Sunday, July 13, 2014

Diggin’ clams in the summer time

By Christine Burns Rudalevige
Razors and little necks and steamers, OH MY!

There are over two thousand identified species in the wonderful world of clams.  These ancient bi-valve mollusks (meaning they have two shells connected via a single hinge) generally fall into two major categories:  hard shell and soft shell.  In keeping up with the bivalent theme of clam classification here, I can tell you that I have but two clam memories that connect my one heart and my four tear ducts.

The first takes place lakeside in Western Massachusetts at sunrise and involves a dear uncle and steamed cherry stones; and, the second, happened canal side in Venice at sunset with a cherubic toddler and veraci clams in a ginger broth.

Picnics on Benedict Pond (part of the Beartown Mountain State Park in the town of Monterey) and steamed clams were Fourth of July staples of my childhood.  By edict from my patriarchal Uncle John – a product of the Great Depression who believed you could neither be too early to score the best spot in the joint, nor ever have too much food – the several bushels of steamers he scrubbed and soaked in cornmeal on July 3rd always served as the opening salvo to the spread of burgers and Italian sausages, potato salads and deviled eggs, and watermelon slices and red, white and blue popsicles that followed.

The summer I was 21, I helped him load his huge aluminum clam steamer, two lawn chairs, a thermos of coffee (statute of limitations permits me to admit that it was laced with his homemade grappa) and the clams in back of a truck when it was still dark. He had bad knees so he drew me a map of the exact location to where I was to scurry, set the steamer over the Coleman stove and crank it.  We added the clams to the pot, sat in the creaky chairs holding Styrofoam cups of his Coffee Royale concoction, and watched the sun rise over the pond, talking about the lives behind him and ahead of me and waiting for the clams to release their grip on their shells.  The memory is as clear and fresh as steamed clams dipped in melted butter that’s been laced with lemon juice.

My second clam recollection is a bit saucier.

My mother-in-law for her 60th birthday wanted to see Venice before it sank.  So about 20 of us – my kids, then 4-years and 15-months old, included – made the late-May journey that culminated with a many, many coursed celebratory dinner in the wisteria covered back terrace at Trattoria Corte Sconta, an off-the-beaten-path place renowned for its seafood.  As a softly rounded, toe-headed child, my daughter Eliza was lapping up the attention the offspring-obsessed, dark-haired  Italians were showering on her, so much so that she was waving and saying “Ciao Bella!” to most passersby even if they hadn’t noticed her first.  At Trattoria Corte Sconta, she was also enjoying immensely the clams in ginger broth.  As the waiter went to take the bowl he erroneously thought she was finished with, she held up one hand to stop him, and used the other to commandeer an empty shell as a vessel for the last bit of broth, and sucked the liquid down with a very loud slurp.

Since that time, I’ve been testing out clam sauce combinations that will make Eliza as pleased as she was on that night.  Granted, she’s now a slender, sullen tween who is, in fact, pickier than she was that night in Venice.  But combining garlic, butter, white wine and a sprinkle of red chili pepper flakes typically foots the bill for a weeknight spaghetti alla vongole that she’ll suck down with the same abandon.

Clams are one of those low-guilt kinds of food.  Concerning the waistline, they are very low in fat.  Concerning the coastline, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch has designated farmed Cockles, Littlenecks, Manila, Razor, Steamers, Mirugai, Horseneck, Long Necks and Jumbo clams as among the best choices for sustainable seafood because almost 90 percent of the clams consumed in North America are farmed with very little negative affect on the environment.

Lately I’ve moved my clam inspiration a bit westward from Italy, pairing grilled clams with Spanish chorizo with its smoked pimenton undertones, garlic, red onion, parsley, lemon and a husky piece of crusty bread.  The sauce preparation comes together in the time for unshucked clams to cook on the grill. 

Eliza’s not too keen on this one, but no matter, all the more for me.

Spanish-inspired grilled clams with chorizo
Serves 2 as an entrée, 4 as a starter

It’s important to pull the clams off the grill as soon as they pop wide open.  If they cook too long, they will be chewy.  Hold each one steady as you pull it off the grill, trying to get as much of the clam juices into the serving bowl as possible.

2-pound bag of farm-raised little neck clams (mine came from Plantation Creek, Virginia)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces Spanish chorizo, minced
2 Tablespoons minced red onion
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons minced parsley 
Salt and Pepper to taste
Slices of crusty bread

Preheat the grill to high
Scrub the clams in cold water and dry them slightly.
Place clams on the grill for 6-8 minutes.
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter.  Add chorizo, onions and garlic.  Cook for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.  Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
 As soon as the clams open, carefully lift them off the grill into a large bowl.  Discard any clams that don’t open after 10 minutes on the grill. 
Toss the clams with the sauce and serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chaos Gives Way to Coquilles St. Jacques

By Mollie Sanders
When I was a young wife and mother looking expand my culinary repertoire, I dug through some old cookbooks and found a classic dish that sounded delicious: Coquille St. Jacques, super fresh scallops cooked very slightly in white wine and then broiled in a creamy, cheesy sauce.

What the recipe did not tell me at the time was that I would use every single bowl I owned and make a complete mess of my kitchen.  Or maybe that’s just me?  

In our house, the deal was that whoever cooked didn’t have to clean up after dinner.  That worked out just fine because I love to cook but would rather be covered in honey and set atop an ant hill than tackle a sink full of dirty dishes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

My Almost Nicoise Salade

By Christine Burns Rudalevige
There are many rules to follow if you are going to compose a real Salade Nicoise.  And what those exactly are, depends on who you look to for advice.  Traditional Salade Nicoise lore requires that it be composed of only raw vegetables, giving the eater the chance to fully enjoy the quality of the produce growing in the countryside in the south of France, near Nice, hence the name. 
The dressing is supposed to stand on the quality of the region’s olive oil, thereby bypassing any vinegar in favor of minced garlic and fresh herbs, and of course, olives from that region as well. It may or may not contain anchovies or oil-cured tuna, but never both.  Julia Child (in her The Way to Cook) espouses Escoffier’s additions of steamed red potatoes, cooked French green beans (sometime substituted with fava beans) and hard boiled eggs.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eat Oysters All Year Round

Taunton Bay oysters from Franklin, Maine.
By Mollie Sanders
Back in the olden days, there was a saying about how it was only safe to eat oysters during the months that have an “R” in them.

There are a couple of reasons why this used to be true: First, when the water in which the oysters grow is warm, there is a higher chance of contamination due to red tide or a couple of nasty illnesses that you do not want to contract.  One of the most common is vibrio and trust me; you might now want to click on the link before eating your lunch! 

The second part pf the old wives tale still rings true with some oysters.  You see, during the life cycle of an oyster, in May after it’s just woken up from a long winter’s nap during which it used up all the nutrients that they worked all summer and fall to build up, they aren’t as tasty as they could be.  They are edible, but will be watery and thin.  Not the plump, meaty and delicious oysters we get to enjoy into the fall.  And please keep in mind I’m talking about New England and Eastern Canadian grown oysters, here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Putting Arctic Char on the Dinner Table

By Christine Burns Rudalevige
In a former life I was a reporter for a computer networking magazine.  Much of my tenure there was took place before the tech bubble burst.  We were generally pretty ready, willing and able to use any excuse for a company lunch out.  Legal Seafood was right down the street from our Natick, Mass. offices and we took all incoming and all outgoing news room team members there for either  welcome or send off lunches.

I always got the grilled Arctic Char, the flavor of which strikes a good balance between the mildly sweet, freshwater taste of trout and the stronger taste and texture of salmon.  Not surprisingly, the physical characteristics fall between salmon and trout as well, with the flesh being salmon-like in color but it has the thickness of a large trout.

But until recently, I rarely cooked this fish at home, and I can’t really give a good reason why that is.  It’s accessible, it’s not overly expensive, and fish watch groups give it a green light.  Although this species is fished both commercially and by recreational fishermen on the wild around Iceland, Canada, Norway and Alaska, most Arctic char sold in the U.S. is farmed. And most of those fish are farmed in land-based, closed, recirculating systems and so there is a low risk of pollution and/or detrimental environmental effects.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Clean Out Your Fridge for a Delicious Dinner

By Mollie

   I love my chef-boyfriend.  And sometimes I have to remind myself of that.  He’s super clean and concerned about food safety at work but at home, not so much and one of our biggest battles is how long food is good for.  I am a firm “less than a week girl” for any leftovers, he’s more like a “scrape the mold off and call it good kind of guy”.  Once he ate bean dip that was six weeks old but blamed his subsequent digestive distress on the beans.  Hey, he’s cute...  So cleaning out the freezer or refrigerator has to be done when he’s at work and anything I throw out has to be camouflaged.  Luckily my mom’s chickens get most of our expired leftovers but even then I have to bag it all up and get it to her before the chef gets home from work! 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Getting the Spice Right for Fish

By Christine Burns Rudalevige
I have an embattled reputation among my siblings of pushing the culinary envelope at big family gatherings.  Sometimes I get it very wrong and the ridicule is relentless, especially if my intended innovation comes off as a wee bit too uppity for our solidly grounded Western Massachusetts upbringing.  But sometimes I manage to get it right.  When I do, it’s usually because I’ve just added a little something to something else they already know quite well.

I nailed it this weekend with some local Gulf of Maine Atlantic cod (not all Atlantic cod is off limits, if it’s caught legally under Maine’s strict fisheries management scheme) and some locally acquired dukka.

Cod they understood.  Dukka (sometimes spelled dukkah or duqqa), on the other hand, not so much.  It’s an Egyptian culinary spice blend and typically comprises sesame, cumin, coriander, hazelnut and salt, although there are as many variations as there are Egyptian grandmothers. The ingredients are dry roasted, then ground to a rough powder.  The result is an earthy, fragrant mix that’s classically used as a dry dip, served with warm flat bread dipped first in olive oil, then in dukka.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Scared to cook fish? We can help!

By Mollie
As you’ve probably noticed Christine has been lovely enough to handle the blog for us for a bit as I came down with an awful cold (flu?) and could barely function for a bit there.  Trying to work full time, manage three teenagers, volunteer when I can, and have some kind of social life is a delicate juggling act.  Oh yeah and write a blog and a cookbook.  When I’m not operating at full capacity, it all falls apart!


Friday, May 16, 2014

When the Farmers' Market Meets the Sea: Easy Seafood and Cooking Greens Wraps

Asian style Market Green and Seafood Wraps.  Photo by Christine.
By Christine Burns Rudalevige
I certainly don’t have very green thumbs, but I did used to be a manager of a farmers’ market.

It was a producer-only market called Farmers on the Square in Carlisle, PA.  It was held (and still is should you be in Carlisle), on Wednesday afternoons, well, on the main town square. I count it among one of the best jobs ever as the loveliness of the fruits, vegetables, baked goods and meat and dairy products, were only surpassed by the loveliness of the people who showed up week in, week out. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Finding Your Fish Inspiration When You’re Fresh Out?

By Christine Burns Rudalevige
Mollie and I are up to our elbows in seafood.  Selling it.  Cutting it.  Cooking it.  Eating it. Teaching about it.  Developing recipes for it. And finally, writing about it. So can you really blame us if sometimes we just get bloody sick of the stuff?  

We could go off and have a nice, thick, juicy steak and a big fat red wine.  Or there are a zillion ways to cook chicken, right?  We could even jump on the Meatless Monday bandwagon for a break in the pescetarian action.  But what we typically do is just dive in a little deeper and take a good look around for inspiration on how to better sell, cut, cook, teach and write about fish.

That’s how I spent my afternoon:  combing the Internet, studying photos of the new fish cookbooks I can’t seem to resist, and flipping the pages of all May and June food magazines that made it into my mailbox over the weekend for five intriguing seafood recipes I wished I’d dreamed up.  Here is what I found.

Recipe: Seared Hake with Baby Potatoes and Green Sauce
Publication where I noticed it:  Bon Appetit, April 2014

Since I don’t own a juicer, I am not quite sure how I might extract the liquid from a couple of celery stalks, a handful of sorrel leaves and the green part of a leek as directed in this recipe.  But I am definitely wondering if that green juice can help me elevate the simple seared white fish that I would make on a Tuesday into a date night wonder.  Because if it did just that, would pick up the time necessary to get my nails done.