Another Day on the Bay

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Today (Sept. 23) I went out on my third (!) excursion with the Maryland Seafood team to Hooper's Island, MD. It was a cool, breezy early autumn day and one of the last chef trips of the year for the program. I was lucky enough to snag a spot on a full trip attended by media professionals (including Fox5!), chefs and the like. These tours are always interesting and a great way to spend a weekday afternoon on the water! I give the Maryland Seafood team big props for organizing so many of these tours. I am always thankful for being invited on these trips!


Steve Vilnit, Director of Fisheries Marketing, leading the tour.


Passed by a pound net  on our way out to the island. These are used to trap and catch all manner of fish from the Bay. It is the oldest type of net used by watermen. And costly -- setting up one of these bad boys costs between $15,000 to $20,000.


First pit stop to W.T. Ruark & Co., an old crab processing facility erected in 1952.


Migrant seasonal workers on H1B visas expertly picking crabs in record time. Depending on the time of year and how "fat" the crabs are, 1 bushel can yield 2 to 4 pounds of crab meat!


The crabs at this time of the year are fattening up for winter hibernation, something unique to Maryland Blue Crabs. This imparts that sweet, full and distinctive flavor we Marylanders all know and love!


Next stop - Barren Island Oysters.


Barren Island's oysters are are carefully grown within the open waters of the Bay. Bay water is circulated through floating upwellers with multiple silos that contain oyster spat (newly settled oysters). There the oysters will continue to grow until they reach a size of about 3 inches. The oysters are periodically taken out to be chipped, shaped and sorted in a tumbler machine. These oysters are small, but convey (to me) a very mild, smooth flavor with lower-ish levels of brininess.



Perhaps the best highlight of the trip was lunchtime, let's be honest. And lunchtime has really blossomed as the chef tours have progressed over time! Pictured above are smoked salmon, "salmon candy", and blue crab bruschetta for starters. 


Main course: Grilled Spanish mackerel, flounder and rockfish - freshly caught from the pound net - topped by crab meat. All prepared by the Maryland Seafood team and the generous folks at Profish.


Between bites of fish and crab, there were oysters aplenty too! Eating this meal and as importantly, learning where it came from and how the food is produced, provided a much more intimate dining experience.
 

Last stop of the day (on a very full belly): Chesapeake Gold Oysters


I was reminded of some kind of mad science experiment type of movie upon entering this oyster aquaculture facility. This company receives triploid (sterile) larvae from a hatchery and raises the oysters in their "laboratory" as I'm calling it by first growing them into spat in a down welling system (water is introduced from the surface) where the larvae attach themselves to oyster shells. Here the babies are fed on the daily with algae. The oysters are then transferred to an up weller system (green jugs in picture above) where Bay water (with natural food) is pulled through the tank so that the oysters can filter the algae out of the water. 

Buy local, eat local. Maryland seafood is the best around! 






Korean Braised Short Ribs

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I broke out the slow cooker over the long weekend because it's been awhile since I last used my trusty crockpot. I settled on cooking some ribs because ribs just seemed like the kind of thing one eats over the last real weekend of summer. And I unfortunately don't have a grill so this was my next best option for cooking ribs.

The recipe was simple per usual - combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, chicken broth, some tapioca, minced garlic, chopped pear, scallions, and ginger and throw that mixture into the slow cooker. However, I was supposed to process this mixture in a food processor, but alas this amateur chef does not possess one! It's on my Christmas wish list along with a top-notch chef's knife for sure! I didn't think it was a big deal that I didn't process the mixture as the meat would absorb all the flavors regardless. I used bone-in short ribs purchased during my Whole Foods shopping trip. Separate the meat as best you can from the bones and microwave the bones for about ten minutes before throwing those into the crockpot as well. Season the meat with salt and pepper and nestle them into the pool and slow cook on low for about 9-10 hours.

I think half the reason I love slow cooker recipes so much besides their no-fuss, simple, virtually impossible to screw up qualities is the fact that it makes the apartment smell amazing. Maybe I should come up with a line of candles that smell like slow cooking meat and quit my day job.
Ahhhh so amazing! Fish out the meat as well as the bones. This was a task that proved somewhat challenging since the meat started to fall apart as soon as I grabbed it with a pair of tongs! Definitely a good sign. Normally you're supposed to let the liquid settle and spoon off the fat that collects from the surface, then spoon what's left over the meat to moisten it, but the short ribs here required no excess moisture.
With a slow cooker, you almost always achieve that melt-in-your-mouth quality with beef. The BF ranked this among his top favorite of my slow cooker recipes (not that I've made a ton in the past couple years since I've owned this crockpot). Eating this reminded me why I could never truly be a virtuous vegetarian, no harm intended. Slow cooking the short ribs imparted all the rich flavors of the soy sauce, scallions, ginger and pear (ingredients that I suppose earned this recipe the "Korean" nametag). Go forth and slow cook some short ribs!

Whole Roasted Fish

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This past Labor Day weekend I decided on a whim to try my hand at roasting a fish whole. From the instructional videos I found online, it looked to me to be a fairly straightforward process. And quick too! I selected two European farm-raised sea bass (basses? bassi?) at my local Whole Foods.

Hello, fishies! Since this was my first time cooking a whole raw fish, I chose to keep things simple and went for a Mediterranean take. I stuffed the two guys with lemon slices and fresh rosemary and brushed on some good ole EVOO. Threw those bad boys into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes and voila!

So easy! If it weren't for my budget-conscious wallet, I'd probably do this every week and try different fixin's for the fish. For me, this was a Saturday night dinner treat and I highly recommend you try it too! Hardly any steps to follow at all!
Of course, since the roasting only took a mere 15 minutes, I lazily cooked a frozen bag of Trader Joe's Polenta Provencal, which took 10 minutes tops. Don't judge. I'm on a budget, remember!?
Yessss. You know you want this. The meat was so tender, clean and fresh. You cannot get the same experience from frozen fish, you just can't. Of course, you gotta be wary of the bones. But eating around them kinda got me back in touch with my animalistic instincts of picking at my prey's carcass.


From farm to table to fork to this! So awesome. I definitely will keep trying this out and experimenting with different fish and various seasonings and aromatics. Please try this on your own, folks! I'd advise you to seek out only the freshest, high-quality, sustainably sourced fish. You are what you eat!

Cooking from "Scratch"

Saturday, August 23, 2014





Sorry for the long hiatus folks. I always seem to take those, don't I? Ugh I hate myself for it. Just wanted to post a quick little blurb here on a new food experience I decided to try out for lack of variety in my kitchen these past few busy months of summer. I actually didn't take a ton of photos since I was pressed for time (which is also why I decided to try this). This week I ordered a home-delivered dinner kit from one of those companies you may or may not have already read about. Because, well, I was pressed for time! Between work, marathon training, rowing, etc., the manfriend and I have been eating weeknight dinners around 9pm on average. We always try to prepare healthy, simple and quick meals due to this terrible habit. But our meals started looking more or less the same -- salad mix with an array of summer veggies, sometimes a poached egg or smoked salmon thrown on top. Can't complain -- wholesome and quick, but this foodie needs variety even on the weeknights! So after doing a quick internet search during my lunch break, I decided to go with ScratchDC because it wasn't a national company like Blue Apron or Plated (nothing against them though -- I've heard good things about those two as well).


My box arrived early at my office in DC, which I approved. I would've been rullll mad had it been late, forcing me to stay past closing time! And it came in a super cute package all tied with strings! Because it's the company's birthday week, I also got a slotted spoon/normal spoon in one tool as a freebie! Score! Gotta love the free. Most of the packaging itself was also recyclable, which I give two green thumbs for that. 

And because I was in such a rush to cook something quickly because of course, it was already 8:30pm, I forgot to snap pics of the cooking process and all the ingredients coming together. But here is the end product after a mere 30 minutes of cooking. It was actually pretty straightforward thanks to a simple little recipe card that I decided to save for later. 
Verdict? I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I had $33 bucks to spare on nice weeknight meals every Monday through Thursday! I hope this doesn't make me less of a chef, but it was SO convenient having all the ingredients prepped and pre-measured for you (saving time and food waste). The food was fresh, sourced responsibly from farms and easy to prepare. 

The amount of food in one "bundle" was quite enough to serve dinner to two individuals. We each got two hearty, marinated porkloins, a half of a roasted peach filled with creamy goat cheese, half a loaf of foccacia/flatbread, and salad greens with plenty of delicious prosciutto. If you have the money and don't have the time, go for it! It's a great way to mix up your weeknight dinner plans and still feel like you actually cooked rather than throw together whatever's lying around in your fridge.







Soft Shell Crab Sandwiches

Monday, June 23, 2014

This past weekend I thought what better way to ring in the summer solstice than to make my own homemade soft shell crab sandwiches with friends? The truth is, there is no better way. I had never made them myself before and to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to slicing off their faces since you have to buy them fresh. Luckily, the guy at the sweet, little River Falls Market in Potomac cleaned them for me although I felt kind of sheepish having him do it. Pretty sure the young boy they had working behind the counter could've killed them without batting an eye. Next time though! We decided to buy two crabs per person since they were "only" $9.99 each. We were hungry!



So, before you dredge the cleaned crabs in flour, please remember to pat them dry. Rookie mistake. While they were pan frying in hot canola oil, the whole thing popped loudly and angrily, and a little leg got blown off! I wish I had caught that sweet action shot of hot flying oil and crab legs. 


I wasn't quite sure what I was doing and I had only read one recipe on how to cook 'em. After about 4 minutes or so on one side, I'd flip them. Once the shells have turned red, they should be good to go. 


Glory.


After pan frying each crab, place them on some paper towel to drip off. At this point, I laid a pat of butter on each crab and doused them all generously with freshly squeezed lemon juice and of course, and this is key, Old Bay.

You'll also want to gather up your fixin's. I layered my sandwiches with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and pepperjack cheese to keep things simple. I also experimented with both a cool wasabi mayo I got at the store and my friend's homemade Sriracha mayo. The possibilities are endless!



Friends, you are doing yourselves all a disservice by not having these at home, especially in early summer when softies are at their peak for us wallet-conscious buyers (hard shell crabs are still quite pricey right now and are best picked at the end of summer anyway when they're nice and fat). But seriously, check out those monstrous sandwiches. Two are more than enough for one hungry gal like yours truly. They were to die for! Crispy and crunchy when you first bite into them, then soft and meaty after. So delicious. You will win the hearts of all your friends guaranteed. 


What are you waiting for? Go get these suckers right now!

Maine Avenue Fish Market

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


This past weekend I explored the Maine Avenue Fish Market on the waterfront in downtown Washington, DC. It was my first official Bookalokal event, a brilliant startup that focuses on connecting people through local dining experiences. I heard about the fish market through some friends who had been going there to pick up fresh seafood on the weekends. There wasn't much to be found on the Internet about the market when I tried researching it before my outing. To my surprise, it is the oldest continuously operating fish market in the U.S. (since 1805!). I really wonder what it was like back in the old days. It would be neat if I could dig up some old black and white photos or newspaper clippings on the early days of this market. I kind of liked the fact that there isn't a ton of marketing surrounding this place, which I believe remains one of DC's few "hidden gems". I asked around and hardly any of my friends, almost all of which are local or native to the area, had heard of this place.

As I had suspected, the market was bustling by the time I arrived (though not nearly as crowded as a weekend morning at Eastern Market thank god). I had read and been told by the vendors that weekends were prime for the best selections. Most of the shoppers looked like they knew what they were doing; the market definitely draws its fair share of regulars in addition to the eager newbies such as myself.

As we perused the various stalls and icy crates, we were handed free steamed Maryland blue crabs to munch on as we walked. I think it had something to do with being of the fairer sex?





The market is small (it is basically everything you see in that first top picture), but the selection of seafood was impressive for its size. They had everything from blue crabs and snow crabs to oysters, swordfish, clams, octopus, shark, catfish, flounder and crawdaddies. The only true drawback I saw about this place is that much of the seafood was not in fact local. Some of the items traveled from as far away as Indonesia to get to DC. 


No seafood marketplace in this area is complete though without the local delicacies of Maryland blue crab and Chesapeake Bay oysters, of which the market had plenty. When I return the next time, I will be sure to buy a bushel of crabs to devour. Because eating just that one I got for free was just the most dreadful tease.











At the end of the tour, I ordered a crab cake sandwich. Though smaller than I had expected, it was perfectly moist and meat-filled. I detest when the crab cake depends on breading to make up the majority of its bulk. All it was missing was some Old Bay, either in the classic spice form or in Flying Dog beer form!











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