Hopping on a plane to warmer climes until spring arrives is not an option for all of us and neither is hiding under a pile of blankets for hours on end. The next best thing may be enjoying a warming meal or beverage that heats you from the inside out. Even if you love New England winters, you probably crave certain foods when the temperatures dip and the winds howl. We asked a handful of local food folks what they like to eat or drink (or dream of) on frigid days.
There’s a food Paula Marcoux only allows herself and her partner, Pret Woodburn, to eat in cold weather and that is Jansson’s Temptation. “It’s physically impossible to eat it in summer,” she says. “It needs to be piping hot.” The rich potato dish is “ideal shoveling food,” she says. “You pop it in the oven, then shovel, and you have it to think about while you’re shoveling.” Marcoux, who lives in Plymouth, first tasted the “white creamy mess” at a Swedish friend’s house on Christmas Eve years ago. She learned the recipe, which is essentially four ingredients: potatoes, onions, anchovies, and cream. The food historian and author of “Cooking with Fire” has researched “how people warm themselves in the coldest places and through the darkest seasons. Jansson’s Temptation taps into that, as a food that provides nourishment, physically and psychologically.” She recommends using good quality oil-packed anchovies and says the dish doesn’t taste fishy. “Long baking allows it all to meld into this perfect substance, sweet and mellow,” she says. “All you need is a salad after that along with a robust red wine or beer.”
Lahcen Abaichi, chef-owner of 14-year-old Cafe Paprika in Norwood, says he doesn’t differentiate much between winter and summer foods, rather it’s how you make them comforting. “In winter, lamb has to be part of it,” he says. The chef likes using the shank, cooked until fall-apart tender, in a tagine that includes root vegetables like turnips and carrots, potatoes, and seasonings, such as preserved lemon, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic. He serves the dish with couscous, rice, or rosemary bread (similar to focaccia). Abaichi, who grew up in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, and moved to the United States more than 30 years ago, says, “Everybody makes this in Morocco. In winter, you cook for the fragrance and the subtle heat.” He explains that tagines can be made more celebratory using fewer vegetables and more fruits, such as dried plums, apricots, and raisins as well as almonds or sesame seeds. “In Morocco, you show your hospitality by using a little more expensive ingredients like fruits and nuts.” Abaichi says lamb can be hard for people to cook at home. “It can be gamey and you don’t know what kind of meat you’re getting.” His is halal, which he says is cleaner tasting. “And it’s nice when somebody cooks for you.”
“Chicken soup is hugely comforting for everyone,” says Steven Peljovich, owner of Michael’s Deli in Brookline, “and once it starts getting cold I know I’m going to sell a ton of soup.” But the Miami Beach native derives his comfort elsewhere: he craves Ropa Vieja, a dish he describes as Cuba’s version of Jewish brisket. “It’s my winter comfort food,” he says, and his favorite local version is at El Oriental de Cuba in Jamaica Plain. Peljovich says the restaurant’s ropa vieja (which means “old clothes”) is slow-cooked beef with garlic, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. “The meat just falls apart and it has a ton of flavor. It brings me back home to memories of Miami Beach.” Peljovich’s parents were born and raised in Cuba and later moved to Miami. “Everything on El Oriental de Cuba’s menu tastes like what it’s supposed to,” he says. “As close to the real deal as you’re going to find up here.” He eats the traditional Cuban dish with fried plantains, white rice, and black beans. “It’s the only way to eat it,” he says. “You put it all together and it’s heaven to me.”
Claire Cheney, founder and owner of Curio Spice Co. in Cambridge, learned a new cooking technique last summer when she and her family visited her 98-year-old grandmother in Philadelphia. They were invited for dinner at her grandmother’s neighbor’s house and the hosts served Korean barbecue on a tabletop grill. “When we got home we ordered one and have been doing Korean BBQ nights,” says Cheney. (The appliance is a TECHEF Stovetop Korean BBQ Non-Stick Grill Pan with Agni Portable Gas Stove Burner.) At H Mart, she buys marinated sliced beef, perfect for cooking on the little grill. As accompaniments, Cheney usually serves rice, kimchi, and quick pickles made from sliced cucumbers, radishes, and carrots. She makes her own pickles using vinegar and Curio’s Kampot & Salt blend, a mix of Cambodian Kampot black pepper, Maine sea salt, ginger, lime, and tarragon. “Cooking right on the table is fun and social. I didn’t realize how much my soul needed revitalizing food experiences,” she says. “At the end of the day I’m just like everyone else. I don’t have time to always create an extravagant meal,” says the mother of two little ones. “Although I do have more spices than most people.”
“When winter comes around, what I’m eating isn’t drastically different from the rest of the year, it’s more of what I’m pairing coffee with,” says Spencer Mahoney, vice president of operations for Atomic Coffee Roasters in Peabody. “In winter, I gravitate toward things that are sweeter.” His choices usually involve a trip to Kane’s Donuts in Saugus. Mahoney and his wife, Jessica, have a young son and they often look for easy things to do to get out of the house with baby in tow. On many Saturday mornings, that means a stop at Kane’s. “They have amazing gluten-free options,” says Mahoney, who has celiac disease. His favorite doughnuts are apple cider, cinnamon sugar, and blueberry-frosted. His wife, who eats dairy-free, can also partake in many of the shop’s treats. For his morning coffee, Mahoney, who is a second-generation member of the family business, likes sipping medium-roast Central American styles that have subtle chocolate and nutty notes. He drinks his java black. “I think coffee is very ritualistic. It’s a satisfying moment in the day. And I’ve always liked doughnuts.”
For a totally different morning meal, there’s congee, a traditional breakfast in parts of Asia. When rice and water (or stock) are cooked for a long time, the rice breaks down and it becomes a thick, creamy porridge. “I find it very comforting, just like old-fashioned oatmeal,” says Alan MacIntosh, chef-owner of Doragon Ramen in Ashland. “Congee warms you up from the inside out.” Unlike bland versions, he says, “Ours is packed with flavor. We use our house chicken stock and add fresh ginger, scallions, and white pepper.” To customize the bowls, toppings include chicken and ground pork as well as traditional Chinese crullers (fried dough sticks), cut into bite-size chunks to accompany the congee, “like clam chowder crackers,” says the chef. If congee isn’t your style, you can heat up real fast with the restaurant’s signature Doragon Hellfire Ramen, measured in three heat levels. To a base of black garlic miso broth, Level 1 gets “a secret blend of chilies,” says MacIntosh. “We warn people about Level 2 and 3.” Level 2 is haunted by ghost peppers; Level 3 tops the charts with Scorpion chilies.
The Gaff, a small pub in Waltham, is known for its beer offerings, many of which change with the seasons. “In winter, I’m reminded how life in New England starts to slow down and my meals are a bit more hearty and I want more complex, darker and heavier beers,” says co-owner Michael Coen. “Styles like stouts, brown ales, and Belgian quads are what I’m looking for.” He says the pub recently started selling Sullivan’s Black Marble Stout on draught. Coen first had the unusual black stout years ago when he was on tour with his band in Kilkenny, Ireland. “Similar in style to Guinness, this stout has flavors of roasted coffee, fruit notes, and hop bitterness that are extremely balanced,” he says. “It’s like a flavor bomb that hits your mouth and makes you slow down and really appreciate it.” Also on tap is Granola Brown Ale from Black Hog Brewing Co. in Connecticut. “I love it, but only seem to have a taste for it in wintertime,” he says.
“Growing up in New England my absolutely favorite dishes on the coldest, gnarliest days are any kind of seafood-based soup or stew,” says Groton native Will Gilson. The chef and co-owner of Puritan & Company as well as three new Cambridge restaurants (yet these days Gilson refers to himself as “chief worry officer”), says he thinks of the lobster bisque at Locke-Ober, called JFK’s Lobster Stew, which was one of Lydia Shire’s signature dishes at the time. (And, apparently, a favorite of the 35th president.) Other warming wintry bowls are Legal Sea Foods’ clam chowder and the hearty Portuguese kale, potato, and chorizo soup called caldo verde. “All of these soups have been on our menu at Puritan at one point or another,” says Gilson. He likes serving the kale stew topped with roasted monkfish as a cold-weather entree. “That’s what I’m craving in winter; the hearty warming stews of New England,” he says. “They’re winter comfort staples for me.”
Nur Kilic, who is retiring after owning and operating Brookline’s Serenade Chocolatier for more than 30 years (but the shop will continue on, thank goodness!), says her favorite winter dish is Beef Bourguignon. She uses Julia Child’s recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and says she’s basically memorized it since she’s made the classic beef and red wine stew for many years, usually for company. “I only make it in the winter,” she says. “I used to think it was a fancy dish, now I think it’s just a hearty dish.” When selecting a red wine for braising the beef, she chooses one that’s “not too inexpensive,” she says. “I try not to go cheap on it.” She serves the same wine at the table with the meal. And what does the longtime chocolatier make for dessert? “Just something light after the stew,” she says. “There’s a dessert I only make in winter, fallen chocolate cake with a molten middle, but it’s very, very rich, and I wouldn’t have it after the beef.”
Deborah Hansen has the perfect dish and drink in mind when wintry weather descends. The chef-owner and sommelier of Taberna de Haro in Brookline makes lomo Iberico, a special pork loin from Iberico pigs, which she imports from Spain. “The meat is dark colored, it almost looks like beef; it’s not white like our pork,” she says. “It has a slightly nutty, woodsy, and intriguing flavor that I love.” Hansen cooks thick slices on the plancha, a flat-top griddle, along with spiced carrots and apples. “It’s a weightier dish than what you would want to eat in warmer months,” she says. The chef serves the meat with a red wine reduction sauce, made from a long-simmered chicken stock and red wine with hints of cinnamon, peppercorns, and star anise. While any red wine can be served alongside, her preference is dark sherry from Jerez in southern Spain. “In Andalusia, they dine with sherry,” she says. Her pick is a Don Gonzalo oloroso, which she describes as “dark, rich, extremely complex, and bone dry. This oloroso has flavor notes of roasted chestnuts, Assam tea, and orange zest. It’s a good pairing with the meat because the warming notes of each play off each other.”
There are plenty of warming suggestions here, perfect for starting a comforting, wintry routine of your own. When you’re done eating and drinking, then you can bury yourself under those blankets.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at email@example.com