Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spring Is Coming, Roe With It

I know spring, and its promise of better climes, is coming soon.  Can you guess how I know?  Let's just say the porcupine fish told me so.

Long ago, before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Micmac, Mohican, Algonquin and many other tribes native to this coast relied on the bountiful spring shad runs to sustain their diets and buttress their exhausted stores.  They called shad "the porcupine fish".  According to folklore, the porcupine wanted a different station in life, so when it complained to the Great Spirit, it ended up turned inside out and thrown into the water, becoming the shad fish.  This legend explains why the shad is so bony. This fact is a big turn-off for many chefs and home gourmands, and one could say that breaking down a whole shad into usable, boneless fillets is a lost art.  Fewer and fewer fishmongers are taking this fish to task and the skill and precision needed to successfully make this bony fish palatable is not being transferred to younger generations.

But it's not just the meat that these fish are known for.  In fact, it's not their flesh at all, but instead their roe (eggs) that stir the interest of many who still adhere to the natural, cyclical diet of the seasonal feast.  Shad roe appears every year around this time, when the shad begin their spawning migrations up the rivers of our East Coast.  Roe sets start popping up in markets and, state-by-state they make their way onto restaurant boards and dinner tables.  Some say the younger generation has no taste for the full flavored, decadent viand, and that it's an ancient food only truly appreciated by older, more educated tastes.  However, I believe there's a renaissance happening in which people are turning back to forgotten foods, especially seasonal and local ones with histories as rich as the shad's flavor.

Some say the shad helped win the Revolutionary War by sustaining General Washington and his troops at Valley Forge when food had disappeared and all seemed lost.  After decades of plenty, shad later became a trapping of the wealthy, when only the rich could afford to savor the rich roe sets.  Now, as fewer and fewer people venture too far from the salmon, shrimp, tuna, and snapper options on the market stand, the bright, striking roe sets stand out like phantasms of a delicious, but lost, culture.  Maybe people will once again tune in to what nature is offering, on her terms of course.  There's something promising about the shad returning.  It's another spring, another chance, to get it right.  It's a fish rich in flavor and rich in history.  Eating and enjoying shad is a way to shake hands with the past, while facing a brave, yet familiar, frontier.

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.