Archive for the ‘seafood’ Category

Here in Rhode Island, we have access to amazing seafood year-round. My friend Gary, is a lobster man. My neighbor farms oysters. And for anything else, I go to my friends’ farms: Simmons Organic Farm in Middletown, RI and Wishing Stone Organic Farm in Little Compton, RI…great places for veggies, bakery goods and pastured meats.
I was on a mission to find fresh mussels the other day, and in the process, stumbled upon fresh bay scallops, piled high on ice at a local farmers’ market. Unlike like the larger sea scallops or bomster scallops, bay scallops are small and sweet, about the size of a mini-marshmallow…hard to find and my absolute favorites.
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As far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to eat a fresh scallop than right out of the shell with just a little marinade on top, popping these beauties into my mouth literally as they’re still pulsing on the shell.
Scallops are a bit trickier to open and clean than clams or oysters (at least for me) but all it took was a little practice while sipping a Chopin martini and I got the hang of it in no time.
There are two marinades that I use when serving up raw scallops. The acidity in these marinades will cook the scallop a little, like in ceviche, though eating them raw is perfectly fine if they’re super-fresh.
“MILLS TAVERN” MARINADE
The first place my wife and I ever had a raw scallop was at Mills Tavern, a highly rated restaurant in Providence, RI. Freshly shucked scallops (in large flat shells) were served on ice with a tangy red marinade. We never got the recipe from the restaurant, but this is our version of that marinade.
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Grenadine
1/2 teaspoon fresh finely grated ginger
2 teaspoons finely chopped scallions
 Combine all the ingredients and chill before using.
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ALZ CEVICHE MARINADE
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh finely grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
2 small dried chili peppers, finely chopped
 Combine all the ingredients and chill before using.

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April 7 is National Beer Day!

Now, I’m not a big beer drinker, but I do like to cook with it. One of my favorite things in the world is beer-battered fish. And it doesn’t have to be greasy if you do it right. (Scroll down to the bottom to see how to make this gluten-free!)

When you fry at home, you can do things the right way: start with clean oil, heat it to the right temperature, and then throw it out when it’s done. When you go to a fast-food place, that oil has been sitting there all day (if not all week)…it’s been used hundreds of times…it absorbs the flavors of whatever was fried before your food got dropped in there…and quite frankly, it’s beat up.

What got me started with this whole beer-batter-at-home process was stumbling upon some amazing fresh local cod at my neighborhood seafood store: Bridgeport Seafood in Tiverton, Rhode Island. My buddy, Dave, said that the cod came from just off Sakonnet Point that day. Good enough for me!

I use vegetable oil and, using a thermometer, heat it to 350 degrees. I always watch the temp of my oil…it can get too hot very quickly…and by the same token, the temp can drop quickly if I throw in a whole bunch of fish into the pot all at once. Using one of those deep fryers made for home use is also a good way of cooking and controlling temperature. I’m careful not to put too much oil in my pot (halfway up is fine) or it could spill over, since oil expands as it gets hotter.

Here’s all you need for great beer batter:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
12 oz. bottle of beer (Sam Adams Boston Lager works for me)
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and beat until smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 3 hours.

Cut your fish into pieces that aren’t too big and will fit in your pot easily. The thickness of the fish may vary and so may the cooking times of each piece. When the oil reaches 350, simply dip the fish into the batter and let as much batter drip off as you like before you carefully place the fish into the oil. Fry until golden brown.

 

beer batter

 

What good is fried fish without tartare sauce, right? Don’t tell me you’re using the stuff in a jar after frying the fish yourself!

1/2 cup mayo
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Frank’s Red Hot cayenne sauce
Grinding of black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped capers
1 teaspoon lemon zest, using micro plane zester

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate for an hour before using.

 

To make beer-batter gluten-free, simply substitute GF flour for the all-purpose flour. (I like Cup4Cup.) And now, you can get gluten-free beer that tastes pretty damn good. Use it instead of regular beer, and you’ve got a beer batter that’s gluten-free!

Before you can have great shrimp cocktail, you have to do 2 things: buy the right shrimp and cook the shrimp the right way. The right shrimp is nothing less than wild-caught American shrimp. If you’re buying shrimp from Asia, your supporting a system that uses slave labor, where the shrimp are fed chemical pellets and swim in feces. If it doesn’t say wild-caught American shrimp on the package or at your local seafood store, it’s crap. Give your store owner hell for selling it.

Cooking shrimp the right way is something I learned living in the South. My wonderful friends and neighbors taught me many things about food, and the right way to cook shrimp is near the top of the list.

Shrimp was never meant to be cooked to death. It doesn’t matter if you start with fresh shrimp, store-bought shrimp, or even frozen shrimp…the same rules apply: 1) Season your water. 2) Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it get happy for 20 minutes. 3) Drop in the shrimp and raise the heat. 4) Remove the shrimp AS SOON AS the water returns to a boil.

The seasoning for the water, commonly called shrimp boil, makes or breaks the flavor of your shrimp. For years, I used Zatarain’s Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil in a bag. And it was good. But at some point, I realized I had to get serious and make my own boil.

2 quarts water
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 lemon, squeezed, then drop the lemon in
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon brown mustard seed
1 teaspoon dry thyme
Placing the spices in one of these means you won't be picking them out later. Worth the investment!

Placing the spices in one of these means you won’t be picking them out later. Worth the investment!

Combine all the ingredients in a 4–6 quart pot. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, put a lid on the pot, and let it simmer for at least 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the lid and pour in your shrimp. (I prefer unpeeled.) Stir well, bring the heat back up to high, and remove the shrimp AS SOON AS it returns to a boil! The shrimp are cooked! Done!

Strain the shrimp and place them in a bowl with crushed ice on the bottom. Add more crushed ice on top of the shrimp, and place the bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

 

Freshly shucked oysters and clams, or in this case, beautiful boiled wild-caught American shrimp, call for an equally amazing cocktail sauce…and this sauce kicks butt! And it features a key ingredient that you might not expect: vodka. The small amount of vodka in the mix keeps the cocktail sauce from freezing solid when stored in the freezer. Just scoop out what you need, let it thaw, and put the rest back in the freezer until next time.

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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.

Despite working in a pretty decent food town (Providence, Rhode Island), and despite being just an hour away from another decent food town (Boston, Massachusetts), when we want to go to a place where we park our car once and can easily walk to dozens of great eateries and bars, where each place is more creative than the next, and where genuine friendliness and enthusiasm for what they’re doing shows in every dish, the answer is Portland, Maine.

My wife and I visit Portland at least once a year and it’s amazing to see how many new restaurants have opened since our last visit. Every time we think we’ve crossed a few off our list, a half-dozen new ones show up! Last year, we hit 10 restaurants in 48 hours. This last visit, it was a mere 6 restaurants in 48 hours. I guess we’re getting older…!

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Our weekend started on a Friday afternoon with a quick bite at Solo Italiano, near the water on Commercial Street. We really enjoyed a light-as-air Carpaccio di Tonno: thinly sliced yellow fin tuna with stracciatella cream, herb oil, and crispy onions. And after we were told that the chef at Solo won the World Pesto Championship, we had to have the Mandilli di Seta al Vero Pesto Genovese: house made silk handkerchief pasta in a traditional Genovese basil pesto…amazing! Solo has some great house cocktails to choose from, too. Definitely worth a return visit.

The bar at Solo.

The bar at Solo.

Our Friday evening dinner was at Hugo’s. Originally owned by chef Rob Evans, a three-time Food Network “Chopped” champion, Rob sold it a few years ago and now runs Duckfat, a small sandwich shop famous for its Belgian-style fries that are fried in duck fat. (Though it gets write-ups all the time, my experience at Duckfat was disappointing.)

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The folks that own the nationally acclaimed Eventide Oyster Bar now own Hugo’s (it’s next door) as well as The Honey Paw (next door on the other side.) For us, every visit to Portland must include this amazing restaurant trifecta on Middle Street, that, in fact, have connecting kitchens.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo's, Eventide, and the Honey Paw.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo’s, Eventide, and The Honey Paw.

 

Hugo’s is fine dining at its creative best. Though we hadn’t been there in over a year, Brian, a manager and our wine guru, immediately remembered us and greeted us with a hug, showing us to our seats and treating us to a glass of bubbly. He guided us through the wine list and offered us a bottles that were simply out of this world. Though we’ve done the tasting menu in the past, we decided to go a la carte when a beautiful fried whole black bass, with roasted mushrooms, cabbage and hoisin vinaigrette, was calling our name. After a few wonderful appetizers that included peekytoe crab, reblochon (a local cheese), and lamb tartare, we were ready for the black bass. Even our server, Patrick, was impressed with how well we devoured that fish right down to the bone.

Fried black bass at Hugo's.

Fried black bass at Hugo’s.

 

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

 

Paul, the bartender at Hugo's.

Paul, the bartender at Hugo’s.

 

Dinner at Hugo’s wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about bourbons with bartender, Paul, and he let me sample a couple of special bottles he had behind the bar. A great way to end a wonderful dining experience on our first night in Portland.

Bourbon tastings.

Bourbon tastings.

 

The next day, Saturday, our food adventures began with lunch. Don’t get me wrong: there are some great breakfast choices in Portland, like the Porthole (featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) and Becky’s Diner. But when you’re in town to feast, you bypass the bacon and eggs.

Lunch was at Eventide, which shows up on every “best oyster bar” list, and the reason is simple: a nice selection of fresh oysters, a great bar, and creative side dishes that change all the time.

Oysters at Eventide.

 

The Eventide brown butter lobster roll is elevated to new heights when it’s placed on an Asian-style steamed bun. Blackboard specials change every week, and always include what’s right off the boat: from fried squid to pickled lox. If you’re less adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the buttermilk fried chicken bun, the house pastrami bun or their impressive fish sandwich.

Pickled lox (left) and the lobster bun (right.)

 

If you go to Eventide during peak hours, you can expect a wait. The place isn’t huge and it’s wildly popular. Give them your name, tuck yourself into a corner with a drink, and wait, knowing that it will all be worth it!

Real women in Maine shuck oysters!

 

We skip the usual cocktail sauce when at Eventide. Our favorite accoutrements are the pickled red onion ice (great for an oyster shooter!) and the chilera ice.

Before…and after.

 

After our leisurely lunch, it was time to walk off a few calories. Heading down Fore Street, we tucked into several art galleries and shops, slowly making our way across the center of town to the newly redesigned Portland Art Museum. By the time we stepped out of the museum, it was time for more food. Just a few blocks, and we arrived at Boda.

 

Labeling themselves as a “Very Thai” kitchen and bar, Boda delivers. Though we only had a few apps, like the apple and shrimp salad and a plate of authentic pad thai, it earned two thumbs up. A plate of fried quail…not so much.

The bar at Boda offers the standards (like my Chopin martini) and some interesting Asian herb-infused cocktails. Definitely worth a return visit, especially when Boda is open until 12:45AM, serving tasty skewers for the bar crowd.

A short stop at our hotel, and it was time for our Saturday dinner. We headed to what many claim is the best sushi restaurant in Portland: Miyake. We soon discovered that the label “best sushi restaurant in Portland” didn’t necessarily set the standard very high.

 

Though we found a beautiful bottle of sake on the menu that we’ve had before, the food was a disappointment. Having had a few great sushi experiences in my life, I wanted this place to be among them. But after trying 2 different 4-course menus that featured tastings of salmon, tuna, uni, duck, and even Miyake’s own farm-raised mangalitsa pork–a rare heritage breed–which, though fatty, was very dry…it’s safe to say that we won’t be returning to Portland, Maine for its sushi.

The sake, at least, was amazing.

In a town with many creative restaurants, this one didn’t cut it. Some locals told us that Miyake used to be better when they were in a smaller space. The move to a larger space meant a beautiful room, but the food suffered.

Our weekend ended with Sunday brunch. If we wanted a more typical Sunday brunch, we would’ve gone to Five Fifty-Five, where we’ve enjoyed dishes like lobster eggs Benedict in the past. But when we heard that The Honey Paw was now serving brunch, there was no question where we needed to go!

 

My kind of Sunday brunch: Asian fried ribs, pork and fried oyster pot stickers, a bowl of beef shank pho, and a breakfast sandwich with house made scrapple and egg on a kimchi croissant.

Beef shank pho.

 

The Honey Paw breakfast sandwich.

 

My wife took advantage of a full bar with creative cocktails. Unfortunately, I had a 3-hour drive home behind the wheel, so I had to refrain from the alcohol.

The bar at The Honey Paw.

While we dined at The Honey Paw, I ran next door to Eventide and ordered 2 of their buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches to go. Our 10-year-old daughter was not happy that we went to Portland without her this time, and we knew that bringing her favorite sandwiches home would help ease the blow.

 

We’ll be back to Portland this summer. Already counting the days. For other great places to dine in this town, use my search engine under “Portland.” And feel free to drop me a line with any questions about where to stay, eat, visit, etc…

Cheers!

 

Fat Tuesday is February 28!

Back in the late 80’s, I worked at a radio station in Mobile, Alabama. My New York buddies thought I was crazy to move to the South, but that’s where the job was. When they realized that I was only a 2-hour ride from New Orleans, I wasn’t so crazy after all! I spent every possible weekend there: the food, the music, the people…

When I moved to Rhode Island in 1990, I really missed all the fun of the Big Easy. So I decided to have a Mardi Gras party every year. I’d invite 80+ people, and I spent the week before the party cooking all the dishes myself. (Not bad for a single guy!) I made all the classics: red beans and rice, crawfish etouffe, gumbo, and jambalaya.

I still can’t imagine a Fat Tuesday without it.

 

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Seasoning mix:
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
I find it easier to measure and chop all the ingredients before I start cooking.

I find it easier to measure and chop all the ingredients before I start cooking.

 

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions, in all
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery, in all
1 1/2 cups good quality chopped ham
1 1/2 cups chopped andouille sausage (I use local chourico from Fall River, Massachusetts)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (I like Frank’s Red Hot)
3/4 cup tomato sauce made from pureed whole tomatoes
2 cups uncooked rice (I like Texmati brown basmati rice)
3 cups chicken stock
1 lb. peeled and de-veined wild-caught American shrimp

 

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Over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan. Add 3/4 cup of the onions and 3/4 cup of the celery. Cook until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the seasoning mix, then the chopped ham and the chourico, and then the cayenne pepper sauce. Cook until the onions are a dark brown, about 20 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the remaining 3/4 cup of the onions and celery. Cook about 5 minutes.

Open a can (28 oz.) of tomatoes and puree in a food processor to make sauce. Add 3/4 cup of this and cook for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice, mixing well. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer covered over very low heat until the rice is tender but firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove the cover, toss in the shrimp, stir, then put the cover back on and cook for 5 minutes more.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to get wild-caught American shrimp at a local seafood store or supermarket. But for me, buying tiger shrimp or other Asian products is not an option. Once I learned about how they are farmed with chemical pellets–even pig feces–and using slave labor to do it, I decided I’d never eat those shrimp again! Now I get my wild-caught Louisiana shrimp from a company I’ve bought all my Cajun ingredients from for over 2 decades: http://www.cajungrocer.com. Not only will you find shrimp there, you’ll find many other Cajun classics: King cakes, Turduckens, andouille and alligator sausage, even live crawfish. And the price of their shrimp, even with shipping, is the same as the Asian shrimp you buy in the store. Make some room in your freezer, order large to save, and stock up on the real deal!

 

When I first told my friends that I grew up in a Lithuanian family, that we only spoke Lithuanian at the dinner table, that I went to Lithuanian Saturday school for 8 years, that I was a Lithuanian boy scout…they looked at me with a bit of disbelief. On the surface, I looked just like any other American-born kid that grew up in the suburbs. But the home life was vastly different.

Few things were stranger to my friends than the food we ate. While all my “American” friends had PB&J’s for lunch, I had a liverwurst sandwich on dark Lithuanian bread. While my friends struggled with broccoli, I was force-fed beets. And while my friends ate macaroni with jarred tomato sauce, my Mom served macaroni with sour cream and butter. (Nobody called it pasta back then.)

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Few things prove you are a true Lithuanian more than an appetite for herring. (Silke (sil-keh) in Lithuanian.) I loved it at an early age. Didn’t matter if it was in a cream sauce with onions, in a tomato casserole with chopped boletes, or perhaps my favorite: an appetizer my Mom prepared only twice a year when my Dad’s buddies came over to play rounds of bridge all night.

There are a few basic ingredients that make this appetizer work…

First and foremost, you need a bottle of good vodka in the freezer. Despite their lack of love for anything Russian, Lithuanians knew a good vodka when they saw one, and Stolichnaya has been the favorite for many years. Even now, with hundreds of vodkas to choose from, I still go to the red labeled Stoli bottle for this dish. I get a plastic juice pitcher, place the bottle of Stoli inside it, and fill with water just below the brand name on the label. I have a deep freezer that allows me to keep the pitcher right-side up until frozen.

Obviously, good quality herring is essential. Though I can get fresh when I’m back home on Long Island, the usual choice is from a jar. For me, there’s no better quality than Acme products out of Brooklyn, NY. (If you saw the episode of “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern where he visited a salmon processing plant in Brooklyn, that was Acme Smoked Fish.) You can find them in many supermarkets. Blue Hill Bay herring in dill marinade (an Acme product) is wonderful and can be found at Whole Foods.

Next: hard-boiled eggs that have cooled in the fridge. Get out the old egg slicer that’s been sitting in the kitchen  drawer for the last decade and use it for this appetizer.

Red onion, sliced thin. How much you use is up to you. But it’s gotta be red and it’s gotta be raw.

And finally, Lithuanian bread. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s easy to find in most Polish or German food stores in the New York area. I buy a loaf when I’m home and then keep it in the freezer to enjoy throughout the year. Lithuanian bread is like the lovechild of rye bread and pumpernickel.

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To make the appetizer, simply place a small piece of Lithuanian bread, about 1 1/2″ square, on a plate. Place a slice of hard-boiled egg on top of it. On top of that, some red onion. Then finally, a piece of herring.

 

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Pop the whole thing in your mouth, and wash it down with a small amount of frozen vodka. No shots–this isn’t a frat house. Besides, you won’t make it to the end of dinner. Then again, you may not care at that point!

I never learned how to play bridge, but I’m sure my Dad would be proud that I remembered this treat.

 

This is not your average shrimp! Found in the Pacific, from Southern California all the way up to Alaska, as well as Japan and Korea, these beauties, identified by the white spots on the sides of their first and fifth abdominal segments, live up to 11 years. And here’s the crazy part: each spot prawn (or spot shrimp) spawns once as a male and one or more time as a female!

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Having read so much about them, I ordered a pound and decided that I would get full use of the shrimp by peeling them and making an intensely flavored sauce out of the shells.

Peeling and de-veining was easy: the shells slipped right off the shrimp, and they were so beautifully clean, their were no veins to remove!

If you can’t get  hold of Wild Pacific spot prawns, shrimp or lobster will certainly do. Just remember to ask your fishmonger for wild caught American shrimp, and not that horrible farmed stuff from Asia. If he doesn’t have it, shop elsewhere.

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For the stock:

1 lb. wild Pacific spot prawns, thawed, peeled, and de-veined. Save shells and container water, if any.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 carrot
1/2 celery stalk
1/4 onion
1 smashed clove garlic
4 whole peppercorns
2 teaspoons ketchup
1/2 sprig rosemary
1/2 sprig thyme
6 cups water

 

For the shrimp:

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
4 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

 

The final touch:

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pushed through a garlic press
2 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/8 cup fresh chives or scallions, finely chopped

 

1 lb. pasta

 

For the stock:

Peel and de-vein the shrimp. Keep the peeled shrimp in the fridge, covered.

In a pot, heat the olive oil and add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns, ketchup, rosemary, thyme and shrimp shells. Saute for a few minutes to get the flavors going. Add the container water, if any, and 6 cups water. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for 2 hours.

Strain the solids out and discard them. Place the stock in a smaller pot, and continue reducing it until about 1 cup of the stock remains.

Boil the pasta well-salted water and remove it from the water before al dente stage. (It will cook more later.) Strain it and set aside.

 

For the shrimp:

Combine the salt, pepper and sugar with the prawns in a bowl and toss to coat them evenly.

In a large saute pan, heat the butter and olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until lightly caramelized and almost cooked all the way through. Do not overcook! Set them aside.

 

The final touch:

In the same large saute pan that you cooked the shrimp, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the shallot. Saute for 1 minute, then add the garlic. Saute for 2 more minutes, then add some of the stock, the shrimp, the pasta, and the butter, and mix well. If it’s dry, add more of the stock until the pasta is coated, but not dripping. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with the chives.

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Serve immediately!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 cheese grater, shave the ice over the top of the freshly shucked oysters and devour immediately!

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This is what I’m serving my guests at Christmas dinner. It’s a rich and delicious surf-and-turf, using wild Texas boar and locally caught Rhode Island scallops, that beats steak and lobster hands-down! Wild boar isn’t an ingredient you can find everywhere, but pork belly is, and it works just fine.

 

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For the pork belly…
3 lbs. fresh pork belly (I used wild boar belly)
salt and pepper
1–2 tablespoons leaf lard or olive oil
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cups beef stock
1 cup hard cider or apple juice

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Season the belly with salt and pepper. On medium-high heat, melt the leaf lard, then sear the meat on all sides in an oven-proof pot big enough to hold it in one layer. Add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, thyme and peppercorns and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until caramelized.

Add the beef stock and the cider. Cover the pot with a lid or seal with aluminum foil, and braise the belly in the oven for 3 hours, until tender.

Remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove the pork belly, and put it on a plate. Cover it with foil. If you’re cooking earlier in the day, you can place the belly in the fridge at this point.

Strain the leftover braising liquid from the pot and discard the vegetables and thyme. Skim off the excess fat. If starting this dish earlier in the day, you can put this liquid in the fridge and the fat will harden, making it easier to remove.

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For the glaze…
braising liquid, strained
1 tablespoon espresso
1 tablespoon honey

In a small saucepan, reduce the brazing liquid by half, then add the espresso and honey. Cook a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready. Set aside.

For the scallops…
Fresh scallops
salt and pepper

When you’re ready to serve, heat a pan on high heat with a little more leaf lard. Cut the belly into equal pieces and sear on all sides for about a minute. Place the scallops in the same pan, season with salt and pepper, and sear them on both sides, being careful not to overcook them.

To serve, place the belly on a plate. Top with a scallop or two. Drizzle glaze over the top. Season with Fleur de Sel or sea salt and serve immediately.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.

Always good to have a lovely food stylist around to make it look pretty.