Cleaning Out My Cabinets: Skate Wing and Miso Corn

A few weeks ago I visited Super 88, still one of my favorite places on earth to buy stuff I’ve never consumed before.  It went about as expected; I bought a lot of insanely inexpensive frozen dumplings, a gigantic tub of miso despite promising myself I wouldn’t, and then fed Janet pork and duck in the attached food court.  On my slow, slack jawed fly-by of the fish department (where I usually consider buying one of the whole carp swimming behind the counter) I saw that they had whole skate packed in ice for $1.39 a pound.  Which created some anxiety.

I’ve loved skate wing the few times I’ve had it in restaurants, usually pan fried with a brown butter sauce.  On the other hand, skate is a ray, pees through it’s skin, and generally should be eaten extremely fresh since it gets nasty fast.  On top of all of that, the center area of the skate is mostly inedible, each wing has a band of cartilage running through the middle of the meat, and the skin is extremely difficult to peel off.  Due to all of these factors, I did multiple anxious passes by the seafood case before having the courage to ask the man at the counter if he would clean the skate for me.  Which he shook his head and replied “no” to.  Meaning I needed to do a couple more anxious laps deep in thought.

Exotic mushrooms, fish sauce, and pork belly.  Also, we still haven't cut Janet's hair, ever, which has led to that rat tail ringlet strand int he back.  Also, yes she is wearing shorts and yes that blows up my whole "a few weeks ago" opening

Exotic mushrooms, fish sauce, and pork belly.  Also, we still haven’t cut Janet’s hair, ever, which has led to that rat tail ringlet strand in the back.  Also, yes she is wearing shorts and yes that blows up my whole “a few weeks ago” opening

Eventually, despite my near psychotic hatred of wasting food, I decided that the minimal investment due to the per pound cost made it acceptable to take the risk.  So, as the 5th lap wrapped up I asked for a skate from the same seafood counter guy who immediately asked if I wanted it cleaned.  Well then.  Seems like the questions work best when they are outbound at Super 88 and can be answered with just a nod.  Anyhoo, he removed the wings from the skate and I headed up to wait in the extremely long line at checkout.  Then, of course, Janet and I went and ate a half pound of Chinese roast pork.

Once home, I got started on dinner.  The plan was to use the miso in a corn dish that I saw on the first season of Mind of a Chef, do the skate wing in brown butter, and utilize a week old head of cauliflower in a way that completely wouldn’t match the flavors of the other items.  The first step, was getting my first good up close look at the fish and preparing it for cooking.

It pretty much like normal fish, except butchered by a toddler with a child-safe pumpkin carving knife

It looked pretty much like normal fish, if normal fish were butchered by a toddler with a child-safe pumpkin carving knife

I have no idea what happened in the back of Super 88 when the fishmonger went to “clean” the fish, but some things happened.  Most noticeable was that the spiny edges were trimmed off, but also that he randomly chose to remove the skin on only on side of each wing.  There was still a hard piece of cartilage running down the center of the wings which ended with a thick piece of bone-like cartilage at what would have been the middle of the body.  Otherwise the fish looked and smelled pretty fresh, with none of the ammonia-like smell I was told to look out for.  Still a lot more work left to do than I expected, though.

The hardest part of dealing with skate, as I had heard and quickly learned first hand, is removing the skin which is best done with pliers and a lot of elbow grease.

This was probably a minute and 20 complaints into the process.  I found peeling the skin off of this piece of fish to be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done in the kitchen, right up there with assembling the Turducken

This was probably a minute and 20 complaints into the process.  I found peeling the skin off of this piece of fish to be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done in the kitchen, right up there with assembling the Turducken

Especially if you have tasted soft, delicate skate wing in a restaurant, this process seems entirely ridiculous.  The idea of tearing the skin off of meat seems like it would completely ruin even the toughest cuts, but with skate it actually peels away cleanly.  Albeit with an insane amount of effort.  I think each wing probably took 2-3 minutes or repositioning, pulling, then trying to find a new grip on the meat that wouldn’t damage it, and pulling some more.  I know I am painting a very encouraging picture for giving this a shot at home.

After a lot of effort, I had a couple clean wings.

The freshly skinned piece is the one on the right.  Pliers are really an absurd item to have in a cooking photo

The freshly skinned piece is the one on the right. Pliers are really an absurd item to have in a cooking photo

The last step in prepping the fish was to fillet the meat off of the cartilage that ran down the center of each wing.  I took the same approach I would with a whole fish and cut down to the bone, then used it to guide the knife down the fillet.  I’ll give myself a B- here and would probably boil the remaining meat stuck on the bone in a soup next time.

The return of the claw grip pointer finger there.  Probably poor form overall, but I was really struggling with the small size of these wings.

The return of the claw grip pointer finger there.  Probably poor form overall, but I was really struggling with the small size of these wings

With the fish fully prepped, I got started with the other parts of the meal by mixing equal parts unsalted butter and miso paste.

Maybe more miso than butter.  I love miso but think I would be unable to remove my wedding ring the morning after eating it due to what a salt balloon it makes me

Maybe more miso than butter. I love miso but think I would be unable to remove my wedding ring the morning after eating it due to what a salt balloon it makes me

I used a fork to mash the miso and butter together until they were relatively well combined.  Once finished, I got started cutting the corn off of six cobs for some pan roasting.  I got the idea for this method of preparing corn after watching a mouth watering episode of Mind fo a Chef Season 1.  That corn was prepared with huge chunks of bacon in that case and finished with miso butter. Makes my mouth water writing it.

The last side, and one that fit in most poorly with the others, was a roasted cauliflower dish based on one I’ve had a few times at Ten Tables in JP.  It started with preheating the oven to 475F and tossing a broken down head of cauliflower with olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, currants, and sunflower nuts.

Sometimes it is less about how well one side goes with the others, because this one certainly didn't go at all, than how much I like each side individually.  The "I" there is key

Sometimes it is less about how well one side goes with the others, because this one certainly didn’t go at all, than how much I like each side individually.  The “I” there is key, I am an extremely selfish cook.  Also, yes, I still haven’t gotten through all of the currants in my cupboard and have nightmares about them once a week

The dressed cauliflower went into the oven for 20 minutes to get some good roasted color and texture.

While that cooked, I heated up a couple tablespoons of bacon grease in a large pan for my version of the miso corn.  Bacon pieces would have been better, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to cook it properly, so bacon grease was the call.  Once the grease was hot and nearly smoking, I added the corn, tossed and cooked it for a minute or two, then added the miso butter.

Good god I wish I could get corn from Walkers in Little Compton year round.  I would also be thousands of pounds at this point

Good god life would be amazing if I could get corn from Walkers in Little Compton year round. I would also be thousands of pounds at this point

With the corn cooking, I heated a large cast iron pan over medium/high heat and melted a few tablespoons of butter in it once it got up to heat.  While the butter melted and started bubbling, I lightly floured and seasoned the skate fillets before adding them to the pan.

Having slightly too much food for one pan load is just the worst.  Four fillets when three will fit felt like when you've been coking bacon for a half hour and have just two strips left that need to be cooked on their own.  The worst!

This is actually after the flip.  Having slightly too much food for one pan load is just the worst.  Four fillets when three will fit felt like when you’ve been cooking bacon for a half hour and have just two strips left that need to be cooked on their own.  The worst!

The skate cooked for a few minutes on each side, basically until the outside had a nice browned color.  By the end, the skate was falling apart tender and a little difficult to keep whole but I was succesful for the most part.  Once the meat was out of the pan, I turned the heat up a bit to brown the remaining butter in the pan and then deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine.  After a couple more minutes of reducing the wine sauce, I added the fish back to the pan and plated.

I think the fish fell apart more than I remembered.  Sigh.  It always looked a lot better in my memories then I go and ruin it by taking fotos and sharing them

Apparently the fish fell apart more than I remembered.  Sigh.  It always looks a lot better in my memories and then I go and ruin it by taking fotos and sharing them

Skate is a fish that every fish lover needs to try, regardless of your feelings about the idea of eating a ray.  The flavor is mild but as sweet as a scallop, and the texture is incredibly light and almost feathery.  You can choose your own difficulty level, getting the partially cleaned buck-fifty version from an Asian supermarket or the $14.99 full cleaned fillets from a reputable seafood market, but it is incredibly easy to cook regardless.  This version, with brown butter, had the nice contrast between the sweet meat and the sharper flavors of the sauce, and was very delicious.

The corn was sweet, bacony and salty miso-y which I loved and I think Kristi was middies on.  I just love the flavor of miso and this was a combination of my favorite ingredients.  Would have been better with some cilantro to cut the richness, though.  The cauliflower was very simple but delicious and had a nice crispy char from the roasting and balsamic sugars burning slightly on the surface.

Very good meal, I got some game offal to cook for next week.

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Weird Crap I Cook: Jellyfish Salad

Two clarifications: 1) I didn’t really “cook” this exactly and 2) I get a good amount of random comments correcting me when I make internationally loved items and put the WCIC prefix on them.  I get that jellyfish, stomach tacos, and tuna head aren’t “weird crap” in some places, but if Kristi won’t stand in the same kitchen as an ingredient, it qualifies as weird for the purposes of this ‘lil blog.

Two weeks ago I finally made the trip to Super 88 market in Brighton with Janet and occasional blog character and game meat provider, Dupee.  I don’t have a great reason for why I’ve never been before, aside from I haven’t lived in Brighton for 6 years and my culinary fever was caught after moving away.  For those not familiar, Super 88 is a large pan-Asian supermarket with lots of hard to find ingredients and some very interesting cuts of meat.  After discovering recently that they also have a food court with an assortment of great food, I decided to make the trip.

Seeing this totally reassured me that this food court was legit.  I'm used to seeing that hanging in a store window in Chinatown, not in the middle of a mall-like food court

Seeing this totally reassured me that this food court was legit.  I’m used to seeing that hanging in a store window in Chinatown, not in the middle of a Bridgewater mall-like food court

The first major error of the day was assuming that the food court opened at the same time as the grocery store (9 AM).  It actually opened two hours later, and we unfortunately arrived at 9:30.  I did my best to kill time poking meats in the market and letting Janet push her stroller around, but even I couldn’t kill an hour and a half this way.  So, after collecting as many interesting items as I could justify, Dupee, Janet and I headed out to explore Brighton ave.

The area between Harvard ave and Packards corner has evolved into an ethnic restaurant melting pot over the past 10 years and I was amazed at how good everything looked.  After an hour in which Janet sampled baklava, Vietnamese scallion pastry, wind burn, and frostbite, the doors to the food court opened and we headed in.  I immediately ordered a quarter roast duck.

Traditional roast duck isn’t for everyone since it’s mostly skin and fat with lots of bones to navigate around.  Oh,  and it’s served lukewarm. Regardless, I was incredibly excited when my order came up until Janet got all up in my face and started stealing my food.

This kid won't even eat pasta with cheese and butter yet she goes nuts for scrapple, lox, baklava, roast duck, and short ribs.  Wait.  I WON!!!  IN YOUR FACE KRISTI!!!  She eats like me!!!!

This kid won’t touch vegetables or bland pasta, yet she goes nuts for scrapple, lox, baklava, roast duck, and short ribs.  Wait a tick.  I WON!!!  IN YOUR FACE KRISTI!!!  She eats like her daddy!!!!

The roast duck was awesome, if a little tough to feed to a 1.75 year old that was constantly demanding a fresh piece.  Lots of little bones since the thigh and leg were cut into chopstick-sized pieces with a cleaver.  The meat was so moist and tasty, though, and the crispy fatty skin was as delicious as it sounds.

The next food item I got was a traditional display of Pete’s stupidity.  I know I don’t like most Chinese cross-cut short rib preparations; the meat never seems to cook long enough to be tender which leaves it chewy and tough to eat.  But, as usual I saw a picture on the menu and ordered them anyway.  Dupee and I were both very disappointed, especially with how hard it was to get the meat off the bones, but Janet enjoyed them.

Janet wads extremely jealous of the chopsticks we were using to eat, so she got her own pair and took a shot.  She poked in vain for about 30 seconds and then picked up the meat with her fingers and ate it.  Just like everyone else the first time they used chopsticks

Janet was extremely jealous of the chopsticks we were using to eat, so she got her own pair and took a shot.  She poked in vain for about 30 seconds and then picked up the meat with her fingers and ate it.  You know, just like everyone else the first time they use chopsticks

All in all the food court was decent and I’d like to try a few of the food stalls I didn’t hit this time around sometime soon.  But, the main goal of the trip was finding a bunch of stuff I hadn’t cooked before and making something at home.

The produce was either extremely fresh (the seafood and vegetables) or slightly dodgy looking (the meat).  For example, I could have had the seafood counter clean one of the live Tilapia or Carp for me (“Kristi! Got us some carp for dinner!  You know, carp!”) and yet the bulk of the meat was frozen solid.  I still came away with a decent haul for under $20.

Those dumplings and shumai were gone within 5 days, the enoki mushrooms and udon made a bawmb noodle dish, and the miso has some high expectations associated with it ever since I heard about miso-glazed pulled pork.  If you read the emotion "giddy elation" from the preceding sentence, you are an incredibly observant reader

Those dumplings and shumai were gone within 5 days, the enoki mushrooms and udon made a bawmb noodle dish, and the miso has some high expectations associated with it ever since I heard about miso-glazed pulled pork.  If you read the emotion “giddy elation” from the preceding sentence, you are an incredibly observant reader

The dumplings cost $2 and were enough food for three meals.  The seaweed salad made me realize I’ve been paying twice the cost of this package for a quarter of the seaweed salad from restaurants my entire life.  The Udon will likely be the item I buy in bulk on every future visit since it was easy and cam e out so delicious.  But, the jellyfish, now that stuff was the main event.

Looks like a bag of gummy jolly ranchers or something.  Nope, not quite

Looks like a bag of gummy Jolly Ranchers or something.  Nope, not quite.  Wish I knew what collection those characters represent so that I can see if it was limited edition or something

Purchasing jellyfish to make jellyfish salad was one of my goals for the trip.  The reasons were simple: I love jellyfish salad, haven’t had it in a while, definitely have never made it, and I needed some blog fodder.  When I first scanned the seafood department and produce, I didn’t see any jellyfish and got a little concerned.  Eventually, I noticed that I was surrounded by boxes (next to the open freezers but not exactly refrigerated) filled with packages that looked like the one above.  They were a variety of colors; red, green, yellow, blue, purple, etc. but all otherwise identical and covered with calligraphy and not much English.

I looked through about 20 of those little windows on various packages before finally admitting to myself that they all looked completely identical

I looked through about 20 of those little windows on various packages before finally admitting to myself that they all looked completely identical

After a few minutes of looking at the different colored packages and trying to figure out the difference, I noticed the small English language ingredients on the back.  I assumed these ingredients were the marinade the jellyfish would be sitting in, and after not finding a “plain” version, I went for the most innocuous combo I could find.  I was hoping that the sesame oil, msg, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce note on the package would rinse off easily so I could season.  Yet, when I opened the package at home, I found jellyfish and this.

Well that was unexpected.  Four packets looking identical to ramen seasoning.  Mmmmmm ramen seasoning.  Would it be at all surprising to know Ryan's ate ramen drained of the liquid with butter and that seasoning packet?  Of course it wouldn't

Four packets and one looks like ramen seasoning.  Mmmmmm ramen seasoning.  Would it be at all surprising to know Ryan’s ate ramen drained of the liquid with butter and that seasoning packet?  Of course it wouldn’t

Welp, that was surprising.  After looking at this and the small package of jellyfish for a while, I recognized that this is almost like a (sadly defunct) Handi Snack or the famous Walking Taco.  Tear open the top, dump on your seasonings, then walk around eating your meal.  Of jellyfish!

I was intrigued enough that I tore open each package and tasted the contents.  Actually, after tasting the cheap soy sauce and vinegar, and what tasted like burned fryer oil, I elected against tearing into the packet of white sugar and MSG and safely disposed of it out of Janet’s reach.  Not due to MSG fears (Super 88 covers its walls with pro-MSG/anti-MSG fear info, which I enjoyed reading), but because I was kind of grossed out by the tastes in those packets.  Back to the jellyfish.

Wouldn't have been the most appealing package of "food" to be presented with, but now that you know it was approved to sit in lukewarm temperatures for up to one year, you gotta be a convert, right?!?!?!

Wouldn’t have been the most appealing package of “food” to be presented with, but now that you know it was approved to sit in lukewarm temperatures for up to one year, you gotta be a convert, right?!?!?!

There was nothing fishy about the smell or any unpleasant odors at all.  It really just looked like an odd-looking bag of noodles.  Regardless, I threw the jellyfish pieces into a colander for a good rinsing in cold water.

I had a love/hate relationship with the darker spotted pieces of jellyfish.  The love was that they made it clear it wasn't just a pile of cellophane or rubber bands, the hate was that they looked a little nasty

I had a love/hate relationship with the darker spotted pieces of jellyfish.  The love was that they made it clear it wasn’t just a pile of cellophane or rubber bands, the hate was that they looked a little nasty

After shaking and draining off all excess water, it looked slightly nicer.

Like noodles, right?!?!?  I wish I could make this see normal and not like the thing that stung me on Long Island when I was 8 and made me scared of the beach for a couple years

Like noodles kinda.  I wish I could make this seem normal and not like the thing that stung me on a Long Island beach when I was 8 and made me terrified of jellyfish as a kid.  Vengeance is mine, jellyfish

I seasoned the jellyfish with pretty much the same seasonings that I had just thrown away.  These ones tasted better and were less sketchy though.  Crushed red pepper, rice wine vinegar, tamari, toasted sesame oil, a pinch of grated ginger, and a little brown sugar were all tossed with the jellyfish in a glass bowl.  Then into the fridge for about an hour to let the flavors come together.  Which left me with this.

Pretty humble little pile, but I can't complain since I think the package cost $1.50.  I have no idea what anything costs at Super 88 but my first guess would be $1.50

Pretty humble little pile, but I can’t complain since I think the package cost $1.50. I have no idea what anything costs at Super 88 but my first guess for anything would be $1.50

I’d already eaten dinner at this point, but I wasn’t too concerned about the small portion of jellyfish salad overly filling me up.  I was just excited to have it again since I may have last consumed jellyfish salad two years ago in Philly.

Will someone show Janet this picture?  That kid needs to figure her sh*t out and stop embarrassing me with her lack of dexterity.  It's kind of BS

Will someone show Janet this picture so she understand how chopsticks work?  That kid needs to stop embarrassing me with her lack of dexterity.  It’s kind of BS

Not sure that I even need to write this part, but I finished the whole bowl and it was delicious.  Jellyfish salad is most similar to seaweed salad; it’s not gelatinous, slimy or mushy, it’s actually crunchy and most similar in texture to grilled octopus or calamari.  Your teeth go through easily, but there is still some crunch despite it being so soft.  There isn’t much flavor to the actual jellyfish, it’s mostly just a texture pairing with the seasonings you add. Combined with the sesame/soy/pepper/vinegar combo, it is always going to be a winner for me.

Off to Naples for the weekend which is always good for a post.