What's Fabulous: Tube Food
When science fiction writers describe food in the future, aside from the 1973 film Soylent Green that portrayed a polluted world marked by food shortages and Charlton Heston saving us from ourselves (literally), cooking is usually some kind of hyper-convenience, as with the Jetsons' automated kitchen and robot maid.
In reality, our first space explorers had Tang and packets of freeze-dried ice cream prompting forecasters to predict we'd be soon all be eating food out of tubes. Cooking wouldn't be necessary. Instead we'd just have a squirt of dinner.
Don't you love it when such a pin-headed forecast is wrong? In this case the forecasters clearly forgot that most of us we eat more for pleasure than convenience. Still, innovative packaging can create options and sometimes, great flavor. Vacuum pouch cooking sous vide is one. But another is what I call modern tube foods.
Most tube foods are ingredients that season other dishes and are used in small amounts. How often do you need just a tablespoon of tomato paste to flavor a soup or stew but don't want to open a whole can knowing the rest might go to waste? For that we have tubes of tomato paste.
Besides tomato paste, there are other very useful and easy to find ingredients that are packaged in tubes:
- Black olive paste -- add to a fish marinade or tuna salad
- Garlic paste -- make quick garlic bread or add to salad dressing
- Onion juice -- for flavor in a barbeque sauce or marinade
- Tomato paste -- add depth to pasta sauces, gravies, stews
- Basil pesto -- add to chevre for a dip, dilute with olive oil to make a dressing for tomatoes and mozzarella, coat plain fish before baking, season vegetable soups; this is especially useful during the times of year when fresh basil is either scarce or shockingly expensive
- Sun dried tomato paste -- to flavor fish, use in place of catsup on a burger, to season casserole or risotto, to glaze a meatloaf or add to barbeque sauce
- Wasabi paste -- add to poaching liquid for fish, add to glaze for broiled tuna steaks, supplement the little dab of wasabi that comes with take-out sushi
- Anchovy paste -- to add complexity to vinaigrette, for marinades for steaks and chops, to flavor dipping sauce for steamed vegetables
- Harissa (a spicy Middle Eastern paste) -- to add heat to couscous, grilled meats and broiled seafood
- Mustard -- handy for picnics and taking lunch to work or to buy hot mustard that you may use less often than Dijon mustard
Some of these are concentrated although the anchovy paste is not, having the same intensity of flavor as if you finely minced individual anchovies. These tubes come sealed so that once you puncture the opening, they should be refrigerated. I have a little stack-up of them in one of the little shelves on my refrigerator door; at the moment I have tomato paste, anchovy paste, mustard (a tube of hot mustard in addition to my large jar of Maille Dijon), wasabi, and harissa.
I use harissa in small quantities and find it keeps better in a tube than a jar. And my sole use of anchovy paste is to make salad dressing, a kind of short-cut to the salty flavors in a classic Caesar dressing. See our recipe.
A popular and very good brand of tube food is Amore. While it has a U.S. distributor in New Jersey, Amore makes and packages its products in Italy. The tubes are date-stamped -- most seem to have a 2-year shelf life -- and cost in the $3.00 to $5.00 range depending where you buy them. For example, I bought a 1.58 oz. of anchovy paste at Zabar's for $3.39. On Amore's website, where they sell their products in minimum orders of two tubes, the same anchovy paste costs $2.19 per tube, plus shipping (at $8.00 for 3 pounds, the shipping is costly for only two tubes but it becomes more reasonable for a bigger order).
Tubes of Seafood and Sausages
Years ago on an early visit to Italy, I stayed in a small, very inexpensive hotel in Rome. The modest room rate included breakfast, which was served as a buffet in a plain basement room that was brightly lit with bare florescent bulbs. On the table were rolls and bread, little packets of jam and Nutella, a basket of apples, and pitchers of watered-down fruit juice. The cappuccino was made to order and excellent.
Staying in the hotel at the same time was a small group of northern Europeans. My memory is vague on whether they were Dutch or German but I clearly remember that the spare Italian breakfast was not sufficient for them. The next morning they showed up with their own tomatoes as well as tubes of pork paté-like cooked sausage. They'd add to the hotel's offerings by passing the tube among them, making breakfast sausage and tomato sandwiches.
At the time I thought they weren't embracing the local culture. I now appreciate they were just hungry. And the idea of adding a savory sausage to just-baked Italian rolls is actually a wonderful idea for breakfast.
Buying sausage or seafood by the tube is very practical for those foods of which we want just a little. Or for a household that is small. A little bit of salmon paté on toasted bread or a sliced cherry tomato makes a special hors d'oeuvres for one or two persons without having to buy the ingredients to make enough for eight. Then you can do it again tomorrow. But tubed patés don't all taste wonderful so you will need to try and sample them for yourself. I find many of the tubed fish and sausage patés are very salty but palates are personal and you may disagree.
One to try is Abba's Salmon Paté. It's very popular and even has its own Facebook page, although there's none for their mackerel and tomato version; seems like salmon is better suited to social networking than mackerel. Fish patés and tubes of fish roe, caviar, and crab paté need to be refrigerated, even before they're opened. Salmon paté is the easiest to find in local markets, sold usually alongside packages of smoked fish. For the more exotic products, there are online sources that specialize in Scandinavian and Dutch foods.
With the child-friendly name of Squish'ems! (it's their !, not mine), Dole launched a line of fruit purées pasteurized and packaged in pouches with a re-sealable capped nozzle. The core ingredient in Squish'ems! is applesauce which gives you a sense of the texture. Each pouch is a single serving of fruit, is essentially spill-proof, and need no refrigeration. And they taste quite good.
The packaging is actually a bit of real-world Jetsons as it was originally designed by Japanese scientists for NASA as a space-friendly way to put fruit into astronauts' meals.
Revolution Foods and Peter Rabbit Organics are two of the smaller companies that now sell an organic version of fruit purées and sometimes you can find the Peter Rabbit products at Starbucks for kids who don't want a venti. Flavors range from the common (applesauce, cherry, grape) to more exotic (a mix of mango, banana, and orange).
Although these products are targeted to children, in fact these fruit-filled pouches can be handy for adults. A generous squeeze of fruit purée into low fat plain yogurt is a wonderful breakfast and because they're shelf stable, the pouches can be a pantry back-up when you've run out of fresh or frozen fruit (I love frozen blueberries as a mid-winter yogurt addition). They can be a sturdy alternative to fresh fruit on a bike ride or a lunch packed for work, or an easy addition to a smoothie made either at home or in an office kitchen blender. This is one of the best packing innovations I've seen in a long time.
However, just because technology can put almost any food into a tube, should it? On a recent trip to Europe I saw a tube food by Nestlé that was a thick paste of milk and sugar, a kind of sweetened condensed milk that gives new portability to making regular coffee. Why? If you can buy or make the coffee, why would milk and sugar need to come out of a tube? There's a limit to how far convenience should go. Just ask George Jetson and his boy, Elroy, as they head out in the copter for tube-less pizza.