Thursday, September 17, 2009

My old man was an alien from a Biodynamic planet

Say what you will about Biodynamic® grape growing and winemaking, the methodology makes for entertaining thought. Especially if you're a Pinot Noir lover. One sip of the unique, supple, nostril tingling Pinot Noirs by, say, Marcel Deiss in Alsace, Meinklang in Austria, Porter-Bass in California, or Maysara in Willamette Valley tells you that, loud and deliciously.

At Meinklang, not only do vignerons Werner and Angela Michlitsch grow on a Biodynamic® farm (complete with fields of wheat, orchards, horses, pigs and at least 300 head of Angus), they've also embraced one of the more peculiar, yet intriguing, tools of Biodynamic® vinification: the concrete oeuf, or egg shaped, fermentor, first utilized in France's Burgundy region:

Concrete has long been favored in Europe for its ability to conduct fermentations at naturally self moderating temperatures. Bearing in mind that use of the oeuf is by no means standard Biodynamic® practice, it would stand to reason that this shape might harness some of the very creative forces of nature sought by Biodynamic® proponents. Thus, you would expect Coulée de Serrant's Nicolas Joly to say it is no coincidence that "nature bestows life in the form of an egg." Skeptics, on the other hand, may be surprised to know that the concrete egg has been enthusiastically praised by Château Pétrus's Christian Moueix; and embraced Dr. Delia Viader (of Napa Valley's Viader Vineyard), who calls the oeuf "the most perfect shape in physics," resulting in the creation of a "vortex," leading to "cleaner, more perfect fruit... less alcoholic, less tannic wine."

So it was with some interest that I was able to inspect an oeuf first hand this past August at Seven Springs Vineyard in Willamette Valley, where winemaker Isabelle Meunier is experimenting with its use for Chardonnay (the results are not in yet):

Placing a hand upon it, I was suddenly struck not by visions of sugar plum wines dancing in my head; but rather, the holidays in Hawai`i, where I spent most of my childhood (minus six years in Tokyo) and adult life, associated with the incredible array of foods my dad turned out from his giant, old fashioned, egg shaped clay hibachi from Japan, called the kamado (reasonably similar ceramic cookers called the Big Green Egg are now manufactured in the U.S.). Does the shape (below) look familiar? As a kid, I thought it looked like a giant grenade:

While we didn't have the four seasons in Hawai`i, we certainly celebrated the holidays in pretty much (but not quite) traditional American fashion. Thanksgiving was a huge family affair usually spent at my parents’ (seven kids, plus the exponential number of grandkids, would make it so), and everyone looked forward to the lusciously moist, tender, smoky turkey my dad always slo-o-ow roasted in his giant kamado. As an adult, I enjoyed the perfection of many a fine, smoky California Chardonnay with that turkey, chased by glasses of spicy red Zinfandel to go with the sage bread stuffing, cranberry and yams. Was it my dad's unconscious culinary talent, the super-conductivity of the kamado clay, or just its wonderous, pre-biodynamic shape?

At Christmas, the kamado was put to even greater use. Invariably there was the ham roasted with pineapple and cloves. But after that, it was anything goes: as Islanders, this meant the perfect excuse to enjoy the foods we really and truly loved to eat most. For starters, steamed white rice and macaroni-mayo salad, served right alongside the buttery mashed potatoes. Blood red, palpitating strips of sashimi, from the finest tuna (i.e. Hawaiian ‘ahi) in the world. Filipino style pancit (noodles) and lumpia (golden fried pork spring rolls) with sweet-sour chili spiced dips. Huli huli (Hawaiian rock salted, mildly marinated and “turned,” also on the smoky kamado) style halves of chicken. Oh, yeah… don’t forget the Jello with fruit cocktail and cottage cheese.

But Caparoso Sr.’s piece de resistance? By universal acclaim, it was always his kalbi style barbecued beef short ribs. There is not a drop of Korean blood in the Caparoso family, but I swear, my dad’s kalbi marinade was always the perfect balance of sweet, salty sensations, with just subtle hints of garlic and ginger, and overt notes of char from the kamado – something I’ve yet to find matched in even the finest Korean restaurants of L.A. and the Islands. Sometimes we felt like we could eat pounds of it.

I’m not going to pretend that my recipe below comes up to my dad’s standards. He’s still there in the Islands, but unable to share it; and besides, I know for sure that he never measured. It was all by feel. Unlike traditional, or authentic, Korean kalbi jim, which calls for thinly butterflied (or “flanken”) strips of short ribs that sear instantly on a grill, the Hawaiian style calls for thicker cuts (at least ½ inch) that can be charcoal or wood grilled, leaving some juicy rareness at the center with caramelized (but not burnt) char on the outside.

5 lbs. beef short ribs

2 cups soy sauce (for a milder, less salty marinade, use Hawai`i’s Aloha brand)

1 cup white sugar

¼ cup sesame oil

4-6 garlic cloves (pressed or rough chopped)

1 teaspoon ginger (grated or julienned)

3 tbsp. green onions (finely sliced)

1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Place ribs in Pyrex or Tupperware deep enough to marinate. Mix all ingredients in a pan and warm until the sugar melts, then cool. Pour marinade over ribs, reserving ½ cup on side, cover container and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours (or overnight), turning occasionally to make sure all ribs entirely marinated. Grill the ribs, moderating the flames and turning two or three times to avoid sugar burning; brushing with reserved marinade. Tastes best with steamed white rice, macaroni-mayo salad, and bottles of California Zinfandel (current favorites: the biodynamically grown Quivira or certified organic Frog’s Leap brands). Serves 6-8.

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