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: Lobster Mac and Cheese

This one feels vaguely out of season, but we’ve been traveling on the weekends to weddings and fake college reunions so I haven’t had much time in the kitchen.  I had a choice between using photos from recent meals I haven’t written about or potentially ruining half of tonight’s grilled pizza with a combination of canned goose pate and grape balsamic reduction.  Went with the former, though I need to give that pizza a shot at some point when dinner doesn’t depend on it.

After a trip to Maine this summer we headed home with the usual 6 lobsters, for the absurdly low price of $20, that we planned to steam and shell for use in various meals throughout the week.

The meat looks great and all, but that Tupperware in the background contains the Man of the Match for this meal.  The process of cooking and shelling 6 lobsters makes me sweat an illogical amount

A portion of this meat will always have to be designated to a few lobster rolls on Maier’s Potato Rolls…

Look, I’m seeing these pictures for the first time in awhile myself, and I have no idea how my toe worked its way into the background of this shot.  I am certainly not flexible enough to have my foot that close to food that I am consuming

I love me a good lobster roll, but the majority needed to be saved for the meal I’ve always loved the concept of but has never lived up to my lofty expectations; Lobster Mac & Cheese.  I haven’t sought out or done research on where to find good Lobster Mac (today’s ‘breve), but invariably the ones I’ve tried have been a little bland and lacking the lobster flavor I was looking for.  Needless to say, I had some ideas for how to improve on that and babbled about them to anyone that would listen.  Time to put them to the test.

I got started by making a broth with the lobster shells and some aromatics.  Someone needs to explain to me why this always ends up green in color when I expect it to be pink.

Not as bad as when I made the lobster marinara, but still not an appetizing sight.  Kinda like the header I chose to put on this food blog that makes most visitors vomit before they can even get to a post

Each time I’ve made lobster broth, it ends up smelling strongly of lobster but mostly just tastes like a standard fish stock.  I reserved some of the broth for the cheese sauce, but most of it was earmarked for cooking the macaroni.

A few years ago Kristi and I had pantry moths.  Now we are just hippies, with all dried goods stored in mason jars.  We labeled all the jars based on Phish song related puns.  Spoof’n, can you imagine how infuriating it would be to bake in a kitchen like that?

The macaroni boiled in the lobster broth for a little over half of the normal cook time before being strained and set to the side.  I kind of expected it to pick up some of the green coloring from the broth, but of course it didn’t.  Just like everything else I expect to happen in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to fight, I’m not in a bad mood or mad at you.  It’s just, I don’t get… I mean, why do you have to use the flash when you take action shots?” – me, as Kristi stares at me in rightful disbelief

With the pasta cooked and the lobster meat ready, it was time to get started on the cheese sauce.  To add some flavor to the dish and the sauce, I started off by cubing a quarter pound of duck prosciutto for browning.

Yeah, had some leftover from the duck prosciutto making festivities over the past few months.  Worked deliciously with the lobster.  Duck and lobster.  Size XL on my monocle, please

The duck prosciutto went into a couple tablespoons of butter to sautee for a few minutes on the stovetop.  Once the prosciutto had browned a bit, it joined the cooked macaroni and chopped lobster in a bowl.

Nobody beats themselves up more than me when an inadequately small bowl for mixing together ingredients is chosen.  Let’s just say I was cursing myself out far more than necessary over having to wash an extra dish when I transferred this to a larger bowl

With the leftover melted butter and duck fat still on the stove, I whisked in 2-3 tablespoons of flour and let it cook on the stovetop for a 10 minutes.  I was carefully to stir it regularly to avoid burning, but I certainly don’t mind a nice brown roux.

Dats a good lookin’ roux

At this point the standard cheese sauce process started; add some milk (plus a little of the broth) then some shredded cheese, then some milk, and so on until you have enough cheese sauce of the right consistency.  I am not going to attempt to explain what that means because I would do so awfully and no one comes here to learn.

I went with straight sharp cheddar for this one, but I knew the secret weapon in this sauce had nothing to do with the cheese and milk, it had to do with this:

“Potentially Poisonous Guacamole of the Gods?!?! Sign me up!” – Line from the imaginary food show I host in my kitchen when Kristi goes to bed

That’s right, when dismantling the lobster bodies I saved the tomalley (lobster offal) and roe in this little container for questionable future use.  It looks gross, and there have been warnings about possible pollutants from the ocean bottom being concentrated in it, but the flavor of it is rich and lobstery.  Perfect for spiking the flavor of the cheese sauce with the lobster note it was missing, so in it went.

You can see it hiding in there now that I’ve told you about it, but I certainly didn’t tell people about it before they tried it

The majority of this pot got stirred in with the other ingredients in a large(r) bowl before going into a Pyrex dish that by some stroke of luck held it perfectly.

I’ll admit I didn’t use all of the cheese sauce and ended up regretting that slightly.  Always becomes less cheese saucy during baking when the macaroni starts a little underdone.  Again, I was acting like a self-hating cartoon character

After a dusting with some breadcrumbs and grated parm, the dish headed into a 375 oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese was bubbling and the top was browned.  Served it while it was hot with some token vegetables to make us feel like we were doing something healthy.

That zucchini looks even more pathetic in hindsight.  I probably acted like it tasted like poison since vegetables occasionally make me act like I am 8 years old when there is something else I would much rather be eating

Between the pasta cooked in lobster broth and the lobster bits in the cheese sauce, I had accomplished my goal of making something that didn’t just taste like mac and cheese with lobster chunks.  It tasted like lobster mac and cheese.  The cheese sauce had the slightly seafoody sweetness of lobster mixed with rich cheese flavor.  Every chunk of lobster was a great bite and the contrasting crispy pieces of prosciutto were a nice change of pace.  I kinda blew it by not using all of the sauce but, I learned a lesson, and will likely do it right next time.  Then I will make the same mistake again the following time.

Before I wrap up, a quick shout out to occasional blog villain Matt, his wife Wendy and their adorable daughter Sage who has fought mightily through her first four months of life.  Sage underwent a liver transplant yesterday morning at Children’s Hospital in Boston and could use the positive thoughts and hope of everyone who reads this blog as she recovers.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the little Swaddled Warrior, and I hope yours will be too.