Thursday, February 11, 2016

Oysters Make Great Lovers

Oysters are for lovers.  Lovers are for oysters.

Looking to make your Valentine's Day meal something special?  I recommend cozying up to the nearest oyster bar and sharing the primal experience of slurping down some gorgeous bi-valves.  Oysters are known to get the libido going and, on a night in which you definitely want to set the mood, indulging in a dozen can set your date off on the right foot.  Here are some recommendations for getting it right.

You're a beginner.  So where to start when there are so many varieties?  Start small.  I recommend smaller oysters with pleasant, not too intrusive flavors.  Beau Soleil, Fancy Sweet, Kumamoto, Kusshi, and Barren Island oysters are the perfect place to begin your journey to ecstasy.  These oysters are flavorful, but not intrusive, and they offer delicious sweet, subtle notes in a small package.

You're a sauce hog.  No matter the oyster, you love your toppings, be it horseradish, cocktail sauce, or tabasco, you feel the need to pile it on.  Chicoteagues, War Shore, 38 Degree, Kegotank, and Beavertail oysters are perfect vehicles for your garnishes.  They are known to be big and meaty and able to stand up to your experimental tastes.

You're a pro.  Well, if you're a seasoned vet, you probably already have a favorite oyster.  Nonetheless, here are some flavor bomb varieties I can recommend that you may not have yet visited. For you salt kings out there, try Old Black Salt (our signature oysters), Fisher Island, Salt Pond, Pemaquid, and Block Island.  If you're into that West Coast funk and prefer some algal notes with your melon rind, try Chelsea Gem, Hama Hama, Skookum and Akadia.  These are George Clinton certified to funk it up.  If you are a hard core mineral head there's no other option like a Maine-raised Belon.  These can come off like sucking on a penny, but with a simple squeeze of lemon you can open the door to unimagined flavor complexities.  Just be sure to warn your date.

Eating and enjoying oysters is a trip, a journey into the exotic nakedness of natural flavor.  When you share oysters with someone, especially with someone you love, it's like a playful dance.  There's trepidation, you never know what to expect because each oyster is it's own signature, and there's trust.  Trust in the communal event taking place between the lips that whatever comes next, you and your partner are on this primitive road together.  It's a beautiful bond and it's easy to get caught up in the moment.  But isn't that what Valentine's Day is all about?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lobster In A Bowl

Valentine's Day is a day on which we celebrate love and lobsters.  They sort of go hand in hand, call it a fashionable tradition.  Recent history tells us consumer buying habits prove that on the day when we all show our love, culinarily speaking, no seafood item proves you care for your loved one as much as lobsters do.  Unfortunately, seafood suppliers have caught on to this and have reacted like any intelligent enterprisers would, by keeping prices at a premium while demand booms.  Instead of detracting buyers from purchasing these "bugs", the rising costs have only propelled the mystique of acquiring such a delicious, luxurious gift.

If you are going to prove your true love by purchasing lobster this holiday, here are some ways you can stretch your dollar without looking like you are skimping on the extravagant crustacean.

Incorporate lobster into the meal.  Just because you want to serve lobster doesn't mean you have to emblazon the plate with it.  Think lobster mac n' cheese, lobster with tagliatelle or lobster ravioli.  Lobster meat is a rich and flavorful additive that really shines with good pasta.  You can purchase fresh, cooked lobster meat and only need about half a pound to three quarters for two people.  Simply warming it up in butter with a squeeze of lemon and adding it to nice pasta makes an incredible dish that will leave your bellies full and your cravings sated.

Turn it into an appetizer.  I get that you want to serve something a little more "white tablecloth" than lobster rolls, but starting a meal with a nice lobster salad is a great way to get the evening going.  You can purchase fresh meat, about 4 ounces should do for two, or purchase just one lobster and cook it and extract the meat yourself.  Adding a little mayo, onion, lemon zest, or celery can really stretch your dollar and have you coming off like a truly accomplished epicurean.

Stuff your lobster.  You can get away with only needing to purchase one lobster by splitting the lobster in half, cleaning the head cavity, and stuffing it with a variety of selections that cater to your tastebuds.  Some like to stuff it with crab, in this case purchasing a crab cake and splitting it may work, and others like to use clams, bread crumbs, and seasoning.  In either case you will need a larger lobster, think something close to 2 lbs, but be sure to have a game plan for your stuffing before buying the lobster.  Simply baking or broiling the split lobster will suffice.  Your prep and cook time will be minimal, giving you more time for your more important planned activities (wink, wink...).

Make a bisque.  Chefs all around the world use soups and bisques as profit generators, usually taking scraps worth pennies and turning them into delightful experiences worth dollars.  It's a sure fire way to exhibit the elegance of what good lobster flavor can be without breaking your bank or having to do a lot of extraneous cooking.  Bisques seem complicated, but they really just take a little planning and foresight.  For those of you who think it's out of your wheelhouse, I have added a recipe below from our BlackSalt Fish Market.  My advice is to make it a few days ahead so that flavor can set into the dish.  This will also give you more time to set the mood on that important day without fussing over your dinner.

If you do decide to stay in and cook for your loved one this Valentine's Day, I recommend calling ahead and reserving your fare from your favorite fish market.  Demand sometimes gets out of hand, especially with items such as lobsters, of which supply can be slippery.  Whatever you choose to dine on this year, let me just share a little tip: exquisite seafood awakens the imagination and pleases the mouth without leaving the body heavy or belly bursting.  This Valentine's Day, dress your plate in lobster, minus the cost.

Lobster Bisque 
This is a true bisque in that it is thickened with rice. This will serve about 7-8 portions as a main course lunch.

MAKES: 3-4 cups of bisque base, 7 cups of finished bisque

1 pound of Lobster Shells or 1 Lobsters, 1 ½# - 2#
1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 shallot, sliced
1 small leek, white only, washed and minced, about 1/4 cup
1/2 onion, diced, about 3/4 cup
1 stalk celery, diced, about 1/4 cup
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 level teaspoon kosher salt
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup cream sherry
4 cups lobster stock (If not available you can use shellfish stock or water)
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
3 drops Tabasco
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 cups heavy cream        
1 scallion, sliced thin on a bias
1 teaspoon picked chervil leaves

Cut the lobsters in half if using fresh lobsters. Remove lobster roe and coral. If using lobster shells make sure they are drained of all liquid.  In a brazier pan over medium high heat add the vegetable oil, garlic and shallots and cook 1 minute. Add the leeks, onion, and celery and 2 tablespoons butter and sweat until the onions are transparent. Add the salt, red chile flakes, bay leaf and Arborio rice and cook 2-3 more minutes. Add the tomato paste, and lobster or shells. Cook for two minutes until the lobsters turn red. Deglaze with the sherry and flame if possible with a match or lighter. Let flames subside (about 30 seconds) Add the lobster stock. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Let simmer for 5 minutes. (Remove the lobsters, let cool about 15 minutes, crack knuckles and claws, and remove all of the meat) Add the shells back to the soup base and reduce liquid by half stirring frequently, about 25 minutes. Puree all in a blender and pass through a fine sieve. You should have about 3.5 cups of base. Chop the lobster knuckle meat, slice the tail meat in medallions and the claws in three pieces.
This base can be made a day or two in advance.

To finish the Bisque:
 Add the bisque base to a one gallon sauce pan and add the remaining sherry, lemon juice, half and half, heavy cream, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Bring to a simmer and whisk in the remaining whole butter, lobster coral and roe.

To Serve: We recommend serving with nice store bought pasta of your liking such as ravioli or agnolotti.  Place an equal amount of lobster in each bowl you are serving and pour the hot bisque over the lobster.  Garnish with the scallions and fresh chervil leaves. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Another Bay, Another Way

With the winter wrath in full tilt and Nantucket and New Hampshire Bay scallops nowhere to be found, we have yet another player coming through in the bay scallop game.  This week, and hopefully going forward, Black Restaurant Group is happy to welcome back Peruvian Bay Scallops.

Peruvian bay scallops are sustainably farm-raised in Sechura Bay, Peru.  Divers gather these scallops from the sea floor, causing no damage to the environment and with no by-catch of other unwanted species.  Sechura Bay lies at the edge of the Northern Peruvian Upwelling System (NPUS).  This area is a transition zone where tropical and upwelling currents intermingle to cause a swell of nutrients upon which the scallops feed heavily.  They are a different species of bay scallop, but are very similar in size and flavor to our native Nantucket and New Hampshire bi-valves.  Peruvian Bays are harvested, hand shucked, and shipped the same day, delivering to our doors sashimi grade product of a very high quality.

Don't let the winter lock you in before you get to taste these South American candies.  We may not be able to get our homegrown treats during the frosty season, but it's nice to know that these sustainable, Friend of The Sea certified, precious morsels are available to allay our craving for sugar-coated seafood.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Future Is Farmed

Predicting the future is never easy.  If it were, many of us would already be Powerball champions.  But even though most outlooks are hazy at best, there is one trend that looks to have staying power: Farmed seafood is the future of seafood.  I just don't think there is any way around this truth.

Wild seafood resources are either at their maximum harvests or are rapidly approaching those levels.  Stocks that are not being reliably managed and harvested are either being rebuilt or are overfished, and are not optimal choices for feeding the masses for any extended period of time.  Factor in the appalling amount of waste that gets swept under the seafood industry's proverbial rug with a growing population and growing demand, and we have a vast, gaping hole left in the supply chain.

Responsible aquaculture (seafood farming) fills this void with high quality, nutritional products that meet the highest standards.  Aquaculture is the fastest growing product segment of the seafood industry.  Recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) opened waters in the Gulf of Mexico to large-scale, sustainable aquaculture.  Similar efforts are being made in northeastern states.

 If you think about it, this only makes sense.  The U.S. owns 4.4 million miles of operable and exclusive coastline, which is by far the most of any nation in the world.  This geographical clout provides the U.S. with the opportunity to not only furnish citizens (out of work fishermen and life long watermen especially) with vital jobs in the aquaculture field, but also equips our country with the power and resources to become a leading nation in providing the world with healthy, sustainably farmed seafood.  The U.S. has the opportunity to lead by example, creating the blueprint of how resources can be managed in a responsible way, ensuring that future generations will have safe seafood to eat and that our oceans and their inhabitants will remain healthy and intact.

Farmed seafood is slowly gaining notoriety and acceptance from consumers and critics.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently added many farmed seafood choices to their "green" list.  Many farms are working towards and receiving sustainable merits delegated by third party auditors.  Farmed fish is winning over chefs around the world, taking first prize in blind taste tests and making its way onto menus in the finest dinning establishments.  Farmed seafood often gets to your plate much sooner and fresher than wild alternatives.  The fish are harvested to order and shipped right away and they are also "safer" to eat considering they grow in a controlled environment without the worry of parasites or infection.  If farming in this country stays the course - that is, if we continue to promote the growth of farms that sustainably manage their operations, from product, to feed, to the environment and resources in which they use - then feeding our nation and our world sustainably with seafood appears to be not only a reachable goal, but a prosperous endeavor.  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

King Of The Offseason

Wild King Salmon season is now closed for the next few months and seafood customers who are conscientious of what they eat are scrambling to find a suitable salmon alternative.  If you have picked up a newspaper or scoped the online press in the last few months, you couldn't have missed reading about the farmed 'Frankenfish' that will soon be "invading" a seafood market near you.  'Frankenfish' is the inciting moniker given to the salmon created by AquaBounty that can grow faster and reach market size sooner than traditional salmon.  These fish acquire these traits by undergoing a genetic modification in which three different species are cross-bred in order to create a new species.  Without getting into the debate, I comment only to point out that the news has put many customers on edge.  Knowing and understanding what we are eating is an important priority for many.  Right or wrong, many guests are now hesitant to purchase farmed salmon due to the possibility of a boogeyman that goes by the initials GMO that could be lurking behind their salmon's label.

Insert solution here: meet the Ora King Salmon.  Ora King is a brand, actually a bloodline, of king salmon that is farmed in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand.  In this sanctuary, fish that have been selectively bred and are fully traceable grow with ample room to live.  The stocking densities are extremely low, allowing the salmon to develop in a more natural way.  The diet consists of a mix containing only 10% fish meal, which is sourced from sustainable pelagic fisheries and is approved by the World Wildlife Fund for its use in aquaculture feed.  Did I mention that these fish have received a "Best Choice" rating from the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch?  Not too bad.

So Ora King Salmon is good for the environment, but what does it taste like?  Well, it has been compared to Wagyu beef by the company's CEO and many chefs who have tried it have expounded profusely on the merits of its exquisite, natural flavor and perfect texture.  It only makes sense, seeing that the fish have literally been bred and selected for this excellence.  Ora's innovative selective breeding program employs traditional husbandry techniques in an extreme effort to produce the best possible product for all discerning chefs.  The result is a delicious, environmentally friendly selection that gives us all an option when choosing what to eat during the offseason.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"New" Hampshire Bay Scallops

O.K., O.K.  I know you foodies who crave great seafood have been severely neglected this year when it comes to bay scallops.  Your opportunities to savor the delicious morsels this year have been slim to none.  The market right now is a Nantucket Bay scallop wasteland.  A desert of flavor, bay scallop speaking at least.  There are several impostors out there, claiming fame but delivering disappointment.

There is good news.  We have found a solution, thanks to Tom Robinson of Taylor Lobster Company.  Tom reached out to me a few weeks ago and offered a "New" Hampshire alternative to my Nantucket Bay scallop problem; "Try my New Hampshire Bay scallops, you might really like them."  So we did, and I have to say "really like" is the understatement of the year.  These bay scallops came in freshly shucked, some felt like they were still pulsating from the icy cold waters of Great Bay, New Hampshire.  They were meaty, sweet and succulent, everything Nantucket Bay scallops promise to be.  They sear perfectly and eating them raw is an exercise in flavor divinity.

The New Hampshire Bay scallop fishery is a very small one.  Our scallops are harvested by Jeremy Davis of the fishing vessel Karen-Lynn.  It's a one man fishery which makes supply limited, but the quality and attention to detail when it comes to handling the product is unmatched when compared to the larger industrial sized fisheries.

I am not sure when we will be able to procure another shipment of Nantucket Bay scallops.  I have documented their plight previously and since then not much has changed.  The market is infiltrated right now with many different retreaded bay scallops that bear no resemblance to the famed scallops that represent the Nantucket legacy.  New Hampshire bay scallops have arrived to fill the void that has been created and are beginning to establish their own following.  Their quality and unsurpassed flavor rivals the Nantucket bay scallop in every way and in a not so distant future I envision a gold rush-like clamoring for these delicious bivalves.  The fish market always has an open space for another mouthwatering seafood selection.


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Bad News Bays

In my last post I waxed poetically about how maybe we were in the middle of the best week of the year, considering that we had both Nantucket Bay scallops and fresh king crab legs available. That week has come and gone and I may have been more on point than I initially thought, because, unfortunately, it doesn't look like we will be having either back in our market any time soon.  Fresh king crabs traditionally have been difficult to find, so their scarcity is nothing new.  What is troubling is that since that glorious week of decadence, I have heard nothing but the disturbing sound of crickets coming from our guy Jeff in Nantucket bay.  The scallops are missing, and that is not something normal, especially for this time of year.

Word is the eel grass is gone and fishermen are working double just trying to produce a pound of scallops. The eel grass is vital habitat for the scallops, no grass, no scallops.  Fishermen are postulating that nitrogen run-off has decimated the beds.  It can't help that water temperatures are much warmer than in recent years.  The combined effect has made scalloping an exercise in futility. Out of the 12 boats that work with Jeff, 3 have already called it quits for the year.  We could have the worst Nantucket Bay scallop season since 1995, a year in which you had a better chance of finding Wonka's golden ticket than procuring a pound of the "sea candy".  

Just because you see tiny scallops labeled as Nantucket Bays, be warned, it doesn't necessarily mean they are.  There are several bay scallops on the market such as Calicos, Peconics and Martha's Vineyard bay scallops.  They are delicious in their own right, but they are not nannys.  I would only purchase the bay scallops from purveyors that you trust to tell you the truth.  Unfortunately, this year the truth is not pleasant.  An item that was already precious has just become that much more scarce.