Posts Tagged ‘seafood’



February 17, 2011

I have never been to Malaysia. But as the five senses can help recall a strong memory, they can also conjure a fantasy. That is why this dish and all of its toasty coconut, hint of sweet spicy-ness and the way texture of the shrimp pops in your mouth, makes me feel like I am on a beach in deepest Malaysia… eating this creation from a piece of foil with my buttery fingers, leaving a pile of shrimp shells at my feet. Can you hear the waves lapping?

In reality, midwinter Brooklyn, UPS truck grumbling by, this dish is plain tasty. It entails a two-step cooking process that is maybe a little decadent but I think we deserve it. First, shell-on shrimp is fried in oil. This gives the shrimp a bright color and firm bite without drying it out. After making Butter Shrimp several times with students, we realized that for maximum flavor potential, it is nice to then peel the fried shrimp so it gets really doused in the butter sauce that forms in the final steps. And anyway most people prefer not to peel-and-eat, they just want to hurry up and eat. Do what you wish. In keeping with my Malaysian daydream, the shell stays on, but never mind.


(serves 2-4)

1 lb. jumbo/large shrimp, heads removed
2 cups canola oil, for deep frying
3 tablespoons butter
3-4 small red chilis, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or sherry
1/2 cup grated coconut, toasted

  • Prep the shrimp by making a slit down the back to de-vein. Pat dry.
  • Heat the canola oil in a skillet with high sides or wok. To test that the oil is hot enough, drop a tiny piece of butter into it. If the butter bubbles and sizzles, it’s ready to use.
  • Deep fry the prawns in the oil, do not crowd the pan, until pink and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
  • When cool enough to handle remove shells from shrimp, leaving just the tails, if desired.
  • In a clean skillet, melt the butter. Add chilis, scallions, garlic, salt and fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant.
  • Add shrimp to the skillet with sugar, soy sauce, wine, and coconut. Cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes until heated through, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.

The law of least effort. (DASHI)

January 30, 2011

As in Western cooking, many Asian dishes begin with a type of flavorful stock. One of the most basic is a Japanese stock called dashi.  Like many other culinary conveniences, dashi can also be purchased in a dehydrated form, a bouillon cube, powder or concentrate, but to use it in this way is to forfeit its many health-supportive characteristics. And there is no excuse for that given the simplicity of its preparation. Homemade dashi consists of three ingredients: kombu, bonito flakes and water. That’s it! Of course there are endless things that can be added to the stock to make it more elaborate; dried mushrooms, chilies, ginger, garlic, miso and so on. But, basics first.

Kombu is a type of sea vegetable similar to kelp. It is the backbone of dashi and, like many varieties of seaweed, it is high in iodine, potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C and low in calories. Stored as a dried ingredient it has an indefinite shelf life and can be incorporated into any pot of boiling liquid to release its mineral value. It is also useful placed into a pot with cooking beans because it contains enzymes that help to break down the sugars that infamously cause gas and bloating. After it rehydrates, growing in sea monkey proportions, it can be sliced and added to your preparation. Texturally, it is not the most appealing of all sea vegetables, so if this is already more seaweed than you can handle, it can be strained out and discarded… only you will know.

Bonito, as labeled in Asian cultures, is a type of small tuna. Bonito flake is smoked and dried, then shaved into thin pieces. (Not to be confused with bonito from the Atlantic which is a relative of mackerel.) Another dry ingredient, bonito flakes also have an indefinite shelf life but during the winter when soups are king, you may find yourself purchasing bags of it at the Japanese market* more often than usual.

To make dashi, kombu is boiled in water (1-2 inches of kombu for every 2 cups of water) for 15 minutes. One-half cup of bonito flakes are added to the kombu-water mixture after it is taken off the heat. When the flakes sink to the bottom of the pot, the stock is ready to be strained and used. Vegetarian dashi simply leaves out the bonito, a minimalist creation.

Stock in every culture is just a starting point, taste-wise it is nothing much to speak of until enhanced by other ingredients. A quick and easy way to flavor the dashi is with miso, a paste made from soybeans that have been fermented with a grain, usually rice or barley. Miso can range in flavor from rich and savory (dark) to sweet and mellow (light). It lasts a year or more when stored airtight in the fridge and has immense nutritive value. By adding two tablespoons or so to your freshly made dashi, it will put to shame any powdered instant miso packet you might have had otherwise.

Miso paste should be whisked into the strained dashi just before you are serving. Boiling miso will kill its beneficial enzymes so, if reheating is necessary, do not bring to a full boil. Adding some chopped scallion, wakame (seaweed) and tofu cubes will give you the well-known Japanese restaurant starter but the addition of creative ingredients on the part of you, the chef, like noodles, meat, fish or veggies can turn this simple building block into satisfying meal.

* Japanese Markets in NYC:

Sunrise MartM2MKatagiri

Oftentimes Korean markets will carry above-mentioned items as well as Whole Foods.



June 3, 2010

I am an oyster lover. No discrimination takes place in this relationship, I love all kinds, from all regions and as proof of my love, I would never dream of gulping. I chew, savor, swallow, repeat. My first oyster experience was in Louisiana (and every day I say some prayers for that piece of the country) where I got my fill during a 25-cent oyster happy hour. Best! Happy! Hour! Ever! Nowadays at $2-3 a piece, it is incredible how times have changed! And I’m not even that old. I can’t imagine what the prices will be like 10 years from now, especially if we continue to treat our planet like it’s a sewer. Digression.

The Louisiana style of dolling up a raw oyster is to shuck, slide it onto a saltine and douse with lemon and Tabasco. I was in heaven. They went down pretty quick and easy, voracious oyster novice that I was. Though the memory is a little blurry, I remember throwing down a couple of five dollar bills at a time, now that’s good eating. As for the drinking, I think beers were 3 for 1. Ahhh. New Orleans…

As I learned from that first foray, beer goes great with oysters.  A bit of bubbly, a pale wine or a drop of fancy sherry are not uncommon accompaniments either. A chilly glass of vodka certainly has its place next to the ice platter (especially at the banya) and you can stick an oyster in my Bloody Mary anytime. But recently, and for the first time, I found myself holding a faithful glass of Jameson when a platterful of oysters arrived in front of me. Laughing at a happenstance pairing, I shut up when I realized the whiskey actually had alot to offer the experience. The smooth alcohol kick did nicely to balance the richness of the oysters, and I didn’t miss the carbonation of a beer or sparkling wine, which I realized I might not love with my oysters. A fairly basic whiskey such as Jameson didn’t really linger on the tongue. Instead it sharply cleansed and reset the palate for the next variety, as we had different kinds of oysters from both coasts. Also the deeper notes of a brown liquor; hint of sweetness, touch of caramel, a little burnt spice, really enhanced the oysters’ mellow brine as it simultaneously did its real job of getting me drunk.

While thinking under the influence, I guessed that a whiskey with some more peat might really be interesting because oysters are also delicious smoked. But instead of using it for a pairing where it might overwhelm, I thought to use it as an ingredient and where better than in my favorite oyster condiment, mignonette. Mignonette is a very basic little maceration of shallots and vinegar  just waiting for cooks to do creative things to it like add champagne or chiles or fish sauce…or whatever catches their fancy. I was the cook who added a bunch of booze. I used a combination of a super peaty scotch and a milder one in hopes that the smokiness would be a subtle player and not overpower the sauce or the oyster. It turned out a nice surprise on both raw and grilled oysters. The longer the mignonette sat, the better it tasted because the shallots had more time to spread their joy. I was pleased that the concoction remained quite true to a classic mignonette and turned out just subtle tweak to a tradition and not a complete overhaul.


1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

2 large shallots, finely chopped

2-3 Thai chiles, sliced in half lengthwise

1/4 cup mild scotch (like Glenlivet)

1/3 cup peaty, single malt scotch (like Laphroaig)

1/2 teaspoon salt

  • In a glass jar or lidded container, shake all ingredients together. Check for balance/seasoning and adjust as needed.
  • Let stand at least one hour before using. Serve with oysters on the half shell.

Dear Sandoony,

November 24, 2009

1158 McDonald Ave, Brooklyn

First of all, thanks so much for always hosting a great party. We think you are the best banya deal in town and we totally appreciate the long tables reserved for us, the sweet little group discounts and the fresh towels always stocked! Is there a keener way to celebrate with a pile of friends than a leisurely sauna and soak, a recline on the balcony (skin steaming in the chilled air), an awesome snack? And then do it all over again!

To make the most of this experience, it’s mandatory to observe the regulars. They come prepared with snacks, beverages, flip flops, hair masks, etc. The spa-goers claim a spot, set up shop and spend a day lounging. In and out of hot rooms and pools, snapping each other with leafy branches (platza). They read and play cards, eat a few meals with plenty of fine drinks, beer and vodka among the favorites.

Though guests may bring their own, it is the amazing quality of the food in the banya’s restaurant that is such a fantastic surprise. With well-priced house specialties like smoked salmon, borscht, pickled vegetables (including chayote and lettuce), whole prawns, and garlicy potatoes, we are transformed from a group of temporarily de-stressed and exfoliated New Yorkers into a hearty, red-nosed, robe-clad clan of Eastern blockers. The menu is extensive, everyone eats, and it doesn’t take long to get used to the idea of dining in a tiled room alongside a pool in a bathing suit. In fact, relaxed comfort might make the food taste that much better.

Though it is not fancy, everything is served with great pride and flourish. Food shaped into flowers (Sandoony is the only place this is acceptable), served with extra lemon, bright herbs, two kinds of bread and heaps of butter. The fish is perfectly cured and the soups restorative, each plate a meal in itself. Even an order of tea is accompanied by lemon, honey, sugar, milk and these fabulously sweet sour cherries. It is honest, well-done and downright delicious. No one bats an eye when a bunch of girls eat cupcakes and sip vodka. They just want to know whose birthday it is…

It’s kind of a steamy dream. Thank you.



Photos by Jean Naté.


The old man + the snack. (SARDINES + PICKLES)

September 16, 2009


In the last several years I have found myself thoroughly enjoying sardines as a snack here and there. I believe it began back in ’04, when I first grilled fresh sardines in a restaurant. Seeing as how delicious they were just slightly charred wearing nothing but some salt and lemon, I decided that they couldn’t be so bad from a can. Then began what I refer to as my ‘old man snack’; canned sardines on a cracker, with a hard boiled egg, with hot sauce, in a pita with mustard and greens, etc. It may be reminiscent of someone’s hobo-grandad, but the truth is, there are many excellent boutique companies that are canning very good quality sardines/fish as we speak. In some supermarkets, the section of canned fish is extensive, tins hailing from all parts of the world. The brand I have been gravitating toward is Cole’s, a Portuguese sustainable foods company that catches with care and packs the firm, flaky fish in olive oil or all-natural sauce concoctions of their own.

Perhaps the age-old, almost folkloric, popularity of canned sardines stems from the fact that they are just one of those extremely convenient foods. I know that preserving fish helped people travel and conquer and stuff like that further afield than they otherwise could have. Or it could be because they complement one’s diet with omega 3’s, calcium, iron, vitamins D + B12, phosphorous, potassium and protein and the wise ones have always known this. Today, sardines are enjoying a renaissance. Since the small catch (sardines, trout and mackerel) don’t harbor toxins like bigger tuna and salmon, benefits can be had without as much worry of side effects. Peel open a can and you will see that weird old sardines play very nicely with other ingredients that might be hanging around in your fridge or pantry. My favorite way to eat this superfood snack is on a whole grain flatbread piled with a chunk of pickle or two. Bold flavors and textures get together just right. If you are close enough to heaven to be eating McClure’s Spicy Spears, chop up some of that red chili pepper and pop it on top. Old meets new.