Posts Tagged ‘oysters’

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.

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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.

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.

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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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We slurp down more clams and oysters in the summer here in New England than at any other time of year. 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.

image

 

 

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.

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.

image

 

 

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.

Portland, Maine has always been a foodie destination, but the number of consistently amazing food experiences you can have in this waterfront town has just recently exploded. When my wife and I get a chance to have a date weekend, we avoid expensive New York, by-pass the Boston traffic, and head right to Portland.

Bar Lola, a small, out-of-the-way bistro, raises the bar on fabulous food in Portland. Our best food experience in Portland to date, and that includes the landmark Fore Street.
Sure, it was a hot night and they didn’t have air conditioning. But the ceiling fans and window fans were on, the wonderfully inventive cocktails (“Atlantic & Congress” a personal favorite) were flowing, and the food was fantastic. Small bites, and lots of them…the kitchen cranked them out and we devoured them with pleasure.

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Radishes with marrow butter on a baguette…Spanish sardines…rabbit confit with frisee and tomato mostarda (I told the chef I wanted that one to be super-sized so I could just shovel it into my mouth)…a wonderful pulled pork taco special…seared steak with wheatberries and dried fruit…a delightfully tender roasted half poussin with farro, pea shoots and garlic jus. We savored it all.
An not-on-the-menu bowl of pasta with butter for our daughter was not a problem for this busy kitchen. And a unique wine list was assisted by a knowledgeable staff to help with the selections.
Bar Lola is a small, cool, funky out-of-the-way neighborhood restaurant.
If you really are all about the food in Portland, this is where you go.

Eventide Oyster Company is a great little space around the corner from the waterfront, located next door to Hugo’s, which now shares a the kitchen with Eventide after renovations. (A visit to Hugo’s is tops on our list for our next visit.)

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At Eventide: fresh oysters from all over the country, and fabulous small plates to go with them. Razor clams are tough to prepare properly, but they slice them and grill them to create a wonderful small plate. The fried oysters…the crudos (raw fish plates)…beautifully presented. The tuna deviled eggs: a home run. This is what an oyster bar should be. The staff is friendly and not jaded, despite the fact that it can get very crowded, spilling out into the street in the summertime. A good bar with interesting drinks and a nice choice of wines.

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Probably the most amazing discovery for us was Eventide’s shaved ice accompaniments for their oysters, especially the red onion, horseradish and kimche shaved ice: intense flavors that just melt in your mouth. The red onion shaved ice was so good, I asked for a martini with a small bowl of it on the side. My wife and I came up with an oyster shooter: shot glass, small oyster of their choice, chilled Belvedere vodka, topped with the red onion shaved ice. WOW! You can thank me later!!!

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We were in Portland for 48 hours and stopped by Eventide twice.

555 (Five Fifty-Five) served an excellent Sunday brunch…this coming from a guy that hates brunch. Going to a restaurant to eat eggs and drink bad champagne drinks is not my speed. But the lobster eggs Benedict was killer. Steak and eggs featured some of the tastiest, tenderest steak I’ve had anywhere. Fresh salads with local greens. A wonderfully satisfying creamy parsnip soup. Inventive cocktails. Live music. If I’m gonna have brunch, this is where I’m gonna have it! Can’t wait to come back to try 555 out for dinner. A great find, recommended to us by several servers from other restaurants. Always a good sign.

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555's Steak and Eggs

555’s Steak and Eggs

Killer lobster benedict!

Killer lobster Benedict!

Fore Street: In some ways, this can still be considered the best restaurant in Portland. Earning great reviews and national attention year after year is not an easy accomplishment. And for the most part, Fore Street is really special. Tell anyone in the food business in Portland that you’ve got reservations at Fore Street, and they all swoon.

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Unusual charcuterie plates with lamb hearts, foie gras stuffed pork trotters and beef tongue: a fun trip for the adventurous, but not particularly flavorful or inspired on our visit. However, roasted quail…roasted chicken…fabulous salads with seasonal greens…ravioli with pesto…all beautifully prepared in their open kitchen.

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Fore Street keeps their produce local and seasonal, so I ordered an English pea and carrot salad that was at its seasonal peak. Then we ordered the ravioli: covered in English peas. Then the chicken: covered in English peas. Really? In this case, I wouldn’t mind if they brought in some veggies from out-of-town. I love peas. But I don’t need them in three separate dishes on the same night. Dropped the ball there.

We stayed away from any seafood because we had gorged on it the entire weekend at Eventide!

Although our Fore Street server tried to move the meal along a little faster than we were comfortable with, she got the message after a while and let us be. (It was an 8PM reservation on a Sunday night…she wasn’t going to have another seating at that table anyway.) Wine suggestions and selections were excellent, and though we took home a box of house-made chocolates, we really didn’t have room for dessert, with the exception of a refreshing espresso shaved ice.

Vignola Cinque Terre was intended to be a quick stop for just a glass of wine. Several cheese plates and many cocktails later, we realized we’ve got to come back to this place to enjoy some of their authentic Italian cuisine. Some places feel sterile…this place has loads of good ju-ju. And a great selection of cheeses, by the way.

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The Porthole Restaurant is a Portland classic: off the main drag, down and dirty on the dock, serving great drinks and fun food. Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” And just when you think they’re shutting down for the night, they get ready to re-open for breakfast! Shrimp and grits, lobster benedict…and a great Bloody Mary. What else do you need?

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Becky’s Diner: a classic, tight-spaced breakfast joint, extremely popular, no doubt due to a very loyal following and constant rave reviews from magazines like Esquire and Gourmet. Get ready to wait in line!

J’s Oyster: the quintessential seafood dive. J’s is a Portland legend. Great oysters, lobster rolls, strong drinks, sassy bartenders, crotchety locals. If you haven’t been to J’s, you haven’t been to Portland, Maine. Plain and simple.

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Infiniti, a brand spankin’ new and beautiful brew pub, serves atypically creative dishes, and they are just steps away from starting up their own distillery. It should be ready to rock on our next visit to Portland. We just popped in for a peek at the menu and the young, hip crowd that packed the place on a Saturday night.

Other FOOD FINDS…

Standard Baking Co: Some of the most delicious breads in town, just steps away from the Hilton Garden Inn, where we stayed…and just under Fore Street. (They bake the bread for the restaurant.) Not a lot of pastries and cakes…more of a rustic bakery. But what they’ve got is wonderful.

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Harbor Fish Market: Bring a cooler and load up on the freshest seafood that Portland has to offer. This fish market is the real deal: Maine shrimp, Maine crab meat, lobsters, clams, oysters and a huge selection of  fresh fish. We always stop here on the way home after our long Portland weekend. Order your breakfast to go right across the way at the Porthole, then come here for the seafood, and your breakfast will be ready to go by the time you’re done shopping.

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The MISSES…

Otto has good pizza, perhaps, for Maine, but definitely not great. I give them credit for some not-so-simple toppings: potato, bacon and scallion on a pizza…pretty cool. But I really didn’t like that they had a shelf with a huge stack of already-made pizzas just sitting there, so nothing was fresh out of the oven. Everything had to be re-heated. As a Brooklyn boy raised on arguably the best pizza in the USA, and as a serious home pizza maker, I was not impressed.

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Some personal favorites, like The Salt Exchange, have fallen from grace in recent years. A change of ownership can do that. Foodie magazines love to chatter about Duck Fat, a small establishment that became famous for serving up french fries cooked in duck fat. The fries are good, not great, and the other dishes I’ve had there didn’t impress me. Same goes for anything with the name David’s in the title. Chef David Turin is a local legend, and quite frankly, I don’t know why. David’s was the most hyped and most disappointing dining experience we’ve had in Portland.

The HOTELS…

We don’t look for 5-star accommodations when we’re in Portland. We look for clean and close to the water.

Hilton Garden Inn: If we have a choice of where to stay in Portland, this is without a doubt our #1 pick. You cannot beat its location right on the Portland waterfront. Doesn’t hurt that the rooms are clean and the staff is friendly.

Hampton Inn Portland Downtown Waterfront: not really waterfront…a couple of blocks away. But it’s close enough, it’s relatively new and clean, and it’s another good option.

Holiday Inn Portland By the Bay: It’s easy to walk anywhere in downtown Portland, so this hotel, though not on the waterfront, is fine. The rooms are clean–though we did have to call housekeeping to change the sheets on the fold-out couch–they were pretty nasty. But we don’t come to Portland to live in our hotel room.
Beds are comfortable, there’s room service for breakfast, and most importantly: a hotel shuttle that means you can drink without driving.
I could be wrong, but it looks like a new Holiday Inn is being built along the waterfront at this moment. Worth keeping an eye on.