Late this summer, my family and I pitched a tent at Eatwell Farm, which is where most of the produce we eat is grown. Farmer Nigel Walker and his partner, Lorraine, had graciously invited us and other CSA members out to the farm for an event called "Do Nothing Weekend". We spent our days swimming in the pond, canoeing on the pond, drinking lots of house-made soda, counting feral cats and generally lounging around.
I am not one to normally use pre-made sauces and ingredients. I'll admit they taste good. I know they are handy and could save my sanity. But for some ridiculous reason, I just can't do it. So I hesitated a bit at Nigel Slater's oyster sauce creation. If this weren't a recipe from my current favorite diarist and king of vegetables, I would have glossed it over and gone on.
But Nigel Slater is just so fantastic. I really can't rave enough about him - his writing is beautiful, his garden is magnificent and he takes the time to cook wonderful food every day. Plus most of what he cooks is quick and easy, and, as far as I can tell, he doesn't have a personal assistant or live in maid, he is just a regular guy. Who lives in a spotless house full of stylish crockery. With no kids. And no responsibilities other than shopping, cooking, eating and writing.
So, I take my cues from him. He is a big deal in Britain, having just won Food Personality of the Year at the BBC's Food and Farming Awards (but I'm not sure exactly what that means, since his name is in small type at the end of the list). He has written a weekly column for the Observer since 1993, published two memoirs and eleven cookbooks and although he seems to invite us into his life in his writing, apparently refuses to discuss details of it with the media. Check his article and resulting discussion in Wikipedia if you're interested in getting gossipy on that.
I am really excited for the second half of his huge and wonderful tome Tender to be published, sometime in 2010. But back to the matter at hand - what is in oyster sauce, anyway? From the Kikkoman website:
Water, Brown Sugar, Salt, Oyster Juice Concentrate [Oyster (Molluscan Shellfish), Water, Salt], Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce (Water, Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Caramel Color, Fermented Wheat Protein, Vinegar, Xanthan Gum.
Most of those look like food to me, except for a few of the latter. I would like to look them up in Marion Nestle's What to Eat, but I cannot find my copy. It has magically disappeared from my bedside stack. So in my search of the web I have discovered the USDA's EAFUS, which stands for Everything Added to Food in the United States. But sadly, its quite cryptic and not very helpful. I've also found a site called Nutrition Data, which identifies "modified starch" as a gelling agent or thickener, "xantham gum" as one or all of the following: Bodying Agent, Bulking Agent, Emulsifier, Foaming Agent, Gelling Agent, Stabilizer, Suspending Agent, Thickener, Whipping Agent, and does not list "fermented wheat protein". Its not so helpful either. I guess I'm really wondering: what is xantham, and where does it come from? Where do they get the food starch and how is it modified? Why is the wheat protein fermented and not just left as regular wheat? This site just makes me think about whether a whipping agent is something I want kept in my pantry.
Oh well. Xantham gum aside, I enjoyed my dinner tonight. Nigel Slater's pork free version would have been better, but now that my daughter has ceased eating all protein sources beyond peanut butter and yogurt, I'm offering up as many as I can find. Both kids ate their rice, a single 2"x1" piece of pork, and drank their milk.
Pork and Greens with Oyster Sauce and Ginger (adapted from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries):
2 cups rice (cook it in the steamer, or however you like to)
1/2 bunch coriander (aka cilantro), chopped
2 stalks of spring garlic or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped,
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 bag or bunch stir-fry greens, rinsed and large stems removed
4 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 boneless pork chops, cut into bite-sized pieces
Mr. Slater actually calls this Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and ginger, but then goes on to say that you can make it with just about any broccoli or spring green, which I think means young green. So in my case, a bag of stir-fry mix from our produce box works perfectly. Along with some pork, to buff up the greens that my kids won't eat. I serve it with steamed rice, leaving out the cilantro for the kids but adding it for grown-ups.
Roughly chop the cilantro and fold it into the rice, which should be kept warm while you cook the rest. Warm the oil in a wok over high heat (or large pan over medium heat if you don't have a wok) . Add the garlic and ginger, stir it for about thirty seconds, then toss in the pork and stir them around for five minutes or so. Then add the oyster sauce and stir it in. Next, add the greens and 1/4 cup of water. Stir it all around, then put the lid on halfway for a few minutes, until the greens are as tender as you'd like them to be. Serve the pork and greens over the rice.
Well, thats not a photo of today's dinner - but it is my husband, Jason, taking part in the Oakland Running Festival's Half Marathon, which was part of our big day of Bar-B-Que. The kids and I left the house early and spent the morning cheering on the corner of 28th street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which, incidentally, is right down the street from Novella Carpenter's Ghost Town Farm - I think has been renamed Goat Town Farm? Either way - it was a blast to check out the produce section of her farm, meet some bees, a couple of rabbits and a nervous goat. Best of all, one of her book's most beloved characters dropped by for an appearance - Bobby. You'll find that exciting if you've read Farm City.
We also managed to pick up some of her goat cheese, which was in short supply. But, for all of you over there in O-town, it sounds like she'll be having more for sale in the future. You should check her website for future events - though I see that its not available today, apparently because her domain name registration hasn't been renewed. Hopefully someone will pickup the tab on that one.
The goat cheese is delicious, and will be featured in tomorrow's dinner. Like the cheese my friend Kristin made at Tunitas Creek Ranch, Novella's is very mild, and I think that might be due to having only female goats around. I'll check with Kristin and see if thats the case at her farm too. Not that I'm planning to raise goats (is that allowed in San Francisco?) but its really fascinating that having a billy goat around would make the milk taste more, uh, goaty. Novella mentioned the boys would make the cheese taste bad, but I'm not sure if thats the goatyness, or some other sort of bad.
After the race and our farm tour, we headed over to my pal Steph's in the Oakland hills and cooked up some ribs I had stashed in the back of my car - in a cooler, marinating in Jason's spice rub. They turned out great after an hour or so on the grill with a little BBQ sauce. To go along with the ribs, Steph and I assembled one of the oddest recipes I've encountered lately - but it was really good. Asian style coleslaw with toasted ramen noodles. Bizarre. I can't think of an ingredient you could possibly put in there to replace the ramen.
Jason's Rib Rub (adapted from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidell):
This is good on pork, and probably beef too:
2 Tablespoons paprika
2 Tablespoons chile powder
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup salt
Mix all the ingredients together - it will store in a tightly sealed jar for a couple months. Rub it on the ribs then refrigerate for 12 hours or so. Grill the ribs dry or with some BBQ sauce.
Steph's Asian Coleslaw:
1 head of cabbage, shredded (this means very, very thinly sliced. I might use my Cuisinart next time)
2 bunches of green onions, chopped
2 packages of ramen, crushed (don't add the flavor packet!)
2 small packages of slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
2/3 cup sunflower seeds
Heat the oven to 450°. Toast the ramen, almond or pine nuts and sunflower seeds until slightly golden, stirring often. Right before serving, mix the cabbage, green onions and toasted things together in a big bowl.
For the dressing, mix in a lidded jar:
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Screw the lid on tightly and shake furiously. Just before serving, pour the dressing slowly over the salad, and stop when the amount seems right to you - this recipe makes quite a bit of dressing. Toss the salad and serve!