Thursday, May 27, 2010

Light & Flavorful Shellfish Stew


Here's a recipe for shellfish stew that is made up of 4 different types of shellfish: shrimp, scallops, littleneck clams and lobster. It is a very tasty dish made with just the flavorful natural juices from the raw ingredients, white wine and chicken stock. As clams and lobster are not suitable for long cooking methods like stewing (they become rubbery when overcooked), we'll have to cook them separately. Before we start, let's first gather the following ingredients (mise en place):

8 large shrimps
1 1.25 lb. lobster (live 'n kicking)
6-8 live littleneck clams
8 large fresh dry scallops (not frozen)
8 live mussels (not shown here)
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 large shallot (chopped small)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 stalks scallions (green portions only) cut into 1/2" segments
Salt & pepper to taste

In a pot, combine the white wine and water and start start heating it up on medium. Steam the lobster until the entire shell turns red. Do the same for the littleneck clams and mussels. They are done when they open up. Remove the lobster, clams and mussels when they are all done and set aside to cool down. Save the steaming liquid that now contains the natural juices from the lobster and bivalves.

In a large pan, melt the butter and pan-fry the scallops and shrimp. Before cooking, season the scallops with some salt and pepper. Brown the scallops on both side and cook the shrimp until the entire shell turns red. Remove the scallops and shrimp and start cooking the shallots and garlic in the leftover butter until fragrant. At this point, you will notice some browning at the bottom of the pan. Those are the flavorful bits and pieces of scallops and shrimp that were left behind. Next, strain the steaming liquid from earlier onto your pan, deglazing it (scrape the browning with a wooden ladle). Now you can add the scallops and shrimp back into the pan, together with the chicken stock, scallions and lemon juice. Bring to a gentle simmer and season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the lobster meat, littleneck clams and mussels into the stew to warm them up. Serve immediately.


What you have here is a light but flavorful stew made from all the sweet natural juices from the various shellfish. Believe me, it's an extravaganza of flavors!

How To Prep & Cook Soft-Shell Crabs

Soft-shell crabs........'tis the season!
Every year, starting from May til July, the blue crab starts molting its exterior hard shell, leaving the crustacean vulnerable with a shell covering that still looks like a shell but is soft and slightly rubbery to the touch. It is now the end of May and soft-shell crabs have been in season for just a couple of weeks and I've finally found some time to purchase and cook them. These crabs are so juicy and delicious, with sweet and salty flavors. And best of all, there is no fuss whatsoever when you are digging into these crustaceans as you can eat the entire crab whole! Claw, legs, body...everything is edible and if you deep-fry them, they become crunchy like an exotic snack. Can't wait!

So let's get started. I'll take you through the step-by-step procedure of cleaning and prepping the crab for cooking. Anyone who is squeamish about killing an animal for food should stop reading now as it would not be pretty. All you need is a sharp pair of scissors.

Step 1: Turn the crab over on its back and remove the back flap by pulling it out and cutting it off with a pair of scissors.


Step 2: Turn the crab back onto its belly and pull up on the side flap to reveal the gills. Snip off the gills with the scissors. Do the same thing for both sides.


Step 3: Now comes the most squeamish part. We are about to remove the eyes. Again, with your scissors, cut straight across the front part of the shell where the eyes are located.

And you are done. Your soft-shell crab is now prepped and ready for cooking. It is pretty easy once you know how. The easiest method of cooking this delicious crab is to season it with Old Bay Seasoning mixed with all-purpose flour. Coat the crab thoroughly with the flour-Old Bay mix and you are ready to cook. Heat up a pan with about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and pan-fry the crab until golden brown on both sides. Here is what you'll get: delicious soft-shell crabs that are crunchy and full of flavors.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Japanese Chef's Knives - Oh My, Which One?


Here's my dilemma: I'm looking for a new 8" chef's knife and I can't decide which one to get.

I've had my current knife, the Shun Steel scalloped 8" chef's knife that I simply adore for less than a year. I had bought it off Amazon.com last year (on sale for less than $90) and have been using it for work ever since. I love my Shun for its light weight, elegant lines and sharpness when compared to my 10" Wushtof Classic, which I got from culinary school. Like most high-end Shun knives, this one's blade is made from VG-10 "super" stainless steel (composing of carbon, chromium, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, silicon and vanadium compounds), which ensures that it holds its sharp edge longer. Moreover, the Damascus look (the wavy patterns) on the Shun's blade is quite unique and attractive as well.


One fateful day a couple of months ago, my Shun knife inexplicably fell from the top of a table while I was working and the sharp edge got dinged pretty severely. My heart sank when I saw it. I can't believe that I was so careless with my favorite knife. Although it's been somewhat damaged, the knife somehow still cuts remarkably well, considering the jaggedness of one part of the cutting edge (see the picture below).

So, back to my dilemma. I'm now in the market for a new chef's knife and although I like the Shun knives, I'm looking for something new. I love the Japanese blades and for now, I'm going to stick to them. Reading various reviews and forum comments, I've narrowed down my search to three 210mm (8.25") chef's knife choices (images taken from http://www.japanesechefsknife.com):

First, the highly-rated Misono UX10 Gyuto (Japanese version of Chef's) knife:

Second, the Hattori HD series Gyuto:

And finally, the Ryusen Blazen series Gyuto:

The prices of each knife varies but by not much, with the Blazen priced at $185 and both the Misono and Hattori in the $150-$160 range. Of all three, the Misono UX10 has received the most acclaim and the best reviews. I'm leaning towards the UX10 but the Hattori gets high marks for its attractive Damascus look and hand-engraved Hattori name!

Anyone out there with any opinions on each of these knives? I would love some feedback from anyone who have had the pleasure of using any of them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Grilled Cheese Steak Sandwich + Tomato Bisque = Slurpin' Good Time!


What's not love about a grilled cheese sandwich, right? Every kid loves it. Well, they'll love it even more when it is transformed into a grilled cheese steak sandwich. Throw in a side of homemade tomato bisque for dipping and you are bound to be a hero to your kids!

So, let's get right down to business and start with the tomato bisque. To make a medium pot of the soup, you'll need the following ingredients:
6 plum tomatoes
1 rib celery (cut up into approx 1 inch pieces)
1 onion (rough chop)
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot (rough chop)
1-2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 teaspoon dried basil flakes
2 tablespoons of butter
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper to taste

Start by cutting the plum tomatoes into 4 segments and roasting them off in the oven for about 30-45 minutes at 350F or until tender. Before popping them into the oven, oil the segments with some olive oil and season with just a little salt and pepper and sprinkle the basil flakes over them. While the tomatoes are roasting, cook all the vegetables with some olive oil in a medium pot until tender. When the tomatoes are ready, add them into the pot together with the chicken stock, butter and bay leaf. On medium heat, let the ingredients simmer in the pot for 15-20 minutes. When done, remove the bay leaf and puree the contents of the pot in a food processor or use a handheld immersion blender (Cuisinart SmartStick Immersion Hand Blender). Taste and season appropriately with salt and pepper. The tomato bisque is now done. Oh and you can garnish the bisque with some chopped chives or scallions.

Let's move on now to the grilled cheese steak sandwich. You'll need:
1 loaf Texas Toast
1 lb. shaved steak
1 green bell pepper (fine dice)
1 onion (fine dice)
3 cloves garlic (chopped fine)
1 cup button mushrooms (sliced)
1/2 cup beef broth
Cheddar/American cheese (sliced)
Butter/Margarine
Salt & pepper to taste

Start by sweating the onions, then add the garlic and bell pepper. Cook until tender and then add the shaved steak and mushrooms. Add the beef broth, cook and finally season with salt and pepper. Now for the fun part. Butter one side of the bread and grilled them on a hot flat top or pan. Scoop some of the steak onto a piece of the bread and place some cheese on top. When the bottom part of the bread turns slightly brown, move the empty piece on top of the one that has the steak and cheese. Grill them further until all the cheese has melted. When done, cut the grilled cheese steak sandwich into two triangles and serve with the tomato bisque. You are now officially a hero to your kids!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Kindai Tuna - A Farmed Alternative to Bluefin

Here's a great article I found on the Boston Globe website regarding local restaurants looking for alternatives to the overfished and mercury-laden Bluefin tuna. And the answer is Kindai tuna, a farmed bluefin that was developed at the Fisheries Laboratories at Kinki University in Japan in 2002.

A link to the article: Tuna at risk? Sushi chefs find other fish in the sea

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pan-Roasted Pork Chop with Sauteed Spinach and Roasted Potatoes

Here's an easy pork chop recipe that may take some time to prepare but is quite painless to put together. First of all, remember the mantra: Brine! Yes, so as not to dry out the cut of pork as we cook it all the way through, brining it in a solution of water, red wine, salt, sugar and brining spices is the best solution. The duration of brining depends solely on how thick the cut of meat is, usually between a couple of hours for the thinnest cuts to 24 hours for the really thick ones.

OK, now that we have the pork in brine, let's get the other side dishes ready for cooking. First, the roasted potatoes. I like to use Yukon Golds for my potato needs and for this application, I cut them into a medium dice. Coat them in oil, salt, pepper, fresh chopped rosemary, thyme and garlic and onion powder, put them on a sheet tray and start roasting at 350F. I like to roast the potatoes nice and slow so as not to dry them out quickly.

Next is the spinach, which can be cooked just before serving as it wilts very quickly and takes very little time to cook. To prep, wash the spinach leaves thoroughly, making sure to get all the dirt and grit off. They are to be sauteed with onions, garlic, grape tomatoes and button mushrooms. So you can go ahead and prep those ingredients.

When the pork is ready, wash it under running water to remove the brining solution. Pat it fry with a paper towel and sprinkle it with any of the McCormick Grill Mates seasoning (my preference is for the Spicy Montreal Steak Seasoning). Get an oven-safe pan nice and hot with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Lay the pork chop down slowly on the pan (be careful not to splash hot oil on yourself) and cook both sides until somewhat brown. Remove the pan from the stove and put it into the oven at 350F. By now, the potatoes should be ready. Sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese onto the roasted potatoes and mix thoroughly. Taste and season the potatoes again appropriately. If salt is needed, add a little soy sauce instead. Believe me, this adds a new taste dimension to roasted potatoes.

So while the pork chops are finishing in the oven, let's get the spinach cooking. Start off by sauteeing the onions until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add the sliced button mushrooms and grape tomatoes. Before adding the spinach, add a tablespoon of white wine, salt and pepper to taste. Finally, the spinach can go into the pan. If it is too hard to move the big batch of spinach around the pan, I suggest covering the pan for a minute or two. This should wilt the spinach in no time, making it easier to thoroughly saute all the ingredients.

And there you go, a lovely meal of pan-roasted pork chops with roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach.