Your email address is required to begin the subscription process. We will use it for customer service and other communications from Milk Street. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.
June 3, 2022
The Tongue Cutters: In Norway, Kids Cut Cod Tongues for Love and Money
Other ways to listenListen on Apple Podcasts Download Episode — or —
In the fishing villages of Norway, kids as young as five enter the workforce as professional cod tongue cutters. Documentary filmmaker Solveig Melkeraaen tells us why kids slice up this delicacy, plus we meet former tongue cutter Ylva Melkeraaen Lundell, who explains how she mastered this skill—and how lucrative this job can be. Also on the show: Journalist Kenji Hall embarks on a quest across Japan to find the world’s best rice; Adam Gopnik goes to the movies; and we dress up a steak salad with pomegranate molasses and goat cheese.
Questions in this episode:
"The chicken meatballs I can buy in the supermarket are delicious, and quite high in fat. I would like to make my own so I can limit saturated fat, but every time I try, they come out dry and unpalatable. What should I do?"
"I know tiramisu is typically made with thin cake or lady fingers. It occurred to me that pancakes are basically thin cake, so I was wondering how one would go about making a tiramisu out of pancakes?"
"I love pork chops and always baked them in sauce and onions – now they come out lousy. How do you suggest they should be cooked?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. In Norway cod season can be lucrative both for fishermen and for a group of young kids who are known as tongue cutters.
Ylva Melkeraaen: It was shocking for me I had never earned my own money. And you see in the newspapers here in Norway, the girls and boys who earn up to 12,000 a day, and if you just have the motivation, you can just stand there for like hours and hours and do it.
CK: That was Ylva Melkeraaen. Del, she learned how to cut tongues when she was just nine. Later on the show, we'll hear from her and her aunt, Solveig Melkeraaen a former tongue cutter, who made a documentary about this tradition. But first is my interview with journalist Kenji Hall, who went on a quest across Japan to taste the world's best rice. Kenji, welcome to Milk Street.
Kenji Hall: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
CK: So, life's getting complicated. Coffee is complicated, wines complicated. And now rice is complicated. I used to think it was like long grain short grain, sushi rice, risotto rice and brown rice. But you're here to tell us that there are 1000s of varieties. And there's a lot more to know about rice than most of us know.
KH: Yeah, that's right. Most people probably think that white rice is supposed to be this bland carbohydrate. That's how I thought I grew up in San Diego, my mother’s from Japan, we ate rice all the time, you know, and I thought it was supposed to be tasteless. But in Japan, there's this real appreciation for plain white rice on its own. I've been here for about 20 years now. And the most common thing that I'd hear people in Japan say about rice, this is how sweet it is. And this completely threw me. You know, they're they're not talking about the sweetness of a dessert like a jelly doughnut or apple pie. It's it's much, much more subtle.
CK: Yeah, I love that because I love the simplicity of it, and also the complexity of it too. Because as we're about to discuss, there's really nothing simple about rice. So, before we do that, could you give me a short history of rice? It came from China originally.
KH: Exactly. It's believed to have come to Japan from China about 3000 years ago. I think it's hard to overstate the importance of rice in Japan. Rice is the only agricultural product that Japan is self-sufficient and growing. The government actually keeps 1 million metric tons of rice in warehouses for national security purposes. And rice goes way beyond just being a culinary staple. It's essentially a symbol of identity for Japan. It appears in the oldest surviving texts from the eighth century. During the feudal period, rice was a form of currency, and Sumo, the national sport traces its origins to an agricultural ritual performed for the Shinto deities to pray for a bountiful harvest.
CK: But you've also written that Japanese policymakers now fret about the sort of collective distancing from the grain. So overall, is Japan less focused on rice than it was a generation ago?
KH: Well, first of all, Japanese people eat a lot of rice. Right? These statistics say that it's about 112 pounds per person. per year, Americans only eat about a fifth of that 112 pounds. Sounds like a lot, but it's actually less than half of what people were eating, per capita back in the early 60s. There are a lot of reasons for this. Some of it is the availability of food imports, diet trends. So yes, Japanese officials are worried about something that's called ____, which is a collective distancing from rice, partly because of what it does to the country's low food self-sufficiency rate. It used to be around 70%. It's now around 40%.
CK: So, you're on your quest to find the world's best rice. You go to the Fukui Agricultural Experiment Station, where they're narrowing 20,000 varietals. I think I read that right down to just one. So, what do you look for in a rice testing, especially if you have 20,000 versions to test?
KH: Right. So, it's a couple of things, its its taste, but even before that yield, the height of the stock, they don't want it to grow too tall because it can get blown down in the typhoon. The timing of the harvest is also important if it's too early your rice will be consumed by sparrows, and then flavor as you mentioned, flavor is the ultimate determinant for whether a rice type actually makes it to market.
CK: So, these rice tastings, how do they actually work?
KH: It's all blind. It's done in a room that's designed for tastings with ivory walls, and very, very bright, bright white fluorescent bulbs. You're given chopsticks, a glass of water, a scorecard, and a plate. And on that plate, you have five half dollar coin sized covered portions of steamed rice, they're covered with a little plastic cup, there four at compass points, and then there's one in the center, the one in the center, is your reference clump. So, what you're supposed to do is you're supposed to assign a score to each of the four clumps in seven categories. There's whiteness, gloss, aroma, stickiness, firmness, sweet umami flavor. And then the last category is just an overall impression of whether you thought it tasted good. And so, the procedure is you uncover one clump, you sniff, you lift the plate to catch the light, and then you eat it.
CK: Did you find like a wine tasting? Do you find some fairly substantive differences or was it very subtle?
KH: Both. Sometimes I would catch a hint of popcorn or a more pronounced umami sweetness. Sometimes it was just a heaviness of starch on the palate. The problem with a taste test like this is it's not very scientific. It's quite subjective. You know, every person has his or her own different idea of what the best rice should taste like.
CK: For another part of your research, you went to an annual competition that determines the world's best rice. And by the way, that rice, the one the one sells for 50 bucks a pound. I remember a few years ago, we did a show here about really expensive fruit in Japan. So, is really expensive rice now part of that high end food culture in Japan?
KH: The short answer to that is no. The world's best rice is a very specialized product. It's made in very small amounts. Toro rice is the company that makes this product. They blend several of the top place finalists chosen by judges in a blind tasting at the international contest. On rice taste evaluation. This is the country's oldest and most prestigious rice competition. And the company says it has this proprietary method for evaluating flavor and enzyme activity in the kernels and so the kernels are milled to remove the outer bran, but but it leaves this ultra-thin umami layer around the the white part. And so, rice officials swear by this they say that this is why this rice tastes so fantastic.
CK: So back to the rice that people actually eat at home. You know, in the article you say there's one that consumers really like koshihikari I just bought it by the way. I'm going to try it tonight for dinner. Is this what you would recommend for someone who wants to up their rice game at home?
KH: I think that's a great place to start koshihikari is the most popular rice brand in Japan. It's chewy, but soft. The kernels are quite large. It has this pronounced sweetness that comes through. Koshihikari’s actually been around since 1956 which is unusual because usually, when new varietals come onto the market, old ones are phased out. Even today, I talked about the rice tastings that I've been to koshihikari is still used as the reference rice in rice tasting. And when I took the blind taste tests, it was the one that I chose, and it's what most Japanese people associate with delicious rice.
CK: Kenji, thank you so much. I'm starting to understand rice and I'm going to try that rice tonight. Thank you.
KH: I'd love to hear how it goes. Thank you very much.
CK: That was Kenji Hall. His article for Taste is The Tenacious Quest for the World's Best Rice. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One, also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: So, Chris, I just wanted to share something that I learned recently it's fun you know, Julia used to say you never stop learning. And my son and his girlfriend came over for dinner and she brought a chocolate pie. Oh, it was so good. It was like ganache in the center. But the crust was really cool. What she did is she makes massive batches of cookies, and my son doesn't eat a lot of cookies, so they just sort of languish and get stale.
CK: A cookie crust?
SM: She did. She took them and ground them up and then took out the really big chunks but they're still they were chocolate chip cookies, there's still some pieces of chocolate in there. And then she combined it with some melted butter and pressed it into like a graham cracker exactly, but with leftover low wafer crust, but I thought that was brutally good idea and she took them right from the freezer and ground them up. And you know, I'm always looking for ways to use up leftovers.
CK: I invite people over they don't bring chocolate pie.
SM: Oh my god, I was so good.
CK: All right, so with the chocolate pie in mind, yeah, let's take our first call.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?
Caller: This is Sarah calling from Villanova, Pennsylvania.
SM: Hi, Sarah. What is your question today?
Caller: My question is about using ground chicken to make meatballs or burgers. The texture of the precooked ones you can buy in the supermarket are a very pleasantly solid meaning a good chew if you know what I mean. And I've been told by my doctor to avoid processed meat so I'd like to try and make my own from store bought ground chicken. But everything I've tried so far, meatloaf, meatballs, burgers, has come out very crumbly and dry.
SM: Right. And when you buy the ground chicken is a dark meat white meat or a mix.
Caller: I think it's white meat. But you know, it just says ground chickens so I'm not really sure yes have a pretty high fat fat content. So, I considered grinding my own, but I haven't gotten that brave yet.
SM: Well, you could grind your own the trouble as you know with chicken is that most chicken including organic is you know subject to you know salmonella and campylobacter. So it's, it's a bit you know, you contaminate everything if you did, but if you wanted to do that I would take chicken thighs which are more flavorful and more juicy and cut them into cubes the same size like one inch cubes, freeze them in the freezer and then grind them up and and the reason you freeze them is you don't want the meat to get too warm because then you're have a bacterial situation, then pulse them in a food processor till it's ground to the way you like. Trouble is then you've got a chance of contaminating a lot of things. If you're going to use the pre-ground meat. Here's what I've used with turkey burgers also, is I add sauteed onions that had been finely chopped and cooled sauteed in olive oil, (okay) And I also have add finely shredded raw Napa cabbage. Now that may sound weird as heck, but it provides moisture and Napa doesn't taste funky like regular cabbage. It's something we used to do at Gourmet. It provides moisture without the flavor or the texture, it sort of melts into the chicken. That to me is the best way to go. But I'm sure Chris has some opinions,
CK: I would just use a panade. I mean, it's like making meatloaf is the same thing, which takes a loaf of white bread, you know, cut the crusts off, put it in a bowl with a little bit of cream or milk and mash it up with a fork and then add that to the chicken mixture. And just like with a hamburger, it's going to keep it moist it’s going to keep it from being dry and crumbly. And that's the simple answer to solving the meatball problem.
Caller: Well, that sounds great. And I will keep you posted. We'll have a little taste off and see who won.
CK: Well, if Sara wins, just don't call okay. Just email us if Sara won. Okay, thank you.
Caller: Thank you very much.
SM: All right.
CK: Goodbye now
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Yes. Hi, my name is Ari.
CK: How are you?
Caller: Good. I'm a longtime listener a second time caller actually.
CK: Oh, good. Okay, well, how can we help you this time?
Caller: I have a question about making a tiramisu. I've made it actually a couple of times. And I know it can be made either with lady fingers or like a thin kind of sponge cake. I was wondering if you can use other kinds of cake like products, specifically, could you make for instance, a tiramisu out of a pancake?
CK: You know, once in a while on this show, I get a question. I don't expect this is one of those. Well, I think traditionally, tiramisu was something made with leftover stale cake, right? So, they'd have a coffee mixture and some custard, whatever. And so, it made sense because you had a dry stale piece of cake and it had soaked up a liquid nicely. The problem with a pancake, I think would be if you put the coffee mixture on the pancake, you'd end up with well, pancakes dissolved in the pancake mixture. I think whatever cake you have to use start with needs to have some structure and tends to be you want something that's on the dry side. I think a pancake probably has got so much fat in it. It's just going to dissolve sitting in the mixture. I mean, Sara?
SM: No, I agree. You're the pancake king. But it's funny you got me thinking about pancakes and what else you could use them for which is really far afield. My mom used to make this blueberry pudding where you take butter bread, and you layer it with blueberries that you cooked with sugar and maybe a little bit of lemon juice. They burst and they were cooked was like a compost then you layered the buttered bread with the blueberries and you let
CK: This is like summer pudding
SM: Yes, it is summer putting
CK: it is a summer pudding
SM: I was thinking, wouldn't it be great to make that with pancakes instead? So layer pancakes with the blueberry mixture and instead of using sugar with the blueberries use maple syrup.
Caller: So, you're saying that there are possibly other applications of using pancakes but just not tiramisu
SM: I agree with Chris on that. I went far afield, but I agree with Chris, I think would become a mush.
CK: Let me back up and ask you the first question which is, why do you have leftover pancakes? Do you make a super big batch or something?
Caller: Well, no, I do have leftover pancakes, but I also you know, just like pancakes, I was thinking wouldn't it be cool. Maybe I can make like a maple tiramisu combined maple and coffee.
CK: Well, I'm with you. I make pancakes every Saturday morning for my kids. And I make a huge batch because I eat most of them personally. And I often put jam on them instead of maple syrup. You know, they have those. What's that Appalachian cake. It has very, very thin layers, like 10 or 15 layers. That reminds me, you could take a pancake batter, thin it out, and almost make crap. And you could stack a whole bunch of layers and in between, I think they used to use apple butter. That's a really a delicious cake. So, I think pancakes could be thinned out and used multiple layers of a cake and you just have to have a filling in between.
SM: I see a pancake cookbook in your future.
CK: You know you and I have to talk because I’m with you, I love pancakes
SM: Ari and Chris's pancake cookbook.
CK: Yeah, the little book of pancakes.
SM: Right. There we go.
CK: So that's it Ari. Yeah, you could make a cake out of it if you wanted to. Yeah. Yeah. It's good idea. Pancake cake. Or pan cake,
SM: But not for tiramisu. Anyway, thanks for calling.
CK: Ari thanks for calling.
Caller: All right, thank you very much.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're stumped in the kitchen, give us a call anytime our number 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: My name is Deborah. I'm from Beverly, Massachusetts.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: I have been cooking pork chops for years. I would brown them lightly in a skillet. And then I would bake them covered at 350 for over an hour and they were exceptional. All of a sudden, they're not. I don't know whether I'm doing something wrong. I get bone in center cut chops. I just was curious what you recommend for cooking pork chops.
CK: It's documented that the pork industry has reduced the fat content in pork the last 20 years substantially. I mean, Sara, that would be my first Absolutely. So, it's not you it's the pork, I mean, one thing you can do is quickly sear them. And then low liquid braise with whatever sauce or stock or whatever. Very, very low heat, and you can put in a low oven, or you can put it in very low heat on top of the stove, cook them very slowly. If you have an instant read thermometer digital thermometer, I would cook the chops until they're 140 in the middle, okay, halfway through the middle, my guess is you're cooking in 160 or 170. And anything above 137 138 is fine. And once you take them out, they'll probably raise in temperature a few degrees anyway. So, the other thing to do is to take the time to find a supplier who's raising great pigs and feeding them properly and getting the right pork is probably 90% of it and don't overcook it.
SM: It sounds to me like the recipe that you've been doing for years is more like a stewed braised item because you've cooking it in liquid for all that time and it will get tender but it will still be dry. Because the pork is so lean. Think of it more like a pork chop that's cooked slightly pink inside and then remove it from the pan and make the sauce in the pan that's left it will be more moist. How thick are the chops?
Caller: An inch or more.
SM: Okay, I also salt my chops about an hour before I cook them and then just pat it dry so that you can sear it nicely. Cook it till it's 140 and then remove the chops and put them on a plate and let them finish cooking in their own juices and then make your sauce in the pan. And it will be yummy
CK: I wonder if he could use the oft repeated steak method we've talked about here. Salt them, let them sit on a rack for an hour of room temperature. Put them in a low oven like a 250 oven on the rack on a baking sheet. Get the internal temperature of that pork up to maybe 130 or so something like that. And then very quickly sear them on both sides in a skillet or on the grill. To finish.
SM: I have one last suggestion. I prefer pork tenderloin to pork loin. Pork tenderloin, although it's very lean also tends to have a more tender texture. And so, I'll take the whole loin and I'll cut it at an angle an inch thick. And then I'll turn those cuts side up and press them down so they're like little boneless chops and then maybe salt those ahead of time. And then what I often do which is so old school Chris is going to make fun of me. pat them dry and then right before I put them in the pan I dip them in flour because it gives them a nice little crispy coating. Sauté them on both sides. They cook pretty quickly and then take them out. Make a pan sauce, shallots, white wine, chicken broth (sounds delicious) with some delis back in quick turn them a couple of times in the sauce to make sure they finish cooking through but don't overdo them. And the little bit of flour from the coating will go into the sauce and thicken it okay,
CK: There's a Spanish tapas _____ which is tender line cut into little medallions. You put spices and salt on them. Toss them in a bowl. Let them sit 15 minutes, heat up a skill a little bit oil and they cook in like five or six minutes. Yeah, done. From beginning to end. It's 20 minutes, you're finished. They're absolutely delicious. They're served as tapas in Spain, but I often make it for dinner. It's really great.
Caller: I kind of gave up on this whole pork chop thing. I love to make them with the stuffing applesauce and carrots and I just kind of gave up I said
SM: Well don’t
CK: Well look. I mean then just brine them, you know, take two hours and brine them and that's the quick and easy solution to the problem because they'll come out you see them. Yeah.
Caller: Okay. Thanks, guys.
CK: All right. Thanks for calling.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: You are listening to Milk Street Radio up next two generations of cod tongue cutters. They tell us how and why kids harvest this delicacy, please stay with us. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. And this is Ylva.
Ylva Melkeraaen: My name is Ylva. And I am 15 years old. I live in West Bay, a little out from Oslo. And I used to cut tongues. My friends here and they think it's pretty weird that I've been doing something like this, and I get that people think it is gross and like it smelled terrible. But then again, you get really comfortable doing it and you just want to do it all the time.
CK: When Arctic cod migrate to the Norwegian coast kids like Ylva go to work is tongue cutters, a job that's just for kids and not for adults. And it's been like this for generations. When Eva was nine her aunt Solvay made a documentary about the season Ylva worked as a tongue cutter. Together, they traveled up to her grandparents fishing village, so Ylva could learn.
YM: For me, it's a really beautiful place. You get the Northern Lights up there and you show up in this like big room full of fishers who have like big boxes of fish heads. And there's like a bunch of other kids. I think the youngest could be like four
CK: The kids are dressed in winter coats, rubber pants, and long gloves. armed with knives, they huddle around bins of fish heads and get to work.
YM: So, you take your two fingers inside the fish heads and put it on top of the needle. And you take your knife it has to be really like sharp knife, and then you kind of see like a little flip where you cut. Then you have your first tongue
CK: During that cod season Ylva cut tongs for up to six hours a day. And that's because tongue cutters are paid incredibly well. Some kids pull in over 10,000 American dollars in just one season.
YM: I just made I think 1000 Norwegian money, it was shocking for me I had never in my own money, and I spend my money on buying rabbits because that was like my big dream when I was nine. There were two black ones I really liked. So, I called the one licorice and the other one I called Coco Chanel.
CK: Ylva’s friend Tobias who also appears in the documentary bought his own motorboat at the end of the season. That's how much money you can make from cutting tongues. But aside from being profitable, the tongues are also considered a real delicacy. Some people say they're just like the filet mignon of cod. And Ylva thought a lot about what became of her hard work.
YM: Yeah, I thought about that actually. A long time I dread dreamed about it once when I just had this dream where my like cod tongues ended up on someone's plate at a restaurant. And that was just it was really cool thing to think about that you've literally made it yourself.
CK: That was Ylva Melkeraaen Lundell. Right now, I'm joined by Solveig Melkeraaen, who directed the documentary Tongue cutters. Solveig, welcome to Milk Street
Solveig Melkeraaen: Thank you so much.
CK: Let me start by saying that I love your film your documentary. And it turned out to be a very different film that I thought it was going to be going into it, but we can get to that later. So, it's called Tongue Cutters, which is an interesting title to say the least. What are tongue cutters? Let's start with that.
SM: Yeah, at tongue cutters. In my movie, it is small children up in the northern part of Norway cutting tongues out of cod heads. And one of the reasons why I wanted to make this documentary is because me myself, I was cutting tongues when I was a child.
CK: So, were you from Northern Norway? Was this, you know, something everybody did?
SM: Yeah, yeah, I was living in the same town where Ylva and Tobias are cutting tags in the movie. And as it's now, it also was before that all the children in the village were cutting tongues. My grandfather was a fisherman. So that is how I got introduced to cutting tongues. And I did it my whole childhood, and I was saving money. I remembered that the first thing I bought was a bike. And I thought it was so nice to buy something that I really wanted to have on my own.
CK: So, the reason children do this, I mean, they make pretty good money doing it, but it's because they're better suited to it because their hands are smaller, or there just aren't enough adults to do it.
SM: It's both actually, the children have small hands, so it's easier for them to do this job. And they also do it because the fisherman, they have enough job with the other parts of the fish. So, it has always been children doing this job.
CK: So, let's talk about cod fishing. In the 19th century off the Grand Banks, which is the Gulf Stream below Newfoundland. It was a huge industry here as I think one person wrote that you could almost walk on the backs of cod from here to Newfoundland, it was so wonderful. But by 1900, that industry had really been decimated, and it's now a fraction of what it was. In Norway. Is cod, still a strong business, or is it also gone downhill?
SM: It is really, really strong, actually, this becomes more and more strong. The place where I grew up where Elwha is going, I think it's like five fish factories. And each day in the season, in one fish factory, they have like cod for about 3 million Norwegian Kroners in one day, in this quite short season, because it's a special kind of cod called Skrei which come into the coast from like January to March and it is much bigger than like the coastal cod. And that is also why they cut tongues of this special kind of cod because it is so huge and also then the head is much bigger. And then you can actually cut tongues which is good size.
CK: So, the tongue is particularly desirable for the meat or is it just that nothing goes to waste or both?
SM: Actually, in the latest years, it has become a delicacy, because it's really soft. And yeah, really good quality. But before, it was like, the fisherman that didn't want to eat the nice part of the fish, so they often took the tongues home and ate them because it was like the cheapest part of the fish.
CK: Okay, so let's talk about the documentary, which really isn't so much about fishing, it's about people. And you're going to bring somebody from outside of this fishing village to come in. And you ended up with your main character, your niece, how did you decide on her?
SM: So, I had been telling Ylva about this for many years. And when I told her that I was going to make a documentary, she really wanted to join. And then I was thinking, Oh, that's a good idea. Because I was thinking that it would be more interesting and more exciting to like, follow a child into this environment, learning how to cut tongues. And I was also curious about how she was going to connect with Tobias, the boy in the movie, and he lives up there and have been cutting tongues from it was like, five, six years old. And it was also really important for me to see that the two kids also connected with each other.
CK: So, the movie becomes you know about the relationship between Toby us and Ilva. And there's that one scene, I just had to watch it twice. I was stunned. They're sitting each and it lounging in chairs eating a Tootsie Pop or some candy. And they're talking about their family life. And they get to the point where they're discussing how their parents are divorced. (Yeah) you know, and it was really, I don't know, it was sort of heartbreaking. There so adult, but they're so young.
SM: I thought it was so touching when they started to speak about this and that they were so open about it. They are talking really like mature about it. So, it was one of the situations when you make documentary, which you call like, magical.
CK: So, the other thing I noticed though, they have these six inch boning knives very sharp, and they're always being sharpened. When I'm going like, Oh, here's a nine and 10-year-old with these very sharp knives, and these needles and everything else and these fish heads. And also, towards the end of the movie, Tobias is driving the small boat with the outboard motor and yeah, out there in the in the bay. Overall, the way they handle themselves and responsibility they're given. I mean, in America, you would never let your old cut tongues with a six-inch sharp knife. It's just you'd be in jail. So, I don't think it's just them. I think it just feels like children are given more responsibility.
SM: Yeah, that's quite true. And that was also one of the reasons why I wanted to make this movie because I wanted also it to be like more a public discussion in Norway about Is it good that children could take more responsibility than we might think that they can? Also, because I was cutting tongues when I was a child. I think it was good for me. And I think it is good that children learn to take responsibility in an early age.
CK: Totally agree. Yeah. Well, it's not just that I think what the documentary brings out is, they're treated in some ways, like adults, right? They they're, they're given an adult responsibility, which I think is so good for kids. And that seems to be stripped away so much now and in modern culture.
SM: Yeah, yeah. Because here in Norway, it is also being more and more like, the children have like football or dance or but it's like, organized, because in the fishing factory, I think it's so nice that the children, they also communicate with the grown-ups there and it's like, a community not, not like, okay, here is the grown up, which is going to decide what you should do and not you are like having much more freedom in this environment, and also much more responsibilities.
CK: And I think kids understand this immediately. They're being useful. Yeah, yeah. I mean, the kids know the difference between made up play and actually doing something that's useful. You know, as a kid, I grew up helping with a dairy operation in Vermont. So, I drive a tractor or truck I made? I don't think I was all that useful probably. But but at least I was given a job. Yeah, it's and it was useful, and it makes you feel it's so important. So, when you, you start a project like this, you've done a number of them, you think it's going to be one thing. And inevitably, I assume when you make a documentary, it ends up being something else, like it changes as you film. So, what did you think this was going to be about? And what did it end up being about?
SM: Maybe I was, I was thinking that it should be a documentary about children, cutting tongues up in the northern part of Norway. But I, I haven't been thinking that my niece should join. And that this coming from the outside into this environment, also could say something about how to manage difficult things. In this case, tongue cutting. Yeah, I didn't know that she and Tobias was going to be it's like a friendship for life. And that they also should come so close to each other, that they also could be talking about their parents’ divorce. And yeah, and the way that is also something about growing up and take responsibility. And when I see the film now, I think that it's like two different kinds of responsibilities. The one thing about tongue cutting, I think that kind of responsibility is good for children to try to work and to feel, as you say, also, that they can be helpful, but this part with the divorce, I don't think that children should take that much responsibility in that part of the life. So, in a way, it's more complex that I would have been thinking in the beginning.
CK: Yeah, well, in five or six years, I'm going to call you because my two youngest kids will be about the right age. Could I send them over?
CK: to cut tongues because, boy, if that’s, if they grow up like you're nice, we're in good shape. Thank you so much Solveig. Tongue Cutters is just an amazing film. And I highly recommend everybody watch it. Thank you.
SM: Thank you so much for making this interview with me.
CK: That was filmmaker Solveig Melkeraaen on her documentary is called Tongue Cutters. You know, I spent summers and most weekends growing up on a Vermont farm milking hang in even shoveling manure. It was in fact the best experience of my life since Vermonters treat children just like adults, everybody's expected to do their part. So, when I had my own kids, I tried giving them the very same experience but sad to say they didn't end up shoveling much manure or milking cows. It was really more a fresh air camp than a job. So, when I watched the documentary Tongue Cutters, I was reminded that some cultures view children as capable of doing hard work, and pitching in to help out the community. As my mother always told me, I'll give you as much responsibility as you can handle and I think that's pretty good advice, especially when you think you can't handle it. This is Milk Street Radio coming up Adam Gopnik reviews, his favorite movies about food. We'll be right back after the break. I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to Milk Street right now it's time to chat with Sam Fore for about this week's recipe steak salad with walnuts and goat cheese. Sam, how are you?
Sam Fore: You know, it's a beautiful day. I have no complaints.
CK: It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
CK: I'm going to get my little sweater. So, I like steak salads a lot. But I think you have sort of different way of thinking about steak salad. So, what is that way?
SF: Steak salad is a choose your own adventure, Chris.
CK: Right there you go,
SF: You can always change up a steak salad. That's the thing. You have so many options between toppings and greens and things to really punch it up. But my favorite thing that I've discovered since working on these recipes for Milk Street, has been pomegranate molasses.
CK: Yeah, it's a game changer. Really, we have it in the pantry
SF: It is amazing. It's so tart. It's not cloyingly sweet. It's just a perfect, perfect matchup for a really good steak salad.
CK: So, the steak salad starts with cooking the steak. Yeah, show how smart I am.
SF: So, I like to brown my steak off in a skillet. Usually about to medium rare, but I'm only seasoning it with salt and pepper because I don't think I need too much more from it. I want my steak to be a steak. I want it to be you know, beautiful meaty, and just tender and delicious to bite into.
CK: So, cook the steak and then what?
SF: So, I'm putting a whole new dressing together with this pomegranate molasses. I am adding some of the juices from cooking off the steak, as well as a really nice bright olive oil that's you know, fruity and really great for tasting. And I'm whisking all this together with finely chopped toasted walnuts. So, I've got brightness, I've gotten nuttiness and it's all going to cling really nicely to my greens.
CK: A bit short the things I like about the dressing some coriander in it, but also we add a couple tablespoons of water to it, which is just a great technique. If you taste your dressing, it's a little too harsh, just water. It's that easy.
SF: You know, you can dial it back without really changing too much at all. And if it's just a little too sharp, you know, a couple drops here a couple drops there, you can really adjust it to your individual taste.
CK: And then the goat cheese is is the topping at the end.
SF: It is and I'm one of those folks that does not believe in having somebody crumble my goat cheese for me, I really like to get my hands dirty. So, after I toss my greens with the vinegar that I like to just crumble from a lot of goat cheese on top and that makes it a little uneven but also a little bit more charming.
CK: So, some of your friends hire a goat cheese crumbler?
SF: You know, if it's a possibility these days of being a goat cheese crumbler for hire. I'm going to throw my name into the ring. Why not?
CK: So, I love we both love steak salad. This a steak salad with walnuts and goat cheese, a little pomegranate molasses and coriander in the mix. A little different, but just as easy. Thank you, Sam.
Thank you for having me. You can get the recipe for steak salad with walnuts and goat cheese at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Next up let's check in with Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you?
Adam Gopnik: I am very well and full of thoughts. I have been thinking about a big question that you and I have never addressed together. And that is what are the greatest movies about food that have ever been made. And when we think about food, we're talking about hunger and contentment. And what are the five best films that have ever been made about food?
CK: Well, the last five minutes of Big Night,
AG: Christopher once again you and I are on serendipity city. The very first one that came on my list is Big Night we're talking Chris the great Stanley Tucci film, and exactly right, particularly those last five minutes when having lost all hope, all love, all self-respect, and all possibility of a future. They come together the two brothers and their assistant and one brother, not the cooking brother makes an omelet for the other. And they put their arms around each other. And in that simple act of affirmation. We realized that they will have a future however thorny it may be based on not the act of showing off food making as they done throughout the movie. But on the simple act of sharing.
CK: I thought that was well said the other thing I found so interesting is that the distance between people at the beginning of that last five minutes is great, right? And as the five minutes goes on, they get closer and closer as you just said he puts his arm around him at the end. And it's that proximity the human proximity which really tells that story.
AG: I you know how it always is with good works of drama of any kind. Your memory plays tricks on you and I had forgotten that that whole scene begins with the Stanley Tucci character making the omlet for the boy for the assistant not for the brother I had cut right to the brother, but it's a beautiful build and it's all about Elliot, why sharing is more important than showing off. So that's my very first that's number one on my list. Number two is a brand new documentary. The Truffle Hunters. I don't know if you've seen it yet heard about it. Yeah, my daughter, Olivia turned us on to it. Of course, it's the story of the truffle hunters of Northern Italy of Piedmont who are hunting for what may be perhaps right after caviar, the most prized delicacy that there is the white truffle. And we never see people eating, well, once we see people eating the white truffle, but essentially, we don't. But we know everything that we could possibly know about the relationship between the truffle hunters and their dogs. It's really again, it's a movie about attachment, and the intensity of that attachment. The hours and hours and hours man and dog spend together. And the film ends beautifully with a very old man, a truffle hunter who's promised his wife that he will not go out truffle hunting by night. Because as I hadn't known night is when one must hunt for truffles. Strangely enough, because ground is damper and apparently the the aroma more fragrant for the dogs, he's promised his wife that he will never hunt for truffles at night. Again, he knows it's too dangerous, he could fall he could become hurt. And he sneaks out of a window with his dog at midnight, to go hunting truffles. And it's such a powerful metaphor, again, for the spark of adventure and the appetite for romance that lives inside all of us that like the last five minutes of Big Night. It immediately expands itself beyond the narrow range of delicacy hunting into the whole question of our appetite for the extraordinary.
CK: Well, if I may add, I do a lot of rabbit hunting in the winter. And yeah, I finally figured out after a few years, it's about the dog. It's not about the rabbits. Really Yeah, it's not about shooting something. It's about the relationship between man and dog. That is the joy.
AG: That's fascinating. Because that's exactly congruent with what happens in truffle hunters, you think it's going to be about like truffles, and it's about mangy brown dogs and we'd love it all the more for that. My third film is going to be a bit of a surprise not a film I think anyone thinks of as a food movie, like Truffle Hunters and like Big Night, it has one scene that is indelible. And that's Bicycle Thieves. (
CK: I Remember
AG: to see this great masterpiece of postwar Italian neorealism. It's a study really in the desperately impoverished life of a father and son, you'll remember that the son is called Bruno. And the film is about how his bicycle is stolen in which totally destroys his ability to pursue his livelihood. And how, he and little Bruno go out and search for the bicycle. But along the way, at one point, they end up in a little Trattoria. And it's perfectly apparent that the father has no idea how he's ever going to pay for the meal. And yet he encourages Bruno to order pasta and everything on the menu, and just watching the father's face, feeding his son while knowing he can't possibly make good on the bill. And the son's face desperately hungry and wanting both to eat and to please his father and also knowing that his father can't possibly make good on the bill. It's the single most beautiful exchange of glances outside of Big Night that I can think of and it embodies the way in which we try to please the people we love by buying them delicacies. white truffles are a simple plate of spaghetti. And how conscious the people we love are of all the sub texts that we're sending their way, even as we seek to please them.
CK: Good one that that surprised me. But I haven't seen that movie in 40 years.
AG: It's an it's a glory of that. Now the next movie on my list is probably along with Big Night, the most predictable, but I watched it again and I couldn't leave it off.
CK: Is this Babette coming?
AG Exactly. That amazing. That's exactly right. Babette’s Feast, wonderful adaptation of a great Isaac Dennison story. But it's an absolutely wonderful fable of how French food comes to a little dark Danish village. And how Babette and her feast overturn all expectations, and it's about the power of sensuality in the world. The last film is one that I think will be a surprise to people though it is in a way a classic. And that is Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant from 1918. And The Immigrant tells the story of Chaplain playing a Russian Jewish immigrant arriving in New York on a boat that goes right by the Statue of Liberty. First half is about the life of the immigrant on board ship. The second half is entirely set in a cafe. Charlie finds a quarter on the street. He puts it in his pocket. He's desperately hungry. And we see as he walks into this artists cafe that the coin has slipped out of his pocket and down his pants and onto the pavement. So, we know but Charlie doesn't that he's penniless as he walks into this restaurant. And Charlie goes about the business of ordering a plate of beans and a cup of coffee, and eventually pie and realizes that he has no money to pay for these things. To make it worse. He recognizes the beautiful Edna ____ from the boat, and to cheer her up he offers to buy her lunch as well. And they go about eating it and then Charlie realizes he cannot pay. And he watches as all the waiters, all of whom are six foot tall and 250 pounds, beat up a poor drunk who's also in the restaurant and he finally turns to his waiter and says, what was wrong with him, and the card says he was five cent short. It is the most beautiful study of the desperation of restaurant manners. I should add that at the very last moment, Charlie and the girl look so picturesque in their suffering that an artist from across the other side of the restaurant sees them, and he says, I must have you as models. Will you come model for me in my studio? And Charlie says, of course, could we have a little advance on the modeling money and with that advance, he pays off the bill and leaves an enormous tip for the intimidating waiter.
CK: Adam that’s your top five lists. We all agree the last few minutes of Big Night probably takes the cake
AG: So, to speak or the omelet to use the material of their conqueror.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. That's it for today. You can find this episode and all of our episodes on Apple podcast, Spotify, Amazon music, Milk Street Radio.com or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn all about Milk Street at 177 Milk Street.com. There you can download each week's recipe, watch a TV show or learn about our magazine and latest cookbook The World in a Skillet. We're on Facebook and Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh. Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant 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. The music by Toubab Krewe additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX