Sunday, March 9, 2014
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.
At long last the Miyake Diner has opened, having risen from the Phoenix of its past as the original Miyake Food Factory space on 120 Spring St. The hurley-burley of reconstruction is over, presenting a tiny new dining facility where the impecunious fringe can cohabit with the gold-bugs of gastronomy—a herding of the flock forever faithful.
The corner table and dining bar at Miyake Diner
After enduring a recent spate of mediocre versions of red sauce at various Italian-American restaurants around town, I decided to investigate who amongst local home cooks of similar heritage were making this classic Old World sauce well.
Regional differences can dictate whether this preparation is called a gravy or sauce. Traditionally amongst Italian Americans in the northeast it’s known as Sunday gravy. This implies that it’s made with some sort of meat (usually pork or beef or both) that’s cooked very slowly in a tomato-based sauce. The meat can be served separately and the sauce served over pasta. Without the meat it’s known as sauce.
I conferred with three friends in Portland who are good cooks and are first- or second-generation Italian Americans where this sauce was a staple in their homes. These sauces will appear in the next three postings on Wednesdays.
The Sunday cook is like the Sunday sauce—both are done on Sundays, a time for pleasurable pastimes. And I found that I was actually doing it all yesterday. The Sunday sauce (also called gravy) was in the works for dinner that night, and the recipe will be featured in this upcoming Wednesday food blog. It will be the kickoff of a series, “In Search of Red Sauce,” from Italian-American home cooks in Portland.
But I took up two other diversions with cooking projects that were as different as peaches and parsley.
One was for a blackberry cobbler, which I served with vanilla ice cream that I made the previous night to accompany a sour cherry pie (the last of my stash of frozen local cherries) that I was taking to dinner at a friend’s house. The ice cream was Philadelphia style: 3 cups raw heavy cream, 3/4 cup sugar and the seeds from one Tahitian vanilla bean and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Forget about the crescendo of publicity regarding David Levi, the Lord of Vinland, and his credo of eat local, sustainable food to the exclusion of stuff we take for granted like lemons, sugar and olive oil, which are not natural to our land, grown and harvested thousands of miles away from Maine’s borders.
Forget that this culinary gadabout has dug deep into the promiscuous portmanteau of his culinary arsenal and taken up root at the crossroads of High and Congress streets, one of the most bewildering corners of our fair city, where the locals frolic like kings and queens.
Forget all that and just guide your fork or spoon to taste one of Levi’s Vinland creations that are presented to you from the misty love of an extraordinary dining facility. Its simplicity is luxuriously spare. Even the staff of waiters, barkeeps and sous chefs have a certain élan after being on the job for only a week or two.
I call it a super poultry brine, the ultimate tool that gives whole birds a kind of natural intense cure, bringing out the succulence of moistness and tenderness. Different from the brine that I wrote about in an earlier post (October 16, 2013), this one is more intense and requires some cooking time and a prolonged period in which it needs to cool down.
The method is adapted from the star chef of French Laundry fame in the Napa Valley, Thomas Keller. It’s based on the brine that he offers in his excellent work, Ad Hoc, a great cookbook geared for home cooks.
What makes this brine different is that the mixture of water, kosher salt, lemons, garlic and herbs is brought to a boil and then allowed to cool down completely. This could take about 6 hours if left at room temperature. Given that our weather is so cold, you could put the pot of brine, covered, outside on a protected deck or patio, and it will cool down much faster.