Eat Some Oysters Already!

If you love oysters, this is for you. If you don’t love oysters, even better – I’m on a mission to make you a fan!

Here in the Bay Area we have some of the best oysters around. While it’s true that I love ’em all and I’ll eat pretty much any oyster put in front of me – it’s also true that these beautiful Tomales Bay oysters are at the top of my list.

Their crisp brininess is, indeed, comparable to those briny, creamy tiny little Puget Sound guys that I also love so much… but I live here, and I like my oysters fresh as they can come. I rarely eat oysters that aren’t local, and at Tomales Bay they’re more than just local – they’re growing in the water you’re sitting next to while eating them. In fact, they’re so fresh, you sometimes get a little hitchhiker on your bag of oysters…

You can chow down at a picnic table on the beach and then take a walk along the sand next to the beds. It’s pretty much the best thing ever. If you live in the Bay Area and haven’t been, go. If you have been, go again. And if you don’t live around here – get your butt over here and go. Take a look at what you’re missing out on:

 

Those picnic tables you see there to the right are where you eat your tasty treats, there on the left is where you buy them…

The oysters’ temporary home, before I eat all of them and my belly is their home….

Just for reference on how my pals and I can scarf up some oysters – between 4 of us, we ate 62 oysters. Its a lot, but we were pretty happy campers, even considering a few more before we came to our senses. Once they all settled, I was pretty oystered out for a little while. (The next day I was fortunate enough to follow it up with tomato steamed clams for dinner. Oops on the mollusk overload.)

The key to eating so many oysters is taking a break in the middle for a stroll along the beach, throwing sticks for the dog to catch, taking silly pictures and viewing the oyster beds. (Some people even buy their oysters and carry the bags to eat on the beach)…

The second key is to have the most banging supply of treats and goodies you can imagine. There’re picnic tables, it’s sunny, you’re on the water, and surrounded by happy oyster loving people. Bring a huge cooler, a car crammed full of your most favorite people and stay a while!

Plenty of wine (champagne strongly suggested), bangin’ cheeses of all kinds (I prefer hard with oysters), tomatoes, mango, avocado, shallots, apples, lemons, grapes, fresh french bread – there’s also some hummus, salad greens, canned white beans. And plenty more. It’s this spread that will lead to the greatest oyster feast of all time; the feast that had led to some of the surprising recipes and combinations I am about to offer you; recipes and combinations for those who love oysters and will do anything with them, as well as for those who don’t, who need a little ‘umph to enjoy this beautiful mollusk.

The more items you have in your tasty treat box (cooler), the more tasty adventures you can have, of course. We took pretty much everything on the table and tried it with the oysters – in the shell, in a salad, on bread – we did the best we could to do it all. Take a look at just a few of the attempts we made. Some were amazing, some were less than that…

Green apples on top, with the brine in. Amazing!

Cucumbers. Also good, but not as good as the apples. The two mixed together – ohhhh yeah.

 Avocado – the smooth semi-sweet creaminess on top of the salty brininess: not bad. Mango – less than mediocre.

Sometimes, though, you just need a plate of plain old oysters. No funny business. (Well, maybe one…try out some tomato. It’s not too bad – tomato, hot sauce, lemon.)

But, of course, for those simple plates of oysters, you need some sauce.

You need lemon, you need hot sauce. Horseradish, cocktail sauce, mignonette are classics.  But, of course, I always encourage experimenting with as many as you can gather, and all the combinations in between.

Cocktail Sauce

  • Ketchup
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dash (or a big splash, depending on taste) of hot sauce (tabasco recommended)
  • Mix together to taste!

Mignonette

  • White wine or champagne (sparkling wine)
  • Finely minced shallots
  • Splash of acid: white or red wine vinegar, lemon or lime juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Mix together to taste and pour over oysters!

Don’t forget that arugula and can of cannellini beans we had…..

Simple and Delish Raw Oyster Salad for Two

  • 2 fresh oysters, with brine from shell
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • 1/2 can cannellini beans, plus 1/2 teaspoon or so of bean juice from the can
  • teaspoon or so of white wine/champagne mignonette
  • handful of arugula
  • pinch of salt and black pepper
  • Mix together and enjoy!
Just follow my simple guidelines, come up with some funky oyster recipes of your own, and you, too, will walk away with a bucket of oyster shells as full as this one:
Shuck and Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs!

People scoff, and people squirm – they’re grossed out and disgusted. But really, it’s a fairly regular thing around the world. People eat bugs. If livestock, cattle, and even legumes aren’t readily (cheaply) available to you, your community has found another way to get a source of protein. As a person who has been a vegan in the past and is now (temporarily!) forced to not eat meat, I get it – a human body craves protein. So, bugs it may be! They’re everywhere, they’re cheap, and they’re super high in protein for their size.

So what do they taste like? Not much (at least most of them)- which, of course, means they don’t taste bad. Most of them are crunchy, as you would expect, and usually kind of just taste like what they’re cooked in – which depends on where you get them.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, you can get ants and grasshoppers from big huge baskets at the markets; they are fried and coated in chili and salt. They’re dry, crunchy and taste like nothing much more than chili and salt (which, in itself, isn’t so bad). You can feel their tiny little wiry legs a little. I like it, it’s funky. Oaxacans use them for topping Tlayudas (a local most delicious crispy blue corn tortialla-y specialty topped with refried beans, Oaxacan cheese, and any variety of other items depending on where you are), among other things.


Here in San Francisco, Don Bugito is a local food truck doing tasty treats based on Aztec snacks (the Aztecs ate a lot of larvae-esque bugs). The larvae for the tacos are sauteed in garlic and butter, and are deeee-lelish (but isn’t everything in garlic and butter?). The larvae are not the squishy weird texture that you think they would be, either.

And of course, all over southeast Asia they’re bug crazy! And Thailand just might take the cake.

 

I think it’s mostly the size of them that’s so intimidating….

Lucky for me, I’m only blocks away from Koreatown and their boastful supermarket and kind-of mini-mall, Koreana Plaza.

Koreana is no Thailand – there are certainly no bugs the size of your fist; but if you’re shopping for something squirmy yet edible, you won’t leave empty handed.

Alright, so I’ll be honest….boiled silkworm larvae isn’t the tastiest bug on Earth…but, it’s reasonable. It’s not disgusting. There are, however, big secrets to cooking them. Just read on and you’ll learn better than I did…Sometimes learning by doing can create quite a mess…. (see photo below)

But if you stick with it, you’ll go from this:

To this!

Now don’t tell me that’s not hella classy. Homemade tortilla chips, corn and heirloom tomato salsa, crumbled cotija cheese and one tidy little bug, sauteed in butter, chili powder, tamarind, tequila, garlic, and lime.

 

For the chips

  • one package (give or take, depending on how many you’re feeding) of flour tortillas, cut into 6ths
  • ground black pepper
  • salt
  • chili powder
  • olive oil
  • Toss the cut up tortillas with the olive oil, salt, pepper, chili powder so they’re all well coated. Roast in the oven on a sheet tray at 400 until you see a little bit of browning. 

 

 

For the Salsa

  • 2 ears worth of fresh, de-cobbed corn kernels
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped finely

  • 1 basket of mixed heirloom cherry/globe tomatoes, cut into halves and quarters (depending on the size)

  • a large palmful of cilantro, picked and finely chopped
  • 5-6 basil large basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, oven roasted and seeded, then finely chopped

  • 1 decent pinch korean chili flakes
  • lots of salt and pepper, to taste
  • small sprikle of tequila (to taste)
  • Gently mix all the ingredients together, adding salt, pepper and tequila slowly while tasting. 

 


      Jalapenos:

  • Preheat your oven to 425  and toss the jalapenos with olive oil and salt – make sure they’re well coated. 
  • Shove them in the oven on a sheet tray, and let them go for 10-15 minutes or until the skin is browned and bubbly.
  • Let cool, then split lengthwise down the middle and the skin should come right off.
  • Use the back of your knife or careful hands (that you wash in a serious way right after) to pull the seeds out of the pepper. They should come out very easily in a clump. Depending on how hot you want the salsa, you can leave a couple seeds in there.
  • Finely chop the de-skinned, seeded jalapenos and you’re done!

For the bugs 

  • You know, I wanted to figure out how to merge the obviously Asian/Korean influence of the bugs themselves with some Mexican influence, full of flare. I knew it had to be possible, but I wasn’t sure how. So I searched. I flipped through magazines, I googled and epicurious’ed ideas – and nothing. Finally, I searched through my giant spice cabinet hoping something would pop out at me. It was one big “no, not this” after another. UNTIL! I ran into tamarind. Mexican? Totally – mmm agua de tamarindo – and Asian? Yep, totally dudes and dudettes. Check out an example.
  • butter
  • tequila
  • lime
  • salt
  • chili powder
  • minced garlic
  • tamarind paste (peep at this great guide to using tamarind paste)

1) Drain any water or liquid from the bugs. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a hot sautee pan, and add the tamarind before the butter gets too hot, stir it well to dissolve and equally distribute the tamarind.

2) Once the butter is nice and hot and the tamarind is mostly distributed, add the bugs and minced garlic, give it a quick stir around the pan and then add just enough tequila to get all over the bugs (not enough to make it soupy).

3) Let the alcohol cook off a bit (just a quick couple minutes) and add the rest of your items – a squirt of half a lime or so, a sprinkling of chili powder all over those guys, a pinch of salt, and be sure to have a lid handy because they will start to pop and fly across your kitchen if you don’t. (you saw the picture above, right?)

4) Let them cook for just a hot minute, shaking the pan often.

5) Once browned and just a little crispy, grab a chip, put a spoonful of salsa on it, sprinkle with crumbled cotija cheese and drop a bug or two on that bad boy.

6) And, of course, enjoy!

Things to remember for this recipe:
  • When you get these guys in a pan, they pop! Not like whole cranberries pop, but like a grasshopper jumping through weeds. All over the kitchen, exploded and smooshy with silkworm guts. You saw the picture above. So, make sure you use a pan that you have a lid for.


  • This generalized recipe should also work for other kinds of bugs or worms that you might find around, which is why I don’t give specific measurements. You can adjust it for how many bugs you have.

 

So, now that we’re no longer quite as weirded and grossed out (right????) because we get that bugs are a pretty regular part of most of the world’s cultures and we have a nacho recipe to make them delicious in our own home – here’s a little info on why they’re so great….

  • Take a look at this chart and compare fish and beef to the protein content and overall nutritional value:

 

  • Fat in lean ground beef is 10g per 100 grams of beef; chicken breast is about 6.5 grams per 100 grams and for broiled cod, it is next to nothing. Look at that compared to the fat content in bugs. They’re seeming pretty healthy, aren’t they?
  • They are also easier and cheaper to mass produce and much lighter on our environment; I think we’ve all heard plenty about the damage that livestock production does to the Earth. Bugs, though? They take less space to produce higher protein yields with obviously less resources to farm.

More bugformational links:

Check it all out, and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

He Said/She Said: Black Cod Collar

It’s oily, it’s a little gritty-ish in places, it’s sometimes thick like halibut – and comes in these weird kind of chopped up bits, fins on…. just the collar of a fish, I suppose….

 

It’s also known as Butterfish (which is extremely appropriate, given its texture) or Sablefish, and the collar is exactly the part you think it is – along with the throat muscles.

It’s sorta funky looking at first, but once cooked, it’s a pretty attractive meal. Attractive looking, at least. I, for one, am not a fan. And I don’t say that a lot. Not unlike Andrew Zimmern, my personal hero (I know, I know – you Anthony Bourdain fans will harass me for a decade, but that’s the not point of this post) – I too, will eat pretty much anything; and very little of that “pretty much anything” will I say I genuinely dislike. Black cod collar has made it onto that very small list that so far only includes stinky tofu and burdock. And when I say “dislike”, I mean I can’t even swallow it. I’ll find the good in just about anything (though that doesn’t mean that I’m not picky…It’s complicated….).

I can see, however, where it has a big following – it’s distinct, for sure. The oiliness is rich, and with the skin, the texture can be wacky – with a crispiness, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth creaminess, and yet still the lightness of fish. *Apparently, though, this specific texture is from the extremely high omega3 content (3201mg per serving!) in the flesh, so high-5 to the black cod.

The taste, the texture is all a little confusing, to be honest. But it’s entirely possible that because I had never had it before, the way I cooked it just didn’t do it justice.

On the other hand, my other half loved it and won’t stop talking about it. He wants to have a dinner party and cook it again to get second opinions. I’m all for it, and I know you’ll all be on the edge of your seats for Black Cod Collar Pt. 2

So here it goes. Your first guide to black cod collar.

It will probably come with the fins on (see picture way at the top).

Use some kitchen shears to cut off the fins, like you see here.

Then, cut (with a knife, not scissors … duh) it into reasonably even pieces where you can. There will be real big pieces of some serious bones that you might not be able to cut through. Don’t worry to much about it. Just do the best you can. It’ll end up about like this:


(You can see that serious collar on the left right there, it’s almost like a meaty jaw bone or something.)

And check out these beefy parts:

Now that it’s all trimmed and cut up, get together a marinade and let it sit in there for a couple hours before grilling on high heat. A lot of recipes I’ve seen online suggest miso, teriyaki or similarly based marinades. I personally think these would be way too rich for this fish. I’ll give you the ingredients for the marinade I did, but without measurements because this is all about experimenting with it on your own. I would do a pretty vinegar-y and heavily spice based marinade to cut through the oiliness and serve it with a salad of a spicy green – arugula, mizuna etc.,  and after grilling the fish, cut it into smaller pieces to keep it real mild that way. It would be great as a small plate rather than a full sized entree.

Another suggestion – if you do a heavily spiced (dry spices) marinade, it would help get a good crust on the skin and around the rest of the fish, too, which would help cut the fattiness and get a good texture contrast going.

Marinade Ingredients

  • Minced Torpedo (or red) Onion
  • Minced Garlic
  • Coriander
  • White Pepper
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt
  • Ground Ginger
  • Olive Oil
  • White Wine
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Habanero Hot Sauce

 

The thing that makes it so easy to experiment with is that it’s pretty inexpensive when you get it at the Korean/Japanese/Chinese grocery stores – and it’s seriously fresh as can be. If the store you’re shopping at has full black cod and a fish butcher (which, I sure hope it does, otherwise, you better start getting your fish somewhere else) you can ask them to butcher the collar and they will, no biggie.

The one thing I will strongly recommend, though, certainly is grilling it.

We grilled it on two levels of heat to test the flavor of each way, and you can see where it got crusty and crispy, and the other side (the lower heat) didn’t. (Big shock.)

Criiiiiiispy skin. High heat.

Not crispy. Low heat.

The crispy was better than the not crispy, but both were still “not for me” as they politely say. The dude loved both, but also preferred the crispy. But who wouldn’t? It’s like fishy fried chicken.

 

Give it a shot! It’s fun to experiment with food! And lemme know how it goes….

 

 

 

 

 

Abalone? Abalone!

I, for one, thought it was illegal to sell abalone. Did you? Well apparently, we were both wrong. A little while ago, my mom and I found some sushi grade abalone at the Japanese market. It’s pretty expensive, real small and a pain and a half to clean – but what a novel treat! And mighty delicious, I might add…

But, back to the point. It seems that the focus of the regulations is to specify what kind you can catch and when, how many and how and that each and every one caught is reported and tagged. Take a peek here, if you care to learn the simple rules of abalone hunting. Apparently lots of them are just north of San Francisco. That’s just north of me! Perhaps I’ll drag the other half out for some abalone fishing sometime soon in order to recreate this most delicious abalone recipe.

Before you can cook it, though, you gotta clean it. And it goes a little something like this:



Cut it out of the shell. An oyster shucker works well, otherwise a small paring knife is a-ok.


Use a small paring knife to gently cut away all the dirty and the black membranes from the beefy meaty abalone. It seems more daunting than it is; once you start cutting, you’ll be able to feel where to cut. This is a decent video on how to do it. There are a couple on youtube that will help out.


In the end, it will look like this. Wrap it in plastic on either side and pound it just a bit to tenderize it, then (for this recipe) cut it into thick strips. (Other ways to cook it besides this recipe – slice in half long-ways pan fry it in a cast iron skillet with lots of butter, salt, pepper and some cayenne and lemon juice – like calamari. Or, breaded and deep fried, also like calamari.)

The cream sauce for this is similar to something for linguini and clams, but it’s pretty versatile – use it on pasta, as a base for chowder etc. And super delish. Apologies for not offering the exact measurements for the ingredients, but mess around with it, and you’ll figure it out ok.

Ingredients


Few Tablespoons Butter
1-2 Shallots, finely minced
2-3 cloves Garlic, finely minced
large palmful of Fennel fronds, finely minced
1/3C. or so White Wine – Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio will be just fine
1C. or so Heavy cream
1teaspoon, give or take Hot Sauce – preferably Tabasco
juice from quarter to half a Lemon
Black pepper to taste

How to do it:

      1. Heat a large, deep frying pan and melt the butter.

2. Once melted, add shallots, garlic and pinch of salt and let it just start to brown and get aromatic.

3. Add white wine and fennel fronds, moving often to keep the garlic and shallots from burning. Let it just start to simmer up in order to reduce the wine.

4. Add cream, and stir often and reduce. Salt to taste.

5. As it reduces reduces, add hot sauce, lemon and fresh ground black pepper and keep stirring.

6. In the simmering sauce, add the strips of abalone and cook carefully and briefly on both sides until heated through, about 7 minutes total.

7. Serve the abalone and sauce over sliced, toasted baguette.

Sweet Peppers and Mexican Meatballs

Recently, someone asked me why I love cooking and I realized that it’s the concept of sharing that made me fall in love with food in the first place. Throughout traveling, I have noticed that few countries have this American habit of ordering a dish and hording it all to their greedy little selves. They order small plates or a few entrees to share from the middle of the table. They also take a lot longer, talk a lot more, eat slower and enjoy their downtime and the good things in life a little bit more. This is my theory on why Europe is so much thinner than we are – even though they eat excessive amounts of rich cheese and drink wine through the day starting at lunch. Eating becomes less of a chore and more of a social event; you eat less and enjoy it more. Americans fill themselves as much as possible as quick as possible and if a dinner takes more than an hour, its a pain the ass (pardon my French).

In any case, I’ve always desired my food to be a celebration of all the good things that we overlook and take for granted, not solely delicious taste explosions. And so here it is: a dish designed to do just that, a dish meant to be shared, inspired by these gorgeous bad boys from Argentina – the land of long meals and passionate people: ArgentinaPeppers2

If you didn’t notice how beautiful they are:ArgentinaPeppers

Mini Sweet Peppers with Mexican MeatballsMeatballs&Peppers

    10 small sweet peppers
    1T evoo
    ½t. each: fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

    ¾ lb lean pork (you’re gonna have some left over)
    juice of 1 lime
    1 ½ t. cilantro, finely chopped
    1 ½ t. parsley, finely chopped
    ¼ jalapeno, very finely diced
    2t white onion, very finely diced
    ½ t. each: cayenne, cumin, chili con carne, fine sea salt, fresh ground black pepper
    2T bread crumbs
    2 eggs

    5-6T butter (or earth balance)

    1C. shredded mozzarella


    1. Keeping the stems in tact, slice peppers clean through the stems and down the center; remove the seeds and all white veins, toss with the olive oil and ½t of salt and pepper and bake at 450 until just barely browned (about 10 minutes). Keep a close eye on them because these small peppers cook a lot faster.

    2. By hand, mix together all the ingredients for the meatballs and roll into small dime sized balls (they’ll be the cutest little meatballs you ever did see).

    3. In a medium sized saute pan, heat 2-3T of butter on high.

    4. Once melted, add meatballs and turn slowly to brown on each side. While browning, continuously add small amounts of butter to keep them from burning or drying out. Cook until browned but just a teeny bit undercooked in the center – (how do you tell? Lightly push on the tip of your nose. That’s what well done meat feels like if you poke it. Now, pinch the meaty part between your thumb and your forefinger. That’s medium. Last but not least, pinch the dinky skinny skin just above the meaty part between your thumb and forefinger. That’s rare.) You want the balls to be super rare (hah).

    5. Now that the meatballs and peppers are ready, put a T or so of the grated cheese in each pepper half, then top with as many meatballs fit (probably 2-3), then bake at 325 until the cheese melts.

    6. Plate and eat!