Saturday, February 23, 2013

lenten brunch

My mother took me out to lunch yesterday, and asked that I update the blog so a fish head isn't at the top anymore. Fair enough. I should write about My Sister's Kitchen soon, but will probably wait until I've had another meal there. For now - so much fish lately!

I had a package of Dover Sole filets from Trader Joe's, extremely thin and quick cooking - they take 3-4 minutes to pan-fry. Most of them I had with sides of pasta, and I'm going to blog about pasta soon, but they also made good sandwiches. This is two filets on a roll with baby kale, a little mayo, and Major Grey's chutney:

Fish sandwich

The thing about fish sandwiches is that you can use damn near anything you like as condiments and it'll work, which is a good way to keep things from getting repetitive. (Though as I write this, I am a little tired of fish and am glad to have made a batch of boiled peanut chili. Tomorrow is my weekly meat day, which will break up the monotony.)

Today I had a Lenten brunch of belly lox, eggs, and cream cheese. The eggs were soft scrambled. To me, there are two distinct schools of scrambled eggs. If you want your eggs to mainly be a vehicle for ketchup or the like, hard-scrambled with onions and maybe some cheese is the way to go. You whisk them with a little milk, you add them to the pan, stir enough to keep them from being an omelette, and cook till they're getting dry.

But soft scrambled eggs are a whole nother thing, one many people would say is the only right way to make scrambled eggs - but like I said, for me, they're just two different dishes. These are very good soft scrambled eggs, but not perfect soft scrambled eggs - the curds are too large and too firm:

Eggs, belly lox, cream cheese

To make perfect soft scrambled eggs, after gently whisking the eggs together with a spoonful of cream cheese, a couple spoons of cream, a little coriander seed, and a little dill, you add them to melted butter in a pan that's warm but not hot, and you cook them slowly, while constantly stirring.

Don't think of soft scrambled eggs as undercooked eggs, which hard-scrambled fiends seem to. Think of them as a custard without sugar and very little cream. You constantly stir. You want soft, fluffy, smooth. At one extreme you have something almost like a hollandaise, almost more of a sauce. I like curds a little more developed than that, and not so soft that it looks like yellow Cream of Wheat.

But like I said, the eggs here, the curds are larger than I intended - the pan was hotter than I wanted it to be, and once they were in the pan, there wasn't much I could do - they cooked a little too fast even though I removed the pan from the heat.

Some chopped belly lox was added right at the end. Alongside, pumpernickel toast with cream cheese and another slice of belly lox. Over everything, fresh-ground long pepper.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

salmon head; oyster stew

Lent's off to a pretty good start so far.

At Battambang in Little Cambodia, salmon is $5.99 a pound. Salmon heads are $1.99 a pound. Granted: there's less meat on a salmon head. But what you get is pretty great, and certainly worth the price.

Salmon head

This is the salmon head picked apart, after simmering and cooling enough to handle. Clockwise:

Right at the top is a bit of salmon marrow - nice and clean and rich.

Next, salmon meat - mostly cheek (the nuggets that look like chicken oysters) and jaw.

Salmon eyes - I'm going to save them in the freezer until I have an appreciable amount later in the month.

Salmon skin with tons of fat.

Salmon bones and cartilage.

The bones and cartilage went back in the simmering pot for an hour with a couple cloves of garlic, and became a salmon stock gelatinous enough to turn solid in the fridge.

The meat, marrow, and skin I crisped up in a pan for dinner last night, in a roll with some sliced Vidalia onion, Tony Chachere's, and melted cheddar cheese - sort of a salmon melt.

That salmon stock? That was the backbone for oyster stew:

Oyster stew

Sure, it's not pretty. There's black sesame paste in there as a thickener. But it's tasty stuff.

I sliced up more Vidalia onion and cooked that in a little sesame oil (the sesame oil floating on top of the jar of black sesame paste, in fact) until it started to turn golden, during which time I blended a few spoonfuls of sesame paste with the salmon stock. Added the sesame-stock combo to the pan, heated it up, added fish sauce and soy sauce until it tasted salty enough, and then added chopped blanched collard greens and half a pound of raw shucked oysters.

From that point, you just need to heat it through.  Three or four minutes until it comes back up to a simmer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Some housekeeping!

First, my reconstructed Watergate salad is in the Marx Foods contest previously mentioned. If you like voting for me, this is pretty much the only way to do so. Conduct yourself accordingly.

Second, this whole fucking Maker's Mark thing.

I've mentioned the whiskey shortage before, and even written about it in my day job. The upshot is this:

* For a long time people drank less whiskey because of vodka and shit like that.

* They started drinking a bit more whiskey.

* Whiskey takes a long time to make. There was no way of knowing whether the increased demand would hold up, or if it was just a fluke.

* Distilleries reacted in various ways: new American microdistilleries sold a lot of white whiskey (unaged) and in general aged their whiskeys a lot less than the larger distilleries, which not only brought their product to market faster but made them more flexible with respect to reacting to demand fluctuations; Scottish distilleries like Macallan removed the age statements from some of their whiskeys, no longer guaranteeing, for instance, that the whiskeys in Macallan 12 would be a minimum of 12 years old, freeing them up to increase supply by using younger whiskeys; many, many distilleries have simply raised their prices; and Maker's Mark has done more or less the same thing, reducing the proof of their whiskey -- which means adding more water, so that a given barrel of whiskey will fill more bottles than before.

It's not too weird a way to respond to supply and demand problems - it's like grinding up meat and adding bread crumbs to it so you can have six servings of meat loaf instead of five servings of whatever meat you started with. It's the done thing.

But you know, when you make meatloaf instead of meat, you're changing the product. And the difference in proof isn't great here, but it's real.

In theory, this shouldn't affect me much - Bulleit and Knob Creek are close enough to Maker's price point that I buy them more often. On the other hand, perhaps because it's a flagship brand, Maker's goes on sale often enough that it's remained in the heavy rotation of my purchases for years, because I can so often get a great deal on it.

If you love Maker's, you should be a little insulted by the change, but it's not going to ruin things for you: add less ice or drink it faster, and it's the same juice.

Third, yesterday was Mardi Gras, so today is Lent!  My usual Lent fasting is in effect:

- Meat only once a week (traditionally Sunday) plus corned beef on Saint Patrick's Day.

- Seafood doesn't count as meat.

- Meat-derived products like homemade stock and lard are okay as long as I'm not buying meat expressly for that purpose. In other words, I think it's silly to let things in the fridge and freezer go to waste for the sake of Lenten fasting.

Sadly, my Lent this year won't include Maine shrimp. The season has been abbreviated and beset by problems from the weather: even before Winter Storm Nemo, shrimpers were having problems with the texture of the shrimp they caught, because conditions at sea were so cold that the shrimp were freezing on deck.

It will include salmon heads ...
Salmon head
... and the collars I remove from those heads ...
Salmon collar
... and smelts.
Pan-fried smelts with lemon juice

My last meat meal before Lent?

Pig tails covered in a mountain of salt, curing salt, sugar, and chiles, for a few days; rinsed off and let to air dry in the fridge for a week; simmered until the skin softened; and smoked. Amazingly good country ham tails.

Pig tails