Weird Crap I Cook: Jellyfish Salad

Two clarifications: 1) I didn’t really “cook” this exactly and 2) I get a good amount of random comments correcting me when I make internationally loved items and put the WCIC prefix on them.  I get that jellyfish, stomach tacos, and tuna head aren’t “weird crap” in some places, but if Kristi won’t stand in the same kitchen as an ingredient, it qualifies as weird for the purposes of this ‘lil blog.

Two weeks ago I finally made the trip to Super 88 market in Brighton with Janet and occasional blog character and game meat provider, Dupee.  I don’t have a great reason for why I’ve never been before, aside from I haven’t lived in Brighton for 6 years and my culinary fever was caught after moving away.  For those not familiar, Super 88 is a large pan-Asian supermarket with lots of hard to find ingredients and some very interesting cuts of meat.  After discovering recently that they also have a food court with an assortment of great food, I decided to make the trip.

Seeing this totally reassured me that this food court was legit.  I'm used to seeing that hanging in a store window in Chinatown, not in the middle of a mall-like food court

Seeing this totally reassured me that this food court was legit.  I’m used to seeing that hanging in a store window in Chinatown, not in the middle of a Bridgewater mall-like food court

The first major error of the day was assuming that the food court opened at the same time as the grocery store (9 AM).  It actually opened two hours later, and we unfortunately arrived at 9:30.  I did my best to kill time poking meats in the market and letting Janet push her stroller around, but even I couldn’t kill an hour and a half this way.  So, after collecting as many interesting items as I could justify, Dupee, Janet and I headed out to explore Brighton ave.

The area between Harvard ave and Packards corner has evolved into an ethnic restaurant melting pot over the past 10 years and I was amazed at how good everything looked.  After an hour in which Janet sampled baklava, Vietnamese scallion pastry, wind burn, and frostbite, the doors to the food court opened and we headed in.  I immediately ordered a quarter roast duck.

Traditional roast duck isn’t for everyone since it’s mostly skin and fat with lots of bones to navigate around.  Oh,  and it’s served lukewarm. Regardless, I was incredibly excited when my order came up until Janet got all up in my face and started stealing my food.

This kid won't even eat pasta with cheese and butter yet she goes nuts for scrapple, lox, baklava, roast duck, and short ribs.  Wait.  I WON!!!  IN YOUR FACE KRISTI!!!  She eats like me!!!!

This kid won’t touch vegetables or bland pasta, yet she goes nuts for scrapple, lox, baklava, roast duck, and short ribs.  Wait a tick.  I WON!!!  IN YOUR FACE KRISTI!!!  She eats like her daddy!!!!

The roast duck was awesome, if a little tough to feed to a 1.75 year old that was constantly demanding a fresh piece.  Lots of little bones since the thigh and leg were cut into chopstick-sized pieces with a cleaver.  The meat was so moist and tasty, though, and the crispy fatty skin was as delicious as it sounds.

The next food item I got was a traditional display of Pete’s stupidity.  I know I don’t like most Chinese cross-cut short rib preparations; the meat never seems to cook long enough to be tender which leaves it chewy and tough to eat.  But, as usual I saw a picture on the menu and ordered them anyway.  Dupee and I were both very disappointed, especially with how hard it was to get the meat off the bones, but Janet enjoyed them.

Janet wads extremely jealous of the chopsticks we were using to eat, so she got her own pair and took a shot.  She poked in vain for about 30 seconds and then picked up the meat with her fingers and ate it.  Just like everyone else the first time they used chopsticks

Janet was extremely jealous of the chopsticks we were using to eat, so she got her own pair and took a shot.  She poked in vain for about 30 seconds and then picked up the meat with her fingers and ate it.  You know, just like everyone else the first time they use chopsticks

All in all the food court was decent and I’d like to try a few of the food stalls I didn’t hit this time around sometime soon.  But, the main goal of the trip was finding a bunch of stuff I hadn’t cooked before and making something at home.

The produce was either extremely fresh (the seafood and vegetables) or slightly dodgy looking (the meat).  For example, I could have had the seafood counter clean one of the live Tilapia or Carp for me (“Kristi! Got us some carp for dinner!  You know, carp!”) and yet the bulk of the meat was frozen solid.  I still came away with a decent haul for under $20.

Those dumplings and shumai were gone within 5 days, the enoki mushrooms and udon made a bawmb noodle dish, and the miso has some high expectations associated with it ever since I heard about miso-glazed pulled pork.  If you read the emotion "giddy elation" from the preceding sentence, you are an incredibly observant reader

Those dumplings and shumai were gone within 5 days, the enoki mushrooms and udon made a bawmb noodle dish, and the miso has some high expectations associated with it ever since I heard about miso-glazed pulled pork.  If you read the emotion “giddy elation” from the preceding sentence, you are an incredibly observant reader

The dumplings cost $2 and were enough food for three meals.  The seaweed salad made me realize I’ve been paying twice the cost of this package for a quarter of the seaweed salad from restaurants my entire life.  The Udon will likely be the item I buy in bulk on every future visit since it was easy and cam e out so delicious.  But, the jellyfish, now that stuff was the main event.

Looks like a bag of gummy jolly ranchers or something.  Nope, not quite

Looks like a bag of gummy Jolly Ranchers or something.  Nope, not quite.  Wish I knew what collection those characters represent so that I can see if it was limited edition or something

Purchasing jellyfish to make jellyfish salad was one of my goals for the trip.  The reasons were simple: I love jellyfish salad, haven’t had it in a while, definitely have never made it, and I needed some blog fodder.  When I first scanned the seafood department and produce, I didn’t see any jellyfish and got a little concerned.  Eventually, I noticed that I was surrounded by boxes (next to the open freezers but not exactly refrigerated) filled with packages that looked like the one above.  They were a variety of colors; red, green, yellow, blue, purple, etc. but all otherwise identical and covered with calligraphy and not much English.

I looked through about 20 of those little windows on various packages before finally admitting to myself that they all looked completely identical

I looked through about 20 of those little windows on various packages before finally admitting to myself that they all looked completely identical

After a few minutes of looking at the different colored packages and trying to figure out the difference, I noticed the small English language ingredients on the back.  I assumed these ingredients were the marinade the jellyfish would be sitting in, and after not finding a “plain” version, I went for the most innocuous combo I could find.  I was hoping that the sesame oil, msg, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce note on the package would rinse off easily so I could season.  Yet, when I opened the package at home, I found jellyfish and this.

Well that was unexpected.  Four packets looking identical to ramen seasoning.  Mmmmmm ramen seasoning.  Would it be at all surprising to know Ryan's ate ramen drained of the liquid with butter and that seasoning packet?  Of course it wouldn't

Four packets and one looks like ramen seasoning.  Mmmmmm ramen seasoning.  Would it be at all surprising to know Ryan’s ate ramen drained of the liquid with butter and that seasoning packet?  Of course it wouldn’t

Welp, that was surprising.  After looking at this and the small package of jellyfish for a while, I recognized that this is almost like a (sadly defunct) Handi Snack or the famous Walking Taco.  Tear open the top, dump on your seasonings, then walk around eating your meal.  Of jellyfish!

I was intrigued enough that I tore open each package and tasted the contents.  Actually, after tasting the cheap soy sauce and vinegar, and what tasted like burned fryer oil, I elected against tearing into the packet of white sugar and MSG and safely disposed of it out of Janet’s reach.  Not due to MSG fears (Super 88 covers its walls with pro-MSG/anti-MSG fear info, which I enjoyed reading), but because I was kind of grossed out by the tastes in those packets.  Back to the jellyfish.

Wouldn't have been the most appealing package of "food" to be presented with, but now that you know it was approved to sit in lukewarm temperatures for up to one year, you gotta be a convert, right?!?!?!

Wouldn’t have been the most appealing package of “food” to be presented with, but now that you know it was approved to sit in lukewarm temperatures for up to one year, you gotta be a convert, right?!?!?!

There was nothing fishy about the smell or any unpleasant odors at all.  It really just looked like an odd-looking bag of noodles.  Regardless, I threw the jellyfish pieces into a colander for a good rinsing in cold water.

I had a love/hate relationship with the darker spotted pieces of jellyfish.  The love was that they made it clear it wasn't just a pile of cellophane or rubber bands, the hate was that they looked a little nasty

I had a love/hate relationship with the darker spotted pieces of jellyfish.  The love was that they made it clear it wasn’t just a pile of cellophane or rubber bands, the hate was that they looked a little nasty

After shaking and draining off all excess water, it looked slightly nicer.

Like noodles, right?!?!?  I wish I could make this see normal and not like the thing that stung me on Long Island when I was 8 and made me scared of the beach for a couple years

Like noodles kinda.  I wish I could make this seem normal and not like the thing that stung me on a Long Island beach when I was 8 and made me terrified of jellyfish as a kid.  Vengeance is mine, jellyfish

I seasoned the jellyfish with pretty much the same seasonings that I had just thrown away.  These ones tasted better and were less sketchy though.  Crushed red pepper, rice wine vinegar, tamari, toasted sesame oil, a pinch of grated ginger, and a little brown sugar were all tossed with the jellyfish in a glass bowl.  Then into the fridge for about an hour to let the flavors come together.  Which left me with this.

Pretty humble little pile, but I can't complain since I think the package cost $1.50.  I have no idea what anything costs at Super 88 but my first guess would be $1.50

Pretty humble little pile, but I can’t complain since I think the package cost $1.50. I have no idea what anything costs at Super 88 but my first guess for anything would be $1.50

I’d already eaten dinner at this point, but I wasn’t too concerned about the small portion of jellyfish salad overly filling me up.  I was just excited to have it again since I may have last consumed jellyfish salad two years ago in Philly.

Will someone show Janet this picture?  That kid needs to figure her sh*t out and stop embarrassing me with her lack of dexterity.  It's kind of BS

Will someone show Janet this picture so she understand how chopsticks work?  That kid needs to stop embarrassing me with her lack of dexterity.  It’s kind of BS

Not sure that I even need to write this part, but I finished the whole bowl and it was delicious.  Jellyfish salad is most similar to seaweed salad; it’s not gelatinous, slimy or mushy, it’s actually crunchy and most similar in texture to grilled octopus or calamari.  Your teeth go through easily, but there is still some crunch despite it being so soft.  There isn’t much flavor to the actual jellyfish, it’s mostly just a texture pairing with the seasonings you add. Combined with the sesame/soy/pepper/vinegar combo, it is always going to be a winner for me.

Off to Naples for the weekend which is always good for a post.

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Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Pastrami

Aside from my Best of Philly post, I generally avoid giving any kind of restaurant reviews on this blog.  There are 200,000 active restaurant blogs with over 95% of them located in the 25 biggest cities in the U.S.  Pretty crazy right?  Well, I made most of that up but I’m guessing it’s relatively accurate, and what I am trying to say is that area of blogging is pretty well covered.  Who needs another blog that tries to sound like Bourdain while they give the millionth opinion posted online of a Best of Boston restaurant’s seared scallops.  I’ll save you some time: they tasted good and were cooked well.

Anyhoo, instead of giving you a thousand words on Coppa Enoteca in Boston (hint: stuff tasted good and was cooked well), I decided to attempt making one of their salumi offerings at home.  For those outside Boston, Coppa does Italian dishes using all parts of animals from land and sea, particularly some of the more interesting and challenging cuts. Awful one sentence encapsulation, but I think it gives you the general idea.  Check out the menu at the link above if you want more details.

One of their salumi items is a medium rare ox heart that they slice thin and serve like prosciutto.  It was flavorful, tender, and had none of the bloody flavor I generally associate with heart.  I had to ask some nerdy questions (while Kristi tried to crawl under the bar to hide) and the manager walked me through the simple-sounding process; rub with pastrami spices, roast in a wood fired oven, chill, and slice thin.  With all the beef, lamb, and goat hearts in my freezer, I knew I would have to give this approach a shot.  Seven days, later this bad boy was sitting on my counter, courtesy of Wayfair.com.

Movies like Children of the Corn and The Wrestler give these things a bad rep.  In reality, it’s just a dangerously sharp spinning blade designed to quickly cut through meat that you hold in your hand while pressing the meat into the blade and moving your hand rapidly back and forth.  Janet will be operating it in no time!

Plan was to trim the heart, rub with pastrami spice, roast wrapped under low heat, rest, roast open under high heat, cool and slice.  The goal of the wrapped roasting was to get some additional flavor that wouldn’t be possible in a conventional oven vs. a wood fired one.

After a couple days of thawing, half of the heart from the Uncle Billy Offal Haul of 2012 was ready for prep.  Given how large the half heart was, I was pretty happy I had decided to cut it in half before freezing.

I heard they used to tape newspaper over the windows of Howard Stern’s studio to avoid upsetting other radio program hosts from what went on inside.  I am considering doing the same for one of our crisper drawers since Kristi doesn’t react well to the views of various offal thawing through the clear drawer-front

After removing from the package I gave a good rinse and patted dry before transferring to the cutting board.  Although the folks at Coppa said that they minimally trim the heart before cooking, I wanted to get rid of some of the funkier tendons and ventricles and make a few strategic cuts so it lays out flat.

Heart is one of those cuts that looks “offal” (wokka wokka) when raw, but is indistinguishable from flank steak or any other cut of beef that has minimal intramuscular fat when cooked properly.  You may not be, but I’m excited to see what I can do with the much smaller lamb and goat hearts from Snow Farm

After a few minutes of trimming out ventricles and some of the hardened pieces of exterior fat, I made two bigger cuts to allow the meat to roll out flat.

And now for the most overdone euphemism on this site that you knew was coming: looks just like regular beef, right?

For the rub, I referenced a few sites for pastrami rub recipes and the ratios of coriander to black pepper were relatively consistent so I went with the mix of other spices that sounded best.  Final combo was a couple tablespoons of both ground coriander and black pepper plus a tablespoon each of paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper.  Normally pastrami rub coats a salty brined corned beef, so for this prep I added a couple tablespoons of coarse kosher salt as well.

This was enough for two or three pieces of meat the size of the trimmed heart, so the rest is in a jar in our spice cabinet.  As an aside, I never understood why our parents had cabinets full of old glass jars from jams and sauces.  Now I’ve got a kid and find myself bringing salad dressing to work in rinsed baby food jars and putting pastrami rub in jelly jars.  Happens so quickly you don’t even notice it

The heart got a light coating of liquid smoke (not 100% on this ingredient in general yet) and then was packed completely in the rub so that no meat was exposed.  This is generally my approach when applying rub to a piece of meat, but I particularly overdid it this time since that’s what you expect with pastrami.

Whenever I attempt something new like this, there is always a point in the process when I either start getting nervous that it won’t be coming out well or know that I got something good on my hands.  This was the latter moment, mainly because of how completely innocuous it looked and also smelled decent

The heart was tightly wrapped in a few layers of aluminum foil and went into a 200F oven for an hour and a half.  The goal was to get the flavors from the rub into the meat and also set the coating in the process.  While it cooked, I accused Brother John of buying me a low quality power washer (I had it assembled wrong), did an awful job power washing my stairs, and generally ruined what would have been a beautiful day outside for my neighbors.

When the timer went off, I pulled the heart out of the oven and was amazed to see that it had shrunk by 1/4 to 1/3 during cooking.  I kept it wrapped since all of the juices were still held inside the foil and let it cool for a few hours on the counter before putting it in the fridge overnight.  The next day, I unwrapped the foil to check it out.

Smelled just like pastrami, even Kristi thought so, though she conveyed that with the immediate clarification that she wouldn’t be trying it despite the pleasant smell.  Friggin’ jerk mother of my child and patient wife, I’ll show her

The slow roasting process baked in the flavor, but the time in the fridge truly set the rub even though it was still damp.  That being said, I was nervous the meat might have cooked more than I wanted it to and wondered if I might have been better off letting it sit in the rub overnight and skipping the initial low heat cooking.  While thinking about this and staring at the meat like a zombie for 10 minutes, the oven preheated to 450F.

Once the oven was up to temperature, the heart went onto a baking sheet to cook on the top rack for 20 minutes, which left me with this:

Nothing I wanted to do more than cut into this and see if it tasted as good as it looked/smelled, but knew I needed to let it cool to fridge temp to make slicing easier

The crust had hardened all around so it wouldn’t completely fall off during slicing.  But, sigh, I once again had to play the waiting game while the heart pastrami cooled in the fridge for 5-6 hours.

With the pastrami cooled, it went onto the deli slicer, which I was excited to use after a test run a few nights earlier with a cooked chicken breast.  The meat went onto the handy sliding shelf and the blade was adjusted to about as thin as I could make the meat without cutting inconsistently.

I was twitching and pacing the kitchen nervously wanting to make sure I chose the right direction to slice properly against the grain. Still don’t know if I did it correctly

I had a few test slices right away since I had been waiting about 36 hours at that point to taste what I was making.  The flavor was like a cross between roast beef and pastrami and had a solid spicy kick from all of the pepper.  The slices were tender and relatively moist for a pretty dry cut due to how thin they were.  After slicing around a third of the pastrami I finally had the technique down and was getting some consistently good thin slices

There is a guard so you don’t have to hold the meat on the slicer but it’s a little clumsy. So, you know, it makes sense for its clumsy user to operate it barehanded

Gotta stop using the Increasingly Awful Point and Shoot camera since it’s consistently blurry when trying to capture motion, especially in low light and while the flash fixes that, it makes food look like plastic kids toys

Not sandwich sized or anything, but pretty diesel

With each pass of the slicer, I was hoping the meat would be a little pinker in color toward the center, but I never found it.  My original goal was to cook it to about medium but I missed the mark, confirming my fears about overcooking it.  However, because the initial cooking was over low heat, the juices were still locked in and the meat wasn’t too dry.  Best served with a little toast and mustard.

Not sure why I serve every headcheese and salumi I make like this, but it is generally a winning combination. It’s also what I have in the fridge

All-in-all, it came out pretty well and I have another half ox heart in the freezer to make a second attempt at some point in the near future.  Might need to get some more details on the roasting process at Coppa next time I visit, but I think a few small tweaks will improve an overall decent dish greatly.

And with that, the queue is empty, but I gots some ideas for this weekend.  Also, mildly uninneresting note, I wrote this whole thing while on a flight to Las Vegas for work.  Surprisingly efficient use of time.

Might be a rebranding of this page coming soon, getting a little sick of the DB angle.