homes. Like Freddy’s WOBO, the Cube is still in the prototype stage.
Though Freddy’s brick design never took off, it didn’t stop Heineken International from maintaining the lead in the global brew market. By ’68, Heineken merged with its biggest competitor, Amstel. By ’75 Freddy was one of the richest men in Europe.
A fun, slightly-related fact: Alfred Heineken and his chauffeur were kidnapped in 1983 and held at a 10 million dollar ransom in a warehouse for three weeks. Lucky for Freddy, one of the kidnappers gave away their location mistakenly while calling for some Chinese takeout. According to the Guardian, after the incident, Heineken required at least two bodyguards to travel with him at all times.
Alfred played a large role in the company’s expansion, championing a series of successful acquisitions, right up until his death in 2002. While his plans for translucent, green bottle homes never came to fruition commercially, the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple, constructed from a mix of one million bottles from Heineken and the local Chang beer remains proof of the design’s artfulness. For some designers, it seems, there is no such thing as garbage.
March 27, 2013
In Newfoundland, having a “scoff” (the local word for “big meal”) includes some pretty interesting food items unique to the region: scrunchions (fried pork fat), cod tongues and fishcakes, for example. But perhaps the least appetizing dish, which is traditionally made during the Lenten season—specifically on Good Friday and Easter—is seal flipper pie.
The meal, which originated in the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, tastes as strange as it sounds. The meat is dark, tough, gamey and apparently has a flavor similar to that of hare (appropriate for America’s favorite Easter mascot, no?). Most recipes suggest that the seal meat is coated in flour, pan-fried and then roasted with onions, pork fat and root vegetables like carrots, turnips, potatoes and parsnips. Once the dish has a nice, flaky crust, it is often served with a side of Worcestershire sauce.
While it might be difficult to imagine eating a meal made from something as cute and cuddly as a seal, the dish has a history based in survival. Seals were especially important to Inuit living on the northern shores of Labrador and Newfoundland dating back to the early 18th century when seal meat, which is high in fat protein and vitamin A, was a staple in the early Arctic-dweller’s diet and often prevented explorers from starving or getting scurvy during their hunting travels. (Some Antarctic expeditions like Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea party suffered from scurvy for lack of vitamins found in seal meat). Seal hunters used all parts of the seal from their pelts to their fat to light lamps (at one time, London’s street lights were fueled with seal oil), but they couldn’t profit off of the flippers. To save money and to use as much of the animal as possible, they made flipper pie. As the hunting industry grew, seal meat became a major resource for oil, leather and food for locals after the long, harsh winter in these regions.
Because the seal hunt takes place in the spring when the mammals are found near the edge of the ice floes—lasting from mid-March through April—the meat of the animal is most often eaten during the Easter season. But why does seal meat count as “fish” during Lent? According to The Northern Isles: Orkney And Shetland by Alexander Fenton, the meat was deemed Lent-friendly by the Catholic Church as early as the mid 16th century by Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), a Swedish patriot and influential Catholic ecclesiastic:
The people of Burrafirth in Unst sold the skins of seals they caught, and salted the meat for eating at Lent. Olaus Magnus noted in Sweden in 1555 that seal-flesh was regarded by the church in Sweden, though eventually the eating of seal-meat on fast days was forbidden in Norway. Later in time, the eating of seal-flesh went down in the world, and was confined to poorer people, the flesh being salted and hung in the chimneys to be smoked.
By the 1840s—at the apex of the sealing industry in Newfoundland—546,000 seals were killed annually and seal oil represented 84 percent of the value of seal products sold. Since then, a commercial seal hunt has taken place annually off Canada’s East Coast and in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Today, the seal hunting season provides more than 6,000 jobs to fishermen and vastly supplements the region’s economy.
And that’s not to say that the annual seal hunt hasn’t generated some controversy. The practice has been criticized by plenty of animal rights activist groups over the years including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Though, the organization has received its fair share of flack from Newfoundland locals (in 2010, a protester dressed as a seal was “pied” in the face by a man wearing a dog suit).
In 2006, in a live interview with Larry King on CNN, Sir Paul McCartney had a few things to say to Danny Williams, the ninth premier of Newfoundland and Labrador about the seal hunt: “It isn’t hunky dory, it’s disgraceful.” Williams maintained that seal hunting is a sustainable resource for Newfoundland.
The seals hunted in Newfoundland and Labrador are not officially endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Though the IUCN considers other species of seal including the Hawaiian Monk Seal and the Mediterranean Monk Seal to be “critically endangered.”) According to the region’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the harp seal population has tripled since 1970 and the total currently stands at 5.6 million animals.
The hunt is closely regulated by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) with quotas and specific rules regarding the method of killing the mammals. Last season, The Telegram, a Canadian newspaper, published an article about a fundraiser for a local sealer organization that commemorates those Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who lost their lives in the 1914 sealing disasters. Seal meat was the featured item on the menu—something many locals argue is the most sustainable protein in the region. (You can watch one of the staff reporters try flipper pie for the first time here).
Despite arguments against the commercial selling of seal products, a certain nostalgia remains baked into the flaky crust of seal flipper pie. According to Annie Proulx’s best-selling 1993 novel The Shipping News, which takes place in the fishing town of Killick-Claw, Newfoundland, the dish is quite tasty, but mostly evokes fond memories for the Newfoundlander characters:
“It’s good. From the shoulder joint, you know. Not really the flippers…The pie was heavy with rich, dark meat in savory gravy.”
The book was later made into a movie of the same title in 2001 starring Kevin Spacey, which references the dish in the soundtrack with a song aptly called “seal flipper pie.” No news on whether the flipper pie Spacey bit into on set was the real deal, but if you’ve got a hankering for the breaded pie, it’s still served in St. John’s, the largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, at eateries like Chucky’s, which offers a different take on the classic dish. If you want to make it at home without the hassle, the meal is also available frozen and canned at local food stores like Bidgood’s.
One tip if you’re brave enough to try the breaded pie this Easter: When you’re done, remember to say in true Newfoundland fashion: “I’m as full as an egg.” Or maybe that was “Easter egg?”