Holier than Thou? Going Local at Whole Foods
In the meantime, what seems to have been forgotten along the way was the promise to deliver on those accusations about Whole Foods in the first place. Back on September 14 we were assured "more specifics on this in upcoming posts" and as part of my lesson plan on September 16, there was more reassurance that the subject would be picked up "soon enough." Two weeks, and 15+ posts from Mr. Klein later, and still no more info.
I can only wait so long, and so decided to take matters into my own hands. I visited the Aventura Whole Foods this weekend, and paid some attention to what was locally sourced. The local pickings in the produce section were indeed pretty limited, but this should come as no great surprise this time of year as there's not much that's in season yet locally. I was able to score some very nice pea greens from Green Garden Organics, which lists a Miami address. The seafood section was abundantly stocked with local product: Key West pink shrimp, whole yellowtail, snapper, mahi mahi, spiny lobsters ... I'd hazard a guess that roughly 25% of what was in the seafood case had a "local" sign on it. There was also a large selection of locally produced honeys on the shelves, with at least three different producers offering Florida tupelo, saw palmetto, avocado, lychee, orange blossom, wildflower and other honeys.
So, I'm still left wondering what could be the basis for the skewering given to local chefs a couple weeks ago.
Anyway, investigation gave way to hunger as the spiny lobsters at $10/lb. seemed too good to pass up, and I brought home a few. As for what to do with them, I drew inspiration from a dish I'd had at Sra. Martinez earlier in the weekend - a "late summer vegetable salad" with a gazpacho sauce. What follows is not so much a recipe, since I'm not big on measuring and such, but more of a post-hoc reconstruction. It's also perhaps an attempt to debunk the beliefs of those who think I eat out for every meal.
Spiny Lobster & Vegetable Salad with Salmorejo:
First, the salmorejo (an Andalusian dish that is like a gazpacho, but thicker and creamier, and used more as a sauce than a soup). Took the crust off about 1/3 a loaf of peasant bread, chopped in big pieces and soaked in water. Four tomatoes (I used some slightly over-ripe vine-ripened tomatoes that were on sale), cored and quartered. Into the blender they went, then next into the blender a couple cloves of chopped garlic, 1/2 a red pepper chopped, a glug of sherry vinegar (1/4 cup?), a generous amount of salt, and good olive oil until it started to look shiny and creamy (1/2 cup?). Done. You'll probably have extra.
Next, the veg. Four white asparagus cut on the bias into about 3/4" pieces, about a cup of English peas, 1/2 of a small bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced, and a radish, sliced thin. The asparagus got big-pot-blanched (big pot of boiling water, good amount of salt) for a few minutes till tender, then into an ice bath to stop cooking. Same treatment for the peas. Drained them and tossed with the fennel and radish. Salt to taste.
Finally, the lobster. Since spiny lobster are not kept alive, you will not be able to duplicate the Annie Hall lobster scene, but as my kids noted, if you hold them and wave them around, their antennae will still move pretty convincingly. Poured off most of the blanching water from the pot, leaving a couple inches, and dropped the pasta insert into the pot to use as a steamer. In went the lobster for 15 minutes. Pulled them out, and as soon as they were cool enough to handle, I pulled the tail from the body, split all the way through the tail lengthwise with a sharp heavy knife, lifted the tail meat out and removed the sand vein. Chop the tails crosswise into medallions.[*]
To plate: dress the veg with a little olive oil and mound on one side of a shallow bowl (Sra. Martinez used a ring mold for a prettier presentation). Pour salmorejo into the other side of the bowl. Lay the lobster meat over the salmorejo. Drizzle with good olive oil. Present to your awed significant other.
I was pretty happy with how this turned out. The salmorejo had a bright tomato flavor and a creamy texture, with the sherry vinegar providing a smooth subtle tartness. The lobster was outstanding. Often I find that Florida spiny lobster can be tough and bouncy, but this was perfectly tender, briny and flavorful, interestingly needing no additional salt. Nice yield too, with a tail providing plenty of meat for one person (the picture above uses only 1/2 of one tail; the lobsters were about 1 1/2 lbs. each, or $15 a head). And the vegetables, some just barely cooked and others still raw, provided a nice complement to the lobster and the salmorejo.
So while we wait for the dirt to be dished on Whole Foods, I'll happily eat what local products they do have available.
Edited to add: Look, here's the dish I was trying to knock off - not bad, right?
[*]There's plenty of good meat in the rest of the body if you want to go digging, I decided to make a lobster stock with mine and split the heads lengthwise, rinsed out the tomalley, and tossed them into a pot along with the tail shells, some carrot, onion, garlic, the rest of the fennel bulb, parsley and peppercorns, covered with water, simmered for about a half hour, removed all the solids and then reduced it by about half, skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the surface. Still haven't determined the stock's ultimate destiny.