The world of food serves up a rich smorgasbord of trends and countertrends. In this modern era of gastro-molecular innovation, itís interesting that two of the hottest food trends harken back to ancient times.
Foraging is the lost art of living off the land. If you know where to look, Mother Nature provides a bounty of tasty treats for free. As consumers become increasingly disenchanted with the industrialized food chain (e-coli and pink slime, anyone?) they are venturing beyond supermarket shelves and out into the wilderness. For dinner.
A good day spent foraging for wild goodies just waiting to be gathered, caught, dug up, or picked, can yield this tasty feast: watercress soup, fried razor clams, wild mushrooms, deep fried crispy dulse, steamed sea beet and roasted burdock. In the world of foraging, what some would call weeds, top chefs call wonderful. Many chefs forage for their own wild roots and flowers; others rely on prominent foragers (who keep their favorite locations a guarded secret) to pluck their bounty for them.
Foraging is becoming a tourism opportunity. Nyma (New York Manhattan Hotel) is offering a special package for guests this June. Their one-night hotel stay includes a four-hour foraging tour uncovering wild foods available in New Yorkís green spaces. Personally, I stick close to home when I forage. Every spring I spend considerable hours hunting the woods for morels. (Donít ask me where I find them--if I told you Iíd have to honor the sacred code of morel foragers and kill you.)
Fermentation, first implemented over 8,000 years ago, is one of the oldest methods of preserving fresh ingredients. Itís attracting a new generation of foodie fans thanks to its health benefits and flavor-enhancing properties. When kombucha (fermented tea), kefir (fermented milk), and kimchi (fermented cabbage), all once considered exotic foreign fare, are flying off Trader Joeís shelves, you know the massification of fermentation has begun. More signs: probiotic yoghurts rule the dairy case, pickles have never been so popular, Heinz is introducing a balsamic ketchup, and Frito Lay just launched Sriracha potato chips. (Sriracha is a popular Thai hot sauce made from vinegar, chili peppers and garlic.)
Speaking of pickles, no one makes them quite like The Pickle Guys at Brooklyn Brine. They pickle everything from their famous whiskey sour pickles to seasonal specialties, like curried squash, Moroccan beans, fennel beets, turnips, chipotle carrots, and lavender asparagus. (Their hand made barrel cured pickles are now available at Whole Foods and Williams & Sonoma.) Pickle fans are anxiously awaiting the opening next month of The Pickle Shack, their first restaurant. Speaking of restaurants, celebrity chefs are responsible for some of the most creative interpretations of fermented cuisine--David Chang of NYCís Momofuku and Matthew Kenney of LAís M.A.K.E. to name two.
You donít have to be a celebrity, however, to fervently embrace fermenting. DIYers are an active, growing culture (sorry, bad pun) of enthusiasts canning and pickling their hearts out. Their bible is the NY Times bestseller ďThe Art of Fermentation,Ē by Sandor Ellix Katz. W&S now sells fermentation pots and culturing crocks on line (including Kombucha Brooklynís Home Brew kit), as well as kits for making beer, cheese, and yoghurt.
Whether your taste buds are piqued by hot and tangy pickled peppers, or refreshed by free foraged finds, fermentation and foraging are a taste of things to come.
Brookline Brine Pickles