Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sheepshead Curry

This recipe is totally something that I created on the spot.  It is an experimental dish (and, as such, it needs refinement).  As we were standing in the fish market near our Outer Banks vacation house, I saw that there were sheepshead fillets. Those fillets got me thinking about the sheepshead dish -- Sauteed Sheepshead - Savage Boleks' Style -- that I made with Clare's father during our vacation in Orange Beach, Alabama.  The chance encounter with a fish that was the basis of a great cooking experience with my father-in-law got me to thinking about making another dish for my in-laws.  

The chance encounter with Sheepshead was not really much of a chance.  Sheepshead can be found in the saltwater and brackish waters of the Tar Heel State (such as those around the Outer Banks). They usually swim around wharves, pilings, shipwrecks and other structures covered by barnacles, oysters and mussels, all of which constitute the diet of the fish.  Sheepshead often are a challenge to catch, because they can take the bait off the hook very quickly. Therefore, fishermen and anglers have to be resourceful, using different methods -- such as hand lines, cane pols and spinning tackle -- to catch the fish.  

Needless to say, I did not have to worry about catching the fish this time.  Instead, I had to think about how I would prepare the dish.  The one dish that I wanted to make during this trip was a fish curry.  Up until the point at which I saw the Sheepshead, I had not been able to prepare that dish.  Now was the time.  I decided to go with a (relatively) dry curry, focusing on the spices, over a wet curry, where the focus would be on the sauce.  The spice mix was truly an experiment, beginning with the base of ground garlic and ginger, with ground onion.  After making the base, I then cardamom, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.  These spices created a "heat" that was not capsicum based.  I the adjusted the seasoning with salt and black pepper and, my curried sheepshead was ready for the pan. 

As I cooked this dish, I decided to add a little liquid -- 1 cup of beer and 1 cup of water -- to help with the cooking process.  The beer did not really create a sauce that could be served with the fish, which kept the curry on the dry side.  Once the fish was cooked, it was served over rice with a little of the liquid (solely to flavor the rice) with a garnish of cilantro and lime juice.

As I mentioned at the outset, this is an experimental dish.  It needs refinement, but I decided to post it anyway because -- quite frankly -- I don't come across Sheepshead very often and so I wanted to put down my thoughts.  With this recipe, I can go back to it in the future to improve upon it.  All part of the creative process, which, in this case, resulted in a pretty tasty dish.  Maybe the next version will be a wet curry with a sauce.  We will see .... 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

1 pound of sheepshead fillets, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground garlic
1 teaspoon ground onion
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime juiced
2 cups jasmine or basmati rice, cooked
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup of water
1 cup of lager beer

1.  Prepare the curry marinade.  Add the ground ginger, ground garlic,  ground onion, ground cardamom, ground cloves, ground allspice, ground nutmeg, salt and black pepper to a small bowl.  Mix thoroughly.  Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a bowl.  Add the sheepshead to the bowl and coat with the olive oil.  Add the curry spice mix and coat the fish on all sides.

2.  Saute the onions and garlic.  Heat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil over high heat.  Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute for 1 to 2 minutes more.  Lower the heat, add the fish and stir quickly for 1 minute.  Add the beer and water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the fish is cooked through about 5 to 7 minutes.

3.  Plate the dish.  Plate about 1/2 cup of rice on the plate.  Add the fish and curry sauce over the rice.  Garnish with lime juice and cilantro.


Thursday, June 21, 2018


I have to admit that I have never heard of a Quadrupel IPA.  But, I guess that it was only a matter of time.  Just like the Belgians have their dubbel, tripel and quadrupel (which is probably my favorite styles of beers), it seems that brewers have created their own series of hoppy beers.  At the start of the series, there is the pale ale (or, perhaps due to recent trends, the session pale ale).    Then there is the double IPA.  And, then there is the triple IPA (or, what is often referred to as the Imperial IPA).

And, now, there is the Quadrupel IPA.  I recently had the opportunity to try Hubris from Platform Beer Company.  Having opened in 2014, Platform is one of a series of new brewers who have opened in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World.  I have tried some of Platform's beers in the past, like the Citra IPA and the New Merchant White IPA.  Both were very good beers. My father introduced me to the Hubris, the Quadrupel IPA from Platform Beer Company.

The brewers produced the Hubris using Maris Otter, Caramalt, Acudaulated and Carawheat malts, along with Simcoe, Columbus, Centennial and Amarillo hops.  The brewers used a San Diego Super Yeast and an adjunct of corn sugar.  The result is a hoppy and boozy beer, with an ABV of 12%.

The Hubris pours a dark orange, hovering between a tiger orange or a rust orange depending upon the light.  As the beer is poured into the glass, a thin, light cirrus cloud like foam develops on top of the beer.  The foam slowly gives way, exposing the liquid and its aromatic elements of citrus and floral notes.  

The citrus aromas foreshadow the interesting flavors of this beer. It is full of a range of fruits, such as the citrus fruits one would expect from a very hoppy pale ale.  Grapefruits and tropical fruits.  But, there is  also notes of apricots and peaches in the beer, which one does not find very often in an IPA, double IPA, or triple IPA.  I guess that, just as there are differences in the taste of a Belgian   tripel and a Belgian quadrupel, there are differences between a triple IPA (or Imperial IPA) and a qudrupel IPA.  One other very interesting note is that there was a sweetness in the Hubris (perhaps due to the peach and apricot notes), which was present throughout the beer, especially in the finish.  

The Hubris is part of Platform Beer's small batch IPA series.  I hope that they brew this beer again, because it is definitely worth the price of $9.99 or $10.99 for a six pack.  If the brewers produce this beer again and you find it on the shelf of your local grocery store (in Ohio), the Hubris is worth a try if you like hoppy pale ales with an alcohol punch.  Until next time ...


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Blackened Wahoo

As the story goes, European explorers who reached the Hawaiian islands noted the abundance of a steel blue, slender fish whose quick speed allowed it to chase down fish and squid.  Once the explorers reached the island, they asked the natives for the name.  "Oahu."  The European explorers replied, "wahoo?"  Needless to say, the island retained its name of Oahu, while the "wahoo" moniker was saved for that abundant fish that swam the nearby waters.

The story is probably just fiction.  Let's turn to a few facts.  First, the wahoo is a member of the scombridae, a family of fish that include mackerels, tunas and bonito.  Of all of those fish, the wahoo is probably the closest relative to the king mackerel.  Second, the wahoo is caught using longline and handlines, as well as hook and line, methods.  These are the methods typically used to catch tuna, marlin and swordfish. Once caught, the average wahoo weighs between 8 to 30 pounds, although some could be as large as 100 pounds.  

I have never had the opportunity to fish for wahoo, as I have not yet had the opportunity to fish out on the ocean.  Nevertheless, I have been able to "hunt" for the fish at the counter of the local seafood market.  I found some fresh wahoo fillets at the local market during our vacation.  I was eager to get the fish and cook with it, because it is extremely difficult to find it where I live.  So, I bought a couple of fillets to make a dish for my beautiful Angel and my inlaws. The only question was what recipe to make with those fillets.  

As one would expect, wahoo can be cooked much in the way one would cook tuna or swordfish.  The fillets have a mild texture, with large, circular flakes, and much less of a blood line than their other relatives.  Wahoo can be cooked using any of the typical methods: baking, broiling, frying, grilling, poaching or sauteing.  I decided to make a blackened wahoo.  I separated out the large round flakes so that everyone had one large round of blackened fish and then blackened the remaining pieces to served along the round.  The blackening spice is one of my traditional go-to mixes, which worked very well with this fish.  The texture of the fish stood up to the high heat of the pan and kept its form for service.  Overall, this was a great first recipe with wahoo.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

1 pound of wahoo steaks (2 steaks, bloodline removed)
1 tablespoon ground garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground onion powder
1 tablespoon ground paprika powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon dried chipotle chile powder
Few dashes of ground cumin powder
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons olive oil

1.  Prepare the blackened spice mix.  Combine the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika powder, smoked paprika powder, thyme, chile powders, cumin powder and salt.

2. Prepare the wahoo steaks.  Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to a bowl.  Add the wahoo and toss gently to coat.  Add the blacked spice mix until all sides of the steaks are coated.

3.  Cook the wahoo steaks.  Heat a pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat until the oil is almost smoking.  Add the wahoo steaks and sear the steaks on every side, about 2 minutes per side.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

120 Minutes

Every beer has a story.... That is how Dogfish Head Ales introduces the 120 Minute IPA, the self-described "Holy Grail for hopheads."  The beer is "continuously hopped," according to the brewers, "with a copious amount of high-alpha American hops throughout the boil and whirlpool," and, if that was not enough, "then dry-hopped with another pallet of hops."  It is no wonder that this beer is marketed toward "hopheads."

However, in my humble opinion, the most prominent character of the 120 Minute IPA, is not the intense hoppiness of the beer.  To be sure, it is hoppy.  But, the 120 Minute IPA is more boozy to me than it is hoppy.  A very hoppy beer to me is something like Fat Head's Imperial IPA, Hop JuJu.  That beer is like being hit in the head with hop punch.  The heavy hop presence in that beer masks the alcohol content in the beer.  But, with the 120 Minute IPA, there is no avoiding the booziness of that beer.  The 15% to 20% ABV is the first and foremost element of the beer that greets the drinker and it does so with every sip.  Nevertheless, the 120 Minute is one of my favorite beers.

The Imperial IPA pours a dark, hazy orange-copper color. The beer exudes a drunken hop aroma, with a lot of that booziness making its way to one's olfactory senses. This is a welcomed greeting, reminding a person that this is a beer to be sipped and savored.  

The 120 Minute IPA is one of the smoothest beers that I have ever had.  It is perhaps the closest example of what a cordial would be in beer form.  There  is some hop bitterness in the background, which reminds you of the fact that ti is an Imperial Pale Ale.  That bitterness is joined by hints of dark fruit, which highlight the sweetness in the alcohol.  

The brewers suggest that, if you find some 120 Minute IPA, grab a few bottles. I second that suggestion, because I ranks this beer among my favorites.  Don't mind the price tag.  It is totally worth it. 


Monday, June 4, 2018

Thisri Kooman (Mussels in Coconut-Chile Sauce)

I have wanted to make a mussel curry for a long time ... a very long time.  Getting the mussels is usually not a problem, because they are now available in many grocery stores.  The challenge usually is making sure you have a good bag of mussels, because the shellfish has a short shelf life.  I can remember the days when I worked at a seafood restaurant having to pick out dead mussels form the bag at the start of the shift.  When purchasing a bag of mussels, you should make sure that the mussels are closed or, if they are open, tap them a couple of times to see if they close.  If they don't close and/or if there are a lot of mussels that are open, then I would pass on the bag and look for another one. 

For this recipe, I found a couple of bags of mussels at a local Asian grocery store.  However, I always try to look for the origin of the mussels.  That information is very important, because there can often be issues with the shellfish.  Just last month, mussels collected from around Puget Sound tested positive for opiods.  Last year, mussels from Maine were found to have a neurotoxin produced by phytoplankton.  The Asian grocery store had mussles from Maine and they were in generally good shape.  The only issue were the few limpids that were also in the bags of mussels.  I did not want the limpids; after all, the goal was to make a mussel curry. 

The next step is to find the recipe for a mussel curry. I found one for Thisri Kooman, which is mussels in a coconut chile sauce.  The thing about mussels -- and, really, about any shellfish -- is that they each have a unique flavor that you don't want to lose in the jumble of other ingredients.  The combination of coconut and chiles provides a good balance of sweet and heat that allows the flavor of the mussels to take center stage.  

This is a dish where I just pile them high and get right to eating.  The only downside to this recipe is that, by the time I finish the dish, I always want more.  Fortunately, this recipe is easy to make.  I just have to get back to the grocery store.

Recipe from Raghaven Iyer, 660 Curries (pg. 282) 
Serves 4

5 pounds of mussels, in the shells
1 cup shredded fresh coconut or 
     1/2 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut, reconstituted
1/2 up firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt
2 large cloves garlic
2 fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chiles, stems removed

1.  Prepare the mussels.  Pile the mussels in a large bowl.  Quickly go through them and discard any broken or cracked shells.  Scrub each mussel (although the ones available at any supermarket are actually quite clean) and remove the beards (2 or 3 strands dangling from one end of the shell).  Tap the shell if it is slightly ajar.  If it closes shut, the mussel is alive and usable.  If it does not shut, discard it, since it means that this is dead.  Plunk the prepared mussels into a colander and give them a good rinse. 

2.  Prepare the puree.  Pour 1 cup of water into a blender and add the coconut, cilantro, salt, garlic and chiles.  Blend, scraping the inside the jar as needed to form a puree.

3.  Cook the mussels.  Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a large stockpot over high heat.  Add the mussels and cover the pot.  Cook, shaking the pot occasionally so they cook evenly, until they all open up, off-white meat, about 5 minutes.  Discard any mussels that remain shut.

4.  Continue the dish.  Add the pureed mixture to the stockpot and stir into the mussel-flavored broth, which will now turn green.  Ladle some of the broth over the mussels to baste them a bit as you cook, uncovered, until the broth has warmed up, 1 to 2 minutes.  Pour the mussel and broth into a large serving bowl and serve. 


Friday, June 1, 2018

Flank Steak Bulgogi

I know,  I know.  Bulgogi is not supposed to be made with flank steak. It should be thin slices of ribeye.  Using flank steak in bulgogi is like the foodie thing to do ... take something traditional and try to do something different with it.  But, in my defense, my beautiful Angel bought me five pounds of flank steak and I had to do something with it.  Something different.  Something bulgogi.

I am not going to get into the history of bulgogi, because that is for another post (like one in which I actually use thin slices of ribeye).  What I will say is that I was looking to make a creative dish, because I intended to use some (and eventually used all) of the flank steak for a dinner for my parents.  I wanted a dish that they would remember.

But, I have to admit, it was not just about making a great meal for my parents.  I really wanted to try bulgogi.  I never have had it (and, despite my effort, I will say I still have never had it).  A nice bulgogi dinner at a Korean BBQ joint is definitely on my to-do list.  And it has been on that list for a very, very, very long time.

So, with five to six pounds of flank steak (which, if you didn't know, is about 1/3 of the flank steak from your average cow), I decided to do a hackneyed idiom and kill two birds with one stone: satisfy my desire to try bulgogi and make a memorable meal for my parents. I scoured the internet for a bulgogi recipe that utilizes flank steak and, surprise, there were a few.  I picked the one that I liked the most, which was from the blog or website of Korean Bapsang, "a Korean Mom's Home Cooking."   The interesting twist to this recipe is the use of pineapple juice.  That is an ingredient that I would not have expected with South Korean cuisine.  Pineapples, not sea pineapples (that is a completely different post for probably a different blog - cue, Andrew Zimmern).   But, I digress ...

The rationale behind using the pineapple juice is to tenderize the flank steak.  As it turns out, pineapple contains an enzyme bromelain, which is used to tenderize meat.  That enzyme is found in fresh pineapple, but not canned pineapple because the canning process damages and destroys the enzyme.  Don't bottle with powdered pineapple (does that actually exist?) or bottled pineapple juice. The recipe calls for a can of pineapple, which runs counter to what I just wrote.  But, if you can get an actual pineapple, and you can juice the hell out of it, use that juice to marinate the beef.

In the end, this is a great recipe if you want a quick way to make bulgogi without adhering to the traditional expectations of the dish and you want to cut a few corners in order to feed your family now rather than in several hours.  It is definitely worth it.

Recipe from Korean Babsang
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the steak):
1 flank steak (about 1.5 to 2 pounds)
2 scallions

Ingredients (for the marinade):
5 to 6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine (or mirin)
4 tablespoons juice from a can of pineapple
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 to 1.5 teaspoons finely grated ginger
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1. Prepare the meat.  Slice the meat (about 1/3 to 1/4 inch thick) against the grain at a steep angle.  Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Add the meat and mix well until evenly coated.   Marinate for at least 1 hour. 

2.  Cook the meat.  Heat a grill pan over high heat and add a few slices.  Lower the heat as necessary.  The marinade may burn if the heat is too high.  Cook until the meat is is cooked through and slightly caramelized, one or two minutes per side. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Serve the meat with any of the accompaniments associated with bulgogi.  In this case, I served it with thinly sliced red onions, scallions and carrots, with lettuce to serve as a wrap.