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….

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade (Chicken) Stock!

This little lady is cute as a button, but she’s also gonna make some yuuuummy stock!

Like the sign of a good stock, it’s clear: you should be making your own stock! Homemade stock sets your food worlds apart from the food of other cooks, and it’s not as big of a production as you think – it’s great for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Get it going and put on a movie or clean the house. Once you get it in the pot, it just sits there on the stove for a few hours. And, in case you’re still using water (like some kind of fool)- you should be using stock for just about everything savory that calls for water: lentils, rice, beans, soup – all of it. It’ll triple the depth of flavor.

I do, though, know it can be confusing. It can be daunting. What parts of the chicken (sub: beef, or veggies, or whatever…) do I use? Well…use any parts…that’s kinda the point of stock….you can use new parts or you can use left overs that you’ve saved. Generally, its the discarded, post-butchery parts that are used for stock, so if you’re going to the market or the butcher for it, just say:

“Hello sir/madam. Do you per chance have any chicken (sub: veal, turkey, beef) parts for stock?”

and they’ll generally know what you want (they might think you talk funny, though). Necks, backs, left over bones from de-boned breasts, you can even use feet. All that business. Anything, really. Except for kidneys, livers and hearts and innards (aka offal) – The innards, generally get really bitter and gross when boiled.

You can also use legs, thighs, whole carcasses. Whatever you have around works fine. If you just roasted a chicken last night and you have all the left overs – that is the most perfect.

How I get it together:

1. I keep a big ole tupperware in the freezer that I fill up with veggie scraps from cooking and veggies from the fridge that have become less that super perfect, and then another ginormous tupperware of meat scraps (bones from dinner, carcasses from whole roasted bodies, etc). As an example, a friend of mine asked recently:

“Ally, I get fried chicked all the time from the place down the street, can I use those bones?”

“Totally you can!” I said.

Shove them in the freezer and save them up until you’re ready. You don’t have to do anything to them. Leave the left over fry on, whatever. Then, when you have enough, or you’re ready, get started. What I do – if I don’t have enough when I’m ready, I head to the market and I buy what I need. No biggie. It’s so simple, forgiving and versatile.

 2. The frozen items that I’ve (you’ve) saved are fine to go directly into the boiling bucket (the stock pot), but to really amp up the flavor in there, defrost a bit (doesn’t have to be too serious) and roast them at 450 in the oven until they get a little brown and they become veggies and bones again. Be sure to use two separate sheet pans (one for the veggies, one for the bones) because they’re going to be done at different times and you don’t want them to be “cooked” – not soft, not squishy – especially the vegetables! You just want to barely start smelling them, and then take them out. They should still be fairly hard, the bones should be just defrosted and smelling delish.

3. Here’s the loose recipe. Remember, this is stock, you can always add water, so you want it stronger if anything. An estimate for proportions should be about 2 parts chicken to 1 part veggies, and best is in a 5 gallon stock pot.

For 2 1/2 pounds or so chicken, add:

  • 2-3 celery, halved crosswise and halved again lengthwise (leaves included)2
  • a few carrots, halved crosswise and quartered lengthwise
  • 1 1/2 or so onions (yellow and/or white), peeled and quartered (root on, so it stays together)
  • 1-2 leeks, halved lengthwise and cleaned out of any dirt in the layers
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, just the dirty bottoms trimmed
  • 1 small palmfull whole black peppercorn
  • 1/2 bunch thyme (fresh)
  • 1/2 bunch oregano (fresh)
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • just a sprig or two of rosemary (fresh)
  • 2 whole flowers of garlic, top cut off and as much peel removed as possible

*most people tie herbs together and wrap them into cheese cloth, but my theory is that if you are simmering it at a low enough temperature and you strain it, it’s fine; throw everything in and make it easy on yourself. I’ve always done it that way and my stock is awesome.

Cram this all into your 5 gallon stock pot, and fill it to the brim with water. It should look like this:

Everything should be packed in there so that the liquid that comes out is rich – you can always water it down if you want it more bland, but you can’t make it more flavorful once it’s done.

Once you turn on the heat, start the chores around home, turn on a movie, whatever. Make sure it doesn’t turn up to a heavy boil. At most, you want a heavy simmer (NO boil!). Check it here and there, give it a stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom or sides.

Skim the impurities and some of the fat that will come off the chickies that rise the surface (it looks like wierd foam). Just use a big spoon, skim it off and throw it out; this is a huge boost in how to get a beautifully clear stock.

Keep peeking in, skimming and stirring here and there, salting it mildly as you go, and give it a taste in a couple hours.

Let it simmer for 3 hours, and start tasting. It should take 3-4, maybe 5 hours for really rich, good chicken stock. Taste along the way, salt along the way, skim along the way and when you like it, take it off the heat to cool and then strain through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into glass jars when done.

 

And look at how beautiful that stock is! Use it in everything now!

 

 

Baked Eggs in Meat Cups! (or, how to wow your brunch guests…)

 

I made these baked egg meat cups for breaky last weekend, and was telling a co-worker about them. She seemed to think it was some kind of super fancy ordeal, but it’s really not. Simple as can be – only a few steps and little clean up, great for serving a lot of people. While they’re baking in the oven (bout 10 minutes or so), throw together a quick salad with a nice tart vinaigrette and a few slices of lightly buttered sourdough toast to serve with the egg cups. With salad and toast, one egg cup is usually enough per person. They can be pretty rich.

Ingredients:

You’ll need a non-stick muffin tin for this.

For each individual cup, you’ll also need:

  • A few slices (about 3, depending on the size) of very thin sliced cured meat (proscuitto recommended)
  • One egg 
  • 2-3 white button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2T butter
  • One medium-thick round slice of tomato
  • 1T grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 oven, preheated to 400

How-to:

1. Line the muffin cups with proscuitto. You can substitute the proscuitto for very thinly sliced bacon, or other cured meats. Just make sure whatever you use is as thin as can be!

2. Sautee your already chopped mushrooms in a small dollop of butter, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then, drop a slice of raw tomato into each cup, and top it with a few mushrooms.

3. Crack one egg carefully atop the mushroom-tomato cup, careful not to break the yolk and trying to keep it as close to the center as possible. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and a pinch of the parmesan cheese.

4. Bake in your preheated 400degree oven until the whites are juuuust set, the yolk still a tiny bit wobbly.  The yolk will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven, until you cut it open and let all the heat out. So poke the yolk ever-so-gently (without piercing it) to find the perfect time for your desired consistency. If serving with toast and salad, I recommend it nice and runny! MMmmmm….

5. After you pull it from the oven, and once it sets for a minute in the meaty-muffin cups, it will be easy to slide out using a couple of wooden or large spoons (be gentle!). Top it with the remaining parmesan cheese and serve with a simple salad of greens and vinaigrette to cut the richness of the meat and cheese and egg and toast to sop up the yolk.

 And don’t neglect all the options! This is just a base for beauty of a breakfast canvas…

  • Replace the parmesan with goat cheese or cheddar cheese. Instead of on top, put the cheese right under the egg, on top of the mushroom and tomato. Top the egg only with salt and pepper.
  • Replace the parmesan with a slice of fresh mozzarella, and replace the mushroom with 2 leaves of fresh basil for a caprese-ish meaty egg cup. Layer in this order: meat cup, tomato slice, basil leaves, mozzarella slice, salt and pepper, egg, salt and pepper.
  • Try adding spinach to the layer of tomato and mushrooms.
And, as always…. enjoy!