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Friday, April 4, 2008

A Promise is a Promise, but...

When I promised my wife I wouldn't talk about shellfish anymore, I'd forgotten that I'd given Mark Bittman a recipe for "Carb-Free Clams, With a Fried-Spicy Crunch". The dish is the epitome of easy-to-make. The clams are steamed for a few minutes with water and butter, which is pretty standard. The trick is the topping. That's where the "fried-spicy" part comes in. I'm very proud of the recipe. I hope you'll take a look on Mark's web site Bitten. As always, the clams are from Carlsbad Aquafarms, a regular vendor now at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers' Market.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Care and Feeding of a Shellfishaholic

Hi, I'm Dave and I'm a shellfishaholic. My wife wants me to stop writing about shellfish because they aren't everyone's cup of tea. But I can't resist the temptation. When we were in Boston recently, the one restaurant I had to visit was the Union Oyster House. While Michael and Michelle rested at the hotel, I snuck away and happily indulged in a dozen oysters and a bowl of clam chowder.

Today at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, Carlsbad Aquafarm had fresh oysters, clams, mussels, and live abalone. I wanted to buy everything. I showed some restraint. I only bought the oysters and clams.

A nice thing about shellfish is they keep in the refrigerator for several days as long as you follow a couple of suggestions. Oysters need to be stacked in a bowl with the rounded part of the shell down, so the oyster sits in its own liquid. Clams will drown if they're submerged in water. Save a plastic basket that comes with strawberries. Cut it in half, put it on the bottom of a bowl and the clams on top. That will keep the clams above any water they spit out while they're waiting in the refrigerator.

Breaded Oyster Sandwich

Breading usually means dredging the oysters in a egg-milk wash before rolling them in breadcrumbs. I prefer a simply seasoned olive oil mixture. The resulting oysters are lighter and crisper. As a condiment I recommend making homemade tartar sauce.

1 dozen oysters, shucked, nectar reserved for later use
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, finely
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet butter
Sea salt and pepper
2 tablespoons tartar sauce
2 small baguettes, cut in half
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced (optional)
Romaine lettuce or arugula leaves (optional)

Drizzle the baguettes with a little olive oil, then toast or grill. Pour the olive oil into a shallow bowl and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. In a second bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and parsley. Roll each oyster first in the seasoned olive oil, then in the breadcrumb-parsley mix. Heat olive oil and butter in a sauté pan. Lightly brown each oyster. Turn carefully so they brown on all sides, then drain on a paper towel.

Spread the tartar sauce on the baguettes. Arrange 6 of the oysters on each baguette. Adding sliced avocado and lettuce is optional but recommended.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 5 minutes.

Steamed Clams

Cooking clams is no more complicated than boiling water. The Carlsbad Aquafarm's clams are exceptionally fresh and sweet tasting.

2 pounds clams (butter clams or little necks)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sweet butter

Put the clams, water, and butter into a pot on medium-high heat, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Pick out any clams that haven't opened and discard. Serve the clams and their nectar in a bowl with a buttered baguette. Adding a salad turns the clams into a full meal.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 2 minutes. Cooking Time: 5 minutes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Secret is in the Sauce

Sometimes what I crave isn't the thing itself but the sauce that goes with it. Years ago when I was a vegetarian, I did very well without eating meat except for a recurring craving for hot dogs. I couldn't go to a Dodger's game or a county fair without being taunted by the sight of a hot dog stand. Even now, writing this, my mouth waters at the thought. In time I realized it wasn't actually the hot dog that I missed, it was the mustard, relish, and chopped onions that had me questioning my commitment to vegetarianism.

I have to confess to a lack of enthusiasm for fish. Over the years I have found appetizing ways to prepare salmon, sand dabs, tuna, and sole, but fish isn't my "meat" of choice. Recently though I discovered halibut, which is quite good, if it's available fresh from a Farmers' Market. Lately I've been getting great fish from Tropical Seafood at the Sunday Palisades' Farmers' Markets. What makes the dish work, though, is homemade tartar sauce. It is delicious on the side, if the halibut is served with vegetables, or on a grilled roll, with avocado and hearts of romaine, which is how I had it for lunch today.

Tartar Sauce

Since there are fresh ingredients, the sauce can keep for a week if it's refrigerated in a sealed jar.

1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers, drained, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, finely chopped
1 scallion, the ends cut off, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
Pepper

Mix together.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 5 minutes.

Breaded Halibut

The halibut can either be sautéed or baked. Traditionally when fish is breaded, an egg and/or milk wash is used to make the bread crumbs stick to the fish. I prefer using seasoned olive oil, which is lighter and adds a pleasant crunch.

1 pound fresh halibut, washed, dried
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet butter

Cut the halibut into 2 equal pieces. Mix the parsley into the bread crumbs. Put the bread crumbs into one flat bowl, the olive oil in a 2nd bowl. Season the olive oil with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge the halibut through the seasoned olive oil on all sides, then through the bread crumbs. Sauté the halibut with the butter and what's left of the seasoned olive oil, or bake the fish on a Silpat sheet or piece of tin foil on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven. Whether you sauté or bake, turn the fish over in 5 minutes.

For a sandwich, grill or toast the bread with a drizzle of olive oil. For an entrée, sauté some fresh vegetables. I like a shallot, garlic, mushroom, carrots, and spinach combination with a pat of butter for flavor. In either case, the halibut is made all the more delicious by a generous serving of tartar sauce.