Foraging For Food: Blue Crabs

My first crabbing trip was with a group of friends in late July 2008, long before I became an expert clammer.   Crabbing is somewhat similar to clamming; you pack a cooler, go to Pollys, get advice from some drunks, pay $80 for your boat and then head out into the bay.

Conor looks remarkably interested in a conversation that probably amounted to, "Show you jwanna go out to dose sticks and crab cuz dats where da crabs are."

The difference is that it requires some gear (a long string with a weight and hook), and some rotten bunker fish to use as bait.  Also, instead of knee deep water, you crab in 6-8 feet of depth.

After purchasing the gear and bait, we loaded into two boats to head out to the crabbing grounds.

You know, just your normal cool dudes, drinkin some brews and hangin' out on some boats

The best place to crab near our house in Beach Haven is not far from where we go clamming.  Its a bunch of PVC pipes sticking out of the water that mark where the commercial crab traps are set.  You just go near them, drop anchor, and start cutting up the bunker fish.

Con doing the dirty work. Note the PVC pipes in the back and my voluptuous 2008 profile doing it's best "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" impression

Once the piece of bunker is on the string you lower it to the bottom of the bay, wait a little bit, then slowly pull it up and hope there is a crab on it.  But, most of the time there isn’t, and the rest of the time the crab that is on the line is too small to keep.

King Crab makes an appearance on the blog! That bucket in my hand was supposed to be filled with crab

After five hours confined to the boat we had caught zero keeper crabs.  Every crab that was big enough to keep had a giant yellow baseball growing out the back of it showing that it was pregnant.  Although a delicacy in some cultures, it’s illegal to keep pregnant crabs in NJ.  So, after some sunburned drunken grabassing with the final few crabs we caught, we called it a day.

Remember this, I believed I knew the secret to grabbing a crab without getting pinched by this point

I can’t say that my first crabbing trip was my favorite thing I had ever done; it was frustrating and I stunk like bunker fish for a couple days.  It was fun being on boats with friends, but I’d rather just drop the crabbing.  Then I discovered clamming last year and swore off of crabbing for good.  Or so I thought.

On labor day weekend, we finally bought a fishing rod for the beach house and headed down to Barnegat Light, on the opposite end of Long Beach Island, to go fluke fishing. Since brother Tim, Kristi, and I are pretty inept when it comes to saltwater fishing we were lucky to have Jason, one of the Hub Hollow gang, with us for the trip.

I like my end of the island more, but this is a nice view

Fluke fishing seems simple enough; put some squid and spearing on a fluke rig hook, drop it to the bottom on a 2 pound weight, and keep tension on the line.  Feel a bite and reel it in.  After fifteen minutes or so Jason pulled in the first catch of the day: a shark.

Not quite as terrifying as they make it look on those swordfisherman reality shows. Wussies.

It was a little over a foot long and, just because it was a shark, I got a little scared taking the hook out and Jason had to step in.  I’ve never claimed to be a real man.

The next catch happened about a half hour later. A fluke, otherwise known as a summer flounder.

The other side is all white since it lays flat on the bottom

As we pulled it up over the side, I was positive it was a keeper.  The minimum size requirement was 18″ and ours came in at… 17.  I was heartbroken but had high hopes based on our early catches.  However, in the following three hours we took an exciting tour of Barnegat Bay but didn’t catch any more fish.

What we did catch were a few crabs that were too stupid to let go of our bait before we reeled it all the way in.  When the first one came over the edge, I was surprised to find that it was keeper size and reached out to grab it in the one place I thought it couldn’t pinch me.  I was wrong.

I was supposedly screaming, "take the f*cking picture" through gritted teeth. Allegedly

The one on the nail didn’t hurt, but the one on the side hurt a lot and drew blood.  It ended up taking over a minute to pry it loose using a couple knives.  Once it was off, I dropped it in a bucket and began to taunt it verbally by telling it how much I was going to enjoy eating it.  I don’t think anyone in the boat thought I was serious at this point.  But when we pulled a second crab in, it sealed the deal and I decided we would keep and cook these little jerks.

This one was mean, it would snap at shadows cast in the bucket

The rest is pretty simple.  We drove home with me staring at the two crabs while everyone else in the car wondered if I was losing my mind.  Once we got home, they got rinsed quickly and went into a hot steamer pot that had white wine vinegar and saltwater in the base.

I recognized my lunacy at this point, but that wasn't going to stop me from cooking them

After fifteen minutes they were fully cooked and I got down to picking the meat from the claws and body and dipping it in drawn butter.  There was no time to pause for fotos in this process but here is the aftermath:

I half-heartedly invited everyone to share the crabs then angrily gave them bad parts when they took me up on it

And that was it.  I hope to get down to LBI in May next year for the start of fluke and crab fishing since I think our lack of luck had to do with being late in the season both times.

Next week might be a weak-ish post like this one, but then I got some good plans for the following few weeks.  Stick with me.

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Little Compton Hot Dogs

First, my apologies for the lack of posts.  Too much traveling and a lack of internet.  I will try to do better and I have a few recent meals that will make shorter posts.  This is one of them.

On our final Saturday night in Little Compton we had about 15 people staying in the house and we decided the best way to feed everyone would be a lobster bake.  To get people hungry we started out with a guacamole competition between me and my friend Emily.

Emyo's guac is the far one, mine is the closer one. Hers was chunky because her hand hurt too much to mash it well. Waaaahhhhh, poor baby. I am just bitter because hers tasted better

Due to the lack of quality ventilation in the house and it still recovering from my lobster marinara, we decided to do the lobster bake outside.  Enter the Tim Ryan turkey fryer.

When Tim and I first used a turkey fryer we remarked how awesome it would be to cook, like, a hundred buffalo wings in it. As we thought about that in slack-jawed amazement, I realized we would both need seatbelt extensions on airplanes at some point in our lives

Between that and the wooden cornhole game we made (Tim did the woodwork, Kristi did the bags, I criticized), we were definitely the rednecks of this quaint and quiet beach community.

Buschy and Kristi at least looked like they belonged. I was probably shirtless and drinking a budweiser while I took this picture

Back to the lobster bake, the bottom of the pot had three rocks to separate the steamer basket from the water.  Into the basket went 60 clams and 15 lobsters.

I am looking forward to a 6-7 month break from clams and lobsters...

...though I could easily be convinced to change my mind. This picture makes me hungry and it is mainly of decking and shingles

Now for why the post is named “Little Compton Hot Dogs”, once the water was boiling and we were about to put the clam/lobster basket in, I threw 10 hotdogs into the bottom of the pot.  My thought was that they would cook in the liquid that came out of the clams and lobsters and take on some of the flavor.

There was a lot of head shaking off camera. Either no one liked the sound of this idea or no one liked the sound of my voice talking about it nonstop. I blame the idea.

Then the clams and lobsters went in on top.

I made eye contact with a few too many of them during this process.

Some people were distracted by the sunset.

Pretty great spot. Well chosen rental, Mommy Ryan

But I just stared at the pot until it was time to turn off the propane burner and pull the basket.  Which gave us our first look at the cooked hot dogs.

Can't say that people were looking into the pot, slapping me on the back, and congratulating me on a great idea. Most said that it looked like a revolting joke

Hot dogs came out and were put on a plate where they were aptly descibed as looking like, “cafeteria hot dogs”. But I still had hope. We then put the lobsters back in the pot to separate them from the clams.

I was whining about how my hands were still burning through the mitt so Tim came in and barehanded them to show me up. Stupid brother with his stupid calloused hands from doing stupid real man work

Along with 5 pounds of red potatoes and corn it made for an excellent meal.  The hot dogs ended up looking appetizing once they were out of the water for a few minutes and got their color back.

All but one of the dogs ended up being eaten, and I ate that one the next day for lunch

I’d love to say that you could taste the shellfish juice in the hot dogs but you really couldn’t aside from them being a little saltier.  Oh well, I would still do it again.

The whole meal ended up excellent and included Emily getting completely covered with lobster fat while cracking a claw for her fiance Nate.  That upstaged the meal as the highlight of the evening for everyone but Emyo.

Next post will be about an oxtail stew that I made for our fantasy football draft.

Iron Chef: Clams

Every once in a while instead of a traditional potluck, we like to gather a group of friends and have a potluck dinner that highlights a particular ingredient.  We always plan on judging but are usually too polite to actually crown a winner (doesn’t matter, I always believe my dish is the winner).  Despite that fact, we refer to these parties as “Iron Chef” nights.

Past Iron Chef nights have included Iron Chef Corn (my shrimp, avocado and corn salad was dominant) and Iron Chef Mushrooms (my warm mixed mushroom bruschetta made everyone feel worse about themselves).  With over 100 clams traveling back to Boston with us from the Jersey Shore, last Monday night was perfectly primed for Iron Chef Clams.

(quick disclaimer: this didn’t work the same as a normal Iron Chef because Kristi and I had time to make three dishes and other couples only had time to make one or no time to make any.  So its an Iron Chef in title/categorization only)

Most of the clams gathered were medium or large which made them much chewier when cooked.  Due to the size, and that they were a couple days old, the best way to use them was to steam first then chop for use in multiple dishes.  The full batch of clams was rinsed, scrubbed, and steamed in three separate waves due to how many we had.  Two dozen of the smallest and best clams were reserved for Buschy’s grilled clams.

This pot was the best $20 that I have spent in the last two years. It's survived three camping trips and hundreds of mixed crustaceans

We steamed the full pot of clams for about 15 minutes in lightly salted water until all of the clams on top were fully opened.

Such a pretty sight; clams are my favorite shellfish behind lobster and I would guess I ingested 150 of them in the past week

The clams that don’t appear to be open are just being held closed by the number of clams in the pot.  Once they are moved, they spring open.

Kristi introduced me to the super-zoom on our camera recently and I am getting pretty into it

From there we took each pot of clams and harvested the meat.  We threw away all of the shells but over the previous weekend we reserved the largest ones for use in stuffed clams.  That dish evolved into a dish we made for Iron Chef night (more on that later).

Kristi got me a culinary school class to work on my knife skills last year. Hasn't stopped me from always being an eighth of an inch away from losing a finger tip

We filled up 4 of these 3-cup tupperware containers with clams

When the clams open they release a very salty and clammy liquid which filled the bottom of the steaming pot and was reserved for use in various dishes. Also pictured, the pitcher that was used to make an extremely dangerous white sangria that made Buschy act like Bubs from The Wire

For our first dish, we made clam cakes which evolved from the stuffed clams we had made over the previous weekend.  The cakes were one part chopped clams, one part mixture of minced garlic and parsley, diced yellow onion, red and green pepper, breadcrumbs, corn, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  We added two eggs to bind the mixture, formed them into miniature patties and put them in a hot pan with olive oil.

I don't make pretty food, but you definitely knew these would be delicious even before they were cooked

These didn't brown and hold together as cleanly as the test batch we made over the previous weekend, likely due to using a teflon coated pan this time around, but they tasted just as good. The best parts were the crispy bits of chewy sweet clam

The second dish for Iron Chef Clam was made by our friends Conor and Trisha.  It was a traditional Lithuanian clam dip as seen in various cooking magazines that immediately went out of business and an obscure episode of Sanford and Son. You know, clam dip?  Its served with Fritos and made with cream cheese? Nothing?

This best-selling New England Patriots Chips and Salsa dish was initially marketed as a Frito and Clam Dip dish before the marketing manager was fired

Con and Trish have been making this dip for years and that’s pretty much how the conversation goes every time they introduce someone new to it.  It’s not exactly sitting atop the food pyramid, but it also happens to be completely delicious.  They mix in hot sauce, black pepper, and the clam liquid to thin it out then let it set before serving.  The fresh clams made it even better than usual with the dip tasting almost sweet.

Best served with a delicious glass of Rippo or slathered on a fat free hot dog using a finger due to a lack of utensils

The next dish was equally unusual sounding.  For years I made fun of a friend of mine at my old job who used to bring in homemade clam pizza to work.  Now, she deserved it since the whole thing appeared undercooked, was heated in the microwave on a paper towel, and generally looked like partially cooked dough with paper stuck to it.  However, I thought the idea was promising.

With clam pizza in mind, we purchased dough from a local pizza parlor.  I know, its a cop-out.  I used to make my own pizza dough often but what I learned was that I never thought far enough in advance to let the dough fully mature.  This was best captured by the time I returned home from a midday corporate booze cruise and wanted pizza so I decided to wait 3+ hours for a homemade pesto pizza dough to rise, be punched down, and rise again.  So now I buy it for a couple of dollars from the people who do have the proper amount of forethought.

This large pizza dough costs $1.50. It represents years of pizza making by Rizzos in Jamaica Plain and a continuously refined dough supply from the same starter. Why would I make my own?

I cut the dough in half and stretched it into two pizzetta sized pieces by hand.  I brushed each with a little olive oil, a little clam liquid, crushed red pepper, fresh minced garlic and parsley.  I then sprinkled a little shredded parmesan and layered a healthy handful of the chopped clams on top before covering the entire area with mozzarella.  After brushing the outer crust with olive oil, salt and pepper it headed into a 450 degree oven on the back of a baking sheet.  I prefer that method over a pizza stone.

After 12 minutes we pulled the pizzetta, let it rest for a few and sliced it up.

The first batch went quick but I pressed my luck and put out the second batch during dessert. Didn't sell as well

Once again, the fresh clams made it work.

Four bites of deliciousness

After the pizza came out, Buschy dropped his two dozen grilled clams and drawn butter on the table.  Once again Buschy proved that simplicity is the best approach when cooking fresh ingredients.  The clams were gone in under a minute and I considered drinking the butter they had been dipped in to savor any final bits of deliciousness.  I wish I had a picture, but it all happened so fast that I completely blew it.

The final dish was a pretty traditional linguine with white clam sauce.  I sauteed garlic for a bit in a couple tablespoons of butter, then added the chopped clams and a lot of white wine, lemon juice and clam liquid.  After reducing for 10-15 minutes I tossed in the mostly-cooked linguine and a handful of fresh parsley.

The sauce to linguine ratio was a little lower than I usually like because I was getting cheered on as I added massive handfuls of linguine to the pan and got carried away

All in all, a really delicious assortment of food and a very enjoyable dinner.

Tragically, nothing on the table survived. Conor even ate that spoon

Not sure what my next post will be, but I am guessing it involves a trip to the meat section at my local Latin/Caribbean grocer and winging it from there.  I will try to start posting a couple times a week.

Foraging for Food: Clams

As mentioned in the mussels post, I love the rewarding experience of finding your own food, and shellfish are an easy target.  Last September I went clamming for the first time in Little Egg Harbor on the bayside of Long Beach Island, NJ.  I was immediately hooked.

I was so desperate to go clamming again that I tried again in late April of this year during a “heat wave” that brought temperatures all the way up to 68 degrees.

The wind was absurd and I couldn't feel my legs but I still got 80 clams in about an hour (not shown: two freezing MBA students and a sig other wrapped in blankets and begging me to leave)

The water was freezing and my companions refused to exit the boat, but the expedition was fruitful and I couldn’t wait to go again once it was warmer.  This post is about that eventual trip.

We spent the Fourth of July with friends from college in the Harvey Cedars area of Long Beach Island.  I spent the weeks leading up to the trip babbling incessantly about clamming and generally making everyone look into other options for how to spend their fourth.  Despite my annoying aggressiveness, everyone agreed to join the clamming trip and planned for Saturday morning.

Normally the best time time to head out for clamming is one or two hours before low tide.  This allows you to have a few hours of clamming at the shallowest tide-level possible.  Low tide was unfortunately at 8:45 AM, and even though we are eight years out of college, that just wasn’t going to happen.  We decided to shoot to leave the house at 8:30 for the half hour ride to the dock.

At around 7:30 I started anxiously pacing around the house. 7:45 I started passive aggressively asking people when they would be ready to leave. By 8:15 I started to throw a tantrum.  I was put into time out in the passenger seat of the car at 8:30 when the first group headed out.

After meeting up with my brother and a bunch of our mutual friends in Beach Haven we all walked over to Pollys boat dock at around 9:30.

The laundry basket is an essential part of clamming

We ended up piling the 16 of us into three boats for the ten minute ride out to the clamming grounds.

You know you are way too excited for a 30 year old when you break out the old double thumbs up.

And we're off!

The type of clamming we were doing, mucking (more on that later), is easiest when done in very shallow water.  Because of that, eventually the props start hitting bottom and the boats need to be pulled in for the final stretch.

I, inexplicably, really enjoy this part. It takes ten minutes or so and it's tiring but it was a beautiful day and the water was warm

The toughest part of the walk in is that you are stepping on tons of clams but every time I bent over to grab one, the momentum of the extremely heavy boat would slam it into me. Most intelligent adults would have learned their lesson after the first time but I tried at least ten times.

I was pretending I wasn't really winded at this point, but at least we were at the grounds

Once we got there and got settled (i.e. opened our first beers) I started to explain how clam mucking works.  It’s pretty simple; you walk around barefoot and when you step on something hard its a clam, so you dig it up with your hand and put it in the basket.

Given how much I like to talk, I probably took 5 minutes to explain what came after the semicolon in the sentence above. Hence people starting to walk away out of boredom

We started out a little slow but the clams pile up quick.

The laundry basket is perfect for clamming because the clams can be contained while staying in the water

One of the best parts of clamming, for those adventurous enough to try it, is opening up a few clams along the way and eating them raw.  I made a cocktail sauce the night before from ketchup, spicy horseradish and lots of lemon juice to compliment the clams.

Showing how to open a clam, note the cocktail sauce in the ketchup bottle under my arm

Dupee, Jason, and John particularly enjoyed the raw clams and spent a lot of the day in this huddled formation opening and eating them. Tim and Eliza used the Master Blaster (little Mad Max reference) method for finding clams.

In about an hour the basket was about halfway full.

This photo could be from any clamming trip; I will always have that look on my face that says I want to get more

You are probably thinking that this narcissistic photo is completely irrelevant and unnecessary, but it's my blog and it makes me feel better about my doughy self.

Not much effort is required for clamming, mostly it’s just enjoying a nice day with friends and hanging out on the water.

Nice pic of Master Blaster and Jill

Macey was a trooper, and even provided a perfect soundtrack for the Jersey Shore with her rendition of Bad Romance

We ended up with around 400 clams after a few hours.  A great haul of fresh shellfish.

The almost full basket was a great way to get a fresh hernia, we got some more after this but had to empty half of it into a cooler before loading the basket in the boat

Special thanks to Erin for all of the great fotos (and Liz for her shot as well).  I would have ruined my camera if I attempted to document this myself

Next post will have some close-ups of the scrubbed clams and some of the many dishes we turned them into.  Can’t wait to go again in August.