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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lifestyles of the Rich & Famished

Folks often ask “hey J. Slab: your search for delicious seems so serious and stressful. How on earth do you relax?” Two words, gentle reader: hardcore nudity.

Now before your mind wanders let me explain. Chez Slab it's all about comfort: feet on the bed, soft fan or blanket (season depending), phone(s) turned off, remote(s) nearby, cocktail in reach, and (except for socks) total buck nakedness. Because, as I've explained to the neighbors once and a thousand times, this is America; when at home I have the right to feel at home.
How We Rolled (photo courtesy of sassy, classy Slimgilla)

The flip side of that pancake? It takes an awful lot to get me pantsed. And yet earlier this summer, something came up that had me jumping into the fanciest pants in my cupboard. Break-the-glass Double-X Fancy Pants, friend. Because the Fancy Food Show was in town, and you know The Porkchop Express had to look the part.

Last year our theme was simple: what makes a food fancy? This time around we no longer cared wanted to kick things up a notch: bigger, better, bolder. T2/Wrath of Kahn/Mola Ram bold. Fry the plumpest fish, climb the highest mountains, ride the tallest waves. But cooler heads prevailed. Much as we like to keep things fresh, oneupmanship is a hassle. And all we really want to do is spread some product love. The solution? Our aptly-titled 9 Fancy Things We Liked From Around The World. Enjoy!
Don Nisbet jerks... down under!

If someone says “fancy” do you think “jerky”? Me too. It puts those Slim Jim and Dorito punks in their place, and still goes great with beer. Plus, some people are willing to jerk anything. And when I say “some people” I mean “Australians.” Mariani Foods dried, salted, seasoned and chopped a cabal of make-believe fantasy indigenous animals: Crocodile, Kangaroo, and (our fave) pale, chewy Emu. I'm not 100% sure what Emu are, but they look like classy ostriches. Or those swank little old ladies one finds around the upper East side, who look like... classy ostriches.
Cameron Brower, grating with correct technique

Speaking of classy (cue “Theme to Deliverance”), what do you know about West Virginia? Apparently the climate and topography are well-suited to growing wasabi. To wit, native sons Real Wasabi offered this year's only samples of the fresh green root. As a “fancy guy” I really enjoyed the hand-grating demonstration. And their dried powder (just add water) was quality: fiery taste and smooth finish, as advertised. Pick some up for your next sushi party, and watch everyone turn “green” with envy. Bada-bing!
Olga Köszeghy and Valere Omog done Plum good

All joking aside, some products literally “sell themselves”: hookers, opium, plum oil. And the only folks slinging the latter is Perles de Gascogne. Based halfway between Bordeaux and Toulouse, this wily French couple squeezes the most from a prune's modest kernal, extracting a golden, fruity liquid with a strong almond aroma. It's the sort of thing that might have sent Portuguese explorers on a seafaring/globe-traversing/million-dubloon-costing/totally-off-course-straying Renaissance jaunt. It also pairs lovely with fish, mushrooms, baked goods, chocolate, or one of my “sensual Pork” messages. Unique, delightful, sassy, and... fancy!
Lily Hodge and Steve Perei, talking truffle

And yet... it gets fancy-er. What would you say if I told you dirt-covered fungi are about as fancy as things come? Would that completely blow your mind? It's true... especially when licked off the ground by dogs or pigs. And while most folks consider truffles Mister Fancy-shroom, I have a soft spot for Old Friend Morel. Ribbed for your pleasure, this intensely flavorful specimen makes a terrific edition to any chicken-n-wine: that's Coq Au Vin in the international language of “classy.” The best part? D'Artagnan sells them (dried) by the jar... so run out and get your coq on!
Happy Ales: Connie Parry and Steve Penry-Ellis spread the cheer

And while you're at it, grab a drink. We suggest something from Tomos Watkin's, one of Wales' oldest, largest and most fabled breweries. Represented this year by their founder's granddaughter (Connie Parry), TW shared a delightful mix of cask ales, keg beers, ciders and seasonals. Don't sweat the fact that many of the names appear to rhyme with “barf” (Cwrw Haf, Cwrw Gaeaf, Cwrw Braf). These were uniformly delicious, unique brews: crisp hoppy Summer Ale; velvety rich OSB; clear bold Magic Lagyr; dry peppy Taffy. When pressed to explain why their beers were so much tastier than a nearby English entry they let us in on a national secret: “Wales is the wettest country in the world.” Come again? “The water. It's all in the water.”
Beat Arne getting his serve on

As for tequila, it's all in the agave. Like the artisanal producer Tequila 1921, who transform Jalisco's finest agave tequilana into something lovely: terrific blanco, reposado and añejo. A bevy of rosy-cheeked ladies vouched for their newfangled “Tequila Cream” (think: Bailey's with sass), but we stuck with the classics. And based on my nigh-unintelligible “notes,” their fresh, floral superfine white and supple amber reserva were some of the smoothest, richest tequilas I've ever had... which is a good thing.
Hingxing Fei and friend make with the Yum

Maybe too much of a good thing... We needed a moment to sober up. And what better place to do so than the glorious Yumberry stand? Lord only knows who translated the Chinese characters, but it's amusingly apropos. Said berry - delicate, skinless, red - is harvested from a 3,000 year old mountainous evergreen. It looks like some mad scientist made a lychee “do it” with a strawberry, and tastes like a very fresh sweet and tart: more refreshing than “cran-whatever,” but a similar idea. For all you hippie freaks, it's high in antioxidants. For everyone else, it's about as fancy as a red non-alcoholic drink can get. Pomegrante, move over... there's a new sheriff in town! And she's yummy.
duck... Salami!!!

After the Yum we were back on track and ready to Meat. Enter Fabriques Delices. Cornering the (woefully small) US market on real French charcuterie, what they lack in distribution they more than make up for in quality. Take, for example, Duck Salami: rich, balanced, festive... and sassy to boot. Even more exciting? Their wonderful Morteau, thick pinewood-smoked links from Comté that made for a truly stellar classic Sausage and Lentils.
The Brothers LeviseurSean and Michael, sharing the fruits of their labor

And finally... our pick of the year: The Organic Smokehouse. Michael Leviseur has been smoking for some 20 years. Local Shropshire (UK) oak, natural drafts, low temperatures and slow smoking yield great depth of flavor but also terrific texture. Take their toothsome, succulent salmon: elegant and distinctive, smoky without being overbearing. And their Halen Mon Sea Salt? You have to see it (giant pure white flakes) and smell it (oak and cotton candy, I kid you not) to believe it. Crush a bit on sliced tomatoes, or coat a fine slab of aged beef prior to pan-searing. And while you're at it, try some of their butter. I didn't even know butter could be smoked. But the Leviseurs do so – in 12-hour batches – and the results are sublime. Rich creamy bliss that looks like pale gold and melts like smoky ghee. Heat a little to sear some chops or scallops, then add a dollop to finish. Then thank the Leviseur lads for bringing such fine products into this world. Formidable ingredients prepared with care and discretion, and a dash of eccentricity: that's our kind of fancy, good reader.And that, friend, is about as good as it gets!

Back soon with a frontline report from the world beer festival...

Til then, stay fancy.

–J. Slab

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