Eggzactly…and nothing else

30 November 04:30 am

As I rode in the cab, which smelled like a NYC nightclub changing booth, to JFK for the first leg my twenty plus hours of flying to China I could only think: what is the maxim in airports and airplanes? Don’t eat the food! Or at least don’t expect too much except gas afterwards. I had no time for breakfast so I arrived hungry and slightly nauseated. I figured that I would make do with some sort of bad breakfast croissant egg like concoction. I was pleasantly surprised. Terminal 8, American Airlines has a Bobby Vans. My immediate instinct was to order a Bull shot. The bartender in Bridgehampton NY makes an excellent one.  For those who do not know, Bobby Vans is a steak house. It isn’t a great steak house, but it is a good one. They have restaurants all over now, and someone in their marketing/sales department had the idea to tackle airports. The first one, I was informed by a slightly solicitous and eager waiter, was in Boston. It went well he said, so New York was next and more to come. They had a solid breakfast menu; I chose bacon and eggs with home fries. The coffee not good, but hey, any caffeine is better than none in preparation for twenty hours of the incessant drone of the plane. Besides, I am not a coffee connoisseur but it should have been better at four dollars a cup. The bacon was crispy, thick, four slices, eggs over easy were perfectly cooked, and very tasty home fries and a multi-grain toast with butter and orange marmalade.

Eggs are funny things. They are misunderstood, often taken for granted, but treated with respect they can, if fresh, be a gift. Take the over easy proposition. It seems simple enough and it is…BUT to make it right takes a little care and love. I grew up cooking and thought I had it down pat, but I was beaten in France one morning for how I prepared them.  In a past life I worked in some of the greatest restaurants in France for about five years. I was very lucky to see true masters at the peak of their careers and passion. I miss those days in some romantic ideal, but it was the hardest I have ever worked in my life.

The general idea is to start with a good pan that will not stick.  A well seasoned cast iron pan is best. Heat the pan over a medium flame. If you are cursed with an electric stove I cannot help you, sorry. Take a nice pat of good butter for each egg and get it sizzling but do not let it brown. Salt the butter and let it dissolve. This is the key. We do not want salt crystals on our eggs. That was reason one for my beating.  I had seasoned the eggs and not the butter. Note: the eggs should be room temperature, or they have a tendency to break on contact with the heat.  Once the salt has dissolved crack the eggs gently on a flat surface, never a sharp one – the edge of a bowl is considered sharp – and then into the pan. You can crack them onto a plate and slide it in if it helps. Let the eggs cook on one side, a minute or two, then, with a flat flexible spatula flip them over. The thing about flipping eggs is that almost everyone does it incorrectly. We tend to hold our spatula with the palm on the underside and then flip towards the body in pronation (palm up — turn palm face down). The proper way, according to the chef who meted out my punishment was to have the top of the hand, or palm on top of the spatula and flip it away from your body in supination (palm down — turn face up). He of course was right; it is more efficient. It takes some getting used to like anything you’ve been doing wrong your whole life (don’t get me started on shoe tying), but when you have a lot of things to flip especially delicate things you will be thankful. Pancakes and French Toast are great practice. When the eggs are cooked to your desired hardness, use the same flexible spatula, and one at a time put the eggs onto the plate.  Of course, the third reason for my beating and having to sweep the back stairs for a day was even crazier. In this establishment, which shall remain nameless, the specifications were more exact. First you separate the white from the yolk. Then you proceed with the same butter and salt technique. Next, place a small pastry ring about four inches in diameter onto the pan, and inside that, perfectly centered, a second pastry ring an inch in diameter. The goal, you guessed it, was have the yolk perfectly centered in a perfectly round egg white. I kid you not.  You also need to tamp the eggs gently after removing the eggs from the pan with a paper towel before plating to remove any extra butter fat eyes. They are unattractive.  The reasoning was that the only difference between the two starred Michelin restaurant and the bistro around the corner, I was told or rather yelled at as I was hit on the back of the head repeatedly, was that we cared more and made the extra effort for culinary perfection. Everything matters! I won’t go into the scrambled egg ordeal. You wouldn’t believe it.

FYI: The Bull Shot is a drink for acquired tastes, one that you will either love or hate.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka (I prefer white rum)
  • 3 oz chilled beef bouillon (Use Campbell’s double strength and NOT consommé)
  • dash of Worchestershire, Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 squirt of fresh lemon juice
  • celery salt (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice.
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Duck duck duck duck…

Hello all. Welcome back, or just plain welcome if you have never been here before. I haven’t been here in a while myself.  This is the first installment of what I will call the CHINA FILE.  It is not in chronological order; I cannot figure out how to keep a journal that way. I recently purchased a one-way ticket to China. I arrived December 2nd.

I am not one for Christmas cheer and all the commercialism that surrounds it. It isn’t that I don’t like rituals; I don’t feel the need to have society or institutionalized religion tell me that celebrating with friends is a special affair especially when it all seems to revolve around consumerism.  Trimming the tree, for example, is one of my earliest nightmares, or the attitude that it was a sheer hell to be endured has been passed on to me by my father.  Thank God my brother feels the same.  When I was married and my son was small, we would have a tree trimming party and a dear friend would make the tree happen. He loved the whole thing even down to individual strands of strategically placed tinsel and the little train around the base.. My job was to make great food and very strong clean and dry cocktails. The best Christmas tree ever was one my wife painted on a canvas. She poked holes and inserted colored lights; the background was painted the color of our living room wall, a lovely shade of yellow. It was brilliant; Epiphany came around, you could just unplug it and roll the sucker up. When we finally separated, I wanted that tree, but no dice.

One of the nicest things in China is that they don’t really celebrate Christmas, at least not in the little village outside of Hangzhou where I find myself this holiday season.  I don’t hear endless commercials, banners or MUZAK bombarding my senses. The malls are pretty rough here, a cacophony, but not with Santa and the elves at every turn. I am isolated here. In fact, I only just heard about the Connecticut tragedy. My heart breaks when I think about the parents and loved ones. I mean, what do you do with that bicycle, or the figure skates already purchased and hidden away for the celebration? I cannot imagine. It is not okay.

On our street which is a cul-de-sac (we are the last two houses before the tea fields)  they don’t hang Christmas lights; they hang ducks, hams, and fish. They do this from early December through February. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. The colors vary from fresh killed yellow or pale white fatty skin on one side and the deep pink and red flesh on the other to the deep golden brown, mahogany even of the final cured duck. They hang from their bills with little “S” hooks through the nostrils. The small dead eyes seem to say, “Father why hast thou forsaken me?”

I have been lucky enough to be introduced to the farmers here and they seem ready to share what they do with me.  After all I am never going to be the competition. My brother and his family are enigmatic rock stars here; foreigners who speak Chinese in a rural village with two teenagers and a small child. In order to own a house here you have to have the designation “farmer” on your birth certificate at birth. They are farmers after a fashion, tea farmers mostly, but many know the old ways. It is not too long ago that there was nothing here. Now some of the farmers ride in Porches. I have been doing a lot of cooking and the learning is the key. A China file of food and things I come across. I hope to find the old traditional ways that are disappearing here like in most modernizing societies. I made duck bacon the other day. I salted and smoked it in the smoker I bought for my brother and his family, now my family, for Christmas. Yeah well, I am not a total scrooge, and it helps me play and pass the time as well as share some love and passion which is what food and its preparation has always meant to me.

Merry Christmas or whatever you celebrate in your respective tribes.

Soy Sauce Cured Duck (enough for 20 ducks)
To be done in cool weather Hangzhou early December for example.

 Ingredients/items
20 ducks
20 chopsticks
20 “S” hooks
3 bamboo poles 8’ long
Marinade Sauce
30 bags soy sauce (about a quart, or a “jin” which is 500 grams)
10 bags rice wine or “Yellow alcohol”
½ lb ginger coarsely sliced
Star Anise
Cinnamon sticks
Red chili peppers (Chinese long)
2 heads garlic
5 bags sugar

Procedure
Kill 20 ducks (hey I did)
Discard blood (I put it into the dogs’ food)
Reserve livers and gizzards for another use
Pluck the ducks (most easily done right away with in a hot water bath)
Split up the middle on the breast side (Be sure to remove anal gland
Chill ducks for 24 hours
Over a wood fire in a large WOK combine all marinade ingredients and bring to a boil for 2 minutes.  Let cool.

Take the ducks and inspect each carefully. Be sure to remove any feather quill bits and impurities on the ducks. MAKE SURE THE ANAL GLAND HAS BEEN COMPLETELY REMOVED. Rinse the ducks if necessary. Take a chopstick and place it in between the two thighs spreading the duck apart exposing a maximum of the inside flesh. It is essentially a butterfly technique. Note if the chopstick is too long cut a piece off. Insert an “S” hook through nostrils and hang on bamboo poles outside so they air dry. A coat rack on wheels can do the trick nicely too. This makes it easier to take the ducks in for the night safe from the wild dogs and feral cats.  They must air dry for two or three days until the moisture has drained from the meat. Do not let it dry for too long or it will be tough.

After three days place the ducks into a large earthenware jar and pour the cooled marinade over the ducks. Cover the jar. Every 24 hours turn the ducks from top to bottom rearranging them. After three days, hang the ducks to air dry for one week to ten days where a breeze can caress them gently. If the outside temperature rises place them in a room and place a fan so the air circulates freely.  If it rains get them inside or risk losing the batch. You don’t want to have to kill another twenty ducks do you? After a week they should be dry and ready to eat. Give them as gifts to your friends or to the customers who come and spend from $250 to $500/lb on your Longjing Tea. They should not cure longer than ten days or they will be too salty. Keep in a cool dry place covered in plastic or freeze them. You can eat them cold or heat in a steam bath.

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Les Trois Mousquetaires or Three Summer Salads…Part 3

Corn, Jalapeno and Mint Salad

Salad three is the most robust, perhaps the Porthos of the Mousequetaires…I will let you decide.

If you are lucky you have really good corn fresh from a farm stand nearby.  Out here in Long Island, I eat it daily, and any leftovers go into making this salad.  The thing about fresh corn is that it really should be eaten the day it was picked.  The sugars begin to turn to starch almost immediately.  Even day-old corn is not fresh enough.  There are many stories about fanatics and how fresh corn should be.  Some say that if you trip and fall on your way back from the corn field it isn’t as fresh as it could be.  Of course the water should be boiling before you go out and pick it.  I have even seen someone peel corn on the stalk, and dip it into boiling water in the field.  The whole enterprise was set up in the field.  It was pretty crazy.  I always buy more corn that I am going to eat, so I can make this salad, or a corn/potato hash with poached eggs for breakfast the next day.  See below for two methods of cooking corn. 

Take the leftover cooked corn, you should have at least four or five ears, and with a sharp kitchen or chef’s knife cut the corn off the cob.  An easy way to do this is to break the ear in half in the middle and put the broken side down on your cutting board.  This gives you a wider base and is safer.  Don’t worry if you leave some on it, it isn’t really a big deal.  Put the kernels in a bowl, and separate any clusters with you hands so you have the kernels all separated.  Add a few tablespoons of rice vinegar, and some olive oil.  You are just dressing it lightly, not coating the corn; it is a seasoning not a dressing.  Let the mixture sit.  Meanwhile, take two or three jalapeno peppers and char them on your burner.  Use tongs to turn them.  If you have an electric stove, you have to be vigilant, or do them in a small cast iron pan.  You are not charring them completely to remove the skin.  The charring adds a little smokiness.  That is what you want.  When they have cooled, cut both ends off the peppers and slice it down one side.  Carefully open up the pepper. Remove and discard the seeds. You should have a couple of recatangles of peppers.  Stack them on top of each other and cut into a fine brunoise, one or two millimeters squares.  Add this to the corn.  Take a bunch of fresh mint, wash and then dry it.  You can use a salad spinner or a tea towel. Separate the leaves from the stalks, and chop coarsely.  Salt and black pepper to taste.. voila. 

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Cooking corn

There are so many opinions on the BEST WAY to cook fresh corn, that I will not get into nor fuel the debate.  Out on the eastern end of Long Island, the kernels are small, tight, and sweet.  The corn cooks very quickly any way you do it.  Here are two possibilities:

Method 1:
In a pasta pot, you know the kind with the strainer you can lift in and out, add water up to the strainer bottom.  Put in a quarter cup of salt, and get it boiling.  Add the shucked/desilked corn stem side down so they support each other like little spears pointing to the sky.  Cover, and once the water is boiling again wait three minutes and get them out of there with tongs.  The corn is ready. 

Method 2:
In a wide and deep pot put about three or four inches of water.  Add a tablespoon of kosher salt, grind some fresh back pepper, and add a quarter stick of sweet butter.  Get it boiling and then add your shucked corn.  It should be in one layer so all ears are semi-submerged.  You may have to do it in batches, which is fine.  Again, the magic number is three minutes.  Serve immediately.

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Les Trois Mousquetaires or Three Summer Salads…Part 2

Cucumber Salad (pictures coming)

Salade number two: Aramis perhaps?

This is a French classic, and it too takes some time but it is well worth the wait.  Peel and seed the cucumbers.  A teaspoon, or vegetable peeler that is curved with a sharp point is best.  I sometimes leave thin strips of the skin for added color.  Place them flesh side down and cut them into little half-moons.  I make them thinner than most but a little less than a quarter-inch is good.  Place the sliced cucumbers in a colander and add a liberal amount of salt.  Maybe a half cup.  The idea here is to create a coating of salt on all the cucumbers.  Mix it in with your hands and let it sit for 25 minutes.  Be sure to put a bowl under it, or you will be cleaning up juice from your counter.  The salt does a couple of things: it leeches out the excess moisture, cucumbers are after all mostly water, and it makes them crunchy.  After the salt maceration, rinse the cucumbers under cold water and squeeze the excess water with your hands or a clean tea towel.  This may seem counterintuitive, but it, like the salt maceration, is key.  Pat them dry.  Now the easy part.  Make a good white wine vinaigrette.  It is funny, but a good vinaigrette is the first emulsified sauce one learns to make when one is learning to cook professionally.  At least it was for me.  It is dead easy, but so many people like to MUCK IT UP…I use it for green salad too.  You will note I do not put olive oil in my dressing.  I feel it has too strong a flavor and masks the delicate flavor of lettuce or cucumber.

  • Vinaigrette:
    Three parts Neutral Oil (not olive)
    One part good white wine vinegar
    One part good Dijon style strong mustard fine et forte (NOT GREY POUPON or POOP-ON don’t get me started!)
    Salt to taste
    WHITE Pepper fresh ground (I keep two mills handy one with white and one with black)

In a stainless steel, or ceramic bowl put the vinegar salt and mustard.  With a whisk, or fork, mix together until the salt is dissolved.  This is important because once you add the oil, the crystals will be trapped in the oil and not dissolve easily, if at all.  You should have a thick-ish mixture.  Grind the pepper onto the mixture, and add the oil in a steady stream as you mix with the whisk in a figure eight motion.  Don’t worry about little droplets at a time — you are not making a mayonnaise.  If you find the bowl dancing around, place it on top of a damp kitchen cloth.  Mix until all is incorporated and you have created an emulsified sauce.  This is the beginning of how many sauces are built.   

To dress the salad place the vinaigrette at the bottom of a bowl, and put your cucumbers on top.  Toss gently to coat the cucumbers with the sauce.  You don’t want it soup-like, just a good covering.  You can also add fresh dill if you choose.

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Les Trois Mousquetaires or Three Summer Salads…Part 1

As summer winds down, Labor Day looms, and the first underlying freshness in the air appears I long to savor and hold onto the simple summer salads that are at their best now…they are easy and the most important criterium is the freshness of the ingredients…although I have fooled some “foodies” with the salad below…

Make all three.  They are a great addition to a summer buffet. 

Here they are all for one and one for all in three parts:

Red Onion and Tomato Salad:

Aramis, no doubt…

Take a few good-sized ripe tomatoes, I like the color mix of a red and two yellows, or the inverse.  Wash them, and with a sharp paring knife take out the stem end.  It should come out in a little cone.  Place the tomato stem side down, cut three thick slices from the tip to the stem.  Note: if you were making a tomato mozzarella salad, you would cut them on the equator.  Place the cut slices flesh down, and cut them into thick cubes.  They need not be uniform.  Take a half red onion, or a whole if you like onions.  You will find the proportions of tomato and onion you like through trial and error.  Here is where you get to make a choice.  It is like being a big-ender or a little-ender, or an and Almond Joy vs. Mounds.  You can either cut the onion into a small brunoise or thin slices.  Either way you go is fine.  The brunoise gives the salad a more slaw-like texture with oinion crunch, and the slices a more distinct onion and tomato separation making for a purer juice. 

Put the ingredients in the bowl you intend to serve it in, a nice white porcelain bowl is good.  It has to be a bowl, because you get a lot of juice.  Add a quarter cup to a third cup good olive oil, a lot of ground pepper, and a GENEROUS, and I do mean GENEROUS amount of good salt.  What is good salt?  Not any fine iodized salt to be sure!  I am also not crazy for the big coarse salt in this salad as it isn’t pleasant to chew on salt crystals.  I use a simple Kosher kitchen salt.  Mix everything together, cover with a plate, and the KEY here is to let it sit for at least twenty-five minutes.  You can stir it again after ten.  You can let it sit for longer too.  Note: there is NO vinegar.  The salt and tomato acid is all you need.  Do not add herbs or anything else, at least not the first time you make it.  I serve it as a summer side salad.  The next day, it becomes a simple gazpacho.  I drink the tomato water.  I have also used it as a base on a plate for a piece of grilled fish, spoon the juices on top.  You will be surprised at how good and sweet the salad is, even the onion is sweet because of the salt. 

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 I made it once with the winter hothouse tomatoes, cut the tomato into bigger chinks and let it sit for a few hours.  It was very good, and I fooled a friend by saying that they were grown in Chile and sent to me Fedex.

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Love your Grille Baby — Squid Row

Today is a rainy day; it has rained for two days…in biblical  proportions I am told.  What a perfect day to muse on a favorite pastime.  I have to thank the persons who supplied me with the photographs….I am useless with a camera; besides, I am too busy feeding them…you know who you are…

SQUID ROW

It is August, and the squid are running.  They are cheap and absolutely delicious.  If you ask the fish monger he will clean them for you, I prefer to clean them myself.  It is a little time-consuming, but well worth the effort.  There is a side benefit to cleaning them.  You can make shiokara if you are so inclined.  Try to choose larger squid, the body at least four inches long.  The key to cleaning squid is commitment.  You must not be afraid to get into it, literally.  First, take the head, eyes, and tentacles, and pull away from the body.  The fresher the squid the easier it will be.  Set aside and continue with all the squid you have.  Once that is done, you need to reach into the body cavity and pull out, with your fingers, any and all soft inside guts-like stuff.  You also need to remove the clear quill.  A trick is to press from the tip of the cone to the opening, like you were trying to get the last bit of toothpaste from a tube.  Reserve the guts if you are considering making the shiokara mentioned above, or discard and move on.  It is very important to remove the red/purple skin from the body.  The darker the skin, the fresher the squid, and the easier it is to remove.  Use your fingernail, and gently pry the skin from the top of the cone down to the opening.  It should come away easily.  Be careful not to tear away the fins that are attached to the body.  They are the best part when grilled, because they get a little charred, and have a crunchy texture.  This takes patience.  Pour yourself a glass of wine.  When the bodies are all clean, you can rinse them under water and then pat them dry.  I don’t bother.  I figure that any little bits left inside just add flavor. 

The next task is to clean the head sac and tentacles.  It takes some practice to get the motion, or coup de main, and I guarantee you will mess up a few times, but that is the fun.  Take the head and tentacles in one hand, and with your index and thumb, find the spot just below the eyes.  You can pinch them off and throw away the eyes, guts and ink sac.  Turn the tentacles inside out, and you will see a small ball the size of a marble.  This is the mouth and beak.  Pinch that away as well, and you are done.

I have been on an Asian kick for a while, and thought it would be fun to make a grilled squid dish Thai style.  Score the squid lightly with a sharp knife.  Do not cut through the body.  In a platter arrange the bodies and tentacles, and grate some fresh ginger over them.  Add some fish sauce, fresh lime juice, garlic, olive oil, Thai chili peppers (chopped finely), Thai basil coarsely chopped, black pepper, and let sit for half-an-hour to an hour.  I keep the tentacles to one side because they cook differently than the bodies and it is easier to get them onto the grill.  Maybe I have slight OCD…

I have found that grilling is about trust.  Get to know your grill, and love it.  One thing I notice when observing cooks who are unsure of themselves is that they tend to play with the food as it is cooking.  Too much fiddling does not allow for proper grill marks, and well…proper cooking.  Pour yourself another glass of wine and let it cook!  Squid are funny little creatures; you either want to cook them for three to seven minutes, or for an hour or more.  In this case we are looking for short and hot.  Get the grill hot to at least 500 degrees.  I use a three to five second rule.  Hold your hand over the coals palm down; you shouldn’t be able to hold it for more than three to five seconds.  Lay the squid bodies down carefully with the marinade mix.  Don’t worry about the basil, it will char away mostly, and it adds flavor.  Once the bodies are on, gently put the tentacles to one side and close the grill top.  After a few minutes, and a sip of wine, turn the squid over with tongs.  For the legs you need to move them around and as they curl up from the heat.  Don’t let them fall through the grill into the coals.  It makes me sad to lose even ONE.  Let them cook another couple of minutes and then transfer them to a platter.  Dress with fresh squeezed lime.  We had grilled vegetables and rice to accompany them.  Bok Choy is a great grilling vegetable along with Radicchio; I had some Daikon radishes too.   Leave the greens slightly damp after washing so they steam as well as grill.  I seasoned the vegetables with salt, pepper, some sesame oil, and garnished the Bok Coy with a little vegetarian oyster sauce.  Pour your favorite beverage and enjoy!!!

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Ceviche…a Raw Deal

The origins of the dish as well as the etymology of the name remain a mystery.  There are various theories (HERE), and the disputes as to which is best will continue until humans are no longer competitive.  The rivalry between Ecuador and Peru is famous, and Peru has made ceviche a national treasure.  The truth is that I don’t really care.  None of the theories above includes the far East (western arrogance perhaps?), and the thought that since time immemorial, coastal people have wanted to prepare, and preserve food in interesting and creative ways seems obvious to me.  The Peruvians say one MUST use Corvina (Bass) or that in Ecuador, shrimp is de rigeur, and that they are the true ceviche, is ridiculous.  You use the freshest fish you catch or buy.  You use what you have.  You can make ceviche out of any fish.  The Japanese have a delicacy that is very hard to get in the US.  In fact, I have only had it in one restaurant, and they do not serve it anymore because they got too busy and could no longer source the item safely.  They take an UME paste (salted plums in vinegar), some shiso leaves and marinate the small tenderloin of the raw chicken breast.  The tenderloin is that little piece beneath the breast that looks like a small minnow and detaches easily; it has a small tendon that should be removed.  Their chickens came from a specific farm in upstate New York, were organic, and clean.  Sounds crazy?  It is one of the best things I have ever eaten.  But as usual, I digress…

Ceviche is a wonderful dish, easy to prepare, and fun to serve with friends.  It goes well with champagne, a muscadet, beer, rum and tonic, whatever.  Part of the fun is to find interesting things to serve it with.  I like to have various things for people to try.  Tostada chips whole and unflavored, either homemade or bought (never the bag ones cut into little triangles).  I take cucumber rounds, sweet potato discs steamed and served cold, sesame crackers, saltines, papadum, papaya chunks…whatever…the key is the freshness of the fish; the limit is your imagination.  I consider myself very lucky.  I live not too far from the best seafood shop in New York.  COR-J Seafood Corp, on Lighthouse Road in Hampton Bays.  It is right across from the Coast Guard station just before you cross the Ponquogue bridge to the spit of land on the ocean.  The shop is run by a family, and I have become friends with Danny, son of the founder.   He is always friendly and welcoming.  If you go, tell him Sushi Tim sent you.  All the people working there take pride in knowing the fish, and making sure you get what you need.  They supply most of the restaurants in the area too.  I call ahead to let him know I am coming and to ask what has just come in from the boats.  I only buy local caught, and generally select the smaller fish.  Reading about the amount of mercury levels in the bigger fish scares me a little, and that the larger fish, like the yellow fin tuna, will be extinct at our present rate of over fishing (DON”T GET ME STARTED)…blah blah blah…insert soap box here.  If you can’t get to COR-J, find a fishmonger you trust, and tell them what you want to do.  They will steer you right.

Anyway, the smaller fish are for me.  Right now, squid are running, black bass, porgies, bonito, fluke, flounder, striped bass…are plentiful and cheap-ish.  The stripe bass is very expensive so I use it sparingly.  Today, I got some porgy, squid, striped bass, and black bass.  I had some clams left over from clamming the day before….so I was all set. 

The procedure for making ceviche is simple.  Take the fish, cut it into edible pieces, I prefer cubes about the size of a small die; it looks prettier.  I sometimes add tomato concasse, red onions for color, jalapeno peppers seeded or not, Thai chile or Habanero peppers, salt, black pepper, and lime juice.  I had no tomatoes so I used cucumbers cut into a small brunoise.  For the squid legs, if you object to the sliminess, put them in a colander and pour some boiling water from a kettle over them.  Rinse under cold water to cool immediately.  They are just slightly cooked and the reddish tinge is accented.  Another trick to cut the excess acid of the lime is to squeeze the juice from a half an orange into the mix.  I have even added grated carrot for color; It adds a sweetness too.   There is a smoky Mexican sauce called Valentina that is a great accompaniment.  Get the spicy one with the black label.

Mix all the ingredients in a glass, wooden, or stainless steel bowl (no aluminum — the acid reacts badly), and let the party get started.  It can marinate for five minutes, a half hour, or overnight.  It changes slightly, but it is all good.  Oh, be careful when dealing with the chiles…don’t rub your eyes or any other parts of your body.  You will be sorry. 

I used the leftovers the next day, mixed with brown rice, and a little mayonnaise, stuffed into squid and grilled.  There usually aren’t leftovers though…

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Crabs and Peaches

We took a big circular route of fifty miles for what would be a short walk a few miles across the water.  In a fun little car, top down, the clouds high above us, we start on Noyac Road to 38, to 27 to 24 to 105 and a right onto 25.  All those numbers are impersonal compared to the beauty of the landscape.  I guess efficiency and codification are important when it comes to roads, but I prefer less formal designations: North Sea, Sunrise Highway, Flanders Road, Cross River Drive, Sound Avenue, and Main Road.  We pass without really seeing: Noyac Bay, Little Peconic Bay, Great Peconic Bay (I think briefly of the two-week Peconic Bay scallop season – more on that in November), and around Flanders Bay into and away from Riverhead now passing the same bodies of the water, only they are to the south instead of north.  The trip is a giant horseshoe.  You never really see all the water in its majesty, the coastline with endless nooks and crannies — I sound like an English muffin commercial — which are a kayakers dream.  Glimpses of the water appear suddenly through the trees or small, but now rarer clearings as developers attempt to parcel out the landscape. 

Our mission: meander around the North Fork of LI, stop at the Modern Snack Bar for a soft shell crab sandwich, and then to Briermere Farms.  I called ahead, and they still had white peaches that day; they couldn’t guarantee that their famous peach cream pie would be available.  Briermere’s grow their own peaches, bake the pies on site; they are only in season for a few weeks.  Get’em while you can an old-timer said to me once.  And so I do, by the bushel. 

 The main debate on the drive is what kind of beer goes best with soft shell crab.  I prefer a nuttier darker beer, slightly bitter, a toasted lager to go with the sweet crabs, my companion pale ale.  The debate would be settled soon enough.  I was confident I would be right, and so was she.  It was the best kind of disagreement, where pleasure would be the outcome either way. 

 The Modern Snack Bar (MSB) (http://modernsnackbar.com) has been around for over sixty years.  Until recently the wait staff, all women, wore 1950’s style uniforms: dresses, little white aprons and a kind of nurse’s hat that I am sure have a name.  I always felt I was walking in a time warp, and figured if I sat quietly at the counter, Biff, hair slicked back, sporting his letter sweater, and Brenda, in tow, wearing bobby socks and carrying pompons (or is it pompoms?) would materialize from the dining room.  Brenda is gushing about the pin he’d just given her, the Saturday dance, and the planned drive to moonlight point over Peconic Bay.  (The only reason MSB changed the uniforms is because the owner cannot find a source for them anymore.)  There is serenity and assurance at the MSB.  It comes from doing something very well for many years.  It comes from a family feeding a community, and the community in turn loving the family for the respect and great food provided.  If you have heard A Prairie Home Companion, and who hasn’t…it is the North Fork’s Chatterbox Café.  The menu is simple, and good.  It is comfort food before the term became a new American chic.  Open faced Turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy, brisket, seafood platters, the local catch of the day broiled or baked, dressed or naked.  Daily specials exist of course.  The mashed turnips are sinfully good.  You can take them to go…if you do, buy at least two quarts.  They have a real lobster salad at $48 per pound, and it is all lobster — a bargain.  I order a Blue Point Toasted lager in anticipation of what is to come, for I always have the same thing now: a soft shell crab sandwich, lightly battered (no they won’t tell you with what – are you kidding?) served with lettuce, tomato, coleslaw, tartar sauce, on a roll.  “Pickle or no?” “Two of them please.”  The sandwich arrives and I immediately pick off a leg or two and pop them in my mouth.  You can still see the crab through the translucent batter.  It is blistering hot, and the crab juices explode in my mouth.  I build the sandwich…tartar sauce, salt, pepper, Tabasco® and the coleslaw along with the lettuce and tomato.  I am right where I want to be at that moment.  We eat our sandwiches in silence, and my companion asks for another sip of my beer.  Victory!  A concession to the darker beer’s superiority with the dish.  On the other hand maybe it was because I bought lunch. 

On the East End where drinks are usually twelve to fifteen bucks, at MSB, the Bloody Mary’s are five, and a good martini seven.  No BS here.  They have pies galore , and I almost always have a slice of the local berry pie.  The lemon meringue pie, I sometimes take one to go, is a monument to excess.  It cannot fit into the regular pie box; they have to use a deep cake box.  The baker gets a little excited building great Everest meringue.  I am glad the family continues to keep up the tradition and take care of wayward strangers as well as faithful neighbors. 

 We double back on Main Road, and zip up Cross River Drive to Sound Ave.and turn into Briermere Farms (http://briermere.com ).  It is midweek, so it isn’t the zoo it can be.  Even the North Fork, a calm cousin to the South Fork has its mob scenes.  We go straight for the white peaches.  One bushel please…there is a pause as if I am joking.  I repeat myself.  They are just coming in.  Next week they will be better but this bushel will be long gone by then: white peach preserves, grilled white peaches with basil and Sauterne, just plain while sitting by the pool with peach juice dribbling down my chin…maybe white peach iced-cream…a myriad of potential.  I walk into the store letting my companion negotiate the bushel — each peach selected individually, and ask if there is a peach cream pie left.  I am in luck.  “Do you have a cooler?” they ask.  “It needs to stay cold.”  I do not, but conveniently they have a pop-up cooler and ice for sale. Even for six bucks it is well worth it.  Note to self: bring a frigging cooler next time.  The pie looks like a porcupine of peach slices on top of lightly sweetened firmly whipped cream.  If it were whipped much more it might turn into butter. I think of those crazy Phyllis Diller hats from TV-Land long ago.  We are in peach heaven.  This will be dessert tonight.

 

 Instead of driving back the long way, we treat ourselves to the ferries across Shelter Island.  At Greenport, on the North Ferry side, there is no line and the seven minute ride is easy with a light breeze.  The clouds have descended somewhat and are threatening rain, but not quite yet.  We cross Shelter Island, with a quick stop at Crescent Beach and the famous, or infamous, Sunset Beach Hotel and Bar.  It is a place to people watch on weekends.  The food it outrageously expensive, not that great, and the drinks are Manhattan night-club pricey.  I usually go to the beach side a little west of the bar and bring a bottle of wine and oysters and grilled kielbasa.  It is fun to look at the tourists on my own terms.  We have a quick swim in the bay, and finish the crossing on the South Ferry to the South Fork, an even shorter ride than the North, but at a cost of a dollar more.  Who comes up with these rates?  I suppose it is like the two hot dog vendors in front of the Metropolitan Museum.  The concession price is almost double on the north side of the museum because there is higher pedestrian traffic coming from the 86th street subways.  Go figure…

 As we arrive home, the rain that has threatened begins to fall.  A nap was definitely in order.

FYI:

After the first slice...

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Bonacker Clam Pie

In the tradition of the Bonac people, named for Accabonac Harbor–originally natives of England– who settled into the Springs area of Easthampton, NY(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonackers) I am making a Bonacker Clam Pie.  The recipes are guarded very closely and passed on from generation to generation.  The best I ever had was made by Sean Bennett, a local oystermen out here.  His mother was a Conklin, and both the Bennett and Conklin clans are true Bonackers.  He would not divulge the recipe, but we got to talking and he let out a hint or two after a beer or three.  Adding rosemary was one, and the general proportions another.  His pie weighed about 8 lbs and was delicious.  Thanks Sean.  I am sure my pie will not be as good as yours, but I pay homage to you in my attempt.  I owe special thanks to Ed E., of Sag Harbor, for our discussions on the subject and his insights into the families and lore of the area which led me to attempt this historic dish.  Ed also shared with me is secret clamming spot, which is a great honor.  “You know,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.  “It is by the rock, the one with the seagull shit on it.”

 The Dayton’s are another old EH family; and I am not sure if they are Bonackers.  I am waiting for the local library to send me a recipe from “The Ladies Home Journal, July 1951 issue, which has Mrs. Dayton’s 1948 recipe.  Te article is entitled “The Best I Ever Had.”  In the meantime, I have done some research and decided that before following the LHJ recipe I would try my own compiled from that research.  The truth is, I could not wait a week to make one and I already bought the clams. 

 At present, July 10, 2011 11:33 AM, my clam pie is cooling.  It weighs about five pounds.

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 Procedure:

Shuck fresh clams, (I used Top Neck) so that you have 1 lb. of clam meat (about 30 clams).  Put the clams in a colander so the excess liquid is drained.  I left them in the colander for a few hours covered in the fridge.  Be sure to put a bowl under the colander or you will have a lot of cleaning up to do.  Note: Save the clam juice.  It is wonderful in soups, over pasta with garlic, and spring onions, and my favorite is to add a few Tablespoons to a Bloody Mary.  Trust me on this one.  It is a healthier Clamato™ juice.

 Prepare 1 lb of sliced onions.  Method of slicing: Cut them on the pole and NOT the equator, and then slice thinly so you have slivers.  Reserve the little root end for a soup or stock. 

Take 1/4 lb. salt pork, cut into little cubes, about a 1/4 inch each.  Render the salt pork in a heavy cast iron or enamel pan, and then add the onions with a 1/8 stick (2 Tbs.). sweet butter.  Take your time, there is no rush.  You are almost making an onion jam here.  Do NOT let the onions color.  It will take about 20-25 minutes.  About half way through, chop up some FRESH rosemary (be sure to remove the woody stems before chopping) and add it to the onion and salt pork mixture.  Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  DO NOT ADD SALT!  Let mixture cool completely. 

 Chop up the drained clams, not too finely, and add to the onion mixture.  Mix well.  Now take 1 lb. of Yukon gold, or russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into ¼ inch cubes and incorporate those too.  Filling should be at room temperature.  Put filling into pie crust (see recipe below), and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  In the top crust, leave a hole in the center (about 2. inches in diameter) of the pie so the steam can escape.  Fish out a potato from the hole.  If the potato is cooked the pie is done.  Let rest and eat warm, or even cold.  Reheat gently…at 250 degrees for about 25 minutes.

 A simple green salad with a classic vinaigrette (don’t you dare use Balsamic – another rant coming soon) and a glass of Muscadet sur Lie will go very nicely…thank you very much. Okay who am I kidding: a bottle, because that is how I roll.

 FILLING INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. fresh clam meat
1/4 lb salt pork
1 lb. onions (white, or yellow)
1 lb potatoes Yukon or Russet
1 TBS. Fresh rosemary finely chopped
1/8 stick butter (2 tbs.)
Black Pepper to taste

FOR THE PIE CRUST (Makes 1 9 inch double crust pie):
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. sugar
1.5 sticks. chilled butter (SWEET), cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into  small pieces

Blend dry ingredients, add butter bit by bit (I used a kitchen mixer with a leaf blade), and then add the shortening in tablespoon balls.  When incorporated add 6-8 tablespoons of ice water.  Let rest in fridge for at least one hour.

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Bonacker Clam Pie Follow Up

So the only way to determine if my clam pie was successful, was to take it up to the boys at the club.  The boys are all over 60, locals of the east end and don’t take shit from anyone, and they sure like to give it…  I was a little nervous, but they had had a few beers, and were hungry.  And hunger makes the best sauce.  I wanted Ed E. to taste it; I was looking for comments and suggestions.  We were seven, and the pie was demolished in about ten minutes.  It was a success and I get comments from others who were not there: “hey when you gonna bring up another pie?”   One of the guys, a clam/lobster bake caterer now retired (and a Bonacker to boot), asked what kind of clams I used.  I said hard-shell, and he suggested a mix of the soft shell clams along with the hard-shell.  The idea being that belly of the steamer clams adds a sweetness.  He said to chop up the necks and edges and add those with the hard shell clams.  Then insert the bellies by hand to create little pockets of sweetness.  He did say that it was the best clam pie he had in years.  Thanks Joe!

I have made a couple since the first one, and used traditional pie plates, but they are inferior to the deep dish, which adds an unctuosity because of the additional filling.

The Ladies Home Journal piece arrived and it was a delightful little article.  It too advocated the use of mixed clams.

Clam pie is a lot of work, but well worth the effort.

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