Spearfishing for Dinner: Grilled Fish, Pine Needle Mussels and Pickled Fish Eyes | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 808
April 11, 2024

Spearfishing for Dinner: Grilled Fish, Pine Needle Mussels and Pickled Fish Eyes

Spearfishing for Dinner: Grilled Fish, Pine Needle Mussels and Pickled Fish Eyes

Valentine Thomas goes spearfishing—though she calls it ocean hunting. She dives in without a tank—up to 170 feet deep—and holds her breath for minutes at a time. Today, she tells us about her best and scariest deep-sea adventures and her favorite ways to eat fish. Plus, Roger Horowitz explains how Oreos became kosher; Alex Aïnouz reveals three tips that will change the way you make ramen; and we cook up Pasta with Spicy Tomato and Pancetta Sauce.

Questions in this Episode:

“I tried making fish and chips at home with cod, but it was so water-logged. How do I get a crispy beer batter without it separating?"

"What are the best substitutions for saffron and turmeric?"

"Why do croissant recipes always call for unsalted butter?"

2016 08 06 18 09 39 1

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX and I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're joined by spear fisher Valentine Thomas. She can dive in the ocean without a tank and hold her breath for six minutes at a time. But freediving wasn't always her passion.

Valentine Thomas: I remember so vividly sitting at the back of the boat wondering, what am I doing here? Yesterday, this is insane. I could be in my house right now doing something that's very, very safe. But no, I'm here.

CK: Adventure stories from the world of free diving plus Valentine’s favorite ways to eat fish.

VT: Fish heads are the best they are better than filets. I stand by that.

CK: My conversation with Valentine Thomas is coming up later in the show. But first, Roger Horowitz is here to share the history of kosher food in America. He's the author of Kosher USA, How Coke Became Kosher, and Other Tales of Modern Food. Roger, welcome to Milk Street.

Roger Horowitz: Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

CK: So, you're write. the Jewish kosher laws are core, they're essential to what it means to be Jewish. So, a lot of them are obvious, like don't eat pork or shellfish. But you're write that some kosher laws are less clear. They're still being debated today. So maybe you could talk about sturgeon, right? Because fish to be kosher have to have scales. And the question is, do sturgeon really have scales or not? So maybe you could explain what the arguments about? Right?

RH: Well, the the sturgeon example is one that comes out of my family's experience. And I relate in Kosher USA, this huge argument which erupts between my conservative side of my family and the Orthodox over whether sturgeon is kosher. And that goes back to a clause in Leviticus, where fishes are acceptable if they have fins and scales, which sounds very simple, but what counts as a fin and especially what counts as a skin. What made us more complex it sturgeons weren't in the Middle East, there is no commentary about the sturgeons in the Talmud. Again, this is the sixth century, it only happens when Jews move north into areas that abut Russia and sturgeon, there are really big fish that can be 100 200 300 pounds. So, they are an important source of protein for a poor population, which is largely farming. So of course, you want to be able to eat this fish. But what counts as having scales? The problem was the scales aren't removable. On sturgeon, they're stuck into the skin. And so, is it a scale? Or is it a breastplate? Or is it something else? And the rabbi's try to figure this out, have to parse scarce phrases over the centuries over what rabbis have decided and what they haven't decided. And it continues up to the present day. And today, the Orthodox and the kosher community in general does not consider sturgeon kosher. But there are plenty of conservative Jews who would be happy to have sturgeon on their dinner table for Passover, just as my mother's father did, which generated a huge fight between him and the Orthodox side, which was my father's side.

CK: I think I should have been born Jewish because I just love. There's something about this that just is so appealing to me, you know, after 1000s of years, having arguments about sturgeon.

RH: But there's something one of the things I argue in my book is that it's the argument about kosher food, which is so important.

CK: Well, that's exactly what I was about to say. (yeah, go ahead). What I find in some way charming is it is the discussion and the argument that is appealing here. I mean, forgetting about whether sturgeons’ kosher or not, it's the fact that it's worthy of discussion argument that I think is really fascinating.

RH: It also consolidates the notion of Kosher as a discussion as a debate. So kosher, then, is this dynamic living the set of laws in which you can have minority and majority opinions. You could have competing practices between Jews in different areas. In the Ashkenazi world, you could have differences between one town and the next, when it came to what is kosher. Sometimes you might have real bitter disagreements, but diversity of opinions was actually there within a core set of beliefs and acceptances of the Torah about the prohibitions that were there.

CK: So okay, let's go to Oreos. So, there was a huge issue about whether Oreos were Kosher or not. And it was being used in an ice cream and, you know, was that kosher? So, you want to tell that story?

RH: Sure, well Oreos are an example of the challenges of kosher food in the modern era. I mean, Oreos are all over the place. But for a long time as a baked good. They're made with lard. And lard comes from pigs. So that's pretty obviously not acceptable for Jews. And so, for the Oreo to be kosher, everything in that cookie has to be kosher. Every food color, every preservative, everything has to be kosher. And of course, Nabisco you know, that's a big deal because they just make it and they want to cheap and they want to good they have their way of making it there. Even more Oreos has to be made on equipment, which does not touch non-kosher products. So why would the Bisco bother to go through the expense of making Oreos kosher? Well, the big factor for Nabisco was cookie and cream ice cream, a lot of large institutions were creating cookie and cream ice cream for popular use, you know, big manufacturers, so you can have it at your scheduled summer camps. You can have it in restaurants and all that. And these places they're making cookie and cream ice cream, wants to make it kosher, so they can be sold everywhere. So, what they started to do, they started to use generic Oreos, not the real Oreos, but things that were equivalent because if it's an ice cream, you're not going to taste a difference. So, Oreo gets worried about this market, they start getting pressured by large manufacturers of cookies and cream ice cream to make Oreos kosher. That's where it comes from. Not because Jewish consumers were clamoring or demonstrating we want our kosher Oreos, they wanted to make cookies and cream ice cream, which everybody can eat. So that's where that's what got them to approach the Orthodox Union. And basically, they figured it out. I mean, that's that's the bottom line, it ended up being the new ingredients weren't expensive at all. That wasn't the issue, the issue was having to replace the belts on which it made. But that's the my point here is this is how kosher products expand. Because they're part of a food system in which you want to have things available for everyone, especially the big purveyors. They don't want one variety for Jews, and one variety, not for Jews, they want one variety overall.

CK: But given the 1000s of products, or hundreds of 1000s of products that were created with the the rise of packaged foods, processed foods, do each of these items have to be approved by a rabbi. I mean, you have to investigate the manufacturing formula for everything to make sure that it's kosher.

RH: Yes, every single product that's on the shelf that has an O U on it and okay on it. Every individual item has to be certified. And that means the rabbi's go into the factories, and they get information about what's in the product. They also have the right to go to the factories whenever they want, whenever they want unannounced visits.

CK: But I think some people like me had this image of there was always a rabbi at the plant to bless a food as being kosher. So once a food like Coke is accepted, then that's it. I mean, a rabbi might go once a year to check out a factory. How does that work?

RH: Usually its annual, but it can be random. And if it's a way of having off site certification, they'll do that. And this is what's happened today is that a lot of plants have methods of record keeping that are computerized. But still there are rabbis that I talked to that that have the regular routes, you know, they travel around, and they go to places like that. Of course, you have a lot of products that have ingredients in it that come from other places like China, and rabbis would go to China and certify those products (really) aren't .Yes. Oh, yeah, there's a lot of activity, India, all over the world. This is an international operation, because if you have say, some chemical which imparts a sweet flavor in products that is imported from China and then mixed into the products manufactured here, you've got to certify that ingredient.

CK: So does kosher today have an appeal beyond its core constituency, because it says something about the quality of the product.

RH: Kosher is very popular these days. What these companies learned in the 1980s is other people are looking for kosher signifiers. Sometimes it is about just quality, that the idea that you've got these rabbis, these religious people, looking at the food and judging where the food is acceptable, seems comforting. That's part of it. But but much of it is much more specific. Let's get to the separation of milk and meat for a second. For product to be certified. nondairy is a big deal. So, if you're lactose intolerant, and you really want to make sure that you're not having any lactose in there, you look for the kosher mark. This kosher marks will tell you if it's dairy. If you want something fun look at a packet of container of nondairy creamer and you'll see on it a “U” for __, and a “D” which says dairy. The rules are so strict that nondairy creamer is considered milk product because of some milk elements in it. So, if you really want to be safe as a lactose intolerant person, you look for the kosher label, because you know that the rabbis are not going to mix milk and meat. They're not going to play any games. And they're right, they could trust that.

CK: Roger, thank you, you take an enormously complicated topic and I think I kind of understand it. Thank you so much.

RH: I've thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for having me.

CK: That was historian Roger Horowitz, author of Kosher USA. Now I'm joined by my co-host, Sara Moulton to answer a few of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Her latest book is Home Cooking 101.

Sara Moulton: Chris, I have a question for you before we take a call, you know how the New Yorker interviews authors, and one of the questions they like to ask is, what is your favorite time place to read a book? So, I'm going to ask you, what's your favorite time place set up to cook a meal?

CK: I don't care where I am. It doesn't matter to me. I think what matters is, you're cooking something you haven't cooked before and you have plenty of time.

SM: Okay, and you don't have a little glass of wine or something?

CK: Of course you do. Are you kidding me?

SM: Okay, I wanted the beverage too please

CK: Well, unless it was in the morning, but no, no, the thing about really enjoying cooking is it should be an adventure. And you have no other distractions. It's sort of like, first time you go scuba diving or something, right? You're just totally immersed in the experience. It's an immersive experience. So, the rest of the world disappears. And you're just in this little room. And that space is a fun place to be, especially with you know a glass of wine. But you don't even need the wine. You could just drink water. But I mean, it's like Aristotle, here we go get really philosophical. Aristotle and Kennedy reprise this as president. He was asked if he was happy being president. And he said, experience and education and the pursuit of excellence is the definition of happiness. And I think that's true in the kitchen. Right? It’s perfect.

SM: Well, what if your dish doesn't come out well though?

CK: It doesn't matter.

SM: Okay.

CK: I'm not charging my family for the food.

SM: And they'll still like you. We do know that.

CK: Well, that's, that's a whole other issue. But anyway, let's take off. All right. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling.

SM: All right

Caller: My name is Dan, I'm calling you from actually the UK, although I'm based in Holland normally.

CK: Great, how can we help you?

Caller: Well, I've got a question that will be hopefully relevant to a lot of Brit listeners or expats in the States. I try and make fish and chips at home using cod. And the problem that I have, it all seems to be waterlogged. It all seems to work on ___. But if you're trying to cook traditional fish and chips and give it a crispy beer butter, or even a nice crumb coating, it tends to separate and I’m kind of at a loss.

CK: Almost all fish is going to be frozen by the time you get to it and then thawed unless they're day boats, right, going out for the day. But most boats go out for a long time. So, they're immediately freezing it. And that's what happens when you freeze fish and you thaw it out. Two things you could try. I mean, can you buy frozen fish or it's all thawed?

Caller: I'm a bit of a foodie and a home cook. Frozen I've obviously shied away from because I just thought that was inferior quality. And I've really been problems with you know, once I started to thaw it I assumed that that would have more water content. Maybe mistakenly, I'm not sure. Well,

CK: Well, you could do one other thing, which sounds counterproductive. You could brine it. (Okay) 15 minutes. That's all, train it out and padded try. The brining as you know, will help mussels retain moisture during cooking. And that's why brining a turkey works here. So, you could try that with fish just 15 minutes and that salt will help hold onto the moisture.

Caller: What do you use, sea salt in that brine or would you just use normal salt?

CK: I use four or five tablespoons of kosher salt in two quarts of water. Dissolve it and then brine it for 50 minutes. The other thing some people have suggested is if you have frozen fish, you can roast it, even panko bread crumb it, you know with mayo or whatever you're going to use. You can direct roast it when it's frozen. I've never tried that myself. I've heard about doing that. So that would be another thing to try Sara any?

SM: I agree about the brining although I mean, I think you could just do a dry brine meaning just salt it and then leave it in the fridge, you know for half an hour or so and then pat it dry. (Okay) so when you do fish and chips, you make a batter. Is that correct?

Caller: Yeah, I mean, I tried to traditional English beer batter, right because I'm a Brit originally or tempura,

SM: Right. Well, you know the other thing is for any batter that I use a liquid batter and I love beer batter, I agree with you, I think it's great. I first put some glue on whatever item I'm putting into the batter and the glue is usually just flour. So, I would never take the fish naked and put it into the liquid beer batter, I would dip it first in flour, and then put it in the batter and the flour will endear the batter to the fish. So that might be a second thing you should try as well. The fish might even separate if it wasn't so wet because you do need a glue. That's what I would do.

Caller: Okay, yeah,

CK: That's the answer to everything in the kitchen glue. Yeah, salt and glue.

Caller: Okay, thank you very much. I really appreciate that.

CK: Alright Dan. Thank you.

SM: All right. Thank you.

Caller: Thank you. Lovely to talk to you. Bye

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Debbie Hoskin.

SM: Where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm in the Nashville, Tennessee area.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: I had a question regarding substitution for a couple of spices, in particular, saffron and turmeric. Sometimes they're not always readily available to me, and I'd like to know what I could substitute for them.

SM: Well, the sad thing about turmeric is that sometimes that is a substitute color wise for saffron. But saffron is very unique. It's actually the stigma of a crocus flower. Its hand harvested, and it's the most expensive spice, but it does have a very unique flavor. So, you can't really substitute the flavor. If you want to try to do something about the color, you could use paprika, or annatto. Although I imagine that Inada would be hard for you to find to another was a seed that is naturally reddish, it's what's used to color cheddar cheese. But then another one that you could substitute is turmeric. All of those will give the color of the saffron but not the flavor. Chris, do you have any thoughts here?

CK: Well, there's lots of great spice companies online. Spices can be a year and a half old by the time you see them on a shelf, they go through 5 10 12 hands. So, you want to get a single source spice and there are plenty of places online that do that. I would highly recommend you buy your spices from one of those folks. And look, I would get the good stuff because the good stuff is so much better (makes such a difference). Yeah, it'll just completely change your cooking. There’s a company Rumi R-u-m-i I believe it's out of Afghanistan. It's a collective, it's women. They harvest it and sell the saffron and they're places like that that are really high quality.

SM: Also doing good by buying them.

CK: And they're also you know, doing a good thing by giving people jobs. So anyway, I would recommend that.

SM: Yeah.

Caller: Okay. That'll be an interesting source to research.

CK: You'll find your cooking is so much better because you actually, you know, have the right ingredient have strong flavors. Yeah. Anyway, give that a shot.

Caller: Okay. Thank you for your advice. I enjoy your show.

CK: Thank you.

CK: Thank you.

Caller: Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I are here to try to solve your culinary mysteries. Please give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 one more time a 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street. Radio.com.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Jay Robert Joseph in Greenville, South Carolina.

SM: Hello, how can we help you today?

Caller: I had a question about croissants. I've been doing croissant baking for at least a few years. And I've tried multiple recipes. Every single one of them says to use unsalted butter. I've used salted butter. and what I felt was got a better result from that. Is there a reason why recipes particularly with pastries call for unsalted butter.

SM: Well, the logic is that unsalted butter is fresher. Chris is going to disagree with me at every level here but I'm just going to give it a shot is fresher the salt is added to preserve butter and also for flavor of course, but you can't detect how fresh butter is when salt is added the same way at all. So really the suggestion being that if you work with unsalted butter, then you can control the salt better in the recipe and the butter itself. You should be able to determine if it's fresher, but I would argue if you've made croissant dough with salted butter, and you like it better it's probably just because it's pointed up more and you liked the taste. You know who cares what other people do, you do you Okay Chris?

CK: No, this drives me nuts. There is no reason I totally agree with you. First of all, let’s start there. There's absolutely no reason in the world to buy or use unsalted butter because as unsalted butter on toast is horrendous unsalted butter and baking is not as good as salted butter. And by the way, a stick of butter has about a quarter teaspoon of salt in it. It's not actually quite a lot. Sara may be right that at one time being unsalted was you know a sign that it was might be fresher, because it wouldn't last as long. But for all of our recipes, including in baking a mixture we call for salted butter we never call for unsalted anymore. Even if you added extra salt to a recipe, like a dough. I don't think it's the same. I think having salted butter gives you a foundation of flavor that you don't get with unsalted butter. So, I'm with you. Absolutely.

Caller: Okay,

CK: You know if you have spent your life not that I'm getting on a soapbox. If you have a toasted English muffin in the morning and you put unsalted butter on it, and someone comes up the next day and put salted butter on it. It's like the door opens.

SM: Now here's what I would do. Here’s what I would do.

CK: You're going to sprinkle little salt on it.

SM: Yeah, a little sea salt on top. And that's just a much nicer taste and much purer.

CK: Anyway

Caller: I always thought it was better with a coarse salt I make

CK: I like the higher fat butters. They really do make.

Caller: Yeah, that’s what I use

CK: There you go. See?

SM: Yes. So, you do

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: By the way, I just like to point out to our listeners that sometimes Sara sticks her tongue out on me.

SM: That was one of those moments yeah.

CK: I’d just like to point that out. Yeah, yeah. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. After the break Valentine Thomas shares her best stories from freediving plus her favorite recipes for fish. That's up in just a moment. Hey, this is Chris Kimball, and I need your help. We're working on a story about the battles we all have in our home kitchens. Maybe you're tired of your partner telling you how to cook or maybe they always leave a mess. Or maybe you're frustrated by your loved ones highly restrictive diet. We want to hear about your kitchen dramas from the biggest food fights to your everyday grievances. You can leave us a voicemail at 617-249-3167 617-249-3167 or send a voice memo to radio tips at 177 Milk Street.com One more time, call us at 617-249-3167 or email us a voice memo at Radio tips at 177 Milk Street.com. Please include your name and where you're calling from. Thank you. This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. My next guest Valentine Thomas goes spearfishing. Although she calls it ocean hunting. She dives without a tank up to 170 feet deep and holds her breath for minutes at a time. Her book Good Catch is a collection of her stories, and also her recipes. Valentine welcome to Milk Street

Valorie Thomas: Thank you, Chris, thank you so much for having me.

CK: So let me just quote from your book Good Catch. “I'm floating in the ocean miles away from the shore. All I can see is blue in every direction. And at this moment, I am completely at peace with myself and with nature. But my daydream is short lived is I suddenly realized that I'm not alone. A 10-foot tiger shark is gliding toward me”. So is that something that's always in the back of your mind is another predator fish of some kind of shark.

VT: It's very location based. I do most of my fishing on the Gulf of Mexico or in Florida and I would say that pretty much every time I go out we see sharks. We kind of I wouldn't say competing for food because I would lose every time if we actually had a fight. But it's they know they they kind of like dogs too. So, they they've been trained to if they hear the elastic band of spear gun going off normally they know what's happening also, I have a fish in my hand that can be bleeding, they can be moving. So, they come and they know that as a free meal around, and they going to try to take the fish.

CK: So, once you catch a fish or you spear a fish, you try to get out of the water as fast as you can what do you do?

VT: When you fish in an allocation that's very very sharky, like the Bahamas by example. So, you want to try to do is you want to put the fish out of the water. And if you are in the water, you always have to look around and behind you. So, shark don't like when it being really looked at, especially when they're moving swim it. So, it's when you have a fish, you just ug the fish very close towards you, because funnily enough, they kind of if you hold the fish against you, they're not really going to go for it. But if you extend your arm by example, then they might go for it. So, hold the fish very close look 360 around you and make sure there's nothing around and then get yourself and a fish out of water, and then jump back in and try to catch another one.

CK: So, talk to me, before we get to the food and the cooking. What are a couple of your most dangerous or worst experiences. There was I think a New Caledonia when you were the boat was up on a reef and you got off and you ended up hurting yourself?

VT: Yes, there was. It was funny. It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life to have never seen a sunset that was that breathtaking. And we were fishing all day, and we were camping in an island and has a small atol around it, and we missed a pass. So we went straight into the reef, the boat was stuck. And then because the tide was low, then we couldn't go anywhere. And my friend was freaking out about his boat, he didn't want his boat to get scratched. So, he said, everybody get off the boat. So, I get off the boat. And then the reef was you know, super like razor sharp reef that really hurt your feet when you walk on them. So, I was standing on one had collapsed and then just cut open my leg and I was just bleeding. And because we went to that island in the morning, set up the tent and everything, then I thought that it was like hundreds of sharks around. Because this was a very well-known spot where sharks are breeding. So, there's a lot of them around. And because the guy who owns a boat, didn't want anybody in the boat to scratch the boat, even though what a situation we're not friends anymore.

CK: I was going say you, you really got it. You've got a human relationship problem here, (apparently) Anyway, so so what did you do?

VT: So, they told me to walk to the island. I was about probably waist deep for maybe a few hundred yards and then after that I was probably neck deep for maybe another 10 yards there was sand. And I was I remember holding my phone with the light to try to see if I could see anything move around me. And I just could see shadows but nothing. And then finally I made it to the island with nothing biting me. And it was cold that night too. So, all my colds are soaking wet. So, I stripped down butt naked, start a fire and trying to look around me because the island was infested with a type of snake that's actually that can kill you.

CK: The story's not over yet. It gets worse. (the stories not even over yet). Yeah. So, you're you're cold, naked, bleeding and, and you have poisonous snakes all over.

VT: Exactly. No need to say I reach for a bowl of rum pretty quickly after that.

CK: I just love the guy who says get out of my boat because I don't want it to be scratched and you're bleeding to death. You know? I don't know.

VT: Yeah, but you know, one of the rules spear fishing is pick your dive buddy really well. So, lesson learned.

CK: I guess you learned. Okay. So, let's turn to cooking. You say it turns out there pickling transforms fisheyes into little salty caper like sprinkles. So, tell me about fisheye sprinkles.

VT: I never liked fisheyes. The texture freaked me out. And I just was trying to find a way to make fisheye taste okay. And as a French person, you know, vinegary pickle was something that I ate by the gallon as a kid. So, I was like, you know what, I'm going to try to pick all the fisheyes and see if it tastes better. And it would.

CK: So, a wet log to steam fish. How exactly do you do that?

VT: So, you're going to stoke a log that's ideally flat on one side and the water for a couple of hours. And you make a fire and when it's really really hot, you kind of make a bed and you put the log on top of it. And then with the wetness of the log is going to start steaming and then it's going to steam your fish. And if you have like maple wood or cherry wood, then it's going to give the fish of smoky flavor and it's just it's fantastic. And you don't need a pan.

CK: The other thing you mentioned was a fish roast. So, you said for a large fish fillet you actually cook it very much like you would a pork roast where you sauté it and then roast it in a slow oven.

VT: So, I tried to the first time I did I did it with a fish called an amberjack. So, let's say the minimum legal size in the Gulf of Mexico was four feet long. So, you get a lot of big chunks of it. And I just remember looking at me like this is like a roast. This is really cool. And having lived in the in the UK for many years, Sunday roast is a big thing. And one Sunday, I just decided, you know what, I'm going to make a fish roast today. And it turned out really good. And I was really surprised that it did because I thought for sure it would be overcooked but but really low temperature and using a meat thermometer which something that I started doing and life changing when you’re cooking fish, whole fish, and then was actually really beautiful.

CK: You sing the praises of fish heads. I think you even say something like the heads the best part used to throw them out and now you're a convert. So, fish head nachos?

VT: Fish heads are the best. They're better than filets. I stand by that.

CK: So why why are they? it's a good they're onxious and they have more flavor and fat?

VT: Yes, it's it's, it's all of the above. It's because there's so much collagen in the head. You can pick the flesh with your finger and it's going to be that fatty melt in your mouth type of it's just its flavor texture is the perfect fish bite is in the head.

CK: Raspberry gummy bears, you got to tell that story because that's a recipe no one's going to believe.

VT: It's actually it's a guy that I met in New in New Orleans, he has a restaurant called GW Fins. And he kind of likes to use the entire parts of the fish. So of course, you know, we've seen before frying up the scales and make the topping on top of sushi or sashimi, and it's super good for you. And then he said, well do you know that there's a lot of collagen and you can make a natural gelatin. So, I thought okay, what can I do with gelatin that could be interesting and fun to do. As in a panna cotta and, and the gummy bears, but I went for the gummy bears.

CK: it doesn't have any flavor the gelatin, you think that it would have a meaty taste if it was a calves head or it was a scale would be fishy, but it's not. It's very neutral, right? Yeah,

VT: No, because you wash the scales with vinegar first and you make sure they're really nice and clean. And then it's healthy, tasteless, odorless, and it's just it's great to use.

CK: You also talked about a classic Southwestern dish, Éclade de moules and the cook the muscles with burning pine needles. That just sounded really really good to me.

VT: It’s super fun. I mean it Éclade de moules is my is my childhood type of fun dish that we used to do. And it's just it's so easy because you just have the mussel’s kind of underground and you've covered them with pine needle, the brown ones that burn easily you set them on fire. And by the time the pines are turned into ashes and mussels are going to be ready. That's the beauty of muscle it did they take five minutes to be ready, which is awesome. And the poor nice little rosemary butter on top of it. I was so good.

CK: So where did you grow up? And you mentioned that you had an anxious childhood so so what was that like?

VT: So, I grew up in Montreal, and I spent my summers with my grandmother in the south of France. It was that mean just growing up with anxiety you just everything was making kind of me scary. Yeah, how until I had panic attacks when I was about 18. And then I learned how to work on my mental strength which I had to then later translate into spearfishing, because my first time being dropped 30 miles away from shore and 300 feet of water. I'm not feeling too hot.

CK: So, you're anxious as a kid, you had panic attacks and then the next thing you say is you're trapped 30 miles offshore and 300 feet of water without a scuba tank and just fins and a mask and a snorkel and a gun. How did you get from one to the next to that, how did you make the decision that you wanted to be dropped 30 miles offshore.

VT: I was living in London, and I made friends who were very much into spearfishing. So, I have a very weird combination of FOMO and severe anxiety, not a great combination. So even though something scares me to death that I'm still going to want to try to do it anyways. I remember so vividly just sitting at the back of the boat just wondering what am I doing here? Like why did I say I’d do this, this is insane. I couldn't be in my house right now doing something that's very, very safe. But no, I'm here and it took me a little while it was kind of choppy outside it was raining. And then at some point I decided okay, you here just do it. Just stay in a water for five minutes and and come back on a boat and then you can say you did it and I jumped out in the water. And then I kind of realized that the water was really beautiful. It was a lot of fish around and it was a pretty sight.

CK: Where was this? Where were you diving?

VT: It was an Ascension Island. So, it's a military island between Brazil and the coast of Africa

CK: So, you went wait a minute. This the story gets better better. So, you travel like 1000s of miles. This is a big trip.

VT: It was a huge trip. And it was my first time. And my friends were telling me, you're going to be fine, you're going to be fine. And it was pretty much. It's let's say, if I was learning to base jump, and they took me out of the highest mountain, you can do it from I was pretty much like that.

CK: So how long did you actually stay on the water?

VT: I'd stayed for maybe a good 20 minutes, and I shot my first fish. Once I had a fish on my line, then I didn't think about, I'm going to die doing this. I was like, oh, this is so much fun. I have a fish. And this is cool. And I'm going to see how it goes. And that was that was the fun part of it.

CK: So how long did it take you to get to the point where you could get down to 150 feet and hold your breath for five or six minutes was this took a few years to get to that point.

VT: It's once you get the mental confidence to keep going, then everything gets easier. So, when you hold your breath, you're not exhaling. So, you have an accumulation of co2 inside of your body. And that's sends a signal to your brain that says, ought oh, you need to breathe, you need to breathe. So, the hardest part of freediving is to be able to understand your own body and tell your brain can you please shut up and leave me alone I'm fine. So, once you master that, then you can learn how to control you. Are you breathing and know your capacity and that's when you can push yourself.

CK: So, what was your now that we've talked about sharks and all this other stuff, what was your best day diving?

VT: My best day I think it was funny enough, it was then the same trip in Ascension Island. And it was actually dead. They think it was my second day or third day diving ever. And a whale shark just appears of course, I'm hiding behind my friend because I'm like, what is that dinosaur coming? Like, what is this? Is this a great white are we dying? And it's like no, it's a whale shark. This is amazing. And then by the time the whale came around and circled us and just follow us all day, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I finally could see the beautiful things that the ocean had to offer.

CK: Valentine thank you I guess you know how to confront your fears. It's been a real pleasure. Thanks.

VT: Thank you

CK: That was Valentine Thomas, author of Good Catch a Guide to Sustainable fFsh and Seafood, with Recipes from the World's Oceans. Many years ago, as a passionate scuba diver, I went on dives from Bermuda to Tobago. I've run out of air at 60 feet down I've been trapped in a small cave around the wreck of the USS Constitution. And I was once shadowed by a hungry six-foot-long Barracuda eying my freshly speared snapper, Valentine Thomas has had even worse experiences. And yet today, she takes it all in stride. Which makes me ask a pretty simple question was Franklin Roosevelt right when he said we have nothing to fear but fear itself? Perhaps swimming in shark infested waters may in fact be a really bad idea. So, the next time you're scared, take a moment to listen. Fear may actually save your life. I'm Christopher Kimball and this is Milk Street Radio. I'm joined now by JM Hirsch to talk about this week's recipe. Pasta with spicy tomato and pancetta sauce. JM, how are you?

JM Hirsch: I'm great.

CK: You've been back to Italy to Naples, a wonderful place and you found a tomato sauce that you'd never had before, which seems almost impossible.

JM: You know, you think every time you go what more is there to learn, right? We think we know Italian food. We don't know anything. I was in Naples, and I just happened to wander into this butcher shop. And sitting in the front case was this massive vat of what I can only describe as a really dark red tomato paste with chunks of meat in it. I didn't know is this a sauce? Is this something you spread on crostini I had no idea. And the butcher explained to me that it's zuppa forte, and that it translates literally as strong soup. And thus began my mission in Naples to figure out what zuppa forte is how it's made and what you do with it. I spent a week going from one butcher shop and one restaurant to the next. Now first thing is it's not on any restaurant menu. It's only sold in butcher shops in these big vats. I was slowly able to piece together that basically it's like cooked down tomato concentrate with the odds and ends of meat that back in the day the farmworkers would scavenge and throw into the pot and let simmer away while they worked in the fields. The end of the day they had this concentrate, which I eventually learned was diluted with pasta cooking water, of course, is all good sauces begin and tossed with freshly cooked pasta and turned into this lovely, wonderful pasta sauce. Eventually, I found as far as I can tell, the one restaurant that actually has it on the menu, La Cantinetta. And this 85-year-old woman, Maria Notaro, offered to prepare it for me, and she whipped it up with her own coarse freshly made pasta. And it was the richest, most intensely flavored tomato sauce that I have ever tasted. I interrogated Maria's son Luigi, who eventually revealed to me that there was a secret ingredient involved. It's called salsa pepperoni. And thus began the second wave of this journey where I had to go from one shop to trying to search for salsa, pepperoni. I eventually learned that salsa pepperoni is only sold at shops that sell dried cod. Now, I have no idea why that's the case. Nobody could explain that part to me. And that part I just decided to give up on but salsa pepperoni turns out to be fermented Calabrian chili paste. Now, chilies are a big thing and Calabrian cuisine. So that part didn't surprise me. But when I eventually tasted this stuff, it was intense, spicy but balanced, really rich. And it had the same depth of flavor that we associate with Korean gochujang, which is also a fermented chili paste of course. And even Japanese miso, it had that kind of sweet, savory push and pull. And that turned out to be the secret ingredient that everybody uses.

CK: The fermentations interesting. I didn't know. Not that I know that much about Italian cooking, but fermented chili paste is a new one on me.

JM: It was new to me as well. I had never in all my wanderings across Italy, I had never encountered fermented chili paste used in anything. And apparently in Calabria it's actually quite common, but it's kind of an old school ingredient. And in fact, zuppa forte is a very old school dish. That's why you don't see it on menus anymore. It's really something everybody I talked to. So, this is something my great grandmother ate, and it really hasn't made a comeback. But I think the grandmothers still go into the butcher shops and buy it because that's the only place you can find it.

CK: Okay, so now you have a recipe that we've never heard of made with fermented chili paste, you can only buy dried cod stores. You cook it all day with bits and pieces of sort of the worst cuts of meat that the landowner or whomever didn't want to eat. How do you translate this into a Tuesday night supper here?

JM: Well, actually it was easier than it sounds truthfully. We started with tomato paste which as you know if you brown tomato paste boy, you extract a lot of richness from that and a lot of sweetness. And so we started with that and we added tomato that you cooked down as well and to make the meat easier, but to retain the kind of the richness that is characteristic for zuppa forte, we went with pancetta and of course garlic and rosemary and kind of the usual suspects, but the Calabrian chili paste, of course is the outlier here. The good news is you actually can find Calabrian chili paste the fermented style here in the United States, but we also found the Korean gochujang, was a perfect standard so we found you could use either or and it came out really wonderful.

CK: Pasta with spicy tomato and pancetta sauce with fermented chili paste that's, that's okay, that's a new one. I mean, great job. Thanks, JM.

JM: Thank you. You can get the recipe for pasta with spicy tomato and pink cheddar sauce at Milk Street Radio.com

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio coming up Alex Ainouz shares three tips that will change the way you make Ramen. That's coming right up. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time to check in with Alex Ainouz. Alex, how are you?

Alex Ainouz: I'm good Chris. How are you?

CK: I would guess that you've been pretty busy in your secret food lab.

AA: I have been very busy. I've been working on ramen a lot recently. So today I want to share with you three pro tips about making ramen at home that I learned the hard way and they have about fat about noodles, and about umami. (Okay) Now the first thing that took me years to understand was that, in ramen fat is way more important than it seems. There are at least three reasons for this. Fat plays different roles in ramen and the first one being, it's adding lots of richness to ramen, you know, unctuousness. Some pleasure basically, in French, we say, La graisse, c’est la vie is fat is life.

CK: Oh, the clever French expressions. I actually liked that one a lot.

AA: The second role of fat in ramen is that fat is a conveyor belt when it comes to flavors. With every bite, you get a bit of all the flavors that are contained in the dish. So that's the second rule of fat and the last rule of fat, which is crucial when it comes to ramen. Even more important than the first two. Is that without fat, the broth in ramen cannot stick to noodles. So, it means that if you don't have enough fat in your bowl of ramen, you're going to be slurping naked noodles, which is the worst. So fat is life. Fat is important to ramen. That's the first takeaway that took me years to to understand. Second, it's not worth making noodles yourself at home.

CK: I thought this was going to be right up your alley. Alex,

AA: Let me let me tell you what I did. A few years back I started making ramen noodles myself by hand. Okay, oh, more clearly using my feet. Because the dough is so stiff that it requires tons and tons of pleasure. And they turn out. Not so good to be honest. Then I moved onto using a classic pasta maker to make my ramen noodles. The problem is that the dough is still too stiff. So, it just keeps breaking all my pasta makers. So, I did what I usually do, I stepped up a notch and then I design a custom-made pasta maker from aluminum.

CK: Of course you did, Alex, what else was there left to do?

AA: I hired an engineer to help me out on this one. And yet, I was barely able to make noodles that match with the quality that I can get in premium ramen restaurant. It relies so much on power on pressure on machinery that it's almost impossible to reach at home.

CK: Can I just comment? (Yeah) you've actually started to be practical a little bit. You're just going to go out and buy the noodles. Okay, good. Good for you.

AA: It is very much that. So, the last pro tip that I got after years and years of research on ramen is that umami is real. And it's possible to quantify it. And it's possible to really understand it and master it. Now, I've learned about this, mostly during a call I did with like a PhD researcher at the umami center in Japan. This umami center they have a database with any food you could think of. And its content in glutamate, which is the substance mostly responsible for the umami sensation. So, I started you know, using umami in a more scientific way almost or in a more educated way using ingredients based on their concentration in umami.

CK: So, is this like Parmesan cheese tomato paste and mushrooms etc.?

AA: Exactly. For the West for the West, definitely Parmesan cheese and tomato. And for Japan, it would be kombu seaweed, which is super strong. And then obviously you've got other seaweeds in general who are very strong in umami during this chat with the researcher, she also mentioned something that blew my mind. You've got glutamate, but there's another one called inosinate and this one allows you to boost your perception of umami.

CK: Does it make the cells attach better to the palate?

AA: Exactly. It's exactly that it makes your receptors more sensitive to umami in general. And when you think of it, there's a direct application of this in Japanese cuisine, and its dashi. Japanese stock is umami, so kombu seaweed that is steeped in water, plus katsuobushi. So, bonito flakes that are also briefly soaked in that water. The first one is bringing umami. The second one ____ is boosting the umami sensation. And that's crazy. So, these are the three tips, I guess, that I got after years of research on ramen, and they are less connected with like theory, and more like, experience.

CK: Now, I have to ask, though, when you eat ramen do you close the door? Lock it, get on your bike and go eat a bowl, and some ramen joint in Paris or do actually, you actually make this at home?

AA: Less and less. And let's be honest, I go more and more to a restaurant that I love in Paris. I could pretend that I'm still making it myself. But this guy is on another level. I just I just go there.

CK: Alex, thank you very much. I go out for ramen least once a week. And unfortunately, now I have a more critical eye thanks to you so I may not enjoy it as much as I used to. Thank you so much.

AA My pleasure.

CK: That was Alex Ainouz, host of Just a French Guy Cooking on YouTube. That's it for this week's show. Please don't forget you can find more than 250 episodes at Milk Street Radio and our website Milk Street Radio.com or wherever you get your podcasts. You can find out more about Milk Street at 177 Milk Street.com. There you can become a member, get 1000s of recipes, access our online cooking classes, and get free shipping on all orders from the Milk Street store can also learn about our latest cookbook. Milk Street Simple. Please check us out on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Campbellsville Street Radio is produced by Mill Street in association with GVH. co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, senior editor Melissa Allison, Senior Producer Sarah Clapp, Associate Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.