By Ann | December 2, 2014
Last Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, I bent over my kitchen counter cutting Brussels sprouts and curly kale into slender ribbons. I’m mandolin-phobic, so I used my chef’s knife, brandishing my sharpener at regular intervals. A glass of red wine stood next to the cutting board and regular swigs from it helped dull the growing pain in my wrist. The baby was asleep, my husband was out to dinner—it was just me and four pounds of cruciferous veg.
Do you ever get into those cooking moods where the tasks seem like the labors of Hercules but you can’t stop? (Or is it just me?) When you’re so focused on making one recipe, you completely forsake a meal? That night, I ate dinner on my feet, snatching bites of black bean taquitos from a hot cookie sheet. (I know, I know, but, hey, they were from Trader Joe’s!)
To be honest, I knew what I was getting into when I offered to bring this salad to the pot luck. A week earlier, I had made a trial version, spending a frazzled Sunday evening trying to to feed a, er, discerning toddler, boil spaghetti, and shred roly Brussels sprouts without cutting off my fingertips. The salad was pretty good that night, though I did wonder if it was worth all the work. But when I ate the leftovers the next day, I discovered the salad’s raison d’être, glimpsed its very soul. After marinating overnight, the sharp vinaigrette had tamed the rough leaves into silky crispness, still satisfyingly crunchy and tangy, but softer, more mellow, a sophisticated slaw heightened with toasted almonds and generous handfuls of Pecorino cheese.
At some point during the pre-Thanksgiving chopping marathon, I wondered if the salad could kill me. My wrist ached. My feet throbbed. Maybe the wine had slowed me down, but when I looked at the clock, I was shocked to find that two hours had gone by. My husband came home and confiscated the bag of washed kale. We went to bed and I vowed never to slice anything ever again.
But here’s the thing: The next day found me starving (apparently black bean taquitos do not a satisfying meal make :) And yet, anticipating the turkey and trimmings ahead, all I really wanted was a… light, crunchy pile of shaved Brussels sprouts and kale. When the baby, her father, and granny went out, I whipped out the leftover veg and started slicing. This time, the work went faster, jollied along by Alec Baldwin on NPR. In deference to the day’s celebratory meal, I added a mere dusting of cheese. You could try other variations, too—swap the almonds for pecans, add a handful of dried cranberries, go in a Caesar-ish direction and mash an anchovy into the vinaigrette.
We ate the salad with great relish for lunch, and ate more of it at dinner, and more of it last night (it was a perfect bright counterpoint to the rest of the holiday plate). If I had my druthers, I’d be eating more right now.
Shaved Brussels sprouts and kale salad with almonds and Pecorino cheese
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Note: I like to marinate the minced shallot and garlic in the lemon juice to tame their sharp bite, before whisking in the olive oil to create the vinaigrette. Also, I used pre-grated Pecorino cheese. I was very glad I did!
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 1/2 lbs curly kale leaves, center stem discarded
1 lb trimmed Brussels sprouts
1/3 cup whole, unblanched almonds, roughly chopped
1 pinch fleur de sel (or salt)
1 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
Salt and pepper
At the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, shallot, garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
With a sharp knife or mandolin, shred the Brussels sprouts. Slice the kale into slender ribbons.
In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toast the almonds, stirring frequently until golden. Season with a generous pinch of fleur de sel (or salt).
Whisk 1/2 cup of olive oil into the lemon juice and mustard mixture to create the vinaigrette. Add the shredded kale and brussels sprouts and cheese and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings. The salad tastes best when allowed to rest overnight. Serve garnished with almonds.
By Ann | November 24, 2014
If there is an unloved member of the Thanksgiving table, I believe it to be the sweet potato. “Oh,” you’re thinking, “they’re so delicious and healthy! Full of fiber! Lots of vitamins!” You guys, I have tried, believe me, I have tried. But every time I eat a sweet potato—in any form—I find myself wishing it was a potato. The normal (not sweet) kind.
But you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes—they’re an integral part of the meal, just like Dad’s turkey smoked in the patio hibachi, sticky rice stuffing, and turkey congee the next day (at least that’s what we eat in MY family :) Last year, I signed up to bring sweet potatoes to my in-laws’ pot luck feast. I prepared a purée with lots of butter, cream, nutmeg, grated ginger, a generous dash of salt to balance the sweet. And I watched as it got dolloped on plates and pushed around, uneaten. I have to admit, it stung a little bit. Even if I was doing exactly the same thing.
This year, I signed up for sweet potatoes again, determined to find a dish that everyone would love—even me! I considered and discarded several recipes, things like sweet potatoes Anna (too much last-minute preparation, plus I’m scared of the mandolin), whipped chipotle sweet potatoes (too southwestern, too similar to last year), and sweet potato gratin (which would be delicious… with regular potatoes). And then I decided to take the sweet potatoes in an entirely new direction: Dessert!
Sweet potato ice cream comes from David Lebovitz’s terrific frozen dessert cookbook, The Perfect Scoop. It starts with a pound of boiled sweet potatoes, which you mix with milk, sugar, and a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon. Unlike most ice creams, the recipe is not a custard-base—there are no egg yolks, no cream. Instead, the puréed sweet potatoes create a luscious, velvety texture that’s offset by the maple-glazed pecans you stir in at the end. The result is like frozen pumpkin pie: creamy, cold, sweet, and faintly perfumed with cinnamon. I can’t wait to scoop it all over my plate of pie.
The other day, my in-laws sent out an email confirming everyone’s Thanksgiving contribution. “Ann mentioned roasted sweet potato,” wrote my husband’s stepmother. “Yes!” I responded, “I’m bringing sweet potatoes à la surprise!”
Sweet potato ice cream with maple-glazed pecans
Makes 1 quart
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you should get one! I hesitated for a long time, but it’s SO much fun.
By Ann | November 12, 2014
Whenever I’m in Paris, I visit my local grocery store to stock up on French food products—all the stuff I love that’s hard to find in the States. I check an extra big bag on the plane, bursting with spices, dried legumes, and other treats—and I ration out the stash until my next trip to France.
To celebrate the paperback edition of Mastering the Art of French Eating, Penguin Books is giving away some of my favorite French foods and books! TWO winners will receive a Francophile basket filled with:
- Mastering the Art of French Eating (paperback)
- Julia Child: A Life by Laura Shapiro
- The Physiology of Taste by Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
- On Vegetables by Elizabeth David
- Lentilles de Puy (my favorite green lentils)
- Piment d’Espelette (mild crushed red pepper from the Basque country)
- Miel de thym (honey made from thyme blossoms)
- Eiffel Tower dish towel
To enter, visit this link and leave your email address. Two winners will be chosen at random. The contest ends Tuesday, November 18. Thank you so much for your support of my book, which makes this blog possible!
Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating | Comments Off
By Ann | November 11, 2014
I met my friend Jérôme on Twitter (the same place where he met his boyfriend) and we instantly bonded over bugnes, a sweet beignet eaten before Lent in the area around Lyon and St-Etienne. When I visited Lyon to research my book, he took me on a tour, pointing out pâtisseries flaunting hot pink tarts made from the city’s famous pralines, leading me through hidden “traboule” alleys, and past storied bouchons. In Paris, we often meet for lunch or tea, cake or cheese, coffee or wine, museum expositions or dinner with our partners, or all of the above, to talk about the things we love most: books, cooking, travel, family, and all the other bits in between. “Friendship is one of the most beautiful gifts life has to offer,” Jérôme has said. And I agree.
Now that I live in New York, I don’t see Jérôme as often as I’d like. Happily, we’ve found a way to continue our conversation via our very own cooking club. There are no rules, just the urge to try a slightly-more-complicated-than-usual recipe, and share the experience. We swap opinions and tips. We snap photos. Most recently we ventured into the tricky world of sugar, attempting a sauce caramel au beurre salé.
I first discovered salted butter caramel sauce at Breizh Café in Paris, a crêperie in the Marais, where it was drizzled over a dessert crêpe, a sticky, sweet, deep, and nutty trickle. I licked up every golden drop. Because I first ate it in a crêperie, and because it’s made of salted butter—a Breton staple—I assumed the ambrosial stuff hailed from Brittany. And because it was dribbled so sparingly over my plate, I also assumed it was difficult and expensive to make. Wrong, wrong! To learn the true history of sauce caramel au beurre salé, you’ll have to read chapter three of my book :) But today I’m happy to share the recipe.
I started with two cups of sugar, a dash of water, and a fair amount of trepidation. (I’d heard many horror stories about working with melted sugar and I have an active imagination.) I very assiduously did NOT stir the mixture, for fear of crystallization—despite my best efforts, however, crystals soon formed. The surface became covered in a white, sandy layer, while the sugar underneath rapidly melted and browned—it was like watching molten lava boil beneath the earth’s crust (and, seriously, it seemed just as hot). I was afraid of burning the whole thing, so I removed the pot from the heat and swirled the contents (without a spoon). The liquid was SO HOT, it melted the crystals, while the color continued to deepen. I then beat in a measure of hot, heavy cream, and several lumps of butter.
The color of the sauce was glorious, nut brown and glossy as a polished chestnut. Alas, I could see rocky grains of crystallized sugar dotted throughout. I feared that reheating the sauce would cause the sugar to recrystalize, but when brought to the boil, the butter and cream seemed to stabilize the mixture. The clumps melted and I was left with my own pot of dark gold.
“I’m always nervous when making caramel,” wrote Jérôme, when we exchanged emails about our caramel capers. “But it’s also marvelous to see the magic of chemistry at work!” (This is why we’re friends.) As a certified pâtisser, he gave me a little tip: “To avoid crystallizing the sugar, many pâtissiers add a tablespoon of glucose [corn syrup]. This helps prevent the sugar crystals from gathering. It’s very useful, and you can also use it for candied fruit, bonbons, pulled sugar… I think it makes the caramel sauce even more smooth and rich, and the sugar is more stable.”
I’ll have to try his trick before we move onto our new cooking project. What’s next, Jé? Une bûche de Noël? :)
Sauce Caramel au beurre salé/
Salted butter caramel sauce
Makes 2 cups
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons salted butter
Pinch of fleur de sel (optional)
Heat the cream in the microwave, or on the stove in a small saucepan. Cut the butter into cubes.
In a large, deep pot (larger than you think you will need), pour in the sugar and add the water, and corn syrup (if using). Heat the sugar over medium heat. If the sugar melts unevenly, swirl the pot gently, but do NOT stir with a spoon. Continue cooking until the sugar achieves a deep, dark brown color. If you’re getting nervous about burning the mixture, remove it from the heat and continue swirling the pot. The sugar will retain enough heat to continue browning, even off flame.
Remove from the flame. Beat in the hot cream with a whisk, followed by the cubes of butter, and the pinch of fleur de sel (if using). Return the pot to medium heat and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Allow to cool, then transfer to a storage container.
A few tips:
–DO NOT lick the spoon or otherwise touch the hot caramel—you will be sorry! Wait at least 15 minutes before tasting it.
–The sauce gets thicker as it cools and is almost solid in the fridge. Before serving, microwave it for about 15 seconds to warm it up, check the consistency and stir in a drizzle of cream or milk if needed, and microwave for another 10 seconds.
–I forgot to add the fleur de sel, but stirred in a pinch after I transferred the sauce to its plastic container.
–The sauce lasts for about two weeks (or, honestly, three to four weeks).
–It’s delicious on crêpes, pound cake, waffles, pancakes, a spoon…
By Ann | November 4, 2014
I love eating kale, but I hate cleaning it. By the time I’ve washed the leaves, stripped away the tough stems, and unfurled half a roll of paper towels to dry everything, the last thing I want to do is spend more time in the kitchen cooking the stuff. Happily, Amelia Crook of the gorgeous blog Simple Provisions has saved my Tuesday evening with a fast, hands-off recipe for crispy kale and chickpea salad. I spent more time washing the kale than I did roasting it!
After a stint in New York (where she worked at Martha Stewart), Amelia returned to her native Australia in 2012. She lives with her husband and baby in Kyneton, Victoria, in an old house with a big garden. “This is an experiment in slower living,” she says. Her blog offers fresh, inventive, seasonal recipes, and fun features like “Look in the fridge”—a series of icebox tell-all tales; she featured mine here—eek! She illustrates posts with her beautiful photos, which make me want to immediately cook everything she’s cooking (or move into her serene and cozy home—Amelia? Do you need a resident pot washer?). Today I’m delighted to share a glimpse of her house, along with tips for fast meals, and a bright, satisfyingly crunchy recipe.
On adjusting to her newly “hectic” evening routine:
“We’ve recently gone from two adults needing to be fed to two adults and a baby, which means meal times last from 5pm to 8pm, with bathing and cooking thrown in. If I’m organized, I’ll have something semi-prepared for dinner which helps things flow more smoothly. If I haven’t done any prep, it feels like I’ve never cooked dinner before and I can’t think of a single thing to cook. So far, we’ve still eaten every night though!”
On her favorite pantry staples:
“Pasta (linguine and orecchiette are my favorites), tinned beans and chickpeas, eggs, anchovies, feta, as well as fresh herbs and greens growing in the garden (kale and chard in the winter, lettuce in summer). I can usually cobble something together from this.”
On reaping the rewards of weekend cooking:
“Cooking a batch of vegetables on the weekend and storing them gives you an excellent starting point for dinners during the week. Here’s how I do it.”
On her go-to “can’t be bothered” meal:
“I can scramble eggs in a few minutes, while the toast cooks, and I’ll call that dinner. If I really don’t feel like cooking, then I’ll get take out. We live in a small town that has surprisingly good, but limited, options for take out. Thai, pizza and Indian are on rotation.”
Her secret magic ingredient:
“I try to think about what will give me the biggest hit of flavor for the least amount of work. My current favourite trick is to make a herb and garlic oil that I store in the fridge and use to drizzle over eggs, salads, potatoes and meat. It brightens up an otherwise simple and quick dish.”
On the “holy trinity”:
“When I first discovered the combination of kale, eggs, feta and chickpeas under the broiler, I ate it four times in one week. It’s delicious, easy and good for you—that’s the holy trinity as far as I’m concerned.”
Grilled kale and chickpea salad
Adapted from a recipe by Amelia Crook
Note from Ann: I loved this salad’s juxtaposition of flavors and textures—it’s tangy, salty, and crunchy with jammy bursts from the roasted tomatoes. Amelia tops her salad with a fried egg: “Lemon and feta combine with the egg yolk to form a creamy, tangy dressing that oozes over the blackened, crunchy kale, warm tomatoes and slightly crispy chickpeas,” she says. But since I’d already eaten a few eggs this week, I decided to mix mine with quinoa, which added a delicate crunch and wholesome heartiness.
2 cups curly kale leaves, torn into bite-size pieces (washed and well-dried)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese
2 eggs (optional—see below for variation)
3/4 cup quinoa (optional—see below for variation)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the broiler on high.
In a large bowl, toss the kale, cherry tomatoes, and chickpeas with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly over a large baking sheet and place under the broiler. Cook for about 4 minutes, checking after a minute or two, to make sure the kale isn’t aflame. Rotate the tray and broil for another 4 minutes. Amelia says, “You want the kale to have crispy edges, with green in the middle. Some of the edges will go black but this just adds a good charcoal flavor.”
If you’re using the eggs: Fry two eggs sunny side up, until the whites are set and the yolks still runny. Divide the salad between two plates, sprinkle over the feta and a spritz of lemon juice. Place an egg on top of each portion. Enjoy!
If you’re using the quinoa: Prepare it according to the package instructions. (I made it in my rice cooker by rinsing, draining thoroughly, and adding a 2-1 ratio of water to grain.) When the quinoa is cooked, drizzle in a glug of olive oil. Toss the quinoa with the kale salad, juice of half a lemon, feta cheese. Season generously. Enjoy!
(Photos from Amelia Crook, except for top and bottom.)
By Ann | October 31, 2014
Last year, Lucy was too little for a Halloween costume. But this year, she decided to dress up as her favorite food: CHEESE. (Or did her food-loving mother decide for her? She can’t talk yet so… you decide.)
Inspired by my visit to Wisconsin and this brilliant blogger, I made her a cheese costume. (And when I say “made” I mean I begged my friends to help me—you guys know I’m not craftsy.) I picked up a Packers cheesehead and yellow onesie, and my talented friend Esther (a graphic designer) created a patch that says “aged 13 months,” which friends helped me print onto an iron-on decal. A toy mouse completes the look, which would be perfect except…
Lucy hates her cheesehead.
Out takes after the jump…
By Ann | October 28, 2014
Today Mastering the Art of French Eating hits shelves as a paperback, with a (slightly) new cover and subtitle ! Sigh… these books, they grow up so fast.
Here’s a description:
When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone.
Not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.
“Mastering the Art of French Eating makes you want to be in Paris. It will also make you very hungry.” —Wall Street Journal
I can’t describe what a total thrill it is to see that beloved old Penguin symbol on the book’s spine! Of course, I’m biased, but I think the lovely lightweight paperback edition makes a perfect traveling companion. I would be thrilled if you picked up a copy at your local bookstore or online:
Meanwhile, my friends on the web are celebrating with a few giveaways (and more to come):
My publisher has created this beautiful ad in the book trade’s newsletter, Shelf Awareness Pro.
And I’m delighted to hit the road for a couple of book signings:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley, PA)
Wednesday, Nov 19, 2014
I love meeting readers and I also love book clubs! If you and your friends are reading Mastering the Art of French Eating, I’d be thrilled to visit your group by phone or Skype to chat and answer any questions—just send me a message via this website’s “contact” form.
Finally, are you hungry for crêpes? I’m about to send out the latest edition of my newsletter, which includes a special recipe for dessert crêpes (cut from the original book!). Subscribe here to check it out.
I’ll be back again soon with a post about cheese :) In the meantime, thanks, as always, for reading.
By Ann | October 21, 2014
I always feel like I’m the last person to find out things. So when I read an article about the Eiffel Tower’s two-year, thirty million Euro renovation—unveiled this month—I wasn’t surprised that I knew nothing about it, even though la Dame Fer is around the corner from my apartment. The renovation added solar panels (they heat the structure’s water) as well as a glass observation floor that allows visitors to gaze straight down—57 stories. Yowzers!
In honor of the tower’s new “looking,” I thought I’d share a few of my favorite cheap eats in the area. As I’ve mentioned before, the neighborhood has its share of tourist traps serving bad food. But there are also hidden gems. If you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower and on a budget, here are three great options for lunch:
I realize I am revealing my lowbrow palate by saying this, but when they’re fresh and hot, I really love a sandwich grecque. The sandwiches at Apollon—a Greek restaurant/traiteur—start with your choice of sauce (I always get harissa) dabbed on warmed pita. The guy behind the counter then stuffs the bread to bursting with seasoned chicken shaved off the spit, lettuce, tomato, and French fries. The result is greasy, salty, spicy and completely delicious. There’s also a vegetarian version, which replaces the meat with cheesy spinach-feta croquettes, equally salty, greasy, and delicious. (If you’re in the mood for lighter fare, the counter offers terrific Greek salad, hummus, and other dips.) A full menu (and table service) is available in the restaurant, but for the truly cheap experience, order your sandwich to take away.
Price: €5.50 (per sandwich)
Bread and cheese are France’s greatest cheap eats. Happily, one of my favorite fromageries is located a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. Tucked away on a side street off the rue Cler, Marie-Anne Cantin is a small shop where everything is delicious. On a recent visit, I picked up a wedge of St-Nectaire fermier and a slice of vieux Comté. A handful of cherry tomatoes from one of the fruit sellers on rue Cler, and a bit of bread rounded out my picnic lunch, enjoyed on a sunny afternoon at the Champ de Mars. Note: this is a budget meal for two or more.
Price: €15 (two cheeses, baguette, and a handful of cherry tomatoes)
The Relatively Cheap
I know, I know—you probably didn’t come to Paris to eat Italian food. But for a hot, (relatively) cheap lunch, I love Sapori di Parma, an eccentric Italian restaurant/épicerie located a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. The owner, an older Italian gentleman, communicates in a hybrid of Italian and French, flinging scraps of mortadella into the mouths of babies, and describing his favorite dishes with great gusto. He convinced me to try the pizzoccheri Valtellina: housemade buckwheat pasta tossed with potatoes, braised chard, and melted cheese into a rib-sticking winter dish. Though I splashed out on the more expensive lunch menu—€14.80 for a plate of charcuterie, the aforementioned pasta, wine, and coffee—for the truly budget conscious, there’s a simple, two-course prix fixe for €11.80 (entrée + plat + café, or plat + dessert + café). You can also buy Italian charcuterie and cheese to take away.
Price: €14.80 (entrée, plat, glass of wine, and coffee)
24 rue Jean Nicot, 7e
tel: 01 45 55 68 47
12 rue du Champ de Mars, 7e
tel: 01 45 50 43 94
Sapori di Parma (no website)
58 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, 7e
tel: 01 45 56 19 38
By Ann | October 17, 2014
I’m so excited about the paperback of Mastering the Art of French Eating, which hits bookstores October 28! I just received my advance copies and they’re gorgeous—I can’t wait to share the new edition with you all.
To celebrate the paperback launch, I’m visiting the Penguin Bookshop—Pittsburgh’s awesome independent bookstore, located in Sewickley, Pennsylvania—for a special book event. The evening will include wine and nibbles, as well as a talk on French cuisine by yours truly. The Penguin is one of my favorite indies and if you’re in the area, I would be thrilled to meet you!
Here are the details:
When: Wednesday, November 5, 6pm
Where: Penguin Bookshop (417 1/2 Beaver Street, Sewickley, PA)
What: Books, bites, booze (wine), and a talk about French cuisine. Tickets are $5, or $20 (with book) and can be purchased at the Penguin. A signed book makes an excellent holiday gift! :)
For more info, click here.
Hope to see you there!
By Ann | October 8, 2014
I recently got into a discussion online about salting eggplant. Do you salt yours? I usually do not because I like to: A) avoid excess salt, and B) avoid extra steps in the kitchen. But the other people participating in this discussion indicated that I was wrong, very wrong.
Curious about whether salting eggplant is really worth it, I decided to reach out to some of the best home cooks I know—fellow bloggers and food writers—to find out whether they salt eggplant, why or why not. Here’s what they said…
From those who DO salt:
Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains, Modern Meals: “I was raised by a Greek mom who wouldn’t dream of not salting her eggplant. But I wasn’t sure seeing so much conflicting advice. In fact, I’ve asked myself this question for years and after trying it out to learn for myself, I strongly recommend it. In my next cookbook Simply Ancient Grains (out in April 2015), I write: ‘Salting alters the texture of the fruit to make the flesh more supple and mouth-watering. I always find it worth my time. Compare it for yourself.'”
Camille Malmquist, blogger at Croque Camille and pastry chef at Frenchie To Go: “Yes, in theory, to draw off the bitter juices. It drains some of the water out, for faster browning once the eggplant hits the pan, and it’s usually not a big deal to cut up my eggplant first, salt it, and then leave it to drain while I do other mise en place.”
From those who DO NOT salt:
John Baxter, author of The Perfect Meal and Paris at the End of the World: “Having tried it both ways, I couldn’t detect much difference. Salting produced a few spoonsful of vinegary liquid, but the taste seemed the same. I had thought it might make the plant less inclined to absorb oil, a major advantage in cooking moussaka, but there was no appreciable change there either—unlike, say, cucumber, where salting and draining produces a quite different texture.”
Heather Robinson, blogger at Lost in Arles: “If your eggplant is young and fresh, it shouldn’t be bitter after it is cooked properly. And, as you are hopefully cooking it immediately after preparing it—as you should, because why let it oxidize?—there is no need to salt to ‘get rid of’ any extra liquid. And who needs extra salt no matter how carefully you get rid of it after?”
Rachel Roddy, blogger at Rachel Eats and author of Five Quarters (forthcoming June 2015): “As an Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson devotee, I salted for years. But I generally don’t anymore, especially with the rather nice, neat, almost sweet and creamy aubergines we get in Rome. If the aubergine look a little wilder, bolder and possibly bitter (like those from Sicily) I might well give them a salt. Very big aubergines, which I generally avoid, which might be watery, I might salt. I don’t even salt for parmigiana now, as I fry the slices in so much oil that water just evaporates away.”
Meg Bortin, blogger at The Everyday French Chef and author of Desperate to be a Housewife: “I never salt eggplant—I find it’s a bother and serves no purpose. On the other hand, I very rarely fry eggplant in oil, so over-absorption of oil is not a problem.”
Amelia Crook, blogger at Simple Provisions: “If the eggplant and fresh and lovely, particularly if I’ve picked it from my garden, then I don’t bother salting.”
Wini Moranville, author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook: “No! I don’t salt eggplant. Supposedly, salting makes the eggplant less bitter (I’ve never found my locally grown eggplants to be bitter) and it also keeps the eggplant from absorbing too much oil. Frankly, when I’m making something with eggplant—especially ratatouille—the flavor of the olive oil is a big part of what makes it so good. Certainly, I don’t want it greasy, but if it absorbs a little olive oil, that’s part of the point!”
And from those in between:
Jill Colonna, author of Mad About Macarons: “I find with the time eggplant takes to prepare, Picard [French frozen food chain] do the most amazing aubergine slices that have been prepared previously on a grill. So I just defrost them and use them directly without any oil for making a moussaka (the rest is homemade!) or parmesan aubergine bake. I’m a real lazy gourmet ;-) That gives me more time to make dessert.”
Shannon Faris, blogger at The Misanthropic Hostess: “I don’t cook with
eggplant at ALL. The stuff scares me to death. Numerous times I’ve
parlayed with the aubergine enigma, starting with visions of silky, smokey
results to get fishy mush in return. I love eggplant… just not when I make it. Even simple grilled eggplant is fabulous—as long as it doesn’t come from our grill.”
After reading these thoughts, I decided to conduct my own Eggplant Taste Test. I bought two old eggplants from the Farmers Market and one young eggplant from my local grocery store. (It was supposed to be the other way around, but the aubergine at D’Agostino was fresher than at the Union Square Green Market—go figure.) I cubed the fruit and and roasted it in four batches:
1) Young and unsalted.
2) Old and unsalted.
3) Young and salted.
4) Old and salted.
And the result was…
They all tasted the same. The texture, too, was the same. Maybe Batch #3 (young and salted) was a bit more bitter than the rest—but that disproves every theory.
I used my roasted eggplant cubes to make this shortcut moussaka recipe from the New York Times. It was easy and delicious, but next time I’ll be able to whip it up even faster :)
Do you salt eggplant?