Cleaning Out My Cabinets: Blowfish

We spent July 4th down in LBI with our friends John and Liz since the Ryan residence is still out of commission from Sandy.  As mentioned last week, I was a typically awful houseguest: serving offal to unsuspecting children, snoring on couches, and complaining about hot pepper juice I rubbed in my own eyes.   There was no fishing or clamming on this trip, but lots of relaxation on the beach and deck.

Sure, looks like she is relaxing, but she is just as neurotic as her father.  Notice the feet curled up on the chair to not touch the beach, the calming container of Pirates Booty, the sunglasses that were called for nonstop until they were presented?  She's a mess sometime

Sure, looks like she is relaxing, but she is just as neurotic as her father.  Notice the feet curled up on the chair to not touch the beach, the calming container of Pirates Booty, the sunglasses that were called for nonstop until they were presented?  She’s a mess sometimes

However, on a ride down LBI Boulevard the first day to pick up food for dinner, I noticed that a few of the seafood shops were advertising blowfish on their signs.  Not only advertising them, but doing so excitedly (meaning: exclamation marks).

"Hey, Pete, really been enjoying the photos on the blog lately.  One request, can you start taking more pictures from very far away?  Like far enough that it isn't clear what you are trying to show us?  Thx!"

“Hey, Pete, really been enjoying the photos on the blog lately.  One request, can you start taking more pictures from very far away?  Like far enough away that it isn’t clear what you are trying to show us?  Thx!”

If you look really closely, so closely that you’re not really sure whether you are actually seeing it or just pretending you can see it, you’ll see that the sign says “Blowfish are back!”.  That sign is there because, well, blowfish are back, and you should be excited about that.  Me, I was pretty excited.  You ‘cited?

I’d definitely encountered a couple blowfish diving over the years, but I’ve never cooked or even seen them in their cleaned, raw form before.  Aside from the early Simpsons fugu episode where Homer almost dies from eating poisonous blowfish, I can’t say I had even thought of them as food, really.  I guess they are relatively innocuous looking.

Not my foto.  I believe I there is a blowfish in FInding Nemo and/or The Little Mermaid but I've never seen either so I don't have a witty quip related to those characters.  But, you can imagine me making some comment about eating that character's name and ruining your childhood memories and such and such.  Bringing my A game with that one

Not my foto.  I believe there is a blowfish in Finding Nemo and/or The Little Mermaid but I’ve never seen either so I don’t have a witty quip related to those characters.  But, you can imagine me making some comment about eating <character’s name> and ruining your childhood memories and such and such.  Bringing my A game with that spoof

But, I mean, seriously?  This is food?

Again, not my foto.  Just a bunch of blowfish hanging out, gabbin', inflating and stuff

Again, not my foto.  Just a bunch of blowfish hanging out, gabbin’, inflating and stuff.  Looks like a pretty decent time if you ask this blowhard.  Ever seen this tactic before on here?  It’s called stalling, and I do it when I only have three fotos of the actual cooking because it was so straightforward and simple.  Shhhh!  Don’t tell the caption non-readers

When we went into Boulevard Clams, I had no idea what the blowfish meat would look like;  I would have believed anything from a deflated basketball to a beautiful fillet.  But, what they actually looked like was entirely logical.  Almost boringly logical.

I took a bunch of pictures of the contents of this package and somehow this was the best one.  They were as dark and slightly red in color as they look here, though

I took a bunch of pictures of the contents of this package and somehow this was the best one. They were as dark and slightly red in color as they look here, though

The general anatomy and how much of those fishies were edible was a complete mystery to me, and as usual the yokels at the store weren’t much help.  What do they taste like: “chicken”, how do you eat them: “like chicken”, whats the best way to cook them: “jest fry ’em up”.  I know, we were in New Jersey, not some backwoods locale, but good lord were these guys unhelpful and yokelish.  That said, they have a customer for life as long as they carry blowfish every season, and for $9.99 a pound no less.

With no creative cooking ideas and not wanting to stink up the house frying things inside, I decided to keep it relatively simple and put a sautee pan over medium/high heat.  While it heated, I salted and peppered each piece of blowfish.  Once the pan was hot, I added a little olive oil and a couple cloves of chopped garlic then the blowfish.  What I meant there was, once the pan was way hotter than it should have been I added all that stuff.

After a couple minutes on one side, I flipped the fish, added a solid pour of rosé (it was open), and put the lid on to finish the cooking.

I know, I know, I burned the garlic.  I struggle mightily with electric ranges and pretty much every pan I used that weekend was about 100 degrees too hot for whatever I was trying to cook in it.  I blame electricity

I know, I know, I burned the garlic.  I struggle mightily with electric ranges and pretty much every pan I used that weekend was about 100 degrees too hot for whatever I was trying to cook in it.  I blame electricity

After another 3-4 minutes I moved the fish to a plate, reduced the last of the wine in the pan to thicken into a sauce, and poured it over the fish.  A little squeeze of lemon over the top, and it was ready to be served.

It looks a little funky, but you really can't go wrong with the olive oil, garlic, wine, and lemon combo.  Plus it smells decent enough that it's an easy sell to those who would be otherwise terrified

It looks a little funky, but you really can’t go wrong with the olive oil, garlic, wine, and lemon combo.  Plus it smells decent enough that it’s an easy sell to those who would be otherwise terrified

After tuna fishing last year, I babbled about what a perfect fish tuna is for how easily the loins come off and how much is edible.  I was even more impressed with the blowfish.  The spine is directly attached to the fins on the top and bottom and has a flat center bone that runs up the whole fish.  The meat comes off in two large pieces, one on each side of the spine with no bones in the meat, and no other picking needed.

As far as the taste, I don’t know if this was extremely fresh or something, but it was much much better than I expected.  The meat was rich and slightly sweet with none of the fishy flavor you expect from a darker-meat fish.  The texture was buttery and soft like properly cooked cobia, and the collagen from cooking on the bone coated your lips when you ate it.  As usual I base whether or not I am the only one who would find it tasty on the reactions of others, and three people besides myself ate the blowfish and had seconds.  Including Kristi.  See!  I don’t always just make up the fact that things taste good, sometimes its true and stuff!

Hopefully more fish for next week, if I can figure out when the sketchy docks in Little Compton open this time around.

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Beef Fry Marsala

Ah, yes, balls have returned to The Pete Is On, didn’t you miss them??  I wish I didn’t have to post about this again so soon but I did an awful job of cooking interesting stuff these past two weeks.  Some ribs, some chili and soups, but nothing even mildly creative that would merit a post.  Oh well, I’ll make something foul this weekend hopefully.

Anyhoo, A few weeks ago after cooking the Rocky Mountain Oysters, I had a a little extra ball meat left over the next day.  That expressions is like the awful gift that keeps giving.

If I hadn’t already dropped thousands of hints and explicit statements I could have told you that these were scallops.   Probably would help the nausea cause if I gave the cutting board a wipedown before taking this picture

Given my hatred of deep frying things in my own home, I elected to take a different approach to cooking the beef scallops.  Based on my recent discovery that the flavor is similar to chicken livers and the consistency is a little soft, I figured I could eat them on some crunchy bread with a sturdy sauce.  Pretty sure Ma Ryan didn’t expect to ever see this use for her Marsala recipe when she gave it to me.

As with the veal and chicken cutlets Ma Ryan intended her recipe for, it all starts with a heavy dusting of flour, salt and black pepper.

Little more than a dusting, but any extra flour avoids the need to add some later to thicken the sauce.  I should probably make this with chicken sometime soon and post it so that I honor the wonderful simplicity of this recipe

While coating those, I heated a few tablespoons of butter over medium heat on the stovetop.  Once the butter was fully melted and bubbling I added the floured beef scallops to the pan.

While I was cooking it I was thinking the same thing I am thinking now, “I hope that little naturally formed shotglass of liquid drains off when I flip them”.  Also, how we all liking “beef scallops”?  I’m sticking with it, much less painful to type repeatedly

Although the sauce would eventually eliminate any crispiness from the butter frying, I was still hoping to get some nice golden color on the outside.  Easier said than done since these things were pushing out a lot of liquid.  Eventually I got somewhere, I guess.

Tasty golden fried balls.  They seem to be nearly impossible to overcook which is definitely in their favor since nobody wants an undercooked ball

After another 5-10 minutes of pan frying the coating had crisped a bit and I removed the beef scallops to a pile of paper towels to drain.  The heat on the pan went down to low-medium heat and I whisked the flour from the bottom of the pan into the remaining butter and a little extra olive oil.

Little bit of brownin’ flour isn’t a bad start for a sauce.  Well, except when it was previously coating balls

At one point in time I remember frantically reading the recipe word doc my mother gave me, and measuring out the portions of Marsala wine and whole milk to get the sauce right.  I’m past that.  Who knows if the sauce is worse because of it, but I enjoy not having to look stuff up.  For the sauce, I like a ratio of about half Marsala, half milk, alternating between the two as you whisk it into the roux-like substance in the pan.  Post whisking, plus a little simmer time, I had a decent sauce for the beef scallops.

The overzealous flour coating made this sauce a little chunky and unwieldly, but it still tasted and smelled perfect for a Marsala

with the sauce thickened, the scallops went back in to simmer for a bit, just as I would with veal or chicken cutlets.  Not sure how much it does for the flavor, but it definitely gets everything well sauced.  I like to add sauteed mushrooms at this point too but didn’t have any to use.

Not sure why, but I think  anyone with even a moderate knowledge of food would look at this picture and say it was suspect.  Just looks a little off

After a few minutes of simmering, I piled the meat onto a few slices of toasted baguette with multiple spoonfuls of sauce to smother and make solidly messy plate of grub.  I made it messier with a handful of grated parm over the top.  My only regret is the stupidity of how I sliced and toasted the bread which made it impossible to eat by hand.  For some reason I cut wedges instead of flat rounds, so stupid.

‘Lil sprinkle is rarely an accurate assessment of what I engage in with cheese.  All pastas, red sauces, pizzas, and anything broadly referenced as Itallian food gets a heafty pile of cheese in the Ryan household

Marsala plus cheese is rarely a miss from a flavor perspective.  I say that recognizing that I was consuming bull testicles, but really they were quite tasty and far less terrifying than you would think.

Again, white meat.  Like a Marsala chicken tender, except made from sexin organs.  Yuck

Marsala is a perfect compliment to the flavor of the beef scallops; it hides some of the more unpleasant offal flavors but matches well with the poultry-ish flavors.  What was left was a tasty combination of beef and chicken flavors with Marsala sauce. The crusty bread was nice just because the soft meat definitely needs some contrasting crunch so you aren’t eating just a pile of somewhat mushy food.  Overall, a pretty decent meal that I enjoyed eating, though I am good with taking some time off before I purchase my next set ‘o balls.

Here this weekend, will be cooking I promise.

Weird Crap I Cook: Oxtail Stew

On the camping trip that featured the hogs head barbacoa, my friend Conor brought along a couple pounds of oxtail from our JP supermarket.  We browned them in a pot with some spices and a quartered onion, covered with water, and set the pot on the edge of the fire to simmer.  A few minutes later our friend Marshall got back to the campsite, dumped out the water, stuck the oxtails in a pan on the center of the fire, and covered them with a pound of sliced bacon (unseparated) and a block of ice.  I’d describe the experience as similar to watching someone make food while they are sleepwalking, but with more violent rage and foul language from me.  Anyway, the oxtails burned, we shifted our attention to the hogs head, and Conor and I agreed to make another attempt at oxtail soup sometime soon.

Two weeks ago we held our annual fantasy football draft and for the first time in the eight year history of our league, the draft was not held in a hotel room at a casino.  The downside was that only 5 members of the league convened in Boston with the rest online elsewhere.  The upside was that there was a kitchen to make food instead of having to eat crappy central connecticut pizza.  Sounded like a perfect chance to take another crack at oxtail stew.

I have lost 30+ minutes, multiple times, looking at and poking products in the meat section at Hi Lo Foods

Oxtail is just the tail of a cow, skinned and chopped into sections.  Hard cartilage/bone runs down the center of the tail with muscle, segmented by cartilage and surrounded by a thin membrane, running up the sides.  Its an extremely popular food item in the Caribbean, mainly in stew form.  Most recently it got a little media coverage when Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos claimed he lost 15 pounds in the offseason just by no longer eating oxtail. Back to the cooking.

I started off the stew, in a homage to my oldest friend (and enemy) Marshall, with a half slab of chopped bacon that I browned in the stew pot.

I was cooking this in Buschy's apartment which meant I needed to start with some comforting smells to up the chances he might actually try a few bites of the finished product

While the bacon cooked I trimmed excess fat and cartilage off the oxtail pieces.

It was tough to tell how far to go with the trimming, so I left on anything that didn't appear to be fat

Once the bacon was cooked I removed it from the pot and reserved it.  I then browned the oxtail pieces in the remaining bacon grease.

Seasoned with salt and pepper and quickly browned on both sides. Had to cook them in three waves due to space

Super Zooommm!!!!!!

While the meat browned, I got to work on prepping the base of every stew: carrots, onions, and celery.   When I asked my wife to grab me a couple “good sized” carrots at Hi Lo, here is what she got for me.

"YOU MEAN THERES CAR'TS OUT THERE THIS BIIG?" Little Anaconda/Ice Cube reference. What?

With a bit more effort than usual, I got through the process of chopping the carrots and then the celery and onion.

That pile represents one half of one of the carrots. Reeeeeeediculous

The last batch of the browned oxtail was removed from the pot and put to the side until the base of the stew was ready for them.

Its tough to reject the idea of eating oxtail once you've seen and smelled this plate

Once the onions were translucent I added a few big pinches of fresh thyme.

This picture could be from many different past and future posts

At this point in went a few smashed garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves, chicken stock, and red wine.  Once I was sure everything had deglazed off the bottom of the pot, I let the liquid simmer for a few minutes, added the oxtail, covered and cooked for four hours.

Once again, I make a hearty stew on an 85 degree night. Still, looks delicious

During the four hours of stewing I cut the remainder of the carrots into sticks and roasted them.  I also engaged in some fantasy football panic, an online mock draft, and 1,500 calories of Shuman’s buffalo chicken dip. When I checked the stew, the meat was fork tender which was what I was looking for according to the oxtail research I’d done online.  There was also a little time pressure with the draft starting in thirty minutes.

I removed the fully cooked oxtails and set them to the side.

Thanks to Buschy for taking pictures in between swallowing back vomit. He is about as adventurous with food as a breast feeding infant

Because the mirepoix had basically cooked down to mush, I poured the remaining liquid through a strainer and pressed the solids down to make sure I got all of the juice back.  Once the liquid settled I skimmed off excess fat and returned the liquid to the stove.

The remaining liquid. At this point Tim would have walked in and insulted the stew, then me, then the clothes that I was wearing, and then punched me. I was glad he was probably 6 hours into his ride home from Little Compton

Bacon and roasted carrots went in first…

Both had a few burned pieces, but I guiltily really like that flavor

…then chopped scallion and boiled red potatoes…

I hate wasting food, and those red potatoes are admittedly leftovers. But I would have just cut and boiled fresh potatoes then added them, so I don't think it changed the stew much

…plus the oxtail to make this completely awful looking pot of food:

I let this simmer together for fifteen minutes or so

And then… I turned the heat off because the draft was starting.  Probably for the best; in my experience soups and chilis are always better after they have rested for a bit.  After two sweaty and technology error-laden hours of auction drafting, I decided to turn the heat back on the stew.  My first bowl:

Once I had the bowl sitting next to my computer, I fully understood how effing stupid I was to make a stew for an online auction draft. I blame it for any stupid picks I made in the draft. And any typos in this post

The flavor of the stew was awesome; we went through a loaf of painfully hard bread just dipping it in the liquid. The problem was that the  Caribbean recipes I saw made a clear point not to cook past fork tender since the meat will fall off the bone.  So I did that without questioning it.  But it really sucked pausing while eating spoonfuls of stew to gnaw the meat off of the oxtail.  If I had taken the time to think about it, I would have just cooked it an extra hour or two to make the meat fall off the bones.  Oh well, looks like there will be a third round.

And Con, you still owe me for the oxtails based on our bowling bet.

Next week, the only time I have ever cooked something out of anger towards the animal.