Seared Salmon with Strawberries, Rose Water and Balsamic Vinegar

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I had my first experience with balsamic vinegar, the bona fide aged article from Modena in Emilia Romagna, while working in a gourmet grocery store in rural Rhode Island in 1981.  I remember the occasion because it involved tasting a small drizzle atop strawberries and I thought it was a prank.  The taste was transformative.  Imagine sweet-tart strained through a bottle of Chateau Margaux.  The combination has remained with me ever since.  You can catch an echo of that experience in this week’s Seared Salmon with Strawberries, Rose Water and Balsamic Vinegar.

Sea Scallops, Peas and Chervil

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If I ever leave New England, it will be the taste of a freshly seared Atlantic sea scallop that brings me back.  Big, meaty, packed with marine flavor.  When people talk about regional American cuisine and they trot out Texas or North Carolina barbecue or Virginia hams or Alaskan salmon, I always ask if they’ve ever tasted a genuine New England sea scallop.  Most haven’t.  This week: Sea Scallops, Peas and Chervil.  The sea scallops are large, they take a thin edge of delicious sear while remaining moist and rare in the center, and they hold a delicious court with butter, peas and chervil.

Grilled Sardines with Ramps and Rhubarb Agrodolce

Grilled Sardines with Ramps and Rhubarb Agrodolce-2168

When our son Oliver was seven or eight and we lived within shouting distance of East Cambridge I used to take him with me to visit Courthouse Fish Market on Thursday afternoons to pick up seafood for dinner.  Courthouse is an old-school establishment.  Glass cases filled with ice and gleaming fresh fish–sardines, tilefish, snapper, salmon, flunder, bluefish, squid, swordfish and several varieties of clams, including the large razor clams you’ve seen here before.  Opposite the fresh fish display a freezer holds frozen octopus, Alaskan king crab legs, squid and fava beans and wooden cases stacked nearby contain salt cod.  On Thursdays Moray eels came in from Portugal.  One of these arm-sized monsters, dark gray with brilliant yellow spots and a ferocious set of teeth in its gaping jaws usually occupied pride of place in the front window.  We stood in front of the window and stared.  People ate that?  We no longer live within hailing distance of this venerable Cambridge institution, but when I pass through the neighborhood I try to stop by.  For this week’s Sardines with Ramps and Rhubarb Agrodolce I made a special trip.

Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies

Spaghetti with Bottarga and Preserved Lemon-2667

For the last two years we’ve posted spring recipes for shad roe, a seasonal reward for surviving winter. We’re still rolling with roe this year, but of a dramatically different kind: Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies. Bottarga is the salted dried roe of gray mullet or bluefin tuna. Grated over pasta or served in very thin slices, it may be even more of an umami bomb than garum. Until recently only Americans fortunate enough to travel to Sicily, Sardinia or parts of Calabria were likely to encounter bottarga. But about ten years ago lumps of bottarga began showing up in a few American chefs’ hands. Its rich, funky flavor provokes either love or hate, but at twelve to fifteen dollars an ounce, it’s pricey enough to keep all but the curious or committed from seeking it out and trying it. Two ounces is more than enough for pasta for 4. Be forwarned: the curious have a way of morphing into bottarga zealots after their initial taste experience. Think guanciale of the sea. Armed with a small amount of bottarga and prep so rudimentary it makes bolognese look like a kidney transplant, you can make a pasta dish fit for the gods.

Print this recipe – Shrimp Scampi with Orange Bitters

Food bloggers and their readers tend to be a supportive, upbeat, crowd (“Kale!  Wow!  Double thumbs-up!”).  We don’t get many complaints, helpful suggestions for improving the site, but every few months this plea arrives: “Can’t you do something so we don’t have to cut and paste your recipes?”  Never let it be said The Garum Factory …

Glazed and Enthused – Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Blood Orange – Fennel Salad

Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Fennel - Blood Orange Salad-1

Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Blood Orange – Fennel Salad.  If you make nothing else from us this year, make this.  It’s crazy delicious, one of my contenders for the tastiest thing Jody’s cooked in the past year, and it’s easy. Contrary to what you may think, the recipe doesn’t involve filleting your own mackerel.  Unless you want to.  If so, have it.  That’s what we did, but only because the whole fish were so gorgeous I couldn’t bear not photographing them, so I spared our fishmonger the hassle of filleting them for us.  You’ll also notice that there are three fish and only four fillets, when you’d expect six.  That’s because we roasted the third mackerel whole.  If Spanish mackerel’s around, we can’t get enough of it.  Make this dish.

The L Word: Lobster-Andouille Stuffies

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A “stuffy,” just in case you don’t know, is the Rhode Island term of art for a baked stuffed clam, although I can vouch for its use as far north as southern Massachusetts.  Typically, buttered and seasoned breadcrumbs do-si-do with chopped clam, usually but not always) atop a quahog on the half-shell and baked.  It’s a filling, poor man’s seafood treat, which is not to denigrate it, just to note that it may not be the place to go if you’re looking to sate your bivalve love.  Jody’s stuffy climbs up a notch on the menu, subbing lobster for clams, and adding andouille sausage and green pepper for a Cajun twist.  Lobster-Andouille Stuffy – the stuffy for our times.

Corn and Mussel Chowder

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In his brilliant maritime novels set during the Napoleonic wars the English writer Patrick O’Brian was ruthlessly accurate about the handling of square-rigged sailing ships and the social relations in the British navy.  In order to keep readers from feeling completely adrift O’Brian, whom the NYT Book Review dubbed “Jane Austen at sea,” often had his sea-wise characters explain details of shipboard life to landlubbers who had wandered into the story.  Those new to cuisine afloat soon learned, for example, that chowder and the dreaded “portable soup”* were thickened with hardtack lest the liquid slosh out of the bowl and onto the diner. Hardtack, sailors then cheerfully pointed out, was infested with worms, nicknamed “bargemen,” after their resemblance atop the crackers in the soup, to pilots steering captain’s barges  from one side of the bowl to the other.   In MASTER AND COMMANDER, O’Brian has a character contemplate his soup with its infested crackers and then observe, “Don’t you know that in the Navy one must always choose the lesser of two weevils.  Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!”  

You’re either on board with this kind of humor or you’re not.  If you’re not, you can console yourself with today’s post, Corn and Mussel Chowder.  Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!

Grilled Oysters with Wasabi Mayo

Grilled Oysters with Wasabi Mayo-1

One charmed fall weekend Jody and I were asked to judge the oyster shucking competition at the annual Wellfleet OysterFest.  A free weekend in Wellfleet.  Close proximity to more straight-from-the-ocean bivalves than I could ever reasonably consider eating.  Bring it on.  Watching pros shuck oysters inspires equal parts terror and admiration.  The goal is to shuck a couple dozen oysters as fast as possible.  Winning times are usually around two minutes – that is, an oyster every five seconds.  Chipped shells, mangled oysters, debris and, oh yes, the occasional splash of blood, are all penalized.  Everyone who competes professionally has a story about watching an inattentive shucker putting the the blade of an oyster knife through a palm or the base of a thumb.   And that’s the rub, isn’t it?  As someone who has shucked a fair number of oysters in his life, I still take a deep breath before I do it and I make damn sure I’m paying attention.  Here’s a tasty alternative: Grilled Oysters with Wasabi Mayonnaise.

As a recent presidential candidate might have said, had he been a cook, which seems doubtful: Grilled oysters self-open.