Archive for seafood

Stuff in the pipes

Posted in Books and gear, Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2009 by restaurantouring

Got reservations at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin. Will report back (hopefully with pictures!) once I dine. Gotta get my laptop fixed first, cuz borrowing computers to access the web is teh suck. At any rate, I’m on a mission to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, starting at the top.

Discovered a mouse in my apartment. Not sure if it’s the same mouse my roommate and I found in the winter — we named it Teacup. Oh well. Time to hide the dried fruits that I suspect he’s munching on and break out the peanut butter. I’d like to build a better mousetrap, a la Jim Clark, but we’ll see how much motivation I have to do something so cool/geeky.

Finally, a word of advice: avoid cheap tongs. Trust me. I speak from personal experience. Despite owning numerous knives (including the super-sharp Shun Kaji 10″ chef’s knife) and sharpening them all myself with Japanese water stones, I haven’t cut myself in the past year or 3 — that is, until tonight: on a pair of tongs I bought from the dollar store.

Don’t ask. I don’t know how I did it, either.

Creole Gumbo

Posted in Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by restaurantouring
Creole Gumbo

Creole Gumbo

The word “gumbo” comes from the African word for okra, kingombo, and in New Orleans, there’s no doubt that a cup of gumbo is king. Bad puns aside, here’s a recipe for some creole gumbo. Happy Mardi Gras, everyone:

Ingredients:

– 4 tbl butter

– 1 lb. smoked andouille sausage, sliced

– 1/2 cup of flour

– the trinity: ½ onion, chopped, 1 bell pepper, chopped, 2 stalks celery, chopped

– okra, sliced

– 2 medium tomatoes, chopped

– 4 cups, beef or chicken stock

– 4 cups, fish or shrimp broth

– 1 bay leaf

– ½ tsp. thyme

– salt and pepper

– hot sauce (optional)

– 12 to 18 shrimp

– 6 to 12 oysters, mussels, or clams

– 12 crawfish or 3 split crabs

– cooked long grain rice

– chopped parsley, to garnish

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large dutch oven or heavy pot. Sauté the andouille to render out some of the fat. Strain and reserve. Sauté the okra to prevent sliminess. Strain and reserve. Add flour to the fat to make a roux, adding more butter or oil as needed. Gently cook roux until it darkens to the color of chocolate. Add onions and cook until onions caramelize. Stir constantly to make sure nothing burns. Add the rest of the veggies and tomato and cook until soft. Pour in the stock with the okra, sausage, bay leaf, and thyme. Lightly season the gumbo with salt and pepper (the flavors and salt will concentrate after simmering for an hour to two hours). Add the seafood last, to ensure that it does not overcook – clams, oysters, or mussels first, followed by the crabs split in half, and finally, the shrimp). Divide soup into 6 bowls, making sure that every bowl gets a little bit of everything. Top with a mound of rice, and sprinkle with some of the chopped parsley. Serve very hot, with or without hot sauce.

Notes:

– Whenever you’re working with bivalves like clams and mussels, you want to be sure to use fresh product.  Also, be sure to soak them in several changes of cold water so that they won’t be too gritty or sandy.  Scrub the outsides of clams with a brush under cold running water.  Remove the beards of the mussels with a needle nosed plier.

– Be careful with the clams, since clams will add saltiness to the gumbo over time.  A perfectly seasoned gumbo may end up being far too salty the next day.  To help remedy this, remove the shells before storing your gumbo overnight.

– You may find that the gumbo is not thick enough to your liking.  You can remedy this in a number of ways.  You can add less liquid (remember that the seafood will give up some liquid, too.  This can thin out the gumbo), make a larger batch of roux, or fortify the gumbo with additional roux after you’ve simmered it for a while.  Okra helps.  File powder (ground, dried sassafras leaves, used as a thickener and flavoring agent in Cajun style gumbos) works too.  I’d stick with roux and okra for this version of gumbo, though — I think it’s more authentically Creole.

Mmmm. . . . Live Octopus . . .

Posted in New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2009 by restaurantouring

The sign outside

About two weeks ago, I went to this new Korean BBQ place in Flushing with my sister, my dad, and my dad’s girlfriend.  The place is freakin tasty, so don’t let the atmosphere fool you — it’s worth it.

Immediately upon entering through the sliding wooden doors, all the waitrons in the place greet you in Korean and make you feel at ease.  I’d say that they try to make you feel at home, but personally, I don’t own tables with large gas burners in the middle.  I’m guessing most of you don’t have those either, so until then, you’ll have to be made to feel at ease.

The immediate impression is that the seating is almost cafeteria-style seating.  The tables are pushed together into long rows to save space, and all the rows are just a little too close together to be totally comfortable.  For example, I think I was elbowing the poor guy behind me all night.  It was unintentional, I swear!  Even if he was being loud and obnoxious.

Also, for the most part, you’re pretty much rubbing elbows — or even sharing tables — with other patrons.  There are posters of K-pop artists and icons all over the place.  The decor is kind of tacky.  Chopsticks, spoons, and napkins are located in cylindrical canisters between tables, and you pretty much just serve yourself.  While this may serve to keep overhead costs down for the restaurant (and hopefully translate into lower prices for you, the customer), it can still be a little . . . discouraging; but, this is only disappointing if you’re used to fancier fare and service, and it is quickly quelled (thankfully) as soon as the food arrives and the savory aromas hit your nose.

While traditional, run-of-the-mill Korean BBQ choices are available (various seafoods, meats, veggies, etc. that you can grill on the central burner), it was suggested that we try something different.  So, we ordered the “San-Nak-Ji-Chul-Pan,” and thank goodness we did.

The complimentary appetizer was eggs.  A nonstick skillet was placed on our burner, and it almost fell into the fire because it was so cheap and poorly balanced — even after 3 eggs were cracked into it.  A premixed seasoning is sprinkled on top of the eggs — it looks simply like salt with a tiny bit of finely ground black pepper, and it didn’t taste like there was anything else in it.  After the egg cooked and cooked and cooked and no one came by to do anything about them, we decided to just eat them, since they were already totally cooked through.

Our server arrived shortly after we finished to whisk away our egg pan, crank our burner up to high, and slap down a huge, boiling, two-handled pan, which was almost overflowing with three different sizes of clams, mussels, crab, lobster, calamari (rings of sliced squid, I should say), baby octopus, shrimp, bean sprouts, and enoki mushrooms.  Underneath all the seafood was udon and Korean rice cakes swimming in a flavorful kimchi-based broth.  Tasty.

As if that weren’t enough, our waitress comes back to our table after we had been eating for a few minutes to offer some . . . additions . . . to our already-very-full pot.  The additions?  Octopus.  Two of them.  At first, I was puzzled why a restaurant would choose to freeze octopus into these flimsy aluminum pots for service, and I was even more puzzled as to why no one had the forethought to thaw them so that the waitress wouldn’t have to try to pry frozen blocks of seafood out of a pan that barely fit them.

Then, I realized (as I watched the faces of everyone around me grimace) that the octopus wasn’t frozen at all.  They were still alive.  And the effort our waitress was exuding in removing these critters from the pot wasn’t because they were frozen to the container, but because the suction cups on each of the tentacles had grabbed onto the sides of the vessel, and were struggling to keep the octopi firmly inside, where it was apparently safe.

This was a futile effort, whether or not the poor octopods knew it or not (probably not, since octopi be some duuuumb aminals), since our waitress (who was of diminutive size, I assure you) fairly easily tore them away and tossed them into our pan of boiling hot seafood-kimchi-noodle love.

creepy

crawly

and trying to get away

If the thought of watching a creature slowly die before your eyes just minutes before you will be eating it disturbs you, I strongly suggest you leave the table for a few minutes before returning and devouring everything in sight.  Go to the bathroom or something.  Go wash your hands.  Again.  Take a walk around the block.  If you smoke, chew a piece of gum (smoking kills).

Do I have a problem with eating an octopus that I watched die just several minutes earlier?  The apparent answer is “no,” since I ate half of one of the octopi almost immediately.  In reality, and in restrospect, I do wish that the octopus had died more quickly.  Being boiled alive doesn’t seem like a pleasant way to die at all.  The only difference between watching this cephalopod boil to death and boiling a lobster or crab is that the latter two are usually done inside a covered pot.  Here, the writhing and squirming is quite visible for all to see (including the neighbors to my right, who were visibly disturbed by our strange delicacy).

On the other hand, this place forces you to look your food in the eye (literally), which I appreciate, since the food we get at the grocery store comes so nicely and conveniently packaged and pre-butchered.  Beef does not look like a cow.  Pork does not look like a pig.  Even chickens don’t really look like chickens, since there are no feathers.  I think we’ve gotten too comfortable with our convenient, carnivorous diets.  To me, if I can’t eat something that I watched die, but have no problems with eating meat from a much larger, much more intelligent animal which died to feed me, I’d be a hypocrite.  I could elaborate, but maybe I’ll save this for another post?

That being said, the octopus was delicious.  It got tough after a few minutes, which was as expected, but we allowed it to simmer for a while longer, and the flesh became tender again.

Charlie

Charlie Park, the owner of the establishment, came around to greet us and to schmooze with the other patrons, and asked us what we thought of the food so far.  The octopus, apparently, was a delicacy that he had specially ordered from the waters around Korea.  “You eat this, and you’ll know what ‘smooth’ tastes like!” he exclaimed, as he cut up the tentacles into bite sized pieces for us.  We were eating something special.

cutting up the octopus

Rice

After we finished all the shellfish and tossed the shells into the trash buckets that were provided for us, our waitress brought out rice to cook with the remaining broth and leftover bits of seafood and vegetation.  This way, nothing was wasted, and all the fantastic, flavorful broth was used up and eaten — just the way I like it.

Cucumber juice

In lieu of a more familiar dessert, we were given cups of cucumber juice — pureed and strained cucumber, very mildly sweetened.  In Asian cuisine, you must have balance.  So, after having had a lot of spicy seafood, something light and cooling was required to balance out the meal.  What better way to end a meal?

Summary: This place serves really good, fresh seafood.  The complimentary appetizer (eggs, sunny side up) is apparently DIY, so serve it before it overcooks.  The “San-Nak-Ji-Chul-Pan” is for at least 4 people and costs $79.99, though 6 people could probably make a very good meal out of it and still be full.  If you have a problem with watching living sea creatures (octopus, obviously) writhe in agony as they boil to death before your eyes, order something else.  There is also a smaller version for 2 people for about half the price.

Restaurant Sik Gaek, 161-29 Crocheron Avenue, Flushing, NY 11358.

Phone: (718.321.7770)

Owner: Charlie Park

Chef: Son