Posts tagged seafood

Shrimp and the Future

The BP oil spill has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for about a month now, with no end in sight. As oil and chemicals drift towards the Louisiana coast, it’s easy to imagine the destruction being inflicted on these fishing grounds and the people who make their livings from them. This article from the New York Times addresses the issues straight-on, explaining how the majority of our domestic seafood comes from either Louisiana or Alaska, and how this spill will likely cause seafood shortages from the Gulf. It makes me wonder, between E-coli laced meat and toxic seafood, what will be left for us to eat?

One of the many reasons why I feel so sad about the BP situation is because in the past few years, I had recently renewed my love for shrimp. It all started with my first trip to Disneyworld as a child—whenever I think about it, I don’t remember the exhilarating curves and dips of Space Mountain or the sentimental sweetness of the It’s a Small World ride. No, my most vivid memory is of sitting at a white-clothed table with my parents and younger sister in front of a tall, narrow glass filled with my first shrimp cocktail. After my initial bites of those cold boiled shrimp dipped in their deliciously zesty tarter sauce, I couldn’t get enough, and I think I had a shrimp cocktail every night for the rest of that week. Mickey Mouse and Goofy just couldn’t compete.

But something changed in my early twenties, and for a long while I couldn’t stand the sight of shrimp. It had something to do with the texture, and I didn’t touch them for years. But in an effort to partake of their health benefits, I started eating and enjoying them again a few years ago. Their mild flavor works well in a variety of recipes, from Italian to Asian and everything else in between.

Currently my favorite shrimp dish is this recipe from the New York Times, published over a year ago. From the moment it appeared, these roasted, lemon-infused shrimp and smoky, cumin- and coriander-accented broccoli took the blogging world by storm, and with good reason. Served with brown or white rice, they form an easy and healthy meal, packed with a unique and addictive combination of flavors. I’ve been making it at least once a month for the past year, and I haven’t tired of it yet.

Jim and I recently tried a Thai-inspired recipe from Food & Wine as well, an intriguing mix of grilled shrimp, garlic, cilantro, shallots, red pepper, and soba noodles, mixed with various Asian seasonings. Jim loved the spicy combination of flavors with the buckwheat noodles, and I expect this recipe to enter our regular dinner rotation as well. We slurped up every bite in one sitting.

I don’t mean to minimize the oil spill in the Gulf with petty talk about my favorite shrimp recipes; there are so many huge ramifications of this catastrophic event that it depresses me just to read about them. But talking about the impact of this spill on my daily life in Brooklyn, miles away from where it is actually happening, reminds me that I’m really not so distant from it at all. These disasters, both natural and man-made, impact us all in one way or another. Shrimp dinners are just the beginning.

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Lobsters from the Red Hook Lobster Pound

pound

Red Hook, Brooklyn, is known for its shipyards, rickety docks, and longshoremen. But lobster? I’ve heard good things about the lobster rolls at Fairway, but local residents Ralph Gorham and his wife Susan Povich are taking these coveted crustaceans to another level, with their newly-opened Red Hook Lobster Pound on Van Brunt Street. 

The concept behind the Lobster Pound is a bit unusual, even for the most rabid food enthusiast: Gorham drives up to southern Maine (to towns such as Kittery and Wells) on Thursdays, and trucks back iced cratefuls of live lobsters for the weekend. He purchases them directly from local fishermen, right out of the Maine seawater. By the time Gorham returns to Red Hook, the lobsters have only been out of the water for 5 to 6 hours. Upon arrival at the shop, they are immediately transferred to Gorham’s personally-crafted lobster tanks. He worked with a biologist to mimic Maine seawater through the addition of elements like salt and crushed coral, and maintains a water temperature of 38 degrees. 

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It’s obvious within minutes of meeting Gorham that the Lobster Pound is a labor of love. He describes the long drive to Maine as relaxing, and recounts how he used to go lobstering for fun while spending time at his wife’s home there. While he recently realized he could turn his hobby into a money-making endeavor, Gorham stresses that he does his best to bring down just enough lobsters to fill the weekly orders, so that waste of extra lobsters is prevented. This is why it’s best to place orders by Thursday for the upcoming weekend, before Gorham makes the trip to Maine and starts purchasing them. The shop opens for pick-ups on Friday, and closes when the lobsters are sold out.

gorham

When Jim and I asked for advice on how we should cook the two 1-1/2 pound lobsters we had ordered, Gorham told us just to steam them in 4 inches of salted water for 6 to 8 minutes. Before we left, he packed up some Maine seaweed for us, and told us to use just a bit of it in place of sea salt.

home

I won’t bore you with the details of our lobster cooking escapade on Saturday night; let’s just say it involved a lot of fearful cringing, a pair of tongs, and a few minutes of remorse while the lobsters quickly steamed in a big white pot on our stovetop. But once we sat down to eat them with just a bit of melted butter on the side, it was a different story. Sadness turned to joy as we ate bite after bite of the freshest lobster I’ve ever had in New York. And that seaweed made all the difference, imparting just the right amount of sea-salt flavor to the clean, savory meat. I’m not sure I can make a habit of this—lobsters are always a bit of a splurge, and our two guys cost $30 all together (about $9.50 a pound)—but Gorham recently received permits to sell lobster rolls straight out of the shop, as well as at the Brooklyn Bridge Flea. Sorry Fairway, but I’m getting my lobster at the Pound.

lobster

The Red Hook Lobster Pound, 284 Van Brunt Street between Visitation Place and Verona Street. T: 646-326-7650. It’s best to place your orders by phone or email (redhooklobster[at]gmail.com) by Thursday. Prices change weekly. Check the website for updates.

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Artichoke Christina Barcelona

I am dying to go to Spain, particularly Barcelona. I’ve been obsessed for months now, reading Mark Kurlansky’s Basque History of the World and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s amazing mystery The Shadow of the Wind. The movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, viewed on my last plane flight, only fueled the fires of my travel bug.

Unfortunately I don’t see this trip happening in my near future, so I’ve tried to indulge in the next best thing: food. I started by experimenting with Food & Wine’s squid- and chorizo-infused farro salad, a recipe that emits its own particular brand of Spanish spirit, at least in my mind. Although farro is usually associated with Italian cuisine, the addition of smoky chorizo and plump squid transforms this dish into something that might be inspired by the Iberian Peninsula. I’m not expecting to find this meal in Spain, but in my Brooklyn kitchen, it did just fine.

farrosalad

This dish has an almost mysterious edge to it, introducing me to exotic flavors I don’t normally encounter in my everyday life. Jim and I used more squid than called for in the original recipe, as our fishmonger sold it by the pound and we didn’t want to waste it. We substituted dried oregano for fresh marjoram, and at the end we couldn’t resist throwing some fresh arugula into the mix. The peppery greens added a welcome note of freshness to the combination of smoky meat, chewy squid, and nutty grains.

We ate this for two nights in a row before heading out with friends to Soccarat, New York City’s new paella bar. Jim and I had amusingly observed that although our salad used farro instead of rice, the rest of the ingredients were quite similar to the traditional paella we were about to enjoy. No matter. At this festive sliver of a restaurant, we shared the arroz negro, a pan of luscious short-grain, squid-inked rice filled with shrimp, scallops, and cuttlefish. After one bite, I can honestly say that it transported us—in mind and spirit—to Spain. The word “soccarat” actually refers to the caramelized rice on the bottom of a perfect paella, and it was indeed the best part of the dish. Our waitress even scraped the pan for us with a large spoon, to make sure we didn’t miss any of it. As we ate one forkful after next, leaving nothing in the pan, I realized that my Spanish obsession isn’t over. Between the farro salad and our visit to Soccarat, I am more than ready to go. Where’s my suitcase?

Recipe for Farro Salad with Squid, Chorizo, and Arugula (adapted from Food & Wine magazine, April 2009)

  • 1 cup farro
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry chorizo, skinned and sliced (about 2 small links of chorizo)
  • 3/4 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut into 1/4-inch rings, large tentacles cut in half (We used 1 pound of squid, but 3/4 is probably just right)
  • salt
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 small bunch arugula, washed
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • freshly ground pepper

Place the farro in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the farro, cover and simmer over low heat until the farro is al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chorizo and cook until sizzling, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squid and cook, stirring, until just white throughout, about 2 to 3 minutes. The edges of the rings will start to turn in a bit when cooked as well. Do not overcook the squid. Remove the pan from the heat and season with a bit of salt.

Using a slotted spoon, add the chorizo and the squid to the farro. Add the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, vinegar. Tear the arugula leaves in half and add them to the salad. Add a few glugs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Cape Cod and the Sesuit Harbor Café

First of all, let me apologize for being out of touch for so long. Last week Jim and I escaped to Cape Cod and spent most of those days with our feet buried in the sand, only looking up from our books long enough to sigh and stare at the ocean. It was wonderful and relaxing, but after seven days with little cell phone reception or Internet access, I’ve had some trouble getting back on the grid this week.

We took breaks from the beach with quick lunches at the area’s myriad seafood shacks. The options were endless: fried clams, scallops, cod and more. Tasty items indeed, but when I’m on Cape Cod, I’m there for one thing: the lobster roll. And on this trip I found my new favorite spot for it, the Sesuit Harbor Café in East Dennis.

It actually wasn’t that easy to find. Driving through the gates of the Sesuit Marina, Jim and I saw only towers of grounded boats. In addition to this industrial-looking entrance, no signs indicated the presence of a restaurant. But we had faith we would come across it (especially after we asked someone where it was), and a few turns later, our shabby shack finally appeared.

After this rather lackluster approach, we weren’t expecting much in terms of atmosphere. But once we waited in line and placed our order, we walked out back to a charming waterside patio. Boats actually sailed by the tables—that’s what I call ambiance. After a few minutes, a teenage girl emerged from the restaurant, holding a tray with our two “world famous” lobster rolls ($15.95 each). “58!” she shouted. “58!” We waved her over to our table as quickly as we could.

Forget about the French fries and cole slaw, which were perfectly decent; I went straight for the creamy, fresh lobster meat piled onto that grilled and buttered hot dog roll. And I’ll cut to the chase right now: the Sesuit Harbor Café’s lobster roll was one of the best I’d ever had. I tasted the freshness of the seafood in each bite against the crunch of crispy green lettuce. Lightly seasoned mayonnaise, in just the right amount, created a silky sauce around the dense pillows of lobster meat. One week later, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

So please forgive me for being out of touch. I was busy eating lobster rolls. And I wish I still was.

Sesuit Harbor Café, 357 Sesuit Neck Road in East Dennis, Cape Cod, Massachusetts  T: 508-385-6132

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Dinner at the River Cafe

Rock Lobster appetizer at the River Cafe in Brooklyn

My father’s birthday fell on Easter weekend this year, and even though he enjoyed my homemade rice tart, it hardly substituted for a proper celebration. So on Saturday night my parents, Jim, my sister Melissa, her boyfriend Nedim, and I convened at the River Café on Brooklyn’s waterfront to get his party started.

With its magnificent view of the East River, Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge, the River Café has long been known for its incomparable setting. In the past, whenever I visited Grimaldi’s Pizzeria a few doors away, I always strolled down to the River Café after my meal, curious about what kind of experience awaited behind its romantic, vine-covered exterior.

As my family and I admired the view and the gorgeous flowers in the expansive dining room on Saturday night, we were treated to a small espresso cup of creamy butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds. We then moved on to our three-course prixe fixe dinner, choosing from the French-inspired, seafood- and meat-heavy menu ($95 per person).

Melissa and I started with wild rock lobster tails accompanied by blood oranges and cauliflower purée. The two delicately balanced tails were light, fresh, and infused with gentle citrus flavors. The guys raved about their foie gras appetizers: My father and Nedim tried the sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras, while Jim’s was presented in two different ways, as a classic pressed terrine and as a poached roulade. Mom chose the oysters glazed with a lemon-pepper hollandaise and caviar.

Crispy Duck Breast at the River Cafe in Brooklyn

I liked the look of my second course, a crispy duck breast served with a clever duck meat and potato croquette in the shape of a duck leg. I raised my fork to my mouth, took a bite of the dense meat, and tasted…salt. Melissa, who had ordered the same dish, agreed. After a few bites, the salt thankfully receded a bit, and I directed my attention to the homey croquette. As for the rest of my party, Jim, Nedim, and my mother were pleased with the lobster special, while my father enjoyed his Colorado rack of lamb.

For my dad’s birthday I had ordered a decadent chocolate cake filled with chocolate caramel mousse from the Café’s pastry department. We also sampled a few desserts from the menu, my favorite being the light and creamy goat cheese cheesecake with passion fruit gelée, meringue, and passion fruit ice cream.

Overall, the River Café helped us celebrate my father’s birthday in style, with a very good, beautifully presented meal in an amazing setting. My only complaint is that the service was perhaps a bit too attentive: Throughout our meal, numerous waiters hovered around the table, ready to clear our plates at a moment’s notice. When I heard my sister reprimand one of them for trying to clear her appetizer away before she was finished, I cringed. That waiter should have been warned not to try and take unfinished food from the Grillo family.

As we walked outside after admiring the flowers and view of the Brooklyn Bridge for a second time, Melissa said, “Wow, did we just have an experience?”

Yes, Melissa, I think we did. My curiosity has finally been satisfied.

The River Café, 1 Water Street, in DUMBO, Brooklyn. T: 718-522-5200. Reservations are recommended. Dinner jackets are required.

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