Freshness is of course the quality in seafood that we prize above all others, with the place of origin in second. I had a friend ask me recently where I buy my fish, since he spends a lot of time in Maine and is thus used to surpassingly fresh fish. Out here in the sticks it can be hard to find anything even approaching that quality. I told him that befriending the fish guy at a decent market is a good start, because they will usually order something for you specially and call you when it comes in on one of their two or so delivery days in a given week. That way, you know you’re getting something that’s as newly out of the ocean as it’s possible to get when you live away from the coast. You can also find out when their shellfish arrive and grab a bag of mussels on that day, rather than after they have sat on crushed ice for a week. I once bought mussels and every single one in the bag was dead.
The other good strategy is to check out their freezer. I always do, and often walk away with some treasure or another that is both sustainably sourced and very good to eat. Plus, I can toss it in the freezer when I get home and not have the pressure of needing to it right away that one has with beautiful fresh seafood. Besides these lovely blue crabs, I can get squid and sardines that are quite nice for Thai-style stir fries or escabeche, to give an example for each one. Once I found Alaskan king crab legs for next to nothing; I have no idea if they were mislabeled or just on sale, but I snapped them up. These blue crabs were nine bucks for a bag of three. Not exactly cheap, but far from extravagant divided by three people.
Another quick one, because I gots things to do and places to go. This was a most enjoyable meal, and made all the more so by the short list of ingredients: a london broil, a head of romaine lettuce, a jar of kimchi, and rice wrappers. There was dipping sauce, too, which had about 17 ingredients, but you get the point.
For the last entry in this here contest, I received a bag of clams (already cooked and eaten here) and some ground lamb. Half the ground lamb became the kofta from a few posts ago, and the rest was the basis for this extremely gratifying dinner: 100% homemade gyros.
This meal was a collaboration between Milo and me; lately he’s been making dinner on Fridays (with varying amounts of help) and this time around the inspiration came from his coining of the word gordolini. Since gordo is Spanish for fat, it seemed logical to use Spanish flavors in both filling and sauce, so that is what we did.
This may not have been the most elegant meal ever made, but it was very good to eat, and it illustrates a useful principle of home cooking that can, when applied properly, make homemade food taste more interesting than restaurant food.
Upon returning home from the store with a nice mahi-mahi fillet, I was greeted by a big box on the front porch. The last in the four-part deliveries of free food for the Lambs and Clams contest, which I am quite decisively not winning, this particular box contained two pounds of ground lamb and 25 clams. I’m going to use the lamb for the contest post, so I just incorporated the clams into the evening’s fish dinner, transforming it into a two-course delight.
We invited some friends over for New Year’s Eve dinner, and I was setting forth to procure something celebratory when I bumped into my neighbor getting his mail. “Hey, I’ve got something for you,” he said. We had given them assorted homemade things (ketchup, salsa, jelly, etc.) and he wanted to reciprocate, so he led me to his freezer, from which he pulled out neatly wrapped and labeled white paper packets of frozen venison and bear meat. He had had an excellent hunting season, unlike the previous year when he got nothing. And thus was my search for exotic vittles complete before I even got in the car.
There’s nothing more useful than stock. Apart from the fact that it makes maximally efficient use of all your leftover bones—cooked or raw, depending on what you made—and that it can be tweaked and inflected every which way based on what you want to make next, it allows for so many options come dinner time. Soup, obviously, is pretty straightforward, but risotto is also only about twenty minutes away if you have stock on hand and some rice in the pantry. Sauces, reductions, gravies, stews, braises, and deglazing all require or at least benefit greatly from the application of a little or a lot of it.
Save the week’s bones in a container in the fridge or freezer and then give them a simmer with some aromatics every Sunday afternoon. Strain and freeze the result in quart containers and you’ll be set for any weeknight culinary eventuality that presents itself. Case in point: this dinner.