Friday, August 10, 2012

Wild (Fish) Food

What happens when you send 9yr olds out with a shrimp net on a dock?

They catch those little minnows that swim around the margins.  Especially if they are persistent and energetic - and no one has given them any silly notions about how one must catch the minnows.

My nine year old went for the overhead swing and speed netting.  Looked odd to me, but then, my "sneak up slowly" technique never caught sixteen of the little guys.

So, as a self respecting science teacher, what do you do when your child says, "can we dissect them?"
Well, you sharpen the paring knife in the boat's galley, get out your fine forceps (tweezers to the rest of the world), and go to work.  (Of course I have dissecting forceps with me - for emergencies such as this, don't you?)

ok, cleaning a fish smaller than your pinky
is harder than/as hard as it looks.

Then, my opportunistically practical offspring asks, "Can we eat them?"
And I am forced to ponder my last trip to a tapas restaurant.  Well, yes we can.  And if I am going to dissect one in the name of science, why not six in the name of culinary exploration?

And thus:
A quick fry in a 1/4" of oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Pro Tip: frying in oil on a boat galley - not normally recommended.
But this was in the name of science.
And since it was his idea:
OhBoy! OhBoy! OhBoy!

And finally:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chowder = Thai Curry... true story

So, this shows up on the boat...

So, they're not all keepers - some too small, some females,
and T's not there, so we can only keep 5.  "Only."

The problem with shell fish is you gotta eat it or freeze it pretty much RIGHT AWAY.  And if it freezes too slowly it tastes funny, and feels funny in your mouth because of the large ice crystals that form during slower freezing.

But - in a soup - it has half a chance.  The soup ingredients change the freezing dynamics, and some other secrets.

But back to my crazy claim - that building a chowder and a Thai Curry are the same process.

Let's start with the ingredients:

Thai Curry:                           Chowder:

coconut fat/oil                          bacon/salt pork/oil
curry paste                               salt & your preferred seasoning
garlic & aromatics                   onions, celery

vegetables                               vegetables
(eggplants, carrots, peppers    (corn, peppers, carrots)
pea pods, cucumbers)
starch - noodles/potatoes         starch - potatoes
creaminess - coconut milk       creaminess - milk/cream
liquid - broth                           liquid - broth
secret ing. - fish sauce             secret ing. - clam juice
protein gently cooked in         protein warmed/cooked in the 
the hot soup (chicken,             hot soup (shellfish or lobster/crab)
prawns or tofu)

In both you heat the fat, and cook up some pungent and aromatic ingredients.  Soften the vegetables, stir in the broth, cook the potatoes, and any other tender vegetables (OK the noodle gig is a bit different - but you get the picture...)
Add the creaminess and season with the secret ingredient.
Heat up or gently cook the protein of your choice.

Which all led me to completely go off the rails while making a corn and crab chowder for dinner - some to eat and some to freeze.  The stunningly delicious result?

Green Curry Corn & Crab Chowder

1/2 lb Bacon cut into thin strips
1/2 tsp green curry† (a little goes a long way)
1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 2 C)
2 ribs celery, chopped (about 1C)
1/2 C roasted piquillo peppers, chopped*
3/4 C flour (wheat or rice or 1 Tbs corn starch)
2Q (8C) chicken stock (that's 2 of the boxes)
1.5 lbs potatoes (waxy) cut to the size of your end thumb joint
3 ears of corn - cut off the kernels (see below)††
1 C half & half **
1/2 C fresh parsley - or a mix with cilantro - chopped
2 Tbs fish sauce (add more, carefully, to taste)
Per Person - approx. 1/2C - 1C picked dungeness crab meat

Chop everything to the right size.  That'll keep you out of trouble for awhile

Place a large soup pot over medium heat.  Cook the bacon until most of the fat is cooked out - and it starts to think about getting crispy.  About 10 min.
Add the curry paste and stir it into the rendered bacon fat.  As soon as you can smell it,
add the onions and celery and cook until they start to soften.  About 10 min.
Stir in the flour - cook for about 10 min - until the flour is nice and pasty over the veg.
Add about a cup of the chicken stock - stir to dissolve the flour.  Add in the rest of the the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Turn the heat down to medium, add in the potatoes, corn and roasted peppers.  Simmer for 10 minutes - check the potatoes.  If the are soft - onto the next step.  If not, keep simmering until the potatoes are fork tender.  When they get there,
Stir in the half & half and herbs.  Stir in the fish sauce and taste.  Add fish sauce a spoonful at a time, tasting as you go.   Stop when it is just right.
Simmer for the last 2 minutes.

Place the crab meat in the bottom of the bowls, and ladle over some soup.

Enjoy while laughing wickedly.

If there is extra soup - let it cool in the fridge, pop it in plastic snap top containers and freeze it ASAP.  Any extra crab goes in there too.

Thaw overnight in the fridge, heat over low heat, and serve with lime wedges to revive the flavors.

† Any green curry will do, but if you have a recipe/access to a particularly fresh, lemon grass heavy version - that will give results to brag to your friends about.  You CAN add more, but you don't won't to overwhelm the flavor of the crab.

*Point of substitution to your taste/materials: use regular roasted red peppers, or the amount you want of something spicier or 1C chopped raw red peppers.

† Put a small plate in a large bowl.  Stand the shucked corn cob on the flat end on the plate.  Hold the pointy end.  Use your chefs knife to cut down the cob and cut off the kernels.  No need to go too close the the cob.
Turn the knife so the blunt side is facing the cob, and run it down the side, getting all the yummy, sweet corn juice out.
Use the whole soupy mess in your chowder.

** Another easy substitution - you can go 1C milk and 1C cream if you happen to have that instead.  Or if you don't do dairy, take it a little more over to Thai Curry with 1 can of coconut milk instead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bocha Bocha Udon (Splashy Noodles - Japanese Style)

The secret to making those amazing noodle soups: the right broth, the right noodles, and not so much random stuff.

Just add broth - bok choi leaves and stems, pea pods, teriyaki chicken,
fish cake (kamaboko - its traditional!) and scallions
Even though it is noodle soup, the vegetables are really one of the most important parts.  Noodles are shelf (ramen) or freezer (udon) stable, as is the fish cake (kamaboko), so they can be bought at any time.
But leaves, they need to be caught up and captured when opportunity and the season allows.  Late spring and early summer means tender bok choi, pea pods and scallions are sweet and green, and will balance a hearty fishy broth to astounding (possibly legendary?) effect.

But the greens can't stand alone.  They need the support of salty, savory and sweet, along with the extending and sweet chewy foil of a proper udon noodle.

scallions (9:00), teryaki chicken, kamaboko (fishcake) and
udon noodles (frozen clump, ready for boiling) 
The noodle broth needs to be properly complex and tasty.  There are many ways to accomplish this.  If I were in Japan (or San Francisco) there would be several Best Of places to direct the connoisseur.  Here in Seattle, lacking a lucky strike in the C.I.D., the 2nd best is getting bonito sachets from an Asian or well supplied market (steer clear of things with "not fish" as the 1st ingredient - If it smells like fish food you most likely have the right stuff.)  Follow the directions on the box.  If the directions are in characters, rather than letters... do the following (in true barbarian style - I've figured this out though trial and error.  If you know better do it your way):

a) in one large pot, bring plenty of water to the boil - add the frozen udon noodles.  When the water returns to the boil, boil for 2-3 minutes, drain and add a bit of sesame oil to keep the noodles from sticking.  If you are working with dried? udon {which I have never seen} use what directions you can find.
b) find a reasonable recipe for dashi/noodle broth on the internet.
c) see the next picture

My favorite (easy) noodle broth:
4C water - bring to a boil
Add sachet (10g) of fish flakes - boil 5 min - remove fish flakes
lower to simmer and add 1/2C (115ml) soy sauce and
1 Tbs/1oz. sugar (28g)
garlic and ginger are optional/to taste
(revise and adapt as you develop preferences) 
ready for boiling water - genmaicha
roasted rice and green tea.  Smells like home
to much of the Pacific rim  - both East and West sides
- even if we've never had it before.

The very best part of Bocha Bocha (Japanese for "splashy") Udon is that is can be personalized in a large crowd.  Splashy - beacuase that's what happens to one's nose when you slurp them properly.

Everyone gets a bowl of noodles - lubricated with a bit of sesame oil.
Top with leaves, proteins (chicken - teriyaki or otherwise, beef, tempura shrimp, fish cake, sliced hard boiled eggs, fried or cubed tofu - many combinations also suffice) other vegetables, and possibly a pickled vegetable (radishes or chrysanthemum petals can are traditional) to one's taste - and then scallions/green onions for all create a delicious yet individual feast for a small crowd - even the picky ones.

Meatless Monday you say?  Go with a veggie broth, and toss in a handful of mushrooms and sliced inari skins to fill up the meaty flavors and the protein desires.  Any extra inari strips can be fried up and added to a salad the next day.  (honest, I'll show you soon!)

A truly versatile meal - and once you get the hang of it - quicker than takeout and MUCH cheaper than delivery.