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Tavern OF the GREEN: Sustainable Cooking

The buzzword for the new decade in culinary circles is sustainability. In a biodegradable nutshell, sustainability is the capacity to endure. It relates to our food in that we need to be better stewards of our planet’s resources. I am not getting on my persnickety pulpit and preaching about the evils of cheeseburgers and bottled water and proclaiming all tasty foods we enjoy evil. But the food production industry, from farming, packaging to shipping leaves a Yeti-sized carbon footprint on the globe, and if we hope to be eating cheeseburgers in the future we need to become more aware of how we consume our resources. Some of the key principles of the sustainability movement are: Use local seasonally available ingredients; use foods from farming systems that minimize harm to the environment; eliminate at-risk or endangered seafood from the diet; and promote health and well being in our diets.

Looking at these principles one by one, we can see the benefit not just for the planet, but our palate as well. Local produce tastes better because the food is allowed to ripen naturally. By not picking the food three weeks before it has time to fully develop flavor and nutrients, and by not shipping it cross country and chemically ripening it, we wind up with a better-tasting, better-for-you product. We all bemoan grocery-store produce that looks great, but has no flavor. Quit buying it, thus forcing the grocery store chains to offer foods that come from organic, healthful farms and businesses. Case in point, most grocery store chains offer cage-free, antibiotic-free eggs and free-range meats. Not only are these foods healthier for people and the planet, but they taste better. If these foods become the standard, they will also become less expensive.

Locally harvested fish means the seafood is fresher. It also means jobs and money for the local economy. Fishing responsibly also means ensuring this precious natural resource for future generations.

Greening our kitchens can be relatively painless. Buying local can be as simple as stopping at Duckies on Broadway or other local farmers’ markets to buy what is fresh and in-season before you drive off the island to hit the local grocery store chains.

This approach will require some culinary flexibility. You may not always be able to get what is on your shopping list, but the produce you do buy will taste better. When at your local fish market ask for what is harvested locally. Avoid farm-raised fish like salmon and tilapia and enjoy scallops, flounder, oysters, clams, tuna, bluefish and squid. All are harvested by local fishermen.

This spring, as the sun returns to our island and gardens begin to sprout, use local ingredients in your cooking. The following recipes feature local produce and proteins: Spring Peas and Pearl Onions with Amish Bacon, Pan Seared Scallops and Leek Potato Hash with Beet Horseradish Puree, Mushroom Vinaigrette Salad, and Poached Local Eggs Florentine using Jersey Spinach.

Remember, in the kitchen think global in flavors and cook locally. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Spring Peas and Pearl Onions with Amish Bacon

  • 4 cups shelled fresh peas blanched see blanching procedure below
  • 2 cups peeled and blanched pearl onions
  • 12 ounces slab bacon cut into ¼ cubes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 8 mint leaves, chiffonaded

Tip: To conserve water, blanch onions first. Remove with slotted spoon or strainer and leave water in pan to blanch peas.

Blanch peas in 3 pints boiling salted water for 3 minutes until peas are slightly tender and still bright green. Shock in ice water to set color and stop the cooking process.

Peel pearl onions. Blanch six minutes and shock.

In sauté pan, render bacon over medium high heat until almost crispy add onions and lightly brown  for 3-5 minutes add butter and peas  add salt and pepper and toss in fresh mint serve with perfect roast chicken.*

Persnickety Suggests… Serve this recipe with my Perfect Roast Chicken. Check out the Fall 2009 issue of Cape May Magazine for the recipe!

Pan Seared Scallops and Leek Potato Hash with Beet Horseradish Puree

Leek Potato Hash

  • 1½ pounds new potatoes (Note: new potatoes are thin skinned; not all red potatoes are new potatoes.)
  • 4 leeks split in ½ lengthwise and cleaned, then cut into thin ½ moons

Cook potatoes whole starting in cold water bring to boil simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly tender. Drain and cool. Cut into ½ inch dice. In sauté pan melt 4 tablespoons butter. Sweat* leeks until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high. Add potatoes, cook until brown and crispy.

* A technique by which ingredients, particularly vegetables, are cooked in a small amount of fat over low heat. The ingredients are covered directly with a piece of foil or parchment paper, then the pot is tightly covered. With this method, the ingredients soften without browning, and cook in their own juices. www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary

Beet Purée

  • 4 large beets peeled and cubed
  • ¼ cup diced fresh horseradish root

Place beets and horseradish root in saucepan. Cover with water. Simmer 45 minutes until beets are soft. Replenish water if necessary. Puree in blender until smooth. Season with sea salt. Strain.

Scallops

  • 5 scallops (10 count) per person, abductor muscle removed
  • Olive oil for searing

Pat scallops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in sauté pan. Sear until brown, 3-4 minutes per side. To plate – place hash in center. Ladle beet puree around arrange scallops on top

Parsnip Purée

  • 5 pounds parsnips, peeled and sliced ¼” thick

Place parsnips in saucepan. Cover with cool water. Simmer 50 minutes until water is 90 percent absorbed. Add 4 tablespoons butter. Mash. Season with salt and pepper.

Mushroom Vinaigrette Salad

  • ½ pound crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • ½ pound shitake mushrooms, caps only, quartered
  • ½ pound button mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 scallions sliced on bias
  • 1 red pepper, julienned
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons peanut oil

In sauté pan over medium heat, add peanut oil. Add mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper.  Cook half way. Place in bowl. Toss with remaining ingredients. Chill.

Persnickety Suggests… Serve with pan seared Mahi Mahi atop mashed parsnips.

Poached Local Eggs Florentine using Jersey Spinach

Creamed Jersey Spinach

  • 2 pounds stemmed spinach, blanched, cooled and squeezed dry
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup cream
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

In sauté pan sweat shallots 3 minutes add cream reduce by 2/3 add cheese fold in spinach season with salt pepper and ¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg

Poached Eggs Florentine

Poach 8 local eggs. Serve with creamed spinach on top of toasted artisan sourdough bread.

Pennsylvania mushroom farmers have reclaimed old coal mines and turned them into mushrooms beds. That’s sustainable change.

persnicketychefJon Davies is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University of Culinary Arts. His work as a chef has taken him to Aspen, Colorado; Cape May, NJ; and the odd private jet for culinary gigs for the rich and famous.