For the second entry in the Charleston Wine and Food Festival contest thingy, the Rappahannock River Oysters company sent me a box with a big bag each of their oysters and clams. I had been thinking about what to do with them for a while, and worked out a couple of ideas that I was excited to try. Then, of course, Sandy hit, taking our electricity for most of a week, so I had to modify both recipes to require only the stove top and grill.
Category: Crazy make-em-ups
It’s a little-known fact, but meal planning is made so much easier when friends call up and offer to bring you a dozen soft-shell crabs and help you eat them.
Normally I flour and fry crabs and make tartar sauce, because that’s how Milo loves them and it’s hard to argue with the merits of that preparation. But this time around I had a hankering for Malaysian flavors, and a quick rummage in the fridge produced everything I needed to make a convincing, if utterly inauthentic, facsimile.
August means that the good stuff starts showing up in quantity out in the garden. It’s the season for all the shiny tomatoes and peppers, and fat potatoes, and glossy eggplants in white, lavender, and midnight purple. The basil is rocketing skyward. Even in this year of half-assed planting and rodent ravage, there’s still a ton of food out there. It makes dinner so effortless.
Some friends came to visit on their way home from Maine the other day, bringing lobsters. The timing was perfect, because a friend who lives in Maine had messaged me the day before telling me that it’s a good time to eat lobster since there’s a glut on the market and prices are low. We boiled them–sadly not availing ourselves of this awesome technique for anesthetizing them first, but clove oil is on my shopping list–and had local sweet corn as well, with frisée aux lardons and 63˚C eggs as a starter. But what I did with them the next day was the real story.
This is something I came up with years ago, but haven’t made in a while. Since I found a couple of duck breasts in the freezer section of a nearby market that occasionally has them, I took it as a sign to make this dish again; it’s an excellent way to serve meat in warmer weather since it’s room temperature and not at all heavy. And there’s much fun to be had with sauces, given duck’s affinity for fruit of all kinds.
There are dozens of posts out there about preserved lemons, so to avoid redundancy I thought I’d take the idea one step further and share an idea I had a while back. Preserved lemons are an item that my pantry is never without. They’re easy to make and keep forever, and their bright, unmistakeable flavor is essential to a variety of dishes, particularly Moroccan. What I love about them is that to the nose, they smell candied; it’s impossible to tell that it’s salt that has concentrated their flavors rather than sugar. That sweet, lemony aroma permeates any dish they’re added to, but when the lemons are gone the salt that worked its osmotic magic on them has accrued a great deal of interest in the process. This may already be a thing, but I haven’t heard of it before: preserved lemon salt.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, centering as it does around food. I usually take a day or three off leading up to it and cook my ass off, often making ten or so courses for whoever comes to visit. It’s my chance to stretch out and try some ideas that require special ingredients or techniques, and to make the best food I possibly can, in sequential courses, using my own ceramics, and try to nail all the details and timing for each dish. It’s also a holiday that’s relatively free of crass commercialism–although that appears to be crumbling in the face of earlier and earlier riot-inducing sales–but these things are easily avoided by not having TV and choosing not to shop in the days that follow the big meal. I think it should be about the food and the company, period. The timing also neatly coincided with the last Charcutepalooza challenge, which was more of a dare: show off, using any and everything we’ve done so far.
So I did. Eight courses, each of which contained some quantity of homemade charcuterie.
I’m a big fan of kneading roots and the like with salt to wilt and quick-pickle them for salads. It’s a fantastic way to tenderize a raw vegetable that might otherwise be a tad too crunchy for some people, and imparts a lusciously silky texture and bright flavor to beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, fennel, and everything else of that textural ilk. So I had an idea to try it with winter squash, and to incorporate some local “spices” that I have stored in jars for the long winter. And I wanted to see if my wimpy little consumer vacuum sealer would be strong enough to do it without the kneading, the way the pros do it.
About ten years ago, we were in France with Christine’s family staying at a place near Uzès. One evening we went to dinner at l’Amphitryon, which had been recommended by someone. A perfect evening, with excellent service by the very friendly chef-owner, left two lasting memories: a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage made by a very small producer who I don’t remember, and a small dish of baby octopus and asparagus. It was a perfect, elegant synthesis of field and sea, where neither dominated and the subtle sweetnesses of both main ingredients twined around each other seamlessly. I told him as much, and he smiled and nodded and was pleased that I understood his work. The warmth of his spirit really came out in his food.
For some reason, that dish was in my head yesterday morning, and as a result day three of the seafood extravaganza turned out to be the best. In part that was because we had some dear friends come by and share it with us. We hadn’t seen them in ages, so I took a little time to make it as well as I had imagined it over the course of the morning. Usually when I can see a dish clearly before I begin cooking, I can be pretty sure it will come out well. And this one snapped into focus quickly on the walk back up the hill in the sun, carrying a bag of unforseen inspiration: when Milo and I walked down there this morning to buy coffee beans, the local store actually had both sea beans and morels, so I got excited and bought a handful of each.
I was going to sit on this for a bit and include it in a later post for the Charcutepalooza stuffing project, but since the Very Serious Media have allowed themselves to be punk’d for like the nineteenth time by Andrew Breitbart and are now running
ball-to-ball wall-to-wall Weinergate coverage, now seemed like an opportune time to wade in, sausage in hand, with a phallic-themed post.