Posts Tagged ‘Seafood’
For years I’ve near heard Nick’s stories of epic crab feasts. Mountains of Maryland’s best eaten outdoors with an endless flow of beer. Unable to make it last year, I jumped at the invitation to join this early September.
I love the Midwest, but there are some joys that my blessed heritage simply could not provide. Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes lay far from the oceans and their briny bounty. Eating decent seafood in my home state means a visit to a specialty store or a high end restaurant. Only on moving to the East Coast did I find high quality seafood at a price that doesn’t break the bank.
The crab feast efforts are led by Nick’s long time friend, Tom. Tom’s recent purchase of a house with his fiancé Teresa put this years feast in jeopardy. But Nick’s tenacity came through and Tom and Teresa were convinced to open the doors of their new home to a hungry hoard. Nick, Becca, and I were tasked with bringing two things: beer and butter. After picking-up two cases of light beer we swung by the super market to grab the butter. We grabbed two pounds of butter and, with a joke in mind, an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter olive oil based spray. Tom feigned calmness as Nick told him that the store was out of butter, but the spray should be good enough. But, when Becca finally broke the really butter out of her purse Tom literally breathed a sigh of relief. He had exercised immense restrain by not belittling Nick (“for fuck-sake Nick, you’re from MarylandII!”). A few laughs later we were off to see the crabs.
The crabs were in a true bushel. For the Midwestern, think a bushel of apples but replace the apples with crabs. Dozens of crabs. Crabs with bright blue claws and legs protruding from a gray shell and white underbelly. Crazy little arachnid-like creatures who appear asleep but, when prodded, wake-up and spray a bit of water before snapping their muscular pinchers or scurrying about.
Tom set-up a giant steamer with water, cider vinegar, and a mixture of seasoning. The smell was fantastic as it heated-up. Two dozen or so crabs were layered in the bottom and covered with a layer of Tom’s secret spice mixture (old bay plus…). More layers were added until the steamer was full and half the bushel empty.
As the crabs cooked the picnic table on the back deck was prepared: newspapers laid, hammers and knives piled, dishes of melted butter, and cups of cider vinegar. You don’t need no plates for a crab feast! And finally the first batch was ready.
The veterans helped us newbies through the crab eating process. How to start with the claws and get at the meat in the middle of the small beasts. I was a mess. I covered myself and everyone near me in a spray of crab juice. It was ugly. But, I got at the meat with little waste leaving no tasty morsel behind.
To my surprise I loved the rich meat dipped in the cider vinegar. The acidity balanced the crabs’ decadence. Though a dunk or butter now and then didn’t hurt either. I ate and ate and ate, taking down five of ‘em.
Just in case crabs weren’t enough, Tom also slow smoked a beautiful slab of meat to make a mound of pulled pork. At 1:30 a.m., as I was leaving the bar the night before, Tom was firing up his smoker. The slow cook paid off and the pork was delicious, but I focused my stomach space on the piles of crabs.
A final surprise for me was how happy I was to be drinking Miller Lite as I took down crab after crab. As readers of this blog might have gathered, I can be a bit of a beer snob. Maybe a Pilsner could have stepped in, but an American light beer was just what this crab feast called for. Something to wash everything down while keeping its place in the background.
After eating, and as a torrential down pour started, the 15 or so guests retired inside to the living room. More beer was drank over conversation and stories about the “old days” while the couple’s bulldog scramble for attention. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, this was one the most adult feeling dinner experience I’ve had. It was chill, not fancy. Calm, but not boring. Just a feeling of being older–in a good way. Maybe it’s because I’ve turned 30. Maybe it was similar to what I remember as a child when my parents would bring me along to get-togethers with their friends. Maybe it was the couple’s “real” home. It was comfortable. I can’t thank Tom and his fiancé enough.
A few weeks back, my friend Erin sent out an email with the brilliant idea of a supper club. In a twist on the classic supper club, the guests are in charge of the food while the host takes on the booze. Each dinner is to be organized around a theme and this last Saturday things kicked-off with Peruvian night.
On reading the theme, I was taken back in time to a cliff top restaurant in Lima where I savored ceviche while watching the large dark blue waves of the Pacific ocean roll, crash, and foam below. I knew I had to make this citrused Peruvian classic.
In fairness, this dish likely originated in a few place across the globe. But around 500 years ago the Moche, a coastal civilization in current-day northern Peru, came up with the stuff. Modern Peru adopted it and it hit the United States in force in 80s. It’s easy to make and prefect for these warm summer months.
For the uninitiated, cechive is fish or seafood “cooked” in citrus. Cooking fish, meat, poultry, etc. is all about changing the structure of the proteins or breaking them. In science/Alton Brown talk, the citrus does its cooking by denaturing the proteins in the fish. And, since the cooking comes from the fish’s time in the citrus bath, unless you’re using sushi grade fish, be sure to use small pieces and marinate for approximately three hours; raw fish can carry some nasty stuff.
- 1 pound white saltwater fish: albacore, sole, snapper, halibut, etc. (I used halibut)
- 1 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1 T. salt
- 1 rocoto chile (chile manzano in Mexican markets) or 2 aji limon (substitute a habanero) – I used the habanero, the only pepper I could find.
- 1 medium onion, sliced very thinly into half-moons
- 4 T. chopped cilantro
For the citrus, you’re going to want to buy the fruits and juice them yourself. The stuff you buy in a bottle is going to disappoint every time.
Cut the fish into pieces no bigger than one inch cubes; remember the bigger the pieces the longer it takes for the citrus to do its work. Salt the fish, then cover with the citrus juice in a non-reactive (glass or plastic, metal might yield an unpleasing metallic taste). Add the sliced onions and the chiles. Put the covered mixture in the fridge for two to three hours–if you have true sushi grade fish, its okay to shorten so the fish is still raw in the middle. When you serve, garnish with the cilantro.
Overall, ceviche is a very forgiving dish as long as you start with good fish. It’s a great food to play with: ratchet up the heat (the habeneros were a little intense), pull it back, add the cilantro before marination, change-up the citrus juice, etc.
Peruvian Stewed Chicken
Because ceviche is, in all honestly, a bit of a cooking cop out, I helped Nick and Becca in their preparation of Peruvian Stewed Chicken.
- 1 (16 ounce) can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 10 to 12 small chicken pieces
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced
- 1 cup green peas
Place tomatoes in a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until liquefied. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large saucepan or stockpot over moderate heat. Add onion and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another two minutes. Add cumin, oregano and bay leaf and stir to combine. Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper and add to pan. Brown the chicken lightly. Add the tomatoes and enough water to cover 3/4 of chicken. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until chicken is cooked through. About 10 minutes before the chicken is done, add the green pepper and peas. Serve warm.
True to form, we managed to pull off the dish and (a big pot) of rice and arrive fashionably late, along with most of the supper club crew. At the dinner itself, the stewed chicken was a bit bland. Though the the next day, the flavors had come together and were more bold. I would recommend making this dish a day in advance and reheating, for maximum flavor.
Transporting our creations was a bit tricky and I was thrilled, for probably the 100th time, that Becca actually has a car in New York.
The actual meal was a lot of fun. Erin pulled together a good group of people who pulled off some great dishes (including a salad, a cheesy potato dish, and a beef dish that seemed to be the bovine cousin of the stewed chicken) . I’m very much looking forward to the next one.
The only thing better than the proverbial free lunch is a free dinner. When a co-worker selected the Grand Central Oyster Bar for a dinner on a vendor’s dime (Lexis Nexus, here is the plug for Counsel Link) I was thrilled. Eluded to in Mad Men (and actually directly referenced in tonight’s episode), the name conjured up images of gibson fueled decadence.
The first hint of trouble was on the bodies of our fellow dinners at tables near by. Tennis shoes here, a hoodie clad bunch there, I think I may have even seen a fanny pack. I just don’t understand the drive to fly to New York dressed ready to crawl into a warm blanketed couch for a post-break-up How I Met Your Mother marathon. I mean I get comfort, but if you’re going out for what should be a nice meal, at least swing by the hotel for a quick change. [Tourist rant over.]
The menu looked great. The oysters were great. But as our entrees reached the table, my heart sank at the sight of the sorry looking steamed veggies lining the sides of our plates. The fish was lack luster. Generally flavorless. Possibly defrosted. Not worth the price. Instead of Mad Men dreams I found a tourist trap.
The Bar sprawls under Grand Central. On a trip to the restroom, I wandered through the dining room, past rows of counters, and found myself in a section called the Saloon. This was more what I had in mind: New Yorkers grabbing after work drinks over oysters and small tempting looking plates. The Saloon might be worth a return trip.
One of the things I miss most about living in Minnesota is my regular dinners with Mike and Fayaz. Every two to four weeks, for about three years before I moved to New York, Mike, Fayaz, and I would spend a weekend night cooking and eating elaborate meals. After eating, we’d often retire to Mike’s outdoor hot tub for scotch and cigars.
On my recent trip to Minnesota for my sister and her new husband’s open house I was finally able to get in another amazing dinner with Mike.
Being in a health conscious mind set, we abandoned our fatty four legged friends and we set out for a sea food meal. Mike took charge of the entree planing. Starting with the idea of seafood, Mike reached an amazing creation: crab and shrimp stuffing wrapped in delicious walleye. Mike cooked the the shrimp with a moderate amount of butter (okay, the healthy angle was more in thought than practice) mixed in some bread crumbs, some chicken stock, and the crab. The oceanic stuffing was placed into mounds on a baking sheet and wrapped the in beautiful fillets of walleye. While these baked I blanched a little bok choy, seasoned a little soy sauce which I cooked down for a little sauce for the veggies. In the final minutes of baking, Mike knocked out a little quinoa.
The result? Amazing and decadent–as almost every meal Mike and I have made together. All with my favorite accompaniment of all: good conversation. Conversation with an old friend and a new. This–with Mike and a number of others–is what I miss most from Minnesota.
As you may have noticed, my prodigious posting of 2011 has faded. The good news is, after passing the New York bar, I am gainfully employed. Unfortunately, work manages to occupy nearly all my waking hours. (Increasingly even those of the weekend.) The job is great, but it leaves me with little time for culinary activities and even less for writing about it. The flood may be receding slightly and I hope February will yield most posts.
My first go at sea food gumbo was back around 2006 as a night of culinary excess with Mike and Fayaz. In 2011, as the hurricane threatened New York, I broke out the BIG pot, grabed several pounds of ingredient, and made up some gumbo for the apartment turned storm shelter. Before the water, I started with over 8 pounds of chicken, sausage okra, seafood, mushrooms, and whatever else I found around the house. After hours of cooking it was ready to be served over rice with a generous amount of hot sauce. Thinking about this mix of savory and seafood has me almost drooling onto my key board.
Fortunately there are a couple servings of the gumbo left in the freezer for the New Year. All I need to do is make up another batch of extra moist cornbread.
For the start of the 2011 countdown we reach all the way back to February to recall Angry (Devil) Mussels. These spicy crustaceans were great the first time around, but they made their way into the top ten because I couldn’t help making them a few more times throughout the year.
Before these guys showed-up at a roomate dinner, Fayaz swore he would never eat mussels; but after being tempted by spice and just a few he was taking them down just as fast as he could get ‘em out their shell. As cheap as they are easy to make, I can’t wait to cook-up some more in 2012.
One of my favorite dishes at asian restaurants is always fresh spring rolls. The beauty of the thing comes from it’s simplicity and contrasts. The perfect spring roll has fresh, crisp vegetables wrapped in smooth and silky rice paper wrapper and a dipping sauce that’s subtle enough to not overpower those less pronounced flavors. There is also a certain challenge to the aesthetic of the spring roll (read: it’s a stone cold bitch to roll them and make them look good) which adds to your enjoyment when you finally get to chow down.
You can make these with almost any variation of ingredients but I find it generally boils down to these groups:
You can use shrimp, pork, chicken or beef pretty much. And it doesn’t really matter how you cook it either. I’ve had my best successes by marinating one of the above and grilling it as the grill flavor really comes through in the end.
- Leafy greens
Usually lettuce or cabbage of some kind, cut into strips.
Typically Thai basil or mint leaves, but normal basil and cilantro are also good choices.
Take your pick: carrots, cucumbers, celerey, bean sprouts, bell peppers, eggplant maybe. Anything along those lines, julienned.
- Sometimes noodles
You can omit these if you want a more veggie filled spring roll, otherwise get some thin asian noodles like mai fun/cellophane noodles/glass noodles.
You’ll want to get everything prepared beforehand so once you get a rice paper wrapper moistened you can turn it into a spring roll asap. Get the protein cooked and sliced, all the veggies julienned, and the noodles boiled. Then set everything up assembly line style.
Spring roll wrappers start out as very stiff and fragile, and they also curl up on themselves when they hit water, so to soak them you really need a vessel which is wider than the wrapper and fairly shallow so it’s easy to get out of the water. I use a large dinner plate and it’s just big enough for the job. Pour some boiling water in the plate and let it sit for a minute or so until it’s cool enough you can get the wrapper in and out without burning yourself. It only needs 10-20 seconds under the water to get properly moistened, then take it out and try to keep it from a) tearing or b) sticking to itself. Lay it on a flat surface which is slightly wet, to keep the wrapper from sticking. Then start adding the ingredients. You will want to make a little pile of the filling about a third of the way up the wrapper, not right in the middle.
The order of how to place the filling doesn’t really matter, but whatever you want to show through the rice paper is what should go down first. If you’re using shrimp, they look good on the outside, otherwise maybe start with the herbs. You really don’t want to overfill these or it will be close to impossible to wrap them. After rolling a few of them you will get a good idea of the appropriate amount of filling.
Once you have everything piled up, take that bit of wrapper closest to you and start to roll that up on top of the filling. Once you have basically covered the filling with that piece of wrapper, fold in the two sides kind of like a burrito. After that, finish rolling the whole thing up and you are good to go. The wrapper will stick to itself so no need to use any kind of food adhesive to close it up. I know these are served as appetizers at most restaurants, but these things are so good I usually just end up making a meal out of them. One last thing to consider: the wrappers will dry out slowly if left in the open air. Usually when I’m making these for other people I try to finish making them as close as possible to when they will be eaten. Otherwise you could try keeping them in a tupperware with a moistened paper towel draped over them, that would probably help them keep for another hour or two.
The only other thing to figure out is what you’ll be dipping them in. Peanut sauce is a good choice, as is sweet and sour sauce. The Food Network has some good recipes for dipping sauces. Or if you happen to live with someone who makes a killer jalapeno jelly/syrup concoction, use that. That’s what I did.
I’m glad to report that I’m alive and well after Irene blew through. Nick and I prepared for the storm the only way we know how to do things: in excess; and invited over some friends from low lying areas. With 6 people, one dog, one bird, and one hurricane turned tropical storm it was more party than shelter.
Staring down the risk of a multi-day power outage our brilliant idea was to make gumbo. An insane amount of very perishable seafood gumbo. Nick had picked-up sausage and shrimp so, in Irene’s first burst of rain to hit Brooklyn, I made an 11th hour run to Union Market. After trying to shop through the chaos for 5 minutes I realized that the line snaked through the whole New York sized store (aka small and cramped compared to anything in MN). So I got in line and shopped the shelves around me as the line inched forward. A pound of okra here, some canned clams there, a little ahi tuna jerky because the guy behind the fish counter was MIA, some seafood stock, and over 3 lbs of bone in chicken legs and and thighs.
The thing about gumbo is that there really isn’t a “right way” to make it. The stuff basically came about when people started throwing whatever was around into a pot before it could spoil. So I scoured the fridge, freezer, and cabinets and found some great additions. There was the frozen chicken stock I had made a while back. Some lamb bones that I have had sitting in the freezer forever waiting for a chance to turn them into stock. Some onions. Some cherry tomatoes. A bunch of mushrooms. It was time to get things rolling.
Oh, one other thing. Two visitors, who will remain nameless to protect their shameful tastes, don’t like strong seafood flavors and said they won’t be able handle the clams or the other fishy goodness–despite my assurances that the gumbo would be more savory than seafoody. The solution: two pots; one purely chicken and sausage based the second having chicken, sausage, and the seafood elements.
To start the gumbo, cook the sausage (cut into circles) in a big pot using a little oil. Once the sausage is done, pull it out of the pot, set it aside and give the chicken (you should really be only using bone in dark meat here) a solid little fry in the oil. Once the chicken is done or doneish pull it out and set it aside. Now make a little rue with the oil in the bottom of the pan. It’s the rue and the okra that thicken the gumbo. Once the rue has cooked nicely (maybe 5 minutes or so), add some stock, whatever kind works. Or just use water, there are plenty of flavors coming to go around. In this case, I used a mix of the seafood broth I picked-up in my shopping adventure, chicken broth, and some water. Next add a bunch of Orka, cut into about half to quarter inch pieces–don’t bother being delicate, they completely vanish after a few hours of cooking. Oh, and don’t forget to put all that meat back in along with whatever else you’ve found laying around.
Then you let it cook and cook and cook. As the rain fell and we tapped into the large provisions of beer the gumbo cooked away. Every 15 minutes or so it’s important to stop by and give it a good stir and scrape the bottom of the pot. Slowly but surely everything in the pot becomes one. First the okra just vanishes. Then you notice the shrimps have gone and some meat is falling off the chicken bones. Suddenly there is no more meat on the chicken bones. The main solids left are the sausage chunks and what looks like pulled chicken. This is one of the reasons I highly recommend having a little crab or something to throw on top before eating. Another, as of yet untested, thought I have is to retain another batch of shrimp and fish to put in for the last 30-45 minutes of cooking–that way after the base has it’s amazing flavor from the disintegration of ingredients there’ll still chunks of those delicious ingredients to be had.
Of course, with all of these hours of simmering the gumbo, it would be wrong to not make a little corn bread and rice to go along with the meal. Personally, I’m not a fan of really dry cornbread. Some would say that means I’m not really a fan of cornbread. I’m okay with that, but here is how you make the stuff the way I like it:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2/3 cup white sugar
- 3 eggs (most would have use only 2)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 can of creamed corn
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
First, in a medium bowl whisk the eggs so that you get some air bubbles in the mix. Next add some buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk around you can make a good substitute by mixing one cup milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice). Let that mixture get up to room temperature. Next, melt the butter in large skillet. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Then add the sugar butter to the room temperature egg/buttermilk bowl. (Note: if you didn’t let your eggs and buttermilk get up to room temperature everything will fail here, the sugar and butter will get cold and start turning back into a solid.) Whisk the liquid for a bit. Combine the dry ingredients in their own bowl. Now slowly whisk in large handfuls of the dry ingredients into the liquid and keep whisking until there are little or no lumps. Then put the batter into a greased baking pan. Spoon a smattering of creamed corn onto/into the batter. Finally, sprinkle the sharp cheddar on top and bake for about 30 minutes at 375 (or until it browns and a toothpick comes out clean).
I wish I had a picture of all of this, but, alas, I didn’t have the foresight. Though, with my freezer full of gumbo, a photo op of the gumbo in a bowl, over rice, with a nice slice of cornbread siting on top is sure to be coming soon.
A quick lunch with co-workers at Pescatore (Italian for fisherman).
The Smoked Salmon Sandwich was good. Not amazing, not innovative, just the smoked salmon, red onions, arugula, capers, and a generous amount lemon dill mayo. Simple and done right—enough for me to want another, to make me trust what they do, and to make me go back and try something new.
What got me excited though was the cucumber-yogurt soup. Light, fresh, with a bit of that yogurt tart. Some chives for a few fun spikes of flavor. Perfect for a hot humid day. I’m sure it’s a simple recipe; I’m going to have to hunt for one and make it for the next roommate dinner.
On a final note, the atmosphere at Pescatore is clam and pleasant. And staff actually spoke Italian. A server to two young Italian men at the table behind me and (shockingly) in the kitchen—there were actually people yelling at each other in Italian!
955 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10022
I’m going to start this out with something I don’t think I’ve ever said before, and I hope Arty doesn’t revoke my posting privileges for saying it: this recipe might have been better without the bacon. *cringes* It’s not an easy thing to say. Partly because I made it with the BEST BACON EVER! Quick aside:
I was introduced to this bacon at a young age. It comes from a small town around Lake Mille Lacs in northern Minnesota, called Pierz. This bacon is amazing. Inspiring. Life-affirming. You must try it. Don’t believe me? Go check out this write-up in the New York Times. Everything she writes is true, it is the perfect balance of thick and thin, meat and fat, smoky and delicate flavor. My dad and I made a point to make the 40 minute trip once a month to make sure the freezer was always stocked with this manna from heaven. Now the Lund’s in Uptown carries it, although I don’t know how far their distribution has spread outside Minneapolis. Either way, order yourself a pound or ten (they will ship it from the website, I’m pretty sure).
Back to the recipe at hand: the next time I make this, I think I’ll be using pancetta. In this case, the smoke flavor just did not marry well with the white wine/tomato/basil flavoring. Ingredients:
- 4lb fresh mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
- 1/2lb smoked bacon (I will use pancetta from now on)
- 2-3 medium shallots
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Handful of fresh basil leaves
- 1.5 cups white wine
- 1 can (~20 oz) of diced tomatoes
- 1-2 tbsp butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Brown the bacon in the pot (remember, it has to be big enough to hold all them mussels), then remove it to a plate. Add the sliced shallots and minced garlic to the pan. When the shallots are translucent and before they really brown, add the wine to deglaze the pan, stirring to incorporate the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and juice form the can and let everything simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes.
Now it’s time to add the mussels. Standard disclaimer when working with bivalves: look for any ones which are open. Tap them or squeeze them a few times; if they don’t close on their own, toss ‘em. Add the rest to the pot, shake them around and stick the cover on. Put on the lid and let them steam for about 6 minutes, then check for doneness. Step one is are they all open. If yes, give one a try to see if it’s done correctly. They might need another few minutes, but probably not much more than that. Add in the tablespoon of butter, and chiffonade the basil then stir that in as well. Remember to get a good amount of that wonderful sauce in the bowls with the mussels, and serve some nice crusty bread with dinner to sop it up with. Enjoy!