Posted by Rob Eshman
In my editor’s column I wrote about attending Shabbat services at the small congregation in San Miguel de Allende during a recent trip there.
But man doesn’t live by shul alone. He lives by shul occasionally, and food obsessively. Or that’s just me.
When we travel Naomi tends to look up minyans, I look up restaurants and markets.
We stayed at a house with friends who had rented it complete with a cook. She insisted on providing kosher meat for Naomi, the only one of us who keeps kosher. That decision entailed many calls to contacts in San Miguel, then more e-mails and calls to a contact in Mexico City, from where the meat would come. These sparked an ongoing debate via email and more phone calls between the eight of us over whether it was easier to just buy the meat at Trader Joes and carry it down. That prompted calls to various Mexican friends as well as the Mexican customs agency, and the checking of web sites to determine if frozen meat could be carried into the country—ambiguous answers. That led to more debate over whether to rely on uncertain kosher meat from an unknown source in Mexico City, or risk carrying certain kosher meat all the way from LA. That led me, in the middle of Trader Joes, to get out my iPhone and start translating the prices from peso to dollars, from kilos to pounds, and comparing the costs, then finally, our friend made a decision. She bought the meat through a friend in Mexico City. It was transported to a store in San Miguel, and we picked it up on arrival.
“It was easier to bring eight live people to the middle of Mexico than one piece of dead cow,” said my friend.
But kosher isn’t about easy—part of the point of it is, it’s hard.
Our cook made the chicken enchilada style, that is, robed in a roasted chili sauce. We cooked the meat on the outdoor, rooftop grill, and served it with salsa and rajas. That salsa recipe will rate a future post of its own.
As for where we ate outside the home, I can recommend:
Owned by British Columbian Chef Jason Malloff, Cafe Rama is a San Miguel highlight. Borscht in Mexico? Yes. It is one of the best borschts ever, a traditional Malloff family recipe that uses a little butter and cream. If your bubbie had cooked for the Romanoff’s, she would have made this version, too.
Some rotisserie chicken place on some street.
The non-kosher among us decided this might be the best chicken of our lives. Split, spread-eagled and rotisseried in front of an inferno of mesquite. Marinated with pineapple and, I think, achiote. One whole chicken was five dollars. The seven of us fell on it like wolves. Look at the slide show, and in another post I’ll find more info.
A Neopolitan Chef, Andrea Lamberti, in the outskirts of San Miguel, serving homemade food in a vaulted cavern that used to be a horse stables. Ravioli with huitlacoche, a mushroomy corn fungus, and snapper (huachinago) with marsh asparagus, or samphire, were the standouts.
Jason at Cafe Rama said this was the town’s best coffee, and, aside from the cafe at his place, it was.
In short, go to san Miguel de Allende. As for getting kosher meat there…. you figure it out.
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December 19, 2011 | 7:35 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Mezze is a Foodaism kind of restaurant.
There’s a caring chef in the kitchen. There’s a welcoming vibe in the dining room. A Foodaism restaurant is a place that reminds you of home, but with better food. Micah Wexler—occasional contributor to The Jewish Journal—cares about his ingredients. he tells me the eggs in his shakshouka—by far the best in the city, come from the Aracauna hens of a friend. I have my own chickens and get my eggs straight from the cloaca. Micah’s are better.
He is inspired by the Middle East (Mezze is Arabic for appetizer), but he uses the ingredients like za’atar and amba, and dishes like foul and fattoush, as inspiration. Wexler cooked for Tom Colicchiop at Craft. He has technique. But none of of his dishes are about technique. They’re about flavor. Intense flavors and colors.
Last week I took Joan Nathan there. She arrived on a typically harried flight from DC. Hadn’t really heard of Mezze and didn’t know what to expect. The woman has eaten at about a million restaurants. Counts the great chefs as her friends and—in Tom Colichio’s case—saviors. She’s far from jaded, but she’s not easy, either.
Out comes the first dish: Wild Salmon with Purple Onion and Bendik & Sons Rye Bread. Cubes of perfectly cured salmon tossed with sweet pickled onions, salmon roe, potatoes, cucumber.
“Wow,” she says.
“Wow,” I say.
It goes on like that. Foul with fresh heirloom beans. A grilled quail in amba. A fattoush salad draped in thin slices of watermelon radish. A cauliflower, feta, Moroccan olive and golden raisin flatbread. Each dish is a new combination of familiar flavors. Joan literally wrote the book on Israeli cooking (two, in fact, and several on Jewish cooking). But she is impressed. She starts taking notes.
It’s lunch, and quiet. Micah comes over to meet Joan—a now mutual fan club—and he describes the challenges of doing something new with Middle Eastern food. A few clients complain that the shakshuka isn’t like the stuff at Aroma Cafe or Haifa. He won’t put humous on the menu because he doesn’t want to be confused for a straight Middle Eastern place—though I would love to taste any humous he comes up with.
There’s a restaurant in Philadelphia called Zahav that for a few years now has created a similar kind of New American Middle Eastern food. Micah of course has heard of it but never eaten there, or spoken with the chef, Michael Solomonov. Joan pulls out her cell phone and calls Solomonov.
“Michael,” she says, “I’m at this fabulous restaurant in Los Angeles called Mezze. Have you heard of it?”
In a minute, Wexler and Solomonov are chatting, and decide to do some kind of event together.
By the time we’re done with lunch, it’s late. Joan is running to file her latest New York Times piece, on herring (herring was a substantial topic of conversation, though Micah has yet to include it on his menu).
Micah is putting the finishing touches on his newest idea: a Mezze Christmas Eve dinner.
A day later he e-mails me the menu:
Wild Salmon, Purple Onion, B. Bendik and Son Rye
Grandma’s Chopped Chicken Livers, Grape Mostarda, Challah
Smoked Sablefish, Lebne, Pickled Shallots, Capers
Matzo Ball Soup
Pastrami, Mustard, Rye
Potato Knish, House Mustard
Shawarma, Brisket, Amba, House Pickles
The press release says the evening will go from 6 pm til 1 am, ” to encourage schmoozing, schmaltzing and good cheer.” I am very tempted. The regular menu will be available, which means I can have more cauliflower flatbread. How good is Mezze? Good enough to wean a Jew off Chinese food on Christmas.
To read The Jewish Journal’s story on Mezze, click here.
December 8, 2011 | 12:02 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Just got word that Kosher Club, the kosher supermarket on Pico Blvd. just east of La Brea, is closing. Tomorrow, Dec 9, is the last day of business.
Julie Fax will look into the whys and wherefores—I suspect competition from big box retailers like Costco that moved into the kosher business didn’t help.
I shopped there regularly, as much for the prices and selection as for my long chats with darryl, the owner. Darryl is a Harley-riding tough guy with a good heart and his share of tsuris. He was always good for a good insight (especially into the inner workings of the kosher meat business) and a quick laugh.
The store itself functioned as a mini shtetl. I always bumped into friends, talked to people reading from the stack of Jewish Journals, sampled the latest kosher snacks. I’ll miss the place—thanks Darryl, thanks David, thanks to the great and hard-working staff, so long Kosher Club.
This e-mail from a friend sums up the loss:
I’m not sure what it says about me, that the first time I am compelled to email a newspaper editor of any kind is about the closing of THE KOSHER CLUB.
That said, i am taking this closing very hard. Not just because my busy working mother life is made so much easier by this wonderful, easy to navigate, grocery that is open Sundays, - but because I cannot believe that in Los Angeles this place that has been in business for 30 years, can no longer make a go of it!
There. I’ve said my peace. I believe you were the person who first introduced me to this bastion of delicious meat (and where on earth am i going to find the chicken nuggets shaped like hearts, stars and moons, that have been a staple in Isaac’s life for all of his 11 years??) and so I felt the need to reach out to you in my sadness :(
November 22, 2011 | 4:44 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
In his 2002 essay “A Purim Story,” Adam Gopnik describes what sounds like a religious experience, but what others might just call brunch.
“The next day I decided to return to the only Jewish tradition with which I was at all confident,” he writes, “and that was having smoked fish at eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings. Every Sunday morning throughout my childhood my grandfather would arrive with the spread — salty lox and unctuous sable and dry whitefish and sweet pickled salmon.”
That story is not included in Gopnik’s wonderful new book, “The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food.” But then again, in a way, it is. A boy and his food memories are not easily parted: trust me, I know. The mysterious power of that ritual — the most specifically Jewish act in Gopnik’s otherwise secular upbringing — must have, in some way, compelled Gopnik to embark on the journey described in his new book.
Because “The Table Comes First” is, first and foremost, about the hold — beyond hunger and appetite — that food has on us.
“If our questions of food matter,” he writes in the introduction, “it is because they imply most of the big fights about who we are — our notion of clan and nation, identity and individual.”
I read that line and thought, “Hey, that’s what I think.” So, of course, I arranged to meet Gopnik, a staff writer at The New Yorker, on his book tour through Los Angeles. I fantasized we’d share a long, hopefully French meal with lots of wine and high-calorie bonding. I settled for a quick visit over warm coffee between tour appearances.
We sat down in the B&B-esque lobby of The Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica. Gopnik’s book-jacket photo shows him in full-on New Yorker intellectual intimidation pose: staring straight at the camera, eyes focused, thinning hair over a deeply furrowed brow. Unposed, he is much more amiable — a quick laugher, an enthusiastic talker. I once interviewed “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner and came away thinking no one in the world spoke faster or in more complete and polished paragraphs. Adam Gopnik makes Matt Weiner sound like Rick Perry.
No ordinary food book, I said to Gopnik, begins with the story of a condemned resistance fighter recounting memories of favorite meals. His does. In France, circa 1942, Jacques Decour, about to face a Gestapo firing squad, spent his last hours composing a letter to his parents, recalling all the great meals he had eaten.
Take that, Rachel Ray.
“I wanted to say to the reader, the stakes are very high here,” Gopnik explained. “It’s not just about food; it’s something else.”
That “something else” is what Gopnik uncovers in the course of his meticulous reporting and research.
He spends a lot of time in the past, exploring the “twin pillars” of our food culture — restaurants and recipes.
The word restaurant, he reports, first appeared in France in 1750 — the name for the restorative beef or chicken bouillon that inn owners served to weary travelers.
But what cemented the restaurant as a social and cultural force, what brought people and food together outside of kitchens and castles, was a law passed after the French Revolution that made it legal to sell coffee and wine in the same place.
“Without good strong coffee and red wine,” Gopnik writes in one of the greatest and truest sentences in the history of food writing, “it isn’t possible to have good restaurants.”
Cafés, Gopnik goes on to argue, are more important than restaurants in the spread of food culture: The twin drugs of caffeine and alcohol work a kind of social magic.
If cafés kick-started Western civilization by encouraging us to eat good food together, our contemporary obsession with food challenges us to find the right way to enjoy it.
Exploring what this modern obsession says about food takes Gopnik into the world of the farm-obsessed locavores, the flesh-eating fanaticism of Fergus Henderson and the meat-abhorring high horsiness of Jonathan Safran Foer. Gopnik also describes an enviable interlude spent with the Michelin-starred vegetarian chef Alain Passard. Who says you have to suffer for your art?
But eventually, the writer zeros in on his discovery: Food, he explains, doesn’t just have a flavor taste; it also has a “moral taste.”
“The Orthodox Jew likes the flavor of brisket at the Seder,” he writes, “but his liking it is something more than fashion. It is a moral taste — in his eyes, eating brisket is an ethical position.”
Moral tastes can and do change with cultures and time, but they are as intrinsic to flavor as salty or sour.
“Diet,” Gopnik observes, “is always the site of ritual convincing itself that it is reason.”
Unlike so many food books these days, Gopnik doesn’t wrestle with the right way to eat as much as he observes our constant and enduring need to sauce our appetite with morality.
“Whatever the real meaning of eating is,” he tells me, “it’s not about making super-fine discriminations beyond the point of sanity; it’s not even about saving our lives or saving the planet. … Pleasure is an adequate principle in itself.”
This tension between pleasure and principle fascinates Gopnik. When I tell him about my own food dilemmas — my wife, the rabbi, is strictly kosher, while I’m … not so much — he reverses the interview.
“If you asked your wife, how would she explain, as an intellectual living in this time, why she eats kosher?” he asks.
“She believes,” I say. “It’s not about reason.”
Gopnik eats the answer up.
“This is my point,” he says. “It’s simultaneously deeply ridiculous, and it’s genuinely significant. And worth doing. That’s the secret of life.”
Yes, you heard him right: In his book and right there at The Georgian, Gopnik offers up the secret to life — to somehow live with the awareness of its eternal importance and essential absurdity at the same time.
“You need to be both ironic and serious,” he said. “You need to have enough distance from your passions to see their absurdity. But also to grant them the necessity.”
How else to make sense of the spell food casts on us far beyond our need to eat?
Gopnik understands, and in our last moments together, nailed it.
“We often are uneasy with the idea that food is art; it seems a little precious to us and rightly so,” he told me. “But no one ever has any difficulty with the idea that food is, essentially, faith.
“Every community, every tribe, every group, every civilization invents a way of eating that expresses who they are, and that is, ultimately, that’s really the answer. It’s not about taste, as important as taste is. It’s not about the farm, as important as that is. It’s not even about the planet. It’s about who we are and how we take our necessities.”
I leap in and tell Gopnik that this is exactly what I’ve been trying to get at in my Foodaism blog. Just as our souls are housed in our bodies, our spirit comes through in what, and how, we eat.
“We feed our flesh to feed our souls,” I say.
“Exactly,” Gopnik says, “Who said that?”
“Me,” I say.
In his new book, Gopnik actually says the same thing, but better. About Decour, the doomed resistance fighter, and his final food memories, he writes, “It was the closest he could come, as close as he needed to come, to an idea of the sacred.”
Gopnik might as well be writing about himself, at age 7, holding his grandfather’s hand in front of the deli counter, facing a heaven of smoked fish.
November 18, 2011 | 4:14 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I’ve been thinking for a while why I don’t care about most Best Restaurant Lists.
I think it’s because my criteria for a great restaurant just aren’t covered in the traditional Best Of lists. Food matters, and preparation, and atmosphere, but you know what else matters? Haimish. Haimish, the Yiddish word that means homey, humane, comfortable, human. Hard to define, but, like mensch, you know it when you see it. (Okay, the Supreme Court says the same thing about pornography, but so be it.)
A haimish restaurant can cost $200 per person or $2—it’s all about how the place and the people make you feel while you’re there.
That said, I don’t have a list of Foodaism’s Top Restauants—give me a week—but I discovered a local place that I know will be on it: All’Angolo.
All’Angolo is a place that shouldn’t exist: a small, neighborhood Italian restaurant wedged into a strip mall between a liquor store and a Baskin-Robbins. It’s at Third and Ardmore, a block where you expect to see Jonathan Gold stumbling out of a Koreatown dive stuffed with raw crab panchan and ideas of ‘80s punk hits to compare them to. The last thing this neighborhood deserves is a vigorous Italian chef in dress whites whipping up an espresso zabaglione with a fresh strawberry garnish. But thank God Giuseppe Musso doesn’t know that.
I’ve now eaten lunch at All-Angolo five times. Each time I drive slowly up to the corner—that’s English for all’angolo—I fully expect the microscopic storefront to have vanished, as if the owner, Musso, finally realized he had missed his geographic landfall by five miles east.
But I was there again twice this week, and so was he.
Signore Musso explained to me that he also owns the infinitely more chic 40-seat Amarone on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood. His brother-in-law found the new location and signed a lease, and it wasn’t clear that Polastri was 100 percent in favor.
“How long is the lease?” I asked.
“Ten years,” he said, a deep sense of “Mamma mia” in his reply.
But The Jewish Journal isn’t going anywhere, so this is actually great news for me.
All’Angolo doesn’t have 40 seats. It doesn’t have 20. It has, if you squeeze, 12. Three tables. The Baskin-Robbins is bigger. The first time I ate there, I was alone. Now, I have to wait, or, as I did last Thursday, sit with a very sweet Filipino family. Like I said, haimish.
The food is worth it. Cozy counts for something, but you go to eat. Polastri is in the kitchen along with another chef. They make their own pasta. The pesto Genovese is bright and fresh and flavorful, studded with perfectly cooked potatoes. A selection of pizzas with hand-thrown dough emerge thin and perfectly crisp. The cannelloni stuffed with fresh ricotta are light, almost fluffy. The sauce is homemade too, bubbling away on the stove above two feet from me. To start I usually get the arugula salad, tiled with thin slices of nutty parmesan, or the homemade minestrone. Perfect. If your standard is Mozza pizza, Sotto appetizers, Locanda or Vicenzo secondi—you won’t be at all disappointed.
But you will wonder if the bill is wrong. Because nothing on the menu costs more than $10. Lunch for two might be $30, if you worked out that morning. There is no wine or coffee (you can BYOB), but you can wash down the homemade zabaglione with Pelligrino.
But value is not the main point, nor is flavor, nor, even, is the warm welcome Polastri offers all his guests. What makes All’Angolo special is the gratitude you feel for knowing that in your own big city, there’s a little corner like this.
All’Angolo is located at
4050 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
In case you’re confused, no, it’s not kosher certified.
October 29, 2011 | 5:39 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Feed the dogs, goats and chickens.
Collect the eggs.
Melanie Murez swings by to drop off the pumpkin we entered in the Venice Farmers Market Giant Pumpkin Contest.
The winning pumpkin, thank you.
Noa and I take the dogs for a walk on the canals. We pop into the canoe we keep there, paddle around.
The water is see-to-the-bottom. We paddle past egrets, ducks and seagulls.
We tie up by Washington Blvd., stop at The Cows End for an avocado and feta sandwich (and, of course, more yerba mate), then paddle back.
On our way back, we pass a Halloween parade of stand-up paddle boarders. Katy Perry is there. A Viking. A Goth Girl. A Human Reptile.
The group is from Poseidon Stand Up Paddle of Santa Monica.
Noa and I look at each other: Only in Venice.
I go home and finish making chevre. But that’s the next post.
[RECIPE]Cows End Avocado and Feta Sandwich
Split an Italian roll. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Lay on a half avocado, sliced, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, pepperoncini and feta cheese. Serve with potato chips.
Only in Venice: The Venice Canal Poseidon Stand Up Paddle Halloween Parade
October 28, 2011 | 7:03 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Every year I devote more garden space than I should to my Ahab-esque quest to capture one simple prize: Biggest Pumpkin at the Venice Farmers Market.
I avoid ornamental plants and flowers whenever possible. If you can’t eat it, what’s the point? But I seem to make an exception—a huge exception— for a giant pumpkin. Why? I started doing it when the kids were young, a fun way to get them invested in the garden beyond plain old vegetables.
They were barely interested then—yeah, sure dad, you’re doing it ‘for the kids’—and now they are just not.
Here’s the thing: every year I come in Second Place. If I lost, if I didn’t even show, that’s one thing. But I can taste victory, and even though the 20 square feet of vine that swirls over my otherwise productive soil each summer would be better spent on tomatoes or kale or arugula, I find myself each July pumping that corner of the garden up with goat manure and compost, preparing a mound an a moat, and laying a few seeds inside.
This year I even bought a packet of Atlantic Giant seeds from a garden store in Half Moon Bay. My sister lives near there, and I figured the home of the world’s biggest pumpkins would have the best seeds. The seeds, I noticed, were produced in Kansas. Still. I follow a book, too. It’s called How to Grow a Giant Pumpkin. It has photos of people placing their pumpkins on truck scales using a tractor. My biggest pumpkin, so far, was 17 pounds. Maybe this year.
For me, October always revolves around pumpkins, growing one, eating many. We end up inviting lots of people over during the weeklong Sukkot holiday. For almost every dinner I make a stuffed pumpkin. It feeds a lot of people, it tastes good, and it comes to the table with a wow factor. Serve people a stew of cubed orange squash, beans and kale and they’ll silently shrug, no matter how good it tastes. Serve them beans and kale cooked inside a pumpkin, and you get a wow. And you don’t even have to cube the pumpkin.
I stuffed my first pumpkin in 1985, when I worked at the first Il Fornaio in Union Square, San Francisco. A woman who baked alongside me was in charge of staff lunch one day. She hollowed out a pumpkin, filled it with alternating layers of toasted sourdough bread, gruyere and caramelized onions, then poured white wine and heavy cream up to the rim. It went into the bread oven, and when it came out, the flesh melting soft, the interior puffed and gratineed, I just kept thanking her for two things: lunch, and telling me where she got the recipe, from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. It is still my favorite cook book, my—okay, I’ll say it—Bible.
In fall, Jewish holidays hit the beach like Marines at Normandy, they just keep coming. The stuffed pumpkin is an almost impregnable defense. Make ahead, fill it with dairy or with vegetables or with meat—cook it, reheat it, no matter what, it works. Just remember to use a pumpkin grown with eating in mind. The giant and display pumpkins tend to be stringy, bland and dry. Sugar Pumpkin, Cinderella and some other strains are not just beautiful pumpkins, they are good squash.
As for my non-edible giant pumpkin this year, the weigh in was at 9 am this morning. I dropped my specimen off with Jim Murez, the market director, and went off to a meeting. Three minutes ago, Jim e-mailed me:
“You are the First Place Winner @ 20.5 Lbs. Two others had crop failures. Congratulations!”
Yea! Can there be two sweeter words in the English language besides “crop failures”?
[RECIPE] STUFFED PUMPKIN
Learn the techniques and adjust amounts depending on the size of the pumpkin and your taste. This is a recipe for when want to make this dish start to finish in an hour. Pumpkins are not exactly spun sugar. It is going to be hard to mess this up.
1. Pick your pumpkin. Choose a large eating pumpkin (Sugar, Cinderela, etc). Too big is better than too small. The pumpkin should be free of blemish and heavy for its size. Pick one with a nice stem, which serves as a handle and adds to the table drama.
2. Hollow out the pumpkin. Carve a circle around the top quarter, just where its starts to get wide. Lift off then cut and scrape away all the stringy fiber and seeds. Use a stiff metal spoon and a knife.
3. Season. Rub the inside with olive oil and season with a good dose of salt and fresh pepper. Throw in some garlic as well.
4. Precook. This helps speed things up and ensures your pumpkin will be soft. Replace lid, place on a baking sheet or pan, and bake in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until just barely tender—you want al dente, not soft.
5. Prepare stuffing. Saute onion with garlic and spices (ras el-hanout, Berber spice, cumin, etc). Add chopped kale, diced potato and soaked or canned garbanzo and some water or stock. ( If you’re using meat brown first, then proceed with onion, etc.) Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until flavorful.
6. Stuff your pumpkin. Remove pumpkin from oven and add stuffing. Replace lid and return to ven. Bake at 350 degrees until pumpkin is soft. Serve.
There are many variation, unlimited. Go Italian with canelini beans, Italian dandelion, bay leaves and lemon. Go Yiddish with cholent or Sephardic with hamin. Use for a chicken stew or vegetable curry.
For the inspirational, and richest recipe, see Onion Panade in Richard Olney’s Simple French Food, and make it in your pumpkin.
October 19, 2011 | 4:14 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Over the High Holy Days, I used meat that I bought through KOL Foods Los Angeles buying club.
The Washington, D.C.-based company sells beef, chicken, turkey, lamb and duck that is raised on open pastures and killed according to the highest standards of humane slaughter and kashrut supervision. The L.A. buying club, organized by Got Kosher co-owner Evelyn Baron, enables people to make their purchases online and save on the high shipping costs, which can be more than the food itself.
You order online, using the drop-down menu to specify your buying club (they exist in Boston, New York, Chicago and other cities). You pay a flat rate of around $50 for shipping (which you can share with a friend or neighbor and you pick up at a designated location, which in Los Angeles is Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard. Because pickup locations have limited storage space, you must get your delivery on an appointed day, between specific hours. Hey, if you want easy, buy a Slim Jim.
Last Passover, I bought a turkey and some rib-eye steaks. They were excellent. This year, I bought beef brisket, chickens and whole ducks.
According to the warm and fuzzy Web site description, my ducks were raised on a Pennsylvania pasture by a sensitive Amish farmer named Aaron.
The grass-fed beef comes from a ranch in Montana. I don’t know the name of the guy there, but, judging by the photos, I do know both my cow and duck lived on much nicer spreads than I do.
So what, you ask? The end of my duck’s luxurious farm stay is the same as the end for a factory-raised duck: a long blade across the throat.
I have no illusions that the end in either case is not wholly pleasant. But an animal’s life beforehand doesn’t have to be nasty and brutish. A recent Forward investigation into the kosher beef industry in South America — where much Israeli meat comes from — revealed ongoing, unconscionable cruelty, all under the guise of kashrut.
That is blasphemy, and kosher suppliers and consumers who don’t act to improve conditions for the animals will cause serious damage to the kosher “brand,” not to mention its actual ethical foundation.
The ideal situation would be for our many local kosher meat stores to carry Aaron’s ducks and those Montana cattle. Not only is it the right thing to do, they taste better.
Both the duck and the brisket I cooked for Rosh Hashanah had superb flavor. But the duck was exceptional — far better than any commercially available kosher duck I’ve ever had. The huge magret was deep red and minerally rich. The meat was tender, and the two or more cups of rendered fat will flavor my roast potatoes all winter. With the brisket, I made my neighbor Holly Wiland’s Brisket With Fennel, Preserved Lemon and Olives. It is so flavorful and light, you think eating that much beef is good for you.
I turned the duck into Crispy Roast Duck With Pomegranate-Fig Gastrique. A gastrique is a sauce that balances sweet, usually in the form of sugar, with sour, usually in the form of vinegar. Duck is rich. It needs a bit of sour to counteract its fattiness. I used chopped fresh figs in the sauce for additional sweetness, and the first pomegranates off my tree for sharpness. Coastal pomegranates never get too sweet, they say. They’re right.
A 3 1/2-pound kosher duck with shipping will run you close to $40. It will require a certain amount of hassle. But what you get is great-tasting food from an animal that lived a pleasant animal life. Factory farming may be cheaper, but there is nothing kosher about it, absolutely nothing.