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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Mexican Oregano Is Not from Mexico

Some recipes call for Mexican oregano. Does that just mean oregano produced in Mexico? Nope, says MazDee. “Since I live in Mexico, and buy oregano here, I always figured it WAS Mexican oregano,” she says. But while traveling she noticed Mexican oregano plants for sale that had big leaves and didn’t resemble the more commonly used Greek oregano. “I am astounded!” she says. In fact, so-called Mexican oregano is a close relative of lemon verbena.

Mexican and Greek oregano are different plants, but both are lovely for their appropriate uses. “I use both Greek and Mexican oregano for different recipes,” says bushwickgirl.

Board Link: Mexican Oregano

Soul Food for the Dearly Departed

As the Mexican Day of the Dead starts to pick up cultural steam north of the border, the Daily Beast digs into the holiday a bit, taking the casual reader past the colorful candy skulls that represent the outer limit of knowledge for a great many Americans. Here are three thumbnail insights from Beast contributor Ana Sofia Pelaez that merit reading in their majestic original form:

1. In the Yucatán, the holiday is called Hanal Pixán and can be translated as—and this is pretty cool—”the path of the soul through the essence of food.”

2. It’s not just food that gets served up as part of the offering process. “Vices as well as pleasures are remembered, and beer, tequila, mezcal, or even cigarettes can be included.”

3. The Day of the Dead is really the Days of the Dead: November 1, notes Pelaez, is dedicated to children who have passed on, while adults are remembered on November 2.

Image source: Flickr member Orin Zebest under Creative Commons

In Praise of Pork Fat

Lard is prized for pie crusts, refried beans, and baked goods, but the white bricks of goo sold as lard in the supermarket are “partially or fully hydrogenated, making it much much worse for you than real, natural lard,” says celeriac. “The hydrogenated bricks are not good lard,” agrees Karl S. Where to find the real thing: rich, luscious leaf lard?

Lionette’s has a couple of quarts a week, according to BarmyFotheringayPhipps. Formaggio is a slightly more reliable source, but call ahead and make sure they have it. “I always have some of their lard on hand in the freezer for pie crusts, etc. Keeps great,” says gansu girl. Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds usually has lard described as “beautiful” by several hounds; it’s $6 a pint.

If you have the time and wherewithal, you can also render your own lard from pork fat purchased from the supermarket. Karl S outlines the procedure: “All it takes is a few minutes of chopping, and a couple of hours of simmering to render, then straining, mixing strained fat with some water (to capture impurities along the meniscus between the water and the chilled fat) and refrigerating and then cutting off the clean part of the solid chilled fat from the rest.” Oh, is that all?

For more info on rendering or purchasing lard, see these Digest posts:
Making Lard
The Joy of Pure Lard

And for a step-by-step guide, see Daniel Duane’s method for rendering lard on CHOW.

Lionette’s Market [South End]
537 Tremont Street, Boston

Formaggio Kitchen [Cambridge]
244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge

Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds [MetroWest]
159 Wheeler Road, Concord

Board Link: Where to buy lard?

A Candy Upgrade

A Candy Upgrade

This week's mission: high-end nut brittle. READ MORE

A Five-Star Experience at Three-Star Prices

Blue Ginger, the upscale, showy place owned by celeb chef Ming Tsai, celebrated its 10th anniversary last spring by expanding into a retail space next door. The newish space is a more casual lounge, an alternative to the white-tablecloth dining room, and prices are accordingly lower. The big draw on the lounge menu is “Ming’s Bings,” a version of the Asian street food xian bing, which is much like a flat pot sticker filled with gingery pork. bakerboyz calls Ming’s Bings “sort of the Asian fusion version of sliders,” with one filled with a blue cheese burger, one with shredded duck, and one with pork and chives; “all delicious,” says bakerboyz. “Without alcohol, two people could easily have a very satisfying and creative meal for around $40-$50.”

emilief points out that many of the most popular dining room dishes are available in smaller sizes in the lounge: the spring rolls with chile sauce, the miso butterfish. On the downside, prices are high for portion sizes, and the lounge does not accept reservations. “Best to go early or you will have a long wait,” says emilief.

Blue Ginger [MetroWest]
583 Washington Street, Wellesley

Board Links: Blue Ginger Lounge
Blue Ginger!! What To Order?

Tracking Down Smoked Bluefish

Bluefish is an oily fish on the order of mackerel, and skippy66 loves it smoked but is having a hard time finding it. One issue, says 9lives, is that oily fish is more perishable than leaner fish and it needs a lot of baby-sitting. “Economics plays a role in this. Tuna sells for $20+/lb and is worth spending time/money to keep in prime condition,” says 9lives. “While I personally enjoy eating them, mackerel and bluefish do not command the same high prices as tuna..and often aren’t treated with the same TLC.”

Smoking the fish is an excellent way to preserve it, however. Good local sources include the fish counter at Courthouse Fish Market (“absolutely delicious. just the right amount of seasoning, just the right amount of smoke, not dry at all,” says bear) and Spence & Co. in Brockton. “They also have a mean smoked bluefish pâté,” points out typhoonfish. And Nantucket Wild Gourmet & Smokehouse sells its fine smoked wares in various local spots; see the website for outlets.

Courthouse Fish Market [Cambridge]
484 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

Spence & Co. [South Shore]
76 Campanelli Drive, Brockton

Nantucket Wild Gourmet & Smokehouse [South Shore]
1223 Main Street, Chatham

Board Link: Smoked Bluefish

Nonalcoholic Wine-Flavored Soda

Nonalcoholic Wine-Flavored Soda

This week's mission: a new libation for designated drivers. READ MORE

A Worthy Cajun Oyster Po’ Boy

sku spent a couple of years roaming around the entire state of Louisiana. He developed “a deep love and respect for Cajun food. Not the refined Creole dishes of New Orleans, but the rustic, fried seafood, jambalaya and gumbo of the Cajun country. The object of my deepest affection back then was the fried crawfish po’ boy.” And good Cajun food is one of the hardest things to find in Los Angeles, says sku—far harder than the Creole stuff.

Crawfish is hard to find west of Houston, says sku; the best you can hope for is a decent oyster po’ boy. “In the best version of this delicacy, the oysters are fresh and plump, flash fried and slapped on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and mayo,” says sku. “Then, you add hot sauce to taste, which for me, means enough to saturate the bread and blend with the mayo, turning it the color of Russian dressing.”

Most oyster po’ boys in California disappoint, says sku. But Big Mama’s version does not. “A smaller version than is typical, featuring just two large oysters, but biting into that po’ boy was one of those moments in life you treasure, when you realize that you have found something truly and unexpectedly wonderful. The first bite revealed a crisp, nicely spiced cornmeal crust encasing a beautifully cooked, huge, juicy oyster within,” says sku.

Note: Very little else at Big Mama’s is worth eating. sku thinks the ribs are unexciting and the catfish is musty-tasting. Other hounds agree: The rest of the menu is not worthwhile. But the po’ boys are a treasure.

Big Mama’s Rib Shack [San Gabriel Valley]
1453 N. Lake Avenue, Pasadena

Board Link: Bayou Worthy Oyster Po Boys: Big Mama’s in Pasadena

The Roaming Ecuadoran Hallacas Man

bolonpinpon is a South American expatriate left dissatisfied with local Ecuadoran restaurants. “I had almost completely lost hope… until just recently, when I happened upon a man selling Ecuadorian hallacas” on the street at night. “I don’t even know if what he does is legal, but the hallacas are delicious and very authentic, and I wished I could have bought a whole bucket of them!” says bolonpinpon.

Hallacas are made of cornmeal and wrapped in banana leaves, rather like a Central American tamale. The Ecuadoran version is stuffed with chicken, peanut sauce, raisins, olives, and other delicious tidbits; it’s savory and a little sweet.

The hallacas man wanders around on Venice Boulevard in the vicinity of the bar Saints & Sinners.

The Hallacas Man [Westside–Inland]
Near Saints & Sinners
10899 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles

Board Link: The ever-so-elusive Ecuadorian food

Chinese Beef Jerky Specialists

There are such things as Chinese beef jerky specialists in the San Gabriel Valley. Of course, if you can imagine anything eaten by any Chinese person anywhere, there’s probably a specialist for it somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. This jerky is not tough or leathery, unlike regular American beef jerky or supermarket Chinese stuff; it’s freshly made beef jerky from people who have basically devoted their lives to making beef jerky.

ipsedixit, one of the ruling kings of San Gabriel Valley chow, sends us to Prime Cut. Many Chowhounds also like Champion for beef jerky. It’s “my go-to place,” says fdb.

Prime Cut Beef Jerky [San Gabriel Valley]
2017 S. Hacienda Boulevard, Hacienda Heights

Champion [San Gabriel Valley]
140 W. Valley Boulevard, Suite 113, San Gabriel

Board Link: Chinese Beef Jerky