Shrimping in the Hood Canal

Like many of the best things I have done, the decision to go shrimping was hatched around my dinner table, during an impromptu Sunday night dinner party. My friend Larry, a self-described Shed Boy (he has forsaken a traditional career to live meagerly, work less, and create things), abruptly announced—he is usually abrupt—that he and his friend Steve were going shrimping for Hood Canal spot prawns that Wednesday. Did I want to come? I had been in a bit of a funk for a while, not writing, hardly cooking, and feeling aimless. I missed London. But spot prawns are a rare treat, seldom available far from their natural habitat (they deteriorate quickly). When I tell people that I have never had seafood as exquisite anywhere as in the Pacific Northwest, spot prawns are one of the local delicacies that top the list. Continue reading

Advertisements

Pan-Seared Octopus with Delicata Squash, Chickpeas, and Saffron

DSC_0278aMany people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results. Continue reading

Linguine with Sea Urchin Roe (Uni) Sauce

DSC_0255_01aStrictly speaking, the edible part of sea urchin – uni, as it’s called in Japanese – isn’t roe at all. It is the animal’s gonads, and will eventually turn into sperm (milt) or roe, depending on the animal’s sex. Uni is a delicacy, and an acquired taste. It is intensely briny, with a heady, floral, loamy aftertaste. In Japan, it’s served most commonly as nigiri sushi, on rice, and it is classified according to quality, based upon its color, flavor, and firmness. Uni is best eaten fresh, i.e., from an animal that you have just killed yourself, however you can also buy uni cleaned, packaged, and ready to eat. This dish – al dente linguine, served in a rich sauce made with fresh raw uni emulsified with melted butter and lemon – is a coastal Italian classic, and, cleaning of the sea urchin aside, it is quick and remarkably easy to prepare. It tastes like nothing you have ever eaten before in your life. Continue reading

Dungeness Crab and Corn Cakes with Sriracha Mayonnaise

DSC_0028aThis week I have been grappling with the Great Crustacean Controversy. Specifically, do the crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans we eat feel pain, and if so, what is the most humane way to kill them? Or, as David Foster Wallace famously phrased it (far more articulately and precisely than I ever could), “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”  At a more ignorant time of my life, I blithely tossed live lobsters into pots of boiling water, clapped the lid on, and equally blithely devoured them. Lobsters don’t scream when you cook them – that much is myth – but recent studies suggest that crustaceans do in fact feel pain, or at least they exhibit behaviors consistent with the avoidance of remembered pain, strongly supporting an inference that they experience pain. It thus is most humane to kill them before cooking them. But how? Maybe some of you remember the lobster scene from Mostly Martha, the 2001 film about a German chef who discovers her softer side thanks to her niece and an Italian sous chef. She sobs over the abstract suffering of the lobster, which in most circumstances is denied the mercy of a swift death. Even Gordon Ramsay kills his lobsters before cooking them. Continue reading

Miso Ginger Glaze

DSC_0991aMy mother is one of the world’s great food hoarders. Her freezer is always packed so full that when you open the freezer door things invariably tumble out: half a dozen New York bagels in a plastic bag, a Tupperware container of chicken stock, frozen leftovers, frozen packages of butter. The refrigerator is the same. Growing up, I did not realize that this was anything but normal. I’d look in friends’ refrigerators and think, “Where is the FOOD?” It should go without saying that this condition, if not hereditary, at least must create a strong genetic predisposition. I am always ready for the apocalypse; I reckon that I could feed myself and a small band of hardy survivors for at least a few months, although I do wonder what I’d do when I run out of cat food. Continue reading

Mussels with Wild Garlic, Grape Tomatoes, and Guanciale

DSC_0653aI do not fully understand the synergistic relationship between shellfish and pork products, but I do not question it. Clams are delicious with smoky bacon, and at Spanish restaurant Pizarro, I ate seared scallops, each of which was topped with a translucent sliver of Iberico pork lardo – pure cured fat – which softened and clung lasciviously to the scallop. It was seriously one of the most pervy things I have ever put in my mouth. Guanciale is unsmoked cured pork jowl. The fat in guanciale, of which guanciale is mostly comprised, is more delicate and tender than belly fat. Guanciale is the key ingredient in classic Carbonara sauces (until you have tried Carbonara with guanciale, you have not truly experienced Carbonara) and it is a remarkably fortuitous item to have in your fridge when you’re casting about for a new way to prepare mussels. Continue reading

Roasted Mackerel with Radicchio, Black Olives, Red Peppers and Rosemary

I have three rules when cooking and eating fish: 1) eat sustainably; 2) only eat it if it’s fresh; and 3) do as little as possible to it. When I was younger and possibly more obsessive-compulsive than I am now, I strictly limited myself to five ingredients when cooking fish, not including salt. Yes, it was an unnecessarily lunatic culinary flourish, but it also taught me to respect the fish. The mark of a well-prepared fish dish is that two hours after you’ve eaten it, the flavor that you remember is the fish, not the accompaniments or the sauce. Continue reading

Foraging and Cooking with Wild Garlic

Last week a new friend of mine, Nicola (a brilliant cook and blogger in her own right), crowed on Twitter about a recent discovery: she’d found loads of wild garlic at a Secret Location. I immediately demanded to be taken to the spot. She agreed, but not before exacting a “wild garlic tax” (some of my orange-blossom-saffron-vanilla macarons). It was an easy trade. I adore wild garlic. Wild garlic, also known as ramps, wild leek, and wood leek, grows in cool damp woody areas. Its colour is strikingly chlorophyll green and it’s got a sharp allium flavour and intense aroma. It’s gorgeous stuff. Monday, the appointed day, was cool and very wet. Nicola picked me up from an Overground station, her sweet and excitable dog, Toro, in the back of the car, and drove us to the Secret Location, a lovely wooded path Somewhere In London. Continue reading

Jerk-Marinated Tilapia with Plantains and Tangy Fish Broth

Last week I made Jamaican jerk sauce. As I explained in the blog post about that recipe, the traditional, and best, way to cook with Jamaican jerk is to barbecue – and by barbecue I mean slow cooking, indirect heat, and plenty of smoke. However it is winter, and I have neither a grill nor a garden. On a particularly nasty day last week, when it was cold and gray and an icy rain was falling, more than anything I wanted to eat food that would make think of warm weather (this is a recurring theme for me). Jerk sauce has such a lovely mix of flavours that it functions well as a marinade even if it’s not being used on the grill, and I was itching to give my sauce a test run, barbecue or no barbecue. So I decided I’d use it with fish. Continue reading

Fried Sardines with Tomato-Garlic-Anchovy Sauce and Arugula

The exciting new development in my life, and the reason why I haven’t been blogging this week, is that I’ve moved. In every way this is a good thing. I’ve got a whole new part of London to explore, this flat feels mine in a way that my previous flat never did (even though I’ve only unpacked half my stuff and I lived in the other flat for two years), and it gets tons of light all day long. While delightful generally, from the perspective of my food blog this is FANTASTIC, as it means that I’ve got wonderful natural light to play with when photographing the things I cook. And let’s face it. On the internet, at least, we eat with our eyes, and fluorescent lighting doesn’t do food any favours. The bad news is that my budget is even more constrained, which probably means much less dining out and more home cooking. But I love to cook, and this hopefully will inspire me to be creative in cooking delicious food for relatively little money.

Which brings me to sardines. Continue reading