Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wild Boar Raised On Local Kelp?

Throughout the UK and France, there is a long-standing tradition of raising lamb on salt marshes.  These lamb are considered by many chefs to be some of the best lamb in the world.  Interestingly they are not any more salty or savory than a grass-fed lamb, but are alleged to be more sweet and tender with a pleasant complexity of flavor.  As far as I am aware, it has been generations since any American ranchers have focused on saltmarsh grazing for livestock, and saltmarsh lamb cannot be found anywhere locally.

After doing some research on saltmarsh lamb and reading the glowing descriptions of its culinary merits, I wondered whether it would be possible to replicate some of this flavor using seaweed, an abundant and sustainable resource along our coast.  A bit more searching revealed that on the Shetland Islands, herds of sheep are seasonally confined to the shoreline where the forage on freshly washed up algae.  This seemed like a very promising start for my idea, so I made a few calls.

Two weeks later I showed up at a Linda’s ranch in Carmel Valley with a huge bag of kelp from the Monterey Abalone Company.  Both the Abalone Company and Linda were nice enough to placate my desire to see if lambs would actually eat giant kelp.  Linda was familiar with adding a seaweed supplement to livestock food, but had never tried feeding them freshly harvested seaweed.  Our first stop was at the lamb barn.  Linda dumped the giant bag of slimy seaweed into a large feeder in the middle of the pen.  The lamb quickly gathered around, sniffing it, then licking it, their faces quickly revealing complete indifference toward this foreign food.  I wasn’t ready to give up yet, so we headed next door to the goats.  Goats have a reputation of being ravenous and undiscerning eaters, so I figured they would eat it right away.  Sadly, they were no more interested than the lamb.  Feeling defeated I threw a few fronds of kelp into the pig pen where they were quickly gobbled off the muddy floor, then spit back into a puddle.  Things were not looking good.

As I made my way back to the car I stopped to look at the wild boar.  The baby boar who had lured me into dropping my cell phone last time, were now all grown up now.  I tossed a few pieces of seaweed into the pen and immediately heard the popping stems and the sounds of satisfied chewing.  I threw in another piece and sure enough they were loving it!  This was not my goal, but the idea of Carmel Valley Wild Boar raised on local kelp was intriguing!   There must be instances where wild boar in Big Sur forage on the beach for food, so perhaps the seaweed seems natural.  It will take at least six months to determine whether feeding the boar kelp will  benefit to the meat’s flavor.  I also need to decide whether we will feed 100% wild boar, or try it with one of the litters of Berkshire-boar crosses.  Being that this is all taking place in Carmel Valley, surrounding my incredible vineyards, I also couldn’t help wondering whether there would be a benefit to feeding the pigs wine….After all, the practice of feeding wagyu cows beer and sake is well documented in Japan.  What would be the ultimate diet for a lamb or pig?  Would this kind of local feeding regiment really noticeably enhance the finished product?  These are all questions I must pursue…….. 

To be continued…………………………………….

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dungeness Crab

The local Dungeness crab season has started!   Here is a video of Jerry pulling in some of the first local crab pots (Viewers Beware - there is some colorful footage in this video).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Spice Challenge

Today we did a challenge to see who could identify the most spices out of 40.  Sterling won with a perfect score - but Michelle and Conrado were close behind!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pfeiffer Fire In Big Sur

It has been a tense week here in Big Sur!  Late Sunday night a fire started on the Buzzards Roost trail and quickly enveloped many homes along Pfeiffer ridge.  Luckily there have been no reported injuries, but seeing so many friends and neighbors displaced is heartbreaking.

We have been able to stay open throughout the emergency- sending box lunches to firefighters and Red Cross and preparing meals for friends and employees who have been evacuated.  This is an all too common occurrence in Big Sur, but we are fortunate to have an amazing group of volunteer fire fighters supported by hundreds of fire teams from around California.  With the fog rolling in yesterday morning, everyone is hopeful that the fire is on its way to being controlled. 

Here are some pictures and a video from the past few days. 

Snowing Ash in Big Sur

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I don't think there is a bad time of year in Big Sur, but December may be one of my favorites.  The fog bank coupled with frequent rain clouds creates a dramatic background for spectacular sunsets. Here are two of my favorites so far this month....

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fresh Saffron Crocus

When Fiona mentioned that she was planting saffron bulbs a couple of months ago, I was pretty skeptical.  I have never seen a fresh saffron flower in person and have never heard of anyone trying to grow them in California.  Not surprisingly Fiona was right.  Today I saw the first few purple blossoms opening from between long chive-like stems, each cradling three vibrant orange stigmas.  Now comes the real challenge……picking them!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Local Skate

The other day I took a group of cooks on a tour of the Monterey Abalone farm and commercial wharf.  We went below the wharf where Trevor explained the whole process and philosophy behind the farm.  He even let us pull a fresh urchin straight out of the water and let our group try it!

As luck would have it, one of Jerry's boats was just pulling in when we arrived.  After our tour we wandered over to see what they had brought in.  The entire hold was filled with fresh black cod and several tanks on deck were filled with live spiny heads.  There was also a small amount of squid and a few skate.  I know that skate is a popular fish on the east coast, but I have never seen fresh skate available in California.  I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with a new fish, and purchased two of the largest skate, so fresh they were still twitching.

Once we got the fish back to the kitchen I was able to look at it more closely.  It really is an alien creature, with beady turquoise eyes and long devil tail.  Simultaneously beautiful and frightening it was a strong reminder of how little we know about the ocean, and how we should conserve and protect all of its magnificent inhabitants.  We removed the guts and were surprised to find huge-pale livers similar to those from monkfish.  These livers were once quite a delicacy in France and England and were well documented in Larousse Gastronomique.  Classic recipes include "Beignets de Raie" and "Skate Liver on Toast".  I have used monkfish liver in the past, but have never had the chance to try skate liver.  No wanted to let any part of these incredible fish go to waste, I decided to slow poach the livers with local bay leaf, garlic, lemon and milk then quickly fry them in a champagne batter.  The milk poaching helps removed some of the blood and gives the liver a milder flavor.  The lite batter gives a textural contrast to the smooth liver.

The skate wing was beautiful, like a delicate fan with bright red blood-line and firm flesh.  Even though we started with two fish the yield on skate is poor, so we only ended up with enough meat to serve as a first course.  I served a small section of pan roasted skate wing with potato puree, dry chorizo, fifty year sherry and my own version of skate liver "beignets".

The fish is haunting.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Goose Liver

Goose Liver Slow Poached with Ginger and Beet - Winter Citrus, Popped Rice and Wild Land Cress

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Smoked Goose Ham & New Plate by Shelby!

We just got in some new plates by Shelby Hawthorne.  When we met a few months ago I told her I wanted plates that broke with traditional style and really captured the essence of Big Sur.  Her latest creation, a long-convex sheet of clear glass encapsulating beads of gray and white glass looks like tiny stones on the ocean floor or speckled Big Sur granite.  Tonight we are using it to showcase a smoked goose breast with quince, salt-cured rose petals and acorn bread.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wild Hamachi Grilled Over Eucalyptus Coals

There is something therapeutic about walking under the large grove of eucalyptus by my house.  Long strips of bark peel away from the tree trunks, falling to the forest floor where they form a carpet of menthol scented debris.  The smell of the eucalyptus is invigorating, an icy sensation that opens your throat and nose and awakens your senses.  

The oil in eucalyptus, when consumed in large quantities, can be toxic.  Even though there is a long global history of eucalyptus being used for everything from medicinal tea, to marinating fish and fuel for grilling, America has not embraced its culinary merits.  The long green leaves, when steeped in hot water, release an aromatic steam reminiscent of mint and evergreen.  Smoldering pieces of wood and bark have a dried spice- cedar quality to them.

Tonight I brined wild Hamachi with citrus, guajillo chiles, fennel, fresh eucalyptus leaves and sea salt then flash grilled it over eucalyptus coals and smoking bark.  I paired the rare slices of Hamachi with pomegranate, spicy-pickled cucumbers and castelveltrano olives.