Mermaid’s Garden A first-of-its-kind fish shop on Brooklyn

See food and eat it

Bianca Piccillo doesn’t mince words when we asked her why she decided to open a sustainable fish shop:“Well, the fish options were pretty grim, and Brooklyn doesn’t really need another restaurant.”

Well said, Bianca.

Piccillo put her money where her mouth is and opened Mermaid’s Garden in Prospect Heights. She and her husband, Mark Usewicz, have culinary chops to spare: Piccillo worked at Oleana, al di lá and Prune, and Usewicz put in time at a three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris and at Park Slope’s Palo Santo.

Just in case you had any lingering doubts: Piccillo is also an ichthyologist (fish biologist) who has done research at the University of Maryland and Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Mermaid’s Garden is worthy of a special trip, even if you don’t live in the neighborhood. The fish are responsibly sourced, fully traceable and seem to practically sparkle. In addition,the shop offers cooking classes and wonderful prepared foods such as fish stock and sugar snap peas with preserved lemon and green garlic.

Every stop into the market will have you feeling more like an ichthyologistyourself. A recent conversation with Piccillo left us with some important takeaways:

Local doesn’t equal sustainable when it comes to fish.Don’t buy a fish just because it’s local–how it was raised and/or caught is more important.

Fish is seasonal. After a long winter of telling customers, “No, we don’t have salmon,” Picillio is finally welcoming wild salmon back into the shop.

Try unfamiliar types. Once overfished, theAcadian Redfish fish is back in a big way. Not only is it healthy and delicious (think a delicate-tasting Snapper), it’s also affordable.

Cook fish in an NYC apartment without fear. A small cup of bleach sitting next to the stove while you cook will neutralizeany smelly odors.

CHECK OUT: Mermaid’s Garden

Food Talk: Balinese Cuisine with Selamat Pagi

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Why would three Brooklynites open a Balinese restaurant? Because once they’d tried the exotic, healthy cuisine, they couldn’t get enough.

Pete Van Leeuwen, Ben Van Leeuwen and Laura O’Neill, the trio behind Brooklyn’s renowned Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, have opened Clean Plates-approved Selamat Pagi (Indonesian for “good morning”). They shared what made them say “we want to eat this kind of food all the time.”

Q. What was the impetus behind opening up a Balinese restaurant?
A. I’m from Melbourne, Australia, and travelled to Bali several times from there with Ben. We fell in love with the island and especially the food. After taking a cooking class in Ubud, Bali, we began experimenting with the dishes and cooking style back home in NYC. We wanted to eat this kind of food all the time and had always secretly dreamed of having our own restaurant, so when we ended up with an empty storefront at the front of our ice cream-making kitchen in Greenpoint, we thought, why not go for it?

Q. What did you have for breakfast today?
A. Sticky black rice with yogurt, fresh mango and toasted coconut.

Q. What are the defining elements of Balinese cuisine?
A. Balinese (Indonesian) food is complex, spicy and fresh. Bali is an island with access to great seafood. Part of what defines the cooking is the use of fresh spices as opposed to dried. We run an almost dairy-free kitchen, cooking most dishes with extra-virgin coconut oil. We use a lot a lemongrass, ginger, galangal, kaffir lime leaf and chilies.

Q. What are some choices in cooking style and ingredients that help keep your dishes healthy?  
A. Cooking with coconut oil rather than butter keeps the dishes lighter and is integral to the flavor, as well. We source the majority of our ingredients locally and from organic producers. Our grains and flours come from Cayuga Farms. Our produce and meats come from small organic and biodynamic producers in New York and Pennsylvania. Certain ingredients cannot be produced in this region and for those, we make sure to find sustainable and safe sources.

Q. What kind of fish do you feature? 
A. We wanted to feature delicious, sustainable and locally caught fish. We change it up based on availability. Right now we are using mostly bluefish and mahi-mahi, but also sometimes offer pollock.

Q. You’re known for your sambal. Can you tell us a bit about this condiment, and how you like to use it?
A. Sambal is generally a spicy condiment. We make all ours from scratch. We offer prawn crackers with three sambals as a snack/appetizer on the menu, which is a wonderful introduction to the flavor profile of the cuisine. We feature the sambals across many of the dishes, with eggs, fish and steak. I often enjoy our sambals simply with steamed rice. The Sambal Matah is a raw sambal made up of finely sliced lemongrass, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and chilies, with black pepper, lime juice, coconut oil and shrimp paste. It’s full-flavored and fresh and great with eggs, meat, greens or fish.

 


 

Selamat Pagi’s Sambal Mateh Recipe

by Chef Jason Greenberg
(makes approximately 1 quart)

Add a few tablespoons to your breakfast, lunch or dinner to give them some Balinese spice.

Ingredients:

225 g shallots, thinly sliced rounds
5 kaffir lime leaves, chiffonade
130 g lemongrass, white parts only thinly sliced
35 g red thai bird chilies, seeded and julianned
1/2 tsp. black pepper, ground
2 Tbsp. lime juice, fresh
1 Tbsp. shrimp paste
1/4 c. coconut oil, warmed
sea salt to taste

Place all ingredients except coconut oil in a mixing bowl, and toss well. Add the coconut oil and salt to taste. Sambal should be served at room temperature. Will keep for 1 week in an airtight container in the fridge.

Selamat Pagi
152 Driggs Ave. (bet. Russell and Humboldt Sts.)
Brooklyn, NY 11222
718 701-4333

For more recipes, check out The Clean Plates Cookbook!

Sweeter Sips: Lower-Sugar Cocktails from Aska

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With the average piña colada packing 28 grams of sugar, it can be hard to find a mixed drink that isn’t chased with a sugar hangover. But at Williamsburg’s Aska, co-owner and bar manager Eamon Rockey knows how to shake things up using less or even no sugar behind the bar.

“I want each drink to tell a story,” says Rockey. The bar’s signature drink, the “Next of Kin” (named for Kinfolk Studios, the restaurant’s home), transports the drinker with aquavit, caraway tea and a house made pu-erh kombucha, which was inspired by cold-fermented, mountain leaves that Rockey and Chef Frederik Bersilius enjoyed in Sweden at Faviken. For the “Silly Rabbit,” Rockey says, “I use carrot juice, which burns into a sweet caramel.” In other cases, he’ll look to ingredients that evoke sweetness even if they don’t necessarily have anything sweet in them—like licorice.

On the drier side of the scale, he likes to use Pineau des Charentes—a fortified wine—as a base for house-made vermouths; he says it “produces delicious Vesper-like cocktails when combined with gin and citrus peels.”

Rockey uses his bright, floral, house made vermouth in The Bond (both recipes below), his variation of the secret agent’s Casino Royale invention. With a backbone of dry gin, the drink gets an extra touch of sweetness and Nordic love from half an ounce of Swedish Punsch (liqueur made with citrus, rum, spices and Batavia Arrack, a southeast Asian liquor made from sugar cane and red rice.)

Use the vermouth in your favorite martini, or channel your inner Jens Bond with the recipes below.

Vermouth
750 mL (usually 1 bottle) Pineau des Charentes blanc
10 g dried jasmine flowers
15 g cinchona bark
5 g mace
(NYC recommendation for botanicals: Kalustyan’s)

Allow the botanicals to steep, refrigerated, in the spirit for a week before straining. Keep refrigerated.

The Bond
2 oz. dry gin
1 oz. vermouth
1/2 oz. Swedish punsch (Kronan’s is widely available in the US. You can also make your own.)

Stir with ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Aska
Open seven nights a week; Sun-Thurs prix fixe available, $65 (plus $35 for pairings)
90 Wythe Avenue (@ North 11th St.), Brooklyn, NY
718 388-2969

Image courtesy of  Maryse Chevriere for Serious Eats

Food Talk: Scandinavian Style at Aska

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If most of your Scandinavian food knowledge comes from IKEA’s cafés (meatballs and lingonberry sauce, anyone?), you’re missing out on a sea change. More Scandinavian-inspired restaurants are gracing our shores every day, and as it turns out, there are a lot of healthy secrets in Nordic cuisine: Get ready to try sea buckthorn, smoked fish and…lichens. We talked to Chef Fredrik Berselius of Clean Plates-approved Aska about the New Nordic fare coming to America, and his locavore-friendly version.

Q. What’s the basic philosophy of Scandinavian cooking, to you?

A. Scandinavian cooking is based on simple, wholesome ingredients. Grains, root vegetables, tubers, onions, wild berries and mushrooms. Long winters and mild summers made preservation of food, like drying, smoking and fermenting important for us and [it's] something we still do on a regular basis.

Q. What did you have for breakfast today?

A. Organic oatmeal, muscovado sugar, roasted apple and full-fat local milk. Also, Swedish pastries we make at the restaurant, and dark roasted coffee.

Q. One dish that stuck out to us at Aska is the earthy “fallen leaves” broth. What’s the story behind this rich vegetarian broth?

A. The whole kitchen staff was out picking mushrooms, lichens, and different leaves to use in our cooking. We found very aromatic leaves and brought them back to the restaurant. The first broth we made reminded us of the smells of the forest in a very comforting way. We kept working on it, and started serving it with lichens, wild carrots and other root vegetables.

Q. Though the food may seem foreign, you’re working with many local suppliers. Who’s one that you’re particularly excited to work with?

A. I get most of my seafood from Gabe Stommel of “Gabe the Fishbabe” in Point Judith. She will call me when the boat arrives at the dock and let me know the catch of that day.

Q. Is there a favorite food from your youth that you’ve brought to Aska?

A. Many things, but I am particularly happy to be getting fresh herring right now. I grew up fishing for herring as a kid, and it is definitely bringing back memories for many of us here, both in the kitchen and front of house. We all get excited as the seasons change, and we’re looking forward to warmer weather and seeing more wild greens.

Q. What do you find most inspirational about the food industry right now?

A. The appreciation of vegetables and forgotten ingredients. I really love eating food that does not have animals in it. And I like to look to how people used to cook before there were all kinds of crazy technology and cooking devices.

Aska
Open seven nights a week; Sun-Thurs prix fixe available, $65 (plus $35 for pairings)
90 Wythe Avenue (@ North 11th St.), Brooklyn, NY
718 388-2969

Image courtesy of goodiesfirst

Upper Crust: Alternative Pizzas

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Any true “New Yawker” knows that a good slice is all in the crust. But you seldom hear about the after effects. If they were being truthful, pizza connoisseurs might sound more like this:

“Brah, now that’s a slice.”
“Yeah man, feels like a brick between my throat and lungs.”

For a side of better digestion with that pie, get on the Khorasan (aka Kamut) and spelt bus. Both ancient grains are lower in gluten and higher in protein than traditional wheat, which may be why fans say they not only taste great but go down better. According to The Clean Plates Cookbook, people with gluten sensitivities in particular may respond best to spelt because it contains a different strain of gluten than that in wheat.

Felipe Avalos, Owner

We followed the trend to Brooklyn’s Monk Bar & Pizzeria, which offers exclusively organic flour, semolina, khorasan and spelt crusts. Owner Felipe Avalos (pictured) filled us in:

Q. Why did you choose to offer Khorasan and spelt crusts?

A. When I eat “regular” pizza, I feel this kind of uneasiness, indigestion and acid reflux. Pizza is my favorite food, and a friend of mine in Italy’s food industry was talking to me about Khorasan pizza. I started bringing in flour from Italy, and some original Kamut from Montana. The results have been fantastic.

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The dough is fermented for several days to create the perfect taste and elasticity. Fermentation reduces phytic acid, which may also increase digestibility.

Q. Any plans to offer gluten-free options?

A. If you want to do it the right way, you really need to have a separate facility. What I’m trying to do is offer the best option. Kamut (Khorasan) is called ‘the wheat you can eat,’ because it’s so virgin, if you will. [Historically,] it hadn’t been harvested or cultivated in so long, and hadn’t been modified in any way shape or form.

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Kamut and spelt breads post-fermentation. “After we bake our bread you can keep it in your home for four or five days and it’s still soft. It doesn’t get hard and stale like most store-bought breads, because of the whole fermentation process.” – Felipe Avalos

Q. Do you have a secret formula for your crusts?
A. It depends on the flours we are using. The combination of how much water, oil, sugar, and salt we put into it, how long we knead it, how long we think it needs to ferment—all depends on the flour. But even the flour that will come from one same manufacturer will be totally different from shipment to shipment.

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Giuseppe Cangialosi, Executive Chef

Q. So how do you know when it’s ready for the oven?
A. We smell it, feel it, taste it, and at the end of the day the proof is when it comes out of the oven…but we’ll already know when it’s in the mixer.

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(Author’s note: After eating an entire Monk personal pizza, I walked a brisk half mile with zero indigestion, and a new favorite NYC slice.)

Monk Bar & Pizzeria
291 Kent Ave. (@ S. 2nd St.), Brooklyn, NY

718 782-8810

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Images by Laura Mordas-Schenkein

Cup, Cupping Away: Toby’s Estate Coffee Cupping Class

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While we’re more apt to recommend a glass of green juice for your morning boost than caffeine, we still love a good cuppa. Especially from the likes of Toby’s Estate.

Sustainability is the driving force behind the Australian company, whose first American café-roastery is in Brooklyn. Toby’s buys its beans directly from farmers, ensuring traceability and fair trade. It also welcomes the public to $5 cupping classes twice a week: that’s the process of evaluating coffees’ unique tastes (just as with wine).

How to do a cupping at home:

1) Measure several varieties of whole beans into separate cups or glasses (about 12 g coffee per 6.5 oz. water). For a blind tasting, you can place stickers on the bottoms of the cups to keep track of what’s what. Place a small glass of water next to each set of cups.

photo-22) Grind the beans in each cup individually, making sure to brush off your grinder in between coffees. Place a number next to each coffee, to use in your notes.
3) Sniff each cup of dry grounds, taking notes on what you smell.
4) Boil water (the ideal temperature is 202°F), then pour it slowly over each cup until the grounds are saturated, starting with the first beans you ground.

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5) After 3-4 minutes, it’s time to break the crust: using the back of a spoon, push away the “crust” that’s formed on top of the brews, inhaling deeply as you do. Take notes on what you smell.
6) Skim the cups to remove the grounds, leaving as much liquid as possible, and get ready to taste.
7) Take a spoonful of coffee at a time and slurp—ungracefully rapidly and loudly—trying to get the liquid to coat your tongue as you inhale. Dip your spoon into the water in between tastes.

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8) Try each coffee a few times, and feel free to spit out sips (into an empty cup, that is) as you go.
9) Compare and contrast your observations and your favorites, and then go for the big reveal.

That’s the smell of success.

Toby’s Estate
125 North 6th St. (bet. Bedford & Berry)
347 457-6160

$5 public cupping classes take place every Wednesday and Sunday, from 10-11:30am. Reserve your spot here.

Photos by Jaclyn Einis

Spirit Talk: Owney’s Rum

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In New York, it can be easy to forget there’s a world beyond the five boroughs…especially when you don’t need to step outside Brooklyn to find locally made rum.

You might also be surprised to learn how deeply rum is rooted in America’s history: it was the first US-distilled spirit, and one of the country’s first recorded rum distilleries was on present-day Staten Island. Adding to this New York story, Williamsburg-based Bridget Firtle has started “The Noble Experiment,” her own one-woman distillery, kicking off with Owney’s Rum. She stepped away from the still to answer our questions:

Q. Can you remember the first time Bridget Firtleyou really enjoyed a great rum?

A.
 No comment…

Q. Owney’s is white rum. What does the color, or lack of it, mean?

A. In order for rum to get dark, it has to be stored in barrels and mature for months or years—this leads to a new flavor profile created by the interaction of the spirit with tannins and vanillins in the wood; it is also where [rums] pick up their dark color. White rum does not age for nearly as long and that is why it is the first product I’m able to make available to the market. And I’m excited about the white rum—it works really awesome in cocktails but is also smooth enough to be enjoyed with a few ice cubes.

Q. How would you describe the Owney’s taste?

A. The Original Owney’s is similar to an agricole (or sugar cane juice) rum: sweet on the nose with hints of vanilla, banana, butterscotch, and cane. On the palate, it’s quite grassy and full of minerality. It’s dry and super smooth, because it is distilled at a high alcohol by volume before being blended down to 40%.

Q. How do your ingredients set Owney’s apart from other rums?

A. A lot of commercial rum producers add sugar at the end of the process for
added sweetness, or caramel coloring, and use synthetic chemicals in “flavored” products. We source all of our [non-GMO] sugar cane molasses domestically, and our [forthcoming] infusions are made of mostly homegrown herbs.

Q. What’s on tap next?

A. First off: our overproof version of the Original Owney’s rum, intended to really stand up in cocktails. Later in the year, we’ll be releasing some limited edition, infused varieties of the Original, made with homegrown herbs, using a simple cold infusion process. Stay tuned for our backyard garden opening this spring! Later down the road, after a proper barrel aging, I’ll be excited to release our aged rum and American whiskeys.

The Noble Experiment still

Try one of Firtle’s favorite rum recipes, The Classic Daiquiri:

2 oz. Owney’s NYC Rum
1 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup*

Shake ingredients with ice until chilled, and serve up in a coupe glass.

*Clean Plates tip: Substitute 0.15-0.2 oz. organic raw agave nectar for simple syrup, or make your own simple syrup using coconut palm sugar.

The Noble Experiment
23 Meadow St. (bet. Bogart & Waterbury)
Brooklyn, NY 11206

The distillery offers $10 tours on Saturdays. Reserve tickets here.

Image courtesy of The Noble Experiment

New Year’s Resolution: Eat Locally

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This year, we’re resolving to consume more locally-grown, seasonal foods with intact, vital nutrients (not left behind on gas-guzzling big rigs). And here are two new haunts that make it easy, with hunting-gathering techniques that will leave both our consciences and plates as clean as can be:

IMG_8139DearBushwickOpeningBushwick’s new breed of hunting-gathering gastronomic restos (including Clean Plates-approved  Roberta’s, Blanca, Northeast Kingdom, Cafe Ghia and Momo Sushi Shack) recently welcomed Dear Bushwick to the ‘hood. Chef Jessica Wilson is an extreme forager, offering over 90% local ingredients, among certified organic Hepworth Farms produce and 100% hormone/GMO feed-free Campanelli FarmSugar Hill Farm and Sir William Berkshire proteins. Chef Wilson works with Hudson Valley Harvest to find “specialities and treats of the earth and sky: trees, hay, wood, fruit and more,” with plans to harvest her own salt from local waters.

Get this: Roasted Whole Wild Mushrooms with fregola, leeks and cranberries in vegetable broth
Braised Lamb Neck with confit fennel & garlic, white beans & sultana jus

Dear Bushwick
41 Wilson Ave. (@ Melrose St.)
Daily: 5pm-11pm
929 234-2344

Hunter's Brooklyn

Further down the borough, saddle up for a wintery selection of game meats and drink at Hunter’s in Carroll Gardens. Around the bend from Verde on Smith, 61 Local and Saul, you’ll find house-made pastas, pot pies, sustainably-sourced meats and 100% local veggies to round out an affordably-priced, eclectic New American, Italian and French menu.

Get this: Grilled Kale with hard egg, puffed chickpeas, roasted squash & whole-grain vinaigrette
House-made Agnolotti with winter squash, sage, pumpkin seeds & Brussels sprouts

Hunter’s
213 Smith St. (bet. Butler & Baltic St.)
Tue-Thu: 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat: 11am-2am, Sun: 11am-10pm
718 246-2221

Images courtesy of Charles SmithDear Bushwick and Hunter’s.

Brooklyn Bouillon Winter Soup Recipe

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Winter Carrot and Sunchoke Soup

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 lbs. carrots, chopped
1 lb. sunchokes, chopped
4 c. Brooklyn Bouillon Pasture-Raised Chicken Stock or Farm Fresh Vegetable Stock
1/2 c. heavy cream
Pinch cayenne
Pinch nutmeg
Sea salt
White pepper
Garnish: crème fraîche and chives

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, sunchokes and stock, and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Carefully transfer contents to a blender and blend until smooth. Return soup to the pot, and stir in heavy cream. Season with cayenne, nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Garnish with crème fraîche and chives.

Recipe courtesy of Brooklyn Bouillon

For more great recipes, check out The Clean Plates Cookbook!

Gold Standard

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‘Tis the season for cozy soup, but making homemade stock can simmer away a lot of time. Don’t reach for those salty cubes yet! Foodshed Stock’s Brooklyn Bouillon has a solution that’s free of hydrogenated oil, grain and gluten, with just a tad of sea salt to taste. (Scroll down for a soup recipe.)

Bouillon, from the French verb bouillir (“to boil”), is traditionally defined as a simple broth. Brooklyn Bouillon’s are true to their name: they’re brewed in Kingston, NY, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, with entirely local ingredients—including 100% certified organic produce from Hudson Valley’s The Farm at Miller’s Crossing, and grass-fed beef and pastured chicken from nearby Grazin’ Angus Acres. Lengthy simmering and the bones’ natural gelatin create deeply concentrated, flavorful, nutrient-rich vegetarian and carnivorous stocks in three varieties.

Stay tuned: Brooklyn Bouillon will be launching Foodshed Stocks CSA at the end of January, for convenient pickup at both Brooklyn’s 61 Local and Manhattan’s Jimmy’s No. 43.  Join and get one monthly, four- to six-serving “recipe box” containing one seasonal recipe, organic produce, beans and legumes, and your choice of meat or veggie stock ($40-$60 per month). Or get bouillon packages right now at Stinky Bklyn, Brooklyn Fare and Forager’s City Grocer, or directly from the farm on Plovgh.

Get a hearty Winter Carrot and Sunchoke Soup recipe here.

More questions? Send your bubbling queries to rachael@brooklynbouillon.com.

It’s hot stuff.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Bouillon.