Eli Kirshtein

Eli Kirshtein defends deep frying and explains why the Gulf challenge is important.

on Feb 24, 20110

This whole week spoke dearly to me. Being from the south, practically the whole episode hit points close to me. Maybe it was the deep-frying, maybe it was the plight of the Gulf, but it all mattered a lot to me, and to who I am as a chef.
 
Deep fryers have gotten a bad rap over the years. There is the immediate conception that fryers add fat with no beneficial health qualities in turn. They have also created the stigma that they create low-class, cheap food, which all of these things are beyond distant from the truth. How many households have a fryer at ready availability? How many restaurants don’t have a fryer installed in them? For such a “low-class” thing, they are very rare and elite in our everyday life. I have personally found them ubiquitous at all restaurants I have worked, from super-high volume and humble, to Michelin three-star. 

Most dry heat cooking in one manner or another is a form of frying, no matter if it is from sautéing a single side of fish or basting a steak in brown butter, we are applying high heat fat in order to extract moisture. Frying, whether it is from a sauté pan or a deep fat fryer, is fundamental to how chefs cook everyday, and should not be thought down on. Even if they fall out of fashion for health reasons, I strongly recommend you look into deep-frying in your own home.

The importance of Gulf of Mexico seafood, in context to American cookery, cannot be overstated at all. Many of the dishes that have become part of the fabric of honest, “American” cuisine come from the region and cannot be recreated with out the fish from the waters of the Gulf Coast. 

We take for granted American shrimp, grouper, and snapper year-round, as well as seasonal oysters and crawfish. With out the Gulf Coast these will all have to come to us from foreign fisheries, frozen or preserved, supporting outside industries and hurting our own domestic economies.  Ever since the tragic Deepwater Horizon accident has occurred there has been an unnecessary negative connotation focused on Gulf of Mexico seafood.  While there were several commercial fishing areas that were temporarily shut down due to the spill, virtually all of them are back open, and we should aggressively support purchasing any, and all of these aquaculture when we find them available.

There has been a misunderstanding that the BP relief fund has covered all of the losses that have occurred in the area. While they are making a concerted effort to eventually achieve these goals, they still aren’t there yet. There are several funds and organizations that you can contribute your resources to if possible. My personal favorite is The Greater New Orleans Foundation, which you can find at http://www.gnof.org/. If you just want to learn more about the gastronomic diligence of the region I strongly recommend checking out the Southern Foodways Alliance at http://www.southernfoodways.com/.  The work that both of these groups do is amazingly important for our collective culinary heritage. So please check these groups out for ways you can help out.

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/elikirshtein

7 comments
Patrick0987
Patrick0987

@blah blah blah - I'm not one to put words in Eli's mouth but I think that as a former chef on the show, he knows some of these guys personally including Mike Isabella as a fellow competitor during his season. In short they are his peers and he may not wish to comment on that aspect of the show but focus on other things like the cooking technique, which IMO, is wholly appropriate for a chef.

I thought the defense of deep fat frying was well stated here:

"How many households have a fryer at ready availability? How many restaurants don’t have a fryer installed in them? For such a “low-class” thing, they are very rare and elite in our everyday life. I have personally found them ubiquitous at all restaurants I have worked, from super-high volume and humble, to Michelin three-star. "

And as to the safety of Gulf seafood, it is tested far more frequently and rigorously than imported seafood. I won't eat it if it's off, but I'm in Houston with ample access to fresh seafood and for the most part the stuff I've seen has been up to snuff.

@Pualani - I appreciate that farmed fish helps to preserve fisheries by providing product to meet demand for seafood that otherwise might result in overfishing. That's a good thing and as long as it's made known to the purchaser, I'm fine with it. My beef with farmed fish is that it's farmed and the fish aren't eating what they naturally would. That affects the taste. I grew up catching and eating my own fish and it doesn't taste the same.

And while Hawaii may have a very reputable clean aquaculture industry going, the amount of seafood coming from sources that don't have the same standards dwarfs the current Hawaiian output and is dumped on the market at cheap prices. I'm reasonably well aware of where my food comes from, but when it comes to fish I make it a point to know where it's from and how it was harvested.

blah blah
blah blah

As a resident of the gulf coast, and someone who lives right on the beach, I will never eat gulf seafood. The gulf waters freak me out. Compared to the other oceans I have lived on or by, this particular area is smelly, toxic and never a source of food in my opinion. I'm glad you and other chefs want to raise awareness about how safe you think the fish are in these waters to eat, but as someone who is at the shore daily, I just want to yak.

To the comment above about Hawaii... an "aqua farm" is still farm raised fish. Farm raised fish is often full of bacteria and given a choice between wild and farm fish, I would never choose farmed fish, or use it as an example of good Hawaiian fish. You have a lot of other ammunition in regards to Hawaii's fish.

Eli, can you talk about the show once in awhile? The cheftestants,anything?

andy boy
andy boy

Good job Eli. Can it be the producers are setting us up for a Richard Blaise vs Mike Isabella finale. GOOD VS EVIL The two best cheftestants left are Richard and Antonia. It's hard to believe that Carla and Tiffany are still here. Especially Tiffany.

Pualani
Pualani

Aloha Eli. Hawaii has a plethora of seafood (and last time I checked was number 50 of the United States). To say that the US would have to look to foreign shores for same is overlooking and disregarding what Hawaii offers locally, nationally and internationally. In addition to deep sea fishing, shoreline fishing and net fishing, Hawaii has many aqua farms and is in the forefront of deep sea desalinization. Exporting seafood to the mainland US is both beneficial to Hawaii and the other 49 states. Please do some research before making such sweeping comments. That fish you just ordered may have been swimming off Maui's shores only yesterday.

Amy B
Amy B

DALE Should NOT HAVE GONE!!!! I just feel terrible but Tiffany hasnt won a things - she should have gone. Sorry Tiff!!!

ChefJune
ChefJune

Right on, Eli! So many otherwise informed foodies are still not eating Gulf seafood out of fear. Frankly, it's that farmed stuff from China and SE Asia they ought to be staying away from.

Wild Gulf Shrimp are far safer, not to mention tastier, and they help the economy of this important region of US.