Monday, April 16, 2018

Andalusian-Inspired Oyster Shooters

The overwhelming majority of oyster shooter recipes utilize alcohol as an ingredient.  Vodka, tequila, wine or beer.  Most recipes incorporate one, and, usually in a rather boring way.  Who wants a Bloody Mary Oyster Shooter? Not me.   How about a Lime Tequila Oyster Shooter?  Uh, no.   Maybe a Champagne oyster shooter?  Maybe; but, not today.  Rather, I wanted to make an oyster shooter; and, I did not want to have to use alcohol as an ingredient.

My search for an alcohol-free oyster shooter recipe, other than the ones that I have already made (see here and here), seemed hopeless.  That was until I found a recipe for a Spanish Style Oyster Shooter.  That recipe called for alcohol (namely, vodka), but it got me to thinking.  The principal ingredients of the liquid were the classic ingredients of a gazpacho.  The chilled tomato soup, with its Andalusian origins, got me to thinking that it would be the perfect medium for an alcohol-free oyster shooter.  

While a gazpacho is a very simple soup to make, I decided to make a few changes. First, traditional gazpacho uses bread to thicken the soup.  That is great when you are serving gazpacho as a soup; it is not so great when you are trying to make it more like a drink.  So, I dispensed with the bread, which helped to maintain a lighter consistency.  Second, I decided to add a 1/2 of a jalapeno pepper.  This ingredient helps to provide a small little kick to the shooter.  I think that I will use an entire jalapeno pepper when I make this recipe again, because that little kick got lost in the tomatoes, cucumber and bell pepper.   Third, I used Willapoint Oysters, which are farm raised in the State of Washington.  These oysters are sold by the pint, which means that they are pre-shucked.  This saves a lot of preparation time.  In addition, Willapoint Oysters also tend to be larger than other oysters that are available to me, such as Blue Points, Chicoteagues and Salt Tanks.  This larger oysters make for a whopping double Oyster Shooters, as the picture below shows.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

1 pint of shucked oysters or 24 oysters shucked with
     liqueur reserved
1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cucumber, skinned, seeded, diced
1/2 jalapeno, skinned, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 bunch of scallions, white parts and green parts
     thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the "gazpacho."  Place the tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, white wine vinegar, and jalapeno in a blender.  Blend until the ingredients are liquified.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 

2.  Prepare the oysters.  If you buy a pint of oysters, remove the oysters and strain the liquid through cheesecloth.  If you bought the oysters, shuck the oysters and reserve the liqueur.

3.  Finish the dish.  Stir the oyster liqueur into the "gazpacho."  Place 1 or 2 oysters in the bottom of a shot glass, and 1-2 tablespoons of the "gazpacho."  Garnish with the scallions.  Serve immediately.


Friday, April 13, 2018

'Bout Time

Character crafted on the beach.  Those are the words that adorn the can of the 'Bout Time Session-Style India Pale Ale produced by the Outer Banks Brewing Station.  Recently, my beautiful family took a vacation in the Outer Banks and, as we usually do when we are in the area, we stopped by the OBX Brewing Station.  I picked up a four pack of the beer for the vacation.  

The five words describing the beer -- "Session Style" India Pale Ale -- got me thinking about what exactly makes a "session style" beer.  Is it just the ability to drink it easily?  The 'Bout Time does drink very easily.  Is it the lower ABV?  This beer has an ABV of 5.8%, which is definitely on the low end of an India Pale Ale. 

The origin of session beers is generally thought to have began in Britain during the First World War.   Manufacturing employees, including those who worked in munitions plants, worked long hours, broken up by breaks or "sessions" of four hours.   The employees drank beer during those sessions; and, if they drank their usual ales, porters or stouts, that could create some problems when they returned to their jobs of producing ammunition, ordnance and the like.  So, brewers produced easy drinking beers with lower alcohol contents; and, thus, the "session" style was borne. One example is the Whitbread IPA had an ABV that decreased from 4.61% in 1914 to 3.30% in 1918.   The only issue with this example is that 4.61% for an India Pale Ale is fairly low, especially by today's standards.  It was also lower than the Whitbread Pale Ale, which had an ABV of 5.31% in 1914 and 3.83% in 1918.  So, an IPA had a lower ABV than a pale ale?  Now, that is truly a session beer. 

The brewers at the OBX Brewing Station produced the 'Bout Time IPA session ale with El Dorado and Azecca hops.  Their work and those hops produced a beer with a copper or light rust color, which one would expect of an India Pale Ale.  The session nature of this beer is evident in both the aroma and taste of this beer. The aromas are there, with some pine bitterness and grass coming out in the nose of the beer.  But, unlike a typical IPA, those elements are not loud.  Their smoothness is consistent with the nature of a session beer.  Likewise, the taste taste elements -- such as the grapefruit notes -- are well rounded and impart some bitterness that quickly recedes after each sip.  The session-style takes what would be a very hoppy IPA and makes it a very good pale ale, at least in terms of the hoppiness and bitterness.  

A four pack of the beer is available at the OBX Brewing Station and, if you happen to be in the area, it is worth the $11.99 per pack.  Until next time ...


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Djbouti

My personal culinary challenge -- Around the World in 80 Dishes -- takes me to a country where making a main course may seem like a daunting task.  If you were to find yourself in this country, you would see a land of dry shrub lands, volcanic formations, and sandy beaches.  Indeed, it is the hottest piece of inhabited land in the world.  If you ventured into the country looking for water, you might come across a lake, known as Lake Asal, with the highest salt contents in the world.  The water would be undrinkable, but you could marvel at the chimney-like mineral formations created by the evaporation of the water.  If you haven't guessed it by now, you would be standing in the Republic of Djbouti.

A long time ago, the land constituting Djbouti was part of the legendary land of Punt.  (The ancient Egyptians referred to the land as "Punt," or "God's Land" because of the plentiful resources that could be found there.)  Fast forwarding through time, thee land was thereafter ruled by various sultans for hundreds of years from the thirteen century to the nineteenth century.  However, as that latter century came to a close, in 1894, a colonial power -- namely, the French -- established French Somaliland.  It remained a French colony for nearly 80 years.  Colonization ended with a referendum in 1977, which led to the establishment of a presidential republic and the present day country of Djbouti.  

The country has a diverse population.  The largest ethnic groups are the Somalis, who comprise 60% of the population and the Afar, who comprise 35% of the population. The remaining 5% consists of Ethiopians, Yemeni, and Europeans (mostly Italians and French).  

These cultures provide a window into the culinary influences that have shaped Djbouti cuisine.  That cuisine is a mix of Somali, Yemeni and French influences.  There are even some Indian influences in some of the dishes.  Proximity also has left its imprint on the cooking and dishes of Djbouti, with many Middle Eastern spices finding their way into the food eaten by everyday people.  Ingredients like cinnamon are added to spice blends, while saffron is also used in some dishes.   All of these influences played a role when it came to my decision as to the main course that I would make for my challenge.  I wanted to choose a dish that showed the diversity that can be found among the people of this small country.  


That diversity is best illustrated by the dish of Skoudehkaris, which is often referred to as the national dish of Djbouti.  To make this dish, one sautes onions with a spice blend that draws from many Middle Eastern ingredients.  These ingredients include cumin, cinnamon and cloves, along with cardamom (an ingredient used in subcontinent cooking).  After the onions have softened, lamb is added and browned in the pot.  Tomatoes and water are then added to create a stew, which is then finished with some long rice, which helps to soak up some of the liquid.  The end result is a dish that draws from the land of Africa and the spices of the region to produce a dish that, in some respects, resembles a biryani from Pakistan or India.  

Recipe from Global Table Adventures
Serves 4

1 pound of lamb, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1-2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can of diced tomatoes (14 ounces)
1 cup of water (more if needed)
1/2 cup of long grain rice
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  Saute the onions.  Heat the ghee or oil in a large pot.  Add the onions and the spices (cumin, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, and cinnamon) and cook until soft and fragrant.  

2.  Brown the lamb.  Add the lamb and brown it a little.  (Push the onions out of the way so that the meat has contact with the pan.) 

3.  Cook the lamb.  Add the tomatoes and the water.  Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the lamb is tender.  Add pepper and salt to season.

4.  Add the rice.  Add the rice and 1/2 cup of water if needed. Stir, cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes until the rice is tender.  


After having made Skoudehkaris, I needed something to serve with the lamb and rice mixture.  The recipe that I used recommended Laxoox, which is a sponge-like bread.  Laxoox -- or Lahoh, as it is known -- is a bread that can be found in Djbouti, along with Somalia and Yemen.  Thus, the preparation of this bread, which is a lot like the injera prepared in Ethiopia, allows me to bring together the other culinary influences upon Djbouti cuisine.  Those would be the influences of the Somali and Yemenis.

Injera is typically made with teff flour, but the recipe for Laxoox calls for a combination of all purpose flour, wheat flour and millet flour.  If you are like me and you don't have millet flour, just use some more wheat flour.  The end product may not be as good as when you use millet flour, but, if you are like me, it works and saves you some money by not having to buy a package of a type of flour that you will not use in the foreseeable future.  

Serves 4

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1 1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups of water

1.  Combine the ingredients.  Add the flour to a bowl.  Then sprinkle on the yeast.  After that, add the salt and sugar.  Add the water and whisk all of the ingredients.

2.  Refrigerate the dough.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.  Remove from the refrigerator and place on the counter for a few hours.  When the mixture begins to bubble or froth, it is ready.  

3.  Make the bread.  Heat some oil in a stainless steel or cast iron skillet.  Add a ladle of the mixture and use the ladle to spread it out to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Cook gently until the bubbles form and the surface dries out.  There is no need to flip, just cook until the underside is golden and it is cooked all the way through.

*          *          *

It has been quite a while since I have made a main dish from a country in Africa.  Six (6) of my thirty (30) challenges have involved African countries.  Of those six, I think that my preparation of Skoudekaris and Laxoox may have been the most successful challenge.  The Skoudekaris was very delicious.  The lamb was tender, the sauce had a good kick, and the Laxoox provided a wonderful tableau for the food. Overall, it was a big victory cooking the main dish of a very small country.

Time to prepare for the next challenge.  Until then ...


Friday, April 6, 2018

The Sprecher Series ... The Tripel

It is the third step in the Belgian series.  There was the Enkel, which was surprisingly good.  And there was the dubbel.  I like dubbels.  The next one is the tripel.  Ordinarily, I like tripels.  However, this tripel was a slightly different story.

I think of this beer progression like a movie franchise.  The Enkel was a very good example of a patersbier, much like Star Wars: A New Hope was a very good first movie. (I don't consider the prequels to be the first of the Star Wars genre, because I don't like those movies.)  Then, there was the Dubbel, which was a very good sequel to the Enkel.

And then there is the Tripel.  But for my "Sprecher Series," I probably would not have written a review for this beer.  It is one of the more forgettable tripels that I have had tried recently.  I don't think that is the fault of the brewers.  There are a lot of good reviews for this beer on sites such as Ratebeer and Untappd.  I think the reason lies with this particular bottle of beer.  This particular bottle of the tripel was just not a good one.  

The Sprecher Tripel pours a dull yellowish-gold color, with little to no carbonation.  The flatness of the beer gave way to some banana elements in the aroma, which one would expect with a tripel.  That banana carried through with the taste, and was accompanied with some clove notes.  However, the most noticeable element was apple, which one would not expect with a tripel.  That apple was a little tart, which suggested that perhaps this particular bottle was the exception to what would otherwise be a very good progression of Belgian beer styles.  

I hope that I can get another bottle of the Tripel so that I can see if the flatness of this tripel was just an issue with the particular bottle that I had.  If I ever make my way back to Wisconsin, I will certainly look into buying one and doing an updated review.  Until then ... 


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Detroit-Style Frog Legs

Sam Blythe, a columnist for the New York World, once wrote, "if you have never eaten frog legs in Detroit, you have something to live for, something for which to strive."  He wrote those words in 1905.  A mere five years later, according to Bill Loomis in his article When Frogs were King, "Detroit produced, shipped and consumed 12 tons of frog legs, 6 million pairs of legs (called saddles)."  Bill Loomis also noted that hotels in Detroit served 800 dozen saddles per day back at that time.  That is a lot of frog legs.  So much so that, one year later, the New York Times reported the seemingly obvious: "Detroit is famous for frog legs."  

That frog legs would feature prominently in the cuisine of Detroit does make some sense. After all, Detroit was originally settled by the French.  The Canadian French would head out on the hottest days of the summer along the banks of the St. Claire Flats or the marshes at Monroe near Lake Erie.  The fishermen used a variety of means to catch the frogs, such as tiny "cat and rat" shotguns with mustard seed shot or  a fishing line with a red flannel cloth as a lure (apparently bull frogs were attracted to that lure).  Some used frogging forks, spears and even clubs.  If one knew what he or she was doing, that person could catch as many as 200 frogs per day. 

Given those hauls, it is no wonder that the frog legs were found on many a menu at restaurants and roadhouses around Detroit.  Its introduction into Detroit cuisine was bottom up.  It first appeared on the plates of working class people, prepared in a very simple way.  The saddles were just dipped in milk, then flour and pan-sauteed in butter, and finished with some lemon juice and parsley.  That's it.  If you happened to be at one of the roadhouses around Detroit, which served more rugged and casual food, the cooks used crushed soda crackers for the breading before sauteing the frog legs in butter.  A diner could get a meal for just 20 cents, and, often times, it was an all-you-can-eat buffet of frog legs. 

Eventually, the saddles found their way onto plates placed on white tablecloths.  They also were prepared in a variety of ways.  According to Bill Loomis, Michigan cookbooks included recipes for frog leg salad, frog leg ravioli, picked frog legs, and a frog leg pie.

There were even criteria for what were the best frogs for cooking. The rule was that frogs had to be between 2 and 5 years old.  The problem is that it is fairly difficult to tell a frog's age.  (After all, the frog is not going to volunteer it to you.)  What is perhaps more likely is that the best frogs were determined by their size.  If the frog was too large (and presumably too old), its leg meat would be too tough with a fishy taste.  

However, too much of a good thing is definitely not good, especially for the frogs.  Over-frogging led to declines in the population around the Detroit area.   Even at its height during the first decade of the twentieth century, there were complaints about a dwindling numbers of frogs.  Demand had far exceeded the supply. There were efforts to stave off that decline.  For example, a law was introduced in 1913 that banned the hunting, sale, storage and service of frog legs at restaurants from June to November.  While hotels and restaurants in the city obeyed the law, the roadhouses did not.  Cooks at the roadhouses sold the frog legs under the counter.  Those roadhouses were too dependent upon the sale of frog leg dinners to stop serving them for five or six months a year.  It is recounted that, in 1915, a deputy game warden placed phony orders from roadhouses and returned with 1,000 dinners.   Demand and, eventually, pollution did the frogs in.  

Despite the fall of the frogs in Detroit, one can still find frog legs on menus at local restaurants.  Those frogs are not from the marshes at Monroe or the banks of St. Claire Flats.  Instead, the frogs are imported from India, Indonesia or Vietnam.

That is probably where the frog legs came from for this dish  I found frozen legs at my local Asian grocery store and thought I had to make a dish with them.  That is how I found the Detroit-Style Frog Legs.  An ingredient and a simple Google search resulted in an educational experience and a delicious dinner.  What a time that we live in!

Serves 2

4 frog legs
1 cup of milk
1 cup of flour
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Saute the frog legs. Dip the frog legs in milk, then in flour and saute them slowly over medium heat until golden brown all over, about 6 to 8 minutes.

2.  Finish the dish.  Remove the frog legs to a hot serving dish, season with salt and black pepper.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice and garnish with the finely chopped parsley.  Pour what is left of the browned butter in the frying pan over the frog legs and garnish the dish with a slice of lemon.

If you want to learn more about the history and role of frog legs in the cuisine of Detroit, check out the Hour Detroit article written by Bill Loomis, the Spendid Table interview of Bill Loomis, or one of his books.

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