Food, Food Artisans

Mo Talks Tuna

Do cheese and tuna have anything in common?

What happened when I selected tinned tuna at Ortiz.

Decades ago chefs used to select their preferred tuna batches from the factory at Ortiz, Spain’s highly esteemed fifth generation tinned fish titan. Cheesemongers do this with cheese, in fact it’s a specialty of some exporters like Neal’s Yard Dairy and Essex Street Cheese. But it’s something that hasn’t been done for decades with tinned fish. Last fall, I visited with my colleague Brad to see if we could revive the practice.

Sunny Spain highway

Irish weather in Spain

We landed in Barcelona on a sunny November Sunday, a couple weeks after the six month tuna season had ended. It was a four hour drive northwest to Getaria, a small town on the Bay of Biscay, where the weather got progressively more Irish along the way: wetter, mistier, greener. Tasting was 9am Monday, a fifteen foot table in the break room set up with twenty-six batches of tuna and sardines. We had a round of Nespresso pod coffees and went to work.

Tuna tasting

The first question on all of our minds—including the folks from Ortiz, who, being in their 30s and 40s, had never batch-tasted either—was, “Can we taste a difference?” That got answered quickly. The second tin we tasted was very different than the first. That continued throughout the morning with some batches being good, some excellent, and a couple extraordinary. There is a big difference between batches of tinned fish.

The main differences in flavor were complexity, balance between sweetness and brine, and length. The best tunas had a range of high and low notes, were never just sweet or just salty, and had great length of flavor. Color foreshadows flavor: if a tuna was rosier, it was often better tasting. Texture played a smaller part on these tins, just made this summer, but over time it has a much bigger role. The older a tinned tuna in oil, the softer and more luxurious its mouth feel.

Fishing boats in Getaria

One thing that you may be asking is, “What constitutes a batch of tinned fish?” It’s a little more complicated than with cheese, where a batch is a single day’s make, usually a mix of last night’s and that morning’s milk. A tuna batch is a single catch from a single boat, brought in at one time and sold to one buyer. That’s how fish are managed in the Biscay auction market and Ortiz stays faithful to the one boat one batch cooking, which means the tin you get from Ortiz is traceable back to a single boat on a single day’s catch (that said, a catch may last longer than a day, but it comes from a single shoal of fish). It may take several days to cook a big catch and, since the fish in it are different sizes and different ages, there’s bound to be more variability than with a single batch of cheese.

We decided on a single catch of bonito, caught that summer, but brought examples of nearly every tin we tasted back to Michigan so we can taste again and confirm what we thought. A second round of tasting is one of those steps that I’ve learned, over time, to be important when I’m making a big flavor decision. Sometimes, out on the road where everything may be a bit more exciting, I can talk myself into liking something that, second time around, doesn’t live up to the hype.

We’re going to cellar a few thousand tins, too. I tasted some two and three year old tunas at Ortiz and pretty much everything I liked about a young tuna got better when they aged. (This is only true for good tuna stored in oil—water-packed tuna gets worse with age.) The good thing about aging tuna is it’s a lot easier than aging wine. You don’t need a special cellar with specific humidity and temperature. Tuna in a tin is practically indestructible. Our aging room is going to consist of boxes stacked on a pallet stored high up on the racks in our warehouse, wrapped in plastic with a note that says “Don’t Touch till 2016!”

Our first selected tunas will arrive this May.
www.zingermans.com

ZingLife

Mo Talks About Compensation

*From time to time, we share the writing of our friends and co-workers on this site. Today’s guest post comes from the blog of Zingerman’s Mail Order Managing Partner, Mo Frechette. You can read Mo’s blog here

Let’s Outsource Some CEOs

“American executives argue—conveniently enough—that their compensation should be compared to what other American executives are paid. This argument has tended to be persuasive to American boards, which—conveniently enough—are made up primarily of American corporate executives. And big American investment management firms—also led by American corporate executives—likewise think this makes sense. Which is all quite nice, but if you tried convincing one of these very same executives that he shouldn’t replace an American factory worker with a cheaper Chinese one, he would laugh you out of the room.”

From Matt Yglesias—who’s almost always worth reading—about how US CEOs are paid way more than CEOs in other countries. Wages have been on my mind a lot lately as I’m writing a vision for a new way of thinking about pay at Zingerman’s and simultaneously watching income inequality in America hit levels that would make a robber baron blush.

MrMonopoly

Thanks Mo!

Food

No Waste = Great Salad!

*From time to time, we share the writing of our friends and co-workers on this site. Today’s guest post comes from the blog of Zingerman’s Mail Order Managing Partner, Mo Frechette. You can read Mo’s blog here

Chilled Salad

If you regularly buy too much at the farmer’s market and the results crowd out your fridge all week here’s one way to cut the clutter and help ensure you don’t end up throwing a lot out. Spend half an hour blanching your haul in a single pot of heavily salted water, dropping each batch of cooked vegetables into a fresh bowl of ice water. Seal ‘em up and use throughout the week. Then make something like this.

My whatever-works kind of farmer’s market salad. The one pictured has blanched asparagus, peas, favas; boiled potatoes, chickpeas and egg;  ricotta, anchovies, capers and basil ripped from an indestructable plant that’s been surviving on my sill for five months. I doused it in good olive oil, salt, pepper. (Sometimes I dress it in a vinaigrette of torn basil leaves pounded with a clove of garlic, Txakoli vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil.) Serve it cool.

It also works great with green beans, tinned tuna, shreds of cured ham, chunks of salami, flakes of Comté, a squeeze of lemon, and probably a hundred other things.

Blanched Salad
ZingLife

Mo Frechette Talks Calendars

*From time to time, we share the writing of our friends and co-workers on this site. Today’s guest post comes from the blog of Zingerman’s Mail Order Managing Partner, Mo Frechette. You can read Mo’s blog here

Ancient calendar technology

I don’t know when seven day week calendars began — they predate the Romans — but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call them ancient. Or maybe I should say heirloom. Whatever the word, calendars work crazy well. Everyone knows how to use them, the structure is the same worldwide so you don’t need to understand a local language to read one, and they’re super fast to scan and pick out the exact info you’re looking for. When you want to tell people something specific to a day of the week there’s nothing better. So I’m always surprised how many times people choose to ignore them and force customers to wander their word maze to find the information they’re looking for. Like this restaurant:

Mail Order hours window

Here’s the same information written as a calendar:

Mail Order hours calendar


New calendar technology

Mail Order line

A follow-up to yesterday’s post about calendars. We’ve started testing a project timeline calendar that looks like a bit like a Gantt chart, which is a newfangled calendar technology (meaning it’s a hundred years old, not several thousand). It has a special jagged red line “right now” feature you’ll see below. They key thing is that, like a calendar, time starts on the left and moves to the right. Whenever you need to visually represent time progression that’s the best way to go.

Here’s an example of it (hat tip to J Atlee). It was used to plan and report on our progress as we performed a multi-day rearrangement of our warehouse floor. The red line, where we’re currently at, moved every few hours. Here it shows where we were Day 1 at 1pm (ahead of schedule on the part of the red line that angles a “V” to the right, the rest on schedule):

Mail Order 1pm

At 4pm (behind schedule on the part that angles to the left, ahead on the angle to the right, the rest on schedule—also the line is drawn at the chart’s 5pm, not 4pm, because they stopped an hour early):
Mail Order 4pm
Thanks Mo!
ZingLife

Mo Frechette Talks Gin

*From time to time, we share the writing of our friends and co-workers on this site. Today’s guest post comes from the blog of Zingerman’s Mail Order Managing Partner, Mo Frechette. You can read Mo’s blog here

Drank No. 4: Two styles of gin and which one is best for a gin and tonicmartini

Outside of the Netherlands nearly all gin is made in what’s called the “London style.” Within the London style, though, there are two major distinctions, what I call stewed and steamed.

Stewed gins are made by boiling the botanicals—juniper, clove, and so on— along with the alcohol mash. Tanqueray is a stewed gin.

Steamed gins are made by hanging the botanicals above the alcohol mash so only the vapors, the stuff that’s condensed to become gin, pass through them. Bombay Sapphire is a steamed gin.

Steamed gin is much milder than stewed gin, an observation that’s easy to confirm if you taste Sapphire and Tanqueray side by side.

It’s desperately close to Gin & Tonic Season in case you haven’t noticed. (Like the seasons for white pants and skirts, seersucker and chilled rosé, I abide by a personal rule that all of them kick off on Memorial Day.) In a standard gin and tonic I nearly always opt for stewed gins like Tanqueray. Sapphire, so much milder, gets completely lost.

Mo Frechette

Food

In Defense of Old Tourist Restaurants

*From time to time, we share the writing of our friends and co-workers on this site. Today’s guest post comes from the blog of Zingerman’s Mail Order Managing Partner, Mo Frechette. You can read Mo’s blog here

Mo FrechetteSometime in the last decade or so I lost whatever hangup I had about going to restaurants that serve a lot of tourists. I guess it should have happened a lot sooner given that I’ve been part of Zingerman’s for almost two decades and we’ve been a tourist joint almost the entire time. I think I can pinpoint my personal transformation to sometime around the second bite of lunch at Cal Pep in Barcelona. It was a crowded counter swarmed by Americans. I was there with my friend Eric Farrell, now the owner of one of my favorite bars. We did that kind of anxious wait you do in Europe when you stand around not sure if anyone has seen you or if you should be doing something different or just leave. Sometime later a bottle of wine was handed to us, no questions asked; naturally we emptied it. An hour and a half later we closed the place having eaten most of the menu. I’ve never forgotten the food. I’m sure there are technically better meals in Barcelona — I’ve eaten a couple of them — but for sheer force of expression almost no place I’ve eaten at feels quite like Cal Pep.

What was a small transformation has grown into a larger passion. Where once I avoided them or held my nose when I visited, now I’m really drawn to old places that continue to do something great. That said, I like new places, too. They have loads of energy and I learn all kinds of things. They’re exciting like a new rock band is exciting. But with older places there’s almost something else to grasp. It’s not like they have to do everything well, and in fact most of them don’t. It’s kind of like watching old movies; you have to get over the period artifice to some extent in order to enjoy it. Same with old restaurants. Most of the time half the menu will be crap. Order carefully. If they do enough well — or even just one thing — that’s enough for me. The part that makes it worth it is that they’ve done whatever it is so well for so long they wear an elegance that newness can’t share. My friend Dai who owns Astro Coffee (highly recommended) put it well when he recently told me, “When people ask me where to go in San Francisco I tell them Chez Panisse. I mean Mission Chinese is red hot and it’s fine but Chez Panisse has been at it and after 40 years it’s beautiful. You want to know the secret to a great place? That’s it. You just show up and keep making it great—endlessly.”

Here are a few of my favorite old tourist joints — some older than others — that I think are worth it for one reason or other.

Barcelona, Cal Pep

San FranciscoSwan Oyster Depot and, on some nights, the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel

Buenos Aires, La Preferida

Rome, Sora Margherita

New York, Grand Central Oyster Bar

Montreal, Schwartz’s

New Orleans, almost anything…