Ten Fascinating Ethnic Ingredients Chefs Should Get to Know Better
Sprinkled with sesame seeds, marinated jellyfish makes a memorable summer salad.
The last couple of decades have flooded NYC with colorful cuisines many of us never knew existed, and stocked ethnic markets with exotic ingredients that have strange names and fascinating properties. This influx of new products should have riveted the city's chefs, and filled menus from cafés to bistros to full-blown restaurants with interesting new dishes -- or so I imagined.
But cooking schools have lagged far behind in their course work, continuing to emphasize French techniques and ingredients to the exclusion of the rest of the world. Downtown's own French Culinary Institute acted like it was a big deal when they added "Italian" to their name not too long ago, and more recently on Top Chef, when asked to make something as simple as a dumpling, nearly every contestant betrayed total ignorance of the most rudimentary aspects of Chinese cooking. "I've never used a wok before," one boasted, as if it were something to be proud of.
Well, that's real shame, because all sorts of amazing ingredients await the adventuresome chef on the prowl. Here are 10 that ought to be explored.
1. Jellyfish -- This silken undersea animal is one the few sea creatures guaranteed sustainable for the long foreseeable future. About a dozen species have been exploited for food, most notably the cannonball jellyfish, which is now being harvested on America's Eastern Seaboard. Though often considered a pest, the jellyfish's culinary properties are prodigious: After a 20-day curing process by someone known as the Jellyfish Master (his apparition might haunt your nightmares), the resultant flesh can be shredded into translucent noodles containing 6 percent protein. These have an agreeably crunchy texture, and are usuaully transparent, like mung bean threads. Jellyfish can be eaten raw or cooked, and readily picks up any flavors you want to bombard it with. Availability: Chinese supermarkets in Flushing, Elmhurst, Sunset Park, and Manhattan's Chinatown.