Tag Archive: Seafood

1 in 7 fishes recommend

Garides Giouvetsi
Baked, Crumb-Crusted Palometa

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Having grown up in a household where Christmas was not celebrated, I had no tradition of particular holiday dishes associated with it. Oh, now and again I was invited to a friend’s house for a Christmas dinner, to be presented with, generally, either turkey, or what euphemistically we all agreed to call “pink chicken”, a classic cured ham, but a tacit agreement not to let my parents know I was eating pork.

As a teen I went to work in a neighbor’s Italian restaurant – our focus was pizza, with a secondary emphasis on pasta, and pretty much that’s what we made for the holidays – there weren’t even any special versions. But, as I continued my career and Italian restaurants figured strongly in the background, I learned about the “seven fishes” – which are sometimes nine or eleven or thirteen or three – but seven seemed a nice number to focus on. And as long as shellfish were included, it was always easy to come up with a septet to present at a Navidad dinner.

Now I suppose, if I’m going to give you a favourite or two for the upcoming Christmas holiday, I should have given you my best latkes and roast chicken with lemon sauce for recently passed Chanukah. But, I didn’t, mea culpa. We’ll have to move forward and focus on the fruits of the sea for this 2000 and something-th birthday celebration.

This dish actually is inspired from the Greek canon, but I’ve never heard anyone object that it didn’t seem Italian to them. Pretty much other than the choice of cheese in the dish, it could fit either cuisine.

Prawns with Feta & Spicy Tomato Sauce

100 ml olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 fresh red chilies
6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 medium bunch parsley, chopped
4 Italian frying peppers (ají vinagres), seeded and sliced
1 kg raw prawns or shrimp, peeled and deveined
250 grams feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a frying pan, add garlic, tomatoes, parsley, chilies and sweet peppers and simmer 10 minutes over low heat. Add the shrimp and simmer 10 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. How simple is that? Crumble the feta over the top and put it into a hot oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese and slightly brown it. Serves 4.

I regularly get asked about the whole “deveining” of prawns or shrimp. No, you don’t have to, but keep in mind that that black line running down the back of the critter is, to put it only semi-delicately, its poop-shoot. Your choice if that doesn’t bother you to eat it.
You might not know the pomfret, or, you might not know the pompano, different names for very closely related fish species, depending on which side of the Atlantic pond you live(d) on. Here, it’s called palometa, or often, supposedly as a marketing tactic, atún del mar del plata. It’s not a tuna, trust me.

Baked Pomfret

4 fillets pomfret/pompano
100 gm bacon, diced in small cubes and quickly cooked
12 green olives, chopped
6-8 stalks parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
100 gm breadcrumbs
1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (depending on if you like it spicy)
salt and pepper
olive oil

Place each fillet skin side down on an oiled baking sheet. Make a mixture of the other ingredients except the oil, coat each fillet with a layer, drizzle with olive oil. Broil in a very hot oven. Serves 4.

If you can find dried Italian peperoncino, which sometimes show up in the supermarkets or dieteticas here, they’re even better than the local red pepper flakes – but use a bit more sparingly, they’re much spicier – 3-4 of the little chilies will likely be plenty.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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One fine kettle of fish

Moqueca de peixe

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

From the Kimbundu language, one of two dialects of Bantu, from the country of Angola, comes the word mu’keka, meaning, more or less, a kettle of fish. Literally, not sort of hot water that one finds oneself in after getting home late from a carousing with friends. It’s a dish that some say is reminiscent of bouillabaisse, but with local African flavors.

And, many of those flavors found their way to the shores of our neighbor to the northeast – after all, Angola was also a Portuguese colony, so it’s not a surprise that, shall we say, they imported a few folk from east to west. When the Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century, they brought many traditional recipes from their culture, but not their traditional ingredients. Corn, cassava and manioc (or yuca) replaced the classic fava beans, rice and yams in various dishes.

Some of what are now the most important ingredients in Brazilian cuisine were brought from Africa by slaves, who carried with them their own culinary traditions – the dende palm and the oil of its fruit and new species of chilies like the fiery little malagueta pepper. In particular, the northeast region of Bahia makes use of many of these African ingredients and traditions.

And, one of the region’s most famous dishes is the moqueca, the word a simple re-spelling of where we started this column. At its heart it is the traditional African stew, but it brings in a touch of that Portuguese sort of fish chowder – a dish which if you think about it is a New England derivation of the Portuguese settlers to that part of the U.S., fused with a bit of British sensibility.

Now, there are probably as many recipes for moqueca as there are Bahians, and since the dish has spread from that region to nearly become a national dish, we can guess that there are millions more versions – in fact the original that I learned came from a Sao Paolo based chef. Not surprisingly here at home, we’ve spiked up the spices a bit, adding in a bit more chili and also a touch of ginger, and bit by bit changed the proportions of ingredients to fit our personal tastes. That’s just the way we roll around here.

Our Kettle of Fish – Moqueca de Peixe

1½ kg of pollack (abadejo) or other white fish, remove bones and cut in cubes
½ kg of squid, body cut in strips, tentacles separated
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 large onion, chopped
2 tomatoes with skin and seeds removed, chopped
1 red bell pepper cut in thin strips
1 green bell pepper cut in thin strips
6 pickled malagueta peppers, chopped
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small bunch of basil, chopped
250 ml of coconut milk
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons dende oil
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a wide pot (traditionally a heat proof ceramic pot), saute the onion, garlic and ginger in the oils, mixed together. Add the cubes of fish, squid, coconut milk and lemon and then scatter the remaining ingredients over the top, herbs last. Leave to cook over low heat without stirring, letting everything sort of slowly cook down until thickened, roughly 25-30 minutes. Serve over white rice cooked with bay leaf, with hot sauce on the side.

Notes on the ingredients: Dende oil is a vividly orange oil that comes from a palm tree. It has a unique aroma, one that when it first hits the heat reminds people, strangely, of a giraffe’s cage at the zoo. That dissipates rapidly and it imbues the dish not only with a lovely earthiness, but also a bright yellow-orange color. You can find it here in dieteticas and some specialty food shops, but if you don’t encounter it you can mimic the color with a teaspoon of turmeric.

Malagueta peppers are small, medium hot chilies that are found here pickled and packed in jars – your best bet is Barrio Chino, but you may find them in some gourmet food shops as well. If not, the local small pepper known as aji lino will do in a pinch.

Finally, if you’re not a fan of squid, substitute another shellfish or leave it out entirely and just add another ½ kg of fish to the pot.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Toasted ravioli

Toasted Ravioli with Mussels

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m a bit of a pasta fan. I don’t care if they’re long and thin, short and fat, straight, bent or twisted. Toss those noodles with a sauce, vegetables, meats, whatever may occur to you, and likely, I’ll eat it.

Now, if you were to ask most folk about cooking pasta, they’d tell you to boil it up, in salted water, maybe with some oil mixed in. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, this weekend, we’re not boiling our pasta. We’re baking it. Baking you say? Why yes – pasta doesn’t have to be boiled – it is after all, simply a dough made from flour and water, often with egg. And, if you stop and consider, lasagna is baked… right there, you’ve baked pasta – though, likely, you gave it a quick parboil first. No, today, we’re simply going to bake it.

This isn’t unheard of. For those of you from the U.S., particularly from, say, the “Show Me State” of Missouri, you might just be familiar with St. Louis Toasted Ravioli. Traditionally, a straightforward meat or cheese filled round of dough, dipped in egg, then in “Italian seasoned” breadcrumbs, deep-fried, tossed in grated parmesan (which may or may not also be mixed into the breadcrumbs), and then served up smothered in marinera sauce.

The Italians, too, make a fried ravioli – seadas – a traditional cheese filled and honey and grappa soaked dessert pasta. But, we’re talking fried here. What about all that baked? For those who want to cut out a bit of the whole deep-frying fat thing, these work out just perfectly when treated to oven cooking. And, I’ll also throw in a twist on those traditional Italian flavors – we’re going to finish these with a lemon sauce and some fresh mussels.

I’m going to trust, for this column’s purposes, that you can come up with some fresh pasta sheets, either homemade or store-bought. You’ll need about 250 grams.

Baked Ravioli

250 gm feta or ricotta cheese
250 gm fresh spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt, black pepper, nutmeg

Saute the onion in the oil until soft and just starting to color. Add the spinach and cook until well wilted. Add the crumbled cheese and mix well. Season to taste – if you use feta, which I recommend, you’ll need very little salt. Let the mixture cool and fill the ravioli, sealing them well – try to avoid air pockets – when deep-frying or baking, these have a tendency to expand quickly and you end up with a ravioli blow-out. You should end up with a couple dozen ravioli.

2 eggs
100 ml milk
200 gm breadcrumbs (approximately)
100 gm grated parmesan

Mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan. Separately, lightly beat together the eggs and milk. Dip each ravioli into the egg mix, then into the breadcrumb cheese mix, and then place on a lightly oiled baking tray (or, better yet, on a silicone baking sheet. Into the oven with the tray at 200̊C, a fairly hot oven, and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Sauce

2 eggs
juice of 2 lemons
5 tablespoons hot stock

Beat the eggs for 3 minutes in a mixer, until just starting to thicken and lighten in color, then beat in the lemon juice. Slowly add the hot (not boiling) stock, beating at the same time. Keep warm, but not too hot or the eggs will curdle.

And, finally, to round the dish out, if you’d like a little seafood with it, my favorite, and simplest preparation of mussels.

1 kg fresh mussels, washed well and de-bearded
10 gm ground black pepper

Put mussels and black pepper in a large pot, cover, no added liquid or anything else. Put over a high flame, and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the mussels all steam open in their own juices. Delicious on their own with some crusty Italian bread, or, as here, remove them from their shells and serve along with the ravioli and lemon sauce.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Put a ring on it

Spicy Calamari Rings

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

“I can’t eat anything that has a face.” A common refrain from vegetarian friends. And sometimes not so vegetarian. I’ve heard the same from someone chowing down on a perfectly grilled steak – the same person who won’t touch a grilled trout or oven roasted quail – because it “looks like it was alive”. It’s a disconnect from our food supply that’s about as common as it could possibly be – a byproduct of the era of supermarkets and prepackaging.

I have encountered many a person, including some I know quite well, who will assert vehemently that they won’t touch any kind of shellfish because of how close to lifelike they seem. Particularly those with tentacles – octopuses, squids, cuttlefish – I mean, all those wriggly little appendages are virtually reaching out from the great beyond, no? But even they have an exception, and it seems near universal – fried calamari rings, rabas fritas as they’re called here.

Of course that could simply be the old chef’s adage that if you deep-fry anything people will eat it. Which I’m fairly certain is actually true. The same person who wouldn’t slurp an oyster on the half shell or that whole fish with a face will happily consume a po’boy sandwich or toss back fried smelt like popcorn at the movies. Most men cringe at the mere concept of criadillas, testicles, served here off the grill, but back home there are contests to see who can eat the most Rocky Mountain/Prairie Oysters – the very same sensitive genital organ coated in batter and fried to a crackly crunch.

I’m guilty of the same pleasure seeking – there really is something about deep-fried calamari rings that near calls out from any menu they’re on. I know they’re bad for me – there’s more batter and oil than there is squid – and worse, probably 75% of the time they’re overcooked, rubbery, and not actually all that pleasant. Most places don’t even go to the trouble to batter them up themselves, they just buy bulk frozen ones from some food processing conglomerate, throw them in hot oil and hope for the best.

For this week’s column I’m throwing the batter out with the bath oil and giving you what I think is a pretty rocking good version that’s a whole lot better for you and still retains a lot of our favorite flavors in the mix. And we’ll use the Italian, calamari, which we all know and love because it sounds so much more exotic and so much less “ewww” than “squid” (a 17th century corruption of the word “squirt”, because of the whole ink squirting thing, the sailor’s term at the time for these critters).

Charred Lemon Calamari Rings

1 kg fresh squid rings
2 lemons, cut in quarters
2 hot chilies, cut in half lengthwise
2 bay leaves
salt and black pepper
100 ml olive oil
1 handful (roughly 30 gm/½ bunch) of parsley, chopped (stems and leaves)

200gm plain yogurt
½ teaspoon each salt, ground cumin and coriander seeds

In a wide frying pan put the olive oil and heat over a high flame until it just starts to smoke. Add the lemon quarters and chilies (you can make this more or less picante if you like, of course). Cook, turning the lemons and chilies until they’re browned and blistered on all sides.

Add the squid rings and bay leaves and cook, moving them continuously, for no more than a minute, until just cooked through and firmed up – don’t overcook or they’ll get rubbery. Remove from the heat, toss in a bowl or platter with parsley, salt, fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Serve hot with dipping sauce: mix yogurt, salt, cumin and coriander seed.

If you like a bit of tomato in the mix to echo the oft-time tomato dipping sauce, add a handful or two of halved cherry tomatoes to the skillet at the same time as the calamari rings.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Brazilian Kitchen on Tour

tobacover

Time Out
500 ways to experience Brazil around the world
June 2010
pgs 131-132

Brazilian Kitchen on Tour
Spice up your repertoire with these three classic recipes

feijoadaYou could spend years exploring the canon of dishes from various parts of Brazil; but if you’re new to Brazilian food, a dip into a handful of classic regional favorites will make a useful starting point to appreciating the richness and diversity of what’s on offer.

From the delicate flavors of a crab casquinha to spicy, aromatic fish moqueca, and on to the rich depths of the feijoada, Brail’s iconic bean-and-meat stew, the three simple recipes that follow demonstrate just how varied Brazil’s cuisine can be.

Any one of them will bring a smile to the face of a homesick Brazilian friend, and though at first glance they might appear complex, none of these dishes is difficult to make. While they call for the odd ingredient that might not be available where you live, there are easy-to-find substitutes for each that, while not preserving the dish’s pristine authenticity, do preserve its spirit and flavors.

Casquinha de Carangueijo

This easy-to-make stuffed crab is from the area around São Luis in the northern state of Maranhão, a region known for its beautiful coastline and fresh seafood. With its delicate crabmeat enhanced by familiar flavors like tomato, onion, garlic and parsley, the dish is especially evocative of the region. Serves six.

1 lb (450 gm) lump crabmeat, with pieces of shell removed
juice of 3 limes
2 oz (60ml) olive oil
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
2-3 hot peppers
4 oz (110 gm) butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz (340 gm) manioc flour
12 black olives, chopped
salt and pepper

Mix the crabmeat and lime juice and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain off the liquid. In a frying pan, saute the tomato, onion, green onion, peppers and parsley in olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Add the crabmeat and combine well. Fill crab shells or gratin dishes with this mixture.

In another frying pan saute garlic in butter until it is golden. Add manioc flour (or breadcrumbs if not available) cook for another minute. Add the olives and season with salt. Spread this mixture over the top of the crabmeat. Place under the broiler and cook until golden brown – 1-2 minutes.

Feijoada

This deep, complex and delicious meat-and-bean stew is the national dish of Brazil, and there are countless variations, from the type of beans used to the cuts of meat, and even which animal they come from. Almost all come with farofa on the side; but While the “poor man’s” feijoada usually involves some nose-to-tail eating including pig’s trotters or calve’s feet, ears tongues and the like, it’s by no means a requirement, and many home cooks and restaurants use more familiar cuts of meat and sausages as the base. It’s a lot of ingredients, but don’t be put off: it all comes together easily. This is a Bahian version, without the ‘variety meats’. Serves six.

1 lb (450 gm) of black beans (dry), soaked in water overnight
3 bay leaves
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
½ lb (225 gm) bacon, cut in small cubes
1 lb (450 gm) smoked sausage, cut in slices
1 cured chorizo style sausage (or any spicy cured sausage)
2 fresh chorizo style sausages (or any spicy fresh sausage)
½ lb (225 gm) chuck or rump roast, cut in cubes
½ lb (225 gm) pork shoulder, cut in cubes

4 oz (110 gm) butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz (340 gm) manioc flour
4 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 oranges, peeled and sliced
12 oz (340 gm) uncooked white rice
32 oz (950 ml) water

1 large bunch of kale or chard, washed and cut into strips
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil

Drain the beans and place them in a pot with the bay leaves and twice their volume of water. Cook until tender. Keep warm. Remove one cup of beans and puree them in a blender with a little water.

In a large stewpot saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until they start to brown. Add the meats and cook, stirring regularly, until browned. Add the beans and their cooking water plus the pureed beans. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook until the meat is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

For the farofa, sauté the remaining garlic in butter until lightly browned, then add the coarse manioc flour (or breadcrumbs) and cook for 1-2 minutes until lightly golden. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Separately, saute the kale or chard with the sliced garlic in olive oil until wilted.

Place the farofa and greens on the table and ladle a plate of feijoada out for each person, garnished with orange slices and accompanied by cooked white rice. Let people add the accompaniments to their personal tastes.

moqueca

Moqueca

This wonderfully aromatic fish and tomato dish probably comes in a close second for national dish. This version is from the south-east. On the spicy side and very aromatic, moqueca is delightful when paired with a well chilled, medium-bodied beer, or a fragrant wine such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, or Viognier. Serves six.

3 lb (1.5 kg) of white fish fillets – pollack, sea bass, perch are all good choices
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut in wedges
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bunch of basil, chopped
4 oz (120ml) coconut milk
2 tablespoons dende oil
4 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 malagueta peppers (usually available pickled, in small jars)
salt and pepper

Saute the onion and garlic in the oils for two minutes, just to soften. If you couldn’t find dende oil, use six tablespoons of olive oil, and add a half teaspoon of ground turmeric at the beginning for color.

Add the fish fillets to the onions, garlic and oil in one layer. Cover the fish with the remaining ingredients. If malagueta peppers are unavailable, use any small, hot chilies, pickled if available, or add a tablespoon of vinegar to the dish to give it some zip. Cover the pan and cook for ten minutes over low heat without stirring until the fish is cooked through. Place fillets with vegetable and herb toppings intact on to plates and accompany with rice. Season the liquid in the pan to taste and pour over the fish.


Ingredient notes

farofa dumplingsDende palm oil adds delicious earthiness and a vivid orange color to the dishes, and it’s the hallmark of the Bahia region. It’s tricky to substitute, as its flavor is so unique; but if it’s impossible to find where you live, you can mimic the color, at least, with a pinch of turmeric – see the moqueca recipe.

Manioc flour, finely ground, is used as a thickener; and in coarse form is toasted to create golden farofa, a essential accompaniment to many a Brazilian dish. It’s also known as ‘tapioca flour’. If you can’t find it, cornstarch will do for use as a thickener; but for farofa, if manioc flour is unavailable in coarse form, then breadcrumbs prepared the same way make a good substitute. Better that than trying to use ordinary flour, which will just end up as a paste.


The folk at the “home office” of Time Out contacted me after I’d written for Time Out Buenos Aires for several years and asked if I’d write a recipe section for their forthcoming book on Brazilian culture.

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The Flying Shrimp of Death

Food allergies are on the rise. In the U.S. alone, they are responsible for some 30,000 emergency room visits per year, and somewhere between 150-200 deaths! Shrimp allergies are among the more serious. Not a good thing. Not a joke. But some folks can’t seem to tell the difference between serious and a joke…

In December 2000, a Long Island furrier and his family gathered at a Benihana restaurant to enjoy the show and dinner. The chef sliced and diced, tossed things in the air, all the usual sort of thing. As they often do, he tossed a shrimp here and there to the eagerly watching crowd. Now, here’s the disputed part. Jerry Colaitis, the furrier in question, apparently ducked to avoid being hit by the shrimp. Or at least that’s what his widow says. Her claim, in a $10 million lawsuit filed against Benihana, is that he ducked (after having asked the chef not to flip the shrimp at him… but wait, isn’t that part of the show that they were there for?), and injured two of his neck vertabrae. Over the course of the next ten months, he had two operations on those neck vertabrae, and died of surgical complications after the second one. Now, the chef claims that Mr. Colaitis was attempting to catch the shrimp in his mouth, lunged in some direction or other, and perhaps injured his neck that way – if there was even any relationship between his vertabrae and the dinner. There seems to also be some question as to whether or not the vertabral injuries were a pre-existing condition…

There’s too much good stuff out there on this on the internet. The best comment, from Fark:

“You have to admit, of all the ways a Benihana chef could have killed the man–his expert wizardry with knives, his ability to dice raw meat midair, his precise spatularic stylings–he cleverly used a common shrimp. Those ninjas that disguise themselves as Benihana chefs are as cunning as they are evil…”

And as long as we’re looking at shrimp deaths:

A Florida jury has awarded $12.3 million to an Ecuadorian shrimp farming company that claimed DuPont’s Benlate fungicide poisoned its harvest. Aquamar S.A. contended that Benlate and other pesticides seeped into the water after being used on banana plantations and killed their shrimp. The case mirrored one that DuPont lost in Florida in November. In that case, a shrimp farmer was awarded $10 million. (Needless to say, DuPont is appealling these decisions.)

I also refer you to God Hates Shrimp… “Pinch the Tail, Suck the Head, Burn in Hell”

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The Perfect Cocktail Party

Q San Francisco
November 2000
Pages 60-61

The Perfect Cocktail Party

greenoliveEver since seeing Mame for the first time, I’ve wanted to through lavish, unconventional cocktail parties. What could be more fun than having your apartment completely redecorated every couple of weeks, inviting scads of the most interesting people to come “in-theme,” and serving up the best cocktails, the finest wines, and food that amazes one and all?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a theme party where the hosts had the wherewithal (I love that word! I’m not broke, I just don’t have any wherewithal…) to do up an Arabian Nights theme. To paraphrase my favorite golden girl, “Picture this, Long Island, September 2000…”

The hundred guests were put up in a local hotel, at the hosts’ expense. We were picked up and driven to their home, where we were deposited at the end of a long, paving-stone drive. The drive was lined with boys. Each was wearing nothing but harem pants and holding a large torch, held jutting forth from, well, an appropriate spot to jut forth from. We walked the drive doing the Madeleine Kahn thing, “no, no, yes, no, yes, yes…”

At the end of the drive were the elephant and camel, available for rides. We veered right into the courtyard where we were entertained for an hour or so by fortune tellers, belly dancers, boys and girls in various revealing costumes, cocktails, wine and canapes. Dinner was held in a tent in the backyard – complete with seating for the hundred plus guests, a dance floor, a stage (upon which performed, at various times, more dancers, a band, singers, and a stand-up comic).

When the hosts decided it was time to end the party, they played “Last Dance”, announced that our rides were awaiting at the other end of the drive…and, well, it was over. Now that’s the way to run a party. I just need a little more wherewithal.

I’m going to leave the redecorating to your own imaginations, the invitations for the amusing and facile as well. Food and wine, I can help with. Of course, I don’t know what theme you’ll pick, but at least I can offer a guide to my last theme party – I decided on turning my apartment into a Spanish tapas bar.

Tapas bars, as you may or may not know, are delightful places that Spaniards frequent as a prelude to dining. Starting at an appropriate point in mid-evening, you gather with friends and nibble on various tidbits while consuming a glass or two of sherry, wine or a cocktail. Generally you stand and imbibe, then move your cadre on to your next favorite spot. For my party, I send invitations to forty of my dearest friends and received 70 RSVPs! I have a six-hundred square foot studio apartment. Standing room was the perfect approach. I moved all furniture off to the sides except the dining table. My desk became the wine bar – both were draped in some sort of Spanish looking tablecloth.

I bought olives. Lots of olives. I bought serrano ham, chorizos and other appropriate charcuterie. I bought wine – sparkling, white, red, and sherry. All Spanish of course. Then I had to cook. Two dishes became the hits of the evening, prawns with garlic, and my romesco sauce with grilled veggies and bread to dip in it.

Prawns with Garlic

To serve 10 as a tapas

1/2 cup of olive oil
5 dozen decent sized shrimp (shells and head-on preferred)
2 teaspoons salt
1 head of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 cups of light, dry sherry
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, minced

Unless you have a huge skillet, you’ll need to split this in a couple of batches. Heat the oil until it is quite hot. Add the shrimp and salt and stir-fry for a minute. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until the shrimp are nice and pink. Add the sherry and cook until it the sauce thickens slightly. Toss in the parsley and serve immediately. It’s best to leave the shells on the shrimp as they add flavor, and make it more fun for the guests to peel their own (or eat, shell and all, which is quite do-able).

Grilled Veggies, Bread & Romesco Sauce

2 japanese eggplants, sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
2 yellow squash, sliced
2 red bell peppers, cut in strips
1 bunch asparagus, pared of any tough ends
1 loaf crusty white bread, sliced (reserve the ends)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

A stove-top grill works fine for this dish. Brush the veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper them to taste, and grill until done. Drain and serve on platters with Romesco sauce.

1 cup almonds
Bread loaf ends (each about 1 to 1-1/2″ thick)
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded & chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 cups olive oil
1 cup sherry vinegar

Toast the almonds, bread and garlic cloves in a 400F oven for 10-15 minutes till lightly browned. Put the bread and almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground. Peel the garlic cloves and add to processor with tomatoes, peppers, and seasonings. Process until smooth. Gradually add the olive oil and then the vinegar while processing. You should end up with about five cups of a thick, smooth sauce that is perfect for dipping the grilled veggies and bread in.

Your beverage choices are, again, going to be determined by the theme of the evening. As an accompaniment to my tapas dinner, I had a selection of dry sherries, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), white and red wines, and then after dinner drinks to go with the later desserts.

For dry sherry, I recommend one good manzanilla, like the Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin “La Guita” and perhaps a nice amontillado, E. Lustau “Los Arcos” would be excellent choices. Cava, the premier Spanish sparkling wine is generally light, crisp and delicate, generally from the Penedes region. Wonderful selections can be had from Juan-Esteve Avinyo-Nadal, Castillo Perelada and Jaume Serra.

A good white wine choice would be an Albariño from the north of Spain. Personal favorites include Martin Codax, Lagar de Cervera, and Fillaboa. You might consider a rosé, as Spain makes some excellent ones. Best choices include Muga and Conde de Valdemar. And for a red, the classic Spanish grape Tempranillo makes a winning evening – try Sierra Cantabria or El Coto Riojas, especially the latter’s Coto de Imaz Reserva, or any of the wines from the Abadia Retuerta winery.

You can finish with a selection of Pedro Ximenez based dessert wines – my current favorite, and a great value, the Alvear “Solera Diego Abuela No. 27” from Montilla-Moriles. A nice Spanish brandy for those who like a little after-dinner fire – Gran Duque d’Alba or Cardenal Mendoza would be great choices.


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

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A Taste of New England

Q San Francisco
July 2000
Pages 54-55

A Taste of New England

There’s something very romantic about New England. It may be that taciturn Yankee stoicism, much reminiscent of a couple of past boyfriends. It could be the rocky beaches with windswept waves that bring to mind gothic romance novels. Or it could just be that, gosh darn it, I like cranberries.

I’ve never lived there, but I try to wander into little port towns whenever I have a long weekend to get away. I’m not a “P-town” kind of guy, it’s a little too commercial for my tastes, even if it is the hotspot for those of our clan to gather.

I have my favorites. Anytime I just want to get away and feel pampered, I head for Newport, Rhode Island. I can visit one of my favorite wineries (more about that later), and ensconce myself in lodge-style luxury at the Inn at Castle Rock. I can dine on some of the best northeastern fare at the Inn’s acclaimed restaurant.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is like a first love. The very first time I headed to the northern shores was when I first became a chef. Somewhere during my training I’d heard rumors about some bizarre, wild, innovative chef who’d created a little restaurant called the Blue Strawbery (yes, with one r).

James Haller, who later became a cookbook and food & health author, put out some of the most unusual food this boy had ever seen. Not afraid to mix just about anything he could think of together, and see what happened, night after night he put out one of the country’s earliest, and best, “tasting menus” – before it became all the rage. In the sixteen years he ran the restaurant, he never once repeated a menu. That’s the kind of thing I could aspire to.

Like most of my travels, places become inexorably linked with local foods. While James may have been whipping up roasted lamb in a pumpkin, honey and soy sauce (up to that point, I’d only seen soy sauce in little plastic packets from the Chinese take-out, who knew you could cook with it?), it was local foods throughout the region that most attracted me to return.

crabcornSometimes it’s the simplicity of baked beans, a classic of the Boston area. Johnnycake, a stone-ground cornmeal pancake, hails from Rhode Island. Fried, with plenty of butter, it may not fit the latest diet craze, but in its simplicity, it is simply delicious. What better source of fresh lobster than the coast of Maine. Friends of mine used to maintain a summer home there and ship lobsters down to New York. It’s more fun to drive up there and get them as they come out of the water.

Perhaps the most famous, yet most misunderstood, dish is the clambake. This is not, as one local friend thinks, a platter of clams topped with bacon and Parmesan cheese. Those are baked clams, and despite his insistence, violating multiple kosher laws does not cancel them all out…not that I’m spending my time worrying about them.

A clambake is near impossible for the average city-dweller to make. It doesn’t just involve a big pot with clams, corn, onions, fish and lobster all packed in and steamed over a flame. The steam needs to come from fresh-from-the-water seaweed heated over hot rocks in the bottom, and on top, of all those great ingredients. Preferably, it’s all done over an open fire on the beach.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a day with Craig Claiborne, the first food critic for the New York Times. He had recently come out in his memoirs and was willing to chat with a budding food writer from a gay magazine. As a still somewhat unseasoned chef, it was an amazing day for me. Craig recently passed on, and I offer the recipe he and I cooked for our lunch that day in tribute and in memory.

Crab & Corn Chowder

4 ears of fresh sweet corn
2 dozen or so new potatoes, washed and cut in half
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped fine
4 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 cup clam juice
1 cup water
1 cup half-and-half
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander or parsley

Fill a large pot with enough cold water to cover the potatoes and leave room for the corn. Heat to a boil. Add the corn and let it return to a boil. When it is boiling, cover and turn off the heat. Let it sit for five minutes and remove the corn. Cut the kernels from the cob and set aside. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and cook the onions, celery and potatoes until the onions are translucent. Add the clam juice, water, half-and-half, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the corn and the crabmeat and bring to a simmer for about 8 minutes. The potatoes should be cooked through but not mushy.

Ladle into soup bowls and top with freshly chopped herbs. Serves 4 as a main course soup.

As I noted earlier, one of my favorite wineries is located in Rhode Island. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that one of my favorite wine people is located there. Susan Samson, affectionately known to many of us in the business as “the hat lady”, is a tireless promoter of things New England, especially local chefs and her own wines. With her husband Earl, who oversees the winemaking, the reputation for quality and affordability of Sakonnet Vineyards wines is widespread.

It is, perhaps, a bit surprising that New England produces such quality wines, but latitude and soil-wise, it is in many ways similar to the vineyards of Germany and northern France. Like Oregon, Washington and Idaho, who knew?

My favorite wine is probably their Gewurztraminer. Crisp, clean, and full of that vibrantly aromatic fruit that the grape is famous for, Sakonnet produces one of the better American examples. Susan and Earl are also fond of using local grapes, and their Vidal Blanc, in both oaked and un-oaked styles are delightful fruity wines, perfect for pairing with a lunch of crab and corn chowder.

The winery also produces a tasty Chardonnay, a wonderfully perfumed Cabernet Franc, and, when it suits them, an amazingly rich red “Claret” blend.

Though I’m always fond of pairing local wines with local foods, I think this soup would be a great match for other fruity, slightly off-dry wines. Some current prime choices from California would be Zaca Mesa Roussanne from Santa Barbara, Wild Horse Malvasia Bianca from Monterey, and the J. Fritz Melon “Shone Farm”. All worth seeking out at your local “bottle shop.”


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

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