A Caviar Primer

We can all afford caviar, right?   Just in case you’re at a fancy party and it’s being served…here’s how to pretend you know what you’re talking about:  The best caviar comes from the Caspian and Black Seas from a fish called Sturgeon – the caviar is the fish eggs from this fish.  There are three main varieties of  sturgeon, producing slightly different caviar:  Beluga – a really huge fish weighing up to around 1700 pounds!  The fish eggs from the beluga are colored from light grey all the way to black.  Osetra, the next largest sturgeon, can have grayish, gray-green or even brown eggs.  The Osetra gets up to about 500 pounds.  The smallest of the sturgeon, the Sevruga, has small, greenish black eggs.  All sturgeon are in danger because of over fishinga and the demand for their caviar (all named after the fish: Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga).  There are sturgeon farms now in the US producing caviar, as well as salmon caviar on the market, but none compare with the fish eggs from the Caspian and Black seas…slightly salty, mineraly, and they “pop” in your mouth.  US caviar tends to be much saltier (you can always tell if it’s lesser caviar if it’s very salty).  Caviar is fatty – ranging from 8-25%, and high in cholesterol, and hence needs to be preserved with salt.  The best caviar is expertly salted with no more than 5% and may be labeled “malassol”, which is Russian for “lightly salted”.

Now, how about those fancy caviar spoons?  Mother of pearl…gold…there’s a reason for it believe it or not…salt is corrosive to silver or steel and the two aforementioned substances do not react to the salt.  If you can afford the caviar but all the money is gone before you can buy an expensive spoon, consider plastic – impervious to salt as well!!  I hear some of the fast food joints have little tiny plastic spoons… – otherwise, use your hand.  Form a fist with your thumb on the outside facing downward.  The fold of skin between your forefinger and thumb form the perfect spoon for the caviar – this is called a “body shot” and you will definitely establish yourself as someone “in the know” by doing this!  Follow up your body shot with a shot of vodka and you are well on your way to the ambassadorship to Russia.  Na Zdorovye! – Lula

Red Meat Leftovers

A tip I learned from Robert Wolke:  don’t microwave or oven your leftover good cuts of meat that are rare/mediumrare/medium.  It’ll destroy the desired level of doneness. Instead, put the meat in a Ziplock bag and soak it in hot tap water for a couple of minutes.  Meat: warmed.  Tastebuds: GOOOOoooooooood.

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Let’s Define Brine

Do you occasionally run across a recipe telling you to use brined chicken or turkey?  Sometimes the cookbook just assumes you know what you’re doing…but I find that if I understand the “why” – then I can apply the “how” to many different situations.  So, what is brining?  Definition:  The insertion of salty water into protein by osmosis and diffusion.  Less boring:  Brining is salted water that completely covers a piece of meat and over time enters the meat molecules,  Nature likes to “make things even” (what goes up must come down, right?) – and osmosis tries to even out the water molecules outside of the meat  (alot) with the water molecules inside the meat (not so many).   There is very little sodium and chloride (salt) inside a protein cell, so the same thing happens with the dissolved salt in the water – nature pushes it through to make things balanced inside and outside of the protein.  Science doesn’t even completely understand why, but the result is protein cells that are able to hold on to more water, making them softer and slightly swollen, more tender, and more seasoned.  A general rule of thumb is one cup of kosher salt to one gallon of water.

If you’re not sure how much water to use, put your protein in a ziplock bag, and fill the bag till the protein is completely covered.  Then dump the water accumulated in the bag into a (really large) measuring cup, and add the salt according to how much water there is.  I like to add sugar as well – it balances the salt – about 1/4 whatever the amount of salt I added.  Swish it all around till its dissolved, add your meat, and throw it in the fridge for a day (or two, or three) – all depending on how big your protein is.  A couple of chicken breasts only need a few hours; a 10# turkey will take 2-3 days.  Obviously, your more tender proteins like a good steak don’t need this process.  We’re talking about drier cuts here – chicken breast, whole chickens, turkeys, pork loins etc (the stuff that doesn’t have much fat).  If you have any questions while on your brining odyssey, you can always email me a http://www.lulasforlunch.com  Here’s to lovin low-cal lean cuts!  – Lula

What’s HOT – Black Rice

If you want to trend with the big foodie dogs…a hint.  Serve black rice at your next dinner party.  Also called “Forbidden Rice” (because in the past only royalty in Asia had access and ate it), black rice is actually purple to blue when cooked.  It stains everything so be careful if adding ingredients.  I have been privy to a “perfectly purple paella” from shrimp to rice!  You can reserve the cooking liquid and use it as a dye!  Black Rice is very nutritious – as nutritious as brown, with added benefits.  Not ALL that easy to find – look in gourmet markets.  Lula uses black rice in her “The Wild Side” menu – to be found at www.lulasforlunch.com.