Cleaning Out My Cabinets: Blowfish

We spent July 4th down in LBI with our friends John and Liz since the Ryan residence is still out of commission from Sandy.  As mentioned last week, I was a typically awful houseguest: serving offal to unsuspecting children, snoring on couches, and complaining about hot pepper juice I rubbed in my own eyes.   There was no fishing or clamming on this trip, but lots of relaxation on the beach and deck.

Sure, looks like she is relaxing, but she is just as neurotic as her father.  Notice the feet curled up on the chair to not touch the beach, the calming container of Pirates Booty, the sunglasses that were called for nonstop until they were presented?  She's a mess sometime

Sure, looks like she is relaxing, but she is just as neurotic as her father.  Notice the feet curled up on the chair to not touch the beach, the calming container of Pirates Booty, the sunglasses that were called for nonstop until they were presented?  She’s a mess sometimes

However, on a ride down LBI Boulevard the first day to pick up food for dinner, I noticed that a few of the seafood shops were advertising blowfish on their signs.  Not only advertising them, but doing so excitedly (meaning: exclamation marks).

"Hey, Pete, really been enjoying the photos on the blog lately.  One request, can you start taking more pictures from very far away?  Like far enough that it isn't clear what you are trying to show us?  Thx!"

“Hey, Pete, really been enjoying the photos on the blog lately.  One request, can you start taking more pictures from very far away?  Like far enough away that it isn’t clear what you are trying to show us?  Thx!”

If you look really closely, so closely that you’re not really sure whether you are actually seeing it or just pretending you can see it, you’ll see that the sign says “Blowfish are back!”.  That sign is there because, well, blowfish are back, and you should be excited about that.  Me, I was pretty excited.  You ‘cited?

I’d definitely encountered a couple blowfish diving over the years, but I’ve never cooked or even seen them in their cleaned, raw form before.  Aside from the early Simpsons fugu episode where Homer almost dies from eating poisonous blowfish, I can’t say I had even thought of them as food, really.  I guess they are relatively innocuous looking.

Not my foto.  I believe I there is a blowfish in FInding Nemo and/or The Little Mermaid but I've never seen either so I don't have a witty quip related to those characters.  But, you can imagine me making some comment about eating that character's name and ruining your childhood memories and such and such.  Bringing my A game with that one

Not my foto.  I believe there is a blowfish in Finding Nemo and/or The Little Mermaid but I’ve never seen either so I don’t have a witty quip related to those characters.  But, you can imagine me making some comment about eating <character’s name> and ruining your childhood memories and such and such.  Bringing my A game with that spoof

But, I mean, seriously?  This is food?

Again, not my foto.  Just a bunch of blowfish hanging out, gabbin', inflating and stuff

Again, not my foto.  Just a bunch of blowfish hanging out, gabbin’, inflating and stuff.  Looks like a pretty decent time if you ask this blowhard.  Ever seen this tactic before on here?  It’s called stalling, and I do it when I only have three fotos of the actual cooking because it was so straightforward and simple.  Shhhh!  Don’t tell the caption non-readers

When we went into Boulevard Clams, I had no idea what the blowfish meat would look like;  I would have believed anything from a deflated basketball to a beautiful fillet.  But, what they actually looked like was entirely logical.  Almost boringly logical.

I took a bunch of pictures of the contents of this package and somehow this was the best one.  They were as dark and slightly red in color as they look here, though

I took a bunch of pictures of the contents of this package and somehow this was the best one. They were as dark and slightly red in color as they look here, though

The general anatomy and how much of those fishies were edible was a complete mystery to me, and as usual the yokels at the store weren’t much help.  What do they taste like: “chicken”, how do you eat them: “like chicken”, whats the best way to cook them: “jest fry ’em up”.  I know, we were in New Jersey, not some backwoods locale, but good lord were these guys unhelpful and yokelish.  That said, they have a customer for life as long as they carry blowfish every season, and for $9.99 a pound no less.

With no creative cooking ideas and not wanting to stink up the house frying things inside, I decided to keep it relatively simple and put a sautee pan over medium/high heat.  While it heated, I salted and peppered each piece of blowfish.  Once the pan was hot, I added a little olive oil and a couple cloves of chopped garlic then the blowfish.  What I meant there was, once the pan was way hotter than it should have been I added all that stuff.

After a couple minutes on one side, I flipped the fish, added a solid pour of rosé (it was open), and put the lid on to finish the cooking.

I know, I know, I burned the garlic.  I struggle mightily with electric ranges and pretty much every pan I used that weekend was about 100 degrees too hot for whatever I was trying to cook in it.  I blame electricity

I know, I know, I burned the garlic.  I struggle mightily with electric ranges and pretty much every pan I used that weekend was about 100 degrees too hot for whatever I was trying to cook in it.  I blame electricity

After another 3-4 minutes I moved the fish to a plate, reduced the last of the wine in the pan to thicken into a sauce, and poured it over the fish.  A little squeeze of lemon over the top, and it was ready to be served.

It looks a little funky, but you really can't go wrong with the olive oil, garlic, wine, and lemon combo.  Plus it smells decent enough that it's an easy sell to those who would be otherwise terrified

It looks a little funky, but you really can’t go wrong with the olive oil, garlic, wine, and lemon combo.  Plus it smells decent enough that it’s an easy sell to those who would be otherwise terrified

After tuna fishing last year, I babbled about what a perfect fish tuna is for how easily the loins come off and how much is edible.  I was even more impressed with the blowfish.  The spine is directly attached to the fins on the top and bottom and has a flat center bone that runs up the whole fish.  The meat comes off in two large pieces, one on each side of the spine with no bones in the meat, and no other picking needed.

As far as the taste, I don’t know if this was extremely fresh or something, but it was much much better than I expected.  The meat was rich and slightly sweet with none of the fishy flavor you expect from a darker-meat fish.  The texture was buttery and soft like properly cooked cobia, and the collagen from cooking on the bone coated your lips when you ate it.  As usual I base whether or not I am the only one who would find it tasty on the reactions of others, and three people besides myself ate the blowfish and had seconds.  Including Kristi.  See!  I don’t always just make up the fact that things taste good, sometimes its true and stuff!

Hopefully more fish for next week, if I can figure out when the sketchy docks in Little Compton open this time around.

Weird Crap I Cook: Scrapple

Hang on to your office chairs (or couches) folks, this one is going to be a doozy.  A little Wikipedia research, lots of pictures, subpar detail, and little understanding of what people who aren’t me consider amusing.

Scrapple is a common breakfast item at the deli case and diners in most of the NJ-Pennsylvania area, but that doesn’t mean it’s common to eat it.  The name is effing horrible.

“Well, it’s got a lot of stuff most human beings wouldn’t consume unless a weapon was pointed at them, so let’s give it an appetizing name like they did with ‘sausage’. I’ve got it…” – Awful Pennsylvania Dutch marketing exec

Pop Ryan introduced this breakfast meat to me and I love it dearly to this day.  Its got the best parts of crispy fried polenta and breakfast sausage.  So, basically, it’s the perfect food.

In addition to my love of the flavor and texture, scrapple fits in with my overall dislike of wasting food and my love of using everything.  It’s a food item born out of the need to make use of all parts of the pig and ended up successfully turning some harsh tasting parts into something tasty.

I hadn’t given a ton of thought to making it myself until recently, mainly because the packaged stuff is so delicious and they carry it at my JP grocery store.  But when regular blog contributor David from Snow Farm offered me some offal from his naturally raised pork, I knew I would have to give it a shot.

I felt bad supplementing the small farm raised pork parts with factory farmed neck bones, but I needed some meat and bones for texture and flavor.  Oh and they are $1.50 a pound

That’s one pig heart, a couple pounds of pork liver, and pound and a half of neck bones.  Neck bones are funky looking but they’ve got a lot of meat on them.  Plus, when you compare their appearance to the other ingredients they probably feel like the prom queen.

The idea is that everything goes into a pot, boils for while, then is ground up and combined with cornmeal and the cooking liquid to make a mush.  Mush is poured into loaf pans, sets, then you slice it and fry it.  Again, sounds completely up my alley.  Amazing that I am nearing my 100th post and I’ve never done this before.

I’ve covered hearts and neckbones on this blog previously, but lets take another look at that sliced pig liver.

Used the good camera, left the flash on at first.  I always think the flash makes food look worse but definitely think that is accurate when it comes to offal.  Yowzers

The thing I was most surprised by with the liver was how non-offensive it smelled.  I’ve cooked some grocery store offal and without fail it always smells like the inside of an animal.  This smelled like cold roast beef when I opened the package, truly surprising.  Glad I held out for the good stuff before attempting this one.

I sliced the heart and liver into cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper, and threw everything into a stock pot along with the neck bones.

The sounds as this stuff went into the pot could have been used for the Rocky training scene in the meat locker.  Lotsa meat on meat crime going on in here

My instinct was to cover this with water and boil it, but I realized that it might be tough to get the liquid vs. cornmeal proportions right without measuring.  You know, since I had no concept of what consistency hot liver mush should be before it’s cooled.  So, I went against my strong moral fiber and referenced a few recipes before deciding on 12 cups of water over the meat.

I brought the whole pot to a simmer on the stovetop, skimmed off some junk and left it to cook for a few hours.

The color changed quick.  This is around the point in time when the smell in our condo shifted from “normal” to “grandparent who is way too into cooking offal at home” territory.  Kristi was out for 3 hours of hair done doing but Janet woke up from a nap due to the stench

After three hours of fluctuating between a simmer and a boil with the lid partially on, the meat started separating from the neck bones and everything looked pretty well done.  The stock pot was dumped into a strainer inside a bowl to make sure I didn’t lose any of the cooking liquid.

This was a good step for me.  Usually I would burn my hands and dump half the meat and broth down the drain by accident.  This time around I acted super mature and used a giant bowl and a colander from Ikea.  Didn’t lose nothin!

The cooking liquid was reserved in the original stockpot and the questionable, unattractive, super-sketchy-looking gray organ meat went into a large bowl for sorting.

This picture could have been added to 5 or 6 different posts with the stuff I’ve cooked.  Boiled meat looks foul all the time, which is how I defend my appearance in hot tubs.  Wokka wokka,  here all week folks!

Sorting was slightly trickier than expected.  As it turns out, boiled liver is very firm and resembles pork neck bones.  You must be dying to cook it yourself at home.  Anyway, the visual similarities meant that I had to pick through and attempt to break every piece of liver/bone to figure out whether it should be kept or thrown away.  Didn’t take too long, but got some good finger burns.

Once everything was sorted into “meat” and “trash”, I piled it all into the tray on the grinding attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer.

I got some closeups, but let’s stick with this view, shall we?  In other news, anyone got any suggestions on what to do with cool growler bottles?  We got a few of them and they just kinda hang out and freeload

The grinder attachment is incredibly simple once you get the hang of not overloading it by pushing too much stuff in at one time.  I had it setup with the fine grinder attachment since I wanted the heart/liver/meat to not stand out in the final products; just have one consistency throughout.  Which made for a relatively unattractive ground product.

Alright, I’ll bite: it looks like a toddler stuffed their poop through that Play-Doh press thingy I was obsessed with when I was a kid.  That probably sounds more appetizing than what is in the actual picture to some people

While I dealt with the trials and tribulations of meat grinding (read: meat grinder jams caused by impatient forcing into the grinder from an ADD 32 year old), the cooking liquid heated on the stove top.  Once I had the full pile of meaty Play-Doh noodles, I got setup for combining everything into an offal porridge that magically turns to scrapple as it cools.

That’s not our bar silly, just the usual lineup of cooking wines and olive oil in the background.  Quit focusing your attention on things that aren’t the organ meat slurry in progress

We started with three quarts of liquid and most of the boiling was at least partially lid-on so not much liquid cooked off.  That got paired with 4 cups of corn meal, a couple tablespoons of sea salt, a couple tablespoons of black pepper, and a mix of onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme, and nutmeg.  The dry ingredients get stirred into the reserved cooking liquid in small waves, then the heart/liver/meat mixture is added at the end.  Got it?

In order to avoid huge clumps of corn meal, I used a whisk early on.

I caused some boulder-sized balls of corn meal before I went after the pile of mush with the whisk. Worked far better than the times I’ve effed up gravy

Once the mixture reached about the thickness shown, I switched from the whisk to a large spoon since it was similar to stirring cement at this point.  Had to be stirred constantly, especially as the additional corn meal and meat went in, but also to keep it from burning during the 30 minutes everything cooked together.

“Whoa, you gonna eat all that hog organ mush? I got a spoon and some tupperware, just let me know!” – Nobody I have met.  Y’all know anybody?

Once thirty minutes had elapsed, and I was counting minutes like an 4th grader in Sunday School, I had a burning forearm and a lot of organ stank in my clothes.  I also had a completed batch of scrapple ready to be poured into molds to set.

Thankfully, Kristi returned from her self imposed exile (it was a hair appointment, cry me a friggin river) to take some action shots.

My Hot Doug’s shirt = my fav thing.  Look, if I’ve learned anything in my life (relatively questionable “if”), it’s that when you go to a unique place with unique stuff you want to remember and they sell t-shirts that don’t have a large dragon logo, you buy one.  Not included, the horrible man-belly aiding the display surface of the shirt

The mixture went into more loaf pans than I had expected, but I was well stocked thanks to a grocery run by Kristi.  I sprayed the inside of each pan with some cooking spray, which would make it easier to remove the loaves once they set.  It also led to lots of awkward spooning and attempts to smooth the surface with more sticking to the spoon than staying in the pan.  The action shots of this process are probably not enthralling to the casual reader, and there are a ton of images in here already, so let’s skip to the end.

The little guys are about the size of a normal store-bought scrapple loaf.  The big guys are reserved for when my Pennsylvania Dutch relatives come to visit.  Oh, and those relatives are imaginary

After the loaves cooled to room temperature, I wrapped each with a layer of tin foil and sent them into the fridge overnight to set.  I was extremely excited, nervous, and hungry all at the same time, but the required wait until the following morning was relatively pleasant since I’d tasted it too much during the process.  Needed a little break from hot liver paste.

The next morning, I pulled my first loaf out of the fridge.

Looking good, scrapple.  Even the store bought version has an uneven top like this

The easiest part is removing it from the pan.  Just flip it over and tap the bottom a bit to get the loaf to release onto the cutting board.  It was pretty exciting to see it pop out in whole-loaf form, just because it looked like the “real thing”.

To fry it, I put a pan on the stovetop over medium/high heat since the pan has to be very hot to avoid scrapple sticking to it.  From there I cut some quarter inch slices off the loaf.

A little thicker than I generally cut, not sure why I made that call.  The best are the thin slices since they end up crispy like bacon and with a polenta consistency in the center.  Thin people don’t have conversations like this

Once the pan was good and hot, the slices went in after a quick spray of Pam.

This is and always will look like happiness to me.  NJ diners, Saturday mornings, and labor of love food projects.  Delicious crispy pork awesomeness

This scrapple lived up to it’s store bought namesake with the added benefit of knowing everything that went into it.  With any scrapple, the first flavor you get is black pepper, almost to a spicy level which is what you got from this one.  The pepper is complimented with a strong pork sausage flavor and some hints of liver along the way.  The best and most unique part, though, is the consistency.  The outside is potato chip crispy (if cooked right) and the inside has the softer consistency of polenta.  Great stuff, and makes use of everything on the hog, not just the pretty cuts.

The rest of the 7 loaves were vacuum sealed and went into the chest freezer for plenty of meals over the next year.  Definitely a meat that freezes well.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I ate too much.  Have a couple possible posts from the week though.

Foraging for Food: Yellowfin Tuna

Labor Day weekend brought a trip to LBI for a few days of relaxation, friends, family, and good eating.  It also brought a generous invitation from my buddy John and his brother-in-law Frank to join them for some deep sea fishing on Saturday.  This one is gonna get a little wordy on the front end and a little visually graphic on the back end, just like an old fashioned orgy at Gore Vidal’s house.  That joke has no place on this blog but, as long as we’re breaking the fourth wall, this is going to be a MONSTER post.

I accepted the invitation almost immediately, then spent the following days nervous about whether I would end up being yet another visitor on the boat that vomits for 15 hours straight.  John dealt with a whole lotta anxious questions about how the day would unfold.

That look says, “I don’t understand what you are talking about, but I can already tell from the tone of your voice that I’m not going to like what you do in our kitchen when you get home.”

You might remember the Hard Four crew from last year when they saved me the head and collar from a 45 pound yellowfin.  Some of the stories from the boat, like the tournament last summer where they landed over 300 pounds of Bigeye tuna, are like food Cialis for me.  My excitement to see it all firsthand greatly outweighed the sea sickness fears.

The day started at 3:40 in the morning after a delirious night of sleep due to some questionable raw oysters.  The crew for the day was Frank, John, Colman (photographer of the tuna shot from last year), Captain Mike (or “Zoo”), Frank’s father-in-law Big Rich, and Whitney, Frank’s brother-in-law.  Solid crew.  Once on the boat,  all of us except Zoo passed out for the 3+ hour trip to Hudson Canyon, some (including myself) aided by a solid dose of Dramamine.

Once we arrived at the fishing grounds, we got out of the PFDs and waterproof suits we wore for the wet ride out and got ready to do some fishing.  Generally I just tried to stay out of the way at this point since I had no idea how anything worked.  After Frank, John, Colman, and Zoo moved around for 10-15 minutes we had eight lines spread out along the two outriggers and a couple teaser lines in the water.  Lots of high-fiving and general excitement for the day of fishing ensued.

Johnny and Me.  This was taken later in the day, but that was a lot of words in a row and a lot more to come.  Here’s a little thing: I was borderline unable to pee on the boat due to an inability to keep my balance and general stage fright.  I am still disappointed in myself for this

Within 10 minutes of getting the lines out, the distinct sound of line flying out of a reel filled our ears and Colman dropped the rod into his fighting belt.  We let the line run out for 20-30 seconds to see if any other fish in the school bit, but eventually pulled all other lines in to let Colman reel in the fish.

In apparently typical fashion, Colman told us that the fish on the line “felt small” and was “likely a skipjack”.  Eventually what looked like a keg with yellow tips came up off the port side, Frank gaffed it right behind the gills, and we were officially on the board.  Let’s just say that the feeling for me was like seeing Christie Brinkley in Vacation for the first time when I was 9.

A beauty of a Yellowfin.  Doesn’t do the size any justice but that was a large fish box.  Look at me using proper angling terms!

And then…. not much.  We had an awesome day of catching up with friends new and old, eating a ton of homemade deli sandwiches, listening to music and waiting for the lines to run out.  But, we didn’t see much action in the following 4-5 hours and headed back with just that one beautiful fish that made it all worthwhile.

I don’t think I had any understanding of how large the yellowfin was until we returned to LBI, I picked it up, and struggled mightily with its weight.

I think this picture was taken while I was taking a breath or something.  I was incredibly strained the whole time I held the fish and look way too relaxed in this foto

The yellowfin weighed over 60 pounds and generally looked like the most wonderful thing I had ever seen.  I had no business holding it since I had no part in reeling it in, but I still did everything short of a Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a Jaguar photo shoot with that fish.

Johnny on the left, Frank in the center.  They may never get how much this trip meant to me, and I may never understand why it meant so much to me.  I just love having a part in getting my own food, especially when it’s delicious.  Also, I have a double chin all the way up to my ears.  That can’t be healthy, right?

After a few more rounds of photo shoots with various combinations of people, Zoo got started cutting the loins out of the fish.  It was pretty impressive to watch and a reminder of what a perfect food tuna is with how much of it is edible.

It was extremely impressive how quickly Zoo took this thing apart.  Zoo was also a good reminder that I wish I had better nicknames.  He earned his due to some child modeling when he was younger and the 2000 Ben Stiller film Zoolander, but it’s also a good fishing captain nickname

The size of the slabs of meat coming off had me salivating, but of course I was also pretty excited for the stuff that was leftover.

Ridiculous looking meat coming off that fish

Zoo was nice enough to leave the organs all intact on the tuna since they are mostly contained within the area inside the collar.  I asked around to make sure no one else was hoping to take home the body.  Much to my surprise there wasn’t a ton of interest, so, lucky me.

That’s the stomach hanging out of the head area.  It’s never good when you are excited for a food that dogs sniff at then slowly back away from without sampling

After wrapping the body in a few layers of trash bags with the help of Big Rich, I gave the requisite hugs and handshakes all around, grabbed a share of the loin meat, and headed to the car.  The body rode in the front with Kristi (she was extremely excited about this) while Janet rode in the back with her fishy smelling father.

Once back at our Beach Haven house, I took a quick shower then brought the tuna into the kitchen.

Big Rich helped me avoid disaster the first time I bagged this and forgot that the tuna’s razor sharp teeth would make short work of a trashbag. Fell right out onto the dock and almost into the water when I confidently lifted the bag to leave. Definitely one of the stupider moments in a long line of stupid moments on this blog

After laying down newspaper on the counter topped with plastic cutting boards and breaking out a cleaver and rubber mallet, I called in Marshall and Michael (at our house for the night) to take a look.  While they mobilized I pulled the body out of the bag and the scene they walked in on can only be described as crime scene-esque.

Didn’t take into account how much blood would be in the bag. Can’t beat the joke Marshall made when he showed me the photo and simply said, “Peter cooking”

First step was to remove all of the meat from between the ribs, the backstrap, and the belly strip and chop them all up to make a tuna tartare.  Then, I planned to separate the spine from the head and remove the majority of the organs to either throw away with the bones/tail or store them overnight in the fridge with the head.

There was a remarkable amount of tender delicious meat hiding in the nooks and crannies of the body.

From my experience salt baking fish, I’ve discovered that the meat between the ribs is often some of the best but the biggest pain to collect.  Most of the rib meat was easy to scoop out and the back/belly strips came off in long pieces.  Just awesome

After 10 minutes of mining I had over a pound of perfect looking meat.  I chopped the tuna coarsely and mixed it in a bowl with toasted sesame oil, siracha, ginger, salt, and a diced homemade pickle that was part of a batch we brought down from Boston.  The bowl headed into the fridge to cool down (the tuna was still warm, yikes) and for the the flavors to come together a bit.

While that rested, I got to work on mining the organs from the head.

Thanks to Marsh for the gigantic Mount Gay and tonic that kept me company through this process.  This shot is important to make clear that I am not insane for my love of tuna heads. Look at all the meat on that collar!

After removing the stomach Mooman insisted on emptying its contents and found what looked like a pound of whole squid.  Not edible since it had been sitting in stomach acid, but pretty crazy to see.  Threw away all that and the other unidentifiable organs but gave the heart and liver a thorough cleaning and bagged them for revisiting the following day.

The liver was a lot firmer than any other liver I had handled before, as was the heart.  Both are quite good when marinated and grilled, though I recognize I am going to have to sell them a hell of a lot better than that to get my friends to eat them after seeing this post

After wrapping up the head and getting everything in the fridge I was ready to serve the tartare.  Went with the simple route of serving with tortilla chips though I think it would have been even better with those addictive black rice crackers they have at Whole Foods.

This was a good-sized ceramic bowl and it represented about half of the tartare.  Lot of meat on that body. It didn’t stand a chance though, the six of us took the whole pile down within fifteen minutes.  Not the best fotos in this post but our LBI house has the lighting of a morgue in a horror film

The tartare was awesome with the ginger, hot sauce, sesame oil, and pickle adding good contrasting but not overwhelming flavor to the buttery, rich tuna meat.  It was so good.

With another cocktail on the deck we all headed to bed and I looked forward to dealing with the remainder of the butchery the following day.  Using a combination of the cleaver and a rubber mallet, I was planning to remove the collar from the head (without losing any fingers), then remove the gills from inside the head.  This post is abysmally long at this point, so I will cut to late in the grisly carnage.

Knew this was going to get messy due to the amount of blood in the gills so I lined the counter with pizza boxes this time around.  This looks awful but it barely competes for top ten worst fotos on this blog and there is at least some positive stuff going on here

The mallet and cleaver were so crucial as a pair this time around.  Instead of having to take big inaccurate hacks to get through tough spots, you can place the cleaver and then hammer it through.  Much better for my poor level of hand-eye coordination.

I disposed of the gills before rinsing the head and collars in the sink and separating the collar pieces along the jaw line.  Which yielded this:

So much friggin’ meat on those collars, like the tomahawk ribeye of the tuna.  One of the best grilling pieces of fish I have ever come across

The loins run from the nose to the tail, and unlike the tail that is filled with sinew and tendons, the head meat is delicious and tender.  Can’t wait to roast this whole thing

And thats it.  Future weeks will detail the meals I created with all of this meat.  They will also be much shorter posts.

Thanks again to Frank and John and the whole Hard Four crew for an experience that has had me glowing and stuffed ever since.  Just an incredible weekend.

Definitely more to come on all of this.

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.