The following field report was written by our newest collaborator Liz Dom a South African artist who currently resides in Trondheim, Norway and is helping the Center for Genomic Gastronomy produce the upcoming exhibition MEAT MORE MEAT LESS at TKM in February, 2023.
On September 8, 2022, a group of very excited fermenters and soon-to-be fermenters gathered at Jossa Mat og Drikke, described as “the little sister” of Michelin star Restaurant Credo, in Lilleby to learn from the undisputed master, Sandor Katz.
Katz started the workshop with a brief introduction to fermentation, where and how it appears (surprise! almost everywhere, in most foods) and why there’s a fermentation revival brewing. In the last century, as most eaters became increasingly distanced from most aspects of food production, so our traditions of sharing fermentation know-how generation on generation declined. However, a new generation, facing an imminent climate disaster, has turned to fermentation as a means of building resilience into—and relocalizing—food production and consumption.
Norway has a long history of fermentation, especially with regards to beer brewing, with use of the farmhouse yeast, kveik, from Western Norway – in fact, three prominent beer brewers were seated at my table. These three brewers were in their mid-thirties and an example of who is leading the fermentation resurgance. Many guests at Jossa that evening already had a fairly advanced knowledge of fermentation processes, asking complex questions. They want to reconnect with fermentation’s ability is a way to prolong shelf-life and increase nutritional value during very hard, cold winter months.
As the workshop progressed, Katz reminded us that Norwegian home architecture provides excellent fermentation conditions, like that of the cool, dry cellar, where sauerkraut can easily last up to three years without the need for refrigeration.
So what can you ferment in Norway? Katz says anything, really, but certain vegetables just make a little bit more sense and will last longer. Cabbage and caraway are two traditional favorites, but root vegetables generally also fare well fermented, such as beets, carrots, rutabaga, onions and ginger, all locally grown.
From November 21-26, 2021, we visited the Veluwe region of the Netherlands for our first research trip for our STARTS4Water residency in collaboration with V2_. During the week we explored the local culinary scene, biked the Hoge Veluwe National Park, and visited regional museums which cover the topics of geology, biology, and water. A highlight of the trip was our visit to the Ketelbroek food forest with Wouter van Eck.
KETELBROEK FOOD FOREST: OVERVIEW
The Ketelbroek food forest is located in Groesbeek, a little south of the Veluwe region in the Gelderland province. The Food Forest was started in 2009 by Wouter van Eck and Pieter Jansen and now contains 32 food-producing species of plants on its 2.5 hectares (6 acres) of land.
Surrounded by monocropped fields containing plants like corn for animal feed and rye, Ketelbroek food forest has a significant visual impact and ecosystem service impact. About a kilometer away, there is a heavily managed natural preserve, so the location of the food forest, situated between these two different landscapes (agricultural field and forest preserve), has made studying the biodiversity and water retention impacts of the food forest possible.
For example, the food forest has equivalent or higher counts of nesting birds, butterflies, and ground beetles. In 2016 when heavy rains struck, the food forest absorbed water and avoided major flooding while the neighboring fields were inundated and suffered greatly. During a drought in 2018, the surrounding fields were completely brown or required heavy watering while the food forest remained stable. Additionally, the food forest fixes more carbon annually than a field of crops on the same size plot.
FOOD FOREST PLANNING & MANAGEMENT
Wouter, our kind and knowledgeable host at the food forest likes to let the food forest manage itself as much as possible. He explained on a pre-visit video call that the goal was to let the forest behave, grow and cycle like any other “natural forest” would. The food forest is a “polyculture of perennial, woody species” that uses ecological principles to avoid the need for external inputs like fertilizer or pesticides.
During our conversation, it became clear that the hard work Wouter does for the food forest probably happens before planting and/or outside of the food forest itself. Ketelbroek is a USDA hardiness zone 7a, meaning it gets fairly cold in the winter. To create a resilient forest, Wouter sourced plants and trees from various geographies—worldwide—that have similar climates to the Netherlands. In fact, out of 32 species, only two (chestnut and stinging nettles) are native to the area. The rest are either commonly grown non-natives, or specially selected varieties that thrive in Ketelbroek’s conditions.
Although at first the forest appears to be sprouting in all directions, the construction plan of the food forest has been meticulously considered. Indeed, nothing – or almost – is placed randomly. While the hedges act as windbreaks and bird sanctuaries, the second row of trees, generally smaller, benefit from this protection from the wind but also from the shade created by the first row of trees. This way, each tree is given a spot that fulfills all its needs.
AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY, DATABASES OF TASTE & LAZY FARMING
The selection of trees includes fruit trees like peach, pawpaw, Japanese plums, and kaki, and nut trees like chestnut, hazelnut, walnut, heartnut, and hickory. Other edibles include gooseberry, Nanking cherry, and Siberian peatree.
As our visit was in November, the food forest was somewhat dormant, re-energizing itself for spring, however even on that cold rainy day, we were able to taste a special Russian variety of kaki (persimmon), tongue-tingling sichuan peppers off the tree, and the caramel-like treat known as pheasant berry. Wouter partners with a chef on a project called “Botanical Gastronomy” to experiment in the kitchen with the unusual varieties (in the Netherlands) of plants grown in the food forest.
Wouter shared with us an inspiring moment he faced during his first years of working on the food forest: a caterpillar invasion. After considering using Green Soap (an non-toxic product originally made out of hemp oil for household cleaning) to get rid off them, he finally decided not to do anything, as his instinct of “lazy farmer” (as he likes to call himself) was telling him to do. A few weeks later, Wouter happily found out that the caterpillars were gone, eaten by a new species of bird who decided to nest in the food forest. “Sometimes, you should just let nature do it”.
While the Ketelbroek food forest contributes to biodiversity, water retention (draught/flood tolerance), carbon fixing, and food production, it has also been used to push for policy changes and funding that legitimize this form of agriculture under Dutch law, and to normalize this in the “Green Deal” initiative in Europe.
THE LONG VIEW
Food forestry can require a kind of long-term thinking that most of us struggle with. Wouter will plant fast-growing trees to provide vegetation and maintain soil health for other trees that grow slower. For example, tree species that will live for only 10 or 20 years surround a Korean Pine Nut sapling that will grow slowly, living somewhere around 1200 years—carrying on the food forest long after we’re gone.
The introduction of these mist cannons across the city sparked debate among several parties. Although the manufacturer, Cloud Tech, claims that the anti-smog gun can clear up to 95% of the pollutants in the air, Greenpeace argues that the introduction of these water cannons is just a distraction from the real causes of air pollution in Delhi. Moreover, they come with a huge toll on the environment as each water cannon blasts about 100 liters of water every minute.
Even though opinions are divided as to the cause of this pollution, everyone agrees that air quality is the poorest in winter. Air pollution in winter remains in place for much longer and therefore is breathed in at a higher rate than during the summer. Indeed, cold air is denser and moves slower than warm air, which means that cold air traps the pollution coming from open fires, car exhausts, crop burning, industrial emissions and construction dust but also doesn’t whisk it away.
In February we will host a Guided Smog Smelling meditation session in Delhi as part of our research project Smog Tasting. This event will be part of a festival organized by KHOJ called “Does the Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities”. The purpose of Guided Smog Smelling is to activate our bodies, lungs and sense of smell and to experience, with intention, the unique atmospheric moment we are living through. As this performance will be situated next to a site that has anti-smog guns, we are interested to learn from participants whether they change -or not- the flavor of the site.
On November 18th, we had the chance to chat with Ebbing van Tuinen from the Dutch engineering firm Witteveen+Bos. W+B mission is to advise governments and other stakeholders on how to become more climate resilient, include more biodiversity and sustainable energy provisions in their upcoming projects.
Ebbing is responsible for Water Management projects, from implementing fish ladders in the Dutch waterscape to allow fish migration, to designing future plans for water management in rural areas.
This discussion took place in the context of a new research project we are working on, Drought in Waterland, that is situated in the Veluwe region (NL). The Veluwe region “can be seen as a sand box in which water retention is low.” Our aim for this project is to explore how green infrastructure and technologies (agroforestry, food forestry) can be used to intervene in the regional water cycle and food production.
Ebbing told us that although the summers will become dryer in the future, annual rainfalls are expected to stay the same in the Netherlands and the water retention under the Veluwe area will possibly even increase. This was an interesting counterpoint knowing that global forecasts predict meteorological drought as a result of global warming. The challenge here is to retain water in order to be able to use it when and where we need it in order to maintain safety and agricultural productivity.
Ebbing introduced us to one of the potential answers to the challenge of rainwater and fresh water management that he has worked on: the Panorama Waterland project. It aims to find eternal sources of clean drinking water in the Sallandse Heuvelrug region. Part of this transition is changing how the landscape is used, and especially how agriculture is practiced, both to retain water but also to minimize chemical inputs and run off from the farms into the water. One of the unanswered questions we had was about the current crop / animal mix and how this might change under a no-chemical input transition. Will farmers plant the same crops and change their processes, or will a new species mix be required? Nature inclusive farming can be pursued in many ways, but food forestry seems like a fairly complex transition that so far only happens on a very small scale in the Netherlands. There are many drivers of change, and steps for making change in agroecological systems, and we need to keep returning to what attracts ourselves and others to the food forestry and agroforestry, as well as the very real limits and challenges to that model.
As a low-lying and flood-prone country, the Netherlands is at the front line in fighting against the rise of sea level and the Dutch have become experts in protecting their lands against floods. But they are now confronted with an additional challenge : drought and fresh water shortages.
Vitens, the leading water distribution company in the Netherlands, is now facing another extremely dry year and has decided to team up with landscape architects to create a new spatial concept with water retention at its core. This also means that the concerned lands will be pesticide-free to ensure groundwater safety, which might cause anxiety for farmers who would have to adapt to a whole new farming system.
Do we need new ways of farming that are more suited for water retention friendly forms of agriculture?
Collaboration seems like the way to go in terms of finding resilient strategies for rainwater retention and groundwater use. We need to find a better balance between human activities and the natural environment. There are many individuals, groups and institutions working on these topics in the Netherlands including the Louis Bolk institute and the Wageningen University and Research.
PART 2: VELUWE WATERBOARD
A few organisations work around this topic and we had the chance to exchange with Teun Spek, who works for the Veluwe Waterboard, responsible for water management and groundwater system in this area. Teun was born in the Veluwe and for the last 8 years, he has been trying to understand the Veluwe by taking actual measurements in the fields rather than relying only on predictive models.
According to Teum the market for biological products is slow-growing in the Netherlands, and so there is little financial incentive for farmers who may not be able to sell their food at the higher price which is required as they move away from chemical inputs. Additionally, food forest projects tend to be very small and successful ones connect up with fine dining restaurants to have a stable income. It sounded like many flavours of non-industrial farming need to supplement their income with education, health or other initiatives in order to stay in business.
One of the main drivers of change and transition to fossil-fuel free farming is the farmers themselves. Policymakers have tools to help farmers who want to make a change, much more than being able to entice or convince older farmers, many who have been farming the same way for 20 years, and may feel they don’t have enough time or desire to make a transition. Therefore it is quite important to engage younger farmers who are energetic to make a change, especially that they can see in their lifetime. For example, going from high-input to circular agriculture takes a very long time, up to 5 to 7 years to get nourished soil back, and in this time very little income may be coming in to sustain the farm.
One tool the Waterboard can use to help farmers with that transition is buying land and re-selling it at a discounted price—but with a set of constraints (no chemicals, bring the water level up,…). Although the Waterboard is often confronted to the reluctance of the old generation of farmers, the new generation is more willing to change their practice and more and more farmers are going for that transition, from dairy to health and horticulture farms. This also means re-orienting the perceived consumers of one’s work. In the past many Dutch farms were optimized for intensity, efficiency and export. However, a more circular farm economy will have shorter loops, and the eaters may be much closer to where the food is produced.
“In the Veluwe, there is an unbalance in nutrients. We need to bring a bigger diversity, reintroduce old varieties of grains and crops, as well as more integration between people and the forest. In history, there was more connection between farming and people in the Veluwe, when we didn’t have artificial nitrogen. People went to work in forests where they would use the bark of oaks for leather production.”
In painting a picture of the past, present and future of farming in the Veluwe Teun spoke of many kinds of difference and diversity including soil types, plants and habitat. He started to articulate one model of land use where places in the Veluwe that have shallow clay & iron deposits could be used as food sheds for birds, so that game birds could eat in these richer areas.
This leaves us plenty of space to think about new kinds of more resilient and nature inclusive land use and farming practices. Unlike organic certification, which has become very defined and prescriptive, nature inclusive farming is still in a more early open stage. We chatted about the 4 levels that have started to be articulated- from the most basic level of adding habitat on farms in the form of hedges—to much more intensive interventions and transitions. Over time, these may become more defined, but for now Nature Inclusive farming is at a stage where many experiments can be conducted, but where it can be somewhat difficult to measure or communicate to technical audiences (policymakers and distant consumers).
Some local initiatives are already in place to provide new insights in the field of sustainable and climate-friendly soil management such as soil passports and Grain Happiness, we know the way to go.
How do wildfires affect the smell, taste and texture of bread? Wildfire Loaf is a multi-year research project to taste-test and genetically sequence sourdough starters made from smoke-tainted wheat. Climate change is increasing the number and severity of wildfires and this has direct implications for the ways that food products are farmed, assessed, processed and eaten. As we make connections across scales—from the microbial to the planetary—we are asking: what is the future of this iconic and commodified ingredient?
There are many varieties of wheat: hard, soft, red, white, and durum. As we search for wheat affected by wildfires, the one of the first questions we ask is ‘What can I make with this smoke-tainted wheat?’ Our aim is to experiment with making bread, using traditional leavening processes, from this abnormal/new-normal/smoke-tainted wheat. Here’s the reference guide we made for ourselves.
For the glossary below we’ve focused on wheat classifications common in the United States and in trade terminology. The broader concepts we outline (Winter, Spring, Hard, Soft, White, and Red) are used around the world, but of course there are many other varieties and sub-varieties. “Winter” and “Spring” refer to both the season (and relatedly) the distinct cultivar or variety of the crop that is planted. “Hard” and “Soft” refer to the ease of milling and protein content, hard is protein-rich and more difficult to mill while soft has less protein and is easier to grind into a smooth texture. “White” and “Red” refer to the color, protein and flavors; red typically contains more protein, meaning stronger gluten and has a nuttier, almost bitter flavor, and white varieties are known to have less gluten and feature milder flavors.
HARD RED WINTER (THE VERSATILE WHEAT)
EXCELLENT FOR: rustic breads, hard rolls, croissants, flatbreads, some Asian noodles and general purpose flours
TEXTURE: elastic, chewy
EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: The Great Plains and Northern parts of the United States, with pockets in the Pacific Northwest and Central California
HARD RED SPRING (THE FANCIEST WHEAT)
EXCELLENT FOR: hearth breads, rolls, croissants, bagels and pizza dough, and flour blends
TEXTURE: tensile, stretchy
EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Upper central region of the United States and lower central region of Canada
HARD WHITE (THE SMOOTH WHEAT)
EXCELLENT FOR: tortillas, pan loafs, flatbreads, and some noodles
TEXTURE: fine, smooth
EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Central California and The Great Plains in the United States
DURUM (THE HARDEST WHEAT, A.K.A. THE PASTA WHEAT)
EXCELLENT FOR: Excellent for: premium pastas, couscous, and Mediterranean-style breads
EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Specifically, North Dakota and Central California in the United States
SOFT RED WINTER (THE LOW-COST WHEAT)
EXCELLENT FOR: cookies, crackers, cakes, blends for baguettes and other bread products
TEXTURE: fine, soft
EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Midwest and eastern regions of the United States
SOFT WHITE (THE LOW-MOISTURE WHEAT)
EXCELLENT FOR: Asian-style noodles, cakes, pastries, and snacks
TEXTURE: crumbly, meltaway
EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Pacific Northwest region of the United States
How do wildfires affect the smell, taste and texture of bread? Wildfire Loaf is an ongoing research project to taste-test and genetically sequence sourdough starters made from smoke-tainted wheat. Climate change is increasing the number and severity of wildfires and this has direct implications for the ways that food products are farmed, assessed, processed and eaten. As we make connections across scales—from the microbial to the planetary—we are asking: what is the future of this iconic and commodified ingredient?
Wildfires impact many landscapes including the agricultural lands that are used to grow wheat. For the WILDFIRE LOAF project we are particularly interested in locations and moments where wildfires on or near wheat fields have impacted the crop, either by direct burning or through smoke taint. Wheat is graded before it is sold based on a number of factors, smoke taint being one of them. If increased fires will increase the number of crops with smoke taint, then value will decrease.
We have recently contacted the USDA to start the process of locating samples of smoke-tainted wheat to begin our testing and research into sequencing their microbial communities.
What is the ecology of fire? There are many types of fire that affect agricultural lands. The delineation is simple: a wildfire or brush fire is unplanned, unwanted, and uncontrolled. An agricultural burn is planned, wanted, and controlled.
Where are there wildfires? We are using this NASA Fire Map to track wildfires around the globe over time.
Where is wheat grown? We are using a variety of resources to track wheat production in different regions of the world. As new wildfires arise on agricultural land, we look for local tools to aid our research.
Obtaining smoke tainted wheat will likely be a difficult task considering that most smoke tainted crops are considered waste. For this logistical reason, our investigation will start in locations where wheat and fire overlap with places that we live or where we have an established network of contacts. As we progress we may try to learn more about and include sites that we are less familiar with.
We need to find wheat affected by wildfires to conduct our experiments. We’re looking into these three recent wildfires that have impacted the harvest of wheat starting in 2018:
A. Oregon, United States: The 2018 Substation Fire
Over 50,000 acres were charred, destroying an estimated $5 million worth of soft white wheat just a few weeks into harvest season. Ripe wheat burns hot and fast because it’s dried out to less than 10% moisture this time of year before it’s harvested. Each crop takes two years to grow. This damaged 3% of Oregon’s $186 million wheat crop in 2018.
CAUSE OF FIRE: this fire was man made
WHEAT VARIETY AFFECTED: Soft White Winter
USE: This variety used to make ramen noodles, steamed breads and flatbreads.
More than 500 acres of wheat burned in this wildfire in the midst of harvest season. France is the European Union’s largest grain producer and exporter. Oise is the fifth largest producing department of soft wheat in France. The 2019/20 harvest of soft wheat fell 21% due to weather woes due to heavy rains in autumn and a drought in spring that caused sowing difficulties.
CAUSE OF FIRE: a heatwave started this fire
WHEAT VARIETY AFFECTED: Soft White
USE: This variety is mostly used to make breads and crackers.
C. Perth, Australia: The February 2021 Wooroloo Fire
In early February, over 26,000 acres burned north east of the Perth central business district in the Wooroloo bushfire. It spread to several Shires in the wheatbelt including: Mundaring, Chittering, Northam and the City of Swan. Scientists have recently started researching the vast diversity of microbes, bacteria and fungi that are present in smoke plumes. This is difficult research to conduct as you need to know everything that fueled the fire, how long it burned, how severely it burned, and then find a way to capture samples. We’re just beginning to understand how smoke taint may be touchable and tastable.
CAUSE OF FIRE: extreme heat started this brushfire
WHEAT VARIETY AFFECTED: This region grows Australian Hard, Australian Premium White, Australian Standard Noodle, and Australian Standard White wheats.
USE: These varieties are used to make breads, noodles, steamed and flat breads.
In February we ran a workshop at the RCA Sculpture department called Culinary Forensics Kitchen (CFK). Students from the Royal College of Art, Sculpture Department participated and with their permission we share some of their explorations and sketches here.
We asked: What interesting and unexpected stories about the food system await us in the kitchen? The CFK will be a chance for you to acquire, cook with and understand ingredients you can access in a new way.
The students developed research themes, prototyped a recipe and recorded it by shooting and editing short video clips, taking photographs and/or writing out a recipe.
Researching into the tomato’s impressive history revealed how its name and shape changed throughout its travels around the world. From being named ‘tomatl’ by the Aztec’s to ‘tomate’ by the Spanish and finally becoming our British ‘tomato’ the fruit evolved from being pea sized to big ‘meaty’ forms.
Questioning why we have become fascinated with naming things with other things such as cherry tomato, plum tomato, and my favourite, beefsteak tomato. I experimented with creating a more visually accurate representation of the later by playing with the fruit’s materiality. Using tinned tomatoes, I cut very thin slices and allowed the soft mushy texture to dehydrate in the oven. The outcome was a carpaccio look-alike! (very fitting since the tined tomatoes came from Italy). The images are a playful visual illusion, a suggestion of something being other than itself, not dissimilar to the way we use words to classify, identify and represent.
“Funny how we name food with other food. Maybe this is what Beefsteak tomato should really look like.“
The ingredients used in this animation are locally sourced/collected while filming the latest video for my installation in the Zadar region of Croatia. Misanca and Sipa represent Dalmatian history since generations survived living of the land during the difficult times. Today we are facing different challenges but maybe more than ever the question can we survive if being left somewhere in the unknown without the internet and access to a supermarket is relevant.
“Could you source your ingredients if left without internet and access to a supermarket?”
This recipe was inspired by the North of Chile and the amazing geography that confronts the Pacific Ocean with dry mountains and the desert. The main ingredient is the chilean papa (potato in Quechua). The potatoes are injected with sea water before cooking. The cooking method is based on the idea of employing the soil, referencing the indigenous cultures in South America. By simply using the clay from the soil, the potatoes are covered with a one centimetre layer and placed directly into the fire. After cooking for an hour or two, the crust needs to be opened with a small hammer, cracking the hard clay. For serving, ocean foam is added, which is made using sea water and a high-speed processing machine. Rosemary can be optionally added. The result is about geography, texture, smells and flavour.
“Inspired by the geography in the north of Chile, Pacific Soil is a confrontation between the dryness of the mountains represented by the papa (potato in Quechua) and the salinity of the Pacific Ocean using foam.“
Where have all the yellow grapefruits gone? In the monstrous search for the optimal variety of grapefruit, Red Star was born. The almost seedless bright red neutron generated mutation takes us one step closer to the…
“Breakfast with a genetically modified grapefruit”
In the time of the great pandemic, the people were locked into their homes, boats and sheds. The travellers and seafarers were landed. This recipe is for any Earthly and Sea Faring Folks, it takes inspiration from the various folk traditions of using what is close by, and the ancient tradition of foraging and kelping. The primary ingredients are full of antidepressants and antioxidants, and have a feel good effect in these dark days. The smell of the sea is a powerful healing smell. In these days where Covid can destroy the power of the sense of smell, this is a good exercise for the nose. Smell training should perhaps be a daily habit. Eat with the nose. Get those receptors and pathways working.
“Smell the Atlantic with this seakelp risotto, fit for a pirate.”
I wanted to use the Chinese apple and British chips to make some interesting sculpture things and the final work looks like the apple boat. And I draw and blur the background to make the image look more cartoonish–like the apple boats are sailing on the apple juice sea in an imagined world. And I experimented with the interaction between the cultures, between the natural food and junk food and between the crispy and mushy food.
“Some funny interaction between the cultures, between the natural food and junk food and between the crispy and mushy food.”
Ingredients: Salt (not from Himalayan mountains) Underpaid worker to mine, home carer would do Explosives, hand tools, do not use machines Rock (local stone) Water (local tap)
Method: Mix salt in water until it does not dilute any more. If rock is too large to carry, place explosive in a drilled hole first. Pour mixture over rock ( mimic rock in sea) Wait a few days (for human-made sea water to dehydrate away) Chip away crystals and ship around the world, preferably in plastic, before consuming. You may need to prevent local animal from licking stone
As part of our current research project Brexit Banquet, the Center is exploring how farmers, chefs, policy-makers and eaters will adapt to changing realities and flavours of a disrupted food system post-Brexit.
In order to pre-enact a disrupted food system and preemptively—explore, experience and taste—these changes, we have devised 5 dishes that start to sample a future where every aspect of food culture, soil health and agricultural biodiversity will need to be reconsidered, and will be contested in real time.
During October 2020 Eileen Reiner (Brexit Banquet lead researcher) has been hands-deep in lamb lung, and knee-deep in farmland exploring the boundaries of her own personal culinary norms, getting over some squeamishness, and getting in touch with the current and future food system of Great Britain.
Farm visits, test kitchens and ingredient procurement at local retail outlets have each been opportunities to explore culinary biodiversity – the abundance and distribution of ingredients in and around where I live.
FROM EILEEN’S KITCHEN : DEEP FRIED LIGHTS
I would like to invite you into my Test kitchen on the South coast of the English Lowlands beech forests ecoregion— to get a sneak peek into the experiments and process of realising these speculative dishes, using what is currently available to me in my local area. The following is the first dish that was prototyped in our research, which may see further refinements in the following months. The second dish on the Brexit Banquet test kitchen menu is Deep Fried Lights.
This dish is an internationally inspired nose-to-tail meal kit. An opportunity to help us rediscover the delicacies of local meat whilst reducing waste and supporting our local farmers…
How will farmers fare if new trade deals mean that it will be harder to export certain cuts of meat that are not that popular anymore in the UK, but are in other European countries? From drob de miel to Foie gras, offal and dark meats are enjoyed in various dishes over the borders. Apart from the famous Scottish Haggis, they don’t seem to make such a regular appearance in our local restaurants or dinner tables anymore. Selling all cuts of the animal locally and directly may help on these potential issues. Schemes like Farm shop box schemes, farmers market and food assemblies are currently being explored. Customers order the exact products they want online to pick up weekly. This helps farms to minimise their waste, sell a wide range of cuts and to meet and get feedback from their customers.
This dish serves as an inspiration for cooking with offal. An example from other cultures that savour those giblets! It is a take on the popular Malaysian street food dish ‘Paru Goreng’ Beef lungs (Lights) sauteed in a stew or coated in flour and turmeric powder and deep-fried. Often served with vinegar and/or hot sauce.
Although the UK farms plenty of beef, the prospect of acquiring beef lung was pretty daunting. After calling around a few of the butchers in my local area, I became quite self-conscious in my request…one of the butchers had to pass me over to another colleague as they simply couldn’t fathom what I was asking for. Feeling like a fervent carnivore, I was confronted with my own cultural aversion to the concept of eating lungs. The British beef industry has been said to be part of our national heritage, why do we currently seem so put off by offal?
After doing a bit of a google to see where I might find Beef lung in my area, I found out that animal lung is actually illegal in the US. This is based on the grounds that there is a risk that gastrointestinal fluid might leak into them during the slaughtering process, raising the likelihood of food-borne illness. Surely it can’t be illegal in the UK? Not with Scotland’s love for Haggis?
Finally, I found some Lambs lungs in the meat section of the local multicultural grocery store. I decided to give the dish a go with lamb instead. As a specialist food shop with ‘The very best ingredients, the world has to offer,’ I began to find this particular store essential for the ingredients for most of my Test Kitchen. I found the rest of my ingredients here too, along with Galangal. I hadn’t used this vegetable—closely related to ginger and popular in traditional Southeast Asian cuisine—before.
I am not a vegetarian, but cooking the fresh pair of lungs in my kitchen was quite a confronting experience. In fact, I had to evacuate for a little outside stroll, when all was cleaned up. Am I that out of touch with the sources of my food? Having grown up with a mother who has now opened a vegan restaurant, and being a bit of a seafood junkie as an adult, I didn’t have much cultural experience with raw meat in the kitchen.
Cleaning the lungs felt like a biology lesson. Once I had gotten over the gore of it all, I spent about ten minutes methodically filling the bronchi from the tap, watching the lobes inflate to almost three times the size and then squashing the water out, as though I was deflating a beach ball.
After the clean I sliced it into 2 cm slices, and boiled it together with some lemongrass and garlic and ginger, to help clean the meat and neutralize the smell. The boil gave me plenty of time to turn my attention to the Rempah.
There was lots of different advice about how long to boil the lungs online from 20 minutes to 3 hours for Beef lung. I ended up leaving them to boil for 45 minutes which was perhaps slightly longer than needed. Now time for the deep fry! I filled a pot with oil, brought it to the boil and plopped 5 pieces in at a time for a few minutes each, lifting them out onto kitchen paper to drain.
Rubbery in texture with the oily flavour of lamb and the crisp of deep-fried treats, it was a totally novel tasting experience. The sharp condiments definitely helped to cut through the fat and I can imagine that the Malaysian fried Beef lung is actually pretty tasty! I was, however, reluctant to eat the full dish that I had spent all day preparing. Perhaps it was the experience of squeezing bloody water out of bronchi, or maybe beef lung tastes better than lambs lung in this context. The Rempah smelled delicious and I could imagine that it may well have been, but mine was a little too bitter. I think I had used too much turmeric. Overall the cook was an adventurous and insightful experience. A step in the direction of exploring my pallet to adapt to a changing food system. I could see through all the other recipes that I had discovered whilst cooking this dish that the lungs as an ingredient certainly had potential although I feel that one needs to discover their own personal favourite recipe. I have not found mine yet, but perhaps I will.
I mixed half of the fried lung with the rempah and served the other half up street food style with white vinegar, and ‘wendeez’ hot sauce.
I wonder if my enjoyment of this dish along with other offal dishes might change if I became accustomed to handling it in my kitchen and experienced a wide range of tasty, well-prepared offal dishes as a regular option on the menus of local restaurants, or on friends dinner tables. What if offal was once again widely celebrated as a regular ingredient in our current national cuisine? I am certainly behind the idea of nose-to-tail eating if we are to eat meat at all.
A sample of a future where the popularity of offal grows beyond Haggis and gets re-introduced as a staple ingredient in the British national cuisine in order to support local farmers and reduce food waste post-Brexit.