Alors, l’alose. Friday, Mar 28 2014 

I had a shad.  And painstakingly deboned it.

Swim Shady.

Swim Shady.

Shad.  The hallmark Mid-Atlantic harbinger of spring, along with the ubiquitous asparagus, those tired ramps, the pods, the peas, mushrooms, rhubarb, berries and such.  However the shad demands more than a peeler.  Nimble and sensitive fingers, insurmountable patience and a dexterous knife rule the day.  Shad roe is the folksy popular progeny while the mothership is generally an afterthought, overlooked on account of the maddening maze of bones; pin bones, “y” bones and everything in between.

Pocketbook style eggs

Mothership & crew.

Provençal culinary folklore suggests that the oxalic acid  in sorrel melts the multitude of minuscule bones. There are as many fables to support the homeopathic shad-butchery of yesteryear as there are tales on the intrawebs declaring otherwise.  Undeterred and fiercely obedient to traditional French cuisine, the shad was butterflied through the back, the pin bones removed, stuffed with an ample amount of sorrel, bathed with brandy and slow baked for 10 hours at 160F.

My fish butchery has been commended as being strongly vaginal which bothers some men.

My fish butchery has been commended as being strongly vaginal                                which bothers some men.

The fish didn’t fall apart.  In fact, it held together quite well.  If the oxalic acid had worked as well as advertised, I would get a boneless slice of shad, the bones having melted away much like those in pickled herring.  Perhaps a pressure cooker would have sufficed.

Shad in  steel cercophagus

Shad in steel sarcophagus

Mummified

Mummified

It didn’t work.  The results were discouraging and left discomfort in the craw.  The “y” shaped pin bones are as remarkable a choking hazard as they are irritatingly baffling. Deboning shad is an enterprise in another reality of fish butchering and the handful of old timers that still know how to do it cleanly and efficiently deserve a comfy repose somewhere between the Smithsonian’s American History and Folk Art Department.  The meat was picked apart and we made shad cakes like they used to do back in the 50′s when you could still find canned shad roe at the grocery store.

Shadurday night fever.

Shadurday night fever.

There are about 400 bones, maybe even more, in each filet.  After fucking up a couple filets the bone matrix was finally deciphered and eventually, with dainty fingers, insufferable patience and delicate knifework, about 99.27% of the bones were removed.  The roe was rolled up in the beta version and inlayed in the forcemeat; a mixture of ground fluke, cream and egg white then sieved and mixed with J.O. spice, lemon zest and sorrel. It was rolled up as one would for a ballotine then poached, gently.

Tube fish.

Boneless tubefish.

A revised 2.0 version had the roe washed clean with water to remove the blood and bound with 10% of the forcemeat.  Much better results.  What’s more, the sorrel, without contact to the air or too high of cooking temperature kept green.  A sauce was made.  Loosey-goosey soubise of sorts (fish fumet thickened with butter, rice and onion) then blended smooth with blanched sorrel, watercress and parsley.  Lardons from my venrèche, little onions and red thumb potatoes filled out the rest of the plate after the slice was seared in lard rendered from the cured belly.  The dish was well executed, properly harmonized and exceedingly well received.

Hopelessly dated discipline and technique.

Hopelessly dated discipline and technique, though delicious.

Un jeune hareng Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Matjes

Fish tales.

Fish tales.

Pickled young herring

They are immature female herring.  Matjes is Dutch for v-vvv-vv-virgin herring.  Young females that have not yet laid eggs.  Traditionally they are brined with the guts still in and the pancreas does something that makes them more better but I’m not ready to start experimenting with the benefits of pancreatic spoilage.  They were salted then packed in a vinegar based solution with sugar, allspice, carrots and onions.  Accompanied by la ratte potatoes made better with some soured cream, lemon zest and parsley; you know, for freshness.  And a nice medley of handsomely colored pickled onions.

Pickular circles.

Pickular circles.

Une année de plus Monday, Jan 6 2014 

I resolve to be more ornery and judgmental.

Crabby New Year.

Crabby New Year.

A positive review is always welcome, though cursory Mad-Lib generated validation based on the sampling of 5 dishes (not counting the oyster and caviar & potato chips -neither of which we make, all we do is order and open them) after only 2 visits is the kind of empty praise one expects to find in a greeting card written sent from a grandparent whose wits are slowly unraveling or the praise parents must lavish on their tone-deaf and hopelessly uncoordinated children.  Better than to be panned I guess, though at least Ebert watch more than 10 minutes of the film.

π's

π’s

Fish pie in savory pastry with some pickles.

Fish pie in savory pastry with some pickles.

The fish pie is still a work in progress and I am flummoxed by the salinity despite a conservative 1.2% seasoning.  Eels will be available in the spring/summer, though my concern is that the eel meat will be mushy after 24 hours -the reason eels are sold live.  The coulibiac in Daniel’s cookbook  is absolutely stunning and the next challenge in the pâté croûte realm.

Butterflied swimmers.

Butterflied swimmers.

Salt bath.

Salt bath.

Pickled herring have been a success, though some are far more difficult to butterfly than others.  The Swedish varieties are exceedingly sweet and these are tempered a bit, not without their charm. More vividly colored pickles to follow.

Tales of the pickle.

Tales of the pickle.

I do miss making the meat fabrications though.

Star gazing.

Star gazing.

Bouffe les Bourges Monday, Nov 11 2013 

Eat the Rich

Whelks.  Stinky.

Whelks. Stinky.

Its an oyster bar on 7th St NW in the nation’s capital and I am in charge of the engine room.  Chesapeake Bay inspired food.  Whelks; stuffed porgy for 2; chöwderhead, Grand Chesapeake boil (scallops, shrimp, clams, fish, garlic sausage, cauliflower, potatoes, coddled egg and aïoli); swordfish & sauerkraut; beach & beans (flageolet beans, calamari, albacore, pickled mackerel), montgomery pie and the Superoast: -15oz lamb roast barded with ventrèche, sausage, grilled oysters and shank simmered in black-eyed peas.

Stuffed porgy.  Boneless, naturally.

Stuffed porgy. Boneless, naturally.

Fish Pie with pickles.

Fish Pie with pickles.

Fin d’un ère Friday, Aug 30 2013 

End of an Era

Pork & Squab Starship.

Pork & Squab Starship.

My term as meat minister at Range is coming to an end (“master” is the journalist’s embellishment, which, while flattering, is embarrassing considering what I have seen elsewhere.  I am grateful for their faith and trust in my craftsmanship.  Now to re-align recipes to work with seafood from the Chesapeake Bay.  Cue the B-roll photo montage of things that no one really ate:

Chicken giblets.  Livers as a terrine, gizzards confit.

Chicken giblets. Livers as a terrine, gizzards confit.

Chicken galantine with pistachio-stuffed morels

Chicken galantine with pistachio-stuffed morels

Rabbit and Riesling with mustard and mint.

Rabbit and Riesling with mustard and mint.

Jambon sec Wednesday, Jul 24 2013 

Dry-cured ham. 

Ham Jam 2013

Ham Jam 2013

Pure-breed Berkshire ham.  2 of them. More of a European approach in that the aitch bone was removed before curing.  Benton’s and Col Newsom’s  keep them on.  For what it’s worth (not much), I’ve become proficient at deboning and sewing up bone in hams.

Ham in a can.

Ham in a can.

Cured with coarse sea salt, modest amount of sugar, nitrate, effort and time.  Packed in a wooden wine box on a rack on an incline to do away with the resulting brine.  Rubbed again with salt after 2 weeks.  Terrific.

Salt of the earth.

Salt of the earth.

It spent a month in the salt. I got drunk a few times in the meantime.

Dark side of the Ham.

Dark side of the Ham.

Soaked the hams in water overnight and hung them out to dry. Rubbed the exposed meat with lard and ground spices as is tradition, even though there is little chance of any insects getting into the crappy Stagionello curing cabinet (based on the cabinets confusing and awful performance, anything is possible).  They will hang at 55F with 75% humidity for 6 months or so and we’ll see what happens.  And if they are inedible, I’m not too worried.  That’s the silver lining of not getting any credit for your professional work.  It also ensures all but absolute anonymity and keeps you exiled in a lower tax bracket.

Business end of lunch.

Business end of lunch.

Artichauts en Crepinettes à la Barigoule Thursday, Jun 13 2013 

Artichoke Crepinette à la Barigoule

A fresh and dried chick pea ragout with simmered pork shank.

Savory choke orb.

Savory choke orb.

A delightful cassoulet-inspired spring fabrication using artichokes, chickpeas, pork shank and spring garlic.  The dish presents a fair amout of work, but I was told by a better cook than myself that anything worth doing is worth doing right.  While my craving for artichokes is not one that I would run 10 miles in wet jeans and fip-flops to satisfy, turning the artichokes is a an exercise in handiwork, knife skills, speed, efficiency and Zen –the pleasures generally associated with endorphins and diligently slicing cured salmon.

Artichokes in roasted formation.

Artichokes in roasted formation.

The artichokes were turned whole, the stems cut at the base of the heart and simmered in acidulated water with olive oil, aromatics, honey, spice and salt until just tender.  Meanwhile, over on the counter, a measured amount of dried chick peas were soaked (in lieu of garbanzo beans) in dihydrogen monoxide overnight.  They were then blanched with pork shanks that had been brined for a few days to remove the impurities –namely foam- from the chickpeas.  Tomato water (a byproduct of the strained canned San Marzano tomatoes), water, salt and spices were measured according to the weight of the beans, a bouquet of tarragon, 2 ½’ed lemons, bay leaf, Oreo cookies and gently cooked in an 225F oven for 6-7 hours.

Chock full 'O chokes.

Chock full ‘O chokes.

Back to the chokes.  Pork trimmings were resourcefully ground with turnip and beet greens then seasoned with a determined amount of cream, bread crumbs, salt and spice, because BMW doesn’t just slap together car parts; they measure.  The forcemeat was divided into equal parts, rolled up, placed into the artichoke bottoms, cinched with a thin slice of my ventrèche to maintain moisture and promote flavor, then wrapped in caul fat to keep it all nice and clean and bound up tight.  The artichokes were placed on an aromatic vegetable bedding with olive oil and more of the tomato water then roasted covered in a moderately hot oven until the vegetables released their juices and cooked tender, then the cover removed to caramelize the artichokes and concentrate the flavor.  The artichokes were placed in a container and the tomato water/juices strained over.  And that is some good French cookery.  Perhaps it might succeed in the nation’s capital, as it appears to in an admittedly larger city up north.

Artie Chokes.

Artie Chokes.

Barigoule has been bastardized and diluted over the last few centuries.  Not sure why or how the recipe (d)evolved, but originally, artichokes à la barigoule appeared in the 18th century and the name is attributed to the milk cap mushroom (Lactarius deliciosus) known as the “barigoult” derived from the provençal berigoulo.  The artichokes are cut as one would pick the mushroom, turned so that they resemble the mushroom in appearance and cooked in olive oil as the mushrooms would be.  Later, they were stuffed with a mixture of the mushroom and onion, wrapped in fatback or pork belly (ventrèche or petit sale) and then slowly braised.  The mushrooms began to disappear, either as a result of over-harvesting or natural cycle, and along with it the traditional preparation. “À la barigoule” is cooked in the manner of the mushroom, which is to say generally stuffed.  Therefore, a proper artichoke à la barigoule should be stuffed or at the very least treated in a manner deemed worthy of a saffron milcap or similar mushroom.  Cooking artichokes in acidulated water does not à la barigoule make.

Parsley de Lys.

Parsley de Lys.

Fortunately, the pork shanks and chick peas cook tender after the same amount of time.  The shanks were pulled from the beans and left to cool after which the meat was picked and shredded at the natural seams then mixed into the beans.  The ½’ed lemons were squeezed to release their juice and some sherry vinegar added for essential acidity in an otherwise rich dish.

Red Funion.

Red Funion.

While the shanks were cooling, spring garlic was toasted in olive oil,  sliced red onions added and cooked until wilted after which the segments and julienned zest of 2 lemons were added to bolster the red onion color and flavor.  The reserved artichoke stalks were sliced and stirred into the onion mixture along with spring garlic tops and said matignon (French soffritto) would be incorporated into the chick pea mixture once it cooled –lest it discolor the red onion.  Check for salt and vinegar, place in a container and wait to serve the next day.

A proper chick pea stew.

A proper chick pea stew.

The gelatin released from the collagen-rich shanks will thicken the bean liquid considerably and once cooled the cassoulet is firm with good body and viscosity.  The stuffed artichoke is heated in its liquid until warmed through while the beans are supplemented by fresh chick peas.  The components come together with a blessing of bread crumbs.  It is a substantial dish with well-seasoned and moist sausage, tender artichoke,

Encornet farci de boudin Wednesday, May 15 2013 

Squid Stuffed with Boudin.

Get your squid stuffed here.

Get your squid stuffed here.

In a concerted effort to minimize the appalling waste generally (and unabashedly) generated by restaurants while expanding a culinary repertoire and practicing practical classical techniques, fish trimmings have been saved and with the addition of orphaned egg whites and lobster roe, cream, a few shrimp,  vegetables, starch (corn starch,  eventually bread crumb and possibly tapioca as a binder), busted up lobster knuckles and some effort produced a pleasantly plump, savory, harlequin (multicolored) boudin.  Essentially an emulsified silken seafaring sausage generated from scraps.  Resourceful, technical, efficient -and with a cost of $0.70 per 3oz link-  quite economical when supplemented by thrifty shellfish.

The Great Boudini.

The Great Boudini.

Many prototypes  were tested with the type and percentage of binder varying, offering different texture and firmness results though the other amounts of ingredients (fish, shrimp, egg white, cream, cooked vegetable garnish) remained consistent.  While corn starch made for a firm sausage (something our male readership might be able to relate to and what the female readers might yearn for in the morning after dreaming about this blog) bread crumbs seems like a more efficient and wholesome use of leftover bread baked in the restaurant.  Tapioca starch might relieve me of any guilt passed on to consumers by government subsidies to the corn industry which artificially devalues our nation’s food quality.

Visual approximation of squid size and purchase location.

Visual approximation of squid size and purchase location.

Rather than stuffing the boudin mixture into casing, I picked up some large squid (not pig rectum imitation calamari)  from the venerable Bestworld over in Mt. Pleasant  along with California asparagus and bulb onions; the hallmarks of spring.  Boudin was stuffed into the squid, roasted stove top in a cast iron dutch oven and basted with roasted lime.  Upon resting, the tubes were sliced and garnished with some manicured asparagus and spring onions glazed in olive oil.  The tubes were tender and the delicious boudin rendered pastel red from the cooked lobster roe.  Carrots, fennel, lemon zest, leek red pepper and dill provided additional texture, flavor and colorful contrast.  A later version found the boudin cut into thick coins, browned in olive oil and composed with the vegetal ingredients in larger forms as well as a particularly creamy Carolina Gold & spring onion soubise; the sublime, old timey French purée of butter, onions, rice, sour cream (blanched onion tops for a soothing vermillion color) which so nicely compliments the feathery light boudin.  Past and future versions include and are not limited to internal garnishes of tuna, cured salmon, striped bass belly, capers, green M&M’s, mermaid nipples and manatee peduncle.

Le Grand Non-Gagnant de Cochon. Monday, Apr 22 2013 


The Grand Non-Winner

Cochon 555 Washington, DC 2013

This little piggy went straight to the bar afterwards.

This little piggy went straight to the bar afterwards.

Behind a fawned over figurehead’s formidable speech (Theodore Roosevelt notwithstanding),  is generally an obscured speechwriter worthy of a couple kudos, snap-shots, blogs, high-fives and twatters.  I am such a wordsmith with an equally subjective, savory craft who doesn’t always receive the credit they work hard to earn.

After all but begging my employer to get me to participate in the DC Cochon 555 edition since my requests to be considered as a candidate were routinely ignored, I had 5 weeks to develop a menu and after delivery of a decent Large Black hog from Leaping Water’s farm, 6 days to execute.  With the exception of a few fabrications and tasks that were delegated to colleagues, I made 96.83% of all the food; butchering the hog, brining the hams & bellu, making the aspic, the rillettes, the cheese sausage, the loin, the pâté en croûte, the pickles, the liver terrine, the pojarski, the breading, the gribiche and even cut the booties for the Pojarski.

Ham jam 2013.

Ham jam 2013.

As dictated by the contest rules, I would be judged based on usage of the entire animal, flavor, creativity, affability, star appeal and apparently marketing.  In hindsight, the menu should have mentioned the parts used, which have now been added in parentheses. The quality of the animal was not remarkable and any enthusiasm was quickly snuffed out by the presence of a few blood splashes in the shoulder caps, a symptom of careless slaughter and not being bled quickly enough.  Nonetheless, it was a decent hog.

Cochon 555, DC 2013

Range

Prosciutto Cotto (hams) & Mortadella (top sirloin, fatback)

Asparagus in blood aspic  (bones, feet, skin, blood)

and chicories in a smoked ham-hock vinaigrette. (shanks)

-∞∞∞-

Leverpostej.

Danish-style liver terrine wrapped in cured belly. (liver, trimmings, belly)

Salted and cured anchovies, a couple of marinated capers.

-∞∞∞-

Pâté en Croûte 

It’s heart, tongue, kidneys, fatback, pistachios and a few figs. (lard, trimmings, offal)

Some pickled rhubarb and mushrooms.

-∞∞∞-

Pork Belly Pojarski

Breaded and fried.  (belly, trimmings)

Ramp gribiche

-∞∞∞-

L’Astet

Loins roasted with spring garlic. (loin, tenderloin)

Warm confit potatoes and rillettes (jowl, belly)

-∞∞∞-

Saucisson en Brioche

Clothbound cheddar sausage baked in a leaf lard brioche. (trimmings, lard)

And cracklin’ whipped lard.

Hams (and shoulder caps) were given a heavy brine, tied and simmered.  Mortadella was stuffed into smaller beef middles so as to be more manageable to cut and serve.  Shanks were brined, smoked and simmered with tomato juice after which my sponsor assembled a vinaigrette with the diced meat, gelatin enriched tomato juice, pickled mustard seeds, olive oil and banyuls vinegar.  Stock was made from the feet, skin and bones then clarified with blood and egg whites.  The blood doesn’t impart so much of a flavor as it does an amber color, which didn’t necessarily produce a credible sanguine color until it was supplemented with clarified beet juice.  The asparagus was manicured and gently blanched, then tediously dipped like a candle in the aspic.

Me cook pretty one day.

Me cook pretty one day.

Danish style liver terrine was comprised of liver, belly, milk, eggs, salted anchovies, salt tears, madeira, lemon zest, picked thyme and a purée of onions cooked in lard.  The terrine was wrapped in slices of brined and poached belly.  I should have dry-cured the belly as the wet cure yielded flabby slices that were difficult to work with.  This was a very good terrine (a pressed pâté) with a proper balance of liver and meat and the lightest touch of anchovy, which could have been more pronounced.  The slice was adequately garnished with marinated salted capers and pickled white anchovies.

For the pâté en croute, lard represented the fat content of the dough, malt syrup supplemented the mixture for added strength and color and the corn starch was entirely eliminated so as not to compromise the amount of protein in the dough –so as to eliminate breakage.  Tongue, gizzard and heart were brined & cooked; premium trimmings marinated with Armagnac, lemon zest and thyme, figs plumped in booze and a delicate inlay of pistachio assembled with the addition of chlorophyll, egg whites and a nominal amount of trimmings.  The hinging properties of the mold were properly used to apply a decorative pig emblem and after learning a thing or 2 at the Pâté Croûte World Championship, the pâté was built upside down to ensure a clean top and eliminate fissures.   This was a very good pâté, and with absolute humility, better than any other there.

Good enough for government work, but not the judges.

Good enough for government work, but not the judges.

Pojarski’s were diminutive, fancy mock-cutlets fashioned from trimmings of raw shoulder, cured belly, onions cooked in lard, spices, toasted bread crumbs and cream.  Twice breaded and gussied-up with a paper bootie.  Gribiche made with barely boiled eggs became seasonal with a surplus of ramps; the bottoms sweated in olive oil, the top blanched & chopped, along with gherkins, mustards, lemon and whatnot.  They were fried to a golden George Hamilton  and down right delicious.

The loins and tenderloins were brined (without #1 curing salt) in a 5% brine flavored with rosemary and fennel seed. I do not remember any of the other contestants using the loin, surprisingly.  L’Astet is a regional pork dish from l’Aveyron that involves a trussed loin and garlic.  In this case, the tenderloin was cut in half lengthwise and threaded through the center of each quarter loin.  The loin(s) were expertly trussed, nice & tight, and left to marinate in olive oil with spring garlic.  It was later cooked to 145F internally, roasted fat-side down and sliced for the contest.  It was completed with one of the best batches of rillettes I have ever made –jowl, belly, 4 spice and meyer lemon.  Yukon gold potatoes were punched out, blanched and finished in rendered fat with mustard seeds.

A variant of saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage) had clothbound cheddar replace the garlic and after a quick steam in the combi oven was wrapped in lard-based brioche dough and baked.  The prototype came out much better.  Inexplicably, these ones had a significant gap between the sausage and the dough which we had not experienced when using the garlic sausage.  It was a worthwhile sausage, though the binding properties of garlic make for a better, firm texture than cheese.

Complimentary smoked fat-back truffles with Bavarian pretzel crust were offered courtesy of our pastry chef and a testament to the amount of rendered lard that we used.  We had a modest amount of food left over after the liquor drenched event and with the exception of a pound or 2 of fatback, used up the entirety of the animal. 2 of the more reputable judges validated my efforts with firm handshakes and solidly honest compliments, but their votes were diluted by the great unwashed whose palates and eyes were fooled by pedestrian fare and stickers.  Congratulations and thanks to the teams from Proof, Vidalia and Birch & Barley for providing creative and satisfying fare under such considerable time constraints, particularly to those that did the work.  If there is a next time, I’ll develop a winning recipe for making T-shirts. Tremendous thanks to Richie Havens too, even if your career really took off before I was born.

Mes salaisons Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 

My salted wares

How dry I am.

How dry I am.

Rather successful  bovine dry curing.  Viande de Grisson, bresaola and saucisson sec.  Randall-Lineback eye of round for the VdG was cured in 2 stages (half the salt cure for 3 days, the other half for 3 more days), wiped clean of the cure mix, rolled in herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano,  and marjoram) wrapped in cheesecloth and hung in a refrigerated room –no need to ferment the whole muscle, just to dry it. Very nice color, sweet taste, but I don’t know how much the herbs contributed to the flavor.  Kind of musty actually. It eventually developed a bloom after 3 weeks and when it had sufficiently dried to my liking, I pressed it (to achieve the traditional pressed shape) between wooden boards weighed down with cans of tomatoes, though any canned good with equal weight would have worked just as well I suppose.  A friend of mine once pilfered in my pack a can or roasted red peppers from Buca di Beppo, whose “Pope Room” is the gold standard for Italian dining with your delinquent friends, and there is a crappy nudie bar next door  (gnudi bar, by the way, would be a very good idea for a gnudi menu themed room).  I was pleased as punch by the plucked can, though upon shaking it, it seemed like there was quite a bit of water in there.  That sloshy sound was consistent with the contents –dihydrogen monoxide.  What was most amazing, was that the cans were authentically labeled, painted on, nutritional info, imported, importer address, contents, ingredients…  A very convincing 5lb can of roasted red peppers that would fit in on any Costco shelf. Who makes such a mock product?  And what will become of the Pope busts that bless the Pope Room tables?

A square meal.

A square meal.

The bresaola was fabricated from an Angus eye of round, cured in the same manner as the VdG, put in a beef bung casing, brushed with vinegar and left to dry in the same refrigerated room.  After a week, the bresaola began to develop a healthy white bloom and 3 weeks later was completely encased in the cherished bloom which other manufacturers artificially replicate with rice flour. Very nice color and sweet beefy flavor.  Far better than the desiccated beef often passed off as the real McCoy.

Saucisson sec was more of a challenge. Lean Randall-Lineback eye-of-round was used in lieu of pork, primarily because of the abundance of the former, and pork back fat supplemented the fat.  No starter culture.  Standard procedure was applied and the pieces were incubated in a plastic tub for 72 hours.  The refrigerator conditions were not ideal for the proper curing (too cold, not enough humidity) and the ph of the meat may not have been sufficient. While the flavor was enjoyable, particularly the lucknow fennel seed, the sausage itself was a bit softer than desired in the middle, though the face of the slice was encouraging –no air pockets or festering inside, but the fat distribution left much to be desired.

Bloom County.

Bloom County.

Randall-Lineback secca (the French variety of bresaola) was successful and absolutely delicious.  Cured in the same manner as the Viande de Grisson and bresaola.  Stuffed in a beef middle.  Top notch bloom.  I could have snow angels in that bloom if I was smaller.

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