Gloucester resident Jen Pickens lives an Uber-Paleo lifestyle: not just gluten-free but grain-free. She believes her gluten and grain sensitivities originated in childhood when her family’s Iowa farm received a heavy shower of the insecticide DDT from the adjoining commercial fields.
The Paleo Diet advocates meat, fish, vegetables, some fruits, but nothing that a Neanderthal wouldn’t have enjoyed for dinner. Wheat, and other refined grains, came much later in the history of man; according to the Paleo people, these late additions to our diet are the demons responsible for crazy spikes in our glycemic indices, which make our bodies vulnerable to such modern diseases as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc.
Lucky for Pickens, her partner is Paul Cohan, otherwise known as Sasquatch, Gloucester fisherman and producer of the finest smoked fish products. On record, I declare Sasquatch smoked fish definitively “the best.” “Squash,” as they call him, smokes sweet, meaty salmon, cod, and mussels (OK, also scallops, but they’re hard to find), very, very, very slowly — it takes an average of eight hickory-smoked hours to go from zero degrees to 140 — in a building behind the Gloucester Daily Times office. He sells his products at the Rockport and Cape Ann farmers markets, at The Cave and Willowrest, both in Gloucester, and Vidalia’s in Beverly.
I only mention Squash to point out that the guy who produces the best preserved protein around makes a good partner for the Paleo-committed. I cooked with Jen recently, a dish she says should be “Gloucester’s Pizza,” her own fascinating paleo crust topped with mashed potatoes, “Finnan Sasquatch,” red onions, herbs and sprinkled with grated cheese. Bubbling from the oven on a cast iron skillet, it tasted not so much like a pizza but a smoked fish gratin on a tender crust of ground almonds, duck fat and eggs. Yes, duck fat. Here’s another interesting Pickens lifestyle idea: She cooks almost solely with duck fat.
Every month, Pickens purchases a free-range duck from Restaurant Depot for approximately $15. Pickens says she gets about three servings of meat and a gallon of soup from the carcass. She renders the duck fat, which becomes her cooking oil, her baking fat, her toast spread for the month, the only fat in her household. Just the economics here are impressive.
In terms of health Pickens is on to something. In a 10-year study by the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Lyons, France, Dr. Serge Reynaud determined that men in the Gascon region of France, where the streets are almost paved in foie gras, eat twice as much duck as other Frenchmen and 50 times more than Americans, and yet the incidence of heart attacks in Gascon men was half that of other French men and a quarter that of American men, at least in 1991 when the famous “French Paradox” was reported in the New York Times.
According to every source I Googled, the nutritional make-up of duck fat is much closer to olive oil than butter, but even higher in the essential omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid than olive oil.
Here’s Picken’s recipe for “Finnan Sasquatch” Gluten-Free Pizza, the kind of kitchen serendipity born in the gluten-free household of a fisherman. For those of you interested in an interesting gluten-free crust, take this and run with it. Use it as a foundation for all kinds of quiche-like combinations. If you’re simply in need of a great Finnan Haddie-like recipe, Finnan Sasquatch rules. Make the extra errand stop for Sasquatch smoked fish at The Cave, Willowrest or Vidalia’s.
Jen Pickens’ Gluten-Free Finnan Sasquatch Pizza
makes 2 pizzas
1 recipe Picken’s Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
2 cups seasoned mashed potatoes
1 recipe Finnan Sasquatch
1/2 cup sliced red onion
1 cup grated cheese (mozzarella, fontina or Parmesan) to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Make the crust as below. Allow crusts to cool briefly. Spread a layer of seasoned mashed potatoes, 1/2-inch thick, to cover each crust. Spread the Finnan Sasquatch over the potatoes. Sprinkle with onion slices and fresh basil. Cover with a good layer of cheese. Bake until brown and bubbly, approximately 25 minutes. Serve warm.
Gluten-Free Duck Fat Crust from the GAPS Diet
21/2 cups ground almond
1/4 cup duck fat
3 eggs, beaten
(I would add a pinch of salt to the crust)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease a cast iron skillet with duck fat. A 9-by-11 inch baking sheet would work, also.
In a large bowl, mix together almonds and duck fat until crumbly. Add eggs. Work together with wet hands. Press onto skillet. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes.
There are many variations on this crust from the “Gut and Psychology Syndrome, natural treatment for” or the GAPS diet, by Natasha Campbell-McBride.
2 pounds smoked fish (haddock, cod, trout, salmon)
1 quart milk or cream
2 tablespoons butter or duck fat
2 tablespoons all-purpose white flour (for gluten-free use corn flour or arrowroot)
2 diced hard-boiled eggs
3/4 cup frozen or fresh green peas or edamame, shelled
Cayenne pepper to taste
Freshly ground white or black pepper to taste
Allspice to taste
Nutmeg to taste
Cream sherry or brandy (optional)
In a deep skillet, gently simmer smoked fish in 1 quart milk or cream for 10 minutes
Remove fish and reserve to side. Save milk for making light cream sauce below.
Melt butter or duck fat. (Do not brown.)
Whisk in all-purpose white flour until smooth. Will be somewhat dry.
Whisk in reserved 1 quart whole milk or light cream (the same liquid in which the fish was simmered.)
Whisk and simmer until smooth and thick.
To the white sauce, stir in hard-boiled eggs, peas, cayenne pepper, white pepper, allspice, nutmeg, cream sherry.
Serve white sauce over the fish, which was reserved in the beginning, with mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower. This recipe can be easily cut in half or doubled.
Pairs well with grilled asparagus or grilled Brussels sprouts and a medium-dry white wine.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought column weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to email@example.com. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.