Saturday, July 23, 2022

Steamed Lobster

A lobster does not need a hot tub. It just needs a steam room.

There are many websites that will tell you there are two ways to prepare whole, fresh lobsters. One way is to boil the lobsters. Another way is to steam the lobsters. These websites will engage in a seemingly meaningless discussion about the pros and cons of each method. Truth be told, in my humble opinion, there is only one way a whole lobster should be prepared. It must be steamed. 

A long time ago, at a crab house far, far away, I used to steam lobsters. The kitchen had three large steam pots, as well as another three, equally large pots in a back-up kitchen. The primary purpose of the pots was to steam crabs; however, we always left at least one open to steam other seafood. A lot of mussels and clams, but, every once in a while, a lobster. 

Since that time, I have not steamed whole lobsters very often. The one notable time involved my effort to make Masaharu Morimoto's Lobster Masala

However, the Savage Boleks recently vacationed in Maine, spending a week on Mount Desert island. I found a local business, Parsons Lobsters, in Bar Harbor. Parsons is perhaps the only place that I could find in the town that sold live lobsters. Sitting right outside Acadian National Park, Parsons is a family owned business that has been selling lobsters, and other fresh seafood, such as clams, oysters and fish, for more than forty years. 

We visited the Parsons store, because I wanted to purchase some lobsters to prepare for my family. The store is small, but impressive. At the time, the store was holding approximately six hundred (600) pounds of live lobsters in multiple tanks. There were also displays featuring those clams, oysters, fish and more. We purchased four lobsters and returned to the place where we were staying. (The four lobsters were approximately one and one-half pounds each; but, the cost of four lobsters were less than the cost of a lunch or dinner in town.) 

Going back to the original point of this post, I planned on steaming those lobsters. I brought my good old steam pot, the one piece of cookery that ties me to my original cooking experience.  Steaming is the preferred way to prepare lobsters for one reason ... boiling lobster threatens the taste of the meat. One is far less likely to get the sweet, tender meat that creates an amazing culinary experience. By contrast, steaming the lobster provides a way to get that tender meat, and, protect the meat. 

To be sure, steaming a lobster takes more care and monitoring than simply boiling it. Steaming also provides an additional way to provide some subtle flavor. While most steaming uses simple water, I have often substituted that plain ingredient with something like stock, beer or wine. The best stock would be seafood stock, which can be purchased at many grocery stores. As for beer and wine, the thoughts should turn to something on the lighter side. The best beers would be pilsners and summer ales. As for wines, I think the best wines would be white wines, such as Albarinos from Galicia, Spain or Vinho Verdes from Portgual. 

In the end, and in my humble opinion, the liquid does not matter. All that matters is that you steam the lobster, don't boil it. 


A Chef Bolek Original

Serves 2


  • 2 whole lobsters, live 
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Water, seafood stock, beer or wine


1. Prepare the steam pot. Fill the steam pot with water, seafood stock, beer or wine, but the level should remain below the steam plate. Heat the steam pot on high heat until it steams. 

2. Steam the lobsters. Add the lobsters. Steam for seven minutes for the first pound of lobster, then an additional 3 minutes for each additional pound of lobster that you are steaming. Melt the butter while the lobsters are steaming. Once they are cooked, remove from the steam pot and serve immediately with the melted butter. 

One final note ... I may have to eat my words about boiling versus steaming the next time I enjoy a lobster boil. But, that will be for another post. 


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Double Dead Rise

Over the past several months, I spent a substantial amount of time writing and publishing my In Search of Orange Gold blogpost series.  The series explored the history of using spice mixes in Chesapeake cuisine generally, as well as the origin of the iconic Old Bay spice mix. I traced the travels of Gustav Brunn, who Jewish-German spice maker who escaped Nazi Germany and came to Baltimore, Maryland. He set up his spice shop. He developed an 18-ingredient spice mix, which he eventually sold to local seafood vendors. Only 15 of those ingredients are publicly known, but I tried to ascertain what could have been the final three ingredients. I ended the post series by trying to recreate Brunn's mix.

It would seem that the next logical step in the series is to explore the ways in which Old Bay is used. A local Maryland Brewery has taken the mix to produce what it calls the Dead Rise. A deadrise is a type of workboat used on the Chesapeake Bay used to catch crabs, oysters, fish and eels. It is also the angle that forms from a boat's bottom to a horizontal plane on either side of the keel. However, for Flying Dog, it is a blonde ale that is spiced with Old Bay.

I have to admit that I have used Flying Dog's Dead Rise more for steaming crabs than I have for drinking. I don't usually drink it, preferring Flying Dog's other offerings, such as the Truth or Raging B. 

However, I recently came across the Double Dead Rise, which Flying Dog describes as an Imperial Summer Ale. That beer caught my attention, which the brewery is very good at doing. The brewers describe the beer in the following way:

... double the spice and double the ABV. This Double Dead Rise will surely blow your taste buds away. Spicy and lemon-y you can almost skip the crabs ... almost.

This is pushing the envelope, as I cannot skip the opportunity to eat blue crabs. However, the words of the brewers did rope me in to try the beer.

The Double Dead Rise pours out a few shades of orange lighter than the Old Bay spice mix itself. A thin blond foam is also present, but it quickly recedes to the edges of the glass, leaving only cirrus-like whiffs floating across the center. 

The typical aromatic elements of this beer -- that is, those that would be produced by the hops, malts or yeast - have to contend with the aromas that come with the use of Old Bay. The aromas have a good hint of spice, but it is not the typical coriander or herbal notes that typically come with a summer ale.

As for the flavor, this beer is what the name implies. The presence of the Old Bay spice mix is definitely amped up over what it is in the Dead Rise.  The spice mix is so present that, in my humble opinion, the beer could probably have been marketed as an Imperial Spiced Ale, as opposed to an Imperial Summer Ale. That is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are someone living in the Chesapeake Bay region who loves Old Bay.  However, the beer acts like a spiced beer, there is a sting in the back of the throat and a sharp finish. A finish reminiscent not so much of the claws of a crab, but its bite. Indeed, the Old Bay makes one forget about the other "bite," that is the 9% ABV of the beer. 

Overall, I liked this beer and I would buy it again. For those who don't like spices generally or in their beer, I would suggest you try it before you buy it. (Or, in the alternative, you can send me the remaining 3 bottles from the four pack.) Until next time ...


Friday, July 8, 2022

Cochinita Pibil

There is cochinita pibil and then there is cochinita pibil. The former involves a suckling pig (cochinita = little pig) that is first marinated with a mixture of achiote, sour orange juice, chiles and other ingredients, then wrapped in banana leaves, and finally placed in a relatively shallow hole in the ground that is lined with very hot stones or the remnants of a fire (pibil = piib, or Yucatec Mayan for "earth oven"). The hole is covered and the meat roasts for a very long time, often at least eight hours or overnight. By contrast, the latter is a pork shoulder, marinated with the same mix of ingredients, but roasted in either a smoker or an oven. One dish, but two ways to prepare it.

The authentic preparation -- banana leaves and the hole in the ground -- has a very long history throughout the Yucatan peninsula and surrounding regions. That history is tied to the indigenous Mayans, who used this process to prepare wild boar or venison. However, the dish that we know today has been heavily influenced over time. This influence came principally from the Spanish, who brought many things in their conquest over of the indigenous Mayan civilization and the colonization of the Mayan lands. 

Placing the wrapped pork in the pib.
Source: Mexicolores
The influence can be seen in three ways with respect to this dish. First, there is the use of pork. The Spanish introduced pigs to the Yucatan region approximately in 1511, although it would be a few decades later before pigs were brought in significant numbers to the area. The Mayans accepted the pigs as a food source, and, prepared the pork in the same way as the boar and venison. Second, there were the oranges, most notably, the Seville orange. Its sour juices were incorporated into the marinade and preparation of the pork prior to the roasting of the meat (just as the Spanish used the orange juice for marinating fish and meats). Third, the influence of the Spanish can be seen in the banana leaves. The banana tree is not native to the western hemisphere. The tree probably originated in Southeastern Asia, somewhere between Malaysia and New Guinea. The fruit made its way through trade routes in the east. However, the Spanish -- more specifically, Bishop Vasco de Quiroga (the first Bishop of Michoacan) -- brought the banana trees to what would become Mexico in 1554. Thus, cochinta pibil demonstrates how cuisines can change with the introduction of new ingredients and cooking processes.

Turning to this particular recipe, it falls more in line with the latter form of Cochinita Pibil, that is, the one that is prepared in a smoker or oven, as opposed to a hole in the ground. A few notes. First, my beautiful Angel will not let me dig any holes in our yard for culinary purposes. So, no pib. Second, I had to dispense with the banana leaves. While I have occasionally seen banana leaves in ethnic food markets, but I have not seen them recently. However, this recipe provided an interesting substitute: parchment paper. I have a lot of parchment paper thanks to a purchase at the local warehouse store. So, I cut pieces that could be used much in the same way as banana leaves to wrap the pork.

One last thing about this recipe. I decided to use a smoker, which would give me the closest thing to a charcoal fire that would have been used to heat the rocks that would have gone into the pibil. Given I was using a smoker, I also decided to add some wood for smoke. I needed to decide on a wood; and, I went with post oak because I felt that (after doing some research) oak would be as close as I could get to the type of wood that might be found in the region.


Recipe adapted from Glebe Kitchen

Serves several

Ingredients (for the marinade):

  • 8 cloves unpeeled garlic
  • juice of 2 medium oranges
  • juice of 2 large limes
  • 3 ounces achiote paste
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

Ingredients (for the pork):

  • 4 pounds of boneless pork shoulder
  • chunks of oak wood (for the smoker)
  • Banana leaves (or parchment paper)
  • Foil pan

Ingredients (for the pickled onions):

  • 2 red onions, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 cloves garlic, cut in half
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 clove
  • 5 allspice berries, whole
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Ingredients (for the presentation):

  • Corn tortillas
  • Pico de gallo


1. Prepare the pork.  Roast the garlic in their skins. Use a small cast iron frying pan over medium heat and toast them until they blacken slightly and soften. This takes about 3-5 minutes. Peel the garlic. Combine the peeled, softened garlic with the lime and orange juice, achiote paste, and salt in a blender and blend thoroughly. Check to ensure that the achiote paste is broken up. Add the marinade to the pork and ensure that all sides of the meat are covered by the marinade. Marinate for two to four hours.

2. Prepare the smoker. Prepare the smoker to reach a temperature of about 275 degrees to 300 degrees. Soak the chunks of oak wood for about 1 hour in water.

3. Prepare the pickled onions. Combine all of the ingredients except the onions in a pot and bring that pot to a boil. Add the onions and boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and let cool, stirring occasionally. Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator. Let the onions rest for at least 4 hours before using.

4. Prepare the pork for the smoker. Typically, the pork is wrapped in banana leaves; however, I did not have access to those leaves. However, I used four pieces of parchment. Scrunch one piece of parchment to form a receptacle for the pork along with the marinade. (The goal is for the pork to be steamed with the marinade while it is smoked.) Take a second piece and cover the pork wrapping it around the pork. Place the pork in an aluminum pan. Place the pan in the smoker and smoke for about 3 to 4 hours or until the pork reaches 190 or 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Continue to prepare the pork. After removing the pork from the smoker, let it rest for 20 minutes. Remove the pork from the parchment packets but keep the marinade and juices. Use a fat separator to separate the fat. shred the pork with two forks and then mix the juice back into the meat. 

6. Finish the dish. Serve with corn tortillas, pico de gallo and the pickled onions.


Friday, July 1, 2022

Achiote Paste

Scientists and botanists refer to a particular plant as Bixena orellana. It is a tree that is native to Central America and the Caribbean. The tree produces beautiful pinkish flowers, which eventually develop into some rather odd fruit. While the fruit is inedible, it nevertheless contains some red seeds that have a very colorful history. 

To shed some light on that history, the proper starting point is the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. Those people referred to this tree as annatto (in the Caribbean) or by the Nahuatl word, achiotl. Those words give us what we commonly refer to as annatto or achiote.

The red seeds are often dubbed "saffron of Mexico." The nickname comes from the fact that these little red seeds have the ability to create pigment colors that range from yellow to a deep red.  As with saffron, one could add annatto seeds to hot water to create a reddish water that could be incorporated into dishes. However, one of the more common ways of creating color through annatto is its use in what is commonly referred to as "achiote paste." 

There appear to be two different types of achiote paste, at least according to Oaxaca al Gusto, which was written by Diane Kennedy. In areas such as Oaxaca, people prepare the paste using just the annatto seeds. By contrast, in the Yucatan, the paste is prepared with more than just annatto seeds. Recipes call for the addition of coriander, cumin, oregano, cloves, black pepper and garlic. The combination of these ingredients in the Yucatan version produces a mild, somewhat earthy paste that contributes both flavor and color to a wide range of dishes.

I was particularly interested in the Yucatan version of the paste, because I intended to use it as part of my first effort to make Cochinita Pibil, the iconic roast pork dish of that peninsula. Overall, I think the effort was a success, although it produced a paste that was slightly darker than expected. 


Recipe from The Spruce Eats


  • 1/4 cup annatto seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup bitter orange juice (or 1/4 cup orange juice plus 1/4 cup Mexican lime juice or 1/3 cup white vinegar)


Grind the annatto, coriander seeds, oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns and cloves in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Place the ground spices with the salt, garlic and bitter orange juice in a blender and process until it is smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.