The CHOW Blog rss

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

Why Do People Eat Haggis?

"Haggis is actually not bad at all, as long as you don't think too long on what's in it," says FlyFish. "It's something like a spicy sausage. I've only had it in Scotland, so I'm not sure what the domestic versions might be like. I believe the use of lights (lungs), which are part of the traditional recipe, is not allowed in the U.S., but the final product is so highly seasoned that there may be little difference because of that."

"The stuff is basically ground-up meat, oats and fat, and tastes just fine, sort of like a fine-grained corned beef hash," says LorenzoGA. The main meat content is offal, says Harters, and it tastes distinctly of it. "Predominent spicing is pepper. Enjoy."

Can you get "authentic" haggis outside of Scotland? There's no standard recipe for haggis, says Harters, so what you get in the United States "may be called just as 'authentic' as the Macsween's haggis I buy in my local supermarket in northwest England or the haggis I've eaten in Scotland."

"Even what you get in Scotland can vary from brand to brand and may even come right out of a can. Don't fear the haggis," says LorenzoGA.

Discuss: Haggis (at a Scottish festival)?

What’s It Like to Eat Fugu?

Fugu, known in America as blowfish, is overly mystified in the United States, says Silverjay. The fish does have sacs of deadly poison, but these are removed by skilled, licensed chefs before the fugu becomes sashimi. "In cooked form, the flesh is white and delicate, really almost bland in taste," says Silverjay. "It's fried or served in hot pot with a light broth. It's better as thinly shaved sashimi (usuzukuri) where the flesh is translucent."

The appeal of fugu (other than the flirtation with danger it entails) is not in the flavor of the fish, says Silverjay, but in "the toothsome feel of chewing it." It's usually served with chopped green onions and a ponzu dipping sauce, fugu sashi. If you're curious to try it, but can't find it (or don't see the appeal in the danger), you "can get a very similar experience ... by having kawahagi, a non-poisonous tough-skinned fish that's used just like fugu," says cgfan.

Discuss: Fugu Eaters - I Need You!

Overheard on the General Topics Board

"I roast sweet potatoes in the oven until death. Until the insides are oozing out. Don't need a gram of butter or sugar or nuttin'. Beats the heck out of any casserole I've ever tasted."

"I also know what French bread that rested unwrapped in someone's arm pit on the way home from school tastes like. And stews that simmered under the cigarette that drooped from the cook's lip. And cheeses that aged unwrapped in caves with only natural geo-cooling. And vinegar that ferments uncovered in my pantry as I type. And tomatoes from my garden that I have to wash bird doo from. I could go on."

"How about a poached egg topped with roasted asparagus seasoned with smoked sea salt and a Bakon Vodka hollandaise?"

In Praise of Rested Meat

The Serious Eats Food Lab continues the food-knowledge evangelizing that it's become known for. Here, it presents a passionate and scientific demonstration of why you need to let your steak rest before you eat it. (In short: Cut too early, and the flavorful juices run all over the plate.)

It's a post worth checking out simply for the photos showing progressively more rested steaks. It starts from "juice explosion" and goes all the way down to "totally no leakage" in a very dramatic series.

Added bonus: There's some interesting stuff in the comments about the dry salt curing of steaks that's also worth a read.

By the way, if you typically let meat rest by tenting it with aluminum foil, ruining the crust with steam, here's a method to restore the meat's crust.

Sourcing Your Christmas Goose

If a goose holds a place of honor on your Christmas table each year, you may already know that they're harder to lay hands on than a turkey. stupiddog has been doing some checking around and found some good local places that sell geese:

• Owens Poultry Farm charges $7.50 a pound for geese from 10 to 12 pounds.
• Wilson Farms has fresh geese from New York for $7 a pound; you must order in advance.
• Mayflower Poultry has frozen goose for $6 a pound.
• Dewar has fresh goose for $12.99 a pound.

stupiddog advises all hounds to stay away from non-processed geese: "I've killed and plucked a goose and it's NOTHING like a chicken." That's because "Geese and ducks have not been bred to be de-feathered so easily. It's a nasty job that takes me at least an hour for a duck, more for a goose."

Owens Poultry Farm [MetroWest]
585 Central Avenue, Needham

Wilson Farms [North of Boston]
10 Pleasant Street, Lexington

Mayflower Poultry Company [Cambridge]
621 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

John Dewar & Company [MetroWest]
753 Beacon Street, Newton

Discuss: Fresh Goose

Super-Fresh Lobsters from a Truck

Sightings of Paul Crowell, the lobster-from-a-truck guy have been reported once more. This enterprising lobsterman sells his wares fresh off the boat, parking his scale, truck, and cooler in the parking lot of the Marblehead Boat Yard, behind the Landing Restaurant. The business is cash only, and Crowell is only usually there on Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. but the prices are unbelievable: $6.50 a pound for selects, $5.99 for chicken lobsters recently.

Paul Crowell's Lobsters [North Shore]
89 Front Street, Marblehead
No phone available

Discuss: Lobsters out of a truck on the North Shore?

Cooking Classes for Non-Newbies

bobsbigboy's wife wants to get him a cooking class as a holiday gift, but he's having trouble finding the right class. He doesn't want to do a full-bore professional regimen, but he's no beginner either. Hounds had great recommendations including: • The Knife Skills class at the Cambridge School of the Culinary Arts: blink617 took it as a beginner some years back, and found that "most of the other people in the class were more experienced but still seemed to be learning and getting tips from the instructors." • Baking classes, also at CSCA. C. Hamster finds them much more challenging than the regular classes, particularly the ones taught by the "fancy pastry chef guy," Delphin Gomes. "His rec classes tend to be demo-performance, while nearly all of the other classes tend to be 45-minute-lecture followed by everyone-picks-a-recipe-and-cooks-it," adds enhF94. • Classes at Barbara Lynch's academy, Stir: "A good pasta course would be useful," says grant.cook. • Helen's Kitchen, with instructor Helen Rennie, who offers classes on fish and pastry in Natick, Belmont, and Somerville. Cambridge School of the Culinary Arts [Cambridge] 2020 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge 617-354-2020 Stir [South End] 102 Waltham Street, Boston 617-423-7847 Helen's Kitchen [MetroWest] 3 Ingleside Road, Natick 617-500-0817 Discuss: Looking for a culinary class in between beginner and professional

Overheard on the Boston Boards

"I'm not a fan of most European chocolate, but Taza was a watershed moment. The gritty, visceral flavor made for a more intense experience, like trying your first cup of freshly roasted espresso."

"You get what you pay for, try and find a USDA mark on that stuff, the butchers are very careful to trim all the stamps off."

"He proceeds to pull out lamb carcass sections, the shoulder the ribs the neck. I see a lamb begin to form on the cutting board."

Rare Tropical Fruits in Little Saigon

Rambutan is incredibly hard to find in the States, but elmomonster found some, at a rare fruit specialist in Little Saigon. Next to toothless old women selling CDs out of a shopping cart, right past the Buddhist monks, by the pho shops, is Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon. "There are two women outside, each from competing stores, yelling at the top of their lungs like auctioneers or snake-oil hucksters, trying to do anything they can to charm passersby into stopping in and buying their wares."

Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon is a specialist in "fruit and produce indigenous of Southeast Asia—all that is weird and wonderful but are otherwise hard to come by the further north you go from the equator," explains elmomonster. The place is full of bizarre fruits.

Here, finally, you can get rambutan, "a fruit that is as weird as the rest of the lot, perhaps even weirder. As 'rambut' means hair in Indonesian, the golf ball-sized are indeed hairy—furry, even—resembling the dangling testicles of a red, alien creature."

The shop charges $7 a pound, which may seem a little steep, but this is the only store that brings you perfectly fresh rambutan. "The texture of rambutan, for those who haven't had it, is exactly like a lychee. But the flavor is tangier, livelier, just like the Little Saigon street scene I bought it from," says elmomonster.

Ba Tu Trai Cay Ngon [Little Saigon]
8920 Bolsa Avenue, Westminster

Discuss: Found: Rambutan in Westminster's Little Saigon (with PHOTOS!)

All Japanese and Fried, All the Time

Los Angeles finally has a specialist in kushiage, a subgenre of Japanese cooking devoted to the deep-fryer. It is, specifically, about deep-frying skewers of stuff, and it's pretty much the most popular thing in Osaka ever, explains exilekiss. This is not tempura frying; most of the stuff is breaded in a traditional mixture of panko, flour, and egg.

Now LA has Horon, and it's pretty darn good. The quality is a little varied, says exilekiss, but when it's on, it's spectacular. Take Horon's signature item, buta bara negima, pork belly and Welsh onion. On the first visit, it was completely stunning, says exilekiss: "a perfect bite of buttery, delicious pork fat, skin, and lean meat, very fresh and satisfying." On another visit, it was a little unbalanced, with one chunk all lean, another chunk all fat.

Tsukune (chicken meatballs) is another signature dish. It's perfectly fried, with crispy batter and tender, juicy marinated ground chicken. Shiitake tsukune is spectacular, "with a delicious balance of the unmistakable shiitake mushroom fragrance and a juicy blend of ground chicken," says exilekiss. Hotate bata (scallops with butter) comes without the usual panko breading, and is the better for it. "A fresh scallop with a very light butter marinade, it's a pleasurable, deep fried bite of sweetness," says exilekiss. And ika uno no se (squid with sea urchin) is a perfect thing, with fresh, tender, perfectly toothsome squid and beautifully buttery uni to match.

One of the best skewers from the vegetable menu is guri-n aspura no be-kon maki, green asparagus bacon wrap. It's a classic pairing, and the powerful asparagus flavor shines through the earthy, funky bacon.

The place is not perfect. Some of the servings are shockingly small, like the $1 gingko nut skewer that comes with two tiny nuts. And some of the dishes are a bit unbalanced. And you may wear out from the fact that everything comes in the same batter. But there's tons of awesomeness throughout the menu, and you can explore happily for many a visit.

Horon [South Bay]
2143 W. 182nd Street, Torrance

Discuss: Deep Fried Skewer Madness – L.A.'s New Kushiage Specialist – Horon [Review] w/ Pics!