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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Foodin' With Lawblog: 5 Favorites

I never really understood missionaries before. Why do they care about spreading the word of the lord? Why do they care if people convert? Now that I’ve gotten really into food, I totally get it. We, as people, want to share the experiences of things we love with as many people as possible, and we don’t understand it when people aren’t interested. “What do you mean you’ve never had chicken heart yakitori? It’sthe greatest thing in the world!” -Me. I feel this need compulsively. I hate picky eaters the way the bible-belt people hate atheists. It just doesn’t make sense to me. With that in mind, I decided to share my five favorite foods. This list is by no means complete. These are also not my favorite “dishes.” With the exception of one, these are all available to buy directly from your favorite grocery store or specialty food shop. If I were to commit a murder, be convicted (unlikely, because I watch so much CSI so I know HOW CRIMINALS THINK), and sentenced to death row, some combination of these items would be involved in my last meal. Note that I am not including main proteins, per se, but rather condiments and the like. I don’t have religion, but I have food, and if I can get one person to try one of these things that they otherwise wouldn’t have, I feel like I’ve done some good in the world.

1) Sriracha

Also known as “Cock Sauce,” for the picture of the rooster on the bottle, this green-topped flavor-maker is the single greatest condiment in the history of condiments. I very rarely get hipstery about things, but I can definitely say that I loved Sriracha before it was cool. Now it’s being featured in Bon Appetit, The New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, and there’s even a comic about it on The Oatmeal! However, instead of whining about it, I think it’s awesome! It’s much easier to find now than it was even five years ago. And the more people that can experience the greatness that is Sriracha, the more likely there will be world peace. Enough hyperbole. Why do I love it so much? I dunno. Cause it tastes fuckin great! But seriously, it’s a perfect combination of salt, garlic, spice, and just a touch of sweetness. It goes great on Asian food, sandwiches, rice, vegetables, pizza. Pretty much anything. Even if you don’t like mayonnaise, mix a dollop with a squirt of Sriracha and your taste buds will explode with delight.

FACTOID: Although one would think that this sauce originated in Asia, it was actually an American invention. A Thai immigrant, David Lam, started up Huy Fong foods to make his version of a popular condiment found in Thailand and Vietnam. The Thai version was generally sweet and thick; the Vietnamese version was much thinner and hotter. His new combination was an awesome hybrid that could only be American. USA! USA!

2) Avocado
Put some Sriracha on this bad boy, you have yourself a slice of heaven. Eat it plain with a pinch of salt. Put it on a cracker. Put it on a taco. Put it on soup. Make guacamole out of it. Make a milkshake out of it. Flavor cream cheese. This wonderful fruit (not vegetable) is creamy, smooth, with a light tanginess that lends itself to so many things. It is super high in monounsaturated fat, dietary fiber, and it has tons of vitaminsand minerals. As a way to add creaminess to things without losing nutrition, there’s nothing better. There are lots of varieties as well. Most of us are used to Hass avocados, which are delicious and the most sturdy of the cultivars. Other popular varieties include Gwen, Pinkerton, and Reed. They all have slightly different textures and flavors, and it’s worth it to taste them all. Personally, I prefer Hass the most, but I also really like Pinkertons. A note about selecting avocados: When you pick it up, give it a light squeeze, it should have a fair amount of give, but not be “squishy.” That’s usually when they’re ripe.

FACTOID: The name “avocado” comes from the Aztec word ahuácatl, meaning “testicle.” Neat!

3) McClure’s Spicy Pickles

I consider myself a pickle connoisseur (LADIES…). I have eaten hundreds in my life, from dozens and dozens of different manufacturers. I’ve had them canned, jarred, and from barrels. I’ve had them fermented and brined. I’ve had them kosher, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Bread and Butter, and regular dill. When I say that these are the single greatest pickles I have ever had in my life, I mean that completely without hyperbole. They are perfectly crunchy with just the right amount of salt, sour, and spice. They are expensive ($11 a jar) but good god. If you like pickles and you have not had these, you are MISSING OUT. If spice is not your thing, the regular garlic dill is also phenomenal. Go here. Find where they sell them near you. And buy them. Immediately.

FACTOID: I took a pickling class primarily because it was taught by Bob McClure. I have met many celebrities in my time, and never get star struck (#humblebrag). After class I went up to him and totally froze. I was all, “Thanksfortheclassyourpicklesarethebest.” Then quickly turned and ran out of the room covering my face before I embarrassed myself any further. Also, he looks disturbingly like Chris Martin, but without the Gwyneth pollution. I wish he was my friend.

4) Caramelized Onions

I broke my rule about not having anything that requires preparation on this list because these are so phenomenal it is well worth the time and effort. The effort, in fact, is minimal, but they do take a fair amount of time. Here’s what you do: Thinly slice a bunch of regular (not sweet) onions (generally 1 medium onion per serving, as they reduce a lot. Usually I make a bunch and save the rest). Put them in a sauté pan heated over very low heat with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Be fairly generous with the seasoning. Cover and cook over LOW (literally as low as it can go and have you still see a flame) for at least an hour, stirring briefly every 20 or so minutes. They should look dark tan and translucent. At this point remove the cover, turn the heat up to medium-high, and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions are dark brown and have formed a sticky pile. This usually takes about 10 minutes. If you want, you can also add some balsamic vinegar during this process. As always, feel free to experiment.
Onions are full of water. In fact, they are mostly water. When you cook them low for that extended period of time, they lose a lot of that water, and it brings out the natural sugars present. In addition, this cuts a lot of that “spice” you get from raw onions. When you turn up the heat, those sugars begin to caramelize, which is what gives it that wonderful brown patina. Because of all these awesome chemical processes, what you are left with is one of nature’s perfect foods. Slightly salty, slightly sweet, and slightly acidic, it makes the perfect topping to pasta, crackers, sandwiches, whatever. It goes really well with avocado and sriracha. Make yourself a BLT with avocado, caramelized onions, and some sriracha mayo. I accept your thanks in advance.

FACTOID: The spice from onions comes from an organosulfur called allicin. It is removed when cooking or pickling. It is also what makes you cry when you cut into onions. It is literally sulfuric acid going into your eye!

"What's wrong with your eyes?" "I have sulfuric acid in them, T100. Back off!"

5) Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

Oh man. This. This is heaven on earth. Spain loves their ham. They love it with the passion and fire of a thousand suns, and all of their passion and love is channeled into this delectable morsel. Everyone’s had prosciutto, right? It’s like that, times one billion flavor. Basically, the equivalent to prosciutto in Spanish hams would be jamón serrano, which is just a ham that has been cured in various spices and dried for approximately six months. It is delicious. Don’t get me wrong. But it is no jamón ibérico. Also known as pata negra (black leg), named after the black-legged Ibérian pig that donates its life to make this delicacy, it is the cured ham to end all cured hams. Bred to strict standards, left free to roam, and fed a mixture of acorns and grain the pig is raised to maturity, humanely slaughtered, and then cured and dried for at least twelve months.

There are three degrees of jamón ibérico: jamón ibérico de cebo, which is fed only grain, and aged for 12-24 months; jamón ibérico de recebo, which is fed mostly grain, but then finished with acorns and aged for 24 months; and, the jewel in Spain’s delicious ham crown: jamón ibérico de bellota. This ham is made exclusively from free-range pigs that live in the forest along the Spanish/Portuguese border, eating nothing but acorns before they are killed, and then aged for 36 months.

Due to the extremely strict breeding, slaughtering, and curing, the export of it was heavily regulated. The good news: As of 2008 you can now get jamón ibérico, including jamón ibérico de bellota in the United States! Huzzah! Now, the bad news: Regular jamón ibérico can cost up to $90 per pound, with de bellota going for upwards of $140. Now, before you all start going crazy, here’s what you do: Go to whatever place sells it, and get like $20 worth. It’s enough for two people for the bellota, enough for 3-4 for the regular jamón ibérico. Also, make sure to get is a mano, meaning sliced by hand from one of those sweet-ass jamoneras. Ok. On to the taste. It is unlike anything in the world. The meat is salty, smoky, with just a hint of gameyness. The fat is rich, slightly sweet, and incredibly nutty, and it basically melts in your mouth. The two together: MOUTHGASM! Seriously. Very few things in the world are worth paying that much for that little of a thing. This is absolutely worth it.

FACTOID: Because of its acorn diet, the fat in jamón ibérico de bellota is actually mostly monounsaturated, meaning it’s much healthier than regular pork fat. Say yes to the dress. And by dress I mean jamón.

So there you have my five favorite foods. I hope this has been informative, if not about the food itself, then into how much I dig good food. And again, if I have inspired any of you to try something new my day has been made. As always, your questions, comments, and suggestions are appreciated.


  1. My favourite way to eat avocados is to halve them, criss-cross the flesh with a butter knife and squirt in some lime juice (the cutting is to let the lime cover more surface area). Then sprinkle with salt, grab a spoon, and voila!

  2. I was familiar with everything on this list (though I haven't yet had the opportunity to try the pickles) except for the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. It is now my mission in life to have some. I didn't know that ham could get better than prosciutto.

  3. re: Sriracha - exactly how spicy is it? Despite many attempts over the past few years, my tongue can't handle foods with much beyond "a kick". I'd love to try it since everyone has a massive boner for it and won't shut the fuck up about it (no offense lb luv u) but I don't want to waste money if I definitely won't be able to handle it.

    So any helpful descriptions/comparisons for its spice factor would be greatly appreciated.

  4. re: Sriracha - I have some in my fridge and I love it! It livens up anything but be careful, my pansy white ass thinks that shit is hot!

  5. Lawblog, you and I have extremely similar taste in food. From Sriracha straight on down to the jamon. Make me dinner. Make us all dinner.

  6. @liz - It is spicy. If you are a spice wuss, try a dab on a piece of pizza. See what you think. The ladyblog used to be a spice wuss as well, but because of sriracha, she has conditioned herself and now eats it all the time.

    @fozzy My avatar used to be a bulldog. I think we are the same person.

  7. Avocados are totes one of my favorites. I used to not like them, until college. Now I can't get enough! I enjoy them on sandwiches, esp. BLTS (I am totes doing your BLT suggestion w/ caramelized onions and sriracha). I have never thought of mixing it w/ cream cheese! That is amazing. Also, I have never tried any avocado desserts, I should experiment.

    Another thing, have you ever thought that you and Snooki were meant to be? #Pickles

    Anyone ever have a bagel w/ cream cheese and add caramelized onions on top? SO GOOD!

    LB, when are you getting your own cooking show? I would watch the shit out of that. I think that is a given though since I am your stalker and all.

  8. @LB: with ladyblog as my ~*inspiration*~, I will buy a bottle of sriracha and begin spice training!