SELECTING QUALITY INGREDIENTS AND UNDERSTANDING WHAT THEY ARE – PT. 2 (CHEF SEAN PALS)
n our last blog post we discussed the importance of selecting quality ingredients in Seattle, and where to find them to make delicious tasting food. How do you select those ingredients you’re looking for from a specific recipe though? We’ll dive a little deeper into what you need to look for when selecting quality produce, meats and seafood to make your private events special. When it comes to produce there are many different things to look for depending upon the specific product, while selecting quality seafood is quite a bit simpler. I’ll give some generic tips for selecting the best fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry about looking like that picky person going through an entire bin to find the perfect sweet and juicy peach!
When it comes to vegetables there is not a specific rule to cover all types, however, most varieties should at least be firm. For tomatoes you’re looking for something firm with just a slight bit of give and should be fragrant. If they are vine ripened tomatoes make sure the vine is still green, not brittle, and any leaves are still bright green and not wilting. Do not worry about cracks in the skin, if it’s sealed, especially in heirloom tomatoes, these are perfectly natural; but do look out for bruising or dark spots. With leafy greens you want to make sure the leaf is crisp and standing up on its own, not wilting over, and check the ribs to make sure they are solid green with no rusting spots. One of my favorite spring time treats, asparagus, is unfortunately often sold in grocery stores in large stems; large stems mean the asparagus is more mature and often a bit woodsy, there is nothing wrong with this but it’s a little tougher to eat. Pick smaller stems which will be more tender and look to make sure they are bright green with violet-tinged spears and firm stems. Herbs should always be a vibrant color, very fragrant and showing no signs of wilting. Anything that grows on a vine along the ground (zucchini/squash varietals, pumpkins, etc.) should be firm with no soft spots, a deep color for whatever the variety is, should not be shiny but more of a matte color and the stem should be hard and corky.
For a lot of people summer time in Seattle is often associated with delicious juicy fruits. but how do you know you’re going to get a sweet juicy piece every time? The one general rule of thumb with most fruits is that they should smell sweet (disclaimer: you are not actually smelling the sucrose in the fruit, humans are not able to smell any of the 5 tastes, however we have chemoreceptors that basically trigger our brain to associate the smell with taste). So, remember when I said don’t worry about looking like that picky person? That’s right! Start picking up each piece of fruit and smelling away, you’ll know right away when you find that delicious piece of fruit versus one that has a very mild smell. This rule of thumb does not apply to fruits like Honeydew and Watermelon however. When selecting watermelon look for one that is heavy for it’s size, has a golden/yellow splotch from where it rested on the ground, and knock on this yellow splotch to hopefully reveal a nice hollow sound indicating the perfectly ripe watermelon.
Now hopefully you are buying all this produce from the farmers market which should take a lot of the guess work out of selecting anything. Most farmers will only harvest produce that is ripe and ready to sell as they know their goods the best, but it is always good to check for yourself just in case.
I hope this helps to make your next private event, corporate potluck or family reunion a hit! And of course, when those times arise that you don’t have the time to spend knocking on fruit at the grocery store or the scale is too large, Red Plate Catering Seattle will be here to save the day!