Satsuma Mandarins, Oro Blanco Grapefruit, Smoked Salmon, Christmas Beer
I went after three seasonal foods this December. Citrus, seasonal smoked salmon, and Christmas beer. To kick things off, I wrote to Christine Kelso at Flying Disc Ranch in Thermal, California, near Coachella. While grapefruit typically hits peak in the Spring, Christine said her crop was banging now (climate change?) so I ordered a box. She packed them like Christmas tree ornaments:
I made a roasted beet salad with them, I ate them raw, I juiced them, I used the rinds in all manner of beverage. They were tart, extremely flavorful, and fabulous.
Then I called Pearson Ranch, nearby. They recommended Oro Blanco grapefruits, which have a very short season and are shipping now, fukushu kumquats, and calamondins. As of this writing the fukushus and calamondins haven’t shipped. Oro Blancos were created at UC Riverside in the 1950s and are a cross between a acidless pomelo and a white grapefruit. The University of California was granted a patent in 1981 after which, the grapefruits were released. The flesh is pale yellow, the rind is thick, and the flavor is super mild and sweet without much of that grapefruit tartness. They are good in salads although the best thing I did with them is make drinks, like this Grapefruit Collins from the book of Sasha Petraske recipes called, Regarding Cocktails (he uses regular grapefruits and he’s probably right but whatevs), these were delicious.
Next, I found a farm called Penryn Orchard in the sources section of the Publican cookbook. Satsuma mandarins are often grown in sub-tropical climates. In the U.S., they are grown in Louisiana, near the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, Penryn’s Satsumas are a tree-ripened thing of beauty. The smell is transporting, almost herbaceous. The rind just falls away, the sections are so plump, and taste as if they are expressing terroir.
We managed to combine all this citrus into an endive salad that somehow upstaged the 10 lb. standing rib roast at Christmas dinner.
Iliamna + Mt. Kisco Smoked Salmon
I first read about Iliamna Fish Co. on the menu at the now-defunct Applewood in Park Slope. The restaurant doesn’t exist anymore but Iliamna is going strong. They are a family-run collective of fishermen, working lake Iliamna near Bristol Bay. Each fall they team up with the Mount Kisco Smokehouse to produce a delicious smoked red salmon for the holidays. As a connoisseur of Jewy salmon - belly, nova - this is a different thing altogether. It’s not as fatty but it’s incredibly flavorful and shows off more of the fish.
We paired the salmon with Huet Vouvray Sec, which is my favorite thing to pair smoked salmon with. Pair dry vouvray with anything from the Russ & Daughters counter and it can be life changing. With this salmon, however, it was more like experiencing two delightful things that didn’t add to more than the sum of their parts.
One quick note about Iliamna. I ended up picking up the salmon from Emily, one of the fishermen from Alaska. The pickup was in a church basement in the East Village, as if it were an illicit fish drop. The fish came beautifully wrapped and Emily was so nice, enthusiastically going through the defrosting procedure and how to properly slice from collar to tail, down to the skin and across.
De Dolle Stille Nacht Christmas Beer
Christmas beer is a marketing thing at this point but it has interesting roots. The Christmas beer I went after this year - and will try to find next year too - is by De Dolle in Belgium and it’s called Stille Nacht, or “still night.” It’s so delicious, my mother, who I have not seen drink a beer in decades, texted me afterward for the name. This is a fabulous beer: rich but structured. It’s kinda boozy but not too sweet. It’s a lot, in balance. It’s easy drinking and at 12%, that could lead to a very still night indeed.