Cleaning Out My Cabinets: Skate Wing and Miso Corn

A few weeks ago I visited Super 88, still one of my favorite places on earth to buy stuff I’ve never consumed before.  It went about as expected; I bought a lot of insanely inexpensive frozen dumplings, a gigantic tub of miso despite promising myself I wouldn’t, and then fed Janet pork and duck in the attached food court.  On my slow, slack jawed fly-by of the fish department (where I usually consider buying one of the whole carp swimming behind the counter) I saw that they had whole skate packed in ice for $1.39 a pound.  Which created some anxiety.

I’ve loved skate wing the few times I’ve had it in restaurants, usually pan fried with a brown butter sauce.  On the other hand, skate is a ray, pees through it’s skin, and generally should be eaten extremely fresh since it gets nasty fast.  On top of all of that, the center area of the skate is mostly inedible, each wing has a band of cartilage running through the middle of the meat, and the skin is extremely difficult to peel off.  Due to all of these factors, I did multiple anxious passes by the seafood case before having the courage to ask the man at the counter if he would clean the skate for me.  Which he shook his head and replied “no” to.  Meaning I needed to do a couple more anxious laps deep in thought.

Exotic mushrooms, fish sauce, and pork belly.  Also, we still haven't cut Janet's hair, ever, which has led to that rat tail ringlet strand int he back.  Also, yes she is wearing shorts and yes that blows up my whole "a few weeks ago" opening

Exotic mushrooms, fish sauce, and pork belly.  Also, we still haven’t cut Janet’s hair, ever, which has led to that rat tail ringlet strand in the back.  Also, yes she is wearing shorts and yes that blows up my whole “a few weeks ago” opening

Eventually, despite my near psychotic hatred of wasting food, I decided that the minimal investment due to the per pound cost made it acceptable to take the risk.  So, as the 5th lap wrapped up I asked for a skate from the same seafood counter guy who immediately asked if I wanted it cleaned.  Well then.  Seems like the questions work best when they are outbound at Super 88 and can be answered with just a nod.  Anyhoo, he removed the wings from the skate and I headed up to wait in the extremely long line at checkout.  Then, of course, Janet and I went and ate a half pound of Chinese roast pork.

Once home, I got started on dinner.  The plan was to use the miso in a corn dish that I saw on the first season of Mind of a Chef, do the skate wing in brown butter, and utilize a week old head of cauliflower in a way that completely wouldn’t match the flavors of the other items.  The first step, was getting my first good up close look at the fish and preparing it for cooking.

It pretty much like normal fish, except butchered by a toddler with a child-safe pumpkin carving knife

It looked pretty much like normal fish, if normal fish were butchered by a toddler with a child-safe pumpkin carving knife

I have no idea what happened in the back of Super 88 when the fishmonger went to “clean” the fish, but some things happened.  Most noticeable was that the spiny edges were trimmed off, but also that he randomly chose to remove the skin on only on side of each wing.  There was still a hard piece of cartilage running down the center of the wings which ended with a thick piece of bone-like cartilage at what would have been the middle of the body.  Otherwise the fish looked and smelled pretty fresh, with none of the ammonia-like smell I was told to look out for.  Still a lot more work left to do than I expected, though.

The hardest part of dealing with skate, as I had heard and quickly learned first hand, is removing the skin which is best done with pliers and a lot of elbow grease.

This was probably a minute and 20 complaints into the process.  I found peeling the skin off of this piece of fish to be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done in the kitchen, right up there with assembling the Turducken

This was probably a minute and 20 complaints into the process.  I found peeling the skin off of this piece of fish to be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done in the kitchen, right up there with assembling the Turducken

Especially if you have tasted soft, delicate skate wing in a restaurant, this process seems entirely ridiculous.  The idea of tearing the skin off of meat seems like it would completely ruin even the toughest cuts, but with skate it actually peels away cleanly.  Albeit with an insane amount of effort.  I think each wing probably took 2-3 minutes or repositioning, pulling, then trying to find a new grip on the meat that wouldn’t damage it, and pulling some more.  I know I am painting a very encouraging picture for giving this a shot at home.

After a lot of effort, I had a couple clean wings.

The freshly skinned piece is the one on the right.  Pliers are really an absurd item to have in a cooking photo

The freshly skinned piece is the one on the right. Pliers are really an absurd item to have in a cooking photo

The last step in prepping the fish was to fillet the meat off of the cartilage that ran down the center of each wing.  I took the same approach I would with a whole fish and cut down to the bone, then used it to guide the knife down the fillet.  I’ll give myself a B- here and would probably boil the remaining meat stuck on the bone in a soup next time.

The return of the claw grip pointer finger there.  Probably poor form overall, but I was really struggling with the small size of these wings.

The return of the claw grip pointer finger there.  Probably poor form overall, but I was really struggling with the small size of these wings

With the fish fully prepped, I got started with the other parts of the meal by mixing equal parts unsalted butter and miso paste.

Maybe more miso than butter.  I love miso but think I would be unable to remove my wedding ring the morning after eating it due to what a salt balloon it makes me

Maybe more miso than butter. I love miso but think I would be unable to remove my wedding ring the morning after eating it due to what a salt balloon it makes me

I used a fork to mash the miso and butter together until they were relatively well combined.  Once finished, I got started cutting the corn off of six cobs for some pan roasting.  I got the idea for this method of preparing corn after watching a mouth watering episode of Mind fo a Chef Season 1.  That corn was prepared with huge chunks of bacon in that case and finished with miso butter. Makes my mouth water writing it.

The last side, and one that fit in most poorly with the others, was a roasted cauliflower dish based on one I’ve had a few times at Ten Tables in JP.  It started with preheating the oven to 475F and tossing a broken down head of cauliflower with olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, currants, and sunflower nuts.

Sometimes it is less about how well one side goes with the others, because this one certainly didn't go at all, than how much I like each side individually.  The "I" there is key

Sometimes it is less about how well one side goes with the others, because this one certainly didn’t go at all, than how much I like each side individually.  The “I” there is key, I am an extremely selfish cook.  Also, yes, I still haven’t gotten through all of the currants in my cupboard and have nightmares about them once a week

The dressed cauliflower went into the oven for 20 minutes to get some good roasted color and texture.

While that cooked, I heated up a couple tablespoons of bacon grease in a large pan for my version of the miso corn.  Bacon pieces would have been better, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to cook it properly, so bacon grease was the call.  Once the grease was hot and nearly smoking, I added the corn, tossed and cooked it for a minute or two, then added the miso butter.

Good god I wish I could get corn from Walkers in Little Compton year round.  I would also be thousands of pounds at this point

Good god life would be amazing if I could get corn from Walkers in Little Compton year round. I would also be thousands of pounds at this point

With the corn cooking, I heated a large cast iron pan over medium/high heat and melted a few tablespoons of butter in it once it got up to heat.  While the butter melted and started bubbling, I lightly floured and seasoned the skate fillets before adding them to the pan.

Having slightly too much food for one pan load is just the worst.  Four fillets when three will fit felt like when you've been coking bacon for a half hour and have just two strips left that need to be cooked on their own.  The worst!

This is actually after the flip.  Having slightly too much food for one pan load is just the worst.  Four fillets when three will fit felt like when you’ve been cooking bacon for a half hour and have just two strips left that need to be cooked on their own.  The worst!

The skate cooked for a few minutes on each side, basically until the outside had a nice browned color.  By the end, the skate was falling apart tender and a little difficult to keep whole but I was succesful for the most part.  Once the meat was out of the pan, I turned the heat up a bit to brown the remaining butter in the pan and then deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine.  After a couple more minutes of reducing the wine sauce, I added the fish back to the pan and plated.

I think the fish fell apart more than I remembered.  Sigh.  It always looked a lot better in my memories then I go and ruin it by taking fotos and sharing them

Apparently the fish fell apart more than I remembered.  Sigh.  It always looks a lot better in my memories and then I go and ruin it by taking fotos and sharing them

Skate is a fish that every fish lover needs to try, regardless of your feelings about the idea of eating a ray.  The flavor is mild but as sweet as a scallop, and the texture is incredibly light and almost feathery.  You can choose your own difficulty level, getting the partially cleaned buck-fifty version from an Asian supermarket or the $14.99 full cleaned fillets from a reputable seafood market, but it is incredibly easy to cook regardless.  This version, with brown butter, had the nice contrast between the sweet meat and the sharper flavors of the sauce, and was very delicious.

The corn was sweet, bacony and salty miso-y which I loved and I think Kristi was middies on.  I just love the flavor of miso and this was a combination of my favorite ingredients.  Would have been better with some cilantro to cut the richness, though.  The cauliflower was very simple but delicious and had a nice crispy char from the roasting and balsamic sugars burning slightly on the surface.

Very good meal, I got some game offal to cook for next week.

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Pete’s Burgers: Peter’s Favorite Things

Do you remember the Oprah’s Favorite Things episodes that used to pop up every few months on Oprah’s talk show?  They’ve been spoofed multiple times on Saturday Night Live, but I will happily admit that I was exposed to the real thing multiple times over the years.  I caught a couple in college and it seemed like any time I was home sick there was one on TV.  Which I of course had to watch.  The premise was simple: Oprah unveils items that she loves to her audience and they go completely berserk.  Why?  Because the whole audience got to take home whatever Oprah unveiled.

Those videos of teenage girls losing their minds when the Beatles played in the 60s?  Does not even compare to the insane reactions of these middle aged men and women.  Fainting, tears, strangers hugging, and milk curdling screams punctuated unveils like home pedicure treatment kits. People love free sh*t.  In 2004 when I was working on GM, they gave away 250 Pontiacs on a Favorite Things episode and I’m sure you can imagine the insanity of the reaction.  I probably watched the highlight reel 50 times at work cackling like a madman.

Anyhoo, you don’t get to take home anything, but enjoy following along as Pete cooks his ultimate burger and unveils a few of… his Favorite Things.

Big surprise folks, it starts with…. BACON!!!!!!!!!

I think I am not properly assessing the health risks of my current obsession with the reasonably priced, locally smoked, thick cut bacon in the deli case.  I feel like if I told my doctor about it he would suggest I start smoking again instead

I think I am not properly assessing the health risks of my current obsession with the reasonably priced, locally smoked, thick cut bacon in the deli case.  I feel like if I told my doctor about it he would suggest I start smoking cigarettes again instead

I’ve had lots of wacky meat-based burger toppings like foie gras, braised pork belly, and even a beef cheek a few weeks ago, but none of them compare to what bacon adds.  At the same time, not a fan of the long bacon strip that sticks out the ends of the bun and pulls out of the burger when you bite down.   Which is why I like the idea of bacon lardon as a topping.  All the flavor and crisp with none of the drawbacks.

While that cooks, it’s time to bring out the… RED ONION!!!!

I have lost all resistance to the tear effect of red onions.  I looked like I'd been pepper srayed after cutting this thing

I have lost all resistance to the crying effect of red onions.  I looked like I’d been pepper sprayed after cutting this thing

Any caramelized onion makes a burger better, but for this one I went with a red onion since it holds up to longer cooking time while still retaining some texture.  After skimming off a little excess bacon grease, the onions joined the bacon in the pan.  Once the onions were a little translucent, I added in a few large crumbles of brown sugar and a splash of apple cider vinegar.

Similar to the start of the red onion relish I serve with my pulled pork, but bacon makes everything better

Similar to the start of the red onion relish I serve with my pulled pork, but bacon makes everything better

That’s right folks, we’re making… BACON ONION MARMALADE!!!!!!!

I’ve had this stuff on burgers in a few restaurants and was inspired by a coworker to make it at home.  It has everything you dream of on a burger: the sweetness of caramelized onions, with brown sugar and vinegar replacing the key aspects of ketchup and pickles, and of course the salty crunch of bacon.  I had to wing the recipe a bit due to a truncated timeline (easiest to slow cook for a few hours), but with this combination I knew it would end up solid.

"Oh you're adding brown sugar and onions to the bacon to trap the maximum possible amount of cooked off bacon fat?  Would you consider riding a racing motorcycle to work instead?" - Pete's doctor

“Oh you’re adding brown sugar and onions to the bacon to trap the maximum possible amount of cooked off bacon fat?  Would you consider riding a motorcycle to work helmet-less instead?” – Pete’s doctor

This cooked over low heat for another 20-30 minutes, but that wasn’t the only topping that needed cooking time.  You didn’t think I’d forget the TRUFFLE MUSHROOOOOOOOOOOOMS!?!?!?!?

Mushrooms always look like this, but you are going to pry this mac from my cold dead hands if you think you are going to stop me from including this picture in every post

Mushrooms always look like this, but you are going to have to pry this Mac from my cold dead hands if you think you are going to stop me from including this picture in every post I write

Mushrooms and truffles have a ton in common from a flavor standpoint, and they obviously work well when combined.  I’m cheap and I don’t keep truffles lying around, but dried truffle salt and a couple pats of truffle butter usually gets a good amount of flavor in there.  An awesome texture and flavor contrast with the other toppings.

Let’s get on to the main event people, 85/15 GROUND BEEF Y’ALL!!!!!

One pound, three patties.  Write that down.  Always start them out large and flat so they don't become meatballs on the grill.  Are you getting all of this down!??!?!?

One pound, three patties.  Write that down.  Always start them out large and flat so they don’t become meatballs on the grill.  Write that down too.  Are you getting all of this down!??!?!?

I love the idea of grass fed beef and want to love the burgers that it makes, but I’ve been hit or miss with it lately.  If I see corn fed ground beef from respected New England farm, odds are I will choose it over the grass fed variety.  Just more likely to be tender and not have a chewy sausage-like texture on the outside.  I mixed the ground beef with a substantial amount of salt and black pepper and then segmented the pound of beef into three equal-sized, patted flat burgers.

I’ve heard that behind every great man is a great woman, but what I think they are really trying to say is that on top of every great burger is a great cheese.  Uh oh, you smell that folks?  It’s announcing itself from inside the cheese drawer, STANKY BLUE CHEESE!!!!!!

This Oprah bit is as exhausting to me as it is to you.  Don't worry, we're almost done here.  These burger posts make me way hungrier than any other type of post

This Oprah bit is as exhausting to me as it is to you.  Don’t worry, we’re almost done here.  These burger posts make me way hungrier than any other type of post

I’ve referred to this multiple times on this blog, but I will only get a burger in a restaurant if it has blue cheese or a similarly stinky cheese topping it.  I think cheddar, Swiss, and American are all incredibly boring and barely add any flavor.  Stinky cheeses compliment the burger by not just disappearing flavor-wise in each bite.  A few crumbles of this Stilton is my idea of heaven on a burger.

The marmalade had cooked to a nice consistency.

Wasn't quice the spreadable goo I was hoping for, but it held together relatively well when spooned out

Wasn’t quite the spreadable goo I was hoping for, but it held together relatively well when spooned out

I switched the heat off and let as much oil drain off as possible before spooning these into a separate bowl.

I heated the grill to 500 and threw the burgers on for a a few minutes on each side with the buns toasting on the top rack.  What kind of buns you ask?!?!?!  MAIER’S POTATO ROLLSSSSSS!!!!!  And we’re done with that.

From the grill to the bun.

1/3 pound is the perfect size for a Maiers Potato Roll.  I learned this through hard work, tears, trial, error, and weight gain

1/3 pound is the perfect size for a Maier’s Potato Roll. I learned this through hard work, tears, trial, error, and weight gain

Due to the amount of toppings, I went with the cheese on one side pressed directly into the bun.  I spread the marmalade on the other half and then piled the mushrooms up on top before tipping them together into one glorious whole.  Served with some vinaigrette-tossed greens on the side, Grace Tavern-style.

If I am being truly honest, gooey stinky cheese is really my favorite thing, but that's combining multiple mildly unpleasant sounding adjectives and generally makes me shake my head in discomfort

If I am being truly honest, gooey stinky cheese is really my fave thing, but that’s combining multiple unpleasant-sounding adjectives and generally makes me shake my head in discomfort

Let’s go through the toppings in one sentence instead of all spaced out: A blue cheese, bacon & red onion marmalade, and truffle mushroom topped hamburger on a Maier’s potato roll.  Good golly.

Not sure what you’re looking for on the reaction section here, because obviously this was one of my favorite burgers of all time.  I’ll try.  I despise ketchup and bread & butter pickles on a burger, but I love a little sweet contrast to all the salt of a burger.  The marmalade delivered that and then some with the slight tang of vinegar and sweet onion flavor.  Then of course there is the strong smokey bacon flavor mixed with all of that and crunchy chunks of it in each bite.  The mushrooms provided the umami that matches well with stanky cheese and medium rare beef but also stands on its own well.  The burger meat was juicy and full of flavor and was made even better by the cheese oozing through it following each bite.  Just an absurd burger.

I traded a 2 pound block of scrapple for a 50+ pound cow’s head this past weekend.  Not cooking it anytime soon, but figured that’s the type of post that requires a few months of warning.

Pete’s Burgers: The Breakfast Burger

Two weekends ago marked the arrival of a new member of the Ryan family; our new gas grill.  The grill is very similar to a child really; the whole process started with an extended painful labor (the assembly), it was unconditionally loved from birth, and we’ve played with it nonstop since.  Most nights Kristi and I have both checked on it before we’ve headed to bed.  Oh, and Janet turned one.

Anyhoo, with the new grill on the front deck, it seemed like it was time for another round of Pete’s Burgers.  I’ve always enjoyed when a restaurant burger has the added bonus of a fried egg on top, so I figured I would do my own version of that and make it as breakfast-like as I could.  As usual, any good burger starts with good ground beef.

I love me some Costco, and their organic 85/15 ground beef never disappoints

To continue on the path of things that should be done every time you make any kind of burger, I mixed the ground beef with lots of salt and pepper.

I need to take my wedding ring off before I do stuff like this.  It acts like a to-go container with the amount of crap it collects in situations like this

When thinking about how to use the egg, I’d heard of people doing some sort of birds nest burger where the burger is a ring, with an egg cracked in the center, cooked in a pan.  Boooring.  Who cooks burgers in a pan anyway?  To cook it on the grill I needed to break out a little razzle dazzle.

While Kristi fried some bacon (what else would go on a breakfast burger?) I broke the meat into four equal portions then divided two portions into four large thin patties that I flattened on wax paper.

Normal burgers on the right, two of the four large extra thin patties on the left.  In other news, I’ve discovered the subpar pictures coming out of the nice camera lately must be user error, because look at the quality of every picture Kristi took for this post.  Also, lotsa stuff going on behind this shot

Now for the egg.  Whites are boring, they are for binding or bland omelettes; you really only want the flavor of the yolk.  The key for this one is to match the quality of your beef with your egg yolk.  I recommend the Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Americauna and Maran eggs because the yolk is huge and flavorful.  I separated out the whites and dropped a yolk in the center of two of the large thin patties.

Heirloom yolk on the left, standard Pete & Gerry’s (which is still 10x better than a sweatshop grocery store egg) on the right. The Americauna yolks are dark orange in person and taste the way an egg yolk should

With the yolks in the center of the bottom halves, I laid the top half of the burger meat over the top of the yolk and carefully pinched the sides while letting out any excess air.  I think if I had screwed up this step I would have acted like Janet when she wants out of the booster and started crying while dropping ground beef out of both hands with my arms above my head.  Luckily everything went smoothly.

A roll of wax paper will take several years to go through in our condo, but it is completely crucial every time it is used

With the burgers all sealed up, I shaped them a bit to resemble regular burgers, then got started on my key condiment.

Although ketchup often goes very well with eggs, we were on the razzle dazzle train at this point, so I wanted to do a little better.  The olllld razzle dazzle train, CHOO CHOO!!!!!

I ended up going with a maple aioli consisting of half Vermont maple syrup, half mayo, plus some ground pepper and dried herbs.

I used to lose my sh*t when syrup got on my bacon, eggs, or sausage since I’ve only recently started to like the salty/sweet contrast.  Still not a huge fan of straight syrup on my breakfast meats, but I knew a toned down version would be awse

With the toppings and burgers all prepped, it was time do fire up the King Griller!

This lid says “King Griller” but its real name is way cooler: The Stealth Griller.  Nice heavy lid and gets up to 600 degrees in about 5 minutes.  Shameless plug: you can get ’em with free shipping to your door at Wayfair.com for around $200.  Second thinly veiled product placement of the post!

Let’s address those buns for a second.  In principle, I like brioche, but I also have complained about its overuse in restaurants due to how much larger it is than any reasonably sized burger.  I prefer perfectly sized Martin’s Potato Rolls.  But, Kristi was doing the shopping this day and I have to say it ended up being the perfect bun as you’ll see later.

Once the grill was good and hot, the burgers went on with the lid down and the heat set to medium/high for about five minutes before flipping.

Yeah, Kristi is definitely a better photographer than me.  Eventually the only things I am going to be better at than her are cooking organ meats and eating, which most people will react to by shrugging and saying, “sounds about right”

Since I was using a nice sharp Cabot cheddar (3rd placement!), I put the cheese on immediately after flipping and put the buns on the top rack before closing the lid again.  After a couple minutes I took the buns off and slathered a good amount of the maple aioli on the top and bottom before pulling the burgers off the grill.

Figured this would help show how much of the aioli I put on each side, but I am also just really in to how good these pictures came out. I promise the reason all that extra bun worked out will make sense eventually

With the addition of the bacon on top of the cheese, these bad boys were ready to eat.  So here, without further ado, is the finest three-picture series of food porn in the storied history of this blog.

I wrote half of this post while in the painful throes of some sketchy burrito-induced food poisoning and this picture was still able to make me hungry.  I defended you for years Boca Grande, but no mo’.  Fooled me twice, shame on me

As Uncle Jesse would say, “Haave mer-cy”.  Forget the TV quotes, lets go with, “Jeepers creepers!”  Actually, I mean, Good Golly Miss Molly!  They haven’t invented an exclamation in the past 20 years that can encapsulate how awesome this was.  This burger was really the cat’s pajamas

Serve with a pile of goddess-dressed beats & greens and a Brooklyn Summer Ale (4th!) and you have one hell of an amazing dinner.  I can’t look at these fotos without salivating

In order to make sure the yolk wasn’t completely cold, I cooked the burger to a medium/medium well temperature.  The temperature didn’t really matter, though, since they were plenty moist from all of the rich egg yolk and melty cheddar.

The burger meat reminded both of us of sausage from all of the salt and pepper and because it was complimented by so many other breakfast flavors.  The cheddar and bacon were obviously awesome, but the maple aioli really brought it all together with that distinct maple sweetness complimenting without overwhelming the other flavors.  Of course, the divine purpose of the large brioche all along was sopping up that delicious yolk that went everywhere when we cut into the burgers.

The photos in this one might be tough to top, but I’ve got some ideas for next week.

Finally, to give a proper shout out to my (slightly older than a) baby girl, happy first birthday Janet!  You’ve made this past year more fun than your mother and I could have ever imagined.

Alright, fine.  Maybe the burger pics can be topped