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: Miso Pulled Pork & The Perfect Reuben

During these past few odd weeks in Boston I have passed the time making some very salty taste treats while experimenting with the miso paste from Super 88.  I’ve also been casting lots of nervous glances at the corned beef brisket in my fridge that was rapidly approaching its expiration date.  Figured I would cover two of the most notable salty meals from these ingredients in one post, kind of like my love letter to salt.  It wouldn’t be the first one I’ve written to that foul temptress.

First up is a miso glazed pulled pork.  I got the idea from a food truck that regularly parks near my office and the rave reviews from coworkers of their miso pork.  That and I was addicted to the miso+meat combo after a couple successful rounds of chicken salad with homemade miso mayo.  Mmmmmmmm, salt.

The ingredients for the glaze:

Miso is an extremely dangerous thing to add to my repetoire.  It's vegetable anchovies, or basically fancy flavored salt.  I have put this stuff on pretty much everything and it always makes it better

Miso is an extremely dangerous thing to add to my repetoire.  It’s basically vegetable anchovies.  I have put this stuff on pretty much everything and it consistently makes whatever it is better

A spoonful of miso, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, a little soy sauce, and some maple syrup to caramelize the outside and give some contrasting sweetness.  With a little whisking this ended up about the thickness of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce.  The goal was to lacquer it on early and often to get that borderline spoofy Marge Simpson’s ham-like glaze.

I preheated the oven to 250F and prepped the 5 lb Boston butt for cooking by applying a thick layer of glaze.

The now common window-side natural light shot has been a wonderful addition to this blog in my opinion.  And my opinion is really the key one when it comes to opinions on my posts

The now common window-side natural light shot has been a wonderful addition to this blog in my opinion.  And my opinion is really the key one when it comes to opinions on my blog

The pork went into the oven on a roasting rack with the plan to cook it for 6 hours or so, glazing every hour.  I also flipped it a couple times during cooking to make sure that no sides were deprived of a thick coating of glaze.

The only problem was that I was feeling a little impatient and the pork got stuck at around 170F for what felt like an eternity, while the glaze was making the transitioned from caramelized to burnt.  While pork is fully cooked at that temperature, the most tender and easiest to pull pork is usually in the range of 200F.  So, I basically had a panic attack trying to figure out how to get the temperature up without the whole thing becoming burned to a crisp, leading me to pulling this out at 180F and giving up.

I think it was actually about thirty minutes after this because it was definitely more burned than this.  You are completely out of touch with this blog if you don't think the brunt to a crisp pieces were my favorite part

I think it was actually about thirty minutes after this shot because the crust was definitely more burned than this.  You are completely out of touch with this blog if you don’t think the burnt to a crisp pieces were my favorite part

After letting the pork rest for a half hour, the temperature had climbed to 185F.  I had quietly hoped it would magically climb 20 degrees while resting but it fell a little short.  The shredding and pulling was a little bit tougher due to the lower internal temp and a bit of fat and connective tissue (that would have cooked off at 200F) needed to be cut out as I went.  I still had a decent pile of meat with no other destination than a couple sandwiches and a week of “Pete’s meat bowl” lunches.

I am convinced my coworkers think I am completely insane.  Instead of answering normally with "pulled pork" or "chicken soup" when they say, "that smells good, what is it?", I respond excitedly with "PETE'S MEAT BOWL!!!!" or "SOUPER SUNDAYS Y'ALLL!!!".  I like lunchtime to be an adventure, an adventure in obnoxious behavior

I am convinced my coworkers think I am completely insane.  Instead of answering normally with “pulled pork” or “chicken soup” when they say, “that smells good, what is it?”, I respond excitedly with “PETE’S MEAT BOWL!!!!” or “SOUPER SUNDAYS Y’ALLL!!!”.  I like lunchtime to be an adventure, an adventure in obnoxious behavior

It smelled pretty solid and the samples I took along the way were awesome, but the problem with a pulled pork like this one is I had no idea what to serve it with.  The flavor was definitely asian, but a terriyaki sauce or a BBQ/soy combo would completely overpower the meat.  So, I went simple and just put a bunch of pieces in a bun with a piece of iceberg.  After viewing the following photo, you will agree that this should henceforth be known as “McDonalds-style”.

Definitely on of the worst unveiling shots in a long line of awful ones on this blog.  Looks unappetizing and anonymous

Definitely on of the worst unveiling shots in a long line of awful ones on this blog.  Looks unappetizing and anonymous

The pork came out pretty tasty despite not being as tender as I had hoped it would be.  I feel like I have made this mistake on multiple occasions and yet I will continue to think I can pull the pork before 200F just because I am horribly impatient and hungry.  Anyhoo, although the exterior crust was a little salty, when mixed in with the rest of the meat it was pretty balanced and the glaze was relatively mild.  The miso added a truffle-like umami flavor that matched well with the shoulder meat.  It’s a couple weeks later and I still haven’t figured out what I would serve this on if I made it again, but the leader in the clubhouse is a flour tortilla with a vinegar slaw and a smear of duck sauce.  So now you know.

On to the “perfect” reuben.

Corned beef and cabbage was a relatively common meal in the Ryan household growing up.  We ate enough of it that I was obsessed with eating the white pieces of fat when I was young, and unlike my continued obsession with baking sheet crispies, I now recognize how disgusting that was.  Moving on, we always had leftovers since Mommy Ryan would buy an extra large corned beef brisket with the intention of serving reubens the following day.  Her reubens were pretty incredible, and made the reuben a top 3 sandwich for me.  Unfortunately, over the years I’ve learned that 90% of reubens served in restaurants are crap due to presliced/precooked deli corned beef.  It has to start with thick sliced tender corned beef brisket, no exceptions.  So with Kristi gone for the weekend, that’s where I started.

The deli slicer is the kitchen appliance I most often insert insert into love songs when babbling/singing to myself in the kitchen.  The initial courtship was too fast, our relationship is up and down, and eventually I will lose a limb because of her, but dammit, my deli slicer deserves to be immortalized in a love song

The deli slicer is the kitchen appliance I most often insert into love songs when babbling/singing to myself in the kitchen.  The initial courtship was too fast, our relationship is up and down, and eventually I will lose a limb because of her, but dammit, my deli slicer deserves to be immortalized in a love song

The corned beef brisket loses about a third of its weight during the boiling process and takes about 3.5 hours to become fork tender.  Because the slicer is at its best when the meat is cold and firm, I boiled the brisket on a Friday night with the intention of using it Saturday.  After letting the meat cool in the cooking liquid for 30 minutes, I transferred it to the fridge to spend the night.  The shot above is from the following morning.

In the universe of sandwiches, I think reubens are relatively unique in that every one uses the exact same combination of ingredients yet the taste and quality varies widely.  I could order a turkey, cheddar, lettuce, and mayo on a sub (#2 on my sammiches list) at pretty much any deli in America and it would come out delicious almost every time.  The same number of ingredients for a reuben ends up an abomination in the hands of most restaurants.  It’s really not complicated to get right, but I’ll run through it for any aspiring delicatessens.

It all starts with rye bread (seedless for me):

One of the best things (/worst for me) about having Janet around is that we have real softened butter available in the house due to our constant attempts to fatten her up.  It's certainly fattened me up

One of the best things (slash worst for me) about having Janet around is that we have real softened butter available in the house due to our constant attempts to fatten her up.  It’s certainly fattened me up

The bottom slice of rye is given a good slathering of thousand island dressing and the top slice is spread with butter for griddling.  I know it looks like a lot of butter, but that’s how Mommy Ryan taught me, so blame her.

Time to get the corned beef involved.

The container of corned beef had an extremely unfortunate aroma when opened but it went away shortly after opening.  No idea why it happened, but it wasn't a smell I like associated with my food.  I guess that's what happens when you pickle beef

The container of corned beef had an extremely unfortunate aroma when opened but it went away shortly after opening.  No idea why it happened, but it wasn’t a smell I like associated with my food.  I guess that’s what happens when you pickle beef

I sliced the brisket a little over 1/8th of an inch thick and that stack represents three thick slices of meat.  I can’t state strongly enough that it is not worth it to make this sandwich if you plan to use sliced corned beef from the deli counter unless you are near an awesome Jewish delicatessen that makes their own meats.  I never speak poorly of Boars Head, but I think the meat they use for their corned beef is a roast cut, not brisket, which ruins the texture and flavor.  That’s right, you’re not even allowed to use Boars Head.

The order of the next couple ingredients is up to the maker, but I of course have a strong opinion.  So bring on the sauerkraut!

I had some sauerkraut in my fridge in a tupperware that I tasted before buying some for this.  Tasted fine, so I used it on all reubens made in the following days.  I recently realized it was leftover from an Oktoberfest party last fall.  Sooo, yeah, turns out that stuff doesn't go bad quickly

I had some sauerkraut in my fridge in a tupperware that tasted fine.  I used it on all reubens made in the following days before realizing it was leftover from an Oktoberfest party last fall.  Sooo, yeah, turns out that stuff doesn’t go bad quickly.  It’s still in my fridge

I will not debate this point (nor does anyone else care enough to do so), but the cheese has to be melted over the sauerkraut to prevent the bread from becoming a soggy mess.  The cheese has to serve as a barrier.  DO NOT DEBATE THIS WITH ME!

Now a few slices of deli Swiss cheese to make that barrier.

Here's a little thing: when I was a kid I called deli American "Holy Cheese" because it had tiny holes and it was delicious.  But I hated Swiss because the holes were too big.  I was a picky little sh*t

Here’s a little thing: when I was a kid I called deli American “Holy Cheese” because it had tiny holes that I loved and it was also generally delicious.  But, I hated Swiss because the holes were too big.  I was a picky little sh*t

With the Swiss cheese loaded, the buttered rye slice goes on top, butter side out.

Mommy Ryan always cooked these in a pan grilled cheese-style, and I have always had success doing the same.  But, a few years ago I used our panini press with the flat griddle plates to make a reuben and realized how much better life could be.  Perfectly even griddling and a little weight on the top half to keep the large pile of ingredients inside compacted.  I’ve never looked back (though I also hadn’t made reubens between then and this most recent run).

The press was preheated and a little butter was melted on the bottom griddle since the bottom slice of bread was dry on the outside.  Then I closed the press.

Side view of the panini press working its magic.  I bought this panini press for Kristi along with a paring knife for her second birthday while we were dating.  I am pretty sure she had no interest in either and recognized I was buying for myself with the eventual hope of merging our possessions.  Lucky to be married folks, lucky to be married

Side view of the panini press working its magic.  I bought this panini press for Kristi along with a paring knife for her second birthday while we were dating.  I am pretty sure she had no interest in either and recognized I was buying for myself with the eventual hope of merging our possessions. Lucky to be married folks, lucky to be married

At a medium heat setting, it takes about 8-10 minutes to get the bread golden brown and crispy.

Yep, hungry again.  The press is a pain to get out and use but never, ever disappoints.  I'm not really sure why the act of removing a small appliance from a cupboard for use seems so annoying but it really is

The press is a pain to get out and use but never, ever disappoints.  I’m not really sure why the act of removing a small appliance from a cupboard for use seems so annoying but it really is

Remove from the press and eat.  After pausing to take a picture by your window, ‘course.

I salute you reuben.  Hell of a sandwich

Yep, hungry again.  I salute you reuben.  Hell of a sandwich

No need to deconstruct the flavor of this reuben, just know it was the reuben of your dreams.  Crispy bread and the sweet dressing/salty beef/tangy sauerkraut combo, all smothered in melted swiss cheese.  Sigh.  Airplane seatbelts are elastic these days, right?

And that’s it.  Heading to DC and may fit in some food exploring this weekend.