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Foodstuffs: Portsmouth Chef Encourages Diet Diversity

Peter Biello
Chef Evan Mallett outside his restaurant, Black Trumpet, in Portsmouth, N.H.

Do you tend to make the same dinners over and over again? It’s often easier just to rely on a recipe you know by heart, especially if you’ve worked a long day.

Portsmouth chef Evan Mallett wants you to consider disrupting that routine. The three-time James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for "Best Chef" in the northeast offers some suggestions in his new cookbook, named after restaurant, Black Trumpet, which he runs with his wife Denise.

Among those suggestions: meals including ostrich or goat meat, spice-roasted strawberries, Asian seaweed, and other unusual ingredients.

Those ingredients may sound a little out there, but Mallett says they’re not as far afield as you might think.

On the menu right now at the Black Trumpet is something most Americans haven't eaten lately: goat. Chef Evan Mallett unwraps a big hunk of frozen goat meat in the kitchen.

"The outside muscles of most animals lend themselves to braising or slow-cooking," says Mallett, "so today we’re going to be searing some of this goat meat."

This goat from Riverslea Farm Epping will be seared in a blend of clarified butter and olive oil. Mallett cuts through the ribs with a bone saw. 

Credit Shelby El Otmani / NHPR

  Mallett says even though goat meat is delicious, few Americans eat it. But he says more should.

"We really want people to be more inquisitive about ingredients and to think about more diversity in their diet, more diversity in their garden," he says.

Which is why in his new cookbook, Black Trumpet: A Chef's Journey Through Eight New England Seasons, Mallett includes recipes for and beautiful photos of unusual dishes like "Spring Mushroom and Fiddlehead Paella" and "Braised Octopus."

The ingredients on hand at Black Trumpet change with the seasons. For the past decade or so, Mallett has been changing his menu every six weeks so they can offer foods that are in season. The cookbook follows that approach. It’s divided into eight seasons. "So anyone, not just in New England, but who lives in all four seasons, can use that reference point to find a reference point to find a recipe that’s really suitable to the ingredients that are around at any given time of the year," Mallett says.

The problem is: where do you even get ostrich? Emu? Rabbit? Pigs head? Or, for that matter, the black trumpet mushroom the restaurant was named for?

"Farmers markets are a great place to start," Mallett says. "Usually it’s word of mouth and only a couple of degrees of separation between a consumer and, say, a rabbit farmer.”

Which takes time. That approach may be difficult for, say, a busy parent trying to make dinner for the kids. Mallett says he’s sensitive to that. 

Credit Shelby El Otmani / NHPR

  "They don’t want to take a lot of time to cook and when they do, they don’t want to deal with any intimidation factors," he says. "So, in the book, while I’m working with things like rabbit, goat, and octopus—when we can source them locally, we do, but more than anything we want people to consider more things in their diet and hopefully not be scared, because these are all really delicious foods.”

Evan puts the goat in a pan and it simmers in the butter and oil. He seasons it, browns each piece the whole way around, and adds a cup of beer. The beer deglazes the pan, sending a cloud of steam into the hood above the stove. The smell is rich and savory.

It’s a complicated process, but it could be done at home, with a little planning, a little foraging, and, of course, the right spices. "Our spice shop next door—we carry a lot of spice blends that we create in this kitchen that can be used to give local food a more exotic flair," Mallett says.

After the goat is seared, it goes into the oven for slow-cooking. After that, it’ll be shredded, rolled into a log, cut into disks, and seared again before service.

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