August 14, 2019

Dear friends,
My days of relishing blushing-pink pork are over. Yours may be, too, if you read the expose on the pork industry Sunday in the New York Times.

In a meticulously researched story, reporter Matt Richtel lays out evidence that pork tainted with a dangerous variant strain of salmonella is seriously sickening people because the bacteria is resistant to four major antibiotics.

Why is this particular type of salmonella so hard to kill with antibiotics? Probably because many pork producers have overused antibiotics on their hogs to the point that the bacteria has mutated into a resistant strain.

Where are these hogs being raised? How widespread is the problem? There’s the rub.

The pork farmers and their organization, the National Pork Producers Council, have refused to cooperate with scientists trying to track the infected meat. Because of the historically cozy relationship of pork producers — and heck, most food producers — with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rules do not exist to force the farmers to cooperate. The farmers are afraid if the tainted pork is traced to specific producers, their business will suffer. Huh.

According to the Times article, the problem came to light after nearly 200 people became ill from tainted pork in a Washington outbreak in 2015. Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to Washington. An analysis by researchers at the Environmental Working Group found that 71 percent of pork chops in supermarkets in the United States carried resistant bacteria.

Cooking pork to 145 degrees (160 degrees for ground pork) will kill any salmonella it harbors, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But it’s easy to spread the bacteria from raw meat before it is cooked. I intend to handle raw pork very carefully from now on. And I’ll use an instant-read thermometer to be sure it is done.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Steamed whole lobsters, microwaved corn on the cob; frozen chimichurri chicken breast (heated) and a bagged chopped salad with chipotle and Cheddar cheese; a BLT (for Tony) and a grilled salmon, lettuce and tomato (me), and Seiberling steamed corn; oven-baked wild sockeye salmon glazed with sweet soy sauce (for me) and with a cucumber-mayo sauce (for Tony), steamed corn, cucumber salad with sesame dressing.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Bacon, egg and sausage flatbread, coffee at Red Cup in Boothbay Harbor, Me.; oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce at Glidden Point Oyster Farm in Edgecomb, Me.; fried clams from Frye House in Farmingdale, Me.; half of a Subway roast beef sub; scrambled egg with ham, a buttermilk biscuit and coffee at Monroe’s Family Restaurant in Twin Mountain, N.H.; a hot dog and a bag of popcorn at a football team fund-raiser along I-90 in Massachusetts; half a Subway ham and cheese.

THE MAILBAG
From Dorothy B.:
What a great story, Jane (about last week’s clam-hunting trip). It reminds me of a time many, many years ago when we were camping and went down to the dock and bought our lobsters right off the boat. We steamed them over the campfire using the rack in a large canning pot. Thanks for dredging up some great memories.

From Carol B.:
Wow, Jane, your description of Maine food is so enticing that I want to jump in the car and head east!

I’ve been to Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast, Maine a couple of times, and thinking about it makes my mouth water. Is there ANY place in Northeast Ohio where we can get food like that?

By the way, September and October are great months to travel to tourist-heavy areas like that. You might have cooler weather, but I hate hot weather anyway.

Dear Carol:
Yes, I will have to start traveling in the off season. The over-tourism caught me by surprise in Paris last year, too.

You won’t find off-the-boat Maine food in Ohio, but you can find lobsters and clams (although rarely steamers) in the fall when clam bake season cranks up. Papa Joe’s in the Merriman Valley in Akron always has a number of lobster specials in the fall, including a lobster bake, and many restaurants offer clam bakes.

But none of them equals sitting on a bench outside eating lobster rolls and fresh-dug clams. Maybe you could get together with friends, make a mad dash to the coast for seafood, and have your own lobster festival when you return.

From Mary P.:
Jane, I made your corn and onion salad the other day. It was delicious.

In reading the email from Bill B., I just did not understand the “microwaving onion stem” and then the rest of the sentence without punctuation, I’m guessing.
So, is he suggesting microwaving the onions…in no butter, little butter, or what?

Sorry to need a clearer understanding.

Dear Mary:
Bill’s email made perfect sense, but I garbled it badly when I retyped it. I didn’t proofread it either, apparently. My apologies.

The point Bill made is that he partially cooks/steams large amounts of chopped onion in the microwave before transferring them to a skillet to caramelize in butter on the stove. Because the onions are partially cooked, they caramelize on the stove much faster and therefore need less butter to keep them from burning.

The chopped onions should probably go in a shallow, wide casserole dish. No butter. Cover and microwave until fairly softened. The time will depend on the amount of onions and the power of your microwave. Exactness doesn’t matter. Even a bit of precooking will shave time from the caramelizing process on the stove. Right, Bill?

From Marnie F., Charlotte, N.C.:
I am a former Cleveland native, living in Charlotte for 30 years. Your corn story a few weeks ago brought back many memories of Ohio sweet corn. I shared your story about eating the corn at various stages after picking at a family reunion with corn lovers from both coasts and the Midwest. Everyone enjoyed your research. My question is whether you have this report available to the public. It would make a great gift for all of the sweet corn lovers I know.

Dear Marnie:
That research ran in a story in the Beacon Journal on August 12, 1987 under the headline Stalking Great Corn. The story was about the then-new hybrid super-sweet corn, and how it tasted compared to regular just-picked corn and ears that were four hours old.

The article is available free in the Akron Beacon Journal database of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. You can access the database online with your library card number at akronlibrary.org. Others can access it through a paid newspaper archives service. Ask at your local library.

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August 7, 2019

Dear friends,
The tidal flats of the central coast of Maine zigzag for miles along fingers that reach inland from the ocean. Tony and I crisscrossed them again and again in our search for the rocky shore. I would lick my lips in hunger.

“That’s clam territory,” I told Tony atop one bridge. “Keep an eye out for signs.”

Sure enough, on yet another ill-fated attempt to beat the hordes of tourists to the actual shore, I spotted culinary gold: A hand-pained sign, “Clams, Seafood” with an arrow.

We turned off State Route 209 near Phippsburgh onto a narrow, rutted road. Around a bend was a small pre-fab building with a cement loading dock and a sign, “Clam Hunter Seafood.”

“Come on up,” called the smiling woman on the dock. She led us inside, where wire shelves and water-filled tubs were crammed with clams and oysters. Lobsters bubbled in a glass tank filled with sea water. A man — her husband? — with a wind-burned face and rolled-down waders directed a spray of water at shell debris on the concrete floor. Yes, he had just dredged up the clams, he said.

The clams had already been purged, we were told. That meant I wouldn’t have to soak them in salt water until they released any sand they harbored. Already-purged clams were a real find.

Soft-shells, called steamers here, were $6 a pound. Lobsters were $7 a pound. I almost cried when I realized I couldn’t fit three pounds of clams AND lobsters in the little cooler I had brought.

I only needed a pound of clams for the recipe I had in mind, but I knew I could eat more than a dozen myself, the average number of steamers in a pound. I bought three pounds and doubled the sauce recipe.

I have had some fine clams in Maine so far. My first meal was a lobster roll and a dozen steamers with clam broth and drawn butter. They tasted like the sea and reminded me of my early 20s, when I lived in Atlantic City and was in love with life and my first taste of seafood. My second restaurant meal was an indecently big pile of fried seafood including clams fresh from the shell, dunked in batter and fried until crisp and golden. They were so sweet and crisp I’ll be dreaming of them the rest of my life.

Then there were my clams. Back at my camper, I made a soffritto of crisp-fried pancetta, softened onion and minced fennel. I cut thick slices of crusty bread, fried them in olive oil and rubbed them with garlic. I bubbled those sea-fresh clams with wine, lemon peel, a bay leaf and the sofrito. When the flavors were blended and the clams had opened, I ladled everything over the thick slices of toast on a platter.

A half-dozen clams and the broth-soaked toast turned out to be plenty for me but not nearly enough for Tony, who ate almost all of them. The clams on toast was so good Tony suggested selling it along the roadside to other tourists stuck in traffic, trying to find the shore. He thinks we could make a fortune.

A word of warning: The Maine coast, like many popular destinations, suffers from over tourism. If you want to see a tide pool or a rocky headland or an ocean wave, get up before dawn. We were stuck in traffic for hours on U.S.1 one day, and were turned away a half-mile from Popham Beach State Park another day because all of the parking lots were full by noon.

But there are still clams, lobsters and oysters to be had on byways far from the madding crowds.

CLAM TOASTS WITH PANCETTA

(From Bon Appetit magazine)
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, 2 sliced thin, 2 whole
1/2 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus 1/4 cup fennel fronds
2 wide strips (3 inches long) lemon zest
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. ground fennel
1 cup dry white wine, divided
Pinch of salt
2 thick (1 1/2 inch) slices sourdough bread
1 lb. clams (steamers or littleneck)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Crushed red pepper flakes

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp. Add sliced garlic and stir-fry until it is golden around the edges, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and add onion and chopped fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.

Add lemon zest, bay leaf, ground fennel, ½ cup wine and a pinch of salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is mostly reduced but mixture is still a little bit saucy. Transfer soffritto to a medium bowl; discard lemon zest and bay leaf. Wipe out skillet.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in same skillet over medium. Cook bread slices in skillet until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Cut 1 garlic clove in half and rub one side of each toast with cut side of garlic. Wipe out skillet.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium. Crush remaining garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife and cook, stirring often, until it begins to turn golden, about 1 minute. Add clams, soffritto, and remaining ½ cup wine. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until liquid is reduced by half and clams are open (discard any that do not open), 5 to 7 minutes. Add parsley and chopped fennel fronds and cook 1 minute longer.

To serve, place a piece of fried bread on each of two plates and spoon clam mixture and broth over. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Makes 2 appetizer or light lunch servings.

Note: Soffritto can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and chill.

GUT CHECK
What I prepared last week:
Crudités and a campfire hotdog with mustard and onions; a scrambled duck egg sandwich and coffee; grilled strip steaks and microwaved corn on the cob; salade Nicoise and a ripe peach; clam toast with pancetta.

What I at in/from restaurants:
Buffalo wings from Bella Pizza in Lackawanna, N.Y.; a cheese omelet, whole wheat toast and coffee at Cherry Tree Inn in Henderson, N.Y.; half of a Subway ham and cheese; a brick oven pizza with garlic sauce, chicken, feta, dried cranberries and walnuts and a Stella Artois; fried fish, french fries, coleslaw, mac and cheese and a roll from Ghize’s Tavern in Ogdensburg, N.Y.; stuffed cabbage and potato moussaka from a farmers’ market in St. Albans, Vt.; a lobster roll (the meat of an entire lobster in a toasted split-top bun with melted butter on the side), homemade thick-cut potato chips, steamed clams at Lobster in the Rough in York, Maine; fried scallops, clams, haddock and shrimp with french fries and a roll at Sea Basket Restaurant in Wiscasset, Maine.

THE MAILBAG
From Bill B.:
Regarding the caramelized onions in your corn salad, do you ever microwave stem the chopped onions to cut cooking time when caramelizing them I do this when I’m making huge batches of onions. This usually cuts down on the amount of butter I need to use as well.

Dear Bill:
Brilliant. Next time, instead of cutting down on butter to save calories but then not quite caramelizing the onions so they don’t burn, I will try your trick. Thanks.