Rene Redzepi and the search for sandfleas
Rene Redzepi, a Danish chef whose Copenhagen restaurant Noma is often called the best in the world, flew in to give a talk at UCLA this week as part of a lecture series curated by Amy Rowat, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, a specialist in the structure of cell nuclei. Redzepi wanted to demonstrate the making of an umami-rich condiment similar in taste to the ancient Roman fish sauce garum. For this, he needed a special ingredient...
Dear Mr. Gold: Do you have any ideas how we can procure a large quantity of sand fleas? We need them very soon for an upcoming culinary lecture.
Dear Amy: I have been asked where to find the bony Bangladeshi fish hilsa, Samoan pani keke, Uzbek spleen sausage, and a Mongolian-style of sun-dried lamb, but this is possibly the best query I have ever received. My late friend Seymour Benzer, a geneticist long-associated with the Caltech fruitfly labs, might have had a line on Talitridae, but I have no idea whom to ask, or if anybody is even doing research on them. I won't tell you to go sunbathing at San Felipe, because I'm better than that.
Dear Jonathan: It has been quite the adventure exploring our sand flea options. It's looking like we may have to defer to crickets.
Dear Amy: I have been looking around for sand fleas. For a minute I thought that the term might be a euphemism for the tiny live crabs you see at sushi bars sometimes, but I decided it wasn't. And pillbugs, tiny crustaceans found in quantity in every Los Angeles backyard, are pretty close relatives, but: ewww. So crickets might work –- they're from a different subphylum, but have a similar crunch, I suspect, as well as the delicious, delicious taste of chiton. You can buy them live at pet stores, and dead (but culinary grade) at the restaurant Guelaguetza, whose owners import them from Oaxaca.
Photo: Settled-for crickets at the Redzepi lecture; credit Betty Hallock/Los Angles Times