Thursday, May 24, 2018

Scallops Jalfrezi

Jalfrezi could be called the "leftover curry."  During the time of the British Raj, cookbooks included recipes for jalfrezi that consisted of sauteing or frying pieces of leftover meat or fish with onions and spices to produce a thick sauce.  The dish became very popular amongst the British in India during that time.  And, not unexpectedly, its popularity was exported back to the United Kingdom, where jalfrezi dishes are some of the most well liked dishes on the menu of Indian restaurants across the British Isles.

Prior to this recipe, I had never eaten a jalfrezi of any kind.  The most popular Indian recipe in the Chef Bolek household (or at least according to the Chef Bolek stomach) would be a Vindaloo or a Rogan Josh.  (It was very difficult to write that last sentence because, truth be told, I love just about all Indian food, except when it is based on ingredients that I don't like, such as spinach.) 

I came across a jalfrezi recipe in a cookbook when I was looking for a scallop recipe.  This recipe for Scallops Jalfrezi satisfied my objective for finding a dish incorporating scallops and, as a bonus, went straight to my love of Indian food.  So,  I decided to make the dish.  The only thing that was different is the use of the rice vermicelli, but that is only because I had some lying around that had to be used.  It seems only appropriate for a dish that was designed to use leftovers. 

Recipe from 660 Curries, pg. 281
(Serves 6)

Ingredients (for the curry):
1 pound of large sea scallops
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
2 teaspoons Balti masala (see below)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large red onion, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium size green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and
     cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
1 medium sized tomato, cored and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

Ingredients (for the Balti masala):
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds from black pods
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
3 fresh or dried bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long), broken into smaller pieces
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Make the Balti masala.  Preheat a small skillet over medium high heat.  Add the whole spices, reserving the cayenne and nutmeg) and toast, shaking the skillet every few seconds until the fennel, coriander and cumin turn reddish brown, the mustard, cloves and cardamom turn black, the cinnamon and bay leaves appear brittle and crinkly, and the mixture is highly fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.  The nigella will not turn color.  Immediately remove from the heat and transfer the spices to a plate to cool.  Once they are cooled, place the spices in a spice grinder and grind until the texture is like ground black pepper.

2.  Marinate the scallops.  Combine the scallops, ginger paste, garlic paste, 1 teaspoon of the masala and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a medium size bowl.  Toss to coat.  Refrigerate, covered, for about 30 minutes or as long as overnight to allow the flavors to mingle. 

3.  Saute the scallops.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the scallops, marinade and all, arranging them in a single layer, and sear them on their two broad sides until light brown, 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer them to a plate.  

4.  Saute the vegetables.  Add the onion and bell pepper to the same skillet and cook until the vegetables start to turn light brown around their edges, about 5 to 8 minutes.

5.  Add the tomato sauce.  Add the tomato sauce and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until there is a light sheen of oil on the surface of the sauce, about 2 to 4 minutes. 

6.  Finish the dish.  Add the seared scallops (including any liquid) pooled on the plate, the tomato, cilantro and remaining 1 teaspoon of Balti masala.  Cover the skillet and simmer, basting the scallops with the sauce but not stirring too often, until the scallops are firm to the touch but not rubbery, 3 to 5 minutes.  Then serve. 


Monday, May 21, 2018

Brookeville Beer Farm's Quadrupel

Hunter S. Thompson once said, "There is an ancient Celtic axiom that 'good people drink good beer.'"  If that axiom is true, then the Belgians must be really good people, because quadrupels -- a style created by trappist brewers in Belgium -- are really good beers.  In fact, the quadrupel is probably my favorite style of beer.  That is saying a lot, because I like a lot of different styles.

A farm-to-brewery in rural Montgomery County -- the Brookeville Beer Farm --  has produced a very good quadrupel.  I came across this beer by accident.  I was sitting at a local restaurant, which had a tap for some local breweries like Brookeville and Waredaca Brewing.  When the waitress stated that the Brookville beer was a quadrupel.  I ordered one.  The beer was so good that I decided to make a trip out to the brewery to get a growler of the quadrupel.  I brought the beer home to enjoy and to do a blog post, although it took a very long time for me to get around to writing that post.  But, here it is ...

The Brookeville Beer Farm's Quadrupel pours a nice brown color, with some amber hues that show through depending upon the light.  As it is poured into the glass, a thin light foam develops on the surface of the beer, akin to cirrus or cirrocumulus clouds.  The aromatic elements of the beer rise through those foam clouds to reveal a malty, somewhat bready nose to the beer.

The aroma was just the introduction. The taste elements of the beer include banana, bubblegum and a little clove.  There was also some nutmeg or allspice that could be detected, which provided some further complexity to the quadrupel beer.  The mouthfeel of this beer is particularly noteworthy.  It is very smooth, with a slight sweetness that introduces a considerable booziness.  That booziness seems greater than the ABV, which is 9.2% (a bit on the low end for quadrupels).  Thus, this beer stands tall with higher powered quadrupels.

The Brookeville Beer Farm's Quadrupel stands as probably the best beer that I have had from the brewery.  I am not just saying that because it is a quadrupel; rather, I am saying that because it is the beer that best fits the style with respect to color, aroma and taste.  Although it is not currently on the taps at the brewery, I hope it comes back soon.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

North Carolina Steamed Clams

Lately, it seems like it has been all about the oyster.  Everyone is talking about the different types of oysters out there, usually while eating a dozen oysters at a raw bar.  Kumamotos, Blue Points, Chincoteagues.   The statement that that oysters are in vogue could be taken both figuratively, and, literally.  After all, there recently was an article about oysters from Canada's Prince Edward Island on the Vogue website.   But, as oysters enjoy their moment in the spotlight, one needs to remember that they are not the only shellfish that can produce a tasty dish.

There is the clam.  It can provide just as much briny flavor as an oyster when eaten raw.  When I worked in the kitchen of a seafood restaurant, I used to shuck both clams and oysters.  I found myself enjoying the taste and texture of clams. However, here is what separates clams from oysters: in my humble opinion, a bowl of steamed clams far surpasses just about anything you can do with oysters.  I enjoy steamed clams more than I do oysters Rockefeller.  I will eat a bowl of those clams with much more abandon than I will a plate of fried oysters.  The only preparation of oysters (apart from raw oysters) than can out perform a bowl of steamed clams, again in my humble opinion, is a properly prepared oyster po-boy.  And not everyone can prepare a proper po-boy.

As I stood at a seafood market with a bag of middleneck clams in my hand, I got to wondering what  it takes to bring that bag of clams to a consumer.   This is where the Internet can actually be a good thing.  It can connect people like me -- who have an interest in how clams are cultivated -- with those who want to share their day-to-day experience harvesting those clams.  Some of those who fall in the latter category, and who also happen to work at the University of Maine, have even established their own "Clam Cam." The website contains a wide range of videos showing hardworking individuals harvesting clams in Maine (work that I think is probably the same for individuals harvesting clams in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina).  Needless to say, it involves a lot of digging in the tidal sand or mud flats to pry the bivalves loose from their hiding spots.   (Commercial clammers use mechanical dredging offshore, but that is far less interesting to me with the exception of the possible environmental impact of tearing up the seabed, but that is a subject for a future post.)

With all of this in mind, I turn to the recipe.  I had in my mind of a curry recipe, but, that recipe was for mussels.  I had neither mussels nor other important ingredients for that curry, such as turmeric or lemongrass. So, I began looking for an alternative that would work with clams.  I found a recipe for Littleneck Clams Steamed in Vinho Verde.  It is a great recipe from Abraham Conlon, the chef at Fat Rice in Chicago.  Chef Conlon used Vinho Verde, which is a great white style of Portuguese wine.  The problem is that I did not have bottle of that wine handy.  However, I was in the Outer Banks and I bought a bottle of the Three White Wine from the Childress Vineyards.  The wine is a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio.  The description of that wine got my attention: grapefruit and lemongrass with an almond finish.  I thought these taste elements would work well with this recipe.  Hence, the substitution of the North Carolina wine turned the recipe into North Carolina Steamed Clams.

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4

100 littleneck or middleneck clams
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh long hot red chiles, stemmed, seeded 
     and thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup of white wine from North Carolina
1/3 cup minced garlic
1 cup of minced cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  Prepare the base.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil until shimmering.  Add the garlic and chiles and cook over high heat, stirring until fragrant and the garlic is just starting to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the clams and wine.  Cover and steam until the clams just open, about 8 minutes.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a baking sheet, discard any that done open.

2.  Finish the sauce.  Boil the cooking liquid over high heat until reduced by half, about 7 minutes.  Stir in the minced cilantro and lemon juice.  Add the clams and season lightly with salt and white pepper.   Toss well.  Transfer to a deep platter and serve with lemon wedges.  


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sriracha Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters

Okay, so the glassware doesn't work.  I find that one of the biggest problem with rental properties is the lack of adequate glassware.  That problem became very obvious when I decided to make oyster shooters while on vacation.  My beautiful family and I rented a place in the Outer Banks, right on the shore.   It was the perfect location.  A couple of miles from my favorite local seafood source.  (That is another blog post.)  A couple of blocks from a great little seafood market, the Austin Fish Company

I paid a visit to that market with my father-in-law, and, we walked away with 100 medium neck clams (still another blog post), and a pint of oysters.  The oysters came from Virginia, which was a little of a surprise.  After a couple long walks on the beach, I came across a lot of oyster shells, including some very large ones.  Still, Virginia is close enough to be local for me.  With oysters in hand, we headed back to the rental house to prepare the oyster shooters.  

As for the particular type of shooter, I had a couple things to work with ... Bloody Mary mix and Sriracha.  Combine those two ingredients together and one gets Sriracha Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters.  However, as I noted before, the rental house did not have any shot glasses.  The rental house was a block from a Brew-Thru, which had shot glasses.  Those shot glasses are great for vodka by itself, but they they didn't seem like good ones for an oyster shooter.  (In fact, they are not good oyster shot glasses. They were single shot glasses and you need at least a double shot glass to fit the oyster and the liquid.)  All I had left were round bottomed glasses, which are probably better suited for water or used as a tumbler glass for wine.  

All of this got me to thinking, what would make a good oyster shooter glass.  Clearly, an ordinary shot glass will not work.  I have my doubts that a double shot glass cold really work.   My three prior attempts at oyster shooters -- Oyster Shooters with Tomato, Limes and Chiles, Mexican Oyster Shooters and Andalusian Style Oyster Shooters -- have left me with one firm conclusion ... the best glassware for oyster shooters are the glasses you get from brewery taprooms after doing a tasting.  The glasses are usually hold about five ounces, which is good to hold one (or two) oysters plus the liquid.  All of the prior photos of oyster shooters have used glasses from breweries.  Maybe I just need to visit a few more taprooms that offer souvenir glasses for those who take a tour or order samples.  If I do it enough, maybe I'll eventually have enough glasses for a dozen oyster shooters.  To top it off, I'll come up with an oyster-beer shooter.  The circle will be complete.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves many

2 cups Bloody Mary mix
1 pint of oysters
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons of Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 bunch of scallions, white parts and green parts thinly sliced
Minced cilantro or celery leaves for garnish

Pour the Bloody Mary mix into a large bowl.  Mix in the lemon juice, lime juice, horseradish and Sriracha sauce.  Add the white portions of the scallions and mix.  Pour 2 tablespoons of the mix into a shooter glass, add 1 to 2 oysters, and garnish with the green parts of the scallions and cilantro (or celery).


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Trappistes Rochefort 10

It has been described as one of the five beers that will change one's life.  Craft beer aficionados who have a special place in their heart for Trappist beers would readily agree with that description.  The beer ... the 10.  The ultimate beer produced by the Trappist monks at the Abbaye St. Remy, near Rochefort, Belgium.

That the beer would have such a distinguished honor comes as no surprise.  Records show that those monks at Abbaye St. Remy have been brewing beer since at least 1595 and perhaps as far back as 1464, which was when Cistercian monks took over the monastery and abbey. 

After a few hundred years, the monks refined their brewing skills to three beers.  Each is represented by a number.  The 6.  The 8.  The 10.  Translated: the dubbel, the tripel and the quadrupel.  That is a very basic categorization of the three beers when put side-by-side with traditional Belgian beer styles.

Despite the long history of brewing at the Abbaye St. Remy, the monks have been brewing the 10 since the late 1940s or early 1950s.  The ingredients include what you would expect -- water, barley malt, hops and yeast -- but also candi sugar and coriander.  

The 10 pours a nice chestnut brown.  There is a slight foam that develops as the beer is poured, but that foam quickly recedes to the edge of the glass, exposing the full liquid to allow the aroma to greet the nose.  That aroma has a certain sweetness from it, such as boozy cherries or molasses, with a light clove note.  As with most beers, the aroma carries over to a certain extent with the taste of the beer.  However, the taste of the 10 is not so much as dark cherry and molasses, but more reminiscent of plums and figs.  There is a certain  je ne sais quoi aspect to the taste.  Perhaps a little banana or clove, which would be more expected from a tripel than a quadrupel.

This is a very, very good beer.  I now understand why most reviewers rank this beer as one of the best beers in the world.  I have had this beer cellared for so long that I forgot what I paid for it.  But, if you happen across a bottle in your local beer store, it is definitely worth it.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Red Snapper Stew

A while back, before Fat Tuesday, I happened to visit New Orleans, Louisiana for work.  My trip happened to coincide with Tabasco Week.  The week-long event featured "restaurant week."  Restaurants across The Big Easy featured special menus with dishes that included the eponymous hot sauce.  While my business trip allowed me to visit some of the notable New Orleans restaurants, like Gallatoire's and and Antoine's, I did not have a chance to try any of the  Tabasco week menus.  That missed opportunity got me to thinking once I returned home from that work trip.  

Mardi Gras was about a week away, and, I needed a recipe  to make a special dish for my beautiful Angel.  The Tabasco Week got me to thinking about a small Tabasco Cookbook that has been sitting on the bookshelf.  I pulled out the cookbook, paged through the recipes and came across a recipe for Red Snapper Stew.

This Red Snapper Stew recipe was just right, because, in the back of my mind, I was looking to makes something different for Mardi Gras.  I wanted to do something different than a gumbo, creole or etoufee. Don't get me wrong, I love all of those dishes.  But, I have made them before.  I wanted to make something new, and, perhaps, learn something along the way. 

Image from Pew Trusts
That something was not what I expected.  As it turns out, red snapper happens to be quite the controversial fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  Fishermen have been hauling in red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico since the 1840s, originally around Pensacola, Florida.  By the end of the century, fishermen and scientists began to notice that the stocks of red snapper were being depleted in the areas where they were fishing.  So, the fishermen moved to other parts of the Gulf. The stocks eventually depleted there as well.  Meanwhile, as shrimping increased in the Gulf, the shrimpers began to catch red snapper fry in the shrimp trawls.  The double whammy made itself present in the overall stock of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.  Simply put, red snapper were being overfished.   

As a result, the federal government imposed restrictions on the fishing of red snapper in federally controlled waters.  Those restrictions set the Red Snapper season for both recreational anglers and federally permitted for hire "components."  That season was only 3 days for the former but 42 days for the latter.  That 3 day season for recreational anglers is where the controversy began.  Where it went next is quite the story.

The man who tries to change the law by breaking it.
As it turns out, in 2017, the Commerce Department's Director of Policy and Strategic Planning -- Earl Comstock -- advised the Secretary of the Commerce Department -- Wilbur Ross -- that the latter should extend the red snapper season for recreational anglers by thirty-nine days.  The new, forty-two day fishing season would, in Director Comstock's opinion, result in overfishing of red snapper and maybe even a lawsuit.  But all of that would be okay, at least in Comstock's view, because it would lead to a "significant achievement," namely, action by Congress to change the rules for the red snapper season.  In other words, Director Comstock counseled Secretary Ross to violate the law in order to get Congress to change that law.  And, in what could only happen in the current administration, Secretary Ross violated the law and extended the season, thereby prompting a lawsuit by two environmental groups.  Those groups wanted decisions to be made based upon sustainability and accountability, not just on fisherman having a longer period to snag a snapper.

Picture from Caller-Times
The lawsuit worked its way through the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to a settlement.  The settlement provided that the extension of the red snapper season was a "one-time action."  This suggests that recreational anglers will not see such a long season again, at least in federal waters.  Given the state of the red snapper stocks, hat may be a good thing. The preliminary estimates show that, after the extended season in 2017, recreational anglers exceeded the catch limits by fifty percent.  Additional extended seasons could simply further deplete the stocks further.  And, the proposed action by Congress could -- just like any action by Congress -- simply make things worse.

One would think that the settlement would allow red snapper to breathe easier.  However, the current administration has now proposed exempted fishing permits that would allow each of the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) to regulate the state and federal seasons.  Only time will tell if that is a good idea (but I have my own opinion on that point).

Back to the recipe, I bought some red snapper from my local grocery store along with some fish for this stew.  In the end, the Red Snapper Stew is not what I would have expected. It was not very stew-like.  But, it was very delicious.  The spices worked extremely well together and -- with that Tabasco Sauce -- there was a good kick to the dish.  This is definitely a dish for Mardi Gras.

Recipe from Tabasco's Cookbook (pg. 70)
Serves 6

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/4 pound red snapper or white fish fillets
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/8 teaspoon powdered saffron
2 16 ounce cans whole tomatoes, undrained, chopped
1 teaspoon Tabasco pepper sauce
3/4 pound okra, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
Cooked rice

1.  Prepare the fish.  In a medium bowl, mash together the garlic, parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, thyme, bay leaf, allspice and oil, forming a paste.  Spread the mixture on the fish and set aside. 

2.  Prepare the stew.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion, pepper and saffron and cook over 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and liquid, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the Tabasco sauce and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.   Add the fish, okra, and shrimp.  Simmer the stew, uncovered, for 6 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork  Serve hot over rice.