Pete’s Charcutes: Brown Trout Bottarga

Live from the Acela Boston to NYC route comes this installment of ADB, er, The Pete Is On!  I know I am continuing to struggle with regular posting but I have the meals documented to be doing more gooder.  The issue is mostly just getting old and not having the energy to write these things from 9-12 on a weeknight like I used to.  Plus a slight uptick in work travel lately.  My concern with this one is that the power outlet doesn’t work at my seat and my computer is on its’ last legs for both battery and memory.

A few weeks ago I posted about the hogs head cooked at blog character Dupee’s bachelor party on Webb Lake in Maine.  I also mentioned that some (read: parts) of the fish caught on the trip came home with me, though nothing that Kristi was excited to eat.  Not much logic behind that last point, since multiple whole fish were up for grabs when I left on Sunday, but I felt bad keeping them since I had no perceptible connection to the act of catching them.

A brown trout that was caught late in the day was one of the largest trout I had seen since they were few and far between at the places I’d fished most of my life; Ravine Lake and the Ausable River.  Whipping out the buck knife I carry with me on masculine weekends to offset my fear of bugs, snakes, and loud noises, I volunteered to clean this fish.  Upon opening the brownie, I was surprised by how large and pronounced all of the organs were, particularly the liver, roe sacks and the heart.

I can actually claim negative responsibility for this one since it was caught while trawling shortly after I loudly mocked the idea of trawling for trout.  In the process of cleaning I decided to eat the still wriggling heart raw which was questionable, show-offy, disgusting and any other adjective that can be used to describe this blog as a whole

I can actually claim negative responsibility for this one since it was caught while trawling shortly after I loudly mocked the idea of trawling for trout.  In the process of cleaning it, I decided to eat the still wriggling heart raw which was questionable, show-offy, disgusting and any other adjective that can be used to describe this blog as a whole

Quick sidenote on fish roe.  In my Fish Cakes and Spaghetti blog I discussed how I was introduced to caviar at a young age and have had a lifelong obsession with it.  As a kid my caviar obsession used to manifest itself by saving the roe sacks from trout in Michigan to be fried in bacon grease at the morning fish fry.  Cooked fish roe is mealy, dry, and not that pleasant to eat, but that never seemed to deter me.  More recently I’ve had a lot of trouble tracking down fish roe and yearn for the Italian Market in Philly where you can buy an anonymous mixed bag of roe sacks for a couple bucks.  But, I digress.

It hadn’t been in my original plans for the weekend, but one of the reasons I’d been looking for fish roe recently was to make bottarga, a salt cured version of fish roe.  Bottarga is one of those mystical Italian items that shows up in the ingredient listing for pastas in fine restaurants.  Most eaters don’t recognize and wouldn’t dare appear unknowledgable enough to ask about.  I’m not judgin’ since I am consistently guilty of this and am fully comfortable BSing when Kristi or others ask me to define and ingredient I am barely familiar with.  Let’s just think of bottarga as magical Italian pixie dust.

Taking a fish roe sack and curing it in salt at room temperature for a week or so is what yields bottagra, a dried, crumbly, and very salty stick of funky fish flavor.  The two large roe sacks joined a smaller pair in a heavy coating of salt on a couple plates in the house.

I think the pinkish color of these is so nice and should be appetizing to more people.  Just like the New Jersey Turnpike is a horrifying representation of the state, the Acela really is not kind to traveler’s impressions of New England.  I think I’ve passed four prisons and the back parking lots of seven strip clubs.  That said, high speed rail will give you a 1000x better impression of New England than the pit of humanity that is Logan Airport.  That place makes the accents in the Dish Hopper ads seem understated

I think the pinkish color of these is so nice and should be appetizing to more people.  Just like the New Jersey Turnpike is a horrifying representation of the state, the Acela really is not kind to traveler’s impressions of New England.  I think I’ve passed four prisons and the back parking lots of seven strip clubs.  That said, the high speed rail will give you a 1000x better impression of New England than the pit of humanity that is Logan Airport.  That place makes the accents in the Dish Hopper ads seem understated

My plan was to go the full bottarga route with the larger two roe sacks.  This would require keeping them fully covered in salt for seven days, rotating them and drying any excess moisture regularly.  It also required making sure none of my fellow bachelor party attendees threw them out by accident.  I didn’t help my cause on that front by pulling the smaller roe sacks out of the salt cure after a few hours of firming up, rinsed, and offered them around for a taste test.

These look substantially less appetizing than the raw version in my opinion, but so I was a little surprised that multiple people were willing to take a bite.  Can’t say it increased their faith that the hogs head cooking in the cabin would be edible

These look substantially less appetizing than the raw version in my opinion, so I was a little surprised that multiple people were willing to take a bite.  Can’t say it increased their faith that the hogs head cooking in the cabin would be edible

At this point in the curing process, the texture of the roe was gummy, fishy, and, obviously very salty.  Think of a salty and fishy Swedish fish, complete with the sticking to the teeth factor that allowed you to savor the flavor for up to an hour afterwards.  It wasn’t a treat for others but I enjoyed it much more than I should have and ate most of it.

The next morning the larger roe sacks were still leaching water and needed to be re-covered with salt before heading back to Boston.  Back at the homestead, I covered them with another layer of salt, placed on a paper towel, and moved to a cabinet above the sink in the kitchen.  The following 6-7 days were not smooth sailing because those roe sacks got a little stinky and it would sneak up on you while you were doing dishes.  That’s right folks, I discovered a scientific anomaly; fish organs left at room temperature for a week get a little smelly.  These were smellier than I expected, though, and I researched about once a day whether this was a bad thing and if I should throw them out.  I never found the answer, but assumed it was no.

After a little over a week, I had this:

Rock solid and stinky, but finally able to go inside a zip lock bag in the fridge where they would be less offensive.  I expected them to be more rock solid than the crumbly, bumpy sticks I had in front of me

Rock solid and stinky, but finally able to go inside a zip lock bag in the fridge where they would be less offensive.  I expected them to be more rock solid than the crumbly, bumpy sticks I had in front of me

When refrigerated, the bottarga will keep for up to a year, so I had some time to figure out what to do with it.  I’m sure bottarga has lots of uses, but I really only had one in mind which was pasta.  Apparently it is excellent in simple pasta dishes since it give the musty seafood flavor you get from anchovies but in a much more controllable distributed manner.

The opportunity to make said pasta came about a week later with a stay at brother Tim’s house in NJ and Mommy Ryan in attendance as well.  There was a fair amount of questions about what I planned to make, so I decided to make a second pasta as well in case this one turned out, you know, gross.  I got started by boiling a pound of fettuccine al dente, reserving the starchy water and shocking the pasta with cold water to stop the cooking.  Then grated a piece of the bottarga with a microplane.

I expected the product to be a lot more dry and crumbly but the texture was like damp breadcrumbs or sawdust.  I didn’t have the courage to sample it dry either.  Tim mocked me aggressively for bringing my own microplane but couldn’t produce a grater when asked if he had anything that could have done the job.  He probably would have given me a box planar or something.  Stupid anti-air conditioning and vegetable-garden-ignoring jerkface Tim, I’ll show him

I expected the product to be a lot more dry and crumbly, but the texture was like damp breadcrumbs or sawdust.  Tim mocked me aggressively for bringing my own microplane, but couldn’t produce a grater when asked if he had anything that could have done the job.  Stupid anti-air conditioning and vegetable-garden-ignoring jerkface Tim, I’ll show him

I ended up grating about 3/4 of the smaller bottarga piece, which seemed like it would be a good amount for 1/3 of the pound of cooked pasta.  Plus the grated zest of about half a lemon as well.

The guy next to me on the train is catching up on season 2 of Girls  on his iPad.  Every time a Lena Dunham nude scene comes on (spoiler alert: there are way too many) he does this weird cupping thing with his hands shielding the view of his iPad, almost like he is trying to look into a darkened room through an exterior window.  My advice would be to cover the screen with both hands and come back when the daring, soul-baring honesty is over.  That is, for 30-45 seconds before the next nude scene

The guy next to me on the train is catching up on season 2 of Girls on his iPad.  Every time a Lena Dunham nude scene comes on (spoiler alert: there are way too many) he does this weird cupping thing with his hands shielding the view of his iPad, almost like he is trying to look into a darkened room through an exterior window.  My advice would be to cover the screen with both hands and come back when the daring, soul-baring honesty is over.  That is, for 30-45 seconds before the next nude scene

Once the bottarga was grated, I seasoned a couple handfuls of kale along with some halved brown mushrooms and tossed them in oil.  The vegetables went onto a baking sheet with a couple Chester Meat Market Italian sausages and into a 450F oven to roast and get some color.

While those cooked, I sautéed garlic in olive oil in the pan for the bottarga pasta, and sautéed some additional chopped kale for the other pasta in a different pan.  Once the sausage and veggies finished roasting, they joined the kale pan along with 2/3s of the cooked pasta, a ladle of the starchy pasta water and a couple spoonfuls of Tims crappy pesto.

Big surprise, Tim and I almost came to blows over how he makes his pesto.  Luckily, he averted disaster by mentioning how Hub Hollow Jill makes her pesto leading me to considering driving to her home to berate her in person.  Balsamic vinegar in a pesto?!?!  What the hell is wrong with you, Jill???

Big surprise, Tim and I almost came to blows over how he makes his pesto.  Luckily, he averted disaster by mentioning how Hub Hollow Jill makes her pesto, leading me to considering driving to her home to berate her in person.  Balsamic vinegar in a pesto?!?!  What the hell is wrong with you, Jill???

In the bottarga pan, I added the remaining pasta and a ladle of the starchy pasta water along with the bottarga, zest, and about a cup of pan roasted corn.

Walkers farm stand in Little Compton consistently has the best corn I have ever had in my life, so I needed to make use of the extra from the night before.  Corn and seafood, even very fishy seafood flavors, always go excellently together.  The only thing worse than the lighting in Tim’s house is Tim’s house on a 90 degree day

Walkers farm stand in Little Compton consistently has the best corn I have ever had in my life, so I needed to make use of the extra from the night before.  Corn and seafood, even very fishy seafood, always go excellently together.  The only thing worse than the lighting in Tim’s house is Tim’s house on a 90 degree day

As the liquid cooked down, the sauce coating the pasta took on an almost creamy texture and the smell of the bottarga was noticeable but not that different from a standard shellfish pasta.  It also looked pretty innocuous, but appetizing.

Really been loading up the captions in this post.  I was trying to stay traditional which is why I went with olive oil over butter, but would likely make it with butter next time around

Really been loading up the captions in this post.  I was trying to stay traditional which is why I went with olive oil over butter, but would likely make it with butter next time around to make it rich and creamier

And with that, I plated up a little for everyone, though Kristi stuck with just the sausage/mushroom/kale combo.  After a bite or two I realized the bottarga pasta would be far better with a little lemon zest grated over the top along with a pinch of salt.

Dueling pasta is a wonderful plate of food in my opinion.  I could do four on one plate, I love having different textures and flavors

Dueling pasta is a wonderful plate of food in my opinion. I could do four on one plate, I love having different textures and flavors

The sausage, kale, mushroom, and pesto pasta was solid.  Lots of flavor, and the texture from the roasted kale added a nice texture and flavor contrast to the rich mushroom and sausage flavors.  Can’t go wrong with roasted vegetables, sausage, and pesto in a pasta.  The main event for me was the bottarga pasta which, when topped with the extra zest and salt, I found extremely enjoyable.  The flavor from the bottarga was definitely fishy, and slightly musty, though not overpowering and mostly noticeable only when you took a deep breath in while eating.  It reminded me of dishes I had with dried shrimp in them while I was in China.  The sweetness from the corn was a nice addition, as usual.  I can’t wait to cook with it again, possibly pushing the fishiness further with some shellfish as well.

Got some Sunday football meals coming up.  Promise.

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Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Smoked Pork Shoulder Ragu

Brother John and (new) Sister Julie’s wedding was last weekend in Grayling, Michigan.  When describing the setting of the wedding to people at work, I used the unfortunate choice of words “family compound” which caused extensive Kennedy jokes while I was out.  In reality, it was good old Matabanic Lodge which I’ve discussed previously in posts about Poutine and Dumplings.  Since it was the summer in Michigan and the Hub Hollow gang was in tow, it meant a lot of this:

I still haven't figured out how to make a quality iced coffee in the massive commercial coffee maker at Matabanic, but I'm working on it

I still haven’t figured out how to make a quality iced coffee in the massive commercial coffee maker at Matabanic, but I’m working on it

a little of this:

"A little" is not accurate as I'm sure you've guessed.  One of my favorite beers fresh and cold in large volume.  Became a constant source of argument in the morning over who forgot to ice and disconnect the tap

“A little” is not accurate as I’m sure you’ve guessed. One of my favorite beers fresh, cold, and in large volume.  Became a constant source of arguments in the morning over who forgot to disconnect the tap and ice the keg

a healthy dose of evening music:

I attempted to take this picture about 25 times.  No matter how many iPhones I am convinced to buy, they take sh*tty low light pictures

I attempted to take this picture about 25 times.  No matter how many iPhones I am convinced to buy, they take sh*tty low light pictures

and one awesome wedding:

That's not Julie, that's the officiant.  John is celebrating Julie rounding the bend with her father in a guided riverboat

That’s not Julie, that’s the officiant.  John is celebrating Julie rounding the bend with her father in a guided riverboat.  It was a pretty awesome setting for a wedding and amazingly no drunks canoed by shouting regional dialect curse words

There were 23ish family members and close friends at Matabanic for the wedding, plus a gaggle of children.  Despite the intimidating size of the crowd and my previous failures cooking for large groups of people, I decided to volunteer for a meal.  In theory with the help of Brother Tim.  I say “in theory” because Tim was likely to resume his normal role of helping early on, getting bored, then criticizing, punching and complaining about timing intermittently. And that was before I remembered he would be on crutches from recent surgery.  Oh well.

My goal, in honor of Julie’s sister Katy and John who both worked at Spannocchia in Italy, was to make a variation of Cinghiale al Pappardelle but with ingredients I could find in middle-of-the-hand Michigan.

Cinghiale is wild boar, a meat that tastes most like a lean and flavorful pork.  With that in mind, and knowing I likely couldn’t find a large quantity of boar easily in Michigan, I decided to start with a pork shoulder and build a rich slow cooked pasta sauce around the meat.  The flavor of shoulder meat is relatively similar to cinghiale but with a higher fat content.  With that in mind, I wanted to render out a little fat before cooking the pork in the sauce but also add some boar-ish earthy flavors back to the meat.  Which brought this bad boy into play.

The old Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.  Tim has a ton of experience with this thing which made the process even more unpleasant since it required following orders from stupid jerkface cargo shorts Tim

The old Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.  Tim has a ton of experience with this thing which made the process even more unpleasant since it required following orders from stupid jerkface cargo shorts Tim.  Also, first time I have ever used “boar-ish” to describe anything other than my behavior

The idea was to debone a ten pound picnic shoulder, divide it into smaller pieces, coat with a mild but slightly Italian-flavored rub, then briefly smoke it over applewood and hickory chips.  When I say briefly, I am comparing it to the normal 8-10 hours one would usually smoke a pork shoulder, so I mean two hours.

After deboning, I think I had 7-8 pounds of trimmed meat which I thoroughly coated with a rub of brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, and a little paprika.

I had a miserable time deboning this shoulder due to the consistently dull knives at Matabanic.  As I drove back to DTW for our flight home I remembered the brand new sharp Henckel knife I had hidden in the attic and let loose with a guttural roar of annoyance

I had a miserable time deboning this shoulder due to the consistently dull knives at Matabanic.  As I drove back to DTW for our flight home I remembered the brand new sharp Henckel knife I had hidden in the attic and let loose with a guttural roar of annoyance

Although the lid stays untouched on a smoker, there is still a decent amount of charcoal and wood chip reloading into the base to keep the temperature between 200 and 250.  I balanced that responsibility with my day long task of overstuffing the wedding guests by serving large amounts of poutine for lunch. I’ve covered poutine before, but wanted to make sure I got credit for multi-tasking so I mentioned it anyway.

Once the poutine was complete and the meat had smoked a little over an hour and a half, I began the sauce prep.  With one of the largest pots in the kitchen heating on the stove, I started running piles of vegetables through Matabanic’s 30 year old Cuisinart knockoff.  Two fennel bulbs, two large yellow onions (very large), 6 carrots, 6 ribs of celery, and a peeled bulb of garlic were all chopped down to near mush and went into the stock pot with a couple tablespoons of butter.

The Cuisinart tactic won't give me any street cred with your Italian grandma, but I've found it effective when trying to make non-bolognese pasta sauce

The Cuisinart tactic won’t give me any street cred with your Italian grandma, but I’ve found it effective when trying to make non-bolognese pasta sauce

After 5-10 minutes of occasional stirring and avoiding anything getting burned to the bottom, I added 2 lbs of sliced mushrooms and stirred some more.

I know the demi glace sounds like an odd choice, but I had seen one recipe for cinghiale that called for a mushroom demi and figured with this volume of sauce it couldn't hurt

I think the first picture was before I added the chopped carrots.  This is a 10 quart stock pot but it really was about as full as it looks here.  I had zero concept whether I was making way too much or way too little sauce

After a few more minutes of cook time, I stirred in two cups of tomato paste until it was well mixed in with the vegetables.  Another few minutes of alternating stirring and pacing, then added salt, black pepper, a liter and a half of red wine, and almost a quart of chicken broth.  Once well combined, I allowed that to come up to heat while I headed outside to collect the smoked shoulder pieces.

I spent about five minutes staring at this blankly trying to decide if I should continue smoking half the meat and only use half in the sauce.  It smelled so good and I was nervous the sauce wouldn't pan out.  When Pete is cooking for you, the secret ingredient is always self doubt

I spent about five minutes staring at this blankly trying to decide if I should continue smoking half the meat and only use half in the sauce.  It smelled so good and I was nervous the sauce wouldn’t pan out.  When Pete is cooking for you, the secret ingredient is always self doubt

Beyond the extremely positive color, crispiness, and aroma, the smoking also appeared to be a success from the amount of fat that had rendered out into the drip pan.  Since this would be cooking the rest of the way in the sauce, I wanted to get a lot of that fat out beforehand.

The pork went to a cutting board where I cut each piece down to roughly the same size, about 3″x3″ pieces.  They smelled really friggin good and I again doubted my decision to use all of it, but in they went into the bubbling sauce.

When everything fit I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself since I had totally wung the proportions.  That's right, I had no idea if I had made enough for the number of people or the volume of pasta I would be cooking, I was just celebrating that I fit everything in the pot I chose arbitrarily

When everything fit I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself since I had totally wung the proportions.  That’s right, I had no idea if I had made enough for the number of people or the volume of pasta I would be cooking, I was just celebrating that I fit everything in the pot I arbitrarily chose

It was a snug fit, but when stirred, all of the pork was completely submerged in the sauce.

Look, I didn't want to admit it right away, but this thing came dangerously close to Major Dag territory due to me constantly forgetting to take pictures.  I know this is completely redundant with the previous picture, but I didn't have much to work with here

Look, I didn’t want to admit it right away, but this thing came dangerously close to Major Dag territory due to me constantly forgetting to take pictures.  I know this is completely redundant with the previous picture, but I didn’t have much to work with here

And then, in line with my original plan of being able to step away from the kitchen while still cooking for a large group, the lid went on and the sauce simmered for four hours.

During that time I went tubing and showered up, but mostly stressed out about whether the food would be edible or taste like Sweet Baby Rays pasta.  I ended up hedging my bets and established goodwill toward the experimental dinner by putting out a couple platters of sliced gravlax that I cured the night before.  Nope, don’t have a picture of that, just look at last week.  Only difference was I made a little creme fraiche to go with it this time.

As we hit the final stretch before dinner, I spent a solid 30 minutes bringing a huge pot of water to a boil.  While that took forever, I used a large spoon to stir and break up the pieces of now falling apart-tender pork and stir everything together.

I know it looks like chili, but this isn't supposed to be a traditional tomato sauce.  It's a ragu y'all!!!  I feel like that term lets me get away with anything

I know it looks like chili, but this isn’t supposed to be a traditional tomato sauce.  It’s a ragu y’all!!!  I feel like that term lets me get away with anything

Once the water was boiling, I added 8 pounds of dried fettuccine and cooked to the low end of the recommended time so it would be slightly al dente.

With the pasta cooked, I pulled down the enormous hotel pan that has been above the Viking range for as long as we’ve been coming to Matabanic.  Usually these things are used for serving buffet style, and the one I grabbed is actually intended for use as the deeper steaming pan under the shallower top pan.  But I needed the room.

The pasta went in first, then I ladeled in the sauce, pausing after every few ladels to mix, toss and stir the pasta to make sure it was fully distributed.  With about a quarter of the sauce left, I realized I had miraculously guessed correctly and made approximately the right amount of sauce for the pasta (or vice versa) and dumped the rest in to be tossed.  It was definitely meaty, but the pasta was well coated without being overly saucy, like the original I consumed multiple times in Italy.  Plus a little fresh parmesan cheese grated over the top.

I was horrified when I flipped through my phone hours after the meal and saw how many gaps there were in the photos and that this was the last one on my phone.  I didn't even get a pre-cheese or plated picture.  I am an awful person

I was horrified when I flipped through my phone hours after the meal and saw how many gaps there were in the fotos and that this was the last one on my phone.  I didn’t even get a pre-cheese or plated picture.  I am an awful person

You wanna see a jiggling pile of anxiety?  Watch me after I’ve cooked for twenty people and expectantly look at each individual person’s reaction as they taste the food.  It is really poor form on my part.  Anyway, instead of guessing how other people felt about it, I will just say that after the 23 guests, 5 babysitters & nannies, and Kelly (our breakfast cook and overall kitchen wizard) took their first and seconds, there were only 2-3 portions of leftovers.  And now here’s my thoughts:

I love this style of pasta dish where the actual fettuccine is only lightly coated in flavorful sauce but there are plenty of chunks of meat or vegetable ragu in every bite.  I just don’t like pasta swimming in red sauce so the proportions were right on for me with this one.  The flavor was definitely a little surprising at first; you don’t expect a smokey barbeque flavor with your pasta and it was definitely the first taste to come across.  After you got past that first note, the richness of the other flavors in the sauce came through and made for a few layers in each bite.  Overall, the shock of the smoke flavor from the first bite goes away after a few and the pasta just ended up being rich, meaty, and enjoyable.  Not exactly like the pappardelle al cinghiale of my dreams, but close enough that I felt it was a decent homage.

Next up will be my third crack at beef tongue.  I got dis.

Fish Cakes and Spaghetti

One year ago today, my father passed away peacefully at the age of 67.  I figured a good way to remember him would be to make his favorite dinner and recap the process along with a few anecdotes about him.

First, if you asked Dad what his favorite food was, he’d probably take some time to think about it, scribble some stuff down on the back of an envelope, and then come back with something completely random.  The last two times I asked, he responded with Cassoulet once and Coq au Vin once, two foods I never saw him consume in my life.  However, any time we were meal planning for a week and asking for suggestions, he would request fish cakes and spaghetti be added to the list.

Now, if Dad was reading this he would be grunting, groaning and protesting that fish cakes are not his favorite food.  He would also likely be wearing this hat and pointing to it a lot.

I was OK with the senior crew team members making these my sophomore year.   Until they gave one to my dad.  I swear that is one of the most genuine smiles we have a photo of

Despite those expected protests, you can’t argue with how much he enjoyed fish cakes and how often he requested them.  For those unfamiliar with fish cakes, they are a pasty combination of anonymous fish and rehydrated potato that Mrs. Paul cooks herself and places in the freezer section at your local grocer.

I was hoping to show a picture of the box but they didn’t even have them at Kings. Who knows where my mom consistently found a stockpile of them for our freezer. No biggie, we weren’t planning to use the premade version

Anyway, fish cakes served with a couple boxes of spaghetti and a jar of Ragu was a regular meal in the Ryan family’s informal biweekly meal rotation.  My goal, with my brother Tim’s help (of course), was to recreate the meal from scratch and hopefully improve upon it while keeping it authentic.

When I arrived at Tim’s house, his homemade marinara had been simmering for a few hours over low heat.

Tim used a Cooks Illustrated recipe for this sauce. Generally, he uses recipes a lot more than I do. Which is why his food usually tastes better than mine

I started a pot of water boiling and put a one pound fillet of cod, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, in the oven for ten minutes.

My goal was to slightly undercook the cod since it would cook again in fish cake form. Tim’s goal should be to clean his oven more often

While that cooks, lets do a top five list of the weirdest foods that Jack Ryan was responsible for making a staple of our childhood (and in some cases, adulthood):

#1) Liverwurst (big assist from Grandma Ryan who stocked her fridge with it too)
#2) Head Cheese (not a continued favorite but happy I was introduced to the genre)
#3) Scrapple (“pork polenta” as our wedding caterer called it, I still love this stuff)
#4) Olive Loaf (bologna studded with stuffed green olives, haven’t had this in 15 years)
#5) Canned Sardines (in oil or water, served in a specific manner mentioned later)

This list does a good job of clarifying an earlier comment; Dad loved food, but he really didn’t have the patience for cooking it.  I thank my mom for my love of cooking but Dad gets credit for my adventurous tastes and willingness to try new foods.  When I asked him why he liked all of those crazy items, he told me that when he lived on diners and delis in NYC, whenever he saw something he hadn’t tried, he ordered it.  So that’s where I get that trait from.  Back to the cooking.

Tim planned on making the pasta using the hand-cranked pasta maker that we got my mom for Christmas 20 years ago, likely from Woolworths in Bernardsville.  Needless to say, it is low quality and may have been used twice before Mommy Ryan realized the hell of cooking for five people when it takes 20 minutes to make one serving of pasta.  Tim started out by combining the flour and eggs in a food processor.

Tim was embarrassed to make the pasta dough in the processor but apparently had failed miserably with the volcano method. So, basically, this blog is as much about memorializing my father as it is about ruining Tim’s street cred

The processor churned out this very nice looking dough ball:

Not to be confused with the two dough balls cooking dinner. Too easy

While Tim made the pasta dough, I sauteed a large chopped yellow onion and boiled three peeled russet potatoes.

Cooked these until about this point. Wanted them to retain some texture for after they were mixed into the fish cakes

The pasta dough rested for about 40 minutes while the potatoes boiled simultaneously.  Sounds like a good window for more Jack Ryan stories.

When I was 22 and living at home after college, Dad and I had a night where we needed to fend for ourselves for dinner.  Dad went with his go-to, corned beef hash and eggs (or “dog food for people”, as he called it) while I made a sandwich or something.  I watched him walk into the kitchen, drop the can full of hash into a hot pan, crack an egg on top, and walk away.  For twenty minutes.  Being the know-it-all that I am, I told him there was no way it would cook like that and he’d end up with raw eggs and canned food.  Instead, he ended up with crispy hash and a fully cooked, steamed egg on top.  He was nice enough to not rub it in my face after it came out perfect.

Let’s check back in on the fish cakes progress.  We boiled the potatoes a little longer than normal because we were looking for a texture that was a little more glue-like.

Butter, salt, pepper. Write that down.

I mashed the potatoes using salt, pepper, butter, and the liquid from the dish the cod cooked in.  Once they were smooth and creamy, I added the sauteed onions and cod and mashed the mixture up some more.

At this point, the smell in the bowl was extremely unfortunate. It smelled about as far from food as you can imagine, just a tough combination of ingredients

Once it was fully mixed, I put the bowl outside to cool and helped Tim with the pasta rolling.  The dough ball was split into five portions and then run through the roller multiple times, folding the dough back on itself after each time through.  I have no understanding of why this was necessary, and neither did Tim, but it’s supposedly how it’s done.  Once the dough was rolled into a long, flat uniform piece, we ran it through the cutter.

Taking fotos while cranking the pasta maker. This DB has skills

At which point the pasta was transferred to Tim’s homemade pasta-drying rack.

I know, I was concerned that the pasta would end up all stuck together too, but Tim was right that it all separated during cooking

While the pasta dries and the potato/fish mixture cools, let’s talk about Pop Ryan a bit more.  I think the following two items give a good understanding of the range of his favorite foods.

When I was 7 or 8, I was allowed to attend the Far Hills Race Meeting (or the Hunt) after a couple year break.  The reasons for the break are irrelevant (when I was 5, I “washed” my hands with a urinal cake thinking it was soap in the porta potties) but upon our return we spent our time at the Caspersen’s tailgate.  I don’t have many food memories from this time in my life, but Dad giving me a spoonful of caviar is forever seared in my memory.  He explained to me what it was in advance and I think he expected me to be grossed out.  But once he saw that I was intrigued by it, he told me how special and expensive it was and then gave me a lump of it.  I loved it then and still love it now.  Every time I have a chance to eat great caviar I am immediately reminded of the first time I had it and remember it fondly.

No relation to the current caviar story, just one of the best pranks you can play on your one and a half year-old. Pretty sure they don’t make cribs strong enough to handle a fake-sleeping adult these days, though

On the flip side of things, here are three sandwiches that my dad ate regularly and taught his kids to love as well:
Pickle and cheese: dill pickles, sliced thin and served on white bread with a couple slices of American cheese and a healthy slathering of mayo.  Had one of these a couple weeks ago.
Cream cheese and olives: sliced martini olives and cream cheese on white bread. Catching the pattern of condiments combined with kraft cheese?
Sardines and mayo: referenced this one earlier.  Drain a can of sardines, mash it with mayo, and serve it on a sandwich like tuna salad.  Sounds gross but don’t knock this one until you’ve tried it.

He taught me to love one of the most expensive foods on the planet and also sandwiches made from whatever was leftover in the fridge.  I know those sandwiches wouldn’t be enjoyable for most people, but for me they are the epitome of comfort food.

Once the fish, onion and potato mixture had cooled completely, I mixed in two eggs, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, fresh parsley, salt and pepper.

Started smelling a little better at this point, also started looking pretty appetizing

The bowl was formed into individual patties and rolled in breadcrumbs while oil heated in a pan on the stovetop.

Starting to look like the frozen briquettes that would come out of the Mrs Paul’s box

These went into the pan for a few minutes on each side.

I was completely unable to flip/remove these in between the phases of “lightly cooked” and “overcooked”. There were no “golden brown” final products

Here’s how they came out:

A little burned or not, they looked and smelled great

Before we eat, one last Jack Ryan story.  One of my favorites.

A few years after my parents bought the Long Beach Island house, a nearby diner was on its third or fourth owner.  My dad loved this diner and desperately wanted it to succeed because A) he loved diners and B) the diner was an old fashioned train car on blocks in an otherwise empty lot.  One Sunday morning, we stopped by and found a diner in disarray: few customers but no servers, an owner sprinting around with no apparent direction, and an empty griddle with no cook.  After fifteen minutes of waiting, Dad flagged down the owner.  I was expecting an annoyed request for menus, but what I got was something like this:

Dad: You guys don’t seem to have your act together, can we get some menus and order?
Owner: I don’t know what I can do for you. My staff quit and I have nobody to cook.
Dad: If you need a cook, get me an apron.

Dad stood up from the table, grabbed an apron, walked to the empty cooking area and started calling out orders off the tickets above griddle.  I sh*t you not.  I am struggling to write this right now because all I wish is that I could remember and explain this as perfectly as possible.  But I was just a mortified 11-year old; I didn’t know how much I would treasure this memory at the time.

For the next hour he cooked the orders of everybody in the diner, and took orders from new customers as well.  The moment I remember best was Dad banging on the griddle with his spatula, yelling to the owner, “Where are my hash browns?!?! Where are my hash browns?!?!”

When he felt like he had things well in hand, he took off the apron, returned to the table, and we left the diner to go elsewhere for breakfast.  I remember thinking how happy he looked; it had always been a “life without responsibility” dream of his to be a short order cook.  I wish I remembered it better.

Here’s the final homemade fish cake and spaghetti plating:

I never particularly liked this meal growing up, but I would make those fish cakes again in a second.  Also, sweet southwestern-chic plates, Tim

The flavor and texture of the marinara sauce was fantastic, and I am usually not a big meat-free marinara fan.  The fish cakes were pretty potato-heavy, but so are the frozen ones.  These had a lot of good flavor from the fish liquid, onions, and seasoning.  Overall, a very good meal and a nice low-key way to keep Dad in our thoughts.  I’m guessing we will cook it again.

One of the toughest parts of losing a parent is that you become more conscious of the things you learned from them after they are gone.  You think of them all the time over the course of a normal day as you recognize the little things you learned from them.  You wish you’d recognized all of those things earlier so you could share and thank them for it.  This blog has often reminded me of my dad and the unique tastes he passed along to me. At times, it has also made me sad because I know how much he would have enjoyed reading it, emailing it to his friends and family, and eating some of the meals cooked.  We all miss him a lot.