A little retail therapy

Friday, 20 February 2009 | Tags: , , , ,

Seeing as how part of my job is to shop, I've got to keep cruising the stores even though it's seriously out of style these days. But certain places, like grocery and liquor stores, are as busy as ever.

I’ve even been surprised at the line-ups at high-end grocers like Whole Foods, but I guess it’s like the lipstick factor: when the economy tanks, lipstick sales tend to skyrocket because we all still feel the need for a little retail therapy now and then. The designer shoes have been replaced with the latest shade of red, or in my case, the latest gloss in the perfect nude (not easy to find, as many of you know).

I suppose luxury grocery stores can offer the same “high”, especially for those of us who like to spend time in the kitchen. All those imported cheeses (but don’t ignore the cheddar from Quebec or the Chevre from Salt Spring Island), a beautifully marbled rib-eye steak (the more marbling, the more flavour), perhaps even some fresh crab (buy one that’s heavy for its size) with fancy butter (from France, much richer than North American butter, and almost tastes like cheese). It’s all very much in style as we stay home to cook more often. Going out is still fun and a treat, but this is a great time to learn about the food we eat and cook.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned lately about the food I’m shopping for this week:

Buy Berkshire pork. This is the Kobe beef of pork! It’s simply the best. Berkshire pork is a heritage breed that originally comes from Berkshire, UK. Now they’re also bred in Ontario and BC and are known for their rich taste and texture, not to mention their marbling and tenderness. Commercially raised pork usually live on corn and soybeans whereas these little piggies enjoy a menu of molasses, oats, fruits and vegetables.

If you live in British Columbia or California, look for Redbro birds. They’re not easy to find, but they’re worth it (and some top chefs agree with me). I roasted a Redbro chicken recently and everyone at my table agreed it was more flavourful than other chickens from the supermarket (including organic and free-range). The chicks come from Lyons, France and are reared at a couple of farms in B.C and California. They spend 9 or 10 weeks plumping up in a large barn, eating organic grain and sunflower seeds and are antibiotic and medication free. These babies are even fed by hand!

Fancy breeds of chicken are all the rage in the US these days and to a lesser extent in Canada as well. The Redbro is one of five Poulet de Bresse heritage breeds: Poulet Blanc, Poulet Noir, Poulet Gris, Redbro and Redbro Cou Nu. They must be raised in La Bresse, France (where they feed on whey powder from local cheese makers) to use the Poulet de Bresse name. Word is that Whole Foods is looking to stock them. Chicken has never been so fancy.

The cut of beef you need depends on what you’re making, of course, but if you’re after the richest, most indulgent beef you can imagine, then go for a bone-in rib-eye. I know, I know, Kobe gets all the attention for all its fatty flavour, and I admit it is indeed something to behold, but I have learned that not all Kobe is created equal.

There are grades of Kobe just as there are grades of beef in general. My experience with Kobe was inconsistent before I knew that. And because of all the press it gets, well, you can count on paying top dollar for that reputation. So trust me on this one: next time you want to celebrate with some beef, go to a butcher you trust and buy a bone-in rib-eye. Encrust it with salt and pepper, sear it on high heat and finish it in the oven. Oh. My. God.

Black is good, but white is divine. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Olive Oil
It goes rancid sooner than you think:18 months, TOPS. Even sooner if you keep it sitting on the counter where light gets through the bottle. Go taste yours right now. It’s probably bad. Replace it with something good (you get what you pay for) from Italy or Spain, and save it for drizzling on meat, fish, salads and vegetables, and scrambled eggs after cooking. The cheap stuff is perfectly fine for cooking.

They’re a staple, so always keep a few on hand. Squeeze them on everything from asparagus to bone marrow. And remember: room temperature lemons give more juice. Roll them back and forth on the counter top to release the juices before cutting and squeezing. And when a recipe calls for lemon juice, throw in a little zest for a some extra lemony kick.

Ok, so what’s on your shopping list? Please share your favourite shopping tips! 

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