Weird Crap I Cook: Whelk Chowder

Seems like the end of summer break from posting is unavoidable.  Over the past couple weeks I’ve been in Little Compton with my family and attended an awesome wedding in the Poconos.  While I have been cooking a lot there haven’t been too many interesting meals.

That all changed when we hit the fish market in Tiverton, RI on our way back from visiting my aunts in Jamestown last week.  I immediately noticed something I’d never cooked or eaten before sitting in a container next to the clams and mussels.  The guy behind the counter called them conch, but they were smaller and seemingly had a much thinner shell than what I would traditionally call conch.  They looked a lot more like large sea snails (or whelks).

Pretty average statement from me: "I've never cooked those before, I'll take 6 pounds"

The seafood purveyor wasn’t too helpful on cooking instructions either, instructing me to “cook them” when I asked the best way to prepare them.  So, as usual, I would be on my own and looking to the internet for these.

The general instructions broke down to boiling or steaming the whelks for a few minutes then removing them from their shell and discarding the inedible parts.  Other than that, you just slice and use them like any other shellfish.  With that in mind, I decided to make whelk & shrimp fritters and a whelk chowder, but since I’ve covered the fritter angle pretty well previously, I will focus on the chowder in this entry.

Seemed like pretty straightforward shellfish aside from the hard foot that looked like a flat mussel shell. That thing kinda scared me

The next morning (I was told they keep well overnight in the fridge) I got started by cleaning the whelks and placing them in a steamer pot.

I was careful to arrange open-end up so that they would basically boil in their own liquid. Rereading that statement, I feel kind of like a sadistic jerk

I let these steam for about 8 minutes then took them off the heat and removed the cover to let them cool for 20 minutes to make them easier to handle.

The lighting in the LC kitchen was a little tough to deal with around the time the whelks finished cooking, so it was good to take a break to let things cool down

When it came time to shell the whelks it became clear that the hard foot wasn’t an issue and peeled right off.

It really did look like a combination of cooked conch and snails at this point

Once the foot was gone the meat was easily removed by sticking a fork in the dense meat near the opening and pulling out slowly.

Big thanks to Kristi who spent the afternoon responding to constant calls for "action shots"

This was about when Kristi's reactions officially shifted from "COOL!" (when she first saw the shells) to "gross" (when the meat came out)

The contents of the shells quickly piled up on the plates, and the meat was a bizarre mix of photogenic and unappetizing.

Kristi is an incredibly good amateur shellfish photographer. This one and the wild mussels shot on the header of this blog are her best work

I rinsed any sediment off of each piece and then started separating the edible parts from the inedible parts of each whelk.  Thank god for the internet or else I likely would have eaten the whole thing and gotten sick.

Grabbed the soft tail end (I think it was the intestines)...

...and pulled, cleanly separating the guts (right hand) from the meat (left hand)

Final step in preparing the whelks was also well documented by Kristi.

All the different colored areas are edible and have different textures. I think this is the mouth of the whelk

As instructed by a ruddy Brittish lady in a you tube video about whelks, I cut straight into the whelk along the mouth line...

...and removed the softer off-colored areas inside

After repeating this process with each whelk, I finally decided to cut a sliver off and taste.  The flavor was strong, in a good way, like a combination of a fully cooked bay scallop and a clam belly but the meat was also extremely rubbery and chewy.

From there, all of the meat went into a sandwich bag for storage until it was time to cook the chowder later in the day.

It was a pretty stuffed sandwich bag, probably between 1 and 2 pounds of meat

The chowder is a variation of the clam chowder I have been making with Tim the past couple years (read: I chopped the clams and he followed a recipe).  Since he was refusing to help, I had some freedom to stray from the recipe.  Instead of starting with the usual bacon, I browned a cubed link of chorizo and added chopped onion, carrot, and celery along with salt and pepper.

A good start for pretty much anything

After a few minutes cooking together, I whisked in flour, a quart of seafood stock, sherry, fresh thyme, and a couple bay leaves.  After that simmered for 10 minutes or so, I added cubed red potatoes.

I love the kitchen sink aspect of making chowders, soups, and chili. Its tough to add too much stuff, and the addition of corn is almost always welcome

While the potatoes cooked for about 10 minutes, I cut the whelk meat down to bite-sized pieces.  Due to the chewiness of the whelk, I wanted to keep them small and thin.

Pretty interesting looking stuff

I ended up adding about half of the chopped whelk meat for the chowder and using the other half in the whelk and shrimp fritters.

I think the keys to good chowder are lots of thyme, lots of sherry, and what meat you use to compliment the shellfish (bacon, chorizo, etc.)

Along with the whelk I stirred in some heavy cream and about a cup and a half of 1% milk to get the chowder to the color and consistency I was looking for.  That simmered for a few minutes and then I removed it from the heat to be reheated a few hours later with dinner.

Or at least that was the plan.  Tim threw a tantrum because he was making ribs for dinner and thought that the chowder wouldn’t go well with the pork.  So he demanded I make fritters instead.  Freakin’ jerk.

The chowder went into the fridge and waited to be reheated the following day for lunch.  It ended up working out pretty well, and gave me the opportunity to add the kernels from an ear of corn and some more sherry as well.

My chowders always have a little spice to them due to lots of black pepper, but I a like to add a little hot sauce and oyster crackers to my bowls. Also, Little Compton is beautiful and everything in the background of this foto is awesome

The chowder likely benefited from a night in the fridge since the flavors had more time to come together, but it didn’t change the fact that there were a lot of textures in each bowl.  The veggies, chorizo, and whelk all were very different and each bite had a little of each. The whelk was almost the texture of a sliced bouncy ball, but the pieces were small enough that a couple chews and they were gone.

Overall, the flavor of the whelk was hidden a bit in the chowder, so it mostly just tasted like a clam chowder.  The fritters had a lot more of the clam belly/cooked scallop flavor I mentioned earlier.  Despite the lack of whelk-y, the chowder was pretty delicious and all 12 bowls of it went quickly.

Not sure what will be next, but I hope to be cooking more with summer travel done.

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Iron Chef: Sausage (feat. Scotch Eggs)

This past Friday, my friends Marshall, Buschy, and Leonard made the trip to Philly so that we could attend game 5 of the Flyers vs. Sabres.  Buschy grew up in Buffalo and we have made multiple pilgrimages to the birthplace of the buffalo wing over the past few years.  I was excited to have them all in town to visit some of my favorite bars and food spots.

Between their arrival at 5PM on Friday and going to sleep way past my bedtime, we consumed wings from Tangier, miscellaneous hot dogs and pretzels at the game, an assortment of bar snacks at Bob and Barbaras, cheesesteaks from Pats and Genos, and far too many domestic beers.  Made for a pleasant morning.

This was some hostile territory. We kept our jackets on over our Sabres shirts every time we left the seats and only celebrated audibly for the Sabres' overtime goal that ended it. Calling Philly fans intimidating is the nicest thing ever said about them

In the AM while everyone was preparing to head back to their respective cities and families, Marshall and I made plans to cook food together at his house in New Jersey.  We settled on an Iron Chef format and, despite the bloated stomachs and intestinal distress from the previous 16 hours, Marshall chose sausage as the secret ingredient.  Not his finest decision but it definitely had the makings of an A DB blog entry.

On the drive up I settled on making Scotch eggs, something I had never done before and only had once in a restaurant.  Will give more details on those later.  Kristi decided on serving mini bruscetta with a mixture of sausage, apple, onion, and a little crumbled cheddar.  Brother Tim’s entry was a mystery, but I knew he would be gunning to big time everyone with something elaborate.  Marshall likely chose the ingredient so he could do something with the sausages we brought him from the Italian Market a few weeks ago.

Kristi started her entry first since we arrived at around 5 PM hungry for an appetizer.  She started out by carmelizing some onions in a hot sautee pan before adding sage flavored Jimmy Dean.

Kristi used to hide from this blog, but she's started to enjoy the opportunity to be creative with these competitions. She got mad at me for stirring this when I took the picture because she wanted to do it all on her own

After the sausage browned a bit, she added a few chopped green apples, a little salt, and let the mixture cook down.

Hated the sausage and sweet combination when I was younger, but its grown on me in recent years due to Vermont maple sausage and Sue Perine's apple and sausage quiche

Once fully cooked, Kristi plated them on thin pieces of baguette with a little crumble of sharp cheddar on top of each.

Cabot, 'course. The only time Kristi has ever bought cheddar that wasn't from Vermont was the infamous "$65 block of DiBruno Bros cheese" story. Not sure she will ever buy non-Vermont cheddar again

These were good, the apple added a touch of tart sweetness that cut the richness of the sausage and made for a good opener to our night.

Shortly after we finished the majority of that platter, Tim strode confidently into the house smelling faintly of hickory smoke and carrying a tin foil covered dish containing this:

They looked disgusting and smelled delicious. I knew that the elaborateness of my scotch eggs had been one upped. Freakin' jerk

Apparently, these things are nicknamed “dragon turds” or “armadillo eggs”.  I had never heard of them, but it consists of a jalapeno, stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in spicy sausage, and cooked in a smoker.  Well then.

Tim arrived with these fully cooked but was nice enough to take a few pictures during the process.  He apparently visited a few Latin supermarkets Saturday morning and ended up with some fresh jalapenos, chorizo and Honduran sausage.  From there, he cored the jalapenos and stuffed with seasoned cream cheese.

The Honduran sausage is the lighter one. Overall this is a very appetizing picture, but for the obligatory Tim insult... sweet indoor composting bin and bamboo cutting boards you freakin' hippie!

From there, each jalapeno was wrapped completely with sausage and put into Tim’s smoker for an hour and a half over hickory and mesquite chips.

Not mixing the sausage meats was a good call since they had distinctly different flavors. Did I mention Tim is a jerk?

Back to Marshall’s house.  Tim reheated the fully cooked dragon turds in the oven and sliced them up for everyone to eat.  Really hate how unappetizing the previous sentence sounds because they were actually pretty good.

Looks like a horribly fattening sushi roll. Sounds right up my alley

Marshall called these one of the more delicious things he’d ever eaten, but like everything else served that night, we hit our limit very quickly.  After your 3rd or 4th slice, the flavors got to be almost too much, particularly for the ones wrapped in Honduran sausage.

The best ones were the chorizo since the hickory flavor didn’t make them overpoweringly smokey, the combined spice of the sausage and the peppers wasn’t too strong, and you could taste the sweetness of the pepper.  Overall, very cool food item to try for the first time.

Now, onto the Scotch eggs.  A Scotch egg is an egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried.  I had to do a little research in advance, primarily on how to hard boil the eggs to the texture I wanted.  Specifically, I wanted a hard boiled white that would stay together through peeling while keeping the yolk runny.  I ended up putting them into a pot of boiling water for exactly 8 minutes and completely cooling them in ice water before peeling.

So far, so good. The shell came off easily and you could tell by the lack of firmness that the egg hadn't cooked completely inside

I put the peeled eggs in the fridge for an hour to make sure they were completely cooled and wouldn’t cook through in the next stage.

After an hour watching the Blazers 4th quarter comeback, having some Shiner Bocks, and eating some cheese, it was time to start cooking.  I turned the heat on a pot of vegetable oil for frying and started wrapping each egg in sausage.

Went with Hatfield country sausage. My goal was to make these taste like an awesome breakfast sammich

The wrapping was easier than I thought it would be, which Tim concurred with from his dish.  I thought it would stick to my fingers more than the egg, but that wasn’t the case.

I learned a good tip online for how to test if oil is ready for frying since I never have a thermometer and always jump the gun.  If you throw a scrap of bread in and it turns brown in about a minute, its ready.  On the second test, it appeared our oil was ready so I started final prep.

I had this set up for about 20 minutes before the oil was ready

On the left is an egg beaten with some worcestershire sauce for binding and flavor; on the right is a bowl of plain breadcrumbs mixed with a good amount of salt and black pepper.  The sausage wrapped eggs were rolled in the beaten egg and covered completely in the breadcrumbs.

Kristi and I had a funny heated discussion regarding these photos on Sunday. I pointed out that they are rarely in focus and she pointed out that I move too quickly when she tries to take them. Food blog disagreements weren't covered in our Pre-Canaa class

Then into the fryer.

I always make sure I am at other people's houses when I deep fry due to the smell and disposing of the oil. It's amazing I still have friends

After five minutes of frying, I ended up with this:

These looked pretty much how I was hoping, knew a light golden brown fry wasn't going to be possible

I was extremely anxious at this point.  I had a plan in place to cut each egg in half and devil the yolks if they had cooked all the way through.  But when I cut into the eggs, it was a miracle.  A chubby person miracle.

Fully cooked sausage and egg white, slightly runny yolk

I was very, very happy with how these came out.  As Tim said, it was like a condensed version of breakfast.

Will need to make these again for a brunch sometime soon. Preferably a brunch hosted at someone else's house

The crunchiness of the sausage and breadcrumb coating was a nice texture contrast for the soft egg.  Plus, the salt and pepper from the outside was the right amount for the unseasoned egg.  Really good.

And with a few more lamb sausages that Marshall cooked, we were all sausaged out.  Luckily he paired that with salad and roasted cauliflower, two of the most welcomed dishes of the night.  After eating, we sat around stuffed watching hockey and playing with Marshall and Kim’s two week old daughter Cameron.  We also watched jealously as Marshall burped her and wished we could resolve our horrifying indigestion in the same manner.

This always looks funny to me, but you can't argue with effectiveness, and my man Mooman gets the burps OUT. Also, how cute is this kid?!?

And there you have it, very fun night and enough saturated fats to last a few lifetimes.  No idea what will be up next for this blog but will come up with something.