Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Triggerfish and Little Compton wrap up

Mommy Ryan’s annual Little Compton rental was the past two weeks, hence the lack of posts.  I swear that the internet is barely functional no matter where I go in that lovely seaside town, plus it’s no fun to sit inside writing a blog post when you are at a beach house.  It’s also no fun to pause and take pictures of what you are cooking, so this won’t be my strongest post.

That’s not the house Ma Ryan rented, but it is a pleasant place to have a beer on the deck when the weather is nice.  This was taken a few seconds before Janet started eating pebbles and grass like potato chips and I had to sprint towards her to make her laugh at my lack of athleticism and slow her progress

Little Compton is a bit shaky on the grocery store front, and the best idea is usually to head out of town for most supplies.  The fresh food options are fantastic though, with Walkers (the farm stand en route), dece foraging, the Sakonnet Lobster Company, and a new discovery from this trip on the best place to buy fish.

No real secret to Walkers, just insanely fresh, ripe, locally grown produce that is always delicious.  For the foraging, there are a few sandy spots where you can covertly go quahoggin’ but I have never participated due to fears of undercover shellfish cops.  Elsewhere, the mussel population was unfortunately destroyed years ago due to the introduction of a non-indigenous crab species that wiped them out.  But, we’d heard rumors you could find them on the rocks.

As usual Buschy wanted to go foraging, which meant he wanted to watch and ask questions without getting his nails dirty.  What we discovered on the rocks in front of the house was a huge mussel population well on the way to a full rebound but still a little young.  I plucked a few of the biggest ones for a small appetizer.

I prefer this to the foul smelling mud where I’ve mucked mussels in Maine, but I was consistently positive I was about to break a bone on these rocks

I only pocketed a couple dozen since the mussel population on these rocks likely needed another year to have a full crop of standard-sized shellfish.  The ones we did have were awse; very clean with meat that was tender, sweet, and more white than the usual pink/orange color.  Lots of potential for future years.

Back to the local food sources.  To get the best lobsters and feesh, it’s best to arrive at Sakonnet point between 9 and 10AM.  For the lobsters that will earn you some well priced monsters.

The beer bottle does a far worse job than expected of providing a size and scale reference for the lobsters

To explain, Sakonnet Lobster Co sells on a progressive per pound scale where the larger lobsters are also more expensive per pound.  Pretty standard, but there is a separate price structure for “Cull” lobsters which are priced at 6 or 7 dollars a pound.  Cull generally refers to single claw lobsters, but there are also usually a few that have two claws and are too ugly to be sold for full price.  Considering that you’re not eating the shell, who cares if there is a barnacle or divot on the outside?  You gotta get there early when they are sorting the day’s catch, though; these two pounders with a couple stray barnacles usually go home with the fishermen.

Similarly, around the corner by the jetty at Sakonnet point there is a commercial fishing dock where they sort the day’s catch before 10AM.  If you have cash, you can pay wholesale prices for whatever is fresh caught that day before it heads to the fish markets in Fall River.  Sometimes it’s common fish like Striped Bass or Cod, but the day we went I encountered three fish species I’d never cooked before: Tautog, Triggerfish, and Scup.  After parting with my $8, I headed home with two Triggerfish to clean and prep.

Didn’t get a good shot of the fish, or the awkward 5 minutes where Buschy and I were standing outside the commercial fish docks too nervous and intimidated to go in and ask if they sell fish.  We were acting like high school kids hanging outside a liquor store hoping someone would just offer to buy us some beer instead of asking

Triggerfish are ellipse-like in shape and have a little mouth full of sharp teeth.  Their outer skin is like a solid coat of armor with small scales that were seemingly impossible to remove by scraping.  Since these were whole and fresh off the boat, I wanted to remove the guts and clean them to get that step out of the way.

I learned how to clean trout in Michigan when I was 10.  This wasn’t that similar with the massive air bladder and huge liver, but I got through it

These weren’t the simplest fish to clean since the opening wasn’t easy to get my hands into.  Plus, the air bladder was pretty thick and difficult to remove.  Aside from that, I was surprised by how large the liver was for a relatively small fish.  Once fully cleaned I rinsed the insides out with a hose and put the fish in the fridge until dinner prep.

But I certainly wasn’t going to waste that liver.

This is after a rinse in the sink.  I had to at least try them, right?  I mean what kind of weirdo would just throw that away?

It’s going to sound bizarre, but the main reason for why I cooked the livers was the highly encouraging smell.  They were clean/not fishy smelling, and had the general aroma of a freshly steamed New England mud clam (or steamer).  So, once they were fully rinsed and patted dry, I threw them in a pan with olive oil and a couple twists of coarse sea salt.

After a few minutes browning on each side, they were ready.

I wish I had bought 100 Triggerfish just for the livers.  These things may have looked foul and smelled super-fishy at first, but they were pretty incredible

The texture was liver-like, soft with a crispy outside from cooking in the olive oil, but the flavor didn’t have a hint of what you expect from liver.  They tasted most like a fried clam belly and were very mild and rich.  I was stunned when Kristi took a bite and more surprised when she agreed with my previous assessment.  She even commented on how my lunch of fish livers on an English muffin looked good!  I’ve created a monster.

When it came time to cook the Triggerfish, I didn’t have many options.  The skin was like armor with small scales which made boiling it a tricky proposition and I’m not good enough with a knife to fillet a fish that thin.  So, I went with what I know and packed it in a mixture of kosher salt and egg whites with the cavity stuffed with sliced lemon and bay leaves for a salt baking.  As with my previous experience, it came out surprisingly well.

I was a little sloppy removing the huge crust of salt on top and a little flaked back on the fish, but the skin easily pulled away in one solid piece which cleared most of the salt away.  Yeah, like I was really nervous about salt getting on my food

I was pretty into this fish.  The meat near the ribs and collar was very buttery tasting and tender while the more dense meat towards the tail was dense but flaky and more like a traditional whitefish flavor.  Really good.  Next time around I think I will be stuffing with lime, chili peppers, and cilantro to use the fish meat for the best fish tacos of all time.  Can’t wait to go back to those docks.  Thanks to Buschy and Taylor for all the pictures.

My freezer is completely full due to the recent arrival of a tuna head and guts courtesy of the Hard Four crew (big ups to Johnny of course, and Brother Tim for carpooling with the head).  Not sure if it will be the post for next week, but I have some other posts in mind.

Weird Crap I Cook: Whelk Chowder

Seems like the end of summer break from posting is unavoidable.  Over the past couple weeks I’ve been in Little Compton with my family and attended an awesome wedding in the Poconos.  While I have been cooking a lot there haven’t been too many interesting meals.

That all changed when we hit the fish market in Tiverton, RI on our way back from visiting my aunts in Jamestown last week.  I immediately noticed something I’d never cooked or eaten before sitting in a container next to the clams and mussels.  The guy behind the counter called them conch, but they were smaller and seemingly had a much thinner shell than what I would traditionally call conch.  They looked a lot more like large sea snails (or whelks).

Pretty average statement from me: "I've never cooked those before, I'll take 6 pounds"

The seafood purveyor wasn’t too helpful on cooking instructions either, instructing me to “cook them” when I asked the best way to prepare them.  So, as usual, I would be on my own and looking to the internet for these.

The general instructions broke down to boiling or steaming the whelks for a few minutes then removing them from their shell and discarding the inedible parts.  Other than that, you just slice and use them like any other shellfish.  With that in mind, I decided to make whelk & shrimp fritters and a whelk chowder, but since I’ve covered the fritter angle pretty well previously, I will focus on the chowder in this entry.

Seemed like pretty straightforward shellfish aside from the hard foot that looked like a flat mussel shell. That thing kinda scared me

The next morning (I was told they keep well overnight in the fridge) I got started by cleaning the whelks and placing them in a steamer pot.

I was careful to arrange open-end up so that they would basically boil in their own liquid. Rereading that statement, I feel kind of like a sadistic jerk

I let these steam for about 8 minutes then took them off the heat and removed the cover to let them cool for 20 minutes to make them easier to handle.

The lighting in the LC kitchen was a little tough to deal with around the time the whelks finished cooking, so it was good to take a break to let things cool down

When it came time to shell the whelks it became clear that the hard foot wasn’t an issue and peeled right off.

It really did look like a combination of cooked conch and snails at this point

Once the foot was gone the meat was easily removed by sticking a fork in the dense meat near the opening and pulling out slowly.

Big thanks to Kristi who spent the afternoon responding to constant calls for "action shots"

This was about when Kristi's reactions officially shifted from "COOL!" (when she first saw the shells) to "gross" (when the meat came out)

The contents of the shells quickly piled up on the plates, and the meat was a bizarre mix of photogenic and unappetizing.

Kristi is an incredibly good amateur shellfish photographer. This one and the wild mussels shot on the header of this blog are her best work

I rinsed any sediment off of each piece and then started separating the edible parts from the inedible parts of each whelk.  Thank god for the internet or else I likely would have eaten the whole thing and gotten sick.

Grabbed the soft tail end (I think it was the intestines)...

...and pulled, cleanly separating the guts (right hand) from the meat (left hand)

Final step in preparing the whelks was also well documented by Kristi.

All the different colored areas are edible and have different textures. I think this is the mouth of the whelk

As instructed by a ruddy Brittish lady in a you tube video about whelks, I cut straight into the whelk along the mouth line...

...and removed the softer off-colored areas inside

After repeating this process with each whelk, I finally decided to cut a sliver off and taste.  The flavor was strong, in a good way, like a combination of a fully cooked bay scallop and a clam belly but the meat was also extremely rubbery and chewy.

From there, all of the meat went into a sandwich bag for storage until it was time to cook the chowder later in the day.

It was a pretty stuffed sandwich bag, probably between 1 and 2 pounds of meat

The chowder is a variation of the clam chowder I have been making with Tim the past couple years (read: I chopped the clams and he followed a recipe).  Since he was refusing to help, I had some freedom to stray from the recipe.  Instead of starting with the usual bacon, I browned a cubed link of chorizo and added chopped onion, carrot, and celery along with salt and pepper.

A good start for pretty much anything

After a few minutes cooking together, I whisked in flour, a quart of seafood stock, sherry, fresh thyme, and a couple bay leaves.  After that simmered for 10 minutes or so, I added cubed red potatoes.

I love the kitchen sink aspect of making chowders, soups, and chili. Its tough to add too much stuff, and the addition of corn is almost always welcome

While the potatoes cooked for about 10 minutes, I cut the whelk meat down to bite-sized pieces.  Due to the chewiness of the whelk, I wanted to keep them small and thin.

Pretty interesting looking stuff

I ended up adding about half of the chopped whelk meat for the chowder and using the other half in the whelk and shrimp fritters.

I think the keys to good chowder are lots of thyme, lots of sherry, and what meat you use to compliment the shellfish (bacon, chorizo, etc.)

Along with the whelk I stirred in some heavy cream and about a cup and a half of 1% milk to get the chowder to the color and consistency I was looking for.  That simmered for a few minutes and then I removed it from the heat to be reheated a few hours later with dinner.

Or at least that was the plan.  Tim threw a tantrum because he was making ribs for dinner and thought that the chowder wouldn’t go well with the pork.  So he demanded I make fritters instead.  Freakin’ jerk.

The chowder went into the fridge and waited to be reheated the following day for lunch.  It ended up working out pretty well, and gave me the opportunity to add the kernels from an ear of corn and some more sherry as well.

My chowders always have a little spice to them due to lots of black pepper, but I a like to add a little hot sauce and oyster crackers to my bowls. Also, Little Compton is beautiful and everything in the background of this foto is awesome

The chowder likely benefited from a night in the fridge since the flavors had more time to come together, but it didn’t change the fact that there were a lot of textures in each bowl.  The veggies, chorizo, and whelk all were very different and each bite had a little of each. The whelk was almost the texture of a sliced bouncy ball, but the pieces were small enough that a couple chews and they were gone.

Overall, the flavor of the whelk was hidden a bit in the chowder, so it mostly just tasted like a clam chowder.  The fritters had a lot more of the clam belly/cooked scallop flavor I mentioned earlier.  Despite the lack of whelk-y, the chowder was pretty delicious and all 12 bowls of it went quickly.

Not sure what will be next, but I hope to be cooking more with summer travel done.

Little Compton Hot Dogs

First, my apologies for the lack of posts.  Too much traveling and a lack of internet.  I will try to do better and I have a few recent meals that will make shorter posts.  This is one of them.

On our final Saturday night in Little Compton we had about 15 people staying in the house and we decided the best way to feed everyone would be a lobster bake.  To get people hungry we started out with a guacamole competition between me and my friend Emily.

Emyo's guac is the far one, mine is the closer one. Hers was chunky because her hand hurt too much to mash it well. Waaaahhhhh, poor baby. I am just bitter because hers tasted better

Due to the lack of quality ventilation in the house and it still recovering from my lobster marinara, we decided to do the lobster bake outside.  Enter the Tim Ryan turkey fryer.

When Tim and I first used a turkey fryer we remarked how awesome it would be to cook, like, a hundred buffalo wings in it. As we thought about that in slack-jawed amazement, I realized we would both need seatbelt extensions on airplanes at some point in our lives

Between that and the wooden cornhole game we made (Tim did the woodwork, Kristi did the bags, I criticized), we were definitely the rednecks of this quaint and quiet beach community.

Buschy and Kristi at least looked like they belonged. I was probably shirtless and drinking a budweiser while I took this picture

Back to the lobster bake, the bottom of the pot had three rocks to separate the steamer basket from the water.  Into the basket went 60 clams and 15 lobsters.

I am looking forward to a 6-7 month break from clams and lobsters...

...though I could easily be convinced to change my mind. This picture makes me hungry and it is mainly of decking and shingles

Now for why the post is named “Little Compton Hot Dogs”, once the water was boiling and we were about to put the clam/lobster basket in, I threw 10 hotdogs into the bottom of the pot.  My thought was that they would cook in the liquid that came out of the clams and lobsters and take on some of the flavor.

There was a lot of head shaking off camera. Either no one liked the sound of this idea or no one liked the sound of my voice talking about it nonstop. I blame the idea.

Then the clams and lobsters went in on top.

I made eye contact with a few too many of them during this process.

Some people were distracted by the sunset.

Pretty great spot. Well chosen rental, Mommy Ryan

But I just stared at the pot until it was time to turn off the propane burner and pull the basket.  Which gave us our first look at the cooked hot dogs.

Can't say that people were looking into the pot, slapping me on the back, and congratulating me on a great idea. Most said that it looked like a revolting joke

Hot dogs came out and were put on a plate where they were aptly descibed as looking like, “cafeteria hot dogs”. But I still had hope. We then put the lobsters back in the pot to separate them from the clams.

I was whining about how my hands were still burning through the mitt so Tim came in and barehanded them to show me up. Stupid brother with his stupid calloused hands from doing stupid real man work

Along with 5 pounds of red potatoes and corn it made for an excellent meal.  The hot dogs ended up looking appetizing once they were out of the water for a few minutes and got their color back.

All but one of the dogs ended up being eaten, and I ate that one the next day for lunch

I’d love to say that you could taste the shellfish juice in the hot dogs but you really couldn’t aside from them being a little saltier.  Oh well, I would still do it again.

The whole meal ended up excellent and included Emily getting completely covered with lobster fat while cracking a claw for her fiance Nate.  That upstaged the meal as the highlight of the evening for everyone but Emyo.

Next post will be about an oxtail stew that I made for our fantasy football draft.