Good Eats Wednesday
Langoustines - Nephrops norvegicus
I'm fascinated with this month's article in Departures magazine titled, "The Last Secret Ingredient" written by Howie Kahn with photography by Anders Overgaard.
Chef Paul Bartolotta at Ristorante di Mare at Wynn Las Vegas went on a quest to find "The Best Langoustines on the Planet" at the expense of Steve Wynn's checkbook (or perhaps shareholders). But it's the classic story of Bartolotta persistently following his passion in search of this culinary delicacy and the tale (or tail) of how far ego will take these men (chef and exporter) literally to the depths of the ocean for this cute little critter...
Striving to offer speciality items in Bartolotta's restaurant from places he has "loved to eat from the waters of the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian and Liguran" seas. He has made it his mission to find the best of the best. But struggled to find any langoustines that came close to satisfying his palette. "The Scottish ones tasted polluted; the Italian ones lost their luster; the French ones evoked only indifference." After asking around internationally for months, he was given the "I know a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy" run around. He finally meets "the man" by chance at a convention, but the exporter plays hard to get for a year testing his seriousness, saying flatly that his request can not be done. It is almost two years of pleading that goes by, in additional to a large cash deposit, before his exporter finally agrees.
Then he finally receives a box, but it's empty.
Bartolotta is told he will get them, but he's testing to ensure that they arrive to him alive.
Then one day... he opens a box, almost not believing it, but peers down to see the reddish-orange crustaceans in a shipment and immediately rushes them to the tank, but unfortunately more than half died the next morning.
More months go by with experimenting on the shipping process and getting the tank waters at the Wynn to match that of their original locale just right, as well as the "reanimation process" overseen by Wynn marine bioligist, Yasmin Tajik, which "reduces the metabolic rates without killing them." Now a survival rate of 90% has now been achieved and crates are shipped in every Thursday to the Wynn.
Fortuntely for Chef Bartolotta, his exporter doesn't ship to anyone else in America, and has only 12 clients worldwide, some being the Russian parliment (also a cash paying customer). The writer describes his secretive island landing experience as "like being dropped out of the sky", a place they were asked not to disclose in the article, whose location is left off many maps, and described as, "the most terrible, beautiful place on the planet" because of it's treacherous weather. "Four seasons worth of weather cycled through the place ever half hour. Tornadoes touched down just offshore but nobody stopped fishing. Towns disapppeared into fog then went golden in radiant flashes of subarctic sunlight. Brutal gales, I was told, tossed cars off the mountain roads. Doorways were framed by whalebones. Waterfall shot up, driven skyward by the wind." Yet, this mystical land provided "great pyraminds of seafood, langoustines and sea urchins, and 40-year-old horse mussels the size of my forearm."