Gravitas from Boony Doon is a California tribute to the white wines of the French Graves region. Made with lots of Semillion to smooth out the Sauvignon Blanc, I like this wine a lot better than many of the “flinty” Graves whites I have sampled. The crisp clean citrus flavors and aroma derived from the unusual addition of Orange Muscat make it a stunning choice with Gulf Seafood. At $16 a bottle it won’t break the bank.
Ever the iconoclast, Randall Graham at Bonny Doon is bucking the trend in American wine making to ignore the role of a wine as part of a meal. A great many Americans wine drinkers think of a wine as a cocktail substitute. As a result, most American vintners specialize in wines that taste good at Happy Hour, but lack the acidity and substance to shine at Dinner Time. This leaves food lovers in a bit of a quandry.
Let’s say you live on the coast and eat a lot of seafood. And you want a nice tart white or a crisp rosé to complement broiled red snapper, a plate of oysters or a crab stew. Oaky, buttery, low-acid Chardonnay is California’s most famous white, but it is exactly what you DON’T want with a plate of fish. So where do you turn? French Muscadet and other tart Loire Valley whites are the usual suspects. Flinty Sauvignon blancs from Graves are a good bet. But the prices are getting ridiculous.
Now consider the recent vintages of white and pink wine from Randall Graham at Bonny Doon, particularly the Cigare Volant whites.
In a blog post at Houstonia’s Gastronaut website (Faux Chateauneuf du Pape) I wrote about Bonny Doon’s Le Cigare Volante:
Le Cigare Volant is the same sort of bargain—it’s a California take on the Chateauneuf-du-Pape style from the famous Bonny Doon Vineyards. The label just celebrated its 25th anniversary. The name, which means “flying cigar” in French, is a joke about an ordinance passed in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine region that forbids flying saucers from landing there. Hence the hilarious artwork on the label. The wine first came out in the 1980s, when Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Vineyards founded a renegade group of California wine makers who called themselves “the Rhone Rangers.”
The Rhone Rangers to the Rescue!
Boony Doon once led the ABC movement (anything but Chardonnay/Cabernet) and still excels in making wines that depart from the beaten path. Le Cigare Blanc is Bonny Doon’s take on the famous white wines of the Rhone and a stunning choice with seafood. The rich flavor might remind you of ripe pears. $28 a bottle, is a nice price on a big deal white.
Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris de Cigare is a rosé lovers dream come true. I shared a bottle of this tart, complex pink wine with rosé collector Bryan Davis, the manager of the Ocean Grille on the Seawall. I think it’s fair to say he was blown away by the faux Chateauneuf rosé. At around $18 a bottle this is a screaming bargain.
For more ideas on American wines that pair well with seafood, check out the winners of Taylor Shellfish Farms 2014 Oyster Wine Competition winners.
Taylor Shellfish Farms Congratulates the 2014 “Oyster Award” winners:
*Acrobat 2012 Pinot Gris (OR)
**Chateau Ste. Michele 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (WA)
**Foris 2012 Pinot Blanc (OR)
**Geyser Peak Winery 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
**Kenwood 2012 Pinot Gris (CA)
**Kenwood 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
Lost River 2013 Pinot Gris (WA)
Revolution Wines 2013 Chenin Blanc (CA)
Sebastiani 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
**Van Duzer 2013 Pinot Gris (OR)
*Prior Oyster Award **Multiple Prior Oyster Awards
or Green Fish Soup
Makes 8 cups or 4 large bowls
When I buy a fish at Katie’s Seafood, the spectacular seafood store on the Galveston waterfront, I tend to have it filleted—and I ask for the bones and head in a separate bag. There were three such bags of fish frames along with a frozen whiting in my freezer when I looked this morning.
I fileted the whiting and threw all the fish bones in a pot with some water (filtered) to start a seafood soup. I bought some vegetables and a pound of shrimp at Kroger. I threw the vegetable trimmings and shrimp shells in the pot too.
At first, I thought I was making a fishy version of the green soup called gumbo z’herbes, but I have a healthy lemongrass bush in the yard, so I added some to the pot thinking about a Jamaican fish soup with callallo—fevergrass is a favorite island flavor.
Then I remembered I had a bunch of leeks I needed to use before we left on vacation. In Normandy, they start some fish soups by cooking down chopped leeks in butter until they are tender and then add fish stock.
When it came time to serve it, I floated some toast squares spread with garlic mayo in each bowl—just like a Provencal bourride. I know, I know, lemongrass, leeks, greens, aioli and red snapper makes for a muddle of a soup–but such is life on the multicultural Gulf Coast.
1 pound of shrimp
4 or 5 fish frames and heads (red snapper, flounder, and speckled trout are all good choices)
½ pound panfish (such as whiting or croaker), in ¼ inch dice
¼ cup of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil.
2 onions, chopped
1 bunch leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cayenne red pepper powder to taste
2 stalks lemongrass, crushed and chopped
1 bunch parsley, cleaned and chopped
1 bunch (5 ounces) greens (chard, kale, collard, calallo, spinach or mixed) chopped
4 medium potatoes
2 slices toasted French bread, cut into 8 quarters (for serving)
½ cup garlic mayonnaise (for serving)
Clean the shrimp, put the meat in a dish and the shells and heads in a soup pot. Cover the shrimp and reserve in the refrigerator. Add the fish frames and heads to the pot. Put the onion tops, parsley stalks and other vegetable trimmings in the pot as you work. Cover the fish frames and trimmings with filtered water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for a 30 minutes to an hour or until the stock is milky-colored and nicely flavored. Strain, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids.
Over medium heat in a large pan, melt the butter and add the oil. Sautee the onions and leeks until very soft, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle the mixture with flour, salt and pepper and white and red pepper. Turn the heat to medium high and cook stirring often to scrape up the browned flour from the bottom of the pan. Add the strained stock to the leeks and onions, stirring well. Stir until well blended. Add the parsley and lemongrass and simmer for five minutes. Add the chopped greens and potatoes and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and the greens are cooked.
Just before serving, add the shrimp and cook until they start to curl, three to five minutes, depending on the size. Ladle some soup into each serving bowl. Spread the toast quarters with garlic mayo and float one on top of each cup or two in each bowl.
Hot and spicy Isan Thai food is brimming with fish sauce, bird chiles and fresh herbs–with none of the comforting coconut milk found in Southern Thai cuisine. Sour sausage with raw cabbage, peanuts and bird chiles may not sound like a typical Thai dish, but it is a favorite Isan bar snack.
There is not a lot of Isan food in Texas, but that is about to change. I’m predicting a tide of nam jim jaew (the Northeast’s piquant answer to Southern Thailand’s Sri Racha) will wash over Houston any day now. And to prepare for the rush, I visited Lan Larb Soho, an Isan restaurant in Manhattan. Northeastern Thai food has been gaining in popularity for several decades in Queens, but its arrival in Manhattan is something new, Eater’s Robert Sietsama told me.
Sietsama joined my wife and me at Lan Larb Soho, where he recommended the sensational duck larb. Ground duck meat is highly seasoned and fried so that the bits of skin become very crispy–then its tossed with fish sauce dressing with fresh mint and raw red onions. You can use the raw cabbage leaves served on the side to make bite-size rolls. We also sampled a wonderfully spicy seafood soup with a tamarind broth.
Sietsama introduced me to Chef Ratchanee Sumpatboon, the restaurant’s owner and the woman credited with bringing Isan food to New York. Sumpatboon, who once ran a restaurant in Northeast Thailand, worked at Chao Thai and opened Poodam in Queens, then consulted at Zabb Elee in the East Village after closing Poodam and before opening her highly-acclaimed restaurant, Larb Ubol in Hell’s Kitchen.
Known for stultifying heat, Khmer ruins and rowdy festivals, the hot mesa of Isan in northeast Thailand is named after “Pra Isuan”, the ancient Thai name for Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Its the poorest of Thailand’s regions and the least fertile. Northeast Thailand borders Laos and Cambodia and its cuisine is influenced by its neighbors. The dried chile and galangal paste called jaew in Thailand and jeow bong in Laos is a favorite flavoring in Isan food and the base for its popular dipping sauces.
We also ordered som tum poo pla-ra at Lan Larb Soho. Som tum, the green papaya slaw seasoned with chiles and fish sauce, is an Isan dish–the variation known as “tum poo pla-ra” includes small fermented rice paddy crabs which are pounded (shell and all) and added to the salad. While I sucked on a cracked crab, I remembered the time I took my Houston Press editor, Catherine Matusow, to dinner at Vieng Thai on Long Point road in Houston and ordered the poo pla-ra papaya slaw. After nearly cracking her teeth on a couple of crab shells, Matusow shoved the dish across the table at me with no small measure of disdain. She still brings the incident up now and then when the conversation turns to nasty restaurant surprises.
There are no curries or coconut milk soups at Larb Ubol–it is pure Isan food. But at the two Lan Larb restaurants (one in Soho on Centre Street, the other on First Avenue), there are a few Southern Thai-style curries on the menu to satisfy the office workers who come in for lunch.
Expect a surge of Isan cooking in Texas, with some interesting new dishes turning up on the menus of cutting edge Asian restaurants. Do yourself a favor and give the hot and spicy versions of larb, som tum salad, and tamarind-based soups a try.
Check out this recipe for nam jim jaew. If you decide to try to make it, you will need to find some Thai fish sauce–failing that, I recommend you substitute Vietnamese Red Boat fish sauce.
The official release date of Aaron Franklin’s new barbecue book, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Smoking Manifesto, is tommorrow, April 7.
Reading a new cookbook often sends me running to the kitchen to try out an intriguing recipe. Aaron Franklin has no use for recipes and there aren’t any to be found in his new BBQ book. Instead, after reading Franklin’s Meat Smoking Manifesto I found myself running to the garage and rummaging through the tool chest looking for that carborundum wheel that fits on my electric drill.
Grinding down the rust that kept my barbecue smoker’s firebox lid from closing tightly suddenly seemed like the most important task in the universe.I spent hours with the grinding wheel, wire brushes, lubricants and oily rags getting my 25-year old steel smoker back into tiptop shape.
While most barbecue books (mine included), start with wood and charcoal, and meat and spices; Aaron Franklin’s book starts in the welding shop. Building a steel barbecue smoker from scratch is where barbecue begins for Franklin. And in his view, learning how to tune up your smoker and keep it in good repair may be more important than how you season your meats. (Especially since Franklin’s spices are pretty much limited to salt and pepper.)
Barbecue joint owners will be studying this book intently–Aaron Franklin may single-handedly raise the quality of barbecue in America. According to my family and friends, the quality of my briskets has risen dramatically since reading this book (and switching over to the same sort of USDA Prime grade briskets Franklin uses).
Some of the techniques for barbecue restaurant-sized smokers is difficult to follow at home. Franklin is a purist when it comes to “clean fires.” I can’t burn whole logs and still maintain low temperatures in my Texas offset smoker. And sometimes at home, hardwood charcoal is the right fuel for the job. But that’s a small quibble.
Franklin’s book is not filled with simple tips or easy fixes. There are no shortcuts. In the book, Franklin reveals his very complex method of trimming a brisket before smoking. I have attempted to follow his precise directions using the accompanying step-by-step photos several times, and I still can’t say I got it entirely right. I don’t think I have sliced a brisket as perfectly as Franklin demonstrates either–but I have something to shoot for.
And that’s the value of this book. Following a master like Aaron Franklin around and watching how he does it is bound to improve the way you barbecue at home. I recommend you buy a copy immediately.
2015 Foodways Texas Symposium
“The Texas Mexican Table”
5th Annual Foodways Texas Symposium
May 7-9, 2015
San Antonio, Texas
Tickets on sale:
Members – $290
Public – $325
Buy Tickets Here
Join us in San Antonio as we celebrate “The Texas Mexican Table.” Our discussion will cover Mexican food in Texas in its many forms with two full days (May 8-9) of speakers broaching myriad topics. We will learn about Mexican and Native American foodways in Texas that have been appropriated, changed, fused, and influenced while we explore the context and history of their ingredients and styles. Among many other topics, expect to learn a bit about the foods of pre-contact Native Americans, tacos, Cabeza de Vaca, Chili, Tex-Mex, food and Conjunto, tamales, and the influx of various regional Mexican cuisines into Texas over the last several decades. We will also hear an update about our newest oral history project on Texas Mexican foodways. We can’t wait!
As usual, we’ll eat well with seven meals included in your registration. Chefs, artisans, and restaurants from around the state will join in the celebration by preparing meals that connect back to our discussions. The weekend begins Thursday evening, May 7th, with a welcome dinner and introduction to the symposium. Over the course of the next two days, we will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks between heavy doses of history and culture. The festivities will take place in and around San Antonio at places like The Pearl, La Villita, and Mission San Juan. The official roster of chefs, restaurants, speakers, and panelists will be released in the weeks leading up to the symposium. Here’s a teaser in the meantime:
Gustavo Arrellano, Editor at OC Weekly and Author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, Costa Mesa, CA
Iliana de la Vega, Chef at El Naranjo, Austin
El Corazon, Dallas
Amy Evans, Oral Historian, Houston
Rachel Gonzalez, Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, University of Texas, Austin
Rachel Laudan, Author of Cuisine & Empire: Cooking in World History, Austin
Matt’s Famous El Rancho, Austin
Adán Medrano, Author of Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes, Houston
José Ralat, The Taco Trail Blog and Cowboys & Indians Magazine, Dallas
Armando Rayo, Taco Journalism Blog, Austin
Ellen Riojas-Clark, Division of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies, University of Texas, San Antonio
Alston Thoms, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station
Robb Walsh, Author of The Chili Cookbook (forthcoming), Houston
More coming soon…
For more information visit FoodwaysTexas.com
Sisters Maria and Sylvia Calderon cook side by side in their tiny eatery located on the banks of the Ramos river in Allende, Mexico under a towering tree. At their one-room, one-table restaurant, they only serve one dish–chile con carne–though sometimes they call it “carne con chile.”
It comes in a bowl with another bowl of beans on the side along with a plate of mashed avocado, a plate of queso fresco slices, and a plate of sliced onions soaked in lime juice seasoned with a little salt and oregano. We were served an extra dish–jalapeño chile relleno. The sisters start making flour tortillas as soon as you sit down.
The chili is made to order in small skillets that each fill one bowl–enough for two people. The meat is chopped round steak. It is browned in lard with a touch of garlic. Roasted roma tomatoes are pureed in the blender with some wild chile pequin and that mixture is added to the browned meat. It simmers long enough to cook the meat, but not long enough to make it very tender. This dish would be called carne guisada in South Texas, but if las comadres want to call it chile con carne, you best not argue.
While we ate, Maria took fresh tortillas, drizzled them with manteca, and squeezed them tight in her hand to form a sort of squashed-together tortilla log. It was amazingly tasty. “My mom made the same thing with hot flour tortillas spread with butter,” my dining companion, Monterrey cooking school principal Robert Navarro told me. “She would make a little animal head on one end–we called them burritos. I always thought that was where the name came from.”
The river flooded some years ago and washed the restaurant away. The sisters thought it was a good opportunity to rebuild a sturdier structure. The new building looks pretty stout. To make a reservation, visit their facebook page.
Eating lunch at Las Comadres and talking about cooking with the Calderon sisters reminded me why I used to spend so much time in Mexico. I realized that I have been away too long.