One of the great things about my spouse is that he came with a wonderful family attached. We gathered in Outer Banks for a week long reunion. Sharing a house on the beach, nineteen of us spent our days walking on the beach, spending time admiring the newest family member only two months old, laughing and of course, eating together.
The Kiddo was in heaven. Not just for the beach and playing outdoors all day long, but the amount of family all around her — including a baby to help care for. It makes you understand why the multi-generational households of the past were a good thing in many, many ways.
The stay at the house was a gift from the older generation. Our gift in return was to try and prepare them some really good meals. Not like we needed much incentive to cook. Fresh, local seafood and a kitchen looking out onto the water were calling me. The late winter, "nothing local to cook" funk vanished somewhere along the way to the beach. I think it was the moment we drove past a farm stand in the same parking lot as the fish market. Definitely right that moment.
I have to admit, I did not cook the first couple nights. We got in too late the first day, and the second, I spent just unwinding from some long months at work. My husband's cousin had crab cakes on the menu plan. And cheese grits. The third night was "Cioppino Night." My spouse helped me with prep, then grilled up tenderloin and a couple bunches of asparagus — the only local produce this early in the season. My job was on the stove with the fish. For those not from the SF area, cioppino is sort of a seafood stew in a tomato broth, with a tiny bit of kick to it. My version contains local crab, scallops, snapper and clams.
Cioppino, East Coast Version
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 1/2 cup red wine
48 oz. of chopped tomatoes
1 cup clam juice
1 cup low salt chicken broth
1 lb. lump crab meat, picked through (check for best varieties)
1 lb. crab claws
12 clams, scrubbed
1-1/2 lb. skinless snapper
1 lb. scallops
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Heat olive oil in large stock pot. Sweat the onions, garlic, peppers, spices for five minutes. Add bay leaves. Add the tomato paste and saute for a couple minutes. Deglaze with red wine. Boil to reduce the wine for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, clam juice and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 30-40 minutes.
Scrub the seafood, cut the fish into 1-inch chunks. Add the crab claws and clams first. Cook for about seven minutes, up to 10 minutes. Remove the clams, discarding any that did not open in the cooking process. Add the fish and scallops, cook for five more minutes. Add the lump crab meat and cook for about five more minutes. Stir in the fresh herbs.
Serves about 14-16 if no one gets seconds.
The next night, the guys were all ready to try their hand at southern-style pulled pork. Which was amazing. Very different from my KC hometown "ribs and sauce." The 5 lb. pork butt got rubbed (hmmm, bet "butt" and "rub" get some interesting search results) with garlic, paprika, sea salt and pepper. Then, smoked for six hours, low and slow. My spouse does the grilling and smoking. I prepared the "vinegar" sauce. Which was not bad for a rookie Midwesterner. But, then, the pork was so good, I think you could put dirt on it and it would still be fantastic.
Pulled Pork Sauce
1 onion, diced
1 tbs. canola oil
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 tbs. paprika
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. mustard (yellow)
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a sauce pan. Saute the onion until golden. Add the remaining ingredients, whisking as you go. Bring to a boil. Set aside to allow the flavor to marry. If making ahead, refrigerate. Toss the sauce with the smoked, pulled pork. Makes 5 lbs. of pork. Enough to feed a small army.
After the massive seafood feed the day before. I stuck with seafood appetizers for this night. This dish was the overall favorite of the trip, which says a lot. I loved it. You can make this with either scallops or shucked oysters.
Sauteed Scallops or Oysters with Cilantro Chimichurri
2 bunches cilantro
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
2 tbs. vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil
4 bunch green onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. very coarse sea salt
1 lb. oysters, shucked, or
1 lb. scallops
2 tbs. butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 oz. parmesan
Chop the herbs, garlic and the green onions, using all of the green parts of the onions. Add the red pepper flakes, sea salt and mix. Whisk in the vinegar and oil. It will be course, not a blended sauce. Set this aside to allow the flavors to marry while you prepare the toast and seafood.
Heat the oven to lo broil, 450 degrees. Place slices of baguette on baking sheets. Drizzle with the olive oil. Place under broiler for about 7-10 minutes, or until just golden and crisp. Place on platter.
Heat the butter in a skillet on medium-high. Add the scallops or oysters. Be sure to drain and pat dry the seafood. Otherwise, the extra moisture will cause the seafood to "simmer" not saute and get browned. Saute for about 5-8 minutes depending on the size, turning once during cooking. Be sure the seafood is cooked through, opaque, but not overcooked.
Complete the platter with the toasts on the edge, seafood in the center of the platter, tossing some with the herb topping. Extra herb topping can go around the sides. Shave parmesan over the top. Serves 8-10 as an appetizer.
I have to admit, I have a great fondness for crab. Which makes me glad it's one of the more sustainable and safe seafoods. I had this idea for a crab quiche that I wanted to try. Yet, being on vacation, I lacked any motivation at all to make the crust. That's like an hour I would have to miss the beach. I opted for a crab frittata instead. And more time playing in the waves.
Crab and Goat Cheese Frittata
6 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1 lb. lump or backfin crab meat, picked through
2 tbs. fresh tarragon, chopped
2 tbs. parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs. butter
3 tbs. grated parmesan
Heat the oven to lo broil, 450 degrees.
Blend the first six ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Heat the butter in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat. A well-seasoned cast iron one is your best bet here. Swirl the butter to coat the edges. Add the egg and crab mixture. Cook gently, stirring just a bit until the mixture is set.
Sprinkle the top with the parmesan. Remove the pan from the stove and place under the broiler in the oven. Broil for about 10 minutes until the top starts to turn golden and the frittata looks puffed. Makes about 10 wedges.
The last night I cooked, the dinner entree had already been set. But I didn't want to let my last chance to prepare seafood that fresh go by. So, I volunteered to do the soup course. I had been reading a local cookbook with a lot of versions of seafood bisque in it. Some of the recipes were basically just heavy cream and some seafood. I like to taste the seafood, especially when it is that fresh. I took a shot at my own version of Crab Bisque.
4 tbs. butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, well rinsed and chopped
2 carrots, diced very fine
2 stalks celery, diced very fine
1 tbs. paprika
1 tbs. Lemon Herb Old Bay seasoning
4 tbs. flour
1 qt. clam juice
1 1/2 tsp. tabasco
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 pint half and half
1 cup low fat milk, optional
1 lb. lump crab meat, picked through
2 oz. sherry
1 tbs. fresh tarragon or Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrot and celery and sweat the vegetables for about 10-15 minutes until tender and the leeks are transluscent.
Add the paprika and Old Bay seasoning, and mix. Add the flour, whisking the mixture to a paste. Cook for a few minutes, about five, until the flour smells nutty and not raw. Add the clam juice and stir as it thickens.
Add the tabasco, sherry and Worcestershire. Stir. Add the half and half, stirring. Add the milk if the mixture is too thick for your taste. Heat to a simmer. Add the crab meat and heat to a simmer again. Blend in the tarragon. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 8-10 "starter" portions.
So, now we are back. I can't think of a lot of reasons why we came back. I guess the cat was happy to see us. Glad the fuzzy bugger is happy, that makes one of us. I am still trying to adjust to wearing shoes. Much less hair dryers and traffic. And work.
What to serve on the side? Try this light, spring salad as a perfect match: