Sunday, February 6, 2011
The Utica Grind
If you have been reading my drivel for a while, then you will know that I have an enduring soft spot for the plucky polis that is the gem of Central NY. I am, of course, speaking of Utica, NY. We have covered Chicken Riggies, the city's eponymous Greens, and even had a few words about ol' Uncle Charlie (Utica Club). Did you know that Utica even has its own favored style of crushed red pepper? That's right folks, if you look around you may find "Crushed Red Pepper (Utica Grind)" or "Utica Style Crushed Red Pepper."
Apparently, as per the Avico Spice company website, around 1926-"Antonia Vitagliano demanded red pepper without the seeds. It became known as "Utica Grind" now an Avico Spice trademark." Should this post give you an especial jones for the stuff, then you can order the original off the Avico website here. Or you can just go over to Cardona's on Deleware as I did. Every time I buy one of Cardona's pre-packed items I admire the penmanship on the label, it has a certain flair.
Anyhow, as Avico states, the "Utica Grind" is dried/crushed red pepper without the seeds. The texture is a little finer then most commercial crushed red pepper brands, it reminds me of the skin from peanuts. It is all flaky, light and fluffy in a very pleasing sort of way. In terms of flavor, it adds a somewhat slower burn and a less aggressive heat with just a hint of red chili flavor to a dish. I have tried it cooked in pasta sauces and also dabbled in sprinkling it on various things and am becoming some what of Utica Style Red Pepper addict. I even mix the stuff with olive oil for bread dipping purposes, can you live at that speed?
It is one of those strange cases where a slightly different then usual preparation greatly alters the properties of an ingredient. Kind of like how the manner in which you choose chop, crush, or dice your garlic will impart different sorts of flavors to your finished product. It doesn't seem like the Utica grind should be all that different then what you probably have in your spice cabinate, but it is. All part of the myth, magic, and mystery of cuisine. Go get some and see if I am right.
I am scheduled to spend a couple weeks out in the Utica/Rome area come late March, so I am sure more discoveries are to be had. We shall see.