Last weekend was the annual Portland seafood and wine festival where S and I had our first official date a year ago and where I told the story of her literally falling (for me). Well she didn’t fall for me emotionally, we were walking on a section of sidewalk that were made uneven by the roots of the nearby tree, and she didn’t see the unevenness of the sidewalk and fell. You can read that post here.
This past weekend, S was still recovering from her cold and I was feeling experimental in the kitchen so I proposed we have our own version of the seafood and wine festival. My proposal was for me to cook and for her to sample. She was ecstatic with the idea and so was I. In addition to our seafood and wine feast, that weekend would be the first Sunday sleepover which meant I would be commuting to work from her house. That part I was not looking forward to as prior to my moving to my current house, my typical commute took one and a half hours one way. That’s three hours of driving in one day. Luckily this commute will only be one way.
The menu…a variety of spicy, salt and pepper dishes
On Saturday morning I ventured to my favorite Asian market and purchased the ingredients for my seafood menu which consisted of steamer clams, shrimp, squid (for calamari), oysters, Dungeness crabs, and of course the jalapeño peppers, Serrano peppers, and the aromatics of yellow onions, green onions, garlic, and ginger. I also visited another Asian market to get a non seafood protein (pork short ribs).
S picked four wines for us to pair with our feast – a Pinot Noir, a Syrah, a Pinot Gris, and a Chardonnay.
The creative process I prefer when I’m on one of my experimental rants is to cook in small batches and tweak the proportions of the spices and ingredients with each subsequent batch having the end result of a dish that I’ll add to my list of favored recipes. S was on board and welcomed the idea of batch grazing. It also played into her love of critiquing as she has an opinion of almost everything. I think we’ll be good as long as I don’t ask her about things she has to deeply ponder where her go to response is my pet peeve phrase of hers “I don’t know”. I think the cooking experience wouldn’t warrant the utterance of this phrase.
The first dish…Dungeness crabs
I’ve made this before, so I’m not tweaking my seafood boil recipe. This is just for snacking and for the base of my steamer clams recipe. My typical seasoning for boiling crab is a spicy Cajun mix consisting of cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, bay leaves, and lemons. Once the water becomes a rolling boil, I add the crabs and continue cooking them for 20 minutes, then afterwards, drain them, and let them rest another 15 minutes before I clean them.
The second dish…steamer clams
Now prior to this past weekend, I’ve only made the traditional steamer clams that I learned from my mother which was just cooking them in a garlic butter sauce.
For my fist batch, I wanted to completely change the steaming process. I cleaned the crab and instead of discarding the shell and the innards of the crab, I put them into the stock pot that would be lightly boiled and would be used in the steaming process. To this steam pot, I added the discards of the onion (onion skins and roots), jalapeño stems, garlic skins, ginger skins, bay leaf and vegetable stock. I should have used the same water I cooked the crab in but didn’t think about that until I had already poured it into the sink.
“Next time I’ll do that”, I mumbled to myself.
I covered this steam pot with the steamer tray full of clams and let the aromas from the steam pot cook the steamer clams. In a separate pan I melted butter and added green onions, fresh ginger, fresh garlic, and red pepper flakes. Once the clams opened, I added them to the butter mixture and stirred them in the mixture until they were fully coated before plating them and serving them to S for her critique.
The only noise S emitted were groans of deliciousness. We paired them with the Pinot Gris. She said, “don’t change anything! It’s perfect as it is!” After we devoured the steamers, S dipped the crab in the buttery mixture and thought it was equally complimentary to the sweetness of the crab.
So no tweaking was needed thus far and since the base ingredients of onions, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper, and jalapeño were the common theme, it was easy to move to the next dish.
The third dish…spicy oysters
Now this one would be truly an experiment as my mother hardly, correction, never (that I could remember) ever cooked oysters when I was growing up.
My first batch was a flop aesthetically and the flavor profile were somewhat missing the mark as well.
For my second batch, I changed both the preparation and the cooking process which improved it in all aspects from, looks, aroma, and flavor. S had a food orgasm and after taking a moment said, “Omg!! This is amazing and it could even be better than my mother’s pan fried oysters!”
It was better than her mother’s oyster recipe. She bragged to her mom (the next day) that her oysters had serious competition. As this was my first time making this, I’m not ready to lay claim that my version was better. After making it a few more times (with consistency) then perhaps, but not just yet.
The fourth dish…spicy short ribs
The next dish was the only non seafood item. Now I had made this dish before, but it hadn’t been taken through the vetting process. So I decided to make it again and get an honest critique.
The fifth dish…squid (calamari)
The next dish was the fried calamari which is a typical appetizer on most restaurant menus and is one of my favorite items to try out when I’m dining outside my kitchen. So far, the flavor profile I make is still uniquely different than what you get at the restaurants and after serving it to S, her facial and vocal enjoyment was supportive of my own conclusions.
S complimented, “Wow! I’ve never tasted fried calamari with this intense flavors. I love this dish!” And no tweaking. I asked about the need for a sauce and she (along with other folks who had tasted it before) said “…definitely not needed!”
So I guess that dish is ready to be placed in my favored set of recipes.
The sixth and final dish…crispy spicy salt and pepper shrimp.
In my prior attempts in making this dish, I wasn’t satisfied as the cooking process was not getting the crispness of the shrimp where I wanted it. This is also an experiment not with the flavor profile but with the cooking process.
I decided to use the same cooking process as I did for the second batch of oysters. The results were the way I had envisioned it and the crispness remained throughout the cooking process as I had wanted.
As you may know through my prior posts, I’m Asian and in Asian families, when shrimp is cooked, we use the whole shrimp (heads and all). Now depending on the size of the shrimp, we may (not on all occasions) bother with the removal of the vein that runs along the spine of the shrimp. But other that that, we eat the whole shrimp.
For S and since these were the medium variety (42-50s), I tried the Asian approach by deveining but leaving the head and tails. I also clipped the horn and eyes and trimmed the legs, which otherwise, if cooking for my family or for other Asian guests, I would have left those on as they become crunchy during the cooking process.
S invited another teacher friend and her husband over to join us during the making of the sixth dish and they too had the same comments. Duly noted that when serving this dish for non Asian guests, the shrimp would need extra preparation in the removal of the heads and skins.
It was getting late in the evening an I was getting tired so that version would have to wait for next time. I had been prepping and cooking since 1 in the afternoon and finished the last dish around 10:30 PM. I was exhausted and didn’t do my normal clean up and left them for the morning.
The next morning, I got up early and cleaned my kitchen mess and was just drying off the last dish when S came downstairs.
With eyes dancing with joy, she exclaimed, “Wow! My kitchen fairy cleaned the kitchen! Thank you.” and gave me a morning kiss.
It was a great one year anniversary of our first official date!
My cooking blog…
After making the personal seafood and wine date, I realized I could kill two birds with one stone and use this time to also video the preparation and cooking of these dishes as well as photograph the final product for my blog site. I mentioned it to S and she was fine with it. So I’ve got six more dishes I will be adding to my food blog.
Have a great week and I’ll speak with you all soon. Stay safe online (and offline)…
#life #lifeasiknowit #lifeasithappens