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Photo: Amy Halloran

Catch of the Day

Pura Vida Fisheries introduces fresh seafood to the Troy Farmers Market

By Amy Halloran

On the last Saturday in October, regular shoppers make their laps through the market, stopping by the farmers and foodmakers they know and love. Mid-circuit, some shoppers stop dead in their tracks and stare at a new vendor who is bagging mackerel, plump scallops, and calamari.

Rik Lofstad brings Pura Vida Fisheries from Hampton Bays, Long Island, to the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market, offering fresh and smoked fish, and shellfish on ice, all displayed in boxes with window tops. Customers stare at the oddity, and buy. Lofstad and two helpers explain the offerings, suggesting amounts and recipes.

“Halibut is a West Coast fish,” Lofstad tells a woman who asked for some. “I’ve got fluke. . . . The best way to preserve it, if you’re not going to use it today, is to rinse it off, pat it dry, put a little olive oil and salt on it,” he tells another customer. To yet another person, Lofstad recommends using a mixture of crushed almonds and pistachios instead of breadcrumbs to coat the fish before sautéing.

Business is swift, and the excitement is palpable. Other vendors at the market buy fish, too, happy to have this rare (for the farmers market) ingredient in their mix.

The market has strict rules to assure a producer-only operation, so netting a fisherman was quite a catch. The arrangement was enabled by vendor David Rowley, who sells with Pura Vida at the Union Square market in New York City. Rowley, who runs Monkshood Nursery and Gardens with his wife Melinda in Stuyvesant, has been a vendor at the Troy market for much of its life, and he urged Lofstad to contact market manager Monica Kurzejeski.

Lofstad is a third-generation fisherman. “My grandfather came from Norway,” he says. “My father and uncles were fishermen, baymen. Now we are four cousins, my brother and I. We have four boats and are fishing whenever weather permits. When my father and uncles were alive, we were one-fifth of New York state production. We caught 6 million pounds of fish a year in the 1990s. We were the first exporter to Spain, did a lot of whiting and squid. We were the first to export fluke to Japan. The U.S. dollar got too strong, and that killed the business. Now the dollar’s getting weak, and there are opportunities, but I’m doing too many things.”

Those things are farmers markets. Lofstad chose to direct-market through farmers markets five years ago.

“Without the farmers markets, I’d be out of business,” he says. “We’re allowed so few fish because of limits, so if you sell wholesale, you’re working for the ice guy, the mechanic.” Lofstad has worked in the fishing industry at all levels. He formed and managed two large selling conglomerates for fishermen, Shinnecock and Inlet Seafood. One was a corporate operation and the other was a cooperative. Farmers markets allow him the best of both worlds: great contact with people and with nature. “I like to interact with customers. It’s such a friendly environment,” he says. “I love the peace of the sea, where I can just be.”

The product he sells is wild and is caught relatively close by, off the coast of Long Island. Now in his third week at the market, which has moved indoors to the Atrium, Pura Vida is still drawing stares and shoppers.

“Can we get a whole fish?” asks a man who came from Niskayuna. He and his companion usually shop at the Schenectady market, but they heard about the fish and came to Troy. They went home with seafood for more than one meal. Another family, who usually shop at the Delmar market, also came to Troy because of the fish.

Still, Lofstad faces an uphill battle. “A lot of people don’t know I’m here,” he says. “And it’s hard to change someone’s shopping habits. There’s some sticker shock. People are used to bay scallops. This is not farmed, raised with trisodium phosphate from China. People are only used to tilapia or salmon. It’s going to take time. But you have this nice group who are just starting to come. They have this knowledge of seafood, and they’re telling their friends.”

Between the ethics of fishing practices and heavy-metal contamination, sorting through what’s healthy for you and for the environment is tricky. Many turn to organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which make available a pocket guide and an app for mobile phones, for guidance.

Now, in Troy, there is a human guide to consult each Saturday.

The Troy Winter Farmers Market is indoors at the Uncle Sam Atrium, on 3rd and 4th streets between Fulton and Broadway, from 9 AM until 1 PM Saturdays.

 

Photo: B.A. Nilsson

A Cut Above

Every kitchen deserves a good chef’s knife and, luckily, there is no shortage of choices

By B.A. Nilsson

“At last! My right arm is complete again!” cries Sweeney Todd (unless he’s portrayed by a southpaw) as he closes his fingers around the chased-silver handle of his cut-throat razor. That sense of completion—of balance and totality—is shared by professional chefs, whose most-used kitchen implement is a knife that sits comfortably in the hand and, when wielded with precision and grace, seems a natural extension of the body.

In the home kitchen—at least in the kitchens of homes I visit—it seems to be the most neglected of tools. Cheap knives abound, knives unable to hold an edge even if they were sharpened properly in the first place. And even the good knives too often hide in a drawer, a dangerous storage medium. Do yourself a favor and get a good chef’s knife. Get one for a kitchen-minded family member. Get one so that visiting friends (like me) have something to cook with.

After reviewing 11 traditionally styled chef’s knives, I’m pleased to see that, even within this relatively narrow realm, there is a variety of weights and styles to choose among. If you’re prepping meals one or more times a day, you need the best tools you can get. Even if you touch a kitchen knife once every other week, it might as well be a quality chopper in order to make the job safer and easier.

Knife geography begins at the point, where the first third of the blade is called the tip. The thick ridge at the blade’s top is the spine; opposite is the edge, where the sharpness lives. Use the heel, which is the rear third of the blade, to hack through tough (but not too tough) material—chicken bones should be the toughest. The bolster is at the join of handle and blade, a thick wedge of metal that runs from spine to edge, although a half or open bolster only circles the handle. The section of steel that runs into the handle is the tang, and it’s covered with wood or plastic or composite pieces called scales, which are fastened to the tang with rivets.

Chef’s knives typically come in eight- and 10-inch blade lengths. Although the eight seems more popular among home cooks, I trained with a 10 and thus sampled the larger size. The knives I looked at ranged in price from $70 to $295.

What do you get for $295? That’s the Miyabi 7000 MC, a Japanese-style knife made by Henckels. Japanese blades are thin, hard, extremely sharp and lighter than their Western counterparts. You get tough micro- carbide steel at its core, its brittleness protected by layers of softer steel. Very similar, but priced at $169, is the Shun DM 0707 Classic Chef’s 10, which is clad in 16 layers that show an attractive wavy pattern along the blade.

Japanese-style chef’s knives (called gyuto) have half bolsters and, in the case of the above two, D-shaped handles specific to your left or right hand. More traditional handles are found on the Mac MBK 95 ($200), the lightest of the knives I tested, with a very sharp edge and a nice balance for what seems like a short handle. The Tojiro DP F-809 ($150) is a little shorter, with a 9 3/8-inch blade, but its size has made it my wife’s favorite. It’s imported by cutleryandmore.com.

The classic French chef knife can be further divided into French and German styles based on the broadness and sweep of the blade, but this distinction seems to be eroding, and I’m lumping them into the category of German. These feature a thicker, softer blade than the gyuto, usually with a full-length bolster. But not these two excellent and very similar examples: the Wüsthof Classic Ikon 10” Cook’s Knife ($225) and the Victorinox Forged 10” Chef’s Knife ($154.40) The Wüsthof is a little longer (a full 10 inches) and lighter, 10.5 oz. to the Victorinox’s 11.9 oz. The Victorinox has a 9 7/8-inch blade, a trifling difference. Both feature curved, ergonomic handles that facilitate the switch between chopping, where the knife heel does most of the work and your fingers wrap around the handle, and slicing, done at the tip, with your forefinger and thumb gripping the blade near the bolster.

Very much designed for that purpose is the Henckels Twin Profection 8-inch ($180, no 10-inch available). Its handle was sculpted by an architect to facilitate ease of hand travel. Henckels, a big daddy of knife manufacturing, also offers the Henckels 10-inch Professional S ($175), as classic a chef’s knife as your going to find.

But you can pay a lot less if you’re willing to take a chance with a new company. Saber Knives are the brainchild of Rich Menefee, who wanted to provide German-style knives at accessible prices. His Saber 10-inch Chef, an excellently weighted, traditionally designed knife, sells for a startling $70, and is as good as those costing double or triple the price. Although it’s usually sold as part of a 13- or 15-piece set, see saberknifestore.com to buy individual pieces. If you’re tempted to upgrade and worried about the price, I guarantee you’ll like this one. And you’ll throw out your CUTCO crap.

The familiar entry-level professional chef’s knife is often one of Forschner’s stamped blades with a plastic Fibrox handle. But this Victorinox division also offers the Forschner Forged 10” Chef’s Knife ($123.60), which has a better grade of material and a slightly longer (10 1/8-inch) blade. It’s for the arm that already knows how to chop. Likewise, the Hammer-Stahl 10-inch chef’s knife ($149) is big and heavy, its weight caused by a thick blade and a crossways tang. It’s also a beautiful knife to look at, adding an aesthetic touch to your kitchen.

Learning to cook is as much about learning to cut ingredients as anything else. If you can’t find a training kitchen for hands-on lessons, try The Complete Book of Knife Skills by Jeffrey Elliot and James P. DeWan ($35, Robert Rose Inc.), an excellent, well-illustrated course that begins with knife manufacture and goes on to show the different knives and different cutting techniques needed for the more common kitchen tasks. I learned to slice quickly because I had a hot- tempered chef hollering at me, but this was years ago, and this book reminded me that I needed some brush-up work. I can’t recommend it enough.

More information on knives and the knives discussed above can be found at metroland.net/dining_review.html.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

New World Bistro Bar (300 Delaware Ave., Albany) was one of only 16 restaurants in the United States to win a 2010 Santé Restaurant Award in the Innovative Food category. The 13-year-old Santé Awards program is the only peer-judged national restaurant competition in North America. Chef consultant Ric Orlando previously won a Santé Award in 2006 at his Saugerties restaurant, New World Home Cooking. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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