andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | may 2019
I can't speak for all chefs, but spring is my favorite culinary time of year. During colder months, we rely on growers from too far away to get our fresh produce. Lettuce and tomatoes from California or Mexico get packed into semis and hit the road to line local produce sections and we choose from what they pick for us. It works when you don't have a choice, but Mother Nature is now giving us a choice — soon.
The key to any good produce is to get it from garden to cutting board as fast as humanly possible. By the end of May and into June, the distance between picking to prepping goes from 2,000 miles down to a few miles or even a few feet if you have a garden out back.
Most vegetables, even onions and hot peppers, contain sugar. If picked too soon, as is the case of vegetables traveling great distances, the sugars can't develop. If a tomato is picked at the peak of ripeness in California, by the time it gets to your table, it's past its prime. The produce is picked before it is ripe and then allowed to ripen during transportation. Once the produce is picked, the sugars stop developing and only the color deepens. This is why your farmers market tomato in August is infinitely better, sweeter and deeper than your tomato in January.
Think of this when you are making salsa in the summer vs. salsa in the winter. The difference should be night and day. I find myself adding a pinch of sugar to a winter salsa to counteract the acid from lime juice added, but in the summer, I add no sugar and always notice that the salsa has a certain sweetness and deeper profile.
As little shoots start to pop through the earth, let this be a reminder that soon enough, we can wash away the lackluster performance of winter produce and get our palates ready for the sweet season that will soon upon us. Here comes sunshine.
Happy Mother's Day to all moms out there — you are the greatest!! Well, my mom is anyway.
Sweet Spring Salsa
Although most varieties of fresh local tomatoes will not be available until mid to late summer, there are varieties out there like "subarctic" that ripen 40 days after planting and can be available late spring early summer.
In a mixing bowl combine:
2 cups diced ripe tomatoes
1 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
The juice of 2 limes
1 medium jalapeno, seeded and finely diced (wear gloves and don't scratch any itch!)
3 tablespoons sriracha
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar if your tomatoes aren't super ripe
Mix ingredients to combine. Let chill in fridge for an hour so flavors can marry. Enjoy!
Chef Andy Mueller is a well-seasoned Chef with over 30 years in the restaurant business. He's been on Food Network with Guy Fieri, was Reggie White's personal chef during their Super Bowl run in 1996 and has been Executive Chef at Zimani's in the late '80s, the original Executive Chef at Black & Tan Grille the first four years of operation and owned restaurants in Door County including Glidden Lodge restaurant north of Sturgeon Bay and Hillside Restaurant in Ellison Bay. He currently owns the massively popular supper club 'Galley 57' in Allouez at 2222 Riverside Dr.