Friday, November 15, 2019

Karas Classic Red (2016)

Who knew that Armenia made wine? As it turns out, the country of Armenia stakes the claim to being one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. In fact, the oldest winery -- dating back approximately 6,100 years -- is located in the village of Areni. For centuries, grape vines have been cultivated in the valleys of the South Caucacus, producing wines that seem to receive little fanfare.

Perhaps part of the problem is that, at least in more recent times, the grapes don't always go toward traditional wines.  During much of the twentieth century, when Armenia was the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, a larger proportion of the grapes went to the production of brandy or sherry, as opposed to table wines.  Moreover, much of the production was destined for other parts of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with very little making its way outside of the Iron Curtain.

Since it regained its independence, there has been growth in the production of red wines.  Many of Armenia's provinces -- from Aragotsotn to Voyats Dozr -- have vineyards and wineries, producing wines from grapes seldom heard outside of the Country of Stones.  Grapes such as Lalvari, Kakhet, Areni and Khndogni.  Winemakers also cultivate more well known varietals, such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Tannat.  I came across one such wine on my birthday, when I ordered a bottle to accompany a dinner of kebabs at a local Persian restaurant. 

The wine is the Karas Classic Red (2016), which is produced in the Armavir region of Armenia.  Due east of Armenia's capital of Yerevan, the Armavir region holds a special place in the country's history.  It has a long history, but the central event in that timeline is the 1918 Battle of Sardarabad.  The battle pitted the Ottoman Empire, which sought to take advantage of the collapse of the Russian Empire, by attacking the Armenians. The Armenians fought back at that battle and stopped the Ottoman advance.  It is said that the Armenians' victory at Sardarabad saved the Armenian nation.

The history of Karas wine is not as long or contested.  Karas is the Armenian word for "amphora," the vessel used in classical times to store wine.  The family that owns Karas had left Armenia long ago as part of the diaspora, finding their way to Argentina.  However, they made their way back to their native Armenia, returned to the Armavir region, and established Karas, producing a range of wines, including the Classic Red.

With that background, the Karas Classic Red is a blend of 35% Syrah, 35% Cot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Tannat. The Karas pours a deep ruby red.  The aroma gives hints of bold red fruit, such as juicy cherries and strawberries.  Wafts of something more earthy, more expected from someplace with the nickname of "Country of Stones" can be found on the nose.  Some slate, some pebble, some kind of stone can be found in the aroma.

As for the taste, this wine is relatively bold, presenting a taste that is full of ripe, red cherries in season.  Indeed, the cherries are so bold that, in some sense, they take on a candied note.  That note is somewhat softened by other dark fruit on the palate, such as a little blackberries. 

The taste, along with the aroma, was quite the surprise to someone like me, who had no idea of Armenian wine.  This Classic Red left me wanting to learn more about Armenian wine, as well as searching out a few wine stores that carry bottles of this blend.  (Fortunately, I have found a couple in my area.) If you find a bottle, which goes for between $14.99 and $16.99, you should buy a bottle and learn a little about Armenian wine.  Until next time...


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Cape Town Lamb

Like many countries, South Africans have developed their own style of barbecue, which is called "braai" or "grilled meat."  Although that term is Afrikaans, the word has become so eponymous in South Africa that each of the twelve official languages recognizes "braai" as what many would call  barbecue. Not only has the word been adopted into all of the languages of South Africa, but the social custom of a braai is enjoyed by all social classes, from the rich to the poor.   

The subject of barbecue is one that is near and dear to my heart.  I have spent a lot of time learning about different barbecue styles across the United States and around the world.  When I came across Steven Raichlen's recipe for Cape Town Lamb, I decided that I had to look a little more into the South African barbecue generally, and, this recipe in particular.  

There is a lot of information out there about the social custom of a braai.  A braai is like a potluck, centered around a wood fire over which different meats are grilled over direct and indirect heat.  The meats include sausages, kebabs, marinated chicken, pork chops, lamb chops, and even steaks.  If the braai takes place near the coastline, it is not uncommon for fish to appear on the grill. Once the meats are finished, they are served alongside side dishes and salads. 

I could go more into a braai, but that may very well end up as part of my culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, to prepare a main dish from South Africa. 

Unlike the braai, I had a much more difficult time learning about the history of the Cape Town Lamb recipe.  Every thing I found ultimately led me back to Steven Raichlen and his Barbecue Bible book.  With that said, I turned to the recipe itself.  There is some information in that recipe that provides some insight.  The use of soy sauce and Chinese hot mustard is a nod to the Asians who have made their way to South Africa, as is the use of ginger, as the largest producers of the root include China and India. In other words, the use of these ingredients gives us a glimpse into the diversity of the people who call the Rainbow Nation their home. 

I made a couple of changes to the recipe.  Although this recipe calls for a bone-in leg of lamb, I decided used a boneless leg of lamb, which was tied up so that it was a tight ball. This helped to ensure that the meat cooked evenly. It was also a necessity given my second change.  The recipe calls for indirect cooking. I decided to go full-on barbecue, smoking the meat with a combination of apple and pecan wood. I smoked the lamb in my Weber Smokey Mountain, and, a boneless leg of lamb fits better int that smoker than a bone-in leg of lamb.

In the end, I think this recipe produced a very tasty lamb barbecue dish that, much like barbacoa, opens one's eyes to how different peoples approach a common cooking technique.  

Recipe from Barbecue Bible
Serves 12

Ingredients (for the lamb):
1 bone-in leg of lamb (6 to 8 pounds) 
     trimmed of any papery skin
6 cloves of garlic, cut into thin slivers
6 thin slices of peeled fresh ginger, cut into thin slivers
(Optional: apple and pecan wood for smoking)

Ingredients (for the glaze):
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons hot Chinese style mustard
     or one tablespoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  Prepare the lamb.  Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, slits about an inch deep all over the surface of the lamb.  Insert a sliver of garlic and ginger into each slit.  Place the lamb in a non-reactive roasting pan and set aside while you prepare the glaze.

2.  Make the glaze. Combine the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, mustard, lemon huice, minced garlic adn ginger in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Cook the glaze until thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  Remove the glaze from the heat and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Let cool to room temperature. 

3.  Continue to prepare the lamb.  Pour half of the cooled glaze over the lamb in the roasting pan, brushing to coat it on all sides.  Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator, for 3 to 8 hours (the longer the better).  Refrigerate the remaining glaze, covered.

4.  Prepare the grill. Set up the grill for indirect grilling (preferably, you'll have built a wood fire; let it burn down to glowing embers), place a large drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium.  Toss the wood chips on the coals.  

5.  Cook the lamb.  When ready to cook, place the lamb on the hot grate over the drip pan and cover the grill.  Cook the lam until done to taste, 1 to 1 1/4 hours for rare (internal temperature of 120 to 125 degrees); 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours for medium rare (130 to 135 degrees); 2 hours for medium ({145 to 150 degrees).  Start brushing the lamb wit the remaining glaze during the last 45 minutes of grilling, brushing it two or three times.  If using a charcoal grill, you will need to add 10 to 12 fresh coals to each side every hour. 

6.  Finish the dish.  Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and brush it one last time with glaze, then let it rest for 10 minutes for carving.  While the lamb rests, heat any remaining glaze to serve as a sauce with the lamb. 


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Vietnamese Mussels

I am a very big fan of mussels; and, fortunately, the bivalves can be found on menus at many restaurants. The prevalence of mussel dishes takes on interesting dimensions when they are found on the menus of different ethnic restaurants and, to a somewhat lesser degree, when they are found on the menus of American cuisine restaurants who are dabbling in ethnic cuisine.  Really, if you want to see how a mussels are used in Italian cuisine (for example), the best thing in my humble opinion is to order the dish at an Italian restaurant.  Likewise, if you are like me and really looking to go outside the box, you would be perusing the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant to see if there are any mussel dishes.

The thing about eating mussels at restaurants is that most mussel dishes are overpriced. There are two reasons for this reality.  First, mussels have been relatively popular in recent years. Second, mussels are perhaps the most difficult shellfish to deal with. They tend to die very quickly.  While working as a cook at a crab house, one of my initial prep tasks was to go through the bags of mussels and discard the bad ones. Oftentimes, I would discard a quarter of a bag.  In other words, supply and demand.

However, one can buy a one or two pound bag (which would be upward of $7.00 for a bag), grab a few ingredients lying around the kitchen, and make a mussel dish that could sell for $12.00 to $15.00 at a restaurant. That is what I did in this case, after finding a recipe for Vietnamese Mussels. The recipe requires only a few ingredients, such as a carrot, scallions, a lime, fish sauce and sugar.  The end result is a great appetizer.

Recipe adapted from
Serves 2

2 pounds of fresh mussels
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/2 cup of water
4 teaspoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 bunch of scallions, green parts sliced

1. Prepare the mussels.  Rinse the mussels under tap water.  Tap any mussels that are open and throw away any mussels that do not close after being tapped and rinsed.  Set aside.

2.  Prepare the steaming liquid.   In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine the carrot, lime zest and lime juice, water, sugar and fish sauce.  Bring to a boil.  

3.  Steam the mussels.  Add the mussels and cover with a lid.  Turn the heat to high and cook until steam pours out from under the lid and the shells are open, 5 to 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit covered for about a minute.  Discard any mussels that do not open.

4.  Plate the dish.  Plate the mussels, pour any of the liquid form the pot over the mussels, and garnish with the scallion greens. 


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Arista, Patate Rosse Arrostite, Cavolo Nero

It was Florence, Tuscany. The year was 1430.  The Byzantine patriarch, Bessarion, was visiting the city, which was the center of an oligarchic republic at time.  The visit of the patriarch was an occasion to celebrate. Accordingly, along with the other bishops and cardinals, Bessarion was treated to a feast that included a roasted pork dish.  After eating some of that roast pork, the Bessarion exclaimed, "aristos!" His Tuscan hosts looked at him and then at each other.  After all, what the Byzantine patriarch said was Greek (literally). The Tuscan hosts thought Bessarion was shouting the Greek word for pork; instead, he was really saying "best" or "excellent." 

This is a great story, but it is most likely a culinary myth. "Arista" goes back at least one century before Bessarion set foot in Florence.  Records apparently include references to the roast pork dish going back to the 1200s.  Regardless of when it first appeared, the dish has become one of the culinary cornerstones of Tuscan cuisine;

Indeed, arista is in many ways the porcine equivalent to Bistecca alla Fiorentina, another Tuscan culinary classic.  Like bistecca, arista combines garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper into a crust that infuses those flavors into the meat.  Arista can also be made using a crown roast or a rib roast, which are probably as close to a bone-in cut like a porterhouse.  However, most recipes for arista focus more on cuts like the pork tenderloin than roasts.  Moreover, unlike bistecca, arista works best when it is roasted slow rather than with a sear over extremely hot coals.  

Most arista recipes are relatively the same.  This recipe is a Chef Bolek original insofar that I have taken what I liked from dfferent arista recipes, including some of my own additional ingredients, like the crushed red pepper. 

For this dish, I decide to pair the roasted pork with side dishes of roasted red potatoes (patate rosse arrostite) and sauteed black kale (cavolo nero).  The red potato recipe is rather basic, drawing upon the fundamental ingredients of the rub for the pork roast (rosemary, garlic, salt and black pepper) to underscore the complementary nature of the roasted potatoes.  As for the kale, I am not a big fan of the leafy cabbage.  Still, I am a big fan of balsamic vinegar, which provides some sweetness to balance out the bitterness of the kale. 

In the end, I was just cooking for myself, not a feast for bishops and cardinals.  Yet, as the picture shows, it was nevertheless a personal feast.  Just a couple of bites of the roasted pork is all the explanation one needs for why this recipe has survived over at least 800 years. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the pork loin):
1 boneless pork loin roast (about 3 pounds)
4 springs of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
4 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 tablespoon sea salt (or more if desired)
1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper (or more if desired)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil (or more if desired)
1 cup of water or white wine

Ingredients (for the red potatoes):
2 pounds of red potatoes, washed, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of garlic, minced finely
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Ingredients (for the kale):
1 bunch of Tuscan kale (or kale), 
     leaves and stems roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 shallot, minced finely
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Balsamic vinegar 

1.  Prepare the pork loin.  Brush the pork loin with the olive oil.  Salt and pepper the pork loin generously on all sides.  Then add the minced garlic and rosemary on all sides.  Allow the pork loin to rest for 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.  

2.  Prepare the red potatoes.  In a large bowl add the potatoes, olive oil, garlic and rosemary.  Salt and pepper the potatoes.  

3. Roast the pork.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the pork loin roast in the center of a lightly oiled roasting pan.  Add the potatoes around the pork loin roast.  Cook uncovered for 45 minutes.  Check the loin roast and the potatoes. Raise the heat to 450 degrees and cook for another 30 minutes to brown well.  Remove the roast when the internal temperature reaches around 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  Allow the roast to rest for 10 minutes before carving. 

4.  Prepare the kale. Heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the stems, garlic and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heart to low and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until the stems soften.  Add the kale leaves and increase the heat to high.  Cook, stirring the leaves until they have wilted, about two to three minutes.

5.  Finish the dish. Carve the roast into thin slices and serve with the potatoes and kale.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Chesapeake Paella

Recently, as I get myself back into cooking, I have been wanting to make dishes for which I have a strong affinity.  It may be a particular dish, or, particular ingredients.  The problem is trying to find a recipe from which I could work to bring those beloved components together.  I often spend a lot of time looking at recipes, thinking about the preparation set forth therein, and how I could change it or adapt it to something that I want to make and eat.

That is the process that I used when I came across a recipe for a simple shellfish paella.  I love paella, and, I have made that dish a couple of times in the past.  Those efforts were more "earthy," with the use of turkey, artichokes and green beans.  The thought of cooking a shellfish paella was intriguing to me.  But, the thought did not end there.  I went on to think about how I could change the recipe to incorporate some of the flavors and ingredients that I like.  My thoughts turned to familiar shellfish and seafood, such as crab, clams and oysters, all of which can be found in my beloved Chesapeake Bay.

And, the result of my thinking process is a Chesapeake Paella. There are certain ingredients that play a central role in the culinary history of the Chesapeake Bay: crabs, clams and oysters. That triumvirate of seafood would be the center of my paella.  The Chesapeake Paella was ready, at least in concept.

Making that concept a reality, required the solution to a big problem.  Each of the  main three ingredients is that they have wildly different cooking times.  Unshucked oysters become plump morsels in a couple of minutes.  Clams take several minutes longer, depending upon the size.  Soft shell crabs ordinarily take a few minutes in a saute pan, but they would take much longer in the paella pan.  So, I decided on a particular order and process.  The clams would go in first and be covered to allow the heat to start the cooking process.  When the clams started to open, then I would add the oysters and cover again to cook both at the same time.  While the clams and oysters were cooking, I would prepare the soft shells in a separate skillet, adding them to the paella when the crabs were almost finished.

The end result of this effort was a very good paella that drew its essence from the Chesapeake Bay.  I really liked this paella, but, with practice, I think that this could become a really good paella.

Recipe adapted from Simple Shellfish Paella 
by Andrew Zimmern
Serves 6-8
2 cups of paella rice
2 teaspoons pimenton (hot smoky paprika)
1 minced onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 minced garlic cloves
2 pinches saffron
4 cups seafood stock
2 cups of clam juice
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of white wine
1 cup of clam juice
8 ounces jumbo lump crab meat
8 ounces of little neck clams
8 ounces of raw oysters
2 soft shell crabs
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
6 ounces of Spanish chorizo sliced thin

1. Begin the paella.  Place a paella pan (12 inch or 16 inch) over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil.  Immediately add the onion, garlic, saffron, pimenton, rice and stir, cooking until all of the ingredients become toasty and aromatic.  Keep scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid scorching or burning of the ingredients, but still working toward carmelization of the ingredients.  

2.  Add the liquid.  First, add the wine and stir as you go.  Then add the clam stock and stir as you go.  Finish by adding the seafood stock, continuing to stir as the liquids simmer and start to be absorbed into the rice.  Lower the heat and continue to cook for about 10 minutes.

3.  Add the seafood. Add the crab meat and stir gently so as to not break up the lumps . Add the clams and asparagus, cover for a few minutes, until the clams begin to open. Remove the cover.  Add the oysters and cover again for only a few more minutes, until the oysters begin to firm.  Remove the cover.  Continue to cook for about 5 minutes.  

4.  Cook the soft shell crabs.  While you are adding the seafood to the paella, heat the 1 tablespoon of white wine and butter in a separate small pan.  Saute the soft shell crabs until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. 

5.  Finish the dish.  Once the rice is just past "toothy" but not mushy, and the remaining liquid is like a sauce, remove the paella from the heat.  Season with salt to taste and sprinkle with the parsley.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Chesapeake Bay Oysters with Green Mignonette Sauce

It is common to serve a mignonette sauce with raw oysters.  It is a sauce typically made with minced shallots, vinegar and and freshly cracked black pepper. Personally, I think a mignonette sauce is boring.  I almost never use it when I order raw oysters at a restaurant; and, at home, I usually don't bother making it.  

Occasionally, I look for a way to take a boring mignonette sauce and make it into something that I would actually want to grace a raw oyster that is sitting in its shell.  On rare occasions, I try to come up with my own mignonette sauce.  In the end, I more often than not just use a little Tabasco Sauce or grated horseradish with my oysters.  No sauces.

A while back, I came across a recipe for a green mignonette sauce.  The recipe actually looked interesting and, if I dare say so, it looked tasty.  While shallots are used in the recipe, rice wine vinegar and mirin are used as substitutes for vinegar.   The addition of jalapeno and fresh parsley give the mignonette sauce a little character and kick.  Blended together, with a little lemon juice, the result is a sauce that was worth putting on an oyster. 

Recipe adapted from from Veryvera
Serves 2-3

1 dozen Chesapeake Bay oysters, rinsed and shucked
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
Juice from 1 lemon

1.  Prepare the sauce.  Blend all of the ingredients in a blender.  Pour into ramekins to serve with the oysters.  

2.  Finish the dish.  Provide each guest with a ramekin of the sauce.  Spoon a little of the sauce over each oyster.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Tonga

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly a year since I last undertook one of the challenges that is part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes.  That last challenge was to cook a main course from the country of Ghana.  The dish was Jollof Rice with Goat, one of two dishes that I have made with goat (the other was a Guyanese Goat Curry).  As I return to this challenge, I wanted to do something completely different, something completely new. 

As I perused my previous challenges, I noticed that I have not made a dish from any of the nations in what could be referred to as Polynesia, Melanesia or Micronesia.  These three names refer to the regions of islands in the Pacific Ocean.  Polynesia consists of a variety of islands, including the countries of Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.  Melanesia includes Papua New Guinea, the Soloman Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.  Micronesia includes the Marshall Islands and Kiribati. After giving it some thought, as well as a review of recipes, I decided that my next challenge would be to make a main dish from the Kingdom of Tonga.

As with most islands in the Pacific Ocean, Tonga had a rich history long before the arrival of the colonizing powers such as the Dutch, British, French or even the Americans. The earliest evidence of settlement among Tonga's 169 islands dates back to between 1,500 to 1,000 B.C.  This settlement is believed to have been part of the Lupita, who were the predecessors to the Polynesian peoples that eventually settled on the island.  That latter settlement was dated to around 888 B.C.  Tonga grew in power and influence, led by a line of succession of rulers known as the Tu'i Tonga.  The "Tu'i Tongan" empire reached its height in the 12th century, and began to decline thereafter.

Speeding up the history lesson, the Tongans eventually came into contact with Europeans, first Dutch explorers in 1616 and later the British, the Spanish and the Americans in 1840.  Fast forward a few hundred years and Tonga became a protected territory of the United Kingdom in 1900, which lasted until 1970. During this time period, as was true throughout its history, Tonga retained its sovereignty and was the only island nation to retain its monarchy. This independence sets Tonga apart from other Pacific nations.  


While I love to discuss history, the challenge is to cook a main course based upon the cuisine of a country.  The cuisine of Tonga, like any country, is defined by where it is located and what one could find there.  As a collection of islands in the Pacific Ocean, one would expect that seafood plays a key role in the cuisine.  To be sure, there are a wide range of seafood dishes, but, one dish that I kept coming across is 'Ota 'Ika, which I decided would be centerpiece of this challenge.

Put simply, 'Ota 'Ika is a Pacific Islander version of ceviche. It consists of fish marinated in citrus (usually lime juice) for a period of time, usually an hour or so.  What sets aside this dish from the Latin American versions of ceviche is that 'Ota 'Ika is served in coconut milk.  The sweetness of the milk balances the citrus of the lemon juice.

'Ota 'Ika is traditionally prepared in Tonga with the moki or blue cod, which is a species of trumpeter fish.  However, that particular species of trumpeter fish is found in the waters around Australia, New Zealand and, of course, Tonga.  In other words, it was not available where I live.  I tried to find alternatives, such as Trevally, but I still had the same problem.  Eventually, I decided to use a fish that is used for ceviche, such as snapper.

One last note, check to see if the fish is "cooked through."  If the pieces are still raw in the inside, let it rest in the citrus for longer, up to 24 hours.

Recipe from the Otango Daily Times
Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds of fresh fish (such as moki or blue cod)
Juice of 4 to 5 lemons
3-4 spring onions, chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
2 bell peppers, sliced
1 2/3 cup of coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Prepare the fish.  Wash the fish, cut into small bite-sized pieces and put into a bowl.  Squeeze the lemons and pour the juice over the fish.  Mix well, cover and place in the refrigerate to marinate for at least a half an hour to an hour or overnight.  

2. Prepare the vegetables.  Chop the spring onions and tomatoes.  Slice the peppers.  Peel the cucumber, slice in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon.  Cut the cucumber into bite sized pieces.  

3.  Finish the dish. Take the fish from the refrigerator, add the cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and spring onions.  Pour over the coconut cream over and mix well. Taste, adding salt and pepper as needed.  Serve chilled with taro, cassava and kumara.

*     *     *

It's been a long time since I did a ceviche.  The last time may have been when I did my challenge to prepare a main dish from Ecuador, which was Black Bass ceviche.  My effort to produce 'Ota 'Ika was not much of a success.  I followed the directions, but the fish was not "cooked" all the way through. It turns out my "small bite size pieces" were not small enough and/or it needed more time or citrus juice to complete the process.  While I am a big fan of sushi, I was not going to take a risk.   Not every dish can be a success, but I learned a lesson (which is just as important) ... make sure small bite sized pieces are indeed small, bit sized pieces.  

Until next time ... 


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bluejacket's Mexican Radio

The lyrics go something like this, "I feel a hot wind on my shoulder / A touch of the world that is older / Turn the switch and check the number."  If you can imagine Stan Ridgeway singing those words, then you would have the opening to the 1982 hit, Mexican Radio by Wall of Vooodoo.  The song was inspired by the unregulated Mexican AM stations

Those lyrics went through my head when I first encountered the Mexican Radio beer brewed by Bluejacket Brewery in Washington, D.C. The Mexican Radio is a sweet stout, brewed with not only oats and milk sugar, but also ancho chile peppers, vanilla beans, cinnamon and cacao nibs. In other words, it is brewed in the style of a chile beer. In some respects this beer is a lot like the song, an offering inspired by a "style" of beers that is not very well regulated.

There is a Beer Certification Judge Program ("BCJP"), which has extensive notes about different styles of beer: what they should look like, what their aroma should smell like, what are the expected taste elements of the beer.  When it comes to a chile beer, the most the BCJP has to offer in terms of guidelines is "30A. Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer" or "SHV Beer."  This category does not provide much in the way of guidelines, leaving the style open for interpretation and experimentation.

I have reviewed quite a few chile beers in the past (because they are one of my favorite beer styles). These beers include 5 Rabbits' 5 Vultures, New Belgium's Cocoa Mole, Ska Brewing's Mole Stout, New Holland's El Mole Ocho, and both Stone Brewing's Crime and Punishment.  There are common threads in these beers.  First, the beer either is a variation of a pre-existing beer, that is, a beer already brewed but now with chiles added (like the Stone beers) or it is a new beer usually based on a preexisting style, such as a stout.  Second, the chile typically used in the beer is the ancho chile or chipotle chile, probably because of the heat and smoke characteristics of the peppers.  When it is a new beer, the brewing typically includes other spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, cacao, etc.

Bluejacket's Mexican Radio stands as one of the best, if not the best, chile beer that I have ever had.  I had it a couple times when I ate at The Arsenal in Washington, D.C. However, Bluejacket now has a tasting room adjacent to the restaurant and four packs of the beer are available for carry out. 

The Mexican Radio pours a pitch black, which one would expect with any stout.  However, unlike some stouts, the beer does not have a viscous appearance, having a medium body that is masked (perhaps Lucha Libre style) by a thin cinnamon-colored foam.  The aromatic elements suggest some of the ingredients other than the chiles, such as the vanilla and cinnamon.  The sweetness of the oats and milk sugar help to soften the aromas.  As one sips the beer, the ancho chiles make their presence known upfront, but the taste is rounded out by the cinnamon and the cacao nibs.  The vanilla and the milk sugars round out the flavor, providing a softness that blunts a little of the heat from the chiles.  Overall, the Mexican Radio presents perhaps the most balanced chile beer that I have ever had. 

With an ABV of 8%, the Mexican Radio is a very drinkable beer, that is best experienced while sitting and relaxing on one's deck. The beer has limited availability, either at the Arsenal restaurant or the adjoining taproom.  If I recall correctly, it sells for about $15.99 for a four pack.  Until next time ...

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