Archive for October, 2014

The Most Important Food Blog You Could Read

Monday, October 6th, 2014

 

a green crab

 

The good news here is that for pennies we have an almost infinite local source for making crab risotto, etouffee, gumbo, soupe de poisson, cioppino, and bouilliabaisse, any number of wonderful fish dishes made especially delicious with local crab stock at a cost of almost nothing.

More good news: the crab risotto you serve your family does the ocean a world of good.

The bad news is that the source of all this goodness – green crabs, Carcinus maenas – are an invasive species that threaten – possibly on one hand’s number of years – to destroy shellfish beds from Cape Ann to Canada. No more white cardboard boxes brimming with fried clams. No more plump steamers bathed in butter. No more wild mussels shining in white wine, parsley, and garlic.

Carcinus maenas, native to central Norway, the Baltic Sea, and a small part of Iceland, arrived here most likely as ship ballast as early as 1810. DNA tracing reveals subsequent invasions, maybe as ship ballast, or nestled into seaweed used for packing, or shipped aquaculture. The green crab now makes appearances around the world. They own the Eastern seaboard as far south as South Carolina and as far north as Nova Scotia. They have infiltrated the Pacific coast from Baja, California to Alaska, and far as Australia, earning the dubious accolade as one of the hundred most invasive species in the world.

At a green crab summit last year in Orono, Maine, Dr. Brian Beal, professor of Marine Biology at the University of Maine at Machias, declared there would be no shipment of Maine clam stock for 2015, as green crabs had that much compromised Maine’s soft shell clam beds. Our local Massachusetts market depends on Maine shipments, as there are not enough soft shell clams dug here to supply the appetite for fried clams, clam fritters, and steamers.

One green crab can eat forty half-inch clams a day, or thirty small oysters. A half-acre wild mussel bed in Plum Island Sound, that locals considered an easy visit for a bushel of mussels, is gone, according to Rowley Shellfish Constable Jack Grundstrom. Green crabs also destroy native eel grass, a critical nursery for marine life, by burrowing into the mud, thus shredding the grasses at their base. Grundstrom actually points his 83-year-old finger right at green crabs for the collapse of the entire fishing industry, as these voracious beasts are devouring the food chain at its base.

“Most of the food for the entire ecosystem comes from the North Shore’s Great Marsh, (The Great Marsh is the largest continuous stretch of salt marsh in New England, extending from Cape Ann to New Hampshire, including over 20,000 acres of marsh, barrier beach, tidal river, estuary, mudflat, and upland islands extending from Gloucester to Salisbury.) Once that food is cut off, as green crabs are doing, all of our fishing culture is destroyed.”

Dr. Beal, sites green crabs’ almost amazing tolerance for temperature and salinity fluctuations. Adult crabs can even live out of water for up to ten days at summer temperatures. On the crustacean’s awesome vitality, Beal’s green crab paper presented at the Maine summit, states, “Gregarious behavior encourages sexual encounter rates.” Green crabs reproduce like mad.

Shellfish Constable Grundstrom explained a popular theory on why the green crabs, after making trouble for centuries, are now such a critical problem.

“There had been a theory circulating for years that clams did very well after a harsh winter, believing that those hard conditions took a “skim” off the mud flats, making it easier for the clams to burrow.”

Now people believe that the clams did better after harsh winters because the green crabs didn’t, giving the clams a break for a couple of years. The current theory is, Grundstrom says, that a new strain of green crabs can withstand even lower temperatures. The new strain is crossbreeding with the old crabs, and able to survive harsher conditions.

While some fisherman trapping crabs this year actually believe there really are fewer, because of last winter’s heavy toll, most people in the industry anticipate disaster ahead, and soon.

Green crabs are currently being fished for bait. Ann Molloy from Neptune’s Harvest, the branch of Ocean Crest in Gloucester that produces fertilizer from fish products, says that currently the green crabs have too much sand in them for them to process.

“We tried, but they clogged our screens too fast. At some point if we open a crab shell drying and grinding plant here, we could take them all. We applied for a Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant for that, but we didn’t get it. We haven’t given up hope yet, and at some point we’re hoping to still move forward with that project.”

Senator Bruce Tarr recently secured $133,000 from the federal government as an emergency stop gap measure for just this year, buying back green crabs from fishermen, thus assuring someone will be catching them. But these measures aren’t enough at this point to control the population. The industry is looking for a market, a need, a great recipe for which the main ingredient is green crabs, a recipe people will want to make often.

Ideally, it would be great to have restaurants regularly making stock with these crabs; (Legal Seafood, are you listening? There’s a regular local supply of shellfish ambrosia on the docks not far from any of your restaurants.) Until then, I’m sharing my crab stock recipe, with which I went on to make crab risotto with some great locally harvested celery, onions, and peppers. This was honestly the most delicious stock I’ve made – sweet and complex, and loaded with a pleasant seafood flavor. I have 4 quarts of it in my freezer and can’t wait to cook more with it.

The risotto made with the stock received eye-rolls of praise. “This is amazing,” seemed to be the general declaration. Indeed, the risotto tasted authentically fresh and full of honest shellfish flavor, the kind of taste – with no exaggeration – I can attribute only to seafood dishes in Venice. For the record, Italians have been cooking with a relative of this crab for years; they’re considered a delicacy. We need to get these crabs into our stock pots.

If you are interested I have a source that will supply you – and even deliver them – for free.  Let me know.

 

green crab broth

 

 

 

Green Crab Stock

makes 6 quarts

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 bunches celery, with the leaves, about 1 pound, roughly chopped

1 large red onion, roughly chopped

1 small head fennel, cut into 1/2” slices

12 corn cobs (optional)

2 bay leaves

salt

1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning

approximately 3 quarts water

2 cups white wine

2 dozen green crabs

Instructions

1.  Rinse crabs well in cold water. I recommend doing this outside in a large bucket; just fill the bucket with water and throw your crabs in. Stir well, and leave them in the bucket until your stock is boiling.

2.  In a large stock pot or lobster pot heat the olive oil to medium. Add the celery, onion, and fennel. Lower heat, and cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Add the corn cobs if using, the salt, bay leaves and Old Bay and stir well, tossing the vegetables well with the seasoning. Allow to cook for 5 more minutes, or until the onions just begin to darken.

3.  Add the water and wine, and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes to integrate the flavors, particularly the corn cobs.

4.  Bring stock back to a hard boil. Bring the crabs into the kitchen, and scoop them into the boiling stock. Allow to cook at a strong simmer/low boil for 45 minutes. Let cool, and spoon out the cooked crabs and as much of the vegetables as you can. Strain the remaining cooled broth through cheesecloth. Pour into jars or plastic containers for storing or freezing.

 

green crab risotto

 

 

Green Crab Risotto

serves 6

Ingredients

6 cups green crab stock

1 T butter

1 T olive oil

1/2 red onion, chopped

3 small carrots, diced, about 4 ounces

1 small banana pepper, or 1/2 a green pepper, seeded and diced

1 small red cherry pepper, 1/2 ounce, diced (optional)

1 1/2 cups or 12 ounces Arborio rice

red pepper flakes

salt and pepper

3 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 pound crab meat (1/2 – 3/4 cup reserved for garnish if you like)

juice from 1-2 lemons or to taste

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Instructions

1.  In a medium sauce pan bring the stock to a simmer.

2.  In a large saute pan heat butter and olive oil together on medium heat. When butter is melted and bubbling, add onion, carrots and peppers. Let cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat until softened. Add rice, and stir well, cooking until the rice begins to crackle and just begin to turn lightly brown. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

3.  Ladle in 1 cup of the hot broth into the rice, and stir until it is all absorbed. Add the chopped tomato, and then ladle in another cup of stock. Stir until the stock is absorbed, and then continue to ladle in the stock, stirring each addition until it is absorbed. This usually takes 20-25 minutes.

4.  Taste the rice to make sure there is no “crunchiness” to it at all. You want it to be creamy, but not mushy. Stir in the fresh lemon juice. Serve in warm bowls garnished with the reserved crab, toasted almonds and chopped dill.

The Best Potluck Dish

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Sook's Lentils 2

 

As the apples fall from the trees so begins the potluck season – potlucks for the soccer team, the cross-country team, the PTO, the teacher appreciation luncheon, not to mention The Community House, the book club or neighborhood movie night.

Some people have their go-to macaroni and cheese, but a lot of people still fret over what to bring. A potluck contribution usually needs to feed 8- 10, must be easily transportable, and gets extra points if it’s vegetarian. Strangely the beautifully prepared vegetarian dish is often the one that the most devout carnivores return to for seconds. If it’s vegan and absolutely delicious the dish will be the talk of the night.

This lentil dish, all of the above, was a potluck dinner contribution from Sook-Bin Woo, a pathologist and Assistant Professor at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. This pile of legumes may look like something you’ve seen before, but read that list of spices in the vinaigrette. Not just the flavor superstar of the potluck evening, this salad rocks the Kasbah.

Who needs a new lentil recipe, you ask. You do, or you will learn you do after tasting this one.

Word of Woo’s culinary talents precede her. Her weighty resume, her brunette beauty, even her natural athleticism Woo’s friends acknowledge only after they’ve declared “Sook’s an amazing cook!”

When Woo brings a dish to a potluck, one pays attention. Here is her recipe, including her helpful tips.

 

Sook's Lentils 3

 

Sook’s Lentil Salad

Ingredients:

1 pound Du Puy lentils, roughly 2 cups

1 cup dried currants (you could also use raisins or other dried fruit such as cherries or sweetened cranberries, coarsely chopped)

1/2 cup capers

1 medium red onion, diced

Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon strong mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoons pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Optional add-ins: Arugula (Sook recommends this as it best balances out the sweetness of the dried fruit) Walnuts Goat cheese Fresh herbs: flat-leaf parsley, basil

Directions:

1. Rinse lentils well, drain. Place in a pot and cover with a 3-4 inches of water, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Check lentils for doneness after 15 minutes, but they should take no more than 20 minutes in total. Overcooking the lentils is the death of this dish. Be careful!

2. While the lentils are simmering, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine.

3. When the lentils are cooked, remove from heat, drain and place under cold running water to stop the cooking process (you don’t need to do this if you cook it 17-18 minutes). Place lentils in a large serving bowl and toss with dressing. Add capers and currants (or other fruit). If using other add-ins such as herbs, greens, or cheese, wait until just before serving. Otherwise, this salad keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple days.