Adirondacks blaze new culinary trail

Long known for its simple, down-home cooking, the region in upstate New York takes on more sophisticated flavors

When Greg and Sharon Taylor bought a ski lodge in the Adirondack mountains, one of their favorite tasks was planning the restaurant menu. Natives of the mountainous region in northeastern New York, they reveled in the idea of using the area's fish, such as trout, salmon, catfish, and crawfish, and smoked meats and game, which they knew paired perfectly with local sweeteners - maple syrup, wild honey, and berries.

So these local foods featured prominently on the menu at their Friend's Lake Inn in Chestertown, N.Y. But since the inn's opening in 1984, the owners have also given the restaurant cuisine a modern, New American touch that keeps dishes simple but incorporates some of the techniques and flavors carried to the area by an influx of Europeans over the years.

Although local staples have not changed much from those used by early settlers, says Ms. Taylor, the region's cooking could not help but be impacted by the varied tastes of European immigrants and tourists who have come to the area.

"It is a melting pot, as is cuisine in America today," Taylor says.

But cookbook author Armand C. VanderStigchel also points out there was a period in the 1990s when many chefs in the Adirondacks rebelled against European techniques, choosing to focus on local ingredients and traditions.

At the same time, they became more confident, enlivening their cuisine with stronger flavors. In "Adirondack Cuisine," (co-written with Robert E. Birkel Jr., Berkshire House, $24.95, 237 pp.), Mr. VanderStigchel compares changes in Adirondack fare to Cajun cooking, both of which emphasize bold flavors.

More intense flavor was a new development in a region where cooking once consisted mostly of meat and potatoes. Steve Parisi, who grew up in Warrensburg, N.Y., and now owns the Country Road Lodge with his wife, Sandi, remembers, "Local people didn't know how to cook. My mother was Scandinavian, and she didn't know what garlic was."

Adirondack cuisine was once designed to be more filling than flavorful. When compiling their book, the authors made this point and based their recipes on traditional ingredients, while infusing them with exciting new flavors.

VanderStigchel, who did not grow up in the Adirondacks, sought regional recipes through newspaper advertisements and interviews with local chefs and bed-and-breakfast owners. He also drew from his own European training and experience as executive chef at the Miller Place Inn on Long Island to create such recipes as Wild Mushroom Strudel, Château Filet Mignon Chowder, and Lobster & Scallop Corn Crepe With Vanilla Bean Sauce.

In addition to the ingredients central to Adirondack cooking (smoked meats; game - boar, venison, and hare; and fish), corn, wild mushrooms, and pumpkins are plentiful. In the autumn, orchards burst with apples and cider. These flavors tend to naturally complement one another.

"I love currants, blackberries, lingonberries, which I use in the book," VanderStigchel says. "The combination of tart and sweet is perfect with game, duck, venison, or hare."

One flavor prevalent in local recipes is the honey-cured bacon and smoked ham used to season and fortify everything from vegetable side dishes to stews. Adirondack chefs swear by meats smoked at Oscar's Adirondack Mountain Smokehouse in Warrensburg, where meat is flavored with family history.

The smokehouse is run by Joel and Joq Quintal, who calls himself a third generation "smokologist." Its signature meats are smoked in two brick smokehouses their grandfather built in 1946. "The bricks pick up all the creosote," Joq says. "Over time you get better flavor."

Smoked meats not only impart a rich taste, but are an easy way to season cuisine that VanderStigchel calls "rustic gourmet." He emphasizes that the recipes in the cookbook are simple, comforting, and filling. He also gives careful consideration to the local lifestyle - both of residents and vacationers who come to ski and hunt. "I think of rustic cabins, and I don't want to stick people with a million pans," he says of his recipes. "It's done mostly in a skillet or one pot."

Another regional tradition that continues to thrive is the incorporation of immigrant dishes into the new cuisine. Serving what is called the Adirondack Alps, the Lodge at Lake Clear focuses on the intersection between local ingredients and the German heritage of the inn's original owners. Now prepared by Cathy Hohmeyer, whose in-laws opened the inn, dishes such as Rösti Trout use fish that is plentiful in Germany and the Adirondacks.

But while the influence of immigrant cultures is being blended into the regional cuisine in fresh ways, new blood is really just another tradition in the Adirondacks. The influx of settlers and visitors to the region began with George Washington, according to Steve Parisi. "Many recipes in that book are imports, which is not to say they're new," he says. "The Adirondacks have been hosting travelers probably since the beginning of the country."

Cider Mill Pork Loin Roast With Sweet Potato Hay

Besides being a refreshing beverage, cider is a great marinade for chicken or pork dishes. In this recipe, apple cider is combined with cranberry nectar as a marinade to achieve a spectacular flavor.

1 quart apple cider
1 quart cranberry nectar or cranberry juice
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 pounds boneless pork loin, tied
1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 Red Delicious apples, peeled, cored,
and finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and black pepper as needed
2 cups water
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 sweet potato, peeled
Vegetable oil as needed
Salt and black pepper as needed

Prepare the pork by combining the cider, cranberry nectar, and cinnamon in a glass or plastic bowl and mixing well. Immerse the pork in the marinade and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Marinate the pork for 24 hours in the refrigerator, turning every six hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the pork from the marinade. Drain and pat dry. Set aside the marinade.

In a heavy roasting pan or Dutch oven, sprinkle out evenly the carrot, celery, onion, and apples (the mirepoix). Season the pork with the rosemary, thyme, salt, and black pepper.

Place the pork in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, or until pork and mirepoix appear golden brown. Add the reserved marinade and the 2 cups of water. Reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F., cover the pork with aluminum foil, and roast for 2 hours.

Remove the foil and roast uncovered for 10 minutes longer to crisp the roast. Remove from the oven and let the roast stand for 20 minutes before slicing, in order to settle juices.

Pour the pan juices through a strainer. Press the mirepoix firmly to extend captured juices.

Pour the strained juices into a small saucepan and bring to a simmering boil. Add the cornstarch mixture as needed to form a spoon-coating glaze. Quickly whip in the butter until smooth. Season with more salt and black pepper if needed.

Prepare the sweet potato by shaving the potato into long thin strips (julienne cut) with a mandoline, kitchen grater, or a sharp knife. Place the strips in a bowl of ice water.

Heat the oil in a fryer or deep pan to 350 degrees F. Remove the sweet potato strips from the ice water and pat dry on a paper towel. Carefully drop the strips into the hot oil and fry until brown and crispy. Remove strips from the oil and season with the salt and black pepper.

Slice the pork, drizzle with the sauce, and top with the crispy Sweet Potato Hay.

Serves 4 to 6.

- from 'Adirondack Cuisine'

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