Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Reverse Steak Oscar

As usual with these posts, people were coming over, I had too much stuff in my fridge and freezer, so I made something with that stuff.  This time around, I had a pound tub of lump crab meat from Costco that was nearing its expiration, and a bunch of different meat options to pair it with.

Despite the warm weather, I went with short ribs since I had some nice looking ones in the freezer and just received an additional payload of them from Uncle Billy.  When deciding how to incorporate the crab, I looked to my love of any steak with an Oscar topping and figured I would attempt my own spin on it.

First step was to heavily season the short ribs with salt and pepper.

The return of the good camera!  Aside from at least 3 hours of braising, the other keys to awesome short ribs are tons of salt and pepper and searing all sides before braising.  Took a lot of botched short ribs before I figured this out

My largest cast iron pan went over high heat with a little bit of safflower oil until it got very hot, just about the point of smoking.  Then the short ribs went in.

Using tongs to brown all sides is tedious but makes a huge difference.  Also, searing/browning on my stovetop brings out the worst of my OCD.  I end up acting like Phil Hartman in the Anal Retentive Chef sketch, constantly cleaning up the grease splatters around the pan only to have fresh grease immediately take its place

While those sizzled and sprayed me with occasional “f*cksh*t!” and furious arm rub inducing splatters of hot oil, I did initial prep on some carrots, onions, garlic, and celery.  I was trying to make a braising liquid that would be sauce-like, so I used the processor to chop the aromatics down like I would with an osso bucco.

Once it was all well chopped, I dumped it into Lil’ Blue which had been heating up a little olive oil over medium heat on the stovetop.

After going through this process multiple times, I’m not really sure this does anything.  Nothing really browns because there is so much liquid from the processor, and the smell doesn’t really change much.  Yet, if you asked me whether this was necessary I’d likely insist it is and pretend I know what I’m talking about

After a few minutes of the aromatics cooking, I poured in a half bottle of white wine, a 4 ounce can of V-8 and a 4 ounce can of tomato sauce plus a couple bay leaves.  Again, I wasn’t looking for a marinara, just a sauce that would reduce well and taste equally good with shellfish as beef.  Also, both of those items had been in the cupboard for far too long and needed to get used for something.

More liquid than it looked like I would need, but it always cooks down a ton during braising and if you don’t have this much you need to add cups of water during cooking.  Which seems soooo wrong, who wants beef braised in water?

With the braising liquid simmering, I preheated the oven to 325F and finished browning the final side of each short rib.

I wish I could brown stuff this well inside Lil Blue/Big Yellow, but I’ve never successfully done it without scorching the bottom of the pot.  Better to do it in a separate pan and scrape in any of the good (read: fattening) stuff

The short ribs were nicely nestled into Lil Blue and covered with a couple decorative spoonfuls of liquid over the top of each short rib, like fedoras in the douchey Dutch Oven neighborhood.

That piece to the front bugged me then and it bugs me now.  It just wouldn’t fully submerge

The braising process takes a total of 3-4 hours, so I needed to feed my guests in the interim. Because of the abundance of shrimp in my freezer, my first instinct was shrimp cakes.  The idea was just small shrimp, ground up with spices, tossed in breadcrumbs and fried in a pan; just like any other fish “cake” I’ve made.  Lets start with the food processor in mid action.

Same shot as the Grayling potstickers post, just the egg yolks for binding

For the spices I resisted the urge to go the easy route with Asian spices and a soy-based dipping sauce, only because it wouldn’t match well with the wine and tomato flavors of the main course.  Instead, I went with the simplest approach I could think of and just added crushed red pepper, garlic, and salt.

Once fully ground, the contents of the processor went into a glass bowl to let the flavors come together a bit in the fridge.

Mostly this experience made me want to make dumplings again.  That bowl looked like a delicious blank canvas

With the shrimp resting peacefully, I started working on the crab cake that would be replacing the steak as the base of this Reverse Oscar.

I’ve made crab cakes a bunch of time and usually add a bunch of other ingredients like peppers, onions and breadcrumbs in an attempt to stretch out the crab to as many cakes as possible.  On the other hand, the best crab cakes I have ever had were made almost entirely of lump crab meat and had minimal fillers.  So, I ignored the cheapskate inside me, and only added corn, egg, and a little shake of breadcrumbs to absorb the moisture from the egg.

Yes, I will happily put corn in anything, especially seafood items.  Our friend’s collective love of corn once led to an Iron Chef Corn which in turn led to incredible stomach discomfort for all who participated.  Delicious stuff, in moderation

The crab mixture joined the shrimp in the fridge for an hour or so to set up.  While all them flavors came together, Janet crawled around in the living room between Nate, Emyo, and me, occasionally pausing to attempt to eat whatever she found on the ground.  I obviously applaud her interest in trying new foods, but I draw the line when it’s Kristi’s hair or the foil from my burrito.

Once people were substantially hungry and annoyed that I hadn’t started serving food, I heated up a quarter inch of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  The ground shrimp came out by the handful, was formed into patties and dropped into a pile of breadcrumbs, making sure they were completely covered.  Once the oil was hot, the shrimp cakes went in for some fryin’.

The better camera can’t avoid the lighting issues on my stovetop.  And I can’t avoid frying things to make them taste better

After 5-7 minutes on each side, the cakes were fully cooked and ready to eat.  Thankfully, Nate reminded me I hadn’t made a sauce for dipping so I threw together a caper aioli (fancy named tartar sauce) for dipping while the shrimp cakes drained on some paper towels.  Then we ate them.

At this point I was really slacking on the fotos and consistently taking awful ones where my massive head cast a shadow on the food.  My excuse: Kristi was out of town watching Auntie Kate win the NCAA D3 Women’s Lacrosse chip and the quality of imagery suffered from her absence

As Nate said, the shrimp cakes were like fried shrimp without the hassle of pulling the tail out.  I agree, but I also enjoy the texture of ground shrimp, despite the slightly more metallic taste that comes with cooked ground shrimp vs. whole shrimp.  Pretty nice little appetizer though.

After about three and a half hours, the short ribs were ready to come out.

The moment when the braising lid comes off is always incredibly joyous right up until the moment you realize you melted your contacts into your eyeballs by sticking your face over the pot when you opened it

The meat had cooked to a perfect tenderness and separated from the bone easily in one piece when picked up with a pair of tongs.  Once the meat was out of the pot, I removed the bay leaves and put the braising liquid over low-medium heat to reduce it a bit for use as a sauce.

While the oil was still hot, I made some patties from the crab mixture, then tried to gingerly place them in the pan without burning myself or having the cake fall apart entirely.  I learned I had to accept one of those two outcomes, and after making scrambled crab cake with the first one, I decided to take the burns and make some nice looking cakes.

After a longer stretch than the shrimp cakes on each side, I had my crab cakes.

I know, the lighting is awful and looks like I am back in Philly.  I would have sworn cameras had become idiot proof at this point, but I keep finding new ways to disprove that with every picture I take

With all the components cooked, I assembled the Reverse Oscar.  Crab cake first, then a little dollop of the reduced braising liquid, then the short rib, and another dollop on top.  A dense little pile of flavor and deliciousness.

I knew this would be so rich and filling.  I love compact piles of food that are best consumed in giant bites combining every item.  My guess is most of the people who would make a statement like that have to take a deep breath before they tie their shoes and occasionally sweat from chewing gum

I had bites of the short rib and crab cake separately before combining them with every forkful.  The short rib was tender and had tons of good flavor from the braising liquid, though it didn’t hurt that it was smothered in it.  The crab cake was what I look for in a crab cake, big chunks of tasty lump crab meat with minimal other stuff muddling up the works.  The braising liquid went surprisingly well with the crab due to the white wine and the acidity of the tomatoes.

But when you put them together in one bite, wowza.  It was tough to tell what you were chewing at any given time but it all tasted so good together.  Very, very rich, to the level that all of us were filled up on those little plates, but well worth the effort.

Not sure what will be up next.  Got some stuff curing in the fridge and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new grill, but none of that will make for a post next week.  Will try not to disappoint.

Potstickers and Rangoons

When I was first starting to cook a lot after moving to JP five years ago, one of the items I tried to get good at was potstickers.  My go-to filling was a mixture of baby bok choy, chicken, and peanuts which I thought I had down pretty well.  Then Tim comes for a visit, challenges me to a “potsticker-off”, and all of a sudden the pressure is on.

According to Kristi (the judge), Tim’s pork and frozen vegetable potstickers beat mine handily.  I know, I know, I’m also amazed that I decided to go through with proposing to her after that decision.  Anyway, with that judgment, my interest in making potstickers was erased and I took a multiple year hiatus from cooking them.

That all changed when boredom struck in Michigan and I decided to thaw out and shell a pound of small raw shrimp.  I remembered from my chicken and bok choy potstickers that whole pieces of meat were less enjoyable so I threw the shrimp into a Cuisinart to grind.

I think we all already know this post isn't going to be m'best, but lets just go through the motions and see if we can maybe surprise ourselves here

I ran the processor for a bit to make sure the shrimp were well chopped, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and made a four potsticker test batch.  Ground shrimp stands on its own pretty well, but I decided to add in a little chopped green onion, crushed red pepper, garlic, and ginger when I found the flavor to be a little lacking.

When something looks unappetizing, just throw it in a brown bowl and everything is better. Damn, there is just nothing funny about this picture

Making the potstickers is pretty easy; buy wonton wrappers, put a spoonful of contents in them, then fold over and seal with a little water.  The only thing that can get a little tedious is finding the right amount of contents for each wrapper.  Too little and it just tastes like wonton wrapper; too much and it will be spilling out over the edges when you try to seal it, something I was pretty sick of already from putting on my jeans everyday.

Fat joke... good start Pete! Let's get some momentum going here and see if we can't turn this thing around!

A pound of shrimp makes about 25 potstickers, and it’s easiest to make them all at the same time and then cook in smaller batches.

There are three ways to fold (according to me, so based on no real knowledge): triangle, all corners folded in, or the odd pinched half circles Tim used to make.  Friggin’ jerk.  I went with the triangles since they’re easy and hold up for two bites.

A couple go-to jokes in that paragraph. Oldies but goodies I say. This thing is really taking shape, buckle your seat belts!

I actually think the most important thing about potstickers is the sauce.  You really can’t go wrong with a base of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and a little rice wine vinegar mixed with red pepper, minced garlic, grated ginger, and thin sliced green onion for color.

Once the sauce is made, heat up a little oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and put the raw potstickers in, covering immediately.  After a few minutes, or once they’ve browned, flip and brown the other side with the cover off.  Remove from the pan, let any excess oil drain off on paper towels, and transfer to a serving dish.

The start to that sauce paragraph? That's a literary technique I've learned from the world's greatest writers: shitty food bloggers. Make a statement like you're imagining the reader responding, "No WAY! The sauce is the least important part!!! What a crazy hack!!!" when it's a non-controversial statement. This post just went off the rails

The potstickers were pretty delicious.  It’s hard to screw up ground shrimp, but nonetheless it occasionally ends up overcooked and rubbery in some of the lesser pan-Asian restaurants I’ve visited.  The filling was tender and the shrimp was nicely complimented by the scallion, garlic and ginger.  The sauce provided any saltiness missing from the filling and in addition to the delicious sesame flavor there was some good bite from the vinegar and red pepper.  Dece.

With universally solid reviews (from a universe of 4) I was high on potstickers again and officially had wonton fever.  Conor has started a fun (and unhealthy) mini-tradition in JP by covertly ordering crab rangoons for delivery any time we are hanging out late night.  With plans to host a New Years Eve party, I figured it was time to take a crack at making the late night ‘goons myself.  I started out with imitation crab, sauteed onions, cream cheese, salt and pepper in the processor.

I'm sure you could make these with just cream cheese and it would be about as good. I feel like I should start telling stories from high school or something in these captions. I got nothing

It’s fair to point out that I was making these at 11PM on New Years Eve after a day of hanging out in Southie, so the pictures won’t exactly be high quality.  Anyhoo, after a lot of pulsing, pressing down on the sides and more blending, I ended up with this for the filling.

Imitation crab is one of nature's superfoods, or so I like to believe and thus avoid the list of ingredients specifically not to ruin the illusion. There you go! That's kind of a caption joke of sorts

The filling and sealing process was the same for rangoons as it was for the potstickers, and of course I made a similar sauce since it goes with pretty much anything.

Annnnnd, right as I was about halfway through sealing the wontons, Conor comes back from the front door with a huge box of rangoons.  That’s right, we got a new blog villain folks!  Friggin jerk orders takeout to blow my ‘goons out of the water.  I pressed on with my plan while taking bites of the local Chinese restaurant’s take on crab rangoon and cursing my friend.

Not quite the bubbly crunchy deep fried version, but it still made our apartment smell like crap! Really rounding into form here

Eventually I plated a wonderful platter of food shortly after my friends finished stuffing their faces from a styrofoam container.

I was happy to beat up those other rangoons and steal their sauce. Friggin bully 'goons had it coming. Dammit, way too late

The rangoons may have been even better than the shrimp potstickers.  Much less cream cheese than the standard Chinese takeout variety, and that combination of flavors is so delicious.  It’s tough to give an accurate and objective take on the flavor and deliciousness  because they came out at midnight on New Years eve, but they sure went quick and tasted good.  I’d happily make them again at a time of year that it is easier to air out the condo.

I’ll do better next week, I need to know not to try and write these things when I’m tired.