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

Wait, What Are Your Qualifications Again?

The Atlantic’s Everybody’s a Critic online feature goes a long way toward establishing why not everybody should be a critic. Read it if you must, but here’s how a recent post pretty much boiled down:

Noncritic: I went to this highly hyped New York restaurant, ordered the roasted chicken, and I didn’t think it was all that. Why does everybody go there, anyway?

Commenter: You total sack. Nobody orders the chicken there; it’s a steak and burger place. What the hell are your qualifications for being a critic, anyway?

Commenter Number Two: Oh, wait, it says right there that he doesn’t have any.

Live Chicken Adventure

“There you are at the farmers’ market and there are cages of chickens … all types and colors. Which one do you choose?” wonders rworange. “Does it need to look feisty like a live crab in a fishmonger’s tank?” You’ll want to select a healthy, energetic chicken with bright feathers, says JungMann. “You can ask the supplier to help you choose a fat, healthy bird.” “Also check the color of the beak, earlobes, and comb,” suggests morwen. “As a chicken gets older, especially with layers, the color of these parts fade. They should be bright in a young chicken.”

So you select your chicken and the vendor puts it as is, breathing, in a paper bag. “Without being overly graphic,” asks rworange, “you bring your chicken home and what next?” Usually the supplier will take care of the dispatch and defeathering for you, says JungMann, but if you want to do it yourself, “be forewarned that this is a two-man job unless you have a traffic cone lying around to contain the bird, particularly if you choose to sever the trachea and carotid with a very sharp knife,” he says. Paulustrious thinks twisting the chicken’s neck to break it is the optimal manner of dispatching it. “For some it is a bit disconcerting, especially as the bird flaps after it is technically dead. However, it does make you realise what a chicken really is.”

“Plucking is messy,” advises AnnaEA. The chicken needs to be dipped in water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but no more then 170 degrees Fahrenheit. “Too cool, the feathers won’t loosen, too hot and you can accidentally cook the skin, which makes it rip when you try to clean it.” And “after plucking and cleaning, it’s best to allow the chicken to rest in the fridge over night before cooking—this allows rigor to fully pass, and helps ensure you get tender meat,” she says.

Board Link: How to select and … um … deal with a live chicken from the farmers market?

Honeys from Around the World

The flavor of honey varies appreciably with locale, because of the differing vegetation bees use to keep on buzzing. nofunlatte scored some honey in Cameroon that was “deep and darkly colored, very complex in flavor with a taste of deep, dark caramel and chocolate, among other things.” Ruth Lafler says her favorite has been coffee blossom honey she bought at a farmers’ market in Kauai. “It’s very dark, almost molasses, and has a very faint coffee flavor,” she says. Veggo fondly recalls the honey from the Michoacán region of Mexico: “Michoacán and Querétaro have 100-foot eucalyptus trees and delicate orchids and a million plants in between, so the honey was a symphony of everything one could see,” he says.

Sam Fujisaka thinks the best honeys are from the coffee-growing regions of Chiapas, Mexico, and Cajamarca, Peru. And pikawicca loves the “very dark evergreen honey from the Black Forest.”

Board Link: Honeys from around the world--share your favorites!

10 Meads You Should Try

10 Meads You Should Try

It's not just for jousting tournaments anymore. READ MORE

Cloudy Cider and Hot Doughnuts

Ali G is in search of unpasteurized apple cider, and even though justbeingpolite says none-too-politely “I think this gets asked every year,” Ali G’s still asking. The most popular recommendations on the boards are Cider Hill Farm, Honey Pot Hill Orchards, and Russell Orchards. tdaaa recommends that Ali stop by Cider Hill as it has a new hybrid, gingercrisp, that is “absolutely great.”

Meanwhile, nothing goes with cider like hot cider doughnuts, and the pastries from each of the aforementioned spots have their fans. Hounds also talk up the ’nuts at Wilson Farms: “As good as my back-home faves,” says ex-Michigander Prav. Get them “right out of the machine in the garden center,” advises ziggles. And Wilson Farms is one of the closer options for Bostonians.

Cider Hill Farm [Merrimack Valley]
45 Fern Avenue, Amesbury
978-388-5525

Honey Pot Hill Orchards [North of Boston]
144 Sudbury Road, Stow
978-562-5666

Russell Orchards [North Shore]
143 Argilla Road, Ipswich
978-356-5366

Wilson Farms [North of Boston]
10 Pleasant Street, Lexington
781-862-3900

Board Links: Unpasteurized Apple Cider
Good cider donuts close to Boston?

Teranga’s Multinational Menu

Senegalese food has touches of French, African, Portuguese, and Vietnamese cuisine to it, as the menu at Teranga demonstrates. Take the nems for example, which are much like Vietnamese imperial rolls, or the maafe, a lamb, peanut, and rice stew that has a distinctly African feel and is “delicious without being weird,” says kayowinter.

“I’d say this was the best Senegalese food I’ve ever had but that wouldn’t mean much since it’s the only Senegalese food I’ve ever had,” says 9lives. “It won’t be my last.”

For her part, kayowinter was cock-a-hoop over the decidedly non-average salad “ordinaire,” which mixed spring lettuce with white and sweet potatoes and beets in a light, garlicky dressing. Her husband loved the lamb chops, which were “tender and garlicky with a lot of that delicious char taste from the grill.”

Senegalese cuisine is known for its ultra-fresh juices; hounds generally like the ginger drink, but say that the bissap juice (a purple mix of sorrel or hibiscus juice, pineapple, orange flower water, and vanilla sugar) is an acquired taste.

Teranga [South End]
1746 Washington Street, Boston
617-266-0003

Board Link: Teranga/ Senegalese South End

Sriracha: A Universal Condiment?

What’s the difference between the popular hot sauce called sriracha and the condiment known as “chili garlic sauce”? Isn’t sriracha pretty much chili garlic sauce? Aren’t they interchangeable? The main difference is that sriracha has sugar, and chili garlic sauce doesn’t, says goodhealthgourmet. Sugar tempers the heat a bit.

Chili garlic sauce is also more garlicky and tart in flavor than the sriracha, again, because of the lack of sugar, says Miss Needle. “Personally, I find sriracha to be more of a ‘universal’ condiment as the sugar balances out the vinegar,” says Miss Needle. “And I’m only talking about the Huy Fong brand as I’ve found other sriracha sauces to be quite vinegary. And sriracha is smooth while there are seeds present in the chili garlic sauce.”

Another similar product is the Indonesian sauce sambal oelek. It’s even more elemental than chili garlic sauce as it “has no garlic or sugar,” says SnackHappy. “The ingredients are chile, salt, and vinegar, but the taste is pretty much straight-up chili paste.”

Board Link: Sriracha/chili garlic

Soy Joy

little.tiger loves number 137 on the menu at MuLan, “bean curd with dry bean sauce,” a dish that features “a crunchy, salty, slightly sweet crushed dry bean topping over silken tofu in a sweetened soy sauce with broccoli.” But what are those delicious little “dry beans”?

They’re dried soy beans that have been “glazed with some sugary substance and deep-fried,” says Luther. “Honey-roasted soy nuts, basically.”

Dou su jiang, or “fried crispy soy bean sauce” is a common Taiwanese condiment, and is often found as a topping for fish. “It’s quite a bit better on the tofu,” says Luther, “perhaps just because you can enjoy the sweet/salty without having to add ‘tender mild white fish’ to the combo.”

MuLan [Cambridge]
228 Broadway, Cambridge
617-441-8813

Board Link: Taiwanese food experts: what are the “dry beans” in Mulan’s “bean curd with dry bean sauce”?

Can All You Can

DailyFinance provides one of the best roundups available of coverage of the Great 2009 Canning Craze, and the various reactions to it. Primal? Practical? Precious? Is it possible that canning, something our grandparents and great-grandparents did to cope with all the extra cucumbers and tomatoes, has somehow become something insufferably twee?

Salon thinks so; the Wall Street Journal doesn’t. The DF roundup starts by putting its fingers on the craft’s pulse as trend of the moment, but swings quickly into deeper and more philosophical territory: canning as a personal revolt against Big Food, which is less and less perceived as the safe, delicious, affordable wave of the future.

A brief excerpt from the surprisingly stirring conclusion to the DF story:

“It’s not that I don’t trust corporations. It’s just that I don’t know the corporations. And I know Amy, who sells me tomatoes, and I know that I care whether or not my children are sickened by my food.”

Trendy or not, that makes sense.

Like Disneyland, But With Food

There have been, of course, a burst of reviews about The Bazaar, José Andrés’s wonderland of food experimentation. elmomonster’s recent review really captures the magic of the place. Bazaar is Disneyland, says elmomonster. “Plain and simple, it is a theme park made for people like me. And it isn’t just for the fact that there are three distinct themed rooms, which is obvious; but for the food, which takes you on a ride as head-trippy as [It’s] a Small World on acid.”

“The menu, itself, is like a park map which asks: What do you want to go on next?” says elmomonster. There’s Frontierland, with the traditional stuff like cheeses and charcuterie. Then there’s Tomorrowland, where the weirdness starts.

Ignore the tasting menu, suggests elmomonster, and go wandering on your own. There is humor here, like a joke version of a Philly cheesesteak, which is a sort of puffed up matzo cracker, filled with cheese, and topped with ultra-thin slices of Wagyu beef. There is delight here, like “12 Tiny Eggs Sunny Side Up.” “When you can get a penny-size, unbroken yolk in every spoonful, you don’t wonder about anything else other than why the dish hasn’t been copied for every IHOP and Denny’s in America,” says elmomonster. And there is madness here, like sea urchin roe, sitting “like ice cream over silky oil and bits of finely diced vegetables with the jarring crunch of Pop Rocks and the sharpness of relish.”

And then there are the scientific magic tricks. “Not Your Everyday Caprese” is a “starting lesson in molecular gastronomy 101”, says elmomonster. The dish involves liquid mozzarella, “a Mr. Wizard science magic trick that creates a thin film of skin around the liquid—a temporary water balloon that bursts on your tongue. The trick for the diner is to pick up the fragile orbs with a spoon, along with the de-skinned cherry tomato, the pesto, and the Cheez-It-like cracker. And when it’s all in your mouth: POP!”

The place is full of whimsy, says elmomonster, but you’re always in on the joke.

The Bazaar [Mid-City]
465 S. La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles
310-246-5555

Board Link: Another The Bazaar Review with Photos