Monday, April 12, 2010

McCall's Meat & Fish Company - A Return to Cooking

McCall's Main

Right before our amazing trip to Southeast Asia, Jeni and I were burdened with some drama that almost caused us to cancel our trip - I was going through a separation with my employer. Besides feeling confused and down, we were now in a situation that many people feared - financial hardship in this economy. We had also spent a good sum of money on the flights and lodging and had no way of really turning back. The thought of trying to enjoy delicious food in another country with no job was difficult. But I always try my best to be optimistic. I said to her... look, this is inevitable and we'll be alright. We can't let something like this hold us back. We love to travel and we will make this happen.

In addition to the layoff, we were also dealing with a bad living situation. My landlord had really destroyed the joy in living in Silver Lake. We would both come home from work and feel this negative energy. We were very unhappy with her management and it got to the point where we actually felt suffocated and took out our frustrations on each other. The landlord had horns, fangs, hooves and claws and we resided in her compartmentalized hell. So you can see the combination of not having a job, financial hardship and life in a jail cell was really too much to handle at one time. We were in a huge rut.

But on New Year's eve, as we waited for the countdown in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I turned to her and promised her that we would have a great year. That I would find a job immediately and we would move to a better place. And she smiled in accordance.

Within a few weeks after we got back from Southeast Asia, I was able to explore the freelance lifestyle and I have vowed to never go back to full-time ever again. I think this was the work style that I had always been looking for. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to make it as a freelancer but the rewards are solid. The pay is better, the hours are great, I could work on and off-site and I am essentially my own Creative Director. I also have more time to focus on our photography business. I felt like a huge block had been lifted off my chest and I was once again, happy to be back in the workforce.

If it weren't for Jeni's frequent searches on Craigslist, we wouldn't have found our dream place... a Silver Lake duplex with the coolest landlords and neighbors. Finally, a landlord that didn't have four legs and a tail. This place had everything going for us... an extra bedroom to set up our photo studio, a backyard with market lights, a large kitchen with chalkboard paint on the walls and most importantly... a FREAKING washer & dryer. Long gone are the days of running down to use the coin-op washer and dryers. I can't tell you how many times I've been a quarter short on drying my red silk boxers and had to drive over to get change and come back - ugh. For a married couple, moving from an apartment to something that resembles a house is a huge step. I think for a month straight, Jeni told me everyday how much she liked the place like a broken record. I was very happy as well.

And this brings me to the last event that is really making this a great year for us. This may sound strange because of its relation to food... but I believe that even a small business can really change a community. There's Ricky Piña of Ricky's Fish Tacos, Peter Bahlawanian of Spice Station, Jason Kim of Forage LA and of course, Nathan McCall's and Karen Yoo's McCall's Meat & Fish Company. I can't express the wonders McCall's has done for us, and I'm sure, for the many patrons that live in the Silver Lake/Echo Park/Los Feliz area.

The kitchen at our last place was way too tiny. Jeni and I have ran into each other many times and you can imagine how bad it would be if we were both irritated, wielding sharp objects. I eventually started cooking less because I couldn't stand the kitchen. It was small, dimly lit and at one time, our cabinets were breeding grounds for creatures that made even the Orkin guy say, "That's gross". We ended up eating a lot of crap for dinner and it just wasn't healthy.

But when I walked into McCall's for the first time, I saw the rays of the sun beam down on me. I suddenly missed being in the kitchen. This was awesome. I could get virtually ANY meat that was served in our favorite restaurants. We bought smaller portions and had the ability to control the butter intake which is so overdone in haute cuisine. The fact that they were chefs and willing to tell you how to cook their products was indeed a blessing. In one month, I had visited at least 15 times. I'm now on their meat stalker list and under constant supervision by the police. At times, I've thought about asking Nathan and Karen if I could just bring a frying pan, portable burner and some tongs to cook right on the spot. I'd get the boot for sure.

When you have access to better ingredients and cook at home, you can make food that is not only tasty but also healthier. When I worked in a restaurant, I was shocked by the amount of butter used in the food. The food I cook usually has no butter and although it is necessary in some dishes to bring out flavor, fresh ingredients go a long way with good salt, freshly cracked peppercorns and citrus juice.

So here are a few things that I've cooked using McCall's meat and fish, fresh vegetables from the Hollywood Farmer's Market and spices from the Spice Station. My return to cooking couldn't happen without them, a little downfall in life and of course, my supportive wife. I thank all of the aforementioned for re-inspiring something I really enjoy doing.

McCall's Slider

McCall's House Burger Blend Sliders with Fried Quail Egg & Gruyere Cheese
It is rare that I'll eat a hamburger. Before the rise of gastropub burgers, you had Fatburger, In & Out and the fast food chains. I love Fatburger, but sometimes, it's just a lot of meat to eat. So that's why I opt for a diet version of the classic hamburger. McCall's offers a nice house blend. I marinated the meat with kosher salt, fresh black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire Sauce and my secret lover, Maggi. The longer you let the meat marry with the flavorings, the better it'll be. Pack the ground meat tightly to hold in the fat, and using your palms, roll the meat into a 'handball'. Then lightly squash the patty to get a nice burger shape. I recommend cooking thicker patties versus thin patties because you can have more control with the done-ness of your patty. Thin patties cook way too fast. The key to making this taste good is how long you cook the quail egg. Over medium heat, it should take no longer than 3 mins to cook a quail egg. You want the yolk to break as you bite into the slider. Add a thin slice of gruyere cheese and your favorite toppings and you're good to go. I served this with an heirloom tomato and arugula salad. Delicious AND light.

McCall's Scallops

Seared Scallops with Sauteed Maitake Mushrooms and English Shelling Peas
McCall's never runs out of their scallop supply, and if they did, I would go insane. They are better than any place I've bought them - better than Whole Foods and Fish King. But the key is to know how long to cook them. A dried out scallop gives you a nice FAIL stamp. One of my favorite cooking utensils is my 12" Lodge cast iron skillet that I got at Surfas for around $35. This thing is the shit. You can cook anything on it and it heats evenly. For scallops, it adds a beautiful brownish sear like the restaurants. I sear scallops with just salt and pepper on low-medium heat, never high, because excessive heat will make the water in the scallop evaporate, causing the scallop to 'crack open'. Because you're using a skillet, the heat stays longer in the skillet even after turning down the heat. And before I've seared my first scallop, I've already got the skillet turned on low heat for at least 10 minutes. I served these with delicious Maitake mushrooms from a new mushroom vendor at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. He has over 20 types of mushrooms to offer and even has a worker guarding the Chanterelle section... which if you don't know, costs nearly $25 a POUND. If you haven't had English shelling peas, these are like Nature's Skittles - so sweet and crunchy.

McCall's Manila Clams

Manila Clams with Chorizo de Pomplano and Smoked Paprika Wine Sauce
When I first saw these clams at McCall's, I didn't think much of it due to its larger size. For me, larger clam means more of a stronger taste that can be off-putting. But these were so sweet and better than Manila clams I've purchased at Asian grocery stores. I love serving steamed clams with some sort of cured meat and I found my favorite chorizo (Chorizo de Pomplano from Spain) this time at the Silver Lake Cheese Store. It has a nice amount of fat and a nice sustaining spice kick. I simply sauteed the chorizo cubes with some Cipollini onions, garlic and chives, and steamed them in a white wine and butter sauce. My in-laws sop-mopped all the sauce with bread. Delicious!

McCall's Corned Beef

Corned Beef Brisket with Boiled Vegetables
With a few days before St. Patrick's Day, we didn't have enough time to cure anything. We called McCall's to see if had any beef brisket and told us about a purveyor he works with in Burbank. Because he's a chef, I trusted him on this and ended up buying 6 lbs... spending over $50 on something I was accustomed to paying $1/lb before when I was a poor college student. Along with the in-laws, we destroyed the 6 lbs. of meat in one night. It was SO GOOD. You could actually taste the flavor of the beef. This is further evidence that McCall's does their research with purveyors.

McCall's Skatewing

Rosemary-Battered Skate Wing Fillets
I came in as I usually do and checked out the fish. They usually have the usual suspects like Scottish Salmon, Black Cod, Halibut and Monkfish. Then I saw skatewing and immediately remembered the time I ate a Korean-version of it at Deep End Dining's place. It was ok and nothing to write home about. So I said no to that. Then Chef Karen Yoo basically called me out on it and gave me guilt trip. I smelled the fish and there was an interesting odor to it... almost like bleach or lye. I was a bit hesitant and went ahead and prepped it at home. And this is where I knew that Nathan loved what he did. While I was prepping the skate wing in some lemon juice, I received a call from Nathan. He told me that because I was concerned with the odor, he went ahead and did his own taste-test and recommended soaking it in lemon juice prior to cooking. I thought it was great of him to take his own time and tend to customer needs. He also recommended cooking the skate wing with the brown butter-swirl technique, where you basically melted butter until it foamed up and swished the pan around so that the butter would lightly 'poach' the skate wing. This technique is difficult because if you get the pan too hot, the butter will blacken. You want the butter to become a light brown foam, but not blackened. The texture of the fish was simply awesome but I had a difficulty getting used to the taste of the fish. I would try poaching this in olive oil and herbs next time I cook with it.

McCall's Arctic Char

Pan-Roasted Arctic Char and Farmer's Market Medley with Mint Soy Sauce Sambal Oelek Creme Fraiche
What the hell is going on in that picture? I have no idea, but it was delicious. The first time I had Arctic Char was at San Francisco's Bar Crudo, one of my fave SF restaurants. It was served raw and a bit more complex than salmon. That's because the Arctic Char is a hybrid salmon-trout found in the most northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. This fish can handle extremely cold water due and when you cook this fish, understand why it's so moist and tender. I have to say that this and the black cod at McCall's are truly high-grade. Even if you overcook either of these fish, the fish will still be very moist and edible. I marinated this fish with smoked paprika, cumin, coriander Seeds, chili de arbol, bay leaves and expensive-ass olive oil. The green, grassy kind, not EVOO. Using the Lodge cast iron skillet, i sear the Arctic Char on medium, careful not to overcook the skin since it is one of the best things about eating this dish. The skin is crisp like a chip if cooked correctly. I sear the fish skin-side down first for about 5 minutes and finish it in the oven at 350. Always take out the fish earlier than expected because even when it's out of the oven, the stored heat will continue to cook the fish through. I served this with some veggies I bought earlier in the morning and lightly tossed them in one of my fave sauces. I LOVE mixing creme fraiche with spices. This time, I mixed in some soy sauce, sambale oelek for kick and chiffonaded mint leaves. We both ate this dish in under 7 mins because it was so light and fresh.

McCalls Meat and Fish Company

Seared Kurobuta Pork Chops with Curried Cauliflower and Swiss Chard
I really don't know where else you can find Snake River Farm's pork aside from Snake River Farm. This purveyor puts out some really tasty American style kurobuta pork. If you've never eaten kurobuta pork, it's best to describe it as kobe pork. This meat is a bit more rich and fatty but the taste and tenderness are simply amazing. One of these chops is good enough for the both of us. I served these with sauteed Swiss chard and cauliflower that has been roasted in the oven with curry powder, salt and olive oil.

Because of McCall's, Spice Station and the Hollywood Farmer's Market, we've changed a lot of our bad habits. We buy groceries as we need and cut down on food waste. We buy better proteins and eat smaller portions. We're supporting local businesses. And ultimately, we're doing better for our bodies. We are of course spending more money, but we believe it's important you know what goes into your stomach. If you haven't seen Food Inc., you'll understand where all of this is coming from. Thanks for reading and I hope that you find your inner cook once you visit McCall's.

McCall's Meat & Fish Company
2117 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 667-0674

Spice Station
3819 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 660-2565

Silver Lake Cheese Store
3926 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 644-7511

Hollywood Farmer's Market
Ivar & Selma Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90028
Sundays 8am - 1pm


Anonymous said...

Hello, I just wanted to say that I've been following your blog (and Jeni's) for a while and it is really inspiring to see how much thought and work you put into your careers, home and what you love, especially food.

And it's amazing that you can actually cook some good looking food at home that looks exactly like what you get in a restaurant (our policy at home is taste over looks, but you've convinced me that you can do both!)

Bill said...

Great post and not to mention the food pics.

Unknown said...

particularly enjoy the last part. A lifestyle to follow!

Jared said...

Great post and story. You did justice to the great and fresh ingredients with your beautiful dishes. Alice and I have been eating healthier and locally for the past year. It is definitely more expensive, but worth it in the long run. We are also working on our photography business on the side as well. I think we are the Mid-western version of you.

weezermonkey said...

It is a given that I love the photos, but I love the story accompanying them even more.

Hearts for you both.

One Food Guy said...

Impressive! I saw that Spice Station was written up in this month's Food & Wine. You are on top of your shit, D. Well done.

Anne said...

Oh:( I was gonna blog about my arctic char from McCalls today but now I feel intimidated. Mine doesn't look nearly as good. Ah well.

I was going to get the scallops too but decided against it since I wanted crostini as an appetizer. Would love to get your recipe.

Oishii Eats said...

It's been an amazing year with you. Thank God for McCall's Meat & Fish!

Daily Gluttony said...

It sucks when life gives you lemons. But I'm so glad that everything worked out for you and J, and for the better it seems! Sometimes things are a blessing in disguise, as Isaac and I have both learned during all the crap that's happened to us in this economic downturn. And it makes your relationship stronger too. :)

And uh yeah, I'm inviting myself to your amazing place to get some of this amazing food one day. I'll buy the McCall' just have to cook it! heehee

e d b m said...

ChasingBawa, we appreciate your readership and kind words. This blog for us is not just about food, but really about everything that goes on around it. Basically, life in general.

Bill/Minh, thank you.

Jared, I just checked our your site - really nice studio work/photography. I miss the food in Chicago dearly - avec and blackbird! It's nice to know we have food blog doppelgängers. Thanks for stopping by, I'll be checking out your site.

Sharon, thank you - you're the sweetest.

Scott, oh nice! I'll have to look for the issue once I have time to dig through all my unopened food/travel magazines. Thanks.

TAG, you should totally write about it and spread the good word on McCall's. We'll talk about recipes next time you're online.

My Wife, =)

Pam, I totally agree with you about becoming stronger as a couple. Jeni and I have learned how to keep each other in high spirits in times of hardship. And is it amazing, how food can bring things around? My laying off was the best thing to happen to me. Sure, come over anytime with a playpen for Jacob though haha - I want you guys to eat, not babysit!

Mr. Pineapple Man said...

great pictures! looks professional~

EricaSanae said...

hi! i love reading your blog. stumbled upon it aaages ago and then forgot what the link was (so unfortunately hadn't been reading!). racked my brains today to see if i could find it again..and yay! i did! anyway, i can completely empathize with your situation and am very happy to hear that you have come across an opportunity to follow your heart.

i actually really love reading about your restaurant and catering experiences as well- have been engrossed in reading heat by bill buford and recently started working in a restaurant as well.

anyway, keep up the great work and continue doing what you're doing. i love seeing it all!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi E D B M,

Great post. I'm so glad to hear about your recovery and freelancing situation now! :)

McCall's really seems like the type of establishment I need to support as much as possible.

And your dishes and pictures look *amazing*! :) Better than many restaurants professionally plated creations.

I agree with you about the beefiness angle; I just ran into that problem (and solution) recently as well. Hope all is well. :)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your new freelance work style. (If you have any insights about health care and maintenance as a freelancer without a company sponsored insurance plan, I hope you'll offer them here.)

Great blog. Thanks for your effort!

Tricerapops said...

all the best as you continue in the freelance world. i have other friends who freelance, and they too enjoy the freedom it presents. you and the wife are seriously adorable, and hearing the story about new year's eve in SE Asia is really touching. i'm glad to hear you're in a better place now, and we all benefit from these lessons in home cooking!

e d b m said...

Mr. Pineapple man, thanks for stopping by.

Erica Sanae, hello. Thanks for coming back ha. Glad I didn't ward you off. I really miss working in a restaurant and still dream about working on the weekends. But I'm much older now and don't have the knees/back to do all that crouching/bending. I have the "Heat" book as well and have not touched it though. Heard it's a great book!

ExileK, can't wait to hear what you think about it. Just don't buy everything in the cases or I'll be mad.

Anon, thank you. It does help being married and having benefits but typically, freelancing is risky and expensive which is why you can charge a lot.

TriplePop, thanks. Yeah I'm as free as kurobuta pig on a free-range ranch. We need to eat soooooooon.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are in a better place. I am trying to enjoy my forced freedom too. Cooking and good food definitely helps with that.

e d b m said...

JustJenn, hope it was a blessing in disguise for you. Thanks for the note.

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