February, 2011 Archive
Madagascar goes down as one of my favorite Bizarre Foods episodes of all time. From quaint local eateries to zebu markets and foraging for zanna tenbrosa (you’ll have to watch to find out what that is), I loved this trip. Oh, and did I mention the sakalava ceremony I attended (a coming-of-age circumcision ceremony for a 5-year-old boy. Traditionally, someone eats the foreskin, but you’ll have to watch and see who won that great honor). Memorable, to say the least!
But I think my favorite part of the Madagascar episode is the fact that my amazing wife Rishia accompanied me– having her along made the trip extra special. When it comes to marriage, I out-kicked my coverage. I’m a lucky guy!
Catch the Bizarre Foods: Madagascar premiere Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 9pm E/P on Travel Channel.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest perks of my job is that AZ is cool with me traveling (as long as I have everything covered from the road). I take advantage of that when I can, and last week, I spent a few days in New Orleans. That city is amazing. The food, the people, the ghost stories, the drinking of Cajun bloody Marys in the street, the music… I could go on forever, but for simplification purposes, I’ll narrow it down to my Top Five.
1. Cochon & Cochon Butcher
Our first real dinner in NOLA was at Donald Link’s restaurant, Cochon. Think modern twists on classic Cajun recipes. Highlights included spicy grilled pork ribs with watermelon pickle (the watermelon had just a hint of cloves (?)… just delicious), friend green tomatoes, and the Louisiana cochon (that’s a plate of piggy, people!). I am also happy to report that I conquered my New Year’s resolution: I vowed to start liking bloody Marys and the one they serve here (made with lemon moonshine) is To. Die.For.
On Monday, I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours working at Cochon Butcher. I wasn’t dressed for the experience (Frye boots in a slippery kitchen are a huge no-no), but I did learn a lot about charcuterie… mostly that it’s delicious. One of my tasks included peeling off the casing for the chorizo pictured above. I was thrilled to have a job that couldn’t be screwed up.
I wrapped up my Cochon Butcher experience with this deliciously rich duck pastrami sandwich. It’s one of those things you’re forced to eat quickly because it’s just dripping with grease (in a good way) and messy. Big thanks to Chef Link, Rea, and Ian the Butcher for letting me behind the scenes!
2. Tuba Skinny @ The Spotted Cat
NOLA is famous for its music scene (hello Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton), and the place for live music is Frenchman Street. We stumbled upon the fabulous band Tuba Skinny at a jazz venue named The Spotted Cat. This group was totally charming. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera along that night, but they have a website– listen to some tunes (you can even buy MP3s if you are so inclined).
3. Signs of Ghosts and Supernatural Stuff
Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, something out of the ordinary seems to be going on in the Big Easy. We took a fun and just-spooky-enough night walking tour (we the French Quarter Phantom’s tour, which left from Flanagan’s Pub). A palm reading in Jackson Square was a must. In case you were wondering, I was told that I “need to trust my gut.” How insightful! #sarcasm. Oh well, it was fun.
4. Irene’s Cuisine
Every local we asked had nothing but praise for this Italian-meets-Creole place. Follow your nose down St. Philip Street in the French Quarter– the garlicky scent will hit you a block away. We waited about an hour for a table (the norm unless you show up at 5pm), but didn’t mind. We waited in the small lounge area, drinking wine, listening to a piano player and spying on an over-served lady in a fancy cocktail dress and white sneakers. Here’s a pic of the bruschetta– literally the only dish I took a photo of because we were all too busy devouring our meal. The duck and steak entrees were big winners, and we loved our waiter Joseph and his total lack of an “indoor voice.” Great place to go with friends, probably even better for a romantic dinner for two.
This wine concept is new to me, and brilliant. 120 bottles available to taste by the ounce of by the glass. You serve your self– tracking your pours on an electric card. I was able to try a bunch of different vinos, and even splurged on a $6, one-ounce pour. Once you’re done, the folks at W.I.N.O. (aka Wine Institute of New Orleans) swipe your card and present your bill. Fabulous, fun concept. Wish we had one of these in the Twin Cities. Here’s the lovely Margie Stack posing with a full-bodied Zinfandel (probably).
Okay, I know I only said my top five, but wanted to give a shout out to the St. Philip Apartments (courtyard pictured above). We loved our place, it was centrally located in the French Quarter, and had the nicest bathroom we saw in all of N’awlins, which isn’t really saying much… but it was nice and perfect for our group of five girls. Also, thanks to John and Golden Girl who took us on a carriage ride in the French Quarter. John was chill, informative, and had some very insightful, first-hand stories about the city’s above ground cemeteries.
And last but not least, sending some good juju to the purple bodysuit-clad street performer (he’s got a website: www.enormousface.com) who we watched for no less than 45 minutes. Easily the weirdest puppeteering I’ve ever seen. Here’s a link to his YouTube Channel. My boyfriend watched this and had nightmares. I, on the other hand, think it’s hysterical.
In my world, Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just game day… it’s a religious holiday. What’s better than football, food, friends and family? Nada. We typically host the SB festivities at our place. Here’s my recipe for Char Grilled Chili Shrimp. This marinade and recipe can be used for almost anything. Make it with the shrimp first and you will see how easy it really is.
For a complete list of my favorite Super Bowl recipes, check out my collection on AndrewZimmern.com.
Char Grilled Chili Shrimp
2# u-15 sized shrimp, preferably head on. De-veined with shell left on.
2T hot paprika
1t crushed dry red chiles
1/4 cup garam masala
1T coriander seeds
1T sea salt
2T freshly grated ginger
2T minced garlic
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup tamarind puree
1 cup diced onions
4 roma tomatoes
2T vegetable oil
Place the oil in large pan over high heat.
Brown the onions until they are caramelized and soft.
Stir in the garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt, coriander seeds, garam masala and tamarind.
Reserve off the heat.
Brush the tomatoes with oil and broil them until charred and soft.
Combine the onion-herb mixture with the tomatoes and lime by pulsing in a food processor.
Marinate the shrimp in this mixture for 12 hours.
Grill over high direct heat (or broil) and serve with lime wedges.
Betania is a village located on an island less than a kilometer off the coast of Morondava, Madagascar. Families here survive on dried and salted fish they catch themselves in the Mozambique Channel. It’s before dawn, and most men in the fishing village are getting ready to paddle out to sea to spend the next 12 hours, or 24 or 36, fishing to make ends meet.
I meet up with François whom I hired as a translator. He grew up fishing in Morondava. It’s early in the morning, and still dark. We take a boat across to the fishing village. It’s something out of one of those Norse myths; where you climb into the boat and it takes you to some deep and mysterious level of the underworld, it was very creepy. As the light came up, we saw this incredible little fishing island. If you told me it was 500 years ago, I would believe you. There are no power lines, people are wrapped in lambas, women are carrying baskets of fish on their heads, and tiny little canoes are coming in and out of the bay. It is just absolutely staggering what daily life looks like on this little island. And the fact that it’s unchanged for so long, means it’s one of the few opportunities I have ever had to actually step back in time.
I meet a fisherman named Jama, and his two crew, who fish every day for 12 hours or more without any food until they arrive home for dinner. They board a tiny pirogue and paddle out to sea. I immediately hand out power bars to share with the fishermen.
It’s 9 o’clock, and I have been up since 4am. I’m hungry. I give the guys their bar and they devour it, meanwhile I’m only on my third bite. These people are hungry.
It quickly becomes obvious: On a normal fishing days, these guys could SPEND the better part of the day just getting to the place where they’ll start working. Once they get there, they might stay out for days, working and sleeping on the open water in these tiny boats.
It’s remarkable how effectively these guys can work without the slightest trace of technological assistance. There’s no GPS, but they know how to read the water, and judge the time and distance. When we’re about 25 kilometers offshore, they tell us that we’ve arrived at the fishing grounds.
All of us, I have a cameraman remember, are on this tiny chip of wood, on the sea, in more than 500 feet of water. To me, it’s plain crazy. Now try to imagine living out here for 3 days on one of these boats. That’s what Jama and the other fishermen do all the time. With no equipment other than a line, some hooks, and a rusty knife.
By the way, they don’t need sonar or other fancy gadgets to tell them where the fish are. Generations of practice have taught these fishermen the different depths that different kinds of fish swim at. When they pull in a smaller fish, they know bigger fish are probably in the neighborhood, feeding on the small ones. And they know exactly how far down those bigger fish like to swim. So the next hook goes down a little deeper, to catch the bigger fish. And so on, all morning long.
So as the day goes on, as more and more fish are caught, Jama is steadily and deliberately moving toward the biggest catch of the day. I try to help out by handling one of the fishing lines. Jama and his assistant show me how it’s done, and watch me for a little while, but quickly take the lines away. Catching fish is the difference between feeding a family or not feeding them. So they can’t afford the slightest loss caused by a well-meaning amateur messing with their lines.
At one point I was hungry and I wanted to taste the fish we’re catching so I pulled out my knife, and ate it raw. It was salty and very tasty. I offered it to everybody and no one else wanted any. It was hysterical. Then finally the mate ate it, but he didn’t like it. It turns out they’ve never eaten fish raw. That little fillet would have cost 30 bucks at a sushi bar in New York or Tokyo.
Finally comes the day’s biggest payoff: A king mackerel, about 30 pounds. This is prized meat at the Morondava market. Jama can earn the equivalent of about 10 dollars from this one fish; in a country where the average Malagasy lives on about one dollar per day, Jama is being a very good provider for his family.
At the end of the day, the fishermen and I head back to the island for a family meal. The tide is so low that the boat can no longer reach Jama’s house and we need to walk part of the way. When we arrive at Jama’s house, I meet his wife and six kids. I eat the dried shark that’s hanging on lines around the house from a previous day’s fishing. This is what the family would be living on if Jama comes home empty-handed. I expect they’ll be feasting on that big mackerel, but I am in for a surprise: all we get are a few bites from the tail. The choice cuts will bring so much money at the market for Jama and his family that none of us will have the luxury of eating it. The fishermen catch fish, but often can’t afford to eat them.
After spending the entire day on a tiny pirogue in the middle of the Mozambique Channel with a fishermen using only a line and a rusty knife, I have a new appreciation for what it means to put food on the table in Madagascar. At the end of the day, I asked Jama if he considers his life easy or hard. And without hesitation Jama said it’s easy, because he wakes up, goes fishing, feeds his family and does the same thing the next day. I asked him again, just to be sure he understood the question, and he still had the same answer. I was overcome by this man’s outlook on life. Most days, I think I work harder than anyone else I know. But meeting him has put things into perspective. I give Jama my knife as a gift, and I suspect he’ll get better use out of it than I ever would.
Between the Super Bowl and the even bigger global event of Bizarre Foods: Madagascar coming to your living rooms this Sunday and Tuesday evenings (respectively), you’ll have plenty of reasons to make this crowd-pleasing appetizer. This recipe is one of my family’s favorites and I know you’ll love it, too.
Figs and Smoked Mozzarella Wrapped in Proscuitto
24 dried figs, halved and stems removed
12 ounces smoked mozzarella. Buy a good whole milk or buffalo mozz. Supermarket smoked mozz is all about nasty liquid smoke…ugh.
24 Parma prosciutto slices, cut in half lengthwise
Cut the mozz in 48 rectangles. It’s easy.
Lay a halved proscuitto slice on a cutting board
. Place a fig half on top of the end of the proscuitto slice
. Place a piece of cheese next to each fig piece.
Wrap the fig/cheese piece in proscuitto, rolling lengthwise.
Arrange the pieces in a baking dish seasoning liberally with olive oil, parsley, ground black pepper and a splash of Grappa if you like.
Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the cheese is melted and the ham has shrunk around the little bon bon you rolled them into. Remove pieces from tray and serve.
Here is a thought provoking article in the NYT from earlier in the week. The idea of the event, or the fact that it occurred at all doesn’t surprise me. Frankly, the only shocker was the rogue-ish circumstances under which it was held and the low turnout. Clearly you might have guessed where I am going with this? After all, my track record with possum, raccoon, otter and the like is well publicized. No one eating small game should do so hidden away in the shadows or attending secretive dinners, nor should they miss the opportunity to state the obvious.
The degree to which we eat a broader and more inclusive diet is the degree to which we support sustainability and eco-culinary stewardship of our planet. Every time we eat a meal of rabbit, or mackerel, or a whole grain salad for that matter, is one less time we support Big Ag and the factory farms and commodity meat producers that have destroyed our food system and made it unsafe for all of us. This coming week you will see an amazing show we shot in Madagascar. Whenever I am in a country this far off the grid I eat a diet far removed from the one we eat here at home. Fruit and grains and, if we are lucky, an egg (farm fresh!) for breakfast. Small fish and some grain, usually rice at lunch, and some meat for dinner, typically goat or in Madagascar, zebu, a humpbacked cow that is pretty gamey. And yes, everywhere we went we had small fish that are considered unreasonable to eat in our country because they are small or bony or both. We ate eel, and giraffe beetles and zebu offal and all sorts of fantastic foods. Not for a minute would I consider insisting that we should eat like that all the time, but I would insist that at least once a week you get off the pork/beef/chicken/shrimp/halibut/salmon/tuna train that you are on and eat something that is more far afield. Or go meatless on Mondays like many of us are doing– not only for our waistlines benefit, but in support of local small farms and alternative protein consumption. The easiest way to close the feedlots and fecal swamps that masquerade as food sources in our country is to not support them as much with your hard earned dollars.
For that, I applaud everything that Mr. Fornal, AKA Baron Ambrosia, stands for. And yes, for the record muskrat is superb, especially seared and served with small corn cakes, caramelized pears and sturdy mustard.