A recent outing to a place that carries decent if inconsistent seafood yielded a dozen littleneck clams and a bag of wild Pacific shrimp. Our seafood options are limited up here, so I was thinking of ways to mix up what we can get that is both tasty and defensible. So on the ride home I did some thinking, and then some more once safely back in the kitchen. The results were quite good, and paved the way for a very compelling meal the following night. The difference between good and great food often lies in saving bits and pieces from previous meals.
I rinsed the clams and tossed them in a pot with garlic, herbs, and white wine to steam. Once open, I strained the pot liquor into a saucepan that had leftover smoked chicken-miso stock in it, and served the clams in that with chopped herbs as a first course.
Meanwhile, the shrimp had been sitting, still in their shells, in a bowl with soy sauce, fish sauce, smoked paprika, cider vinegar, salt, palm sugar, and garlic. I removed them from the marinade (saving it, of course) and threw them in the iron skillet. Once pink, I added a jigger of absinthe diluted with a bit of sake (since it’s not such a good idea to add 66% alcohol to a hot pan on a fire) and let it burn off:
And I served them with more of this red cabbage-carrot slaw that has evolved into a wonderful pickled salad sort of condiment on top of homemade quasi-tortillas and with roasted squash. I poured the rest of the marinade into the hot pan to make a good sauce. The borage is still going strong, so I picked some flowers for garnish. The absinthe (local, of course) added this wonderful licoricey-herbal overtone to the shrimp; it was assertive and yet completely transparent at the same time. A shelled shrimp with slaw wrapped in a piece of tortilla made for a pretty superb bite of dinner.
The next day, armed with all of the shrimp shells dutifully saved in a container, a block of firm tofu, and a lingering dissatisfaction at the abject gringo lameness of my tortillas, I set about making something new and better. For the new Chronogram article I reviewed some restaurants, among which Twisted Soul in Poughkeepsie. Lee cooks expertly remixed global street food with a deeply soulful groove and it made an impression. Specifically, his arepas: small corn cakes traditional in Venezuela and Colombia with lots of variations. His are crispy outside, creamy inside, and small enough to make for tapas-sized bites. Toppings include pulled pork and three treatments of tofu, so that idea was my jumping-off point.
Now I don’t know shit about arepas; I’ve never eaten them prior to trying his last summer. But I read about them some, and learned that they’re made from masarepa, a pre-cooked corn flour which I do not own, and have no desire to buy, since conventionally-farmed corn is a bane. But I wanted to make them. So I took some of the locally grown and milled organic corn flour, added a bit of the coarse polenta for texture, and pre-cooked it my damn self like it was polenta. Now I realize that after the Confederate Tea Party wins big on Tuesday we’ll all have to start calling polenta “grits,” but that’s how I did it. Best of all, I included a quick stock made from the shrimp shells in the cooking liquid, so it became like a stealthy postmodern shrimp and grits riff that I assimilated into my pinko, atheist, America-hating dinner. When Sarah Palin’s Facebook page is President, I’ll be first up against the wall. But until then, I’m going to eat well.
So I poured the creamy corn mush out onto a cutting board to cool and spread it into a roughly rectangular shape. Those jars in the background are some of the 25 quarts of pure, local, biodynamic applesauce I canned this weekend. Ingredient: apples. 6.25 gallons of it.
While it cooled, I gave the tofu a very nice char in the skillet with some coconut oil, then deglazed it with honey and more of the shrimp shell stock. I whisked up a tropical sort of sauce with peanut butter, olive oil, sesame oil, homemade sambal, cider vinegar, and shrimp stock. And I cut the cornmeal slab into squares and browned them in more of the coconut oil. So: more slaw–better with each passing day–then tofu, sauce, pickled black radish, and parsley on crispy, creamy corn cakes with the specter of absinthey shrimp hovering over it all like a spooky ghost.
This was the kid’s plate; grownups got more, and lots more of the nuclear sambal:
To drink, a 2009 Glenora Riesling. I’m learning a bit about the wines of the Finger Lakes, and Riesling is definitely something that does well up there. This was roughly Spätlese in sweetness, though maybe a tad more, and was bell-balanced with acidity. The fruit was pleasant, and also well-integrated, though not so citrusy as German examples. The classic petroleum note that makes German Riesling so elegant and mysterious was missing. I’m going to try socking a few of these away for a while to see if time adds any more complexity; my guess is that it could benefit from a couple of years at least.