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Showing posts with label shellfish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shellfish. Show all posts

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nori Squares with Crab, an Easy-to-Make Appetizer and Healthy Snack

On vacation for a week in Carlsbad, we enjoyed days without a set schedule. When to get out of bed? Maybe 7:30, or maybe not until 8:30. What time for a walk on the beach? Let's see when low tide is. We slept, ate, read, watched TV and went to the movies when we felt like it.

And we had great weather. Bright sunny skies. Temperatures in the upper 60's and low 70's. We discovered new places to eat, enjoyed our favorite coffee shop--Pannikin Coffee & Tea in Leucadia/Encinitas--and bought flowering plants and three blueberry bushes--that had ripe fruit on the branches!--from a great nursery, Cedros Gardens in Solana Beach.

What a great vacation.

When we wanted to hang around the room, with our mini-refrigerator, wet bar and the 2-burner electric stove top brought from home, we made salads, soups and snacks.

A favorite was a simple and delicious snack made with nori (seaweed) from Trader Joe's, broken rice from our lunch in Little Saigon at Pho Vinh Ky and  a ripe avocado from the Santa Monica farmers market.

With summer approaching, I can recommend this healthy snack. Combined with a tossed salad and fruit for dessert, the squares of nori and their toppings make for a very delicious, refreshingly light meal.
Nori Squares with Crab, Avocado and Rice

If you don't have fresh crab, the avocado and rice topping are delicious enough. If you want crab, I'd recommend the extra effort of steaming a live one. Next best is a freshly cooked crab from a fish market, which, hopefully, cooks their own. If they don't and the crabs arrive pre-cooked before they settle down on their icy bed in the display case, ask how long ago they were cooked.

Imitation crab (actually fish cakes) and canned or frozen crab aren't good for this dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 whole Dungeness crab or 2 cups crab meat
1 package of nori, Trader Joe's carries a good one
1 whole, ripe avocado
1 cup freshly cooked rice
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Cayenne (optional)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped (optional)

Directions for cooking the crab

When you bring home the live crab, place it in the kitchen sink, splashing it with cold water to wet the outer shell.

Put 3" of tap water into a large pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Holding the crab from the back of the shell so the claws cannot reach you, push the head of the crab into the boiling water and hold down for a minute.

This isn't an easy part of the recipe. There's no getting around the fact that the crab has to die for you to eat well. If you're leaning towards becoming a vegan, this might push you over the line, so maybe look for pre-cooked crab. But I guarantee you, freshly steamed crab is a delicious taste treat.

You don't need much water in the pot. You definitely do not want to cover the crab with water. Mostly, the heat from the small amount of water steams the crab inside its shell. The resulting flavors are sweet and undiluted.

Place a lid on the pot and let cook 5 minutes.

Use tongs to remove the crab from the pot and let cool in the sink. If you don't mind a little extra work, do not throw out the water in the pot. I'll explain why in a moment.

Once the crab is cool to the touch, tear the legs off and place in a bowl. To clean the body of the crab, hold the shell in one hand and the body in your other hand. Pull and the shell will come off easily, releasing a lot of fairly unpleasant stuff.

You will now see that the crab has an outer and inner shell.

Wash the "stuff" off the outer shell and pull the gills off the inner shell. The gills are the feathery things hanging off the shell. Discard the outer shell and gills. Thoroughly rinse clean the sink and run the disposal.

On the inner shell, there is a long triangular part. Use a flat knife to lift it up, remove and discard it. Now break the inner shell in half. Use a sharp pairing knife to slide out the deliciously sweet meat from the chambers inside the shell. You may have to break open some of the chambers, but avoid doing that as much as possible so shell fragments do not end up with the meat.

Place the meat in an air tight container and refrigerate.

You can serve the legs and make your guests do the work or you can do everyone a big favor and remove the meat from the legs yourself. Personally, I think that's the way to go.

The legs are made up of three parts. Separate them from one another. There isn't any meat in the pointy-end parts. Cracking open the legs is relatively easy with your fingers. Only the two largest pincher claws require a nut cracker.

Use one of the pointy-end parts to dig out all the meat. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate.

The meat will last for two days. Whatever you don't use for the nori squares, use the next day in a tossed green salad or in a pasta.

Now, about all those shells. If you want to make a delicious broth, throw the shells into the boiling water and simmer for 45 minutes on a medium flame. The liquid will reduce by half. Strain out all the shells and discard. Let the crab stock cool and then refrigerate or freeze in an air tight container. The stock will last for months in the freezer. Defrost to use as a base for soups, braising liquid for seafood or pasta sauce.

Preparing the nori squares

Since the nori will absorb liquid, assemble the squares just before serving.

Toss the avocado slices with a little olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Have the cooked rice ready and slightly warmed. The crab can be chilled or room temperature.

For each square of nori, place a thin layer of warm rice, topped with a slice of avocado and a spoonful of crab. For heat, dust lightly with cayenne. For color, sprinkle a little finely chopped Italian parsley.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sexy, Seared Scallops Help Say Goodbye to 2012 and Hello to 2013

Cooking long hours is fun on Thanksgiving but on New Year's Eve nobody wants to be in the kitchen except to pass through on the way to the freezer to refill the ice bucket.
The perfect at-home meal on New Year's Eve is one that has pazazz, great flavor and doesn't take long to prepare.

With expectations high, everything about a New Year's Eve party needs to be special
Take-out deli sandwiches are fine to watch the weekly football game. Pizza and beer works for a Netflix festival of Tarantino movies. But for the night when you say goodbye to a whole year's experience and celebrate what's-hoped-for in the coming 365 days, it isn't enough to simply put food on the table.

If you're having a small gathering of friends and loved ones, easy-to-make scallops are an elegantly delicious way to tell everyone how much you love sharing this end-of-the-year evening with them.

Experimenting with samples of Alaskan seafood sent to me by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, I have been happily trying out different techniques with their halibut, cod, king crab legs and salmon.

The Alaskan scallops, caught off the Kodiak coast, were beautifully plump and firm. The size of fifty cent coins, since they were thick, they could hold up to the high heat of searing.
Scallops play well with others
Because scallops have a delicate flavor, they work well with buttery, sautéed spinach and earthy shiitake mushrooms. They are also good sliced and sautéd before being tossed with pasta in a sauce of roasted tomato sauce and garlic.

With dense flesh, scallops mimic the hearty flavor of steak so they can be seared whole with thick cut onion rings.
Scallops go well with a crisp, chilled white wine, an icy cold beer or, my favorite,  a perfect Manhattan. Whatever beverage accompanies your scallops, you can toast all that was good about 2012 and all that you hope for in 2013.

Seared Scallops on a Bed of Sautéed Spinach and Shiitake Mushrooms

As with any seared dish, obtaining the best quality ingredients is an essential starting point. Whether you are searing fish, shellfish, poultry or meat, high heat creates a blush of caramelized sweetness on the outside. After that, the dish is all about what's on the inside.
Key to searing is using a pan that can tolerate high heat. Stainless steel pans should not be used because too much work is required to clean them.

A cast iron pan or one designed specially for high heat cooking is preferred and can be found in restaurant supply stores like Surfas in Culver City. To prepare this dish, I used the French de Buyer carbon steel frying pan which is designed to be used at very high heat with only a small amount of oil.

Serves 4

Ingredients

16 large scallops, washed, pat dried
1 bunch spinach, root ends removed, washed in clean water, dried
4 shallots, ends and outer skin removed, cut into rings
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, root ends trimmed of any dirt, thin sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Cut off the spinach stems, finely chop and sauté  in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon olive, the shallots, garlic and mushrooms until lightly browned. Roughly chop the spinach leaves and add to the sauté. Cook until wilted and set aside. The vegetable sauté can be prepared ahead.

In a bowl, season 1 tablespoon olive oil with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne (optional). Add scallops. Toss well to coat. Set aside.

Place a cast iron or carbon steel frying pan on high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the scallops in the hot pan. Do not crowd the scallops. If they are too close together, they will steam rather than sear.

Using tongs, turn the scallops so all sides are lightly browned. When each scallop is cooked, place on paper towels to absorb excess fat.

Reheat the sautéed spinach and place on a serving platter. Arrange the scallops on top.

Serve hot with a cold beverage.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

San Jose del Cabo's Tequila Shrimp

On a recent trip to the southern tip of Baja California, I heard about Tequila Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, twenty minutes east of its better known cousin, Cabo San Lucas.  Enrique Silva, co-owner and chef, introduced me to one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, Camarones al Tequila.

He serves the shrimp with sides of black beans and fried plantains, which were great, but a bit impractical for my kitchen so I’ve adapted the recipe.

For a side, I think rice, pasta, or steamed spinach works just as well. The tequila-garlic sauce gives plenty of flavor.  Add a green salad and you have the perfect, easy-to-prepare meal.

The tequila should be white and inexpensive. Save the good stuff for your guests.

Recipe: Tequila-Garlic Shrimp

Ingredients

24 large, raw shrimp, washed, shells removed, deveined
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro or Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon onion or shallot, finely chopped
4 oz tequila
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 oz lime juice, fresh squeezed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Cook the rice, make the pasta, or steam the spinach ahead so the side dish and shrimp are ready at the same time.
2. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan on a medium flame. Add the garlic, cilantro (or parsley) and onion. Sauté 3-4 minutes until lightly browned.
3. Add the shrimp. Stir well to coat. Cook 2-3 minutes.
4. Add the tequila, butter and lime juice. Use a match to flame off the alcohol. 
5. Raise the heat to medium-high. Keep stirring to mix well.  The sauce should thicken in 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp.
6. Taste and adjust flavors with sea salt and pepper.  For heat, dust with a little cayenne.

Serve hot with the side of your choice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fine Dining Southern Rhode Island Style

In recent posts, I described a trip to Rhode Island where I was introduced to a community of talented chefs who are making the state a go-to place for anyone who enjoys good food. I knew I would find good restaurants in Providence. What surprised me was the number of accomplished chefs working in the resort towns in the southern half of the state.

Newport is Rhode Island's best known tourist destination. Located on the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, the city is home to Cliff Walk and the world-famous mansions built at the end of the 19th century with their distinctive architecture and opulent details. Its sheltered harbor and many beaches make Newport a destination for anyone who enjoys sailing and water sports. The city is family-friendly as well, with dozens of affordable restaurants on Broadway and Bowen's Wharf in the harbor.

One Bellevue (One Bellevue Avenue, Newport, 401/847-3300) is located on Historic Hill, overlooking the harbor.

Chef Kevin Theile's menu changes with the seasons and emphasizes local produce and seafood. For him, "Local is a big deal. When people travel to New England, they're looking for seasonal New England seafood." So it's no surprise that most of the seafood on his menu is caught in nearby waters, including Maine lobsters, sole, shrimp, bay scallops, tuna, crab, clams, and oysters. As he proudly says, "Right off the docks, right out of the water," right onto your plate.

Chef Theile tells a story about a recent gastronome's tour of New York he took with his sous and banquet chefs. Most memorable, he said, was a meal at Mario Batali's Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca. An "awesome experience," he said, because they feasted on ingredients they love but could never serve at One Bellevue: head cheese, pigs' feet, lamb brains, rabbit, and goat. "Newport," he said, "is a tourist town, not a culinary scene and people want familiar food."

That was a refrain I heard frequently on my tour of the state. Rhode Island is a tourist destination and tourists enjoy food that doesn't challenge their culinary boundaries, but that doesn't stop chefs from occasionally pushing the envelope.

With his starters, Chef Theile hews closely to expectations with a seasonal menu. When I visited he featured fall ingredients: seared bay scallops with apple wood smoked bacon, crab cakes, autumn vegetable and roasted squash risotto with crispy Granny Smiths and Swiss chard, roasted butternut squash soup, New England clam chowder, caramelized Vidalia onion soup with Crispy bread and melted Gruyere cheese, warm spinach salad, classic Caesar salad, local oysters, and a shrimp cocktail. Eating any of these first courses and you know you're in Southern New England and you're happy.

The comfort food entrees follow familiar paths. The grilled Flat Iron steak with sour cream-chive potato pancakes, citrus glazed half chicken with pancetta whipped potatoes, or blackened pork tenderloin with barbecue pulled pork will satisfy all the meat-and-potato diners who want their food well-prepared and mouth-watering.

But for those who want some cross-cultural surprises, he offers Southern New England ingredients treated with a French and an Asian flair: grilled lobster accompanied with cipolini whipped potatoes and ginger sesame harciot vert, chili rubbed tuna with wasabi potatoes, apple and Swiss chard salad, and grilled shrimp and bay scallop pad Thai.

Located at the end of Cliff Walk and looking every bit like one of the nearby Newport Mansions, the Chanler Hotel (117 Memorial Boulevard, Newport, 401/847-2244) has 20 guest rooms furnished distinctively with European designs. No two rooms look alike. Meticulously detailed, all the rooms are luxurious, even the eccentrically appointed Gothic room with its dungeon-like design.

Taking up most of the ground floor, the Spiced Pear looks like the dining room of an exquisitely appointed Mediterranean villa. From its vantage point on the cliff, the restaurant has a sweeping view of the brilliantly blue water below. In the colder months, the dining room occupies a cozy room facing the open kitchen. In summer, diners can also sit outside in the covered patio and enjoy the cool breezes off Rhode Island Sound.

Executive Chef Kyle Ketchum describes his menu as "contemporary New England cuisine". If you love lobster, start with the lobster bisque, then go on to the delicately flavored butter poached Maine lobster, served with sweet creamed corn, English peas, and mushrooms. A chilled seafood plate has oysters sharing the plate with a shrimp cocktail. In the summer, local produce is featured in dishes like the heirloom tomatoes in a panzanella salad that includes tiny cubes of hearts of palm along with cucumber pearls and Fourme d'Ambert blue cheese.

Acknowledging that his guests do not live by seafood alone, chef Ketchum serves beautifully composed plates of American kobe beef with potato gratin, Moroccan glazed Muscovy duck breast with porcini mushrooms and sauteed spinach, kobe beef short ribs, and Berkshire pork with creamy Parmesan polenta.

His vegetarian tasting menu takes advantage of seasonally available local produce and includes a delicious chilled clear tomato gazpacho, chanterelle mushrooms with English peas and gnocchi, and risotto with truffles and sweet corn.

If you'll allow yourself the calories, chef Ketchum will delight your sweet tooth with the eye-pleasing Tahitian vanilla bean souffle or his acrobatic chocolate trio that couples a wedge of chocolate truffle cake, a dark chocolate terrine, and a pistachio and dark chocolate brownie with a Bailey's Irish cream float topped with whipped cream.

Twenty minutes from downtown Newport, the 35 room Castle Hill Inn & Resort (590 Ocean Drive, Newport, 888/466-1355) sits on a hill overlooking Narragansett Bay. The day we drove out to the restaurant, a rain storm pelted Ocean Drive, the solitary road that circles the island. The lobster skiffs that fish the waters had taken refuge in sheltered coves to avoid the storm.

The Inn looked all the more lovely and romantic in the rain.

The restaurant occupies the sun room of the converted mansion. Open on three sides to a view of the water, light poured in even on a rainy day. Chef Jonathan Cambra, like his fellow Rhode Island chefs, emphasizes local seafood and seasonal produce on his menu. The clams in his New England clam chowder and in the saute combining littlenecks with Portuguese sausage and fennel are from local waters, as are the raw Matunuck Farm oysters he tops with a Bloody Mary sorbet and black pepper gelee.

While the menu lists familiar dishes like bacon and eggs, a lobster roll, and a grilled cheese sandwich, chef Cambra prepares them with upgraded ingredients. The bacon is actually pork belly, the lobster roll uses a tarragon dressing instead of plain old mayo, and the grilled cheese is made with a selection of Narragansett Creamery cheeses on Sicilian bread. Even the hash he serves with his eggs isn't your cafe-variety hash. His is made with lobster.

Desserts come in all varieties. From Belgian chocolate tarts to napoleons, hot fudge sundays with homemade ice cream, banana splits, and a refreshing raspberry consomme.


My personal favorite was the artisan cheese tasting, with a well-chosen accompaniment of caramelized nuts, delicious honey, and apricot puree. By the time we finished lunch, the rain had stopped so we could take a walk on the expansive lawn. Looking across the Bay we could make out the mainland where we would be going next.

A trip to Rhode Island should always include a stop on Block Island. Ferries leave frequently from Point Judith and New London. Looking very much like a Norman Rockwell painting, Old Harbor is one of those rare places where time appears to have stopped. There are no high-rises here. Turn of the century four-story hotels like the National dominate the skyline. Walk a few blocks inland to Spring Street and you'll find Victorian houses that have become B&Bs like the Hotel Manisses and the 1661 Inn (Spring Street, Block Island, 401/466-2421).

Conventional wisdom would have you believe that there is only cafe-style food on the island. Among the dozens of local restaurants, Eli's (456 Chapel Street, Block island, 401/466-5230) is deservedly well-reviewed because the food is fresh, reasonably priced, and well-prepared. But the best place to eat on the island, bar none, is in the Hotel Manisses Restaurant (Hotel Manisses, Spring Street, Old Harbor, Block Island, 401/466-2421).

Chef Ross Audino takes local sourcing one step farther than his mainland colleagues. During the summer, 70% of his vegetables and 100% of his herbs come from the large garden behind the restaurant planted by Justin Abrams, the hotel's owner.

Because of the temperate island climate, chef Audino has fresh lettuce well into the fall. That is, he has lettuce until the week after Labor Day when, like clock-work every year, he wakes up to find that the local deer have descended on the garden and eaten what was left of the crop. Justin speculates that after Labor Day when most of the tourists leave, the deer feel its safe to come out of the hills to forage for food.

Not only are the blue fish, striped bass, clams, littlenecks, tuna, mussels, lobster, and swordfish served at the restaurant fished from local waters, but because Block Island is a tight-knit community, the chef knows the fishermen personally, like Joe Szabo, an old-timer who fishes for local swordfish.

The summertime dining room extends outside into a spacious brick lined patio that looks out on the herb garden at the back of the building. When the weather cools, diners happily stay inside, starting off with a drink at the bar and one of the appetizers: Maryland style crab cakes, tuna tartare with delicious cubes of extra firm fried tofu and ginger mayo on top of a wakame seaweed salad, grilled scallops with ratatouille, fried cod cheeks, and freshly shucked Moonstone oysters.

Chef Audino also puts the local seafood to excellent use in his entrees: gnocchi with lobster meat, pan roasted bass & local littlenecks, striped bass with spinach-shallot foam, and grilled swordfish with lobster mashed potatoes (yes, that's lobster-mashed potatoes and they are delicious).

The menu accommodates vegetarians with a grilled garlic, marinated tofu with house-made mozzarella. A beet salad configured into a tower of savory deliciousness, includes toasted almonds, sweetened mascarpone, and a reduced balsamic vinegar.

For meat-eaters, the menu is a lot of fun. A smoked beef brisket sandwich with crispy onion rings and a large plate of barbecued St. Louis ribs on a bed of jalapeno & cheddar spoon bread from the bistro menu are delicious. The ribs are full of flavor and, literally, finger-lickin' good because they are brined, dry rubbed, slow braised and then finished in high heat so the moist, nicely fatty meat gets a thin crust on top. The addition of a demi-glaze on the grilled Hereford filet mignon on the main menu creates a similar melt-in-your-mouth salty-sweetness and can be ordered either with mashed potatoes or the French fries which are fried with garlic cloves and rosemary leaves.

Desserts range from an apple crumble with an excellent nougat ice cream, carrot cake, Bailey's chocolate mousse flavored with Bailey's and whipped cream, a seven layer chocolate cake with mocha ganache, and a lemon cake with strawberry sauce. All of which were good, but I think that if I were going to leave room for anything, it would be for a couple more of the St. Louis ribs and a handful of those French fries.

Before you leave Rhode Island, you should make one more stop before you go home: the coastal city of Bristol.

Located on the eastern side of Narragansett Bay, mid-way between Providence and Newport, Bristol has small town charms, New England style. The small craft harbor is encircled by a bike and walking path. The small town shops remind you of a time before-we-had-malls.

Walking toward the harbor on State Street, you might pass by Persimmon (31 State Street, Bristol, 401/254-7474) without noticing the intimate, tastefully decorated dining room inside.

Opened in 2005 by chef Champe Speidel and his wife Lisa, Persimmon has gained a large following among tourists and locals, including chefs throughout the state. Working with local purveyors, like all Rhode Island fine dining chefs, chef Speidel's kitchen turns out exquisite plates of extraordinarily delicious food.

His attention to detail would rival any upscale restaurant in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Reading widely in his hundreds of cookbooks, chef Speidel looks for techniques and flavor combinations that he believes will engage his customers. He explained that it is "really easy to get complacent in a small restaurant, but you have to push yourself, always try to do more."

The seasons energize his cooking.

Even though much of Bristol's business is summer tourism, the town is a bedroom community of commuters who work in Providence and Newport. Which means a year-round clientele supports his restaurant.

Challenging himself, he prints a new menu every day, featuring what's fresh and local. Keeping his menu in sync with the changing seasons means his customers look forward to the new ways he'll prepare ingredients with a short season, like asparagus, black bass, and tautog. For his loyal customers he balances favorites like the crispy skin Long Island duck breast with new dishes so he'll encourage them to come back several times a week.

When Champe and Lisa opened Persimmon, their goal was to create a small, cozy restaurant that emphasized high quality food and good but informal service.

Champe calls his menu "modern," but he could have as easily called it global, because he borrows freely from world cuisine and American traditional food. Highly skilled, his cooking is witty.


Eight years ago, Lisa took Champe to his first clambake on the beach. He loved the experience of a wood fire, freshly cooked clams, corn, lobster, potatoes, and chorizo. Wanting to recreate the experience back at the restaurant, he created the mini clambake, one of his most popular appetizer.

When the dish is presented at the table, the plate is covered by a glass dome. As the covering is lifted, a scented cloud of apple wood smoke is released and, for a moment just before you devour the sweetly flavored seafood and broth, you're transported back to a summertime beach where you don't have a care in the world.

One of the dishes I enjoyed the most and would have eagerly asked for seconds, was his "two-minute" ceviche of native razor clams, served with Vietnamese Kalamansi lime, chilies, and mint sauce. Never has a Southern New England clam been so well-served.

His menu includes some exquisitely prepared comfort foods. For those who can afford the fatty indulgence, he serves up a perfectly seared Hudson Valley foie gras with oven roasted figs dressed with a duck reduction and aged balsamic vinegar. For another appetizer, an egg slow cooked at precisely 143.6 degrees for one hour, shares an elegant bowl with sauteed hen-of-the-woods mushrooms flavored with a touch of curry oil.

Armed with an inventive imagination, he carefully shapes the flavor profiles of his dishes. Unlike many chefs who give clams and mussels a featured spotlight, chef Speidel uses shellfish as a flavor garnish, using their uniquely sweet-and-salty profile to enhance the qualities, as he did one night, of line caught Cox's Ledge cod wrapped in apple wood bacon and served in a chowder of razor and littleneck clams.

His Pan Seared South Dartmouth Boneless Pork Loin Chop is sweet and juicy, the meat's flavors all the more enhanced by the accompanying ragout of squash, fennel, turnips, and peaches. While he roasts his Long Island Duck Breast to glazed, crispy perfection, he prefers to cook his organic chicken cuit sous vide, giving the meat a velvety texture that is contrasted by the oven roasted potatoes and onions.

The dessert selections run from the delicate (Yogurt and Vanilla Panna Cotta with native Berries) to the sublime (Rich Chocolate Moussse with Dark Chocolate-Hazelnut Feuilletine and Carmel Ice Cream) to the familiar-though-decadent (Warm Peanut and Banana Cake with Banana Ice Cream, Caramel and Chocolate Sauces). All of which are wonderful. But I confess a simple plate of Berkshire Blue Cheese with a wedge of honeycomb dusted with fennel pollen stole my heart that night.

After having so many wonderful meals, and taking everything into account--the simple elegance of the dining room, Champe and Lisa Speidel's friendliness and charm, the execution and distinctive flavor profile of each and every dish--eating at Persimmon was my best experience on a very memorable trip.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Briefly in Seattle: Pike's Place Market, the Space Needle Restaurant, Boeing's Museum of Flight, Crumpets, Lobster Tail, and the Black Bottle

With one day in Seattle, I could only visit a few places. Luckily the hotel was close to Pike's Place Market, so a quick trip before the day began was easy to do. Mornings are a good time to walk through the Market before the crowds arrive, because it's easy to stop and take your time looking at what's for sale, which is a lot of the freshest most beautiful fish, shellfish, and salmon you're likely to see anywhere.

I love shellfish. When I lived in Seattle for the Twin Peaks and Citizen Baines' shoots, I was very happy. I'd fill up on fresh Kumomoto oysters, Dungeness crabs, and Penn Cove mussels. The oysters are delicious raw or in stews. The crabs are sold cooked or live. The mussels are easily steamed and eaten with a butter-garlic broth. While the vegetables in the Market come from many sources including California, the fish is local, coming no farther away than Alaska.

There are also fresh and dried flower stalls, bakeries, cheese shops, and a wonderful selection of small restaurants and coffee shops. A favorite place to stop is The Crumpet Shop (1503 1st Avenue between Pike & Pine, 206/682-1598) where the crumpets are freshly made and available with sweet (butter, honey, or preserves) or savory (tomatoes, pesto, cheese...) toppings. Come before 8:30am and the lattes are $1.50.

I walked over to the Market twice yesterday. Once by myself just as the stalls were opening. For breakfast I had a freshly steamed pork bao from Mee Sum Pastry (1526 Pike Place, 206/682-6780). The second time I brought part of our press junket group. Since Holly and Updesh are Brits and Parmesh is Indian, I wanted their expert opinion about the Crumpet Shop. I know I like them because of their top crust and chewy sweetness, but are they authentic? After several rounds of crumpets with butter, honey and butter, preserves, and cheddar cheese with sliced tomatoes, they agreed that they were authentic and delicious. We made a pact to come back today at 7:00am before we had to leave for Boeing Field to pick up our new 777-200LR.

We stopped for lunch at the Space Needle Restaurant, which is always fun. Although the view is picturesque, for anyone with motion-issues, slowly rotating as the city passes below can be challenging. We had a very nice lunch as our group got to know one another. With people coming from around the world (Alberquerque, New York, Mombai, Dubai, Doha, Los Angeles, and Seattle) we had a lot to talk about.

After lunch we visited Boeing's Museum of Flight (9404 East Marginal Way South, Seattle, WA 98108, 206/764-5700). Since we were about to tour the Boeing factory in Everett, it was great to get a brush up on aviation history. I still find it amazing that there are just 50 years between the Wright Brother's tentative efforts to achieve flight and the development of the Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird.

One of our group, Betsy, used to live in Seattle and she suggested dinner at the Black Bottle (2600 1st Avenue at Vine, 206/441-1500) where we had wine and cocktails and shared a dozen gastro-pub dishes, including crispy butterflied seven spice shrimp, deep fried and battered Spanish fried olive, fried tofu with a sate sauce, sweet and tender cumin pork tenderloin with a frisee salad, fried sardines with spicy Indian slaw, braised and grilled artichoke hearts, coconut gelato with plantain fries, and a luridly rich, hot dark chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla gelato hidden inside.

Given 24 hours in Seattle, this was a pretty great day.

Today we tour the Boeing plant and pick up Qatar Airways' second Boeing 777-200LR. Our plane will join its sister already in service. When Qatar begins its daily, nonstop service between Doha and Houston on March 30th, the 777-200LRs will make the trip in under 17 hours. Today's trip will be a bit shorter because we will fly a more northerly route.

For me this flight has several firsts: I've never flown longer than 8 hours, never been to the Middle East, and certainly have never ridden on a plane's maiden flight.

More to tell in the following posts. Tomorrow from Doha, Qatar.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Clams Go Grilling

Just when you think you know everything about a person, an unseen facet of their life reveals itself. My good friend, accomplished cook, and popular cookbook writer, Valerie Peterson has just revealed herself as a fellow shellfishaholic. In today's New York Times she writes a charming remembrance about summer days at the beach, picnicking and clamming at Sherwood Island State Park in Connecticut in "Digging for Summer".

Sadly this is a remembrance of things past because Sherwood Island where she and her family used to gather now prohibits clamming because of pollution. There are alternative beaches to try but her personal experiences speak eloquently about why environmental protection is not just an abstract notion.

Reading Valerie's description of clams cooked at the beach after being gathered by her cousins is a near-perfect scene: packing the steamers into "coffee pots with a couple of inches of water" and heated on the hibachis carried in by cooperative uncles; watching the water boil, the shells open, broth being seasoned, butter added, and then the adults happily eating the sweet chewy clams. As she says though this was an experience seen from two perspectives. While the adults appreciated the rubbery bivalves, "for us children, the thrill was the hunt..."

Finding steamers in Los Angeles is near-impossible so my experience is with Manila clams from Carlsbad Aquafarms at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. My own remembrance of eating clams is from a very brief stint crewing on a Gulf Coast fishing boat. I remember the work as tedious, back-breaking, dangerous, and hot. The clams however were the best I've ever eaten. The captain of the boat showed me how to make what he called sop which he applied liberally to the clams, creating a perfect mixture of the bivalve's brine, butter's sweetness, beer's sourness, and Tabasco's heat.

Clams Barbecued on the Half-Shell with Sop

Yield
4 servings
Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 dozen Manila, Littleneck or Butter clams (washed, scrubbed clean)
1/4 cup sweet butter (melted)
1/4 cup beer
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Pepper

Method

Season the melted butter, beer, and Tabasco sauce mixture with a little black pepper. Put the clams in a a covered saucepan with 1/4 cup water on high heat for 2-3 minutes or until all the clams open. Discard any that don't open. Reserve the broth to use as a base for clam chowder or a pasta sauce.

Let the clams cool, then tear off and discard the shell that doesn't have a clam. Pour a little sauce over each clam in its half-shell (about 1/2 teaspoon/clam) and put on a hot barbecue grill or in a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes, then serve with a fresh baguette.

Variations

Sauté until lightly brown 1/4 cup Italian parsley or cilantro (leaves only, finely chopped) and 2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped) in olive oil and add to the sauce.

Sauté until lightly brown 1/4 cup Basil (leaves only, finely chopped) and 2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped) in olive oil and add to the sauce.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Bivalves

Farmers’ markets aren’t only for produce. Flowers, eggs, cheese, milk, poultry, and fish are available as well. And for the past several months at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, Carlsbad Aquafarms has been selling live shellfish: mussels, oysters, clams, abalone, and scallops.

The mussels, oysters, and clams sit in ice-filled tubs while the abalone and scallops come to market in thick plastic bags filled with a mix of sea water and oxygen. Since Carlsbad Aquafarm arrived at the market, I've become a regular customer. This week Robb, who is a chef as well as one of the proprietors of the aquafarm, gave me a dozen Catalina Oysters and a bag of the Calico Scallops to try. I've had the oysters before but the scallops...that was something else. I hadn't prepared a scallop that was alive and still in its shell.

Scallops on a Bacon-Spinach Sauté

Dealing with live scallops for the first time I needed to do research, which meant turning to the internet. What we know as the "scallop" is in fact the adductor muscle that holds the two shells together. Surrounding the muscle in both the male and female scallop is the roe. Although I enjoy roe, most people find the flavor gamy. A sharp paring knife easily removes the thin membrane that secures the roe to the muscle.

Carlsbad Aquafarm doesn't raise the over-sized scallops served in Chinese restaurants. Their Calico scallops are petite. To be appreciated these sweet morsels need to be surrounded with contrasting flavors and textures. Although the scallops take a bit of work and are pricey, I made them for Michelle as an appetizer and they were delicious, truly special.

6 scallops
1 cup spinach, washed, dried, roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Wash the scallops and put on a hot grill or in a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. As they open they'll release their juices. Capture as much of the liquid as you can. Let cool, then twist off one of the shells and discard. Using a sharp paring knife, remove the scallop from the shell and carefully cut off the membrane and roe. Put the scallop back in its shell, add a pat of butter, and put them into a small frying pan on a low flame. Cook the scallops for 5 minutes in the butter, then set aside. In a frying pan drizzle olive oil, add the scallop liquid, and sauté the bacon, garlic, shallots, and spinach until lightly browned. The sauté will be crispy and sweet, the perfect contrast for the delicate scallops.

Put the sauté on the bottom of the shell and on top of the scallop. The scallops should be eaten warm. Use a cocktail fork or eat them off the shell. I much prefer the latter. That way you won't miss any of the sauté and the scallop's sweet juices.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Oysters Breaded with Bacon and Parsley

I ate some of the oysters raw on the half shell with a bit of lemon juice and cocktail sauce. Delicious. For the rest I wanted to have them breaded. I've talked about that before. This time I wanted to make a small adjustment to the breading by adding crisp bacon. The bacon added a layer of flavor and upped the crunch-factor.

Shuck the oysters, reserving their nectar to use in an oyster stew. The oysters can be served either on lettuce with avocado slices or on a baguette with homemade tartar sauce.

12 oysters, shucked
1/2 cup bread crumbs (preferably homemade, unseasoned)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, finely chopped
2 slices crisp bacon
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and bacon in a small food mill, pulse until thoroughly combined, and put on a plate. Drizzle olive oil on a second plate and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Over a medium flame, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Dredge each oyster first through the seasoned olive oil, then through the bread crumbs to coat. Sauté the oysters until lightly browned. Serve warm with tartar sauce either on a baguette or on lettuce with avocado.

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

If you want to try Carlsbad Aquafarm's shellfish, they're at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Wednesdays. They have been going to some of the other local farmers' markets as well. If you send them an email, they'll let you know their schedule: info@carlsbadaquafarm.com

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.