For determined East End locavores, who subsisted all winter on potatoes, cauliflower and the last of a Bridgehampton pork share, the first sun-ripened strawberries of the season are like a hug from an old, dear friend. And it only gets better over the next few weeks. Right now, in the quart containers offered up at local farmstands, the early-season berries are still mostly classic fire engine red—not too sweet and a bit firm. But as the season nears its peak, more and more heat-bathed berries will blush towards that tone of crimson purple that indicates fruit flesh melting into a tender, sugary ambroisia.
I’m not the only one who counts strawberries as an “Eats to Know.” In fact, strawberries made the cut as one of the 7 Special Ingredients that will be featured at partner restaurants (and in like-minded home kitchens) throughout New York during Eat Drink Local from June 24-30. And strawberries are a preferred pink food of Eating with Clio, since they will turn yogurt and ice cream and pies pink.
So, when my co-publisher Stephen Munshin and I headed to Montauk for an early morning meetup with Surf Lodge chef Sam Talbot at his surfboard-strewn, artwork-crammed home on South Lake Drive, it seemed only fitting to make a pre-Napeague stop at Springs Close Farm for a few containers of berries. Talbot was in good spirits, if a little tired after working the line all Saturday night. (Two of his cooks were out.) During the week, Talbot cooks at Imperial No. 9 at the Mondrian Hotel in SoHo. But on weekends, he returns to his “first love,” the Surf Lodge in Montauk, where he has been the chef since it opened in 2008, and where his menu tends toward raw seafood, fresh produce, and eco-healthy cuisine sensitive to where and how the ingredients were raised.
When presented with our berries, Talbot eyed them and then reeled off 3 recipes, which he claims you can make at home, even if you don’t have the ability to flash fry rosemary or candy bacon. (Note: Talbot grew up partly in North Carolina, where he caught bluefish and crabs on the coast, and developed his love for pork belly.) For the first video recipe (which you can view here; stay tuned for recipes two and three.), Talbot describes how to make something akin to strawberry deviled eggs by halving and coring the berries and filling them with bacon, rosemary, salt and olive oil. “It’s literally one of the best things ever,” he said. “It’s a great hors d’ouerve. It goes awesome with champagne, miraculously enough. There’s the champagne and the strawberry and the fatty bacon sort of cuts the champagne. It’s cool. It’s totally something I would do with fresh strawberries.”
An earlier version of this post ran on “Eats to Know” at the MTK Festival blog.