Archive for the ‘At Home’ Category

Queen Conch: A Gastropod from Belize

Posted 25 Feb 2012 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Miami Beach Sunrise

My culinary research focused on handling and cooking various mollusks and crustaceans is stimulated anytime I am travelling near the coastline. While visiting the Caribbean or South Florida, Conch is on my mind and on this trip to Miami I purchase fresh Queen Conch meat from a local purveyor for $12 per pound. Conch (a gastropod mollusk) is not indigenous to the waters where I live. It is overfished domestically, and working with the product responsibly while in Florida is an opportunity I can’t pass up. Before purchasing the Conch I confirm the source with my vendor by visually inspecting shipping documents and packaging. Affirming the product is from Belize is a matter of conscience. This mollusk is severely threatened and many Caribbean fisheries are mismanaged, Belize less so.

Although the conch industry in South Florida and the rest of the southern coastline of the U.S. (from Georgia all the way down to southern Texas) is virtually closed due to over fishing, Conch from other locations in   Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands constitute a portion of the 20% of Conch legally produced by the U.S. according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The remaining 80% of conch consumed is imported from various countries and Belize is one of the better managed fisheries and, potentially, one of the more sustainable.

Rt. A1A Intercoastal

The fishery in Belize, composed of hundreds of small independent, mostly in-shore fishermen, is considered artisan by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Queen Conch is harvested in the wild by hand with minimal damage to reefs and ecosystems and results in virtually no by-catch. The season is regulated in Belize with closure from July 1 – September 30th each year.

Delicious Conch Salad

Opening the 1 kilo package of fresh conch, I am struck by the sweet briny aroma reminiscent of abalone or spiny lobster. I plunge the meat in boiling water for 20 seconds to clean it and tenderize it before shocking it in ice water for a couple of seconds and patting it dry. Each body is twice the size of my thumb and weighs around 100 grams prior to cleaning. The tender foot and mantle peel away effortlessly, are soft to the touch and taste sweet and nutty. Rather than clean these completely, I leave the bodies intact and slice the flesh as thin as possible with a razor sharp knife and vacuum pack the sliced Conch with aromatics to deeply infuse the flesh with notes of flavor prior to serving. Sounds of Jimmy Buffet ring in my head.

Conch is not something I would menu that often and I would certainly avoid serving it from June to October even though frozen supplies are available. It is a scare delicacy to be served with care and a rare treat.

Whole Shelled Queen Conch

Slice Conch Thinly

Conch Mise en Place (see recipe below)

Place all Ingredients in Vacuum Bag

Vacuum Bag Prepped for Sealing

Vacuum Packaged Conch

Queen Conch with Cilantro Garlic and Lemon

275 g Conch, blanched, sliced thin

4 g Garlic, Minced

7 g Cilantro leaves, whole

8 g Red Onion, minced

12 g Celery, diced brunoise

15 g Salt

15 g Pepper, fresh cracked

25 g Lemon Juice

10 g Lemon Zest

12 g Olive Oil

12 g Soy Sauce

 

Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix. Adjust seasonings. Transfer into a medium sized sous vide bag and vacuum seal with a medium pull. Place in refrigerator overnight.

Open vacuum bag and pour contents into a bowl. Toss to loosen mixture and serve chilled.

Note: vacuum packing this salad causes the aromatics to become infused into the conch flesh resulting in subtle and delicious notes of flavor while also improving tenderness.

How to Fabricate a Geoduck Clam

Posted 16 Jan 2012 — by S.E.
Category At Home, Food Alert Trends

In 1987 a good friend and culinary mentor the late Fred Hendee, a Seattle native, returned from a quick trip to his home state with a half dozen Geoduck clams. Having grown up on the sea shore eating all sorts of mollusks and crustaceans (clams, oysters, mussels, periwinkles, crabs and lobsters) my passion for local seafood was already well-developed when Fred opened his cooler and showed me these monstrous mollusks. Over the next few hours Chef Hendee blanched, skinned, sucked, cleaned and fabricated the clams into all sorts of items from thin pounded, needled and breaded clam strips to thinly sliced Geoduck siphon sashimi. We slightly froze and ground the neck of one clam using a coarse plate grinder and made a wonderful long-simmered cream based chowder and butterflied the breast (belly) meat into steaks that, after a slight pounding, we sautéed in beurre noisette with lemon and dill. Unfortunately, neither of us at the time thought to record the fun on film and the experience with Chef Hendee was lost all but to my recurring memories.

And this is what I think about each time I visit Seattle and see a Geoduck clam; Chef Fred Hendee smiling in the kitchen while teaching me how to handle a new and interesting seafood product. On this trip I am taking a fresh Geoduck back with me that I purchased at the Taylor Shellfish Farms shop at the corner of Melrose and Pine Streets in Seattle. At my request, the store manager has agreed to fabricate the clam for me while I shoot some pictures. Packed on ice, it was a quick flight home and a fine meal afterwards.

Simmer the Geoduck in water for 15 seconds and remove, quickly pulling the outer skin off of the siphon and belly.

Open the clam up with a sharp knife

Remove the shell from both sides of the clam

Clam with shell removed

Detach and discard the intestinal track

Separate the siphon and breast (belly) and split the siphon with a knife

Clean the siphon of sand and impurities

Cleaned siphon and breast

For sashimi, slice the siphon thinly

Prepared Geoduck Sashimi with Gingered Soy syrup, Cucumber Carrot and Cilantro Slaw

 

 

 

Grilled Island Creek Oysters

Posted 05 Sep 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Next Saturday one of the best blowout oyster events in the country will take place just forty five minutes south of Boston in Duxbury Massachusetts. The fifth annual Island Creek Oyster Festival attracts up to 3000 people to Duxbury beach where the folks from Island Creek Oysters serve an estimated 30,000 oysters over a seven hour stretch from 3 to 11 p.m. The festival is a fundraiser for the Island Creek Foundation, a foundation that supports multiple causes and serves as proof that my favorite oysters are raised by people with giving hearts. If you like Oysters, there’s no other place to be.

Inspired by the approaching festivities, I took some time today to purchase a couple dozen of Island Creek’s best as a warm up for next week. These oysters are delicious. They are healthy and plump, briny and sweet. Like many cold water oysters, they have complex, crisp flavors that inspire me when I work with them.

Motivated, I scan the garden and fridge to see what’s on hand for a quick snack. There are two beautiful organic cucumbers from Grateful Farms, three bursting ripe tomatoes from my garden, a handful of just-picked shallots, a fresh red onion (onions are great this time of year), and my out-of-control patch of fresh herbs out back. Just to be sure I am on the right track I step out onto my pack patio, shuck three oysters and slurp them down refreshing my memory of how good these oysters are. It’s cool outside and I decide the weather is perfect for grilled oysters.

Grilled oysters are fantastic. When grilling oysters the trick is to cook them flat side up over a blazing hot preheated grill just until they start to pop open. Once they begin to open up, remove them from the grill and shuck off the top shell while taking care not to spill the juice. Just to be safe, I like to keep a large plate under my hands to catch any juice that may spill. If done right the oysters should be medium rare when served.

 

With eight medium rare grilled oysters topped with mignonette ready, I sit down with an ice cold Boston Larger and a napkin. Halfway through, the warm-up act takes effect and I start to wonder what next weekend will be like. How much effort does it take to shuck 30,000 oysters? Will there really be 3000 people there? These oysters are so good that I am sure both estimates will prove correct.

 Grilled Island Creek Oysters with Tomato Water Mignonette

 8 ea      Island Creek Oysters, scrubbed clean with a soft brush,

 Grill over high heat, remove top shell.

 For the tomato water mignonette

 ½         tsp        minced shallots

1          tsp        Extra virgin olive oil

½         tsp        Salt

½         tsp        Red Onion, minced

¼         C         Cucumber, peeled, seeded, fine dice

½         tsp        Italian Parsley, chopped fine

            pinch    Black pepper, fresh ground

3          tbsp      Tomato Water*

 Combine all ingredients. Taste, adjust salt and pepper. Spoon ½ teaspoon of the mignonette onto each hot oyster and serve.

* For the tomato water, cut a medium size tomato into 8-10 pieces and toss with 1 tsp of salt. Place in a small bowl and allow the tomato to rest for 20-30 minutes until the salt extracts 2-3 ounces of juice.

Four Ingredients

Posted 26 Aug 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

  

It is rare that I talk about foods that I prepare myself on this blog. However, tonight I ate a tomato that inspired me. While poking around outside my back door I discovered and harvested a beautiful ripe red heirloom tomato from the small patch of vegetables I tend. I was drawn to it by the fragrant aroma radiating from the group of tomato plants on this side of the garden. The smell and taste of fresh home-grown tomatoes are two of a handful of sensory experiences that define summer for me.

As summer begins its gradual transition toward shorter days and the autumnal equinox moves closer, I stop taking my fresh tomato supply for granted. By the time our first frost arrives I often have several dozen green tomatoes that have no hope of ripening on the vine. These are tomatoes with the best of intentions that will never reach their prime. Thoughts about the fading days of late August and the end of summer flash through my head as I carefully pluck the tomato from its stem with a heightened level of appreciation.

The lucky specimen I select is a plump, globe shaped Ceylon tomato although this Ceylon doesn’t look like the others I have grown in the past. It’s perfect round shape and lack of pronounced ribs cause me to wonder if this plant was an actual Ceylon or some other varietal. However, when I rinse, cut, and taste the tomato it is perfectly sweet with slight acid and good bite much like a typical Ceylon. Perhaps this is the real thing.

 

Across from my tomatoes, there’s an out-of-control group of broad leaf Genovese basil plants. They are full and healthy with perfect shaped shiny leaves and a deep and sweet aroma. I snip off a handful of leaves and bring them in to my sink for a rinse. After gently patting them dry, I roll and roughly chiffonade the leaves and toss them in the bowl with the tomatoes, a rough teaspoon of sea salt, and several grinds of fresh black pepper.

Four ingredients, that’s it. Four ingredients that when combined define summer and, after one bite, provide an unrivaled flavor experience.

Chef Jacques Pepin Reflects on Culinary Soul

Posted 06 Jun 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home, Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

Chef Jacques Pepin & Chef Jean Jacques Dietrich

It’s the end of May and I am on an airplane over the Atlantic Ocean at 33,000 feet sitting next to Chef Jacques Pepin. Through a series of interesting events, we are together in the third row of a three hour long Southwest airlines fligh. He’s on the aisle and I am at the window with an empty seat between us. Although I am trying to remain cool, my thoughts are percolating. To me, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime situations that come along from time to time and I want to maximize the opportunity and ask him two or three good questions.

Along with memories of watching Julia Child’s WGBH Boston cooking show broadcast on my grandfather’s old black and white Philco television back in the early 1970’s, I remember Jacques as the first real French chef I ever saw. I have most of his cookbooks and have been a fan for decades. He’s 74 years old now and still going strong while aging gracefully. He is quite stylish in a dark blue blazer with light blue and lavender colored stripes, kaki pants, and trendy lavender colored shirt. His brown eyes are piercing with energy if not fading to grey a bit around the iris and he is sporting a neatly cropped grey beard and mustache. He still has long eyelashes and those same arched eyebrows that cause him to look like he is going to say something at any minute. His mind is sharper than ever and I am hoping he is willing to talk.

How often does a chef like me get three hours with a person like Jacques Pepin? What a privilege. I am nervous and sweaty. What will I ask him? I hope I don’t sound stupid. I can’t boil water compared to this guy. However, I do have some questions. What does all this recent “food-as-entertainment” mean to our profession? Where is the profession headed? “What makes a good chef good?” “What is the essence of a good chef?” “Is there a common set of competencies that all great chefs share?” In no way am I a student of Taylorism and scientific management, but I am drawn to breaking things down into their component parts as a way of making them easier to understand. Developing knowledge is easier when done in increments. There has to be a secret. What is the secret Jacques? Can such expertise be broken down into its component parts? I start by asking what makes a good chef good. It was a good question to ask!

Jacques weaves an answer to my questions into the 90 minute conversation we have in increments while flying north. “A good chef is true to himself. He knows his culinary soul and stays true to it. He doesn’t resist it; he builds on it and develops it.” He doesn’t over complicate it but instead climbs the mountain of culinary competency, becomes an expert, only to proceed back down the mountain to the place he started having made a full circle. The difference is, upon retuning to the base he is educated and competent, capable of many things but drawn to the basic and elegant cookery of his beginnings. His mastery has given way to elegant simplicity, elegant simplicity that only the highest degree of mastery would allow.

“A chef is as much a product of his upbringing and surroundings as the food he creates. Although he changes and evolves there is always a foundation within him laid in place during his youth.” Layers of food memories, food preferences, and food emotions are part of this foundation. To reject this foundation could be perilous. It could potentially cause a chef to become something he is not, although it is natural for a chef to expand beyond his origins, but only to a certain extent. The greatest chefs are the ones who climb the mountain to the summit, head back down and embrace the place where they started. They master culinary method and technique and understand their food foundation. Often, the combination of these two things is what defines the greatest chefs. Mastery paired with simplicity and a good dose of humility. Rather than try to cook what the people want for the simple sake of impressing them, it is better to cook what you love, what you keep in your culinary soul, to cook it perfectly, and to serve it because it represents who you are rather than to impress the eater. By default, the eater will be impressed because of the integrity and quality of your work. Chefs that make it full circle have established and embraced their culinary soul, developed their own identity, and found their own style and voice in the profession. After nearly 60 years in the profession, Pepin has the wisdom and experience from which to draw such an image. His message is profound.

Julia Child's Kitchen

When asked about his most profound food memory he explained that he’s had so many that it is impossible to select just one. However, he does go on to tell me a story. When he was younger he spent hundreds of hours working with Julia Child in her kitchen at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the years, the two filmed television shows, tested recipes for cookbooks, and cooked for pleasure there. Of the many chefs who worked with Julia, Jacques was second only to Julia and a few of her closest assistants in the amount of time spent in her kitchen. These facts are common knowledge in the food community, but what many people don’t know is that Jacques had one of the most profound moments in his life when he visited Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The experience was overwhelming for Jacques and he described is as “weird” and “unsettling” to see a place where he spent so much time preserved as a historic landmark. His description of the experience made clear that the contributions he and Julia made to the evolution of eating and cooking in American culture occurred by coincidence rather than by design. Seeing her kitchen encased in glass made clear to him in a flood of emotion the incredible extent of their contributions. His description of the experience caused him to well up with emotion and we fell silent in the moment.

While the emotions dissipate, we both enjoy some quiet time. Our plane is starting its descent now and I am frantically typing my scribbled notes into my laptop before the details of our conversation fade. He asks for my business card and offers to set up a visit to the French Culinary Institute sometime. I thank him for sharing his thoughts and wisdom and wish him well. I hope our next conversation will occur in a kitchen.

First Fruits of Spring: Fiddleheads, Spargel and Morels

Posted 25 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Tonight, dinner was with some old friends, one of whom is a well know chef of the highest caliber. We had planned our dinner for some weeks and, knowing his penchant for keeping all ingredients local and organic, I couldn’t wait to head over to his house. It didn’t surprise me to discover upon arrival that his mise en place was complete and that dinner would be served within the hour. This included fresh spargel (white asparagus), fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms and a wood-roasted half sirloin. I suspected he would focus on local ingredients in season, and had been thinking about this since arriving home for the weekend from work to find a local ingredient of my own growing in my yard.

Last Friday evening I noticed garlic chives growing along the back border of my lawn. Pulling one up and snapping it in half, I took in its fragrant, sharp aroma. The smell reminded me of how, as a child, we used to dare each other to chew their garlicky, pale white bulbs raw.  Even then, I loved food and would take the dare, breath reeking the rest of the afternoon to my brother’s sheer delight. As kids, we used to find garlic chives, morel mushrooms, and fiddlehead ferns growing wild throughout a twenty acre dairy farm pasture and the dense woods along its perimeter. They were sure signs of spring and arrived each year like clockwork.

Fiddlehead Ferns

Later on Saturday I came across these ingredients again. I made a quick trip to Whole Foods and found crates of ramps and fiddleheads stacked in the produce section (few people were buying). Large bundles of white asparagus were on display as well. I was tempted, but stayed focused on what I needed (two loaves of sourdough) and made my way to the exit.

Spargel (White Asparagus)

So, imagine how pleased I was today to find three wonderful, local, in-season ingredients waiting to be finished for our meal along with several other accompaniments. These included a batch of artichokes roasting, cipollini onions sautéing and golden beets sautéing with garlic. After an hour of visiting while the sirloin finished, the meal was nearly complete. The morels were completed with cognac and veal glace, sea salt and fresh pepper while the golden beets and garlic, on low heat, became tender, caramelized and sweet. He roasted a small batch of fingerling potatoes with rosemary as well to round out the meal. When all was set, I took an end-cut of the sirloin, topped it with two succulent morels and a liberal portion of veal glace, a scoop of golden beets, an artichoke, three potatoes, an onion, a half-dozen white asparagus and a small spoonful of fiddleheads. Within minutes we were seated and within another twenty, sated. Sunday dinner the way it should be!

Dinner!

Community Supported Agriculture: Be Green to Create Some Green

Posted 02 Mar 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Reading Kimberly Weisul’s article titled Why More Are Buying Into ‘Buy Local’  from the March 1, 2010 issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek reminded me that it’s that time of year when we send checks into our local community supported agriculture partners. My local yokel is Grateful Farm which has been in operation and organic since 1983 (way before organic was mainstream). Of the many things I look forward to in late winter, signing up for Grateful Farms greenbucks program is near the top of my feel-good list. Grateful Farm, like many CSA operations, offers slight discounts (more produce for your money) to those of us that are early to renew and, in turn they receive the start up capital required to launch a successful season.

Weisul makes a strong argument in her article that the benefits of buying local are good for the local economy. Although this may seem self evident, the benefits appear to be even greater than I originally thought based on Weisul’s story. Weisul presents several graphs by Stanford Kay that illustrate the number of jobs created and dollars generated within the local economy when buyers shift from chains to local stores and sources (like Grateful Farm). Of $100 spent, the amount that remains in the local economy is more than three times greater at a locally owned store compared to a national or global chain. Buying local may prove to be green environmentally while also generating some green economically. So keep buying local and send a check to your local farm today.