For most Americans, olives come in two varieties, Greenus bottlus, and Blackus incanius.
Organic Stuffed Green Olives
Now these [green olives] I occasionally like to marinate in an
ice-cold mixture of vermouth and gin. [sips a martini] Ahh, but that's
show. By the way, the tradition of stuffing the hole left by pitting goes back
to the 18th century. Although today olive orifices may sport walnuts, garlic,
bleu cheese, or anchovies, I still prefer good old pimientos.
As for black, canned, California, "ripe" olives, well when people tell me they don't like olives, I suspect it's because they've been eating these. Their distinct lack of flavor stems from the fact that they're not actually preserved in a brine or by salt but by the cooking that comes with the canning process. And once they're opened, they're as susceptible to spoilage as any other canned good. The only thing really distinct about this kind of olive is the color: that's shiny black, which comes courtesy of oxidation and a dip in a ferrous gluconate solution. Yum.
Luckily, there are many many other choices. Not only are quality olives popping up on megamart shelves everywhere, but in some lucky towns you can actually belly up to [the] olive bar. That's right, kids. This is the high alter of olive idolatry. Just look at it. It's a veritable smorgasbord representing every olive production method known to man and just about every growing region on the face of the earth: all offered by the pound. And, I might add, self-serve which is very nice, indeed. [pops an olive in his mouth] Heh, heh, heh. Mmm, that's good. [turns and notices employee Debbie Peterson watching him eat] Busted like Benjamin Bunny.
DEBBIE PETERSON: Did you like that Mantequilla?
AB: I did. Take me away. [holds out his hands expecting to be handcuffed]
DP: Come try another!
AB: Okay. [happily astonished]
DP: This is the Cassis de Beaux.
AB: Cassis de Beaux. So that's a little French olive, right?
DP: Uh huh.
AB: Most of the French ones are pretty small, right.
DP: Yes. Come try this one. This is Sevillane Con Limon.
AB: Con Limon.
DP: Uh huh.
AB: That means "with lemon", does it not?
DP: Okay, come try this one.
AB: Wow, okay, okay, wait, wait, wait a second. Wait a minute. I got a mouthful of pits. Let me chew.
AB: Do me a favor.
AB: Let's just say for a second that I was just some regular Joe off the street coming up to the olive bar for the very first time. Are there any guidelines that I could use to ensure that I get good quality olives?
DP: Sure. You want to be looking for a smooth, firm skin. You don't want them to look wrinkled, unless, of course, they're oil-cured. Then they're going to be wrinkled, or cracked ...
AB: Or salt-cured?
DP: Right, salt-cured. You want a smooth finish. And you want to make sure that you're going to a place that is selling a lot of olives so that they have stock that is constantly moving, and that they're actually stirring the olives, which keeps them moist and prevents them from molding.
AB: Okay, so you want the olives to be smooth and firm, unless, of course, they're supposed to be ...
AB: ... dark and wrinkled. They should always be moist because that's a sign of stirring, and you would be better off buying in a place that sells a lot of olives like this.
AB: Oh, what's your favorite?
DP: I love all of the olives, but the Picholines, with these little cute green guys, from the southern part of France. I just love them. They're great.
AB: Thanks, thanks.
DP: [to another customer, off camera] Oooh, do you want to try some olives?
Off she goes. You know, hanging out at olive bars is definitely a good way to meet the "olive of your dreams". [cracks himself up] But if you really want to understand olives, you need to hang out in another section.
[enters the Wine Section of the store]
I think one of the things that makes learning about wine such a big challenge is
the fact that, ... excuse me [eats an olive from a martini glass] ... is the fact that
there are so many different ways to classify wine. For instance, wine could be
classified by the country or region of origin, by the production method, or of
course, by the actual variety of grape. Now to mangle matters even more, some
grapes can be used to produce both red and white wine.
Well, what is true of wine is certainly true of olives. But the blossoming olive connoisseur does have one slight advantage and it's the simple fact that nothing affects the flavor and texture of olives more than the method of production. [selects a wine bottle] I'll give this a try.
In Ancient Greece, cutting down an olive tree was punishable by death.
[olive branches hang around AB as if in an olive grove] The only difference between a green olive and a black olive is time. A black olive is the fully ripe fruit of this tree, whereas green olives are harvested when they are full size but still immature. Now when they are ripe, olives are packed with an oil that, frankly, powered most of the ancient world the way that petroleum does today. And as significant as the discovery of that oil may be, what's really amazing is that people figured out that they could actually eat these things, because you see, they're ... well, go ahead. [offers an olive to the camera. A hand reaches out and takes it] Try it. Go ahead. What do you think? [The hand throws it back] Pretty bitter, huh? That's because in their raw state, olives are packed with a glucoside called oleuropein, and it is just about the most bitter thing that you can imagine ever putting in your mouth. However, we can remove it from olives. As for your mouth, you're going to need to get a mint or something.
Since they are so gosh darned bitter, all green olives regardless of their variety have to soak in a lye solution before they can move on to the brining process. Now if you ever want to cure your own olives—and it can be a lot of fun—you're going to want to read up on this stuff, okay? [holds up a container of lye] Anybody that saw the movie Fight Club can tell you that lye is a powerful corrosive. It can cause some pretty nasty burns. So study up and get yourself some of these sweet Doctor No gloves.
Now after soaking in the lye solution for a few days, the olives then move to several days in clean water. The water is changed several times to help leach out the lye that leached out the bitter stuff.
Then we move on to the brine and they can stay in here for weeks or even months depending on the desired style of olive.
Now black olives, since they are ripe, don't need the lye. They can, in fact, just go directly into salt and be packed away for weeks or months until they are dry-cured olives. They can also be cured in a brine or they can be cured in just plain old water or oil depending on the exact style of olive you're looking for and the amount of time that you've got.
GUEST: Lady of the Refrigerator
Open-stock olives like this should be kept refrigerated in their brine, and they
will keep a lot longer if they stay submerged. So if they start drying out, just
dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a pint of water and use that brine to keep
them topped off. Dry-cured olives like these can simply be tossed in ... you
got it, olive oil.
Now how long they'll actually keep will depend somewhat on the strength of the initial cure, but I've kept them stashed in here for up to a year. I don't eat them too fast because everybody knows olives aren't that good for you.
LADY OF THE REFRIGERATOR: [appears from the back of the refrigerator] Hello, Alton.
It is the Lady of the Refrigerator. And I thought she only existed in legend, myth, story, and song.
LR: That's true, I do. But olives are also mentioned many times in myths,
legends, fables, stories, and song. Not to mention the Bible.
AB: How many times?
LR: A lot. And listen, riddle me this: if, as you say, olives are so bad for you, why have they been so important to mankind, and why are doctors so crazy about olive oil, hmm?
AB: I don't know.
LR: Let me tell you a few things about olives, and nutrition. Olives are a fine source of gloriously good monounsaturated fats and vitamin E which is a mighty fighter in the war against evil free radicals. And olives also contain vital nutrients such as flavonoids and polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory properties important in the defense against everything from heart disease to wrinkles. And as you can see, I have none.
AB: [sheepishly] No. You're beautiful.
LR: That's because I live in the refrigerator. Now, as for the salt, if you are so worried about it, why don't you just show us how to remove some. Now, my dear Alton, get to cooking! [gently slaps him on the cheek] The show is almost half over! And chill.
AB: Hey, but wait a minute. I ...
Ahh, it's easy for her to say. I don't have any ... [turns to the counter top, where all of the ingredients for desalinizing olives are assembled on a Lazy Susan]. Well would you look at that. That is one fabulous fridge fairy I've got. Might as well give it a try.
Step one, we must rid ourselves of this insidious industrial brine with a quick rinse in cold water. But that is not enough in and of itself. No, we must soak our olives in fresh water to extract some of the sodium. Now as little as five minutes will do some good, but longer would be better. Five hours wouldn't be terrible.
|1 Pound Large Green Olives|
Bring in a vessel large enough to hold our pound of olives and start with one clove of garlic, finely minced. To that we will add one half cup of extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of red wine vinegar, the juice of one medium lemon, plus the zest of said lemon, one-half teaspoon of red pepper flake, one-half teaspoon of dried tarragon, one-quarter teaspoon of curry powder. Then we will bring our olives to the party. Make sure that the lid is firmly affixed, and give a good shake to coat. There we go.
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive
1 Tbs. Red Wine Vinegar
Juice & Zest From 1 Lemon
1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flake
1/2 tsp. Dried Tarragon
1/4 tsp. Curry Powder
Now you could stash these in just a cool, dark place, for about a day, to let them marinate at room temperature. Then move them to the chill chest.
No dish delivers olive-y goodness quite like the olive paste of Provence:
tapenade. Now I realize that innumerable permutations of this dish exist. I
think the real secret is in creating not only a contrast of flavors, but a
contrast of textures. I do this by using a combination of soft-flesh,
easy-to-pit olives, and some firm-flesh, not-so-easy-to-pit olives, okay. Now
super soft olives, like, say, kalamatas, can often be pitted simply by rolling
them around in a tea towel while exuding a bit of downward pressure.
Tougher olives, like this little French number, might just require a thwack from one of my favorite multi-taskers: the bench scraper. Apply thusly. Place the device thusly [under the scraper], one good whack. Pits be gone! Whatever you do, don't go out and buy one of those sissified olive pitters. You just don't need it. [eats an olive, we hear a tooth crack, h e winces and walks off]
Athenian brides wear olive crowns or carry
olive branches to ensure a fruitful marriage.
GUESTS: Dr. Snell*
"W", Equipment Specialist
[AB is in the dentist's chair getting a shot of Novocain]
DOCTOR SNELL: There we go ...
AB: [gags from the injection]
DS: Bit down on an olive pit, huh?
DS: Well, you know, olives, like cherries, apricots, peaches ...
AB: ... and pwums ...
DS: ... and plums, are drupes, and drupes have ... Oops, sorry.
DS: Sorry. Drupes have a hard pit or stone that protects the seed. They're very hard.
AB: Uh huh.
DS: And guys like me make a lot of money off them.
DS: You should've used a pitter.
AB: [tries to speak clearly, but his mouth is numb] Ahh weehhhal. Whahts a wahunitashur.
DS: Well, that may be true. It may be a unitasker, but if you had used that unitasker, maybe I wouldn't be needing to use this unitasker [holds up extraction forceps] And Miss Wong, we may need those #7 forceps as well.
W: [pops up on the other side of AB] Of course, Doctor Snell.
W: I've also prepped the drill and the gum scissors ...
DS: Thank you.
W: ... just in case. Hi, AB.
DS: Just, just relax.
AB: Nah! Nah!
DS: Ms. Wong's been working here, part time, for years now.
AB: [tries to get up] Ohhwah nwah.
DS: I'll be right back once that Novocain kicks in.
W: Well, a girl has to have some fun, you know.
W: Well, you know, before we start drilling, pulling, and gouging, let's talk about pitters, shall we? [picks up a pitter from the tool tray] Pitters. The best models look a lot like tooth extractors, that is, a spring-loaded scissor design. You want a heavy-duty construction in the following features: a deep receiver to hold large or small olives and a curved piston or striker with a sharp, concave tip, that will go through the olive cutting through its flesh and pushing the tip through a hole that's big enough for the pit, but not so big that small olives would push through.
Receiver / Holder
Piston / Striker
AB: Whay wahis wit cwaurveahd?
W: Well, it's simple physics.
W: Moving in an arc, a straight striker would cut through, and just tear through an olive. You also want a stopper, to prevent the device from closing so much that it'll crush the olive.
AB: Oh, wah, I wah. Whan woo wuse wih fwah
W: Oh, absolutely you can use it for cherries. That's why there's a little groove there. To put the stem through.
AB: Alwhy. Cwevah. Heh heh heh heh.
W: Now, can you feel this? [grabs AB's lower lip and pulls up]
AB: Owwww!! Yehhs!
W: No? Good. Doctor, he's ready.
AB: No, I'm not.
DS: Okay, Mr. Brown, you're going to feel a little bit of pressure.
AB: No, not yet. Ahhhhh.
In 1774, Thomas Jefferson planted olives at Monticello. They died.
Traditionally, tapenade is made via mortar and pestle. But if you decide to give that up and look to your food processor for labor relief, I, for one, won't tell. So, in go half a pound of mixed, rinsed, pitted olives along with two tablespoons of olive oil—extra virgin would be nice—a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, one small clove of garlic, minced, two tablespoons of capers, which are, of course, the pickled flower buds of a Mediterranean evergreen, two to three basil leaves, and last, but not least, two anchovy filets.
1/2 Pound Rinsed, Pitted
2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
1 Small Clove Garlic, Minced
2 Tbs. Capers
2 To 3 Basil Leaves
2 Anchovy Filets
[the camera pulls back to show he has a "cold pack" of frozen peas attached to
the side of his face with a head wrap of gauze] Oh, come on. Anchovies don't have to be those funny little furry coils on bad
frozen pizzas, really. I prefer salt-packed anchovies which I soak in a little
cold water before adding to anything, and they're just for flavor, trust me.
What are you looking at? They're frozen peas. They help with the swelling. Now come
Now get everything in the work bowl and process in brief bursts until you've got a nice, even, but coarse paste. You may have to stop several times during the process to scrape down the bowl. It'll probably take you about a minute total.
So what exactly is tapenade good for? Well, there are the obvious choices. You could smear it all over crudités or on a nice piece of bruschetta. But there are other options to be sure. For instance, you could mix a little with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice and make yourself a nice little salad dressing. You could toss it with hot vegetables. Smear it on beef; beef loves tapenade. I like to stir mine into mashed potatoes. Very tasty. And fish? Fish never had a better friend. In fact, I can only think of one food that really just doesn't get along with tapenade. [pan to a slice of pie]
[tastes] Mmmm, that is good tapen ... [tosses the spoon away] I wasn't double dipping, really. Oh look, there's only a third of a cup left. It's time to make our tapenade bread.
We'll need one third of a cup of that [tapenade] and these other fine products. We will need three teaspoons of baking powder, and 17 ounces—which is about three and a half cups—of all-purpose flour. And that's going to go straight to the food processor. Now I like combining these in the food processor because it helps to aerate the flour which means that the batter is going to come together more easily.
3 tsp. Baking Powder
17 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
So just a couple of pulses and then we'll add the rest of the tapenade right on top of that. We don't want to chop that up so we're just going to give it a few pulses to combine: two, three, four ought to do it. Basically, you shouldn't even see the tapenade anymore, and you don't.
|1/3 Cup Prepared Tapenade|
Now, we move on down the line to the wet team of the software. We have one and a quarter teaspoons of kosher salt, which I realize isn't wet but it will dissolve, one half cup of olive oil, one cup of milk, two eggs, lightly beaten, and one tablespoon of honey, which I really never like to measure. We'll just eyeball that. And whisk until thoroughly emulsified.
1 1/4 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Whole Milk
2 Eggs, Beaten
1 Tbs. Honey
In Imperial Rome, the defeated in battle carried
olive branches when they begged for peace.
There. When that is thoroughly mixed, we'll bring on board 12 ounces of mixed olives which have been rinsed, pitted, and chopped right into the wet works. Go down, grab your dry goods and your spatula, and dump that right on top, very gently. Now this is a quick bread and therefore will toughen if it is over stirred, of course, because of the moisture mixing with the protein in the flour. So we'll only mix enough to bring this together.
12 Ounces Rinsed, Pitted
Rough Chopped Olives
That's it. Just walk away. Just walk away. Yeah, I know there's some lumps, some little dry places. That's okay. Actually, don't walk away. Let's walk over here. We need to get a loaf pan ready. Here is the pan. I'm going to give a quick spritz with some no-stick spray, which is mostly to hold down this piece of parchment which we are going to use as a kind of a sling to remove the final loaf. There. And now, the batter goes in, and believe it or not, it will all fit. There.
This goes into a 375 degree oven for about an hour and 15 to an hour 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature hits 210 degrees.
Now if you don't have your instant-read thermometer with you, you can always take a skewer and do this the old-fashioned way. If it comes out dry, you know that you are good to go. Now let this cool for 30 minutes before you go cutting up on it, okay?
A: And now, the moment you've all been waiting for. The grand prize winner of
this year's giant food competition, Alton Brown.
AB: [Award Giver hands AB the little trophy and shakes his hand]
MG: I don't get it. The thing is so small you couldn't even put a ribbon around it. I just don't understand.
AB: Well, McGregor, maybe in the rock, paper, scissors of agricultural competition, occasionally flavor wins out over 28.5 pounds of woody blandness. But don't feel bad. Third place ain't too shabby.
C: It's the noisy cricket factor. That's what it is.
MG: Boy, I don't understand a word you just said.
AB: Yeah, I read you loud and clear, Chuck. It's a tiny oval but it is packed with flavor. And it's a flavor that's as versatile and vital as it was 10,000 years ago. And you know, this isn't just about flavor, guys. These things are gosh darn good for you. They are packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Go ahead, go ahead, grab one. You know you want to.
C: Man, that thing is tasty.
MG: Slippery little thing.
AB: Okay. So, do you guys have a little something for me? Come on. Come on.
MG & C: [hand AB some olive branches]
AB: Okay, that's good. Now we can be friends again.
MG: [sarcastically] Oh goody.
AB: See you next time, on "Good Eats".
C: [spits out the olive pit which hits someone off camera], we hear and Oww!]
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
*From Dr. Szell, Marathon Man reference (confirmed by AB)
Last Edited on 08/27/2010