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Archive for the ‘Seafood’ Category

There were Maine shrimp in my fish market last week! They’d been gone for three years, since commercial shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine was closed down after a disastrous 2013 season. The moratorium is still in effect, but thanks to an increase in the amounts shrimpers may take for scientific sampling purposes – and then sell – this year, small quantities of these delicious little critters are getting to our area. Hooray!
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maine-shrimp-in-shell

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These bright red shrimps are really tiny. That’s half a pound of them, raw in their shells. Most often I just drop them in boiling water for one minute, then cool, shell, chill, and serve them with a homemade cocktail sauce. They make a lovely shrimp cocktail. This time I was going to use them in a pasta dish, so I shelled them raw. Stripped of their long heads, shells, tails, legs, feelers, and roe, they came to a mere 3½ ounces. Wish I’d bought more!
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maine-shrimp-shelled

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Even though the shrimps were going to combine with pasta, I wanted to keep everything simple: Maine shrimps should shine through their accompaniments. So I chose for the sauce of my pasta dish a basic agli’e olio (It’s not spelled that way, I know; but in this Neapolitan-American household, it’s pronounced that way), the making of which is Beloved Spouse’s specialty. So while our spaghetti was cooking, he minced some cloves of garlic, seethed them in olive oil without allowing them to color, and tossed in chopped parsley, salt, and a pinch of crushed red pepper.
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aglie-olio

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Moments before the spaghetti was done we added the shrimp to the saucepan and stirred them around until they just lost their translucence, about two minutes. All that remained to be done was drain the pasta, put it in bowls, and dress it with the shrimp and sauce.
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pasta-and-shrimp

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So simple, and so scrumptious! Delicate as Maine shrimp are, their sweetness and succulence contribute immensely to any dish they’re invited into. I hope there’ll be enough of them for me to invite into several more meals this winter, before their very short season is over.

For my next batch I’m thinking I might want to see how Maine shrimp would handle the spicy sauce of Galatoire’s Shrimp Remoulade. And if that works, maybe try giving Galatoire’s Crabmeat Maison a Yankee twist by substituting Maine shrimp for crab. If there’s time enough, we shall see.

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A few days ago, Beloved Spouse and I went shopping for fish for that night’s dinner. With two excellent fish markets nearby, we have many good choices. This day, his eye fell on a display of fresh smelts. He loves them, knows that I don’t, and heroically offered to bypass them. But smelts only appear here occasionally in winter, and this was He Who Must Be Indulged (at least, sometimes). I insisted that we buy them.

smelt-school

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He was content to have the little fishes simply batter-fried, and perfectly willing to do the slightly messy work of heading and gutting them. For my part I dug out the recipe for fish-and-chips batter in the Cooking of the British Isles volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. This is a fairly elaborate batter, which I chose because it makes a thick but light, stick-to-it-ive coating.

We needed only half a recipe’s worth for our small school of swimmers, so the first thing I had to do was separate out half an egg yolk and half an egg white. The half yolk got mixed into half a cup of flour, along with a tablespoon of milk (it should’ve been beer, but we didn’t have any in the house) and a pinch of salt.

That produced a dense globular mass. Next I was to “stir” into it 1½ tablespoons of milk and the same amount of water and keep stirring until the batter was smooth. No way: I had to whomp it with a whisk and loosen it with additional milk and water, but it finally smoothed. Then I beat my half egg white into stiff peaks and folded it into the batter. It rested on the kitchen counter for a couple of hours.
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three-batters

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At dinnertime the two of us worked together. I dunked the smelts in the batter

dipping

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and he managed the frying, in small batches.

frying

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The batter clung nicely. It made a thin crunchy crust with a gently cushioned interior.
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served

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Even I, the non-smelt-fancier, enjoyed picking up the little beasts by the tail and biting my way into them. You truly can’t notice the bones! Beloved Spouse, who ate 8 to my 5, was in a state of bliss. Here’s what he has to say about the meal:
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I plain and simple loved it. Here in New York, smelts are a strictly seasonal treat, usually coming onto the market in late December and hanging around until early February at the latest, so we have to grab ‘em whenever they appear. Most of them, I gather, are caught in fresh water as they come in from the oceans to spawn, and I’m told that in California smeltophiles can take them from the beaches with hand nets during their run. Californians have all the luck! Smelts are always tasty little devils, with a slightly fishy flavor that falls on the scale as strong for a freshwater fish and mild for a saltwater species. Frying, whether deep or shallow, seems to be the fate they’re born for. Many people insist on drinking beer with smelts, but ours were very happy – as were we – with a Paumanok Vineyards Minimalist Chenin Blanc, which turned a simple fish fry into an elegant dinner.
                                                                            – TM, a.k.a. BS, a.k.a. HWMBI

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I’ve acquired a few new cookbooks. They bring my collection, after its last culling, up to 216 volumes. Between all the new dishes I’m eager to try and all the old favorites I long to go back and make again, I’ll never live long enough to cook everything I want to. But I can try!

fabrizia-lanzaOne very promising new book is Coming Home to Sicily, by Fabrizia Lanza. The author is the daughter of Anna Tasca Lanza, doyenne of the Tasca d’Almerita family’s Regaleali wine estate and creator of its famous cooking school, which Fabrizia now runs. (In 1992, on a food- and wine-writers’ trip, I spent two days at Regaleali, meeting the formidable Marchesa Anna, exploring the estate and the vineyards, observing a cooking demonstration, and eating extraordinary Sicilian country meals. Below are a few photographic mementoes of the occasion.)

It’s a handsome book, with beautiful photography, which makes great reading. Not all the recipes are practical for US cooks, because some call for ingredients that are available mainly from the Sicilian countryside; e.g., Tasca Lanza’s famous sun-dried tomato paste, fresh citrons, green almonds, tuna roe and sperm (!), and many kinds of wild greens and herbs. Not that those recipes are completely impossible: We could make them with the nearest approximations we can get here, but they wouldn’t be at all the same.

For my first venture into the book, I chose to make a simple recipe with easily accessible imgredients: Pesce spada impanato or grilled swordfish steak with breadcrumbs. For me, it was interesting because, first, the raw fish gets 30 minutes of marinating in seasoned olive oil, and second, because it is grilled, not broiled or baked.

I’ve always thought swordfish was so naturally fatty that added oil would be superfluous – which apparently was wrong, and probably why some of my past broiled swordfish steaks have been too dry! This time I found the garlic, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes that permeated the olive oil definitely enhanced the flavor of the fish.

marinating

Additionally, the moisture of the marinade helped the breadcrumbs coat the swordfish steak evenly. And cooking it on a stove burner in a grill pan (since I don’t have access to an outdoor grill) rather than in the broiler worked perfectly. You could easily see when the bottom half had changed color, meaning the steak was ready to be turned.

grilling

The simply cooked fish was moist and tender, still very fresh tasting, under its crisp coating. All it needed was a squeeze of lemon to make it a pleasure to eat.

 

 

Regaleali, September 1992

regaleali-courtyard

Courtyard

 

Anna Tasca Lanza

Anna Tasca Lanza

 

Cooking demonstration by chef Mario Lo Menso

Cooking demonstration by chef Mario Lo Menso

Incidentally, the person a portion of whose striped shirt you can see in two of the photos is the then-80-year-old Julia Child, whose enthusiastic presence on that trip made it all the more delightful.

 

 

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I was away last week in southern Maine. Beloved Spouse and I rented a cottage near the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, whose forests, marshes, estuaries, and beaches are scattered along 50 miles of the coastline. It was high season for the southbound migration of shorebirds, and we’d hoped to see vast numbers of them during our stay. Alas, we didn’t: There were disappointingly few birds of any kind, though the landscapes and seascapes were quite lovely. Why the birds didn’t appreciate that we can’t imagine. However, we did eat some wonderful seafood, as I’m about to show you.

Or course, there were good chowders: clam, fish, lobster, and mixed seafood. At home we make tomato-based, spicy Manhattan-style chowders, so the New England-style versions were a nice change of pace. Here’s a cup of one of the best we had. It was dense with fresh, tender clams, bathed in extravagant amounts of cream and butter.

clam chowder

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Another excellent appetizer was this bowl of steamers, also sparklingly fresh and briny; served with the traditional clam broth and drawn butter for dunking. From many years back, I remembered the knack of picking up each clam by the neck and grabbing the body with your teeth so it pulls right out of the neck skin, which you then discard.

steamers 2

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We ventured on a few more elaborate starters. Here’s a plate of baby lobster cakes and a dish of mushroom caps stuffed with crabmeat. Actually, they’d both have been better if they’d had somewhat less binder and more crustacean – but they were still pretty good.

appetizers

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Naturally, lobsters were everywhere. Over the week I think we saw more lobsters, both live and cooked, than we saw tourists – and, in Maine in August, that’s saying something! Since neither of us can readily dismember a whole boiled lobster without stabbing ourselves with a pick or a piece of shell or claw, we both happily ate a dish called Lazy Lobster: all the meat of a 1¼-pound lobster, taken out of the shell in large, neat chunks and presented in a pool of lemon butter.

lazy lobster

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Then there were the fried dishes. Clam strips, whole belly clams, oysters – always with good crunchy coatings and sweet tender flesh. Serving sizes were so generous that we never finished the french fries that always came along on the plate

fried things

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Last but not least, there were rolls. For our very first lunch in Maine, enroute to our rented cottage, we stopped at a little restaurant we knew nothing about, and I had the best lobster roll I’ve eaten in my life. It had the whole tail and both large claws of a lobster heaped on a lightly toasted, well flavored, large round roll. Alas, my camera was still packed in the duffle bag, so I couldn’t photograph it. For lunch a few days later, we had crab rolls, served more conventionally on a hot-doggish bun, with a good cole slaw and fried onion nuggets (the small central segments of onion slices whose big rings were used for standard fried onion rings). The crabmeat was finely shredded and dressed with a light tang of malt vinegar. Unusual (or so it semed to us), and very nice.

crab roll

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We probably ate more butter and more fried food during this single week than we usually do in a whole season, but the dreadful fact that neither nutritionists nor dieters nor “healthy eaters” ever want to acknowledge is that, when done well, frying makes all food – but especially ocean-fresh seafood – taste marvelous. So, despite the dearth of birds, our trip to Maine had some powerful consolations.

contentment

 

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Eels are not to everybody’s taste. Their snakelike appearance and alleged insalubrious habits may well be off-putting. When, as a weekend fisherman, Beloved Spouse once inadvertently caught an eel, we found it repulsive to handle, difficult to dispatch, and proverbially hard to skin. But eels can make delicious eating – e.g., smoked, grilled, or in sushi.

One of the Long Island seafood sellers in my Greenmarket has had a fairly regular supply of small eels this summer, very fresh, neatly beheaded, gutted, and skinned – all the nasty work done for us. I’ve bought them twice already.

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Anguille alla Romana

Eels 1.

del riccio romaFor these first two, six-ouncers, I used a recipe for Eels Roman-style from a cookbook I bought long ago in Italy called Le Ricette della mia Cucina Romana. I softened chopped spring onion and parsley in olive oil in a terracotta pan, then floured and browned the cut-up eels in it. Well, sort of browned them – they didn’t change color much.

Next I sprinkled the eels with salt, pepper, and two tablespoons of white wine. As soon as the wine had evaporated, I poured on plain hot water and let them cook covered for about 20 minutes. The eels’ own gelatin turned the liquid into a light, creamy sauce.

in pan 1

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Then I added a cup of blanched fresh shell peas and a little more hot water, and continued cooking for another 20 minutes.

in pan 2

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That was it. A very simple, very satisfying dish. The eels didn’t taste at all fishy, but not quite meaty either. People tend to describe eel as rich, sweet, and oily, like blowfish, monkfish or octopus. To me, it almost tasted like pork. It made a good combination with the peas and was perfectly tender: The flesh came easily off the spine bones.

plated

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Catigot d’Anguilles à la Gardiane

eels 2

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T-L fishMy second pair of eels were smaller – about four ounces apiece. For them I chose a provençal Ragout of Eels recipe from the Fish volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. It was another very easy preparation. In a broad saucepan I muddled together olive oil, smashed garlic, half a bay leaf, some thyme, a piece of orange peel, and a tiny dried hot red pepper. The eels went in next, along with some salt and ¼ cup of red wine.
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eels 2 in pan

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Again, the main cooking liquid was water, almost to cover, but this time the dish cooked uncovered. The eels took a little over half an hour to tenderize, by which time the liquid had reduced quite a lot but hadn’t thickened. It was too acidic to use as a gravy so I lifted out the eels for serving.

eels 2 served

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They were thoroughly imbued with those provençal seasonings, and very rich. Good tasting, but surprisingly heavy. We actually couldn’t eat too much of them. But it was an interesting experiment in contrast to the very pleasant Roman-style dish.

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Compared to its cousin the squid (culinarily familiar as calamari), cuttlefish is still a fairly exotic food in the US. Having enjoyed it very much in Italy (a.k.a. seppia) and Spain (choco), I keep looking for it here. Unfortunately, cuttlefish don’t inhabit American oceans, as squid do, so they rarely appear in our fish markets. But in one store recently I found some lovely little ones, imported from Spain. I bought these three, which weighed in at half a pound:

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seppioline

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Casas MammaI’d found a recipe to make with them in Penelope Casas’s cookbook La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain. I’ve had several good results from this book, as well as from other books by this author. I’ve already written about a few of them here, here, and here. The recipe I chose this time, Potage de Garbanzos y Chocos, is a spicy stew of cuttlefish, chickpeas, and potatoes.

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At first reading, I thought the ingredient list was awfully heavy on the chickpea component, given the way dried legumes swell when reconstituted: To serve four, it called for a whole pound of dried chickpeas, as well as a pound of chocos. But I trust Casas, and I had some good heirloom chickpeas from Italy, so for the half recipe I was making I used the full half pound.

Soaked overnight in water, the chickpeas duly grew to three times their dried volume. Undaunted, I put them in a big pot with water, half a head of unpeeled garlic, olive oil, a small chopped tomato, parsley, a bay leaf, a small dried hot red pepper, and half a teaspoon of pimentón dulce (Spanish smoked sweet paprika).

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ceci cooking

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All this simmered for a little over an hour, producing enticing aromas that wafted out of the kitchen and scented half the apartment. When the chickpeas were beginning to soften, I moved on to the next step: adding the choco – neatly cut into short strips by my obliging knifeman – and a few fingerling potatoes.

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chocos added

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After another half hour, everything was tender. To finish the dish, I squeezed the garlic flesh into the stew and discarded the skin, stirred in another dose of pimentón, and let the pot sit covered for 15 minutes before serving.

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served

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It was a marvelous dish – everything worked together beautifully, and the taste fully justified the cooking aromas. The chickpeas had taken on good spicy flavors in addition to their own basic nuttiness. In fact, we couldn’t finish them all, but we got through more than I expected to. There was about a pint of leftovers, mostly chickpeas, which I carefully saved to use another day.

Thoroughly enjoyable as the cuttlefish were, I’d had a slightly uneasy feeling all during dinner, which I later decided was an overactive imagination responding to the splendidly lifelike Venetian glass cuttlefish that have looked over our shoulders for every meal we’ve eaten in this apartment. I couldn’t say for certain that they recognized their Spanish relatives, but the whole cephalopod family is highly intelligent.

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aquarium

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Circumstances have restricted me to minimal cooking lately, so for this week’s post I’ll look back to the holidays and the lovely scallop recipe I made to precede the cassoulet that I served on Christmas Day.

Scallops are always a treat, especially the ways that French cooks prepare them as appetizers. Because the cassoulet was going to be very rich I wanted to start Simca's Cuisinethe meal with something fairly light. I found what looked like the perfect recipe in Simone Beck’s Simca’s Cuisine. This interestingly quirky book by the co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking is arranged by menus. The one titled “An Earthy Dinner for High-Spirited Friends” was centered on a cassoulet (not the version that I was making). Its first course was Coquilles St. Jacques Nantaise, a preparation parenthetically described as au naturel.

The au naturel approach was very different from the elaborate parisienne and provençale styles, which I’ve often made from the recipes in Mastering. It turned out to be well worth knowing.

In the parisienne, the scallops are poached with mushrooms in wine, water, and seasonings. The poaching liquid is reduced and turned into a sauce with flour, butter, egg yolks, and cream. The scallops and their sauce go into shells, are topped with grated cheese and butter, and broiled.

In the provençale, onions, shallots, and garlic are sauteed in butter. Separately, scallops are sliced, floured, and sauteed. Wine, herbs, and the onion mixture simmer with the scallops until the sauce thickens. Set in shells, they’re broiled, with a grated cheese and butter topping.

In Simca’s recipe there is no precooking of the scallops, no wine-cream-egg yolk sauce, no wine deglazing sauce, no mushrooms, no grated cheese topping. But there is butter – a lot of it. That, of course, is the French notion of “natural.” I used my best Irish butter for the dish.

I cut my raw sea scallops in pieces; put them into buttered individual gratin dishes; added salt, pepper, and minced shallots that I’d softened in butter. I sprinkled on fine breadcrumbs and melted butter and baked 12 minutes at 375°.

scallops

They were delightful. The scallops and shallots had married in a pure bliss of butter. Simple as it was to make and equally so to look at, the dish was staggeringly lush. Not exactly the light starter I’d been looking for, but after consuming it, the “high-spirited friends” at my table didn’t hesitate to dig into the cassoulet. I believe I’ve discovered a new star for my culinary firmament.

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