Tuesday, July 29, 2014

10 Suggestions For Less Expensive Seafood

But seafood is too expensive!

One of the most common reasons consumers give for not eating more seafood is that they feel it is too expensive. In some respects, they are correct, as there is a fair share of seafood which, by the pound, can be pricey. However, there are numerous ways that everyone, even those on a limited budget, can enjoy delicious, sustainable and healthy seafood.

High seafood prices are not alone. Food prices of numerous proteins have been significantly increasing during the last few years. For example, ground beef is at its highest price ever, 76% higher than what it was in 2009. Pork prices, such as for bacon, have been increasing too, up nearly 13% over last year. A significant factor in the rising costs are decreases in the number of available animals. The beef cattle population in the U.S.is the lowest it has been in over 50 years, while a deadly disease has recently killed millions of pigs. Even the cost of chicken breast has risen nearly 13% over the past year. As the cost of these proteins rise, then the average cost of seafood starts looking much more comparable.

However, seafood is not immune to such price increases, and some seafood types have been struck hard. For example, imported shrimp prices have reached a 14 year high, increasing 61% in the past year. And like the pork issues, the higher prices are due to a terrible disease which has been devastating the Asian shrimp industry.

I want to offer suggestions and advice on how to get better economic value when purchasing sustainable seafood. Some of my recommendations might entail a little more effort while shopping, but the end result will be very positive. As I mentioned last week, there are plenty of excellent reasons why everyone should be eating more seafood, at least 4 ounces, twice a week. It is one of the healthiest proteins you can eat, and it tastes damn good. As you should be eating more seafood, then you need to understand how to obtain the best value for your dollar.

1. Seek out local seafood as it can be less expensive than imported seafood. For example, considering the current high prices of imported shrimp, shrimp from Maine or Gulf shrimp can be a much better buy. And supporting local fishermen is an added benefit.

2. If possible, go to the fish markets in your local fishing communities. In Massachusetts, you can visit fish markets in places like Gloucester and New Bedford. Besides having an excellent supply, with lots of different seafood species, these markets often will have cheaper prices than you find in major supermarkets.

3. Try to buy seasonal seafood as it is usually less expensive because it is more abundant in season. If you buy fish out of season, the price may have a premium added to it. Salmon can be expensive, but it is less expensive when it is at the height of its season.

4. Purchase some of the less popular fish species, which often are cheaper because there is less demand for it. Try wild drum fish, snook, or cobia rather than tuna and cod. These offbeat fish are still quite tasty and it helps you expand the horizons of your palate as well.

5. A number of large discount chains, from Walmart to B.J.'s Wholesale Club, are now selling sustainable seafood, and their prices are lower than you will find at your local supermarket. They are trying to make seafood available to anyone, no matter what your budget. Even McDonald's is moving toward selling sustainable seafood, using Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified pollock in their fish sandwiches.

6. If available, sign up for a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program. You purchase a share and get seafood delivered to you, maybe weekly or every other week, at a price that is cheaper than if you bought it at a supermarket. You can get whole fish or just fillets. You will also get to experience some different fish, less popular species.

7. Eat smaller portions. Americans often eat larger portions of proteins than we really need to eat. The recommended seafood portion is 4 ounces, twice a week. So a pound of fish provides 4 portions, and when you look at it in this manner, the price seems more reasonable. A fish that sells for $20/pound means that each individual portion is only $5, and would feed a family of four.

8. Purchase a whole fish rather than fillets, as the cost per pound is usually lower, sometimes significantly so.  However, you really only gain savings if you know how to properly cut and slice up a whole fish. That takes some skill but you can find some good books to help you in that regard, or try taking a cooking class on fish preparation. You will need to use all of the whole fish, from head to bones, to extend the value of the fish. Take the time to learn these skills and your seafood will be much cheaper.

9. Stop looking at seafood as a luxury item and instead, consider it to be an essential item when you do your weekly shopping. The health benefits of seafood are scientifically supported, by thousands of studies, and everyone's health can be improved by greater seafood consumption. Reorganize your shopping budget, dropping a nonessential item, like some sugary and highly processed junk food, so you can buy some seafood.

10. When you dine out, choose a seafood entree instead of steak or pork. Many such seafood entrees are actually less expensive, or at least comparable, to non-seafood entrees. Try to patronize restaurants that serve sustainable seafood, and enjoy the creativity those chefs bring to seafood dishes.

What is your advice for getting a better economic value when purchasing sustainable seafood?

(For more Seafood info, please check out my Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association homepage).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rant: Iced Tea Tragedy

During the summer, I drink fresh brewed, unsweetened iced tea every day. It is refreshing, thirst-quenching and doesn't have the sugar content of sodas and other such drinks. In addition, it is cheap, roughly 3 cents a serving if made at home. I don't stop drinking iced tea when the seasons change. I continue drinking it daily through fall, winter and spring. And I am far from alone in my love for iced tea.

Iced tea was invented in the U.S., likely sometime during the 1800s in the South. There is a legend that iced tea was created in 1904, during the World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, by an Englishman Richard Blechynden. However, there is clear evidence iced tea existed before 1904, so Richard may be considered more the popularizer of iced tea rather than the actual inventor.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, the wholesale value of the U.S. tea industry is over $10 Billion and Americans annually consume over 3.6 Billion gallons of tea. Each day, over half the U.S. population drinks tea, though people in the South and Northeast consume the most. What may surprise you is that 85% of the tea consumed in America is iced. That statistic shows the huge popularity of iced tea, but I think numerous restaurants are ignorant of this simple fact.

Right now, you can find iced tea at almost any restaurant, though it is not always fresh brewed. With the low cost of making fresh brewed iced tea, more restaurants should be making it themselves, rather than pouring it from some soda gun. The junk that comes from soda guns usually tastes bad, nowhere near as good as fresh brewed. I'd rather drink water than the iced tea from those soda guns. You do a disservice to your guests if your iced tea is poured from a soda gun.

My biggest problem will come after Labor Day, when summer is over. At that time, a number of restaurants begin taking iced tea off their menus, claiming it is only a summer drink. What a crock! Iced tea is a year-round beverage, and with the vast amount of people who enjoy it, restaurants need to pay attention and keep it on their menus all the time. They are losing money by taking it off their menus. These same places will keep ice cream and frozen shakes on their menus, so why not iced tea too?

Just because it is winter, it doesn't mean you should only serve hot beverages. These restaurants will still serve cold soda, but not everyone wants something carbonated. And they want something with more flavor than water. The popularity of iced tea should not be underestimated. Restaurants, pay attention and keep serving iced tea year round. Iced tea is cheap and easy to make so you have no excuses.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Austrians Like Them Young

At a media event at the Island Creek Oyster Bar, I learned that many Austrians like them young, and by "them," I mean their wines. Many of them don't have the patience to let wines sit in their cellars. They want their wines to be fresh and young, ready to drink as soon as it is bottled. This is a generalization, and certainly not applicable to all Austrians, but it is common throughout Austria.

The Austrian Trade Commission in New York and the Burgenland Wine Marketing Board came to Boston and presented a trade seminar and tasting on Austrian red wines. We learned plenty about the Austrian wine industry, and had a chance to taste a number of wines from indigenous Austrian grapes, such as Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. I've enjoyed such wines before, and this tasting only confirmed to me the delights of Austrian red wines. This is another category of wines which many consumers do not appreciate sufficiently. At the wine store where I work, it is extremely rare for a customer to ask for an Austrian red.

Overall, Austria produces annually about 250 million liters of wine, which is also about the same amount they consume each year. They export 50-70 million liters of their wine, but import a similar amount. The country has about 46,000 hectares of vineyards, generally located in the eastern side of Austria, and over 6000 bottling estates, roughly three times as many estates as there are in Australia. 35 grape varieties, 22 white and 13 red, are legally permitted and Grüner Veltliner is the most planted grape, occupying about 29% of the vineyards. White grapes in total occupy about 66% of the vineyards.

As for red grapes, Zweigelt occupies the largest portion, about 14% of the acreage. Second place, at 7%, is occupied by Blaufränkisch and third place, at 3.5%, is taken by Blauer Portugieser. All of the other ten red grapes occupy 1% or less. In general, Austrian red wines tend to have dark red colors, deep aromas, black fruit flavors and be well structured.

Zweigelt (also known as Rotburger) is a cross of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent that was created in 1922 by Dr. Fritz Zweigelt. It is a fertile grape which grows well all over Austria. With a good yield, soft tannins and being an early ripening grape, it appeals to the Austrian preference for young wines. As the indigenous Blaufränkisch usually requires some aging, Austrians apparently wanted an alternative, which thus led to the creation of Zweigelt.

Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) is an old variety, which can possess lots of acidity, spiciness, strong tannins and has an excellent ageing potential. In addition, it can be very reflective of its terroir. St. Laurent, a descendant of Pinot Noir, is a challenging grape in the vineyard, often low yielding. The older the St. Laurent, the more it seems to resemble Pinot Noir.

Our tasting basically was broken down into two flights, the first being wines, produced from indigenous grapes, that tended to be more fruity and easy drinking. The second flight were all produced from Blaufränkisch, intended to show the effects of different terroirs on this grape.

From the first flight, two wines stood out to me, one from Zweigelt and the other from St.Laurent. The 2010 Netzi Zweigelt ($18) had an intense, fruity aroma and on the palate, the bright red fruit flavors shined, accompanied by spicy notes, a bit of earthiness, smooth tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Good complexity for this price point, but also an easy drinking wine, which can be enjoyed on its own or with food. The 2011 Juris St. Laurent Selection ($26.95) possessed an intriguing smoky aroma, accented by black fruit. Its taste included a nice melange of black cherry, blackberry, dark spices, and earthiness, with moderate tannins and a lengthy finish. A wine of more depth than the Zweigelt, it probably would be best paired with a hearty dish, maybe a nice steak or even wild boar.

The Blaufränkisch flight was fascinating, showing how wines from this grape can differ dependent on terroir. In general, I enjoyed most of the wines in this flight, and believe that these are essentially food wines, especially because of their strong tannins. Black fruits and spicy notes were common to these wines, though, individually, some possessed elements of minerality, earthiness, or smokiness. What this means for the average consumer is that you can find diversity in Austrian Blaufränkisch, that it isn't a wine of a singular taste profile. More advanced wine lovers can revel in the differences of these wines from varied terroirs.

The 2011 Iby Blaufränkisch Classic was the easiest drinking of the wines, with bright red fruit flavors, blueberry notes and some mild spiciness. The tannins were the mildest of the group, though the finish was also the shortest. However, this would be an excellent introductory Blaufränkisch for anyone. The 2011 Priler Blaufränkisch Leithaberg DAC impressed me with its complexity and taste. Delicious black fruit flavors, mild spiciness and smoky elements with an underlying minerality. With a lengthy finish, this is a wine you want to slowly savor. Highly recommended. An earthier choice is the 2011 Iby Blaufränkisch Hochacker, definitely very different from their Classic. With more spice and black fruits, the earthy aspects dominate, reminding me of some Burgundies. Another hearty recommendation.

My favorite wine of the tasting was the 2011 Moric Blaufrankisch Reserve ($45-$50), which stunned me with its complex pleasures. Each sip seems to bring out different elements, from its blend of red and black fruits, to its strong minerality. There are intriguing notes of spice, herbs and even chocolate. The tannins are moderate but not overwhelming, and the wine lingers for quite a long time on your palate. One glass won't be enough for you, and the bottle will be empty far too quickly. This is a wine to impress your friends, and I highly recommend it.

Give some Austrian Zweigelt, St.Laurent and Blaufränkisch a try. Go to your local wine store and ask what Austrian reds they carry. Go to your local restaurants and ask what Austrian reds they have on their wine list.

What's your favorite Austrian red wine?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Owner & Chef Brian Poe, alongside Executive Chef Douglas Rodrigues, are infusing more bountiful summer flavors in the brunch, lunch and dinner menus at The Tip Tap Room in Beacon Hill. Chefs Poe & Rodrigues’ menus incorporate the peak flavors of summer along with new twists to the signature “tips” and “taps” concept.

New offerings from the Sunday brunch menu include “Without Eggs” options like the Grilled Avocado (lobster, black pepper, lavender crème fraiche - $16) and Corn Porridge (butter poached crab & escargot, agave, black truffle vinaigrette - $17).

For lunch and dinner, new soup and salad options are catered toward those with savory yet robust appetites: Corn Soup (fermented hibiscus, pearl onion, charcoal crisp, koji rice - $13); Hamakua Farm Hearts of Palm Gazpacho (roasted artichokes, lump crab, pickled spruce, plum - $15); and, Iceberg & Chicken Salad (crunchy vegetables, currants, sumac-honey ricotta, buttermilk-kosho dressing and chicken skin - $12). Other side newcomers will be as follows: Grilled Corn (Korean pepper aioli, ricotta salata, lime - $7); Potato Salad (fines herbs, white anchovy, yogurt, crispy duck skin - $7); and, Asian Greens (roasted, garlic oil, crunchy garlic - $7).

One particularly delicious new cocktail offering served and poured at both lunch and dinner will be the Monroe Doctrine (mescal, cynar, grapefruit liqueur, fresh lemon, agave - $12). Other staples which remain on the menu are The WestEnder (Mezcal, Cynar, grapefruit liqueur, fresh lemon, agave - $12); PGH (London No. 3 Gin, Green Chartreuse, cucumber, grapefruit, fresh lemon, pink peppercorn - $12); Hemingway Daiquiri (Maraschino, rum grapefruit, fresh lime - $10) and, the Crimson Punch (crimson herbal tea infused vodka, Applejack, house grenadine, fresh lime and Peychaud’s - $11).

2) From July 31 to August 24, Rosa Mexicano will keep things cool with their annual Ice Cream Festival, featuring Flavors of Mexico a la Mode, desserts inspired by classic savory dishes such as guacamole, tamales and empanadas; paired with handmade ice creams infused with Mexican flavors ranging from sweet corn-caramel to chili-spiced chocolate.

Rosa Mexicano will unveil a dedicated menu of Mexican classics gone sweet, served with authentically flavored ice creams, including:

Flavors of Mexico a la Mode
--Postre de Guacamole: Avocado ice cream served in a frozen molcajete with raspberries, white chocolate shavings, coconut crunch and mint. Served with piloncillo-chocolate sauce and cinnamon sugar buñuelos.
--Empanadas de Manzana: Warm apple empanadas with spiced Mexican chocolate sauce. Topped with vanilla-chocolate mole swirl ice cream.
--Tamal de Chocolate: Warm molten chocolate tamale and cajeta sauce. Topped with sweet corn-caramel ice cream.
--Buñuelos Rellenos: Deep fried sweet corn-caramel and Mexican chocolate ice cream coated in cinnamon buñuelo crust. Served with churros and dipping sauce
--Crepas de Cajeta: Crepes folded and served with a rich caramel sauce. Topped with sea-salted cajeta ice cream.
--Abuelita Sundae: Mexican chocolate ice cream, warm Mexican chocolate sauce, caramelized bananas, strawberries, and cinnamon whipped cream.

Helados (choice of one or three scoops)
--Aguacate: Avocado
--Vainilla con Mole:  Vanilla with Chocolate Mole Swirl
--Abuelita:  Cinnamon-Chile Spiced Chocolate
--Maiz Dulce y Cajeta:  Sweet Corn and Caramel
--Cajeta y Sal Marina:  Sea-Salted Cajeta

3) Boasting a bar stacked with 101 tequila and mezcal selections, it’s no wonder that Davis Square’s casual Mexican spot,The Painted Burro, is psyched to kick off National Tequila Day on July 24 (today!) with special one-day and ongoing programming. Happenings include:

Make-Your-Own Tequila Flight, Thursday, July 24, 5pm-1am
Choosing from three price points ($18, $21, $24) guests can mix and match three tequilas from a selection of The Painted Burro’s list to create a customized flight. For some spiked sustenance, a special tequila ceviche will be available throughout the night in addition to the regular dinner menu.

Agave Club, Ongoing
Starting July 24, The Painted Burro invites guests to take on the ultimate tequila challenge by joining the Agave Club, which tasks brave drinkers with tasting their way through the restaurant’s entire impressive lineup of tequilas and mezcals. Sweetening the deal are some prizes for each milestone reached:
· 25 tequilas or mezcals – make your own margarita kit including hand juicer, shaker, salt rimmer and margarita glasses
· 50 tequilas or mezcals – four-course dinner for two at The Painted Burro with tequila and mezcal pairings
· 100 tequilas or mezcals – roundtrip airfare for one to Cancun, Mexico

The Painted Burro’s Single-Barrel Tequila, Ongoing
Launching on July 24, in celebration of National Tequila Day, is The Painted Burro’s own privately selected single barrel of Corazón Reposado. Aged for eight months in Canadian Oak, made with 100% estate-grown agave from Casa San Matías in Jalisco and distilled with pure spring water, the house tequila offers a sweeter, more floral tasting experience. The spirit can be enjoyed by sipping or used in one of the restaurant’s signature margaritas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc: Alsatian For The Win

Tonight, I'll be sipping a variety of Alsatian wines during dinner at Puritan & Co. As I've said before, Alsatian wines are underappreciated by the average wine consumer and deserve more press, to alert wine consumers to the pleasures of these wines. This summer, many people will drink more white wines and they should check out some Alsatian whites, including the 2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition ($16).

The Maison Kuentz-Bas has a lengthy history, having been first established by the Kuentz family in 1795. One hundred years later, a marriage joined the Kuentz family to the Bas. The winery is located in Husseren-les Châteaux, a town situated at one of the highest points in Alsace. In 2004, the Kuentz-Bas family decided to sell the winery, and it went to Jean-Baptiste Adam, whose own family history with wine extends back to 1614.

Change came to the winery, as Jean-Baptiste lowered yields, and moved to organic and biodynamic viticulture. A new winemaker, Samuel Tottoli, came to the winery in 2004 and their wines are now divided into two groups: Tradition and Trois Chateaux. The Tradition series are the fresh wines, fermented in oak foudre, and focusing on the fruit. The Trois Chateaux are fermented in stainless steel and the grapes come from the best vineyards.  

The 2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition, with an alcohol content of 12.5%, is produced from Pinot Blanc, though it may not be actually 100%. Through a quirk in Alsatian wine law, a wine that is labeled Pinot Blanc may also include Pinot Auxerrois, though that does not have to be mentioned on the label. In fact, a 100% Pinot Auxerrois wine could be labeled as Pinot Blanc. In the end, it doesn't really matter and the wine is simply meant to be enjoyed.

With a fruity aroma, this crisp, dry wine is delicious and refreshing, with a nice blend of flavors, including apple, pear, a little lemon, and some mineral notes. It has a pleasing finish, with a bit of roundness to the mouthfeel. Tasty on its own, this wine is also food friendly, from seafood to cheese, chicken to salads. It is an excellent summer wine, though should be enjoyed year round. It is also a good value at the price, with more complexity than many other wines at this price point.  

(Disclaimer: I received this wine as a media sample.)