Archive for the ‘Rhode Island’ Category

I was having dinner the other night at The Boat House restaurant in Tiverton, RI, with my buddy, Lee, who lives in Maine half the year, and we started talking about what makes the perfect lobster roll.

Often, when you go to a restaurant and order one, they’ll first ask if you want it cold with mayonnaise or warm with butter. (A warm lobster roll with melted butter, we were told by our bartender, Cayce, is called “Connecticut style.”) The three of us discussed the mayonnaise-to-lobster ratio, and other significant factors. The final conclusion was that everyone likes their lobster roll a little differently.

It’s certainly easy to go to a clam shack or seafood restaurant to get one, but nothing beats making one yourself.

 

The lobster roll at The Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Delicious and fresh. But it breaks one of my cardinal rules about lobster rolls. (Go to the bottom of the page.)

 

When I make my own lobster rolls, freshness is key. I always start with live lobsters. I get them from my lobster man buddy, Gary, just down the street at his dock in Tiverton, RI. Gary’s brother runs the Sakonnet Lobster Company on Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, RI.

 

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary's lobster boat, the Edna Mae

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary’s lobster boat, the Edna Mae

 

Once you’ve bought your live lobster, the next step is to cook it right. Some people steam and some people boil. I’ve always been a boiler myself. I fill a large pot half-way with water and add sea salt. I bring it to a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. And then I do the math…

I boil my lobsters for 10 minutes for the first pound. I add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. For example, a 2-pound lobster should boil for 13 minutes and a 1 1/2-pound lobster should boil for 11 1/2 minutes. And if I’m boiling more than one lobster, the same rule applies: 3 2-lb. lobsters = 6 pounds. So 10 minutes for the first pound, plus 3 minutes x 5 for each extra pound (that’s 15) for a total of 25 minutes. (These times are for hard shell lobsters. I reduce the boiling time by 3 minutes if I’m cooking soft-shell lobsters.)

Remember, you’re going by total weight of all the lobsters, because the more you have, the longer it takes the water to return to the boil once you put them in.

 

Lobster catch LTL

 

A larger lobster is not always better. My uncle used to buy the largest lobster he could find, and it was impressive when he placed at the center of the dinner table. But the meat was like rubber. And personally, I felt bad for the old lobster that made it that far in life. His last days should’ve been in the ocean, not on a plate.

My maximum lobster size is 2 lbs. But at 1 1/2 pounds, you have the perfect ratio of meat-to-shell…with lots of delicious meat that is still sweet and tender. It’s perfect.

After the lobsters have been removed from the pot and have cooled for a few minutes, I get to work: cracking the claws and tail and removing every bit of beautiful meat I can find. Lobster lovers will tell you that the legs have some meat in them and that the tomalley (the green liver and pancreas) and roe (eggs) are delicacies not to be missed. For the purpose of making lobster salad, I don’t use these parts. But I do save the tomalley and roe for a separate treat…and I save all the legs and cleaned empty shells for lobster stock.

Cleaning lobster legs is easy: simply remove all the legs from the body and place them flat on a cutting board. Grab a rolling pin, and one at a time, roll the pin over the lobster legs, starting at the claw end and working your way up. Like a tube of toothpaste, the meat will squeeze right out of the leg!

 

Lobster roll LTL

 

Now for the important stuff. What goes in a lobster roll, and more importantly, what doesn’t… I have very strong opinions in this matter.

First, there should NEVER be anything green in a lobster roll! No celery, no pickle, and it certainly shouldn’t be sitting on a bed of lettuce! Nothing should be crunchy in a lobster roll! The magic is in the texture of the perfectly cooked lobster meat. Don’t mess with it!

NO paprika or Old Bay seasoning!

A pinch of celery salt? Yes!

Mayonnaise? Only Hellman’s!

White pepper, not black, and just a touch.

Salt? A pinch of Fleur de Sel.

And the secret weapon to bring out all the flavors: the tiniest squeeze of fresh lemon juice…not enough to give it lemon flavor…just to brighten the taste.

As for the roll, you can’t go wrong with Martin’s potato long rolls: soft and squishy straight out of the bag, or to take a page from the Connecticut-style lobster roll lovers: lightly grill the rolls and brush them with a little melted butter!

 

A few years ago, we were invited to a very cool retro summer party: cocktails and appetizers from the 60’s, and everyone contributed to the music by bringing in their favorite songs on vinyl. (I brought in a copy of the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)” featuring a very young Kenny Rogers. Very trippy.

We were also asked to contribute to the apps, so I brought waffle chips with clam dip.

 

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2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
3 6-oz. cans of chopped clams, drained, liquid reserved from one can
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all the ingredients, except the clam liquid, in a bowl and mix them well with a fork.

Add 1 tablespoon of the clam liquid and mix well. Keep adding the clam liquid until the dip reaches a consistency you like.

Serve with the potato chips.

 

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Here in New England, oysters are plentiful. We don’t just slurp ’em down: we go out and dig our own…we have our favorite buck-an-oyster bar for any given day of the week…and we debate over the best variety, from east coast to west, north to south.

 

oysters

Fresh oysters deserve an amazing cocktail sauce, and my recipe kicks butt: lots of horseradish, lots of flavor, and a secret ingredient: vodka. Not only does it give it a kick, it keeps it from freezing solid, so I can keep the cocktail sauce in the freezer until I need it.

2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s

Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.

 

Fresh shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

Freshly shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

 

When I’m in Portland, Maine, I visit one of the best oyster bars in the country: Eventide. Besides some wickedly creative dishes, they consistently have a fantastic variety of fresh oysters to choose from. And they offer a variety of “accoutrements” to go with them: anything from a red wine mignonette to kimchee ice. My favorite is the pickled red onion ice. All you need is a shot glass with a freshly shucked oyster inside, a half-shot of chilled vodka on top, and some pickled red onion ice, and you’ve got the best oyster shooter on planet Earth. I even suggested the shooter to the manager at Eventide. It has yet to make it to the menu. (But I remain hopeful!)

 

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion shaved ice. Bottoms up!

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion ice. Bottoms up!

 

I’ve managed to come up with a pretty good version of the pickled red onion ice at home, and I serve it alongside my cocktail sauce.

2 large red onions
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

 

Peel and quarter the onions. Drop them in a medium-sized pot and cover with about a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and cook it down until it has reduced to a cup of concentrated onion water after straining.

Bring the strained onion water back to the stove, and on medium heat, add the sugar and vinegar, stirring. When the sugar dissolves, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature before pouring it into a container and placing it in the freezer.

When it’s time to eat oysters, remove the block of red onion ice from its container, and, using a fine metal grater, shave the ice over the top of the freshly shucked oysters and devour immediately!

 

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It’s #NationalFrenchFryDay so what better way to celebrate than to talk about the Parmesan truffle fries we recently had at The Capital Grille?

 

The best.

 

My daughter and I have been going to The Capital Grille in Providence, RI, every few months for what we call a “fodder-dodder dinner” for several years now. It’s a great opportunity for us to chat, have a few laughs, and enjoy a great meal.

But with the pandemic, a lot has changed…

No valet parking. (It’s one of the great deals in Providence because it’s always free at The Capital Grille.) It meant we had to drive around the corner to a parking lot. No big deal…there were spaces reserved for Capital Grille customers.

Here in Rhode Island, indoor dining is a somewhat recent event. And even though the state says it’s OK, and even though I really want to support my local restaurants, I still hesitate dining indoors everywhere. But certain restaurants, like The Capital Grille, I know will do things right.

Wearing masks. Social distancing. Extra diligence with cleanliness, although this place has always been spotless. And hey, what a surprise, not a single customer complaining about the extra measures taken for everyone’s safety. No one’s “rights” were threatened.

All the employees wore masks, and we took ours off only once we got seated at our “usual” table. (We sit in the bar area at one of the small high-top tables. The bar seats were all removed, and the few tables that were left in the bar area were spread far apart.) If we needed to use the restrooms, the masks went back on while walking through the restaurant.

The menu was limited. The bar menu, my personal favorite, was gone. Some of the small bar plates were listed under appetizers, but a few items, like the tenderloin sliders, lamb lollipops, and most significantly, the burgers, were not.

Since my daughter always ordered a wedge salad, and a cheeseburger with bacon and Parmesan truffle fries, she was a bit bummed that no burgers were on the menu. But it only took her a second to decide that a filet mignon was a good choice, and it came out a perfect medium-rare, and was devoured in minutes.

Although I very often order seafood at the Capital Grille, I went for the gusto a had the 22-oz. bone-in ribeye…also cooked perfectly.

Always a great time at The Capital Grille!

 

We split a wedge salad to start (there’s never a problem with them dividing the salad and bringing it to the table on 2 separate plates), and then we discussed what sides we should order. For my daughter, the much-loved Parmesan truffle fries were a no-brainer. I tried to go for something green and healthier, but let’s face it: a huge dish of creamed spinach or brussels sprouts with chunks of bacon is hardly low-calorie. So I decided to one-up her order of fries by getting the larger serving for the table. Steak and fries…what could be better?

A Shirley Temple for her and a Stoli Elit martini for me made the meal complete. Despite being really full, we ordered the amazing cheesecake to go, to enjoy the next day.

We may never completely return to “normal,” whatever that is. But it looks like The Capital Grille is rising to the challenge, and we’ll be back!

 

 

Butter and cheese. Can anything be better?

Little by little, asparagus season is winding down. I’ve had a month of gorging (and sharing with friends.) It’s time to let some of the stalks grow tall, and open up into the beautiful bushy asparagus ferns that will decorate the garden all summer. It’s important to leave these ferns alone, because they’re storing up energy for the next season. I let them turn brown and fall over when colder weather arrives, only removing them the following spring before the new season starts. That assures that my asparagus roots are re-charged for another amazing season. Asparagus is such a low-maintenance crop; it’s definitely one of this veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

I still have bags of asparagus in my fridge, and I enjoy it in a variety of ways: I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes.

This is a great side dish with any main course like a big slab of meat, and has special meaning to me because my cousin first introduced me to asparagus with this recipe when I was just a kid. She passed away many years ago, but I think of her every time I make this simple but delicious dish.

You can use almost any grated “parmesan” cheese, but nothing beats real Parmigiano Reggiano that you freshly grate yourself.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

 

The easy way to trim an asparagus spear is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. I toss the bottoms into my compost pile.

I heat the butter and oil together in a pan and then add the asparagus spears, cooking over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. (You don’t want them mushy.)

While the asparagus is still in the pan, I sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. I season with sea salt (I prefer Flour de Sel) and freshly cracked black pepper.

That’s it! With fresh garden asparagus, it’s all you need! I ate this batch right out of the pan!

 

 

I’ve had Clams Casino in many different forms. Back when I worked in Italian restaurants in New York, we would make a breadcrumb mixture, press it onto a freshly opened whole clam, and then place a small piece of bacon on top before it went into the oven. It was good, but the clam often stuck to the shell, and many people didn’t want to gulp down a whole clam like that.

 

Oyster knife (left) and a clam knife (right.) Different tools for different jobs.

 

When it was time for me to make my own recipe, I decided that I would chop the clams and mix them into the breadcrumb mix, so that every bite was the same.

 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (about a 1/2 an onion)
2 garlic cloves, squeezed through a garlic press
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 dozen medium neck clams
1/3 lb. bacon, cut in small squares to fit the clam shells
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté them until they’re translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for 10 seconds. Add the wine and simmer for a minute. Add the bread crumbs, and stir the mixture until it becomes thicker, like a paste. Add the parsley and oregano. Season with pepper. (There’s going to be plenty of salt in the clam juice and bacon, so no salt is needed.)

The bread crumb mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.
It’s time to open the clams. If you know how to do that, open them over a sieve with a bowl underneath so that the clam meats and juices are captured. Discard any broken shells, but save the good ones.
If you struggle with opening clams, this method makes it a little easier: Bring a large pot of water to boil, and drop the clams into it, about 10 at a time, for 30 seconds. Don’t let them open! Remove the clams with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. Continue doing this in small batches until all the clams have been in the water. You’ll find this makes opening the clams much easier. Then proceed as above.
Once you’ve shucked all the clams, let the clam juice sit for a bit, so that any grit settles to the bottom of the bowl. Then pour off the clean clam juice and add it to your bread crumb mixture. (Don’t worry if it looks soggy at this point.)

Looking a little soggy, but that’s OK.

I like to hand chop the clam meats instead of using a food processor. You want tasty clam chunks, not too big but not mush. Add the clams to the the bread crumb mix.
At this point, if the clam mix looks very soggy, simply add a little more bread crumb to dry it out.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with foil. Separate the clam shell halves and wash them, making sure you don’t have any shell fragments left in the clam shell.  Fill them with the clam mixture, mounding them slightly, and placing each one on the baking sheet.

Clams and bacon…delicious!

Cut the bacon in small squares to fit the clam shells. Place a small piece of raw bacon on the top of each clam.
Bake until the clams are just cooked through, the topping is golden, and the bacon is cooked, about 30 minutes.

This makes a great appetizer, but it’s hard to just eat a few!

I recently had a chance to sample some very tasty bourbons at Fluke Newport, one of my favorite restaurants here in Rhode Island. Not being a big football fan, there was no better way for me to spend a Sunday afternoon…sipping wonderful bourbon, cleansing my palate with a selection of delicious appetizers prepared by my friend, Chef Eddie Montalvo, and enjoying the company of dozens of other like-minded people.

 

 

I have a long history with Geremie and Jeff Callaghan, the owners of Fluke Newport. It was about 12 years ago when my wife and I accidentally found the restaurant one winter night, and Jeff, behind the bar, was more than happy to share his knowledge of rums. We sipped and sampled all night, and I knew we had found a restaurant we’d be coming back to for years.

 

The bar at Fluke Newport.

 

Over time, the demand for rum changed to bourbon, and Fluke Newport now serves about 45 different bourbon brands on any given day.

 

A personal favorite from the day’s tasting.

 

Our bourbon tasting focused on a total of seven bourbons, all from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Six were paired with appetizers and the seventh, one of my favorites, Blanton’s, was served as “dessert.”

 

Blanton’s on display.

 

Jeff and Geremie talked about having another bourbon tasting around the holidays. Can I make my reservation now?

 

We also got some cool Buffalo Trace swag!

 

 

 

 

Here in New England, oysters are plentiful. We don’t just slurp ’em down: we go out and dig our own…we have our favorite buck-an-oyster bar for any given day of the week…and we debate over the best variety, from east coast to west, north to south.

So when a friend of ours who lives on Cape Cod dropped off about 5 dozen Barnstable oysters she just dug that morning, it was cause to celebrate.

oysters

Fresh oysters deserve an amazing cocktail sauce, and my recipe kicks butt: lots of horseradish, lots of flavor, and a secret ingredient: vodka. Not only does it give it a kick, it keeps it from freezing solid, so I can keep the cocktail sauce in the freezer until I need it.

2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s

Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.

 

Fresh shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

Freshly shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

 

When I’m in Portland, Maine, I visit one of the best oyster bars in the country: Eventide. Besides some wickedly creative dishes, they consistently have a fantastic variety of fresh oysters to choose from. And they offer a variety of “accoutrements” to go with them: anything from a red wine mignonette to kimchee ice. My favorite is the pickled red onion ice. All you need is a shot glass with a freshly shucked oyster inside, a half-shot of chilled vodka on top, and some pickled red onion ice, and you’ve got the best oyster shooter on planet Earth. I even suggested the shooter to the manager at Eventide. It has yet to make it to the menu. (But I remain hopeful!)

 

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion shaved ice. Bottoms up!

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion ice. Bottoms up!

 

I’ve managed to come up with a pretty good version of the pickled red onion ice at home, and I serve it alongside my cocktail sauce.

2 large red onions
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

 

Peel and quarter the onions. Drop them in a medium-sized pot and cover with about a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and cook it down until it has reduced to a cup of concentrated onion water after straining.

Bring the strained onion water back to the stove, and on medium heat, add the sugar and vinegar, stirring. When the sugar dissolves, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature before pouring it into a container and placing it in the freezer.

When it’s time to eat oysters, remove the block of red onion ice from its container, and, using a fine metal grater, shave the ice over the top of the freshly shucked oysters and devour immediately!

 

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I had a ridiculous harvest of shishito peppers in my garden this year, all from a mere eight plants. They were so prolific, I ate blistered shishitos almost every day for weeks on end…and that was after I gave away pounds of them to friends.

I was at my wits’ end. The season was waining, but I had bags and bags of shishitos in my fridge. Then on Instagram, my friend Ron exclaimed: “Pickle them!”

I had no idea you could do that!

 

Pickling shishitos…why didn’t I think of this sooner?

 

So, thanks, Ron. You saved the harvest! And by the way… While the pickling brine was boiling, I blistered and ate another batch of shishitos! (Needed to do something while I was waiting… )

 

Blistered shishitos gone!

 

The original recipe for pickled shishitos suggested that I boil the pickling spices and then combine them with sliced shishitos. But I didn’t like the idea of having whole peppercorns and other spices getting stuck in my teeth. I wanted their flavor, but I didn’t want to bite into them whole. (If you’ve ever accidentally bitten into a peppercorn, you know what I mean.)

So I strained the brining liquid after boiling, and then combined it with the shishitos. I got all the flavor, and none of the grit.

 

I cut the stem ends off the shishitos, then sliced them into rings.

 

 

2 cups vinegar
2 cups water
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
2 tablespoons pickling spices
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 pound shishito peppers, sliced into rings

 

Boil a couple of Mason jars in a large pot to clean them. Let them air dry completely.

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the vinegar, water, garlic cloves, sugar, pickling spices, black peppercorns, and sea salt. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and let to boil for 5 to 8 minutes.

The take pickling liquid off the heat and strain it into a bowl. Discard the spices. Add the sliced shishitos into the pickling liquid, mixing well, and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes.

Spoon the mixture into the Mason jars and seal them tightly. Let them cool to room temperature. (You should hear the lids of the Mason jars make a popping noise to seal properly.)

Once the peppers have cooled, place the jars in the fridge and let them sit in the fridge for a week or so until the flavors combine.

 

 

The pickled shishitos are great on salads, sandwiches, cheese platters, and anything else that needs a kick in the pants!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

 

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4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

 

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

 

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

 

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.