Crab Cakes Benedict

Even though “crab” is the first word in tonight’s plat du jour, the real star of any Benedict is EGG.  If you are like me, you have only an 80% success rate cracking eggs without breaking the yolk;  to whit, tonight I went through about a dozen eggs in the service of this meal – only 9 of which actually made it to table, in one way or the other.  But boy oh boy was it worth it!  The number of ingredients in this meal is relatively low, but the effort is high – very very high.  This is not an easy meal to execute – especially if you make everything from scratch.  I realized at the last moment that I really needed at least 6 hands to make everything come out hot together, so I had to pull the husbandman in as a pinch flipper/whisker.  For once, his incessant “Is there anything I can do to help?” query (which I always flatly refuse, totalitarian that I am) met with a begrudging “Yes.”  Clayton found himself flipping the crab cakes, and whisking the latter end of the sauce – which he did quite to my exact instructions…which I barked, admittedly, rather frenetically, in the heat of the moment as it were.  But when he and I both released our streaming golden egg yolks over our crispy crab-filled patties, and bathed our sweet-tender shellfish sinews with lemony yellow Hollandaise ooze, and entrapped sensational deliciousness between speared forkfuls of hot-toasted buttered muffins, I had to admit each mouthful was worth having to ask for a hand, and he had to admit each bite was worth my unnecessarily, and undeserved, rancorous tone of voice.

Crab Cakes Benedict

1 lb king crab legs
1 can beer
1 cup panko breadcrumbs, divided
1 tsp Grey Poupon mustard
2 tbs mayonnaise
5 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks
1 cup minced green onion, divided
paprika, sea salt, cracked black pepper
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 stick + 2 tbs melted butter
2 tbs EVOO
2 English muffins
white vinegar

Whole Foods was still running their $14/lb special on king crab legs, so I had to buy me at least one more pound before they went back up in price.  I am fascinated by this creature, not only because of its deliciousness, but because of how much work it takes to get to that deliciousness.  These spiny legs with their sharp claws were a challenge to hold, but worth the effort considering how succulent their flesh was.

I have to bend my crab legs at eat joint in order to fit them into my steamer basket in my largest pot, but they just make it.

I steam them for about 5 minutes with the contents of a can of beer and some water added to increase the volume to about 3 cups of liquid total.

Using my kitchen shears to get into each shell, I carefully remove as much meat as I can from the legs and knuckles — all the way up to their very sharp tips, which I managed to pull out entirely unbroken.  My pound of legs yields about 3/4 lb of meat.

Here I have 1/2 of my chopped green onion, my mustard, mayo, one whole egg, 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs, some salt, pepper, and about a 1/2 tsp of paprika.  I mix this all together, then add about 1/2 pound of crab meat (reserving some for my dinner tomorrow – why not?), and toss lightly together until just blended.  The mixture is wet, which is good…

… because I’m going to make the patties by rolling loosely packed handfuls of mixture in another layer of panko.  I have to work gingerly, since there is so much crabmeat here the cakes don’t really want to stick together, but the outer breadcrumbs will help them retain their shape.  I make 4 patties, about 1/4lb each, put them on a paper plate and then throw them in the freezer for about 20 minutes to help them set even more.

Eggs.  One has already been used in the crab cake mix, and the rest of these will be my Hollandaise sauce and my poached eggs.

Before I start cracking those babies, I get everything else ready to go.  I need to melt my stick of butter for the sauce, I need to set up poaching liquid for the eggs, a double-boiler for the sauce, and a pan for the crab cakes.  Since I don’t have fancy crap, I jerry-rig stuff, using my metal tongs and a small metal bowl to melt the butter over the 4 cups of water + 1 tbs white vinegar I’m bringing to a boil for the poaching, and a small saucepan 1/2 filled with water to bring to a simmer under a way-too-large metal bowl to make the Hollandaise.

I also fish out these egg-poachers I purchased a while back.  When I make only 1 poached egg at a time, I just create a vortex in the saucepan by whisking the simmering water into a funnel, into which I drop my egg; making 4 poached eggs won’t work that way, especially since I don’t have any real way to hold the eggs once they’re cooked without either cooling them down too much or them continuing to cook.  As it is, I still have to make these in shifts — so the poaching is the last thing I’m going to do.  These aren’t perfect, but they do the job.  I spray each down with Pam, which will help the eggs slide into the water when I want them to.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

First, I carefully separate 4 of my eggs, discarding the whites and trapping the yolks in the large bowl I’m using as a double-boiler.  I add my lemon juice to the pan before whisking everything together and placing it over the simmering water in my small saucepan.  It’s imperative the hot water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl, or the eggs might scramble; if they do, adding a little bit of hot water and whisking vigorously will usually smoothen the emulsion back out.

Like so.  While I whisk, I add my melted stick of butter in a steady, fine stream, adding more water as needed to keep the sauce the right consistency.  It takes about 10 minutes of constant whisking to make this sauce – which will thicken upon standing.  (For a more in-depth look at how to make a Hollandaise sauce, check out this posting.)

Meanwhile, I’ve melted 1 tbs butter with my EVOO in my non-stick pan, and have gently placed my half-frozen crab cake patties into the hot fat.  They sizzle temptingly, and after about 5 minutes they are the perfect golden brown for flipping.

Another 5 minutes or so on the other side and they’re ready to go.  (I’m still whisking while this is happening, BTW.)

At the same time, I get my poached eggs started, first by floating them whole (with unbroken yolks) in their little green vessels in my barely simmering (never boiling) water, just long enough to see the whites start to congeal.  When the edges are just white, I tip a little hot water into each vessel to help capture some form, before I tilt the vessels over one at a time, dumping the eggs into the vinegar’d water to poach through completely.  Once I see the whites completely congealed, but the yolks are still *very* runny  — about 2 minutes — I fish each egg out with a slotted spoon.

The final component of my Benedict is, of course, the English muffin base.  Trader Joe’s has named their muffins after two Victorian British Prime Ministers, Benjamin Disreali and William Gladstone.  I don’t know why, but it makes me love this product all the more! (These guys represent the British Government active during the time of my scholarly research into cholera in 19th century British literature, so they already have a warm place in my heart – mistaken miasmatists that they were.) I split two muffins, toast them, and sprinkle my last tablespoon of melted butter into their nooks and crannies.

On top of each muffin goes a crab cake, and on top of each crab cake goes a perfectly poached egg.  On top of each stack I pour my lemony sauce, and scatter the remaining scallions along with some paprika and black pepper.

It seems that the barest pressure — that of my ravenous glance — is all it takes for the trembling golden yolks to burst from their quivering white confines to pour lasciviously over cake, muffin, and plate.  The cakes are super-crunchy and filled with huge bites of tender, buttery crab meat, and the toasted buttered muffins are the perfect starch to sop up the rich flavors of the sauce.  Crab cakes out in the world are so often disappointing: too much bread, too many ingredients, a harsh overpowering mustard sauce that cancels out the sweet sweet crab meat.  But these were the best I’ve ever had, made even more spectacular by the perfectly complimentary egg yolk and bright silky sauce.  I admit it: I licked my plate.  But so did Clayton.  And, dear reader, if you make this dish — so will you.

Dublin Lawyer, Tiny Potatoes, Frisee and Maytag Bleu with Hot Bacon Dressing

Lobster.  I just can’t get enough of it.  And, while it’s only $3.99 at Al’s Seafood in North Hampton, NH, I can get as much as I like!  Heck – it’s cheaper than chicken breast right now.  Of course, we’re talking new shell lobsters, which don’t pack as much meat as their less-freshly moulted brethren, but even at $4.99 for the hard-shell babies we’re talking great prices.  Clayton’s been working on a friend’s landscaping up by the beach for the last couple weeks, and after finishing up yesterday he brought home 2 one-pounders for me to have my way with.  And have my way I did: I got those babies drunk on whiskey and cream, and I served them up in their own shells, along with some teenie tiny roasted potatoes, grown by the man himself in our little backyard raised bed, and a frisee salad doused with warm bacon dressing.  Dublin Lawyer is apparently the name of this preparation, and I have Maggie Cubbler at  The Loaded Kitchen to thank for showing me this little lovely.  Much appreciation, dear woman – because this was DELICIOUS!

Dublin Lawyer, Tiny Potatoes, Frisee and Maytag Bleu with Hot Bacon Dressing

2 1-1/2lb lobsters, steamed
2 tbs butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whiskey
1 cup cream (this is half & half, but heavy would work very well)
20 or so small potatoes
1 tbs dried chives
2-3 slices bacon
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 small head frisee
3-4 tbs crumbled, good quality bleu cheese
sea salt, cracked black pepper, snipped fresh chives

These are second generation potatoes, grown from sprouts picked off of potatoes bought at the store but never eaten.  Although the skins are a little tougher than your store bought spuds, the miniature-ness of these home-grown babies is charming.  I scrubbed them very well before dousing them in EVOO, sea salt, black pepper, and dried chives, wrapping them in foil, and chucking them on Little Red for 30-40 minutes to roast through.

Meanwhile, I twist the arms off both my lobsters, then, using my sharp chef’s knife and some kitchen shears, I split ’em up the middle of the underbelly before flipping them over and cutting through the outer tail shell and carapace, essentially separating the exoskeleton from the meat and innards.

After removing the tail meat and setting it aside, I carefully pull the cephalothorax and abdomen out as well, to free the carapace.  I now have four shell vessels from each bug.

These I wash out and pat dry, reserving them for service later.  The tail meat I chop up after removing the tomalley, and mix it with the meat from the knuckles and claws.

I get a couple thick, beautiful rashers of bacon cooked off in a small pan.

Using a couple tablespoons of the bacon fat, I add 1/2 my minced garlic, my cup of red wine vinegar, and my honey to the pan, which I bring to a roiling boil.  I add my bacon, which I’ve chopped up, back to the pan, along with 1/2 of my fresh snipped chives.  I let this boil down and, voila! warm bacon dressing.

Right before service, I dump the hot dressing over my washed and dried curly endive, which will wilt slightly in it’s bath.  This gets set aside for a few moments, while I bring the rest of dinner together.

I carefully set up my lobster shells; they will act as the vessels by which this gastronomic pleasure is served.

I bring my butter to foaming in a medium, non-stick pan and add the rest of my minced garlic to sweat and sweeten for a moment or two.

Next I add my whiskey.  Tilting the pan away from my face, hair, and eyebrows, and away from anything flammable…

…I ignite the contents of the pan and allow all the alcohol to burn off, which extinguishes the flames.  I love doing this – it’s super-sexy.

Finally, I add my cream.  I bring everything to a healthy boil, which thickens the sauce…

…before tossing in my lobster to heat through.  Since my lobsters were already steamed, I didn’t want to over-cook the meat; if they had only been par-boiled (partially cooked), I would have thrown in the lobster sooner.  But over-cooked lobster is tough and chewy – not at all what these scarlet bugs deserved.

Gently simmered, succulent lobster meat swims in whiskey-soaked garlic-butter cream, and is dressed with snipped fresh chives.  Tender tiny EVOO roasted potatoes help sop up the goodness, and a sharp/sweet/smokey salad of wilted frisee, bacon, and bleu cheese complements the richness on the plate.  My only criticism?  NOT ENOUGH!  Next time, I’m using some 2 pounders, and only serving in half the shell.   As it was, each bite transported me to a magical, halcyon, seaside resort, and when I’d picked all the meat out of the shells I picked them up and poured the sweetsavory cream out of them right down my gullet.  Elegant, but simple.  If this is what Irish barristers enjoy for their dinners, then they’ve got it mighty good.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Chicken Piccata, Simple Pasta, and EVOO Roasted Asparagus

Lolita has to admit to recent failures in the kitchen. A tough turkey breast; a failed carbonara (including a re-cook!); and although I can’t remember the specifics, I recall 3 temper tantrums in the kitchen since I last blogged, which means I screwed the pooch on something else, too.  So tonight I decided to go super basic, and I whipped together this here chicken piccata, comingled with buttered pasta tubes and crisp-headed, silken bodied roasted asparagus spears.  Quick, heartwarming, and delicious.  Looks like maybe Lolita’s got her mojo back.

Chicken Piccata, Simple Pasta, and EVOO Roasted Asparagus

3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 stick butter, divided
4 tbs flour
1/2 package pasta (these are super-long tubes of macaroni)
1 lemon
2 tbs salted capers, rinsed
1/4 cup white wine
parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 lb fresh asparagus stalks
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup minced scallions
sea salt, cracked black pepper

I love asparagus.  I don’t love it’s resultant smell – but when I see perfectly erect, richly green, thin and supple stalks of fresh spears, I can’t help myself.

I snap off their woody ends, then flay the tough flesh from their roots.

I toss these very simply in EVOO, spread them out over a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with sea salt and cracked black pepper.  Into a 350°F oven they go, for about 20 minutes.

I spent 49¢ more per pound at Whole Foods to get “chicken cutlets”, when I should have just purchased the breasts themselves – considering how poorly butterflied these babies were.  No matter, I carved them into 4 roughly equal tenderloins…

… spread them flat on the counter within a large plastic bag…

… then pounded them all flat, in a cross-hatch pattern, with my sharpening steel.  I have a wooden mallet, but I always reach for my steel for some reason.  And it always tenderizes the hell out of my meat.

I get my largest, non-stick pan all nice and hot on the stovetop, where I melt a pat of butter and swirl of EVOO together until they foam.

I quickly, but thoroughly, dredge my chicken pieces in flour…

... then lay them gently in the pan, making sure not to crowd them together.

They’re like little pink and tan islands in the middle of a golden bubbling sea.

After about 5 minutes, or until there is a nice tan sear, I flip ’em, cook ’em for another 5 minutes, then move them to a plate tented with foil to keep warm.  Time to make the pan sauce.

A half cup of dry white wine, the juice of one lemon, 1/2 cup water, and high heat.

I bought this cute little jar of salted capers at the Salumeria in the North End, like, forever ago.  Two perfect tablespoons, which I rinse free of salt…

… before adding them — and a handful of chopped parsley, which I forgot to photograph (whoops!) — to the pan to simmer, flavor, and reduce with the sauce.

When the sauce has reduced, I swirl in a few tablespoons of butter before returning the chicken to the pan.  I let this simmer, flipping the chicken from time to time to coat with the sauce, for a couple minutes.

My asparagus spears have crispy little roasted heads and silky tender meaty stalks.  The chicken falls to pieces at the suggestion of my fork’s edge; its white juiciness is enrobed with satin lemon sauce, and offset by the salty buds of caper berries.  And served with some noodles tossed in butter, grated parmigiano reggiano, and chopped scallions for sopping.  After chucking several bad meals down the garbage chute, it was nice to whip this sweet supper together without even having to think about it, and in less than 30 minutes.  Lolita’s coming back… stay tuned!

Weeknight Wondermeal: Simple Saltimbocca and Risotto

Saltimbocca means “jumps in the mouth” in Italian; the term refers to the sprightly, salty, woodsy flavors of sage and prosciutto that are generally found coupled with tender, paper thin slices of veal before being seared in butter and served with a bright pan sauce.  Tonight’s meal is the simplest representation of that dish – one that makes me imagine rustic suppers served in ancient farmhouses dotted along the Almafli coast, cobbled together from lemons picked from the family’s orchard’s trees, sage plucked from the tiny kitchen garden, and home-cured legs of last season’s prize hog hanging from larder’s rafters.  Blood Farm’s perfect wafers of pink veal, purchased this past weekend for a shockingly low $15.99/lb, inspired me — and with only a few sprigs of sage, a few slices of prosciutto, a lemon and a few things from the pantry to whip up a basic risotto, dinner rang in at about $25 and was ready in less than 30 minutes.  As Weeknight Wondermeals go, this one requires a few more pans and a bit more effort than the average offering, but I encourage you to try it anyway, dear reader.  Just to experience how the flavors jitterbug on the tongue makes the little extra work  all worthwhile.

Simple Veal Saltimbocca and Risotto

1 lb thinly sliced veal cutlets (or you can buy loin, slice it into medallions, and pound it to 1/4″ thinness with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer)
1 bunch fresh sage
10-12 slices prosciutto de parma
1 qt chicken broth, warmed
1 shallot, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup white wine, divided
1 cup arborio rice (short-grain)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tbs butter, divided
sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO
flour for dusting

The veal will only take a few minutes to assemble and less time to cook, since the slices of meat are so very thin, so I start with my risotto.  I’ve made this on the blog many times before (with my Osso Bucco, with a baked chicken, with a braised chicken, as a sort-of chicken and rice thingy, with veal Milanese, and a few other examples); it’s always a favorite standby as a starch for classic elegant meals.  I start by sauteing my shallots and garlic in a dash of EVOO, before adding my rice kernels to toast for a few moments.

I first add 1/4 cup of my white wine (this is a dry Muscadet, leftover from last night’s imbibing), stirring well constantly — this is a theme for risotto: always stir! — over medium low heat until all the liquid has evaporated.  I then add 4 oz of hot chicken stock, stirring well until the liquid has absorbed into my rice – gently plumping and softening each grain, and breaking down their outer starches so that the proper smooth, saucy consistency is achieved – before adding my next 4 oz of stock.  I repeat this process until all my stock has been absorbed — which takes about 30 minutes, total.

Between stirring and risotto steps, I prepare my little packages of veal yumminess.  I start by patting every slice of meat thoroughly dry before salting and peppering them, then laying one or two leaves of sage across each piece.

 The next layer is the prosciutto; a 1/2 slice fits almost perfectly on top of each slice of veal.

Then I fold each slice over, pinning it into a small package by spearing it through with a toothpick.  The final step before these babies are ready is to dredge them in flour on both sides thoroughly – which will help them crisp up on the outside and stay tender inside.

I have my large skillet set over medium high heat with 2 tbs of EVOO and 2 pats of butter melting within; I lay each package of flavor into the pan, trying not to crowd them (but they will shrink a little – so I luckily can fit all 10 bits).  These sear for about 3 minutes.

 Meanwhile, my risotto is almost ready.  See how it has expanded with all the liquid it’s absorbed?  I taste a grain or two to make sure it is still toothsome, but not yet under-cooked.  There should be no crunch left in the center, but the grain shouldn’t yield too easily either.  The goal is texture, not mush.

After 3-4 minutes, I flip my meat wads.  The house smells absolutely delightful, and each bite of veal is nicely browned and crisping up on the outside.  Another 3-4 minutes on this flip side, or until it is also perfectly tanned.

I shred some parmesan cheese and some lemon zest into my risotto as the last step.  If I had some parsley (whoops! I have to get used to the farm season being over, which means I have to start buying my veggies again), I’d chop that and add a few tablespoons here, too – for color and snap.  I mix this all very well, letting the cheese melt – then I taste test it before adding a little more of everything, plus some salt and pepper.

To assemble a quick pan sauce, I remove the veal from the pan and add the last 1/4 cup of wine to the leftover butter/EVOO and deglaze.  I let this reduce (meanwhile – I remove all my toothpicks)…

… and add the juice from 1/2 my lemon, and the remaining two tablespoons of butter to the pan, too.  I whisk this well, allowing it to reduce and thicken before pouring it over my plated meat.

Perfect little scallopinis, stuffed with salty rich cured fine Italian ham and aromatic and spicy leaves of sage, then seared in butter and doused with lemony sauce.  With a mound of tender, creamy risotto (which I also studded with a few slices of prosciutto, too, just for good measure), this is basic meat and starch elevated to elegance and sophistication.  Clayton and I both fell into this meal with gusto and gratification; it was exactly right for a post-holiday Monday workday weeknight.

Honeyed Pomegranate Pork Chops with Rich Butternut Wedges and Sauteed Spinach

Today’s dinner was a result of “grabbing random things randomly” at the grocery store — or, at least, that’s what I offhandedly said to Claytonman when he fished through the shopping bag to see what I purchased: a pomegranate, a wedge of gorgonzola, and some baby spinach.  I knew I had a lovely butternut squash, the only specimen our little backyard raised bed garden yielded (even if we do have access to all the squash the 27 acres of farmland Clayton works produces – it’s still nice to eat something grown in one’s own wee plot of land), and I also had some perfectly plump pork chops in the freezer from our last foray to Blood Farm.  Since sweet goes well with pork, the butternut squash would fit the bill, and I thought vaguely that the pomegranate’s brand of red tart sweetness and crunchy, bursting seeds would add a little something something to the blend.  The gorgonzola was for cream and bite, seemingly always good accompaniments to most orange produce – sweet potatoes, pumpkin, heck even oranges and cantaloupe benefit from Penicillium glaucum.  And the spinach was the great equalizer: its wilted greenness perfectly offset the complex sugars on the plate (made even more delicious with a little honey butter and rosemary sauce).  With a thick delicious tender chop to round out the meal, dinner was something really spectacular.

Honeyed Pomegranate Pork Chops with Rich Butternut Wedges and Sauteed Spinach

1 large butternut squash
brown sugar
1 pomegranate
1 lb fresh baby spinach
1/4 lb gorgonzola cheese
2 large bone-in pork chops
sea salt
cracked black pepper
1/2 cup honey
4 tbs butter, divided
2 short sprigs rosemary

Clayton’s one and only butternut squash is a thing of beauty — thin-skinned, healthy rich flesh, just a small interior (could I call this a nucleus, I wonder? Hell – I’m gonna call it a nucleus…), and white sturdy seeds.  This baby is going to take at least 40 minutes to roast, so I start with it.  Once I’ve scooped out all the insides, I douse it with EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and a hearty sprinkling of brown sugar before putting it on a rimmed baking sheet into my 400° oven.

I can’t remember the first time I ate a pomegranate.  I can’t even remember clearly the first time I ever heard of one, but I do recall the sensation of wonder that accompanied my first glance of its interior, and my first taste of those bursting little seeds.  It was a revelation.  I can’t think of any other fruit that has the same je ne sais quoi, but I thank evolution that we’ve got this ruby orb of delight to enjoy whenever we want to.  I cut my fruit in half, then, using my hands, I break each half down into its 6 segments, each a rough pyramid, each studded on two facets with red gems of juicy goodness.

Gently removing these seeds from their segments in a bowl of water is the trick; they will sort of peel right off without bursting if you are gentle enough, and this way my fingers aren’t be stained with their ooze.  Plus, the seeds sink to the bottom, and any of the other fruit fibers rise to the surface where I easily skimmed them off.

I didn’t have my computer open so that I could see look up methods to juice these little buggers, but I jerryrigged something that worked pretty well.  I first drained off all the water, set some seeds aside for garnish later, then using a large mesh spoon with a large sheet of cling wrap layered over it, I pressed my fingertips against the sieve to squish the berries, releasing their juice into the bottom of the bowl.  The cling wrap kept me from squirting myself in the eye, and from splattering my walls like a crime scene.  I kept pressing until I felt no more bursting.

I ended up with about 3 ounces of rich, red pomegranate juice (now I see why POM is so expensive!)  Along with my honey, 2 tbs butter, and my garden rosemary, I’m ready to make the sauce that will blanket the plate.

In my small saucepan, I add all these ingredients together…

….then bring them to a boil.  I let this simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until it is reduced and a little thickened.

Meanwhile, I get my other 2 tbs butter and a glug of EVOO heating in my large non-stick skillet.  I wash and pat dry my muscular chops of meat, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper and lightly dredge them in flour.

When the fat is nice and hot, I add my chops, where they immediately start to sizzle and brown.  I cook them for about 4 minutes on the first side…

 … or until I see the meat start to ‘bleed’ on top – which means that they’re cooking nicely through.

Then I flip ’em, and boy do they look good.  The wee bit of flour has created a nice crisp crust on the outside.  After sauteeing for a couple minutes on this side, I throw the whole pan into a 350° oven, next to my squash, which are almost ready.  I bake the chops for about 10 minutes.

When the chops are ready, I remove them from the pan and hold them warm, reserving the fat and yummy drippings.

In goes my spinach.  It only takes a few minutes for it to wilt, and I toss it well.

My butternut squash is PERFECT.  I could just sit down with a spoon and eat this all up, but I gots plating to do! I cut my squash into wedges, removing the peel with intrepid fingers.

They get dressed with a dousing of honey/rosemary/pom butter sauce, and a sprinkling of gorgonzola cheese.

 Pan-roasted pork chops, sauteed spinach, and wedges of butternut squash, all bathed in an ambrosial sauce and topped with crunchy, bursting seeds of pomegranate perfection.  The meat is tender throughout, although the bit closest to the bone is so delicious, I get pork bits all over my face (and even a bit in one ear, I admit) trying to scrape all the meaty meat off the rack.  When sweet and savory come together like this, they form a most perfect union.  Enjoy!






Seafood Sunday! Steamed Crab Legs and Shrimp with Molten Parmesan Polenta

Most of the time, when I want shellfish, I want it as simply prepared as possible, since it tastes so damn good just the way it is.  Shrimp and crab legs in particular (and lobster, of course) are best, in Lolita’s world, when they’ve been steamed or boiled, and then served with melted butter.  I’ve had them made in myriad other ways, too, and enjoyed it – but if I see “boiled shrimp” on a menu, I go gaga.  They can be expensive, though, and here in Boston they cost $2-$2.25 *each* when purchased at a raw bar.  That’s why I make them myself; at even $16/lb for the large 16/20 count shrimp (that means there are between 16-20 shrimp per pound), I’m saving a ton of money — which means I can buy and eat more shrimp!  On Sunday, during a foray south to the sleepy little metropolis that is New Bedford, MA, to visit their thrilling whaling museum, we foraged through the industrial waterfront area seeking a seafood market that sold to the public.  Boy oh boy, did we find one!  The perfectly plump shrimp and long, shapely snow crab legs you see above were so sparkling fresh, that they needed very little by way of accouterments other than a simple beer and spice infused steambath- but Lolita whipped together a fun and flavorful parmesan polenta overflowing with a creamy cheese sauce anyway, just to add a little starch to this swimmingly spectacular meal of fruits from the sea.

Steamed Crab Legs and Shrimp with Molten Parmesan Polenta

1lb snow crab legs
1lb 12/15 count tiger shrimp
2 cans/bottles of beer
whole peppercorns, fresh cracked pepper, juniper berries, sea salt, bay leaves
2 cups polenta
heavy cream
grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 sticks butter
truffle salt

New Bedford is a rather economically depressed little town, which is sad, considering its rich history.  I betcha not many people outside of Massachusetts are really hip to it, unless they’ve been lucky enough to read Moby Dick. It’s an American masterpiece for a reason; for those of you who’ve never tried, or have tried and failed, to read the novel, I encourage you to READ MELVILLE.  I realize that, as a lifelong student and lover of literature, I’m hard-wired to read where many fear to tread, but Melville’s voice is one every person on the planet should hear in their own heads as they absorb the words off his pages.  Moby Dick may be a whale of a book, but it is a work of incredible beauty and of almost divine grace, a story which captures the motion and passions of the sea, and harnesses it for its readers to ride to dizzying heights and soulful depths.

Fleet Fisheries Fisherman’s Market might have been one of Melville’s favorite places to shop for seafood, if he weren’t at sea himself (and dead and buried these past 120 years).  Their storefront, hidden in the back of their warehouse with an unobtrusive signpost pointing the way to an unassuming single door leading in, was like the TARDIS – I expected a small counter and a cramped cooler with a couple of fish in it, and instead I was greeted by a huge white space chock full of iced shelves bursting with tons of fish in various states of deshabille – whole to gutted to filleted to cooked.  And the prices!  $14/lb for  12/15 count shrimp! (Those are usually $21-$25/lb at Whole Foods.)  $8.99 for snow crab legs!  Shut the front door!  Less than $30 later, Clayton and I had the makings of a killer seafood feast.  It may be worth the hour and a half drive down there to shop again…

Just look at that plump, beautiful shrimp.  We got about 20 from our 1.25 lb, so Clayton and I were pleased as punch.

Now those are some legs, baby!  Two clusters, each with five legs and one handsome claw.  These are, of course, not harvested anywhere near the Massachusetts coastline — they come from much farther up north, as anyone who watches “Deadliest Catch” knows — but given the major seaport that New Bedford still represents, they can bring them in in bulk and pass the savings on to voracious leg-lovers like me.

Nothing goes better with shellfish than beer.  I’ve been drinking this Session Black Lager lately with gusto, and El Claytonious has been enjoying the ubiquitous, and local, Narragansett tallboys.  I used one of each in my boil.  Why?  Because we each only had two beers left, and the day was early, and we were too lazy to head to the store for more.  I don’t recommend using a port or stout or barley wine or anything too heavy for a beer boil, but lagers do provide a surprisingly good flavor base.  It’s not the alcohol, it’s the hops and malt that infuse the tender meat inside these exoskeletons with flavah.  I pop both open and dump them in my pasta boiler/steamer pot.

I also add about 1 quart of water, some peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves, and a healthy amount of salt.  All this gets set over the burner and brought to a boil – which takes a little while (considering how much liquid there is, and how cold my beers were).

Shrimp and grits are standard house fare at Lolita’s, but I try to shake it up from time to time with some polenta – grits’ less ground-up cousin.  2 cups of corn meal whisked into 3 cups of boiling salted water gets me started, and I cover this and reduce the heat to low so everything can simmer and thicken.

Now that my shellfish boil is roiling, I add my shrimp to the deep pasta pan and lower them into the beerwater.

I then put my crab legs into the shallow steamer basket, fit that on top of the pot (above the shrimp), and then cover.  This only needs about 5 minutes to cook, which is good – since my polenta is almost ready.

It’s nice and stiff, the corn toothsome but no longer hard, and I add a tablespoon of butter and some parmesan cheese.  But it’s too dry for me, and I want something more creamy and flavorful.

At the last moment, I decide to whip up a quick simple parmesan cheese sauce with about a cup of heavy cream set over medium heat to simmer, about 1/2 a cup of grated cheese, and some black pepper, sea salt, and a scratch or two of fresh nutmeg.  I whisk all this together and allow it to thicken slightly.

Our assortment of weapons, and our baths of butter.  I add a few dashes of truffle salt to my butter (because I’m decadent that way), and Clayton starts banging his shellfish forks on the table, demanding his dinner.  (My favorite is the furthest fork, with the wee little tines on one end, and the lobster-clawed, inner-knife-edged cracking/splitting apparatus on the other end.)

To moltenize my polenta, I first dished it up into a buttered 6oz ramekin to set the form – which only took a moment or so.  I then carved out the center of the form, removing a wine-cork sized plug from the middle, into which I poured my parmesan cheese sauce.  The result?  A delicious and fun to eat mountain of sweet/salty corn grits spilling over and out with a creamy river of omygoditsogoodness.  My perfectly boiled shrimp and steaming hot crab legs are redolent of only the best parts of beer, with a little kick and sweetness from the juniper and pepper berries.  The truffle butter bath is the perfect dipping sauce for my firm white thumbs of shrimp, and it dribbles lazily down my chin from the threads of my hard-won crab leg meat.  I should have dashed some chopped parsley or green onions over the plate for presentation purposes, but damn it if I wasn’t too hungry for this meal to waste the time with flair.  Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that make the most wonderful in the mouth.

Farmer’s Market Lobster Two Ways: Brandied in Alfredo Ravioli and Slow Butter-Poached

For those of you who follow my blog, you may have already figured out that I work at Harvard University — America’s mecca for the uber-mentally endowed.  But we do more here than just hunker down in carrels at Widener library studying esoterica – we also enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, or in this case – the fruits of the sea.  The University has been hosting an absolutely *lovely* farmer’s market for the last few years, every Tuesday during the summer months, and it is one of the best in the area.  Not for its size, mind you — it’s a fairly small venue, the strip of land in front of the Science Center, at the corner of Oxford and Kirkland Streets — but for its richness and variety.  The folks at HUHDS (that’s Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services, for the uninitiated) do a spectacular job finding vendors to fill the ranks, varying the offerings every week to keep things fresh and exciting.  There are usually a couple of bread/pastry vendors, and several local farms represented, but there are often also items like locally made chocolates, fresh-made pastas, community cheese-makers, kombucha (which I can’t stomach, but I hear it’s good for you), meat purveyors (see this earlier recipe, in which I used John Crow Farm’s steaks), and this week, Carolyn Manning, a bona-fide lobsterman’s wife, had just-plucked-from-the-sea ocean bugs for sale at an enticing $5.99/lb.  Along with some brandied lobster ravioli purchased two stalls down from Hollis, NH’s pasta-maker Valicenti Organico, I had me the basics for an elegant, but relatively easy to make, meal – all for about $25.  With just a few items from my pantry and fridge, as well as some scallions from the backyard garden, I pulled together a mouthwatering saucer of ravioli in alfredo cream sauce, topped with butter-poached lobster meat, and served with a crunchy cheesy garlic bread.  Par-boiling and removing the meat from the lobster took the most effort and time, but the plate itself came together in less than 20 minutes – practically a weeknight wondermeal, and one I plan to make again whenever I can!

Farmer’s Market Lobster Two Ways: Brandied in Alfredo Ravioli and Slow Butter-Poached

1 package fresh lobster ravioli
2 live lobsters (about 2.5 lbs)
1 1/2 sticks butter, divided
heavy cream
parmigianoReggiano cheese, grated
sea salt, cracked black pepper
garlic powder
small loaf french bread
cheddar cheese

These two bugs had a journey before they hit the pot; I purchased them at noon, stuck them in fridge until 3, then carted them on my back all the way downtown and back home again.  Luckily, Carolyn loaned me an ice-pack so they’d stay chill and alive the whole way, and when I got home they were still sprightly and kicking.  Hello little buggers… are you ready for your hot bath?

Butter-poaching lobsters is a multi-step process.  You first need to get the lobster meat out of the shells, but in order to do so your lobster has to be at least partially cooked.  To do this, I filled a couple of receptacles (my kettle and a large saucepan) with water and brought them to a boil.  My lobsters I stuck in my largest pot, and I spoke soothingly to them as they flailed about and tried to escape.

Quickly, but ruthlessly, I pour the boiling water over my lobsters, and I let them slowly, gently par-boil for about 5 minutes (or, er, until they stop moving around).  Some recipes call for adding a few drops of white vinegar to the water, to help the lobster meat congeal so it will come out of the shell more easily; I forgot to do that, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Go to sleep, little lobsters… just let your Calgon bath *really* take you away…

After 5 minutes, I quickly take my bugs out of their bath and snap off their claws and arms by putting the tip of my chef’s knife into their “armpits” – the moon-sliver of semi-translucent membrane in the exoskeleton where their arms meet their torsos – and slicing through, while twisting their arms to break them free.  The armclaws go back in the hot water for another couple minutes, while I remove the meat from the tails.  Sorry – I don’t have any pictures of this; I had to work fast while the lobster was still hot, and my hands got all gunkified.  The easiest way to remove the meat is to use kitchen shears and slice down the middle of the entire length of the undertail.  You can then pry the meat out carefully.  After two more minutes, I remove the still-steeping claws from the water, and use my shears to cut the meat out of all four claws and all four arms (or knuckles, which is what I think they’re technically called on a lobster).

What I end up with is just slightly cooked lobster meat.  It’s still practically raw, actually – it will cook the rest of the way in it’s second bath, the BUTTER bath. (Cue angel song!)  But I set it aside for right now…

Lolita approves of the lovely packaging Valicenti has here.  It took me a few glances to see, but the open-mouthed graphic is tres awesome.  I get a large pot of salted water set on my back burner to high and bring it to a boil.  The ravioli will take only 5 minutes to cook, so everything will come together quickly right before plating.

In my smallest saucepan – which will be large enough for all my lobster meat to lay in a single layer – I get two tablespoons of water set to boiling.

To butter-poach, one needs, well – butter.  I think I might should have used unsalted butter, but this was what I had on hand, so salted it was.  I kept it in the fridge until the last moment; it should be cold before adding it to the water.

Which I do, with the pan set on medium low heat, one tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition, until the butter is fully incorporated.

This simple action – whisking cold butter into a small amount of hot water a little bit at a time – results in a thick, viscous, but aerated butter sauce; it has the consistency of a milk-shake, or melted ice-cream.

When all the butter has been added, I gently lay my lobster meat – the tails of which I’ve split up the middle, removing all tomalley (the green innards) – in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.  It only takes about 5 minutes for this to cook through (flipping a few times with tongs), so I add my pasta to the boiling water at this time, too.

Oh, I made some quick garlic bread too.  I had a nice mini French loaf, which I split lengthwise and drizzled with melted butter (yes – more butter).

I then sprinkled some garlic powder (I was out of fresh garlic, dammit!), over the loaf halves before covering them both with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.   These go into my hot oven for about 8 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the bread is toasted.

Finally, starting with a few tablespoons of the butter-poaching liquid, I make my alfredo sauce.  Using a large skillet set over medium-high heat, I take the lobster-infused butter…

… whisk in about 3/4 cup of heavy cream, which I bring to a simmer…

… then I add in about 1/2 a cup of grated parm/reg cheese, sea salt, and a nice amount of cracked black pepper…

…continuing to whisk to incorporate and thicken.

I’ve chopped my scallions, yielding about 1 cup, and 1/2 of them go into my sauce.

When my ravioli is floating, it’s ready.  Using a slotted or mesh spoon, I carefully lift each ravioli out of the water, drain it well, and lay them…

… into my alfredo sauce.  I let them simmer for just a few moments before plating.

Using tongs, I gently place my tenderrific, yummylicious, super-sweet, and perfectly poached chunks of lobster meat over my bed of heavenly stuffed raviolis and my blanket of rich thick wonderful cheese and cream sauce.  A final sprinkling of chopped scallions and a tower of garlic bread power rounds out the plate.  The sauce is simple and dignified, the pasta just al dente and filled with savory (barely brandied) lobster meat, and the butter-poached tidbits practically melt in my mouth, making this meal something truly special.