For those in search of timely cooking ideas as the harvest peaks, consider the menu prepared last Sunday by Jason Weiner at the latest East End performance of Outstanding in the Field, the movable feast launched several years ago by chef and sand artist, Jim Denevan.
The family-style dinner for 150 guests, which sold out in a matter of hours, wasn’t just a display of some particularly delicious and sometimes underappreciated fish, fowl, and fare; it was also a coming-out party of sorts for the East End Community Organic Farm on Long Lane in East Hampton. Whole grilled jumbo flukes, pickled bluefish, duckfat-roasted potatoes, gazpacho, oysters, and pregnant peaches.
This unique farm, on land owned by East Hampton town, is under new management. Inspired by the vision of supportive neighbors, they've cultivated a revamped farm stand, more land under the plow, and a new attitude. “We are speaking out and stepping up,” said Bruce Buschel, a Bridgehampton resident on the farm’s board. “We assume there are tons of good folks who would love a small organic garden but do not have the space. For a modest fee, we can help out.”
At this time of year, the community plots were heavy with tomatoes, string beans, and pendant sunflowers. But Chef Weiner, co-owner of the bistro Almond in Bridgehampton and the farmstead Italian Almoncello in East Hampton, had a bigger palatte to work with.
“It took me a while to visualize how to do this thing,” said Weiner, who was recommended to Outstanding in the Field by Allison Dubin and Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton. Channing Daughters provided the wine at EECO Farm, as it has for the five other Outstanding in the Field dinners held on the East End.
“It’s going to be on a grill? In the middle of nowhere?,” Weiner asked. He was ultimately inspired by the flexibility of family style cooking. “It’s a great way to eat. And not just from the execution point of view. It’s 19 plates as opposed to 150. It’s a more generous way of eating and serving.”
Weiner, on a first name basis with his farmer-fisher suppliers, had some other guiding light: “Whatever is in the field, whatever is swimming.” “I’m a kid from Brooklyn,” he told a reporter from the London Telegraph, who was taking notes alongside someone from Forbes Life. “I’m not used to this. There’s no middleman out here.”
Putting such a meal together requires connections, of course, but also know how—like how to harness the depth of lipstick peppers, to take advantage of jumbo fluke, and to harness the flavor-packing oiliness of bluefish, an inexpensive and abundant fish that rarely shows up on menus because it has such a short shelflife. Weiner flash fried bluefish filets and then pickled them for two days, yielding an escabeche topped with Green Zebra and Sungold tomato served with crusty bread.
As the diners started to take their seats at the endless table, Felice Benvenuto, chef de cuisine at Almoncello, began to grill whole, 8-pound fluke—a perfect size for the family-style meal— served with a warm vinaigrette made with oyster and shitake mushrooms from Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton. When he cleaned the fish, he found whitebait and baby lobsters in the gut. “The buttery bottom feeder shellfishy thing is set against the meatiness and woodsiness of the mushrooms,” said Weiner.
Following the fluke was Long Island duck breast from Crescent Farm in Aquebogue served with corn succotash. Weiner rendered out the duck fat (“That’s gold, that stuff.”) and roasted potatoes in it. “If there’s anything on Earth meant to go together it’s potatoes and duck fat.”
Before dinner, guests took turns sipping Channing Daughters field-blend wine, Sylvanus, and sipping a gazpacho-like soup concocted from cucumber and lipstick peppers, topped with fried Hogs Neck oysters, “only available when the oyster farmer says they’re ready,” according to Weiner.
Desert was peaches, ripened in Weiner’s car for a couple days, topped with Catapano goat yogurt and honey harvested from hives at the farm just a couple days before. “It’s started to crystallize,” Weiner said, dipping a finger in the jar he had just received from beekeeper Mary Woltz. “And it’s got this amazing flavor I can’t describe.” The beekeeper suggested sunflower and privet blossoms.
About the Author: Brian Halweil is the publisher of Edible East End, the magazine that celebrates the harvest of the Hamptons and the North Fork. He is also publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan (launching September 2008). He writes about the things we eat from the old whaling village of Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his wife tend a home garden and orchard and go clamming when the tides allow.
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