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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Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Grilled Pizza with Crawfish and Corn

Although summer is awesome, I appreciate the climate in Fall and Spring when it’s comfortable to hang outside in a jacket and I don’t sweat profusely every time I light the grill.  Fall also marks the return of pumpkin beer and pizza making season.  Pumpkin beers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they are at their best when combined with a carefully poured Guinness for a Black’n Pump.

Five years ago when I first discovered Shipyard Pumpkinhead with Kwips, Con and Trisha I thought it was the most delicious beer I’d ever tasted.  I quickly OD’ed and can’t drink straight Pumpkinhead these days, but this combo is phenomenal

The Pumpkinhead spice and sweetness are cut by the Guinness and it generally becomes a nice, easy drinking beer for the fall, albeit ne that I will get sick of every year by November.  On the other hand, the pizza making is always a fall to spring favorite because I get to sample toppings combinations I’ve never come across in my storied pizza-eating career.  I just have to make them first.

This year, with my trusty Stealth Griller in the fold, I’ve started experimenting with grilled pizza.  The concept was first explained to me by my previous boss Anne-Marie to which I replied with a confused look and “you put the dough right on the grill?!?!” before shrugging my shoulders and chuckling like she was insane.  More recently, this has become a specialty of my friend Buschy who, despite his unrefined palate, was able to provide some great pointers for this endeavor.

I think everyone would agree that 40% of the battle for great pizza is a well thought out topping combination.  Or, whatever I have in the freezer and haven’t come up with a good way to use.  In this case, Louisiana crawfish.

I was terrified of why the crawfish was yellow despite supposedly only being cooked and cleaned, but apparently it was just an awful choice of semi-transparent packaging by Pat Huval.  Thankfully, he offers me four ways to contact him and  discuss, right on the package

Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdads or mudbugs) look like tiny fresh-water lobsters.  You pretty much only eat the tail which tastes a little more like crab than lobster but with the texture of shrimp.  Great stuff when done right.

The crawfish came courtesy of Dupee who has been Geologying (I believe that’s what his line of work is called) in Louisiana and flew back with 6 frozen one pound packages.  Looked like it was caught and packaged in a real backwoods operation, which made me more excited than scared for some reason.

With an idea of the types of ingredients that always compliment shellfish, I started out by sauteeing 6 cloves of chopped garlic in butter.  After a few minutes, and with the garlic starting to brown slightly around the edges, I added the thawed pound of crawfish.

The return of the action shot!  Kristi had no issues documenting this one, though it wasn’t the most exciting project for her.  Ghost hands because I move so fast!

After the crawfish and garlic cooked together for a bit I added crushed red pepper, a half cup of white wine, and a little salt.  Let that simmer for 10ish minutes to cook off most of the excess liquid before adding a handful of chopped parsley.

While the crawfish mixture simmered, I boiled three ears of corn for 5 minutes before rinsing them in cold water to stop the cook and cutting the kernels off the cobs. 

I slowly added the corn wanting to make sure I didn’t add too much before mumbling “eff it” and dumping the whole pile in.  ‘Course.

This combination works with pretty much every shellfish and always comes out delicious.  With a little cream and sherry instead of white wine this would make and excellent pasta sauce.  There’s no way I lose weight as long as I am writing this blog

WIth the topping complete, it was time to move on to the pizza.

I fired up the grill, brushed it as clean as I could get it, and preheated it on high.  While that came up to temperature, I cut a pizza dough in half, stretched it into shape and coated one side with salt, pepper and a generous amount of olive oil.

Great Scott!  Little time travel action going on here since I took pictures on two different nights. I could have probably gotten away with it but I am too honest to deceive you people.  Aside from the whole “I know what I am doing in the kitchen” deception

Before placing on the grill I rubbed the grate with a rag soaked in olive oil to reduce the chance of the sticking.  The dough went onto the grill oil side down before closing the lid and turning off the center burner.

After a few short minutes, I had this:

Loved seeing how bubbly the dough got.  Could also see I was letting it get a little overdone around the edges, but it was my first time through and always love a well charred pizza.  I only think about myself when I am cooking

The doughs came off the grill without sticking at all and were crusted enough that they stayed flat on the spatula despite minimal support.  Once inside, I coated the uncooked side of the dough with a little more olive oil then flipped it on the cookie sheet.

Pulled the time shifting switcheroo here.  This post is like Memento or something.  The first round was pretty dark when they came off and would make for a bummer of a picture (despite coming out great in the end), so I’ll use the picture from a few nights later when I got the technique down

The grilled side got a light covering of shredded mozzarella, then a good layer of the crawfish and corn mixture topped with a sprinkling of romano cheese.  Then back onto the grill that I left on high while I topped the pizza so it would stay hot.

Had to throw some burgers on too.  Need to establish a few years of fault free odd meals before my friends and family will trust me enough to not have some backup normal food.  I don’t blame them, I once fed them goat head and brains without telling them what it was!  Awful picture by the way

After 4-5 more minutes with the lid down and the heat lowered slightly to allow the cheese to melt, the pizzas came off and hit the cutting board.

Forgot to take a picture while they were both intact. I’m happy to say that this happened quickly, another few minutes and there would have only been a slice left

The most important part, the crust, was excellent.  Crispy but soft and bubbly inside with the flavors of the salt, pepper, and olive oil coating adding great seasoning.  The crawfish was much milder in flavor than the smell when I first opened the package and not fishy at all.  Because the corn and crawfish cooked together, the topping had a deliciously consistent shellfish/garlicky/winey/buttery flavor, but with the contrasting textures of the corn and crawfish in every bite.  The sprinkling of cheese on top added a lot of sharpness which I thought was excellent though Kristi found the cheese overwhelming until the slices cooled down a bit.

You will likely see a lot more grilled pizzas on here, the dough just comes out far better than a standard 500F oven.  Let’s see what I got next week.

Weird Crap I Cook: Lobster Marinara

A few weeks ago we were having dinner with our friends, Buschy, Annie, and Chrissy, at an Italian restaurant in the North End of Boston.  Chrissy is both an Ital and a Mainer, which meant she had some awesome food knowledge to share at dinner.  When she mentioned that her mom makes a lobster marinara sauce by cooking the whole lobsters in the sauce, I knew I would have to give it a try at some point.

This past weekend we visited the extended Ryan family in Little Compton, Rhode Island and stayed in a house across the street from the Sakonnet Lobster company.  I woke up on Sunday morning already planning on attempting the lobster marinara, but once I saw it was raining, I decided to turn it into an all-day event.  Here’s how it all went.

I knew I had the following ingredients in the house:

  • Tomatoes and basil from Tim Ryan’s garden
  • Corn, red pepper, red onion, garlic and more tomatoes from Wilburs farmstand
  • Potato rolls leftover from Leonard’s 30th birthday party (only two weeks old)

So I headed out at 9AM to make the following stops:

  • Fresh spinach fettuccine, yellow onion, and olive oil from Wilburs
  • Two pounds of sea scallops from The Last Stand (another little stand that I got littlenecks from the day before)
  • Seven lobsters from Sakonnet lobster company

I came home excited and ready to fill the house with cooking stink.

 

This place has great lobsters but walking in through the area where they store the traps smelled like those ingenious trashcans in Philadelphia that are solar powered and emptied once a month.  So they are essentially just solar trash ovens

My plan was homemade lobster rolls for lunch, use the shells for lobster stock, then make the lobster marinara for dinner using the stock (with some scallops on the side).  One important note: the only items in the house that could be considered spices were salt and pepper grinders.  And some sugar, which is kind of a spice.  First order of business was steaming five of the lobsters and shelling them.

I hate those first 10 seconds when you hear them trying to get out

At this point in the process Tim and my mother both decided to stop by the kitchen to offer supportive words like, “smells like sh*t in here” and, “whoa those smell strong”.  That can be expected when you start cooking shellfish in a poorly ventilated kitchen while people are still waking up.  Once the lobsters were ready, I threw them into an ice bath.

You learn things by watching Iron Chef.  Like you don’t need to burn your fingers shelling lobster if you have a bowl of ice

While I shelled and cleaned the lobster meat I boiled two ears of corn to mix in with the lobster salad.

The shelling wasn’t too annoying, just wish I hadn’t been so stubborn about pulling the meat out of each of the little legs

While the corn was cooking, the shells and basically anything that wasn’t meat went into a stock pot.  I crushed them down to make room, covered with water, threw in some quartered red onion and celery and brought it to a boil for the lobster stock.

This pot was too small, I recognized my error long after the boiling over caused a near electrical fire. It eventually went back into the clean steaming pot

Back to the lobster rolls.  The corn was cut off the cob.

You really can’t go wrong combining corn and lobster. And SpongeBob, gotta have him too

It went into a bowl with the lobster, minced red onion, salt, pepper, a tablespoon+ of mayo, olive oil and a teaspoon of bacon grease from Tim’s breakfast.

 

I added a little more mayo later, but you didn’t need to see that

Stirred this all together and let it rest for about an hour in the fridge to let the flavors come together.  Finished product looked like this:

This was enough to fill about 10 hot dog bun-size lobster rolls

The lettuce didn’t add much but seemed like the right thing to do. For health and stuff

Super zoom makes me hungry

After lunch, a long nap, and 4 total hours of the lobster stock boiling down and stinking up our rental house, I got back to working on the lobster marinara.

The stock boiled down to this. A quick (and painful) dip of a finger into the pot confirmed that the liquid did indeed taste strongly of lobster

The stock took a couple trips through the strainer and was reserved for later use.  It had a greenish-brown tint and I was surprised by how unpleasant looking it was despite having a nice seafood flavor.  Just meant I had to keep it covered and not show it to anyone before I added it to the food.  With that done, it was time to start the tomato sauce.

Can’t remember which were from Tim’s and which were from the market, but all were good

The tomatoes took turns going through boiling water for a minute and then into an ice bath.

My first time doing this, I had previously only used canned tomatoes for sauce and chili

Lotsa stuff going into ice baths on Sunday

I was amazed that the peeling was as easy as everyone said it would be.  I was nervous it would be similar to the time I tried making roasted red peppers and was successful in only burning my fingers and pissing myself off.

I will remember the texture and feel of these for some sort of gross prank on my kids in 5-10 years

Midway through the cutting and scooping of each tomato I started to understand why using canned tomatoes is the preferred method for making your own tomato sauce.

Tasting them as I went, I noticed that these were a bit more tart than sweet

Before crushing the tomatoes I chopped an onion, a red pepper, and six garlic cloves and threw them into the bottom of a sauce pot with the olive oil.  The tomatoes were then crushed using hands and a potato masher which generally made a mess of my clothes and the kitchen.  To the crushed tomatoes I added a good amount of fresh basil, salt, pepper, and sugar.

I was really trying to be like Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco adding a punch of this and a punch of that

The contents of the bowl went into the pot with the onions/garlic/peppers and a few ladels of the lobster stock.  After simmering for 20-30 minutes, I added a big splash of white wine at the urging of Chrissy (via email).

It didn’t look promising at this point, a little too thin

As mentioned above, I was pretending to be Italian.  I know, at first, it appeared I overdid it with the sugar.  However, as I tasted the sauce, it turned out to be a good amount; the tomatoes were fresh and none of the stuff that gets added to a can of tomatoes was in there. So, I added the lobsters.

None of those awful ten seconds of movement with this method, it was over once they were submerged

After cooking for 10-12 minutes I pulled the lobsters out and let them cool briefly before cracking them over the pot to make sure all the liquid and “gross” stuff went back into the simmering sauce.  I burned my hands, proving I am still one of the stupider people you have ever met.

I separated all the meaty parts right away over the pot then cracked the rest over the bowl. Both those beers are mine too, Guinness for the deliciousness and a cold Bud bottle for cooling the hand

The remainder of the lobster stock was used to boil the spinach fettuccine and give it some lobster flavor in the process.

I know, it looks gross, but if you closed your eyes it would taste like a cream-free version of lobster bisque

While all of this was going on, Tim Ryan was tasting everything and was also in charge of cooking the scallops and garlic bread.

This picture was taken in between raining blows on each other over various food preparation and flavor decisions. That freaking jerk, I’ll show him what too much butter is. Jerk.

A minute before the spinach pasta was dumped into the pot of sauce the lobster meat went back in.

I waited until the last second before putting the meat back in to avoid it getting rubbery

Pasta went in, was tossed around, and dumped into a bowl for serving.

Mangia! Or something. I was really happy with how it looked

Served with garlic bread and the seared scallops.

John’s sweater makes an appearance at the head of the table. Its made by Brooks Brothers, ever heard of it? It was also purchased at a thrift store for $6 a few hours earlier

The pasta had a strong lobster flavor but not quite enough lobster meat.  Also, the sauce was very acidic when hot.  Not sure what I would change, in hindsight, aside from adding more lobster meat to the sauce or using less pasta.  It was far better as leftovers in the days that followed when the acidity of the tomatoes was less prominent and the lobster and pepper flavor was stronger.

The scallops were perfectly cooked and very sweet but Tim burned the garlic bread.  He tried to blame me but he did it.  Oh well, he’s dropped enough food knowledge on me over the years to allow me to forgive him.  Mostly.

And that was it.  No great epilogue, but really looking forward to heading back to Little Compton today for a long weekend of fishing and our newly made cornhole setup.