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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The next big thing: Will Moroccan argan oil find its way to Cleveland?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 11, 2008 at 6:56 AM

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It’s always dicey to tout this or that ingredient as “the next big thing” – especially here in Cleveland, where coastal trends, should they arrive at all, seem to do so at a glacier’s pace. Still, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a small culinary prediction: Don’t be surprised if argan oil begins to replace the over-used truffle oil at some of our upper-tier restaurants. I’m basing this hunch on two factors. ... First, a November travel story in the New York Times, which cites the oil – pressed from the roasted nut of the ancient argan tree, which grows almost exclusively in the southwestern corner of Morocco – as the new “liquid gold.” And second, we recently got our hands on a bottle – and it tastes amazing. Dark golden in color and far more aromatic than olive oil, argan oil delivers a huge hit of toasty, roasted-grain flavors, along with a smooth, buttery mouth feel, and a slight spiciness on the finish. (While its exotic nature defies easy comparison, top-quality sesame seed oil isn’t too far off the mark.) And as befitting its light texture and complex flavor profile, it’s a shoo-in as a novel finishing oil for anything from couscous and grilled fish to mashed potatoes and bean soup. (To enjoy it like the natives do, try a few drops mixed with lemon juice as a salad dressing; or combined with honey and yogurt as a traditional Moroccan breakfast.) According to the Times, the oil is “not so new in Europe: English and French tourists have been bringing it back for years, and it’s all over the markets of Provence, lined up next to the lavender and olive oils.” Our own Cleveland chef Moha Orchid (Venezia), a native Moroccan, confirms the oil’s growing cachet: “It’s huge with chefs in Europe and, increasingly, in New York City.” Don’t look for it on local menus – at least not yet. As of yesterday morning, even as cultured a culinarian as Ben Fambrough, the globe-trotting former chef at downtown’s Sans Souci, hadn’t heard of it – although it certainly piqued his interest. If all that isn’t enough to earn argan oil “the next big thing” status, there are these additional points to ponder. 1.) The pressing is an artisanal, labor-intensive process, relegated mostly to Bedouin women. 2.) Argan trees are endangered, and in danger of becoming extinct. And 3.) The stuff is wicked pricey, with a 500-ml bottle (about two cups) fetching $70 on Mustapha’s Moroccan imports. Smells like a trend in the making to me. It's just a matter of how long it takes Cleveland to catch on. -- Elaine T. Cicora Read Elaine Cicora's restaurant reviews, food news, and comprehensive dining guide on the restaurant page at clevescene.com.

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