Wait a minute, did she say preserved seafood?! Preserved local NC seasonal seafood?! Yep, you read that correctly. Cured, smoked, fermented, pickled, dried, confit’ed seafood. Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to attend Piedmont Restaurant‘s winter edition of their Seasons of the Sea Dinner. In collaboration with Raleigh’s Locals Seafood and NC Catch, Piedmont’s Executive Chef John May and Executive Chef Justin Burdett of Local Provisions in Asheville joined forces to create an astonishing multi-course seafood tasting menu highlighting seven different food preservation techniques. Even this seafood hesitant girl couldn’t pass up an offer as enticing as this… oh, and did I mention the funky wine pairings by Piedmont’s animated general manager Crawford Leavoy, duh!?
Not only did I meet some awesome new lady friends (!!), but this seafood-themed dinner completely expanded my narrow view of seafood, in particular preserved seafood. “We focused on manipulating things in interesting ways so to get that preservation experience”, says Piedmont’s chef May in explaining the inspiration for the evening. While presentation, taste, and “wow-value” was an obvious goal, the major aim of this dinner was education on the “mentality of how you would have eaten before you could go to just go to the grocery store everyday…”, stated May.
First up, a mild cured tilefish atop roasted red beets, textured oats (almost acting as a bread, providing a nice elemental texture) and finished with a dill creme fraiche sauce. Course two came with a sweet story of how Chef May met his wife in a diner and the famed tuna salad: a rich bluefish “old fashion” tuna confit salad served with tiny micro-greens, herbs, carrots, seeds, and topped with “just a potato chip”, a damn tasty Old Bay dusted potato chip. The third tasting featured my most familiar preservation method, a salt brined pickled clam accompanied by a salt and smokey country ham, a charred sweet potato latke (think amazing crunchy crouton) garnished with adorable lettuce flowers.
My favorite dish of the night, awarded by me for both taste and presentation, was the fourth feature: a “fish moved into the country ham family, brined, cured, and smoked for weeks”- a smoked swordfish. The flavor reminded me of childhood, almost like bologna, but in a good way. Served with fresh shallots, carrot, and pretzel crumbs. Next, poached oysters from Wilmington, NC served with a fermented kimchi broth… if you’re familiar with my day job you’ll know why I asked my fellow table-mates for their notes: “cool succulent, pillow like oysters!” Last but not least, the “most delicious piece of fish you can have, a mixture of cheeks!” served with seafood stock, cornbread crumbs, and dried bottarga (dried roe sacks), “the sound of searing that you’re hearing, it’s like bacon in the evening…”, narrated Piedmont’s Leavoy. 🙂
Many thanks to everyone involved in making the evening possible. It is truly great to see excitement for traditional food preservation methods in the Triangle region. I’m looking forward to checking out more of Piedmont’s preserved foods (pickles) in the coming seasons.