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Sea urchins and hazelnut milk

What to eat and drink

Our correspondents round up the latest developments in food and drink

Our correspondents round up the latest developments in food and drink

April/May 2016

Catch of the season

Few dishes require as much attention to detail as the caviar, potato and sea urchin creation that will be on the menu of Single Thread, Kyle Connaughton’s new restaurant in Sonoma County, California, which opens in May. It starts with the chef de cuisine, Aaron Koseba, taking to icy waters in the early morning to free-dive for the urchins. The chosen ones have their spikes trimmed, beaks removed and innards scooped out – save for the five orangey gonads that cling to the inner edge of the shell. They are joined there by a silky potato purée – made from roasted small potatoes – scallions and a perfect circle of caviar. Eating it, with a small wooden spoon, is to be taken out to sea in a Japanese pea-green boat: you smell the earthiness of the potato, feel the smoothness of the purée and taste the saltiness of the caviar, before being lifted to another level by the delicate sweet-and-savoury flavour of the sea urchin. singlethreadfarms.com

Persimmon granted

If you make yoghurt every night using a special swaddling method, your next big artisanal kitchen project (and this year’s Bay Area obsession) could well be hoshigaki. Hoshi (dried) gaki (persimmon) is literally that – a delicacy produced by an ancient Japanese method which involves peeling inedibly astringent Hachiya persimmons and suspending them for a month to air-dry. The catch? They need a daily massage. That is fine if you are doing five; rather more commitment is needed if you are dealing with 100.

The fruits undergo a delicate transformation: after first glistening with juice, they slowly begin to shrivel, and a white dusty coating appears on their surface as the sugars emerge. Finally, they take on a jammy consistency, with a beguiling flavour not far from a sweet potato crossed with a date. 

Keep a beady eye out for them at Bay Area farmers’ markets, (it’s not cool to gasp at the price), buy them on the internet or, more impressively, leap on new-season persimmons and make your own. After all, what better way to spend an evening than massaging skinned fruit? Available on mail order from penrynorchardspecialties.com 

 

How now old cow

There’s a new cow on the block – or rather, an old, plump one. Cows, like humans, lay down fat as they age, and that fat, particularly when marbled throughout the meat, gives steak its flavour. In Britain, most beef cows have to be slaughtered before they are 30 months old, while in America they are usually killed when they are most tender, having been fattened as quickly as possible. In Spain, however, some beef producers are playing the longer game: Galician Blond cattle can be as old as 17 before they are slaughtered, and they are being joined at the abattoir by retired dairy cows, brought to the Basque country to graze out their dotage. The resulting beef is now hitting plates at some of London’s most exclusive restaurants – the Chiltern Firehouse alone orders 50 fillets a week – and their suppliers, Txuleta, are struggling to keep up with demand. The news that buyers are willing to pay up to €50,000 ($55,000) for a single animal has reportedly led to teary Galician farmers queuing up to sacrifice their pet cows. chilternfirehouse.com

Dungeons and flagons

“That,” said the sommelier, leaning forwards 
in the conspiratorial manner of sommeliers, 
“is the wine from the island that does not exist.” Who could resist a sales pitch like that? 
Even if the bottle of Gorgona cost €100 (in Italy, that was).

The island after which it is named does, of course, exist. It forms part of an archipelago off the coast of Tuscany that also includes Elba. But Gorgona is nearly impossible to visit. First, because it is a nature reserve. And, rather more surprisingly, because it is Italy’s – and seemingly the world’s – last island penal colony.

The wine is the outcome of a partnership between the prison and the noble, winemaking Frescobaldi family aimed at giving prisoners a skill they can use after their release. It produces an elegant and delicious wine: a straw-yellow blend of Vermentino and a less well-known grape, Ansonica, that floods the mouth with the taste of sweet lemons and pears.

The 2014 vintage, released last July, was the third. It yielded a mere 3,000 bottles. So if you see Gorgona on a list, don’t let it get away. Only one of the island’s inmates has ever escaped, and he was never seen again. frescobaldi.it

It's a nutty business

Alternative milk is booming. Last year global consumption of non-dairy milk grew by 13.3%, whereas dairy milk grew by 0.8%. But while health concerns may argue for the milk du jour – almond – environmental concerns do not. In drought-besieged California, where over 80% of almonds for milk processing are grown, it takes a gallon of water for each kernel to reach maturity. So what’s left for the environmentally conscious, dairy-free coffee enthusiast? Look no further than hazelnut milk, homemade if possible.

Hazelnuts don’t mind damper, colder climates, so are less likely to drink California dry. Their milk has a natural affinity for coffee, bringing out its chocolatey undertones. It’s easy to make: add 200g raw hazelnuts to a litre of filtered water – more if you like your milk a bit creamier. If you are interested in increasing its health benefits, soak them overnight first to activate the enzymes. Blend thoroughly then strain through a jelly bag, muslin or very fine sieve and keep in a sealed container in the fridge. Goodbye almond piccolo, hello decaf hazelnut mocha flat white.

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