Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Poor Man's Lobster (The Original)

What is Poor Man's Lobster? Is it one thing, or is it just a term used to describe dozens if not hundreds of fish. I was at work the other night taking care of an old vet and we got on the topic of fishing. He told me that they used to catch Northern Pike and then fillet them leaving the y-bones in. They would then soak the fillets for three days in vinegar to soften the bones. After that they would rinse the meat and then boil it in sugar water and serve it with drawn butter. He then called it "Poor Mans  lobster". I have heard so many people tell similar stories to that. I would be willing to bet that everywhere you go you will find a different version of "Poor Man's Lobster" and they all claim that by cooking some usually less than desirable fish in some ridiculous manner it tastes just like lobster.

I started thinking about this "poor man's Lobster". Do any of them actually taste like lobster? How many different versions are there? I went on a couple of Facebook forums and asked what everyone considered "poor man's lobster". I got a hundred responses from Gar boiled in 7-UP to Black fish Poached with lemon and served with butter. I decided that I was going to try them all, or at least as many as I can.

I decided I would start with the original poor man's lobster, Lobster. In the early days of the colonies Lobsters were considered garbage food. Up until the later 1800's lobsters were so plentiful and undesirable that they were fed to prisoners and livestock. It wasn't until that late 1800's that people further in from the coast were traveling out to the coast and finding lobsters and eating them. They realized how good they were and started transporting them into the bigger cities where they were sold for a premium. Today of course lobster is regarded as a delicacy.

I am going to try and make this a regular post and try as many different types of "poor man's lobster" as I can find. If you read this and have a recipe that I should try please send it to me and I will post it on here. I will try to make at least one recipe per month. Since most recipes for "poor man's lobster involve dipping it in butter I am going to make every version two ways. The first will be with butter and the second will be made into one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. The lobster roll.

My Lobster Roll

1 cup chopped lobster meat
1 large spoonful of mayonnaise more or less depending on how much you like mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 stalk of celery finely chopped
1 green onion thinly sliced
1/4 tsp Old Bay Seasoning.

Mix all ingredients together and serve on a toasted hot dog bun or Brioche roll.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Miso Glazed Salmon Skewers

Well my latest trip over to Lake Michigan was much more successful than my last one. I even got to experience sea sickness for the first time in my life. Our first day out the wind was howling and the lake was rolling out 5-6 foot waves. I don't usually get sea sick and truthfully was doing just fine for the first couple of hours and then went below to use the bathroom and something about being in that tiny little closet of a bathroom and the motion was more than I could take. I broke out in a sweat and just couldn't shake the nausea after that. I held it together the best I could for the remainder of the day but it was everything I could do not to start chumming the waters. We only got three fish that first day and we had to work for the three we got.

The second day out was much calmer and we started getting fish shortly after they set out the lines. I can't say the action was non-stop but we did have a fish or a strike about every 20 minutes through out the day. We ended the second day with 11 fish and a total of 14 for the 2 days. When I got home I weighed it all out and packaged it and we brought home 46 pounds of fillets.

The first thing I wanted to do was make some type of salmon skewer. I wanted to try some type of miso on them and found a great Miso and honey glaze to brush on the salmon as it grills. This salmon from Lake Michigan is some of the cleanest tasting salmon I have ever had and the glaze adds a sweet and salty touch that is hard to beat.

Miso Glazed Salmon Skewers

1 lbs. salmon fillets (cut into 1 inch wide strips)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp grated lemon grass

Combine the oil, soy sauce, ginger and lemon grass and then pour it over the salmon strip and marinade for 30 minutes prior to grilling.

For the glaze

3 tablespoons Red Miso Paste
2 tablespoons Mirin
2 tablespoons cooking rice wine
2 tablespoons honey
1 clove of garlic minced

Stir the ingredients for the glaze together until well combined.

grill the salmon skewers on a hot grill for 2 minutes on each side. After you turn the skewers the first time brush with the glaze and grill for a couple more minutes on each side for a total of four minutes per side. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fishing With the Kids

Sometimes I forget about the simple things. When I was a kid I would fish off of my grandparents dock usually under the boat lift and catch perch, rock bass and sunfish. I would go through 3-4 dozen worms a day and when I ran out of worms I would have to go up into the woods and dig for more worms or get creative and find something else that would work. Many times I would resort to using bit of hotdog or a piece of bacon. The great thing about those panfish is that they would bite on just about anything. 

Some of my favorite fishing memories are from fishing off a dock and catching a stringer full of pan fish. I remember one day when I was about 10, my cousin Tony and I went from dock to dock along the shoreline and caught probably 30 fish. It was a mixed stringer of perch, rock bass, sunnies and if I remember correctly there was a northern and a walleye mixed in there as well. Another time I was staying at a resort with all my family and my mom's husband, my brother in law Flip and myself caught a stringer of perch and rock bass that was enough to feed 15 people.

Sometimes I think we forget the pure joy of just catching fish and we get hung up on catching walleye's or northern's. I like catching big Northern's just as much if not more than the next guy and I will never turn down an 18 inch walleye but putting pride aside and just going out with my kids to catch sunnies or perch or rock bass  is one of the most rewarding experiences I can have. 

Last week my daughter asked if we could go fishing and my first thought was, we don't have time. I was thinking about getting the boat out and packing a lunch and being out all day. Then it occurred to me that I don't have to do any of that. All she wanted was to go catch a fish. And that could be done at any number of fishing docks within ten minutes of my house. I grabbed the fishing poles and a couple dozen worms and took my kids fishing. Nothing fancy just a small hook and some split shot set under an orange bobber. We weren't there 2 minutes and Eleanor had already caught a small sunny. You'll notice in the picture at the top the small sunny brought a smile and joy to her face. Shortly after that she caught a much bigger sunfish and it brought the same joy only it brought some panic along with it. the bigger fish was harder to real in and was much more difficult to hold up for the picture. 

She asked if we could keep the bigger one and I threw it in the cooler on ice. She kept asking me if I was proud of her for catching such a big fish. I kept telling her that I am always proud of her. We kept fishing until we ran out of worms and both Ellie and Charlie caught a lot of fish. Charlie lost interest and wanted to race his truck on the shore but Ellie wanted to catch more fish. When we ran out of worms Ellie had caught probably 30 fish and 5 of them were big sunnies that we kept.

I cleaned those sunnies and fried them up with some tartar sauce for dinner that night. Eleanor realized during dinner that night that she caught all of the fish we were eating and that she was in fact responsible for feeding our family that night. She kept asking me if I was proud of her and I kept telling her that I am always proud of her. But when she realized that we were eating all the fish that she had caught, she was proud of herself. Ever since that day last week she has been asking to go fishing again. I need to remember that it doesn't have to be an all day outing and that some of the greatest fishing memories can just be an hour at the dock.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Headcheese Bahn Mi

I have been tossing around the idea of making a Vietnamese style head cheese for a while now. I kept thinking that the flavors would go really well together and it would work great. My only problem was I didn't know what I was going to do with it after I made it. Then I was talking to a friend from work and he thought that a Vietnamese headcheese would make a great Bahn Mi. Why that thought didn't occur to me I don't know but when he said it, it made perfect sense.

About that exact time my brother in-law sent me a picture of a pig he was going to roast and I noticed it was missing its head. I asked him where the head was and he said that he was going to throw it out. I asked him to keep it in his freezer for me and I would come get it. The head was skinned and from a smaller pig so it was perfect for making headcheese. I always keep a couple of pigs feet in the freezer for situations like this. (you never know when you are going to need to make a headcheese)

The next step was figuring out spices and how I wanted to flavor this headcheese. I pulled out the flavor bible and looked under Vietnam and there was a whole list of spices and seasoning to use. I wanted it to have a bit of heat and I also wanted it to have a freshness to it as well. I simmered the head with all the spices but held off adding the chili's and cilantro until after the head was cooked. Adding them to the meat and reduced stock so they would maintain all of their flavor.

With some quick pickled daikon and carrots and a dab of sriracha mayo this headcheese Bahn Mi was perfect. 

Vietnamese Headcheese

1 small skinned pigs head
2 pigs feet, split
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons dark soy
1/2 cup dried oyster mushrooms
8 pods of star anise
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 large knob of ginger
2 stalks of lemon grass
2 shallots, sliced
1 head of garlic
3-4 Thai chili's
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1. place the head and feet in a large stock pot and cover with water by one inch.
2. add the rest of the ingredients minus the chili's and cilantro .
3. bring the water to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer, simmer for about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.
4. remove the head and feet from the stock and allow to cool. Remove all the anise, ginger, lemon grass and garlic, reserve all the cooking liquid and return it to the stock pot and reduce it down to about 2 cups.
5. When the head is cooled down enough to handle pluck the meat off the head and feet and set aside.
6. When you have reduced the liquid far enough pour about a 1/2 cup of the reduced liquid over the shredded meat and mix well.
7. finely dice the chili's and cilantro and add to the meat mixture.
8. Pack the meat into a terrine dish and set in the fridge over night to set. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Green Corn Tortillas

Last year my good friend Rick Edwards grew a bunch of Oaxacan Green Dent corn with the intent of grinding it and making grits and cornmeal. I made grits and I made cornmeal and corn bread and corn bread soup and corn meal tamales and more grits. I didn't even make a dent in the 45 pounds of shelled corn he gave me and my freezer is still packed with 2 pound bags of green corn kernels. I thought about making tortillas but the word Nixtamalization kept me from trying. 

Nixtamalization is a big word, a scary word and it intimidated me into thinking that I didn't want to try it. As it turns out Nixtamalization is harder to pronounce than it is to perform. The Nixtamal process is a way to process corn kernels to remove the outer shell of the corn and make Masa. Masa is the wet dough made from corn that is used to make tamales and tortillas. the process is ridiculously simple and not at all as intimidating as I thought it would be. Basically you soak the dried corn in an alkaline solution either wood ash or calcium hydroxide (lime). I used the lime as it was easier to get, a 1 pound bag cost about $2.50 and can be found in most stores with the canning supplies. 

For a 2 pound batch of dried corn you need to dissolve 1/4 cup of calcium hydroxide in 3 quarts of water. Then you add the corn and put it on the stove and bring it to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. I let mine sit in the fridge over night and the next morning I rinsed the corn in a colander and then put it back in the stock pot and filled it with cold water. using my hands I rubbed the corn for about 5 minutes and then rinsed it in the colander again. I repeated that process 7 or 8 times until all the little parts of skin were gone and the water I poured onto the corn was clear. That is pretty much it, at that point you basically have hominy and if you put the corn into a pot with water and salt and cook it for 30 minutes it puffs up slightly and is delicious and sweet.

If you want to continue the process and make Masa then you will need to grind the nixtamalized corn. This is where I had a problem. I have a mill for grinding corn but my mill only grinds dry corn and you need a special mill to grind the wet corn. I read everything I could and it seemed like I was shit out of luck until I read about using a food processor. It is possible to grind the wet corn in a food processor but apparently it doesn't do as good of a job as a masa mill. The first batch of corn I ground I kind of messed up because I added to much water to the processor. and the masa was to wet to form into balls so I had to add corn to dry it out a little and in doing that it didn't grind the kernels as fine as I wanted. On the second batch I ground the corn really well before adding any water and then slowly added water until the dough formed a ball in the food processor. This seemed to work really well and I ended up with a perfect masa that was all ready for making tortillas. I added a generous pinch of salt to the dough as I was processing it. 

To make the tortillas you just take a chunk of masa and roll it into a ball about the size of  a golf ball. Place the masa between two pieces of saran wrap and then press it flat. They sell tortilla presses and if you are going to be making a lot of tortillas I can see how they would be handy but they aren't mandatory. I made a dozen tortillas in about 10 minutes just using a book to press down on top of the ball of dough to flatten it. You could use a rolling pin as well. once the dough is flat all you have to do is cook the tortillas in a very lightly oiled pan for about 30 seconds on each side over medium high heat. 

The end result was hands down the best corn tortilla I have ever had. It was the perfect texture and the sweet nuttiness of the corn really stood out. I will most definitely be making a lot of tortillas in the future. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Northern Pike Quenelles In a Crayfish Cream Sauce

 There are very few fish that I enjoy catching as much as the Northern Pike. With every cast you never know what you rare going to get. You might get a strike as soon as the lure hits the water or you might get it right next to the boat. They attack with such speed and ferocity that you are never really ready for it. When I was kid at my Grandparents cabin on Leech Lake my grandmother would tell me to go down on the dock and practise my casting. I would take my old Diawa rod and reel and tie on an old school Red Devil spoon and cast it over and over off the dock. More of ten that not I would catch a Pike and then the fight was on. 

Here in Minnesota Walleye's are the king and it seems that people have forgotten how great catching Northerns can be. A lot of walleye fisherman will catch Pike while fishing walleyes and then throw them back. They claim that they are to bony or to fishy, or to slimy. Yes it is true that Northerns have an odd set of Y bones that make them more difficult to clean. But other than that they are just as good table fare as any other fish I have ever caught. 

The Y bones aren't a lot of fun to work around but there are a number of fillet techniques that help get rid of them. The five fillet method is one that I use regularly and it is pretty easy to learn and master. You can also prepare pike in many different ways that help eliminate the bones. Pickling pike is a great method of softening the bones so that you won't even know they are there. The French make Quenelles with is a dumpling of sorts where the grind the fish and press it through a tamis to help sift out the bones then mix the ground meat with a paste to make the quenelle. The large dumplings are then poached in salted water, drained and then baked in a cream sauce with Parmesan cheese. I have been wanting to make these quenelles for a long time but frankly I was intimidated by them and never tried. I really had nothing to be intimidated by French Pike Quenelles were not nearly as difficult as I had imagined they would be and after biting into the first quenelle I realized it would have been worth it even if it was as difficult as I had imagined.

This recipe is from Master the Art of French Cooking By Julia Child, it the book she states that even if you mess this up you can still use the batter by pouring it into souflee molds and making them to make Fish Mouse. A good Stand Mixer with a pastry attachment is needed. 

Quenelle De Lyon 

1 cup of water
1 tsp salt 
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup sifted flour
2 whole eggs plus two egg whites
1 1/4 pound ground northern pike
a generous pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
4 tablespoons of heavy cream

Bring the water, slat and butter to a boil and then add the flour. Stirring quickly until the flour absorbs all the water and butter and you end up with a ball of dough. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer with the pastry attachment and turn on to medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time and the egg whites. Add the fish, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue to mix until well combined. place the bowl and the mixture in the fridge to cool for about an hour. Place the bowl back on the mixer and then slowly add the heavy cream an ounce at a time to combine. When the cream is completely absorrbed into the paste you are ready to make the quenelle. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer being careful to not let it boil. using two large dessert spoons form the quenelle and drop the into the water. Quenelle is the shape and is used to describe the technique of making the shape out anything. the link shows how to make quenelle with ice cream but you will be using the fish paste. Once the quenelle are formed let them sit in the simmering water for for fifteen minutes then remove them and transfer them to a baking dish. 

For the sauce

1 quart crayfish stock (or other fish stock, chicken stock would work as well)
1 cup heavy cream

Place the stock in a sauce pan and reduce it down to about 1 cup then add the cream and bring to a light boil until it starts to thicken. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the quenelle in the baking dish and top with parmesan cheese. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and a light brown crust has formed on top.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ramp Salt

Ramps are hands down my favorite of all wild foragables. The power packed combination of garlic and onion gets me crazy excited to get out into the woods looking for them. Year after year I pick them and then try different methods to preserve them so I can use them all through out the year. In the past I have pickled them and made pesto's and Chimichurri and all of those are wonderful but I am always looking to find new ways to use them.

This year I had about a half pound left over after making my Chimichurri. A half pound isn't quite enough to do anything with so I was going to grill them and eat them. Then it occurred to me that maybe I should throw them in the dehydrator over night and see how the dry. They dried really well and looked awesome but then as soon as you touch them they started breaking apart. They were very brittle and wouldn't have held up very well so I tossed them in the food processor and pulsed them into a powder.

Initially I was thinking that I could take the powder and add it to pasta and make some kind of ramp pasta. The only problem was that the ramp powder only added up to about 1/4 cup. Then it hit me, I could just add the ramp powder to salt and make a ramp salt to use through out the year. The very first thing I had to do was use it on a venison steak and it was perfect. I am going to try grilling some northern pike in the next couple of weeks and want to season those pike with ramp salt.

Ramp Salt

1/4 cup died ramp powder
1 cup kosher salt

Mix thoroughly and enjoy.