Saturday, October 30, 2010

Oysters and crab have a long season in New England (the Island Creek Oyster Festival was the second week of September this year), and they are always delicious. 

The last time I bought raw oysters for home serving, I asked about shucking them myself and man behind the counter (somewhere near Haymarket) expressed such doubt about whether I possessed sufficient strength that there was no way I was not going to do it.  By the time I finished, I was so tired and cut up that I could barely enjoy the oysters.  That was about ten years ago.  And the memory didn't fully come back until I was sitting in front of a dozen closed oysters, a shucking knife in one hand and a thick towel in the other.  Luckily, either I've gotten a lot stronger or the Island Creek Oysters from New Deal Fish Market were much more ready to be cracked.  It was pretty easy to find the sweet spot at the small end of the shell, it took a little elbow grease but nothing impossible to stick in the shucking knife, and then it was easy to turn the knife counter-clockwise and lift off the top shell.  I even managed to save most of the prescious salt water in each shell.  I'm not sure if it's the oysters themselves or something in the preparation, but these didn't have a grain of salt, were the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and were so tender that anyone who doesn't love to turn a raw oyster once, whole, on tonge and then let it slip gently toward back of mouth and down throat, could just bite right into it.  The perfect enhancer to such delicate delights is the traditional French oyster sauce: shallots and vinegar.

For one dozen oysters, mince 1 shallot.  Stir with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Jonah Crabs are fairly common across New England.  The meat is delicate and sweet, but the shell can be very very hard.  But of course a good fishmonger knows this and sells the meat already pried out.  And a few cups of crab meat chunks just beg to be cooked into a rich bisque.  This matches the sweetness of the meat with a similar tone in corn and onion, balanced with a nice cayenne kick in the broth.  The corn biscuits use the rendered fat from the bacon that goes into the soup, and are perfect for dipping, calming the firey tongue, and just generally nibbling on.

Crab Bisque
2 lbs small potatoes, sliced into 1/4" rounds (skins can stay on)
4 cups stock of any variety
4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1" pieces.
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups crab meat
1 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup milk, cream, or 1/2 and 1/2
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T oil

Cook bacon until just beginning to become crispy.  Bring stock to a boil.  Add potatoes and cook until tender. Add corn to bacon and cook until tender.  Lift bacon and corn out of pan with a slotted spoon, reserving fat for biscuits (below), and add to stick.  Add crab meat, salt, pepper, and milk or cream.  Bring to a low simmer.  Saute onion and garlic in oil until browning and just beginning to caramelize, about 15 minutes, and add to bisque.  Add in a dash of paprika, cayenne, and thyme.

Corn Biscuits
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Cut in 2 T butter (slice butter into thin pats and drop into flour, then mix in with a pastry cutter or with two butter knives cutting across and against each other, until the butter is cut into about pea-sized pieces and spread throughout the flour mixture).

In a separate bowl, mix:
2 eggs
3 T bacon fat
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

Mix wet ingredients into dry.  Plop dollops of about 1/3 cup each into a cookie sheet.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes.

Dressed Broccoli

A few vegetables actually thrive in the colder part of Fall.  Broccoli and cabbage seem to get sweeter at the end of the season, or maybe I'm just starting to cling to whatever remains plentiful at the last few farmers' markets.  It's a perfect time for broccoli soup, but simple steamed broccoli takes on a Fall heartiness when dressed with this lovely sauce.

Serves 4 as a side

Cut 2-3 heads broccoli.  Break florets into small pieces; peel stalks and cut into 1/2" rounds.  Steam until just tender.

2 T minced ginger
1 1/2 T minced garlic
in 2 T vegetable oil and 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil until light brown .
Add 3 T soy sauce and 1 T lemon juice.  Pour over steamed broccoli.