Fish Friday: Raise a glass to seafood…but not the one you think

If you’re still believe that fish = white wine – hey, the ’70s called and they want their Blue Nun back. Today is the age of the craft brewery, and beer’s glorious variety pairs just as well – or better – with creative fish and shellfish dishes. Just how well was clear at a special beer and seafood dinner that I had the pleasure to attend this week at Mandolin in

yellowin funa tartare

yellowfin tuna tartare on Vietri plate

Raleigh. I was honored that chef Sean Fowler was inspired by “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” to bring the feast celebrating the state’s bounty together.

Instead of wine pairings, beers from five local breweries were matched with the courses, which were prepared by chefs Matt Kelly of St. James Seafood, Eric Montagne of Locals Seafood, Bill Hartley and James Clark of Postal Fish Company, Jake Wood of 18 Seaboard, Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint, Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas and Fowler.

I even sipped an IPA, which I usually despise. But the bitterness of Neuse River Brewing Company’s white IPA perfectly balanced the richness of Moore’s North River Clambake Ragout (wood-grilled black drum and summer truffle-corn soubise). Fullsteam Brewery’s light yet flavorful Paycheck Pilsner matched Fowler’s first course, Yellowfin Tuna Tartare (potato chips, saffron, quail egg and herbs). Other beers from Lynnwood Brewing Concern, Bond Brothers and Brewery Bhavana showed what great food and great beer can do together.

As you’re exploring new-to-you kinds of North Carolina fish and shellfish, tap into local beers, too.

Now, go fish!

To learn even more, take a look at “Carolina Catch.” And the Moose is loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a cooking class or signing I’m doing near you.

Fish Fridays: A grunt by any other name would taste as good

Flounder, snapper grouper – these are the perky cheerleaders of the fish world. Everybody loves them But give some love to less familiar fish, such as the grunt.

Maybe we should start by getting this fish a new name, because that’s a terrible one to hang on a delicious flaky, white fish. But as I learned working on “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press), there are a lot of good fish in the sea (and the ponds).

Less familiar kinds of North Carolina fish are just as good to cook and eat as what I call the Big Three (see above) and seeking them out lessens overfishing pressures on popular fish. Also, you’ll find new and delightful things to eat. In “Carolina Catch,” I offer information on substituting different kinds of fish in recipes, and how to find fish you might like based on what you currently enjoy. For example, if you want to substitute something for flounder, look for another thin and flaky fish (not a thick and steak-like one, such as mahi). An important piece of advice: Find a fishmonger who knows North Carolina fish and shellfish to guide you in selections.

Here are a few of my don’t-miss fish. Try them!

– Tilefish cooks up with a beautiful white color and tender, flaky texture. Its delicate, sweet flavor requires little more than a squeeze of lemon and a bit of butter. You’ll never look at flounder again.

– Sheepshead offers texture and flavor that stand up to being simmered or baked in sauces.

– Trout, whether farmed or wild-caught, can be used any way you’d cook snapper or flounder, and it’s especially tasty fried (although, what isn’t?)

Now, go fish!

To learn even more – and get recipes from appetizers to sides – take at a look at the book. And visit the Events list at debbiemoose.com to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Welcome to Fish Fridays!

The alliteration was irresistible. So stop by here every Friday for the next eight weeks as I offer tips, hints and information that will help you overcome any “fear of fish” in your kitchen.

I found out a lot in working on my new cookbook, “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press). “Carolina Catch” features more than 90 recipes plus a guide to the state’s fish and shellfish – freshwater, saltwater, wild-caught and farmed. Turn to the Best Basics section  for detailed information on selecting, storing and preparing fish.

Let’s start with three kitchen tools for cooking fish and shellfish that will change your world.  These are all indispensable in my kitchen.

1. Instant-read thermometer. Many people overcook fish, end up with a wad of sandpaper and declare they don’t like fish. Wrong – you just messed up in cooking it. A simple instant-read thermometer, plus the exact temperatures and times in Best Basics, will help you stop guessing and have great fish.

fish spatula

fish spatula

2. Grill pan. In the summer, I like to cook everything on the grill (I’ve even grilled salads). A grill pan with a perforated bottom ensures against shrimp or fish falling through the grill grates, and is easy to clean. I usually spray mine with cooking spray before grilling even if the pan claims to be nonstick.

3. Fish spatula. This tool is great for everything, from turning fish to lifting frittatas or omelets from the frying pan. I hardly use my regular spatulas anymore. It’s thin, slotted, has a slanted edge and is wide enough that you can lift fish without breaking up the filet.

Now, go fish!

To learn even more, take at look at “Carolina Catch.” And the Moose is loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a cooking class or signing I’m doing near you.

You know you still want ‘em…

Wings. They’re the only things people are talking about more than Cam Newton’s pants. (Hey, he’s not the first football fashion plate. Anyone remember Broadway Joe?)

There are as many ways to make wings as there are feathers on a Rhode Island Red. Previously, I offered y’all a flavorful but not hot recipe for the Super Bowl spread. Today, it’s one of my favorites for medium heat. These wings have a rub, which means you don’t have to marinate them for hours. The Mexican-inspired flavors are definitely something different. This recipe is from my book “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack.”

Mole Ole

1/2 cup chili powder

2 teaspoons cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

12 wings, cut in half at joints, wing tips removed and discarded

1/4 cup olive oil

In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, cumin and garlic powder. Place the wings in a resealable plastic bag. Pour in the olive oil and shake to coat the wings. Pour in the rub mixture and shake again to coat the wings. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. Place the wings on the baking sheet and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until done, turning the wings about halfway through the cooking time.

Makes 24 wing pieces

From “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” by Debbie Moose

Answer the growl

teriyaki tip-off wings from 'fan fare'The Panthers in the Super Bowl has meant a noticeable increase in interest in the game in these parts. But even without that happening, we all know that most people are only at Super Bowl parties for the food. A recent poll in Bon Appetit even confirms it – only 30 percent of the respondents say they would actually be paying attention to the action on the field, not the state of the salsa-and-chip bowl.

Because sports are all about statistics, here’s another: Super Bowl Sunday is the single biggest time for sales of wings. Supply and demand says that prices go up, too. But it’s easy to spend a little time and save a little money by cutting them up yourself. Don’t buy the precut pieces, which can cost as much as $1 a pound more than whole wings. It’s easy. Here’s what you do:

A wing has three joints. With a sharp knife or a good pair of kitchen shears, slice through each joint. Bending the joints and loosening them will help. You’ll end up with three pieces: the drumette, which looks like a miniature chicken leg; the flat, which has two small bones; and the flapper, the small pointy end. Collect the flappers in a reclosable plastic bag and freeze them to make chicken stock with later on. The remaining two pieces you may now prepare at will for eating.

I like my wings fiery, but I accept that others are more tender of tongue. This recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” has plenty of flavor even without the heat. You can easily double it to feed a larger crowd.

Teriyaki Tip-Off Wings

Serves 4-6

8 whole chicken wings, split at joints and wing tips discarded or saved for later use (16 pieces)

3/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup soy sauce, preferably reduced sodium

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place the wings in a recloseable plastic bag. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the juices, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar and oil. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over the wings in the bag. Seal and refrigerate for 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil for easier cleanup and spray it with cooking spray. Remove the wings from the marinade and place on the sheet. Discard the marinade. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until they test done.

The Magic Kingdom of deviled eggs

IMG_0454I had heard of this spot for years; read articles and seen TV segments about it, and emailed with its creator. As a deviled eggs master, it was my destiny to make a pilgrimage, and I finally did.

Marie Lawrence invited me into the deviled egg room – it’s floor to ceiling full of the servers. The latest count is 915. Marie is going for 1,000 and maybe a Guinness record. Like snowflakes, no two in her collection are exactly alike; she keeps a record book with descriptions, dates she acquired them and other information to make sure.

After 15 years of collecting, her cooperative husband Donald’s handmade shelves are stuffed so full that the plates have begun to spill over into glass cases in the living room of their Morehead City home. They want to do something about that, maybe add on. The center of the display

the newest plate in the collection

the newest plate in the collection

room has barely enough open space for a chicken to make a nest. But it’s enough room for Marie to start the day with a smile, surrounded by color, enjoying her efforts.

“When I first got started, I used to have a rocking chair in here and I would just sit and enjoy them,” she says. “Now, I stand here in the morning with a cup of coffee.”

All those plates have to make you smile, with their hues, shapes, bunny faces and dancing chicks.  A yellow one that a friend bought for Marie on a Disney cruise ship is shaped like Mickey’s face and ears. How appropriate, because this little place is like a Magic Kingdom.

The first plate she got, that started it all, is unusual. It’s bowl-shaped, with a goose head at

more from the 915 plates

more from the 915 plates

the left side and spots for just six eggs on the right. She thinks it was meant to also serve potato salad or egg salad with the deviled eggs. The newest in the collection, which a friend found at a Salvation Army thrift shop a couple of weeks ago, resembles a basket of tulips with 12 oval pink, purple and yellow sections for the eggs.

Naturally, Easter, bunnies and chickens are predominant themes. There are a lot of Christmas ones, too, but even some with Thanksgiving and Irish looks. One of the largest is an Italian plate with spaces for deviled eggs and antipasto that could double as a centerpiece. The smallest looks like a covered ceramic bowl small enough to fit in your palm. Remove the lid, and there are spaces for two eggs – sort of like tea for two.

There’s a plate shaped like an oak leaf with acorn salt-and-pepper shakers. One of my favorites is made up of bright orange carrots pointing in all directions. On the few occasions that Marie has exhibited the collection to the public, she says people have been attracted to one that looks like a violet-printed cloth draped in a basket.

There are ceramic, pottery, glass and pewter plates. One with a wooden handle is shaped like a frying pan. I noticed that there were N.C. State and UNC plates, but no Duke one. Surely Blue Devils eat deviled eggs. “I haven’t seen any Duke plates,” Marie says.

Naturally, she can make a mean deviled egg, too. Marie and Donald used to have a catering

Marie's deviled eggs

Marie’s deviled eggs

business. She was kind enough to have some for me to taste using mayonnaise (Hellmann’s not Duke’s; she prefers the flavor and texture), mustard, a dash of Texas Pete hot sauce and paprika or dill on top.

I assumed that the super-creamy filling was made in a food processor, but Marie said she makes the filling using a collard chopper, which has a circle of razor-sharp teeth for prepping piles of greens.

She does make an addition to her filling that I’m going to try. If she’s making two dozen deviled eggs, she cooks two more eggs and chops them all – whites and yolks – into the filling. It does make a substantial filling.

Deviled egg plates…deviled egg cookbook….seems like there’s something we could come up with together. Stay tuned.

Marie Lawrence and me

Marie Lawrence and me

 

 

Inspiration and memory

A smart editor once told me: “If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.” That’s what I’m going to do today, from one of the best, Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis. After reading her column today – which, as a food writer, I can say is absolutely true about the never-ending search for the new – I thought about how I recharge and what I would relive. Here are a few, with thanks to Kathi.

– The first time I ate a soft-shell crab, which was the beginning of a lifelong affair. It looked like the inspiration for a ’50s drive-in movie, “Invasion of the Giant Crunchy Spiders.” I had to be persuaded that ALL of the crustacean was edible in this state. Oh, the little legs, how crispy; the center, how moist…. It was truly a new thing.

– Driving around Normandy with The Hub. We armed ourselves with an extremely poor map, minimal French, a Swiss Army knife and a baguette from the corner baker, and set out from Bayeux for two things: cheese and Calvados, an apple brandy. We stopped at a roadside stand for the most sensually fragrant melon I’d ever experienced, then roamed, mostly lost, through the rolling hills that reminded me of Piedmont North Carolina, where I grew up. We found cheese and ate it with the knife while sitting on the trunk of the rental car, with the baguette and lovely melon.  We ended the day tasting Calvados and its aperitif sister, Pommeau.

– Walking through the backyard vegetable garden with my father when I was knee high, watching him pull two green onions from the red clay, brush them off on his pants leg, cut off the roots with a super-sharp pocket knife, and hand me one. We ate them on the spot, in the sun. Truly fresh vegetables don’t need a lot of messing with.

What’s your list?

Three flavors for spring

The fun and popular Savor the South series by the University of North Carolina Press usually brings out two books in the spring, but this year, there’s a threefer: “Gumbo” by Dale Curry, “Shrimp” by Jay Pierce and “Catfish” by Paul and Angela Knipple.

GUMBO Cover imageIf anyone knows gumbo, it’s Dale Curry, who was food editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 20 years and lives in New Orleans. (Full disclosure: I have known Dale for years through the Association of Food Journalists, and I’m the author of two Savor the South cookbooks.)

I have made gumbo as best as a non-Louisianan can, but the book offers regional takes that I never imagined. Catfish Gumbo or Quail Gumbo, anyone? There is a roux-less gumbo for those who find making roux challenging, as I once did. Curry’s directions for making roux, an essential part of traditional gumbo, are simple but useful. To tell the truth, it’s one of those things that you just have to do a few times and you eventually get it, like riding a bicycle or following knitting directions. But believe Curry when she says do not use a burned roux.

The book includes recipes for some of gumbo’s relations, such as jambalaya – including a recipe for a slow-cooker jambalaya that I’m looking forward to trying out. This is a book of classics from another area of the South that is a good addition to the series.

SHRIMP Cover ImagePierce, author of “Shrimp,” recently became chef at ROCKSALT in Charlotte after years with Lucky 32 in Greensboro and Cary. (More full disclosure: I have met Pierce and welcomed him to the Savor the South sisterhood’s men’s auxiliary; he and Paul Knipple are the first men to enter the fold.) Whenever I encounter a chef-written cookbook, I get concerned that it will have miles-long directions involving hours of prep for those of us without a kitchen full of hired help. Not here. The recipes are creative and accessible, and the stories Pierce tells along with them make you feel like you’ve popped a beer and sat down next to a shrimp-loving buddy.

How to select quality shrimp and freeze it offers great information, as well as reassurance that frozen shrimp is OK, depending on where it’s from. He also clearly explains why buying American-caught shrimp is so important.

Soups, noodle dishes, pick-up goodies like Fire-Roasted Shrimp Tacos, rice dishes like Shrimp Risotto – there’s a lot of variety here. This is a great book to carry to the beach, or make you feel like you’re there.

CATFISH Cover ImageCatfish is a staple in the Deep South, but I wondered how the Knipples, experienced food writers who live in Memphis, would handle an entire book on the ingredient.

On the surface, catfish seems limited to crispy fried plates at fish camps. But they show that catfish can play a role in unexpected places, including Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Coriander Catfish Rolls bring the ingredient to Asian spring rolls. It’s paired with Indian spices in Dodson Lake Samosas. And Delta Paella brings catfish to the Mediterranean classic. Catfish, I barely knew ye before now.

Of course, the book includes precise directions for producing perfect deep- fried catfish, and some traditional sides to go with it such as hushpuppies and slaw.

Salt in the blood

“Fishing has built courthouses, schools, homes, communities. That’s what meant by having salt in the blood,” said Karen Willis Amspacher as she clearly and bluntly laid out the significance of North Carolina’s coastal fishing business in a voice still touched by the vanishing Ocracoke accent.

She spoke on the first day of State of the Plate, an excellent two days of exploring food issues in the state and the larger world. It was organized by Marcie Cohen Ferris, of the Department of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and presented by the university’s Center for Global Initiatives, Center for the Study of the American South, Department of American Studies and Global Research Institute.

As a seafood lover, the articulate and forceful Amspacher – she’s involved in virtually everything about helping her home of Harkers Island, fishing communities and fishermen, including being on the board of NC Catch – and her fellow panelist fisherman Morty Gaskill of Ocracoke, spoke to me. One disturbing statistic: 90 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported. And only a fraction of that amount undergoes any safety inspection.  Add to that issue the recent Associated Press article revealing that some imported seafood was caught by slaves.

When I moved to Raleigh and began writing about food around 25 years ago, I was shocked that it was next to impossible to find seafood from North Carolina in this area. Fortunately, that has changed, as the “eat local” movement has begun to branch out from farms, but more needs to be done.

“‘Know your fisherman’ should be as important as ‘know your farmer’,” Amspacher said. “We are part of the local food movement. You must demand local seafood.”

Gaskill and Amspacher are part of a coastal success story: saving Ocracoke’s fish processing house for local fishermen and making it part of a cooperative. Fish houses have been disappearing, forcing fishermen to either travel farther and spend more to have their catch made ready for sale, or give up fishing altogether.

When the Ocracoke house closed, “there was nowhere on the island to sell. We had to go on the ferry to Hatteras or over to Cedar Island, taking up time that could be spent preparing our boats or doing more fishing,” Gaskill said.

Now the Ocracoke fish house operates as a 501 (c) (3), and they hope to reproduce its success elsewhere.

What can you do to help North Carolina fishermen and their communities? Insist on local seafood.

And, guess what? It tastes better, too.

Bye, bye brunch

OK now, ACC. I have tried my best to accept that you have added teams who can’t see the Atlantic Coast from their houses. And that the tournament will now last  longer than a midseason replacement series.

But this is too much. What in the world am I supposed to serve for a Saturday night final?

All of my ACC Tournament recipes are for brunch. For years, I had a civilized gathering of like-minded sports fans, a time to sip of morning nectars and enjoy quiche and seven-layer salad before the battle began. Something that a dowager countess might not be embarrassed to attend, provided she was wearing the correct shade of light blue.

Now what? I can’t possibly serve bloody marys after 5 p.m.

Blazing chicken wings, tubs of salsa, cold beers, these are the foods of nighttime game viewing. Less elegant, but welcome to the new ACC.

However, I refuse to give up without a fight. This recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” published by Harvard Common Press, will bring a touch of a Southern brunch to a munchie-central experience.

Marylynn’s Okra Roll-Ups

1 (16-ounce) jar pickled okra, well drained

10 ounces thinly sliced deli ham

1 (9-ounce) tub soft spreadable cream cheese

Pat the okra pods dry. Trim the stems and tips from the pods.

On a cutting board, spread 1 ham slice flat without tearing it. Gently spread a thin layer of cream cheese on the ham. Place 1 trimmed okra pod at one end of the slice and roll the ham up around it, pressing gently to make a tight roll. Trim any overhanging ham to fit the pod, the slice the roll into approximately 1/2-inch slices. Repeat with remaining okra pods. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Note: These can be made the night before and refrigerated. Store in airtight containers in a single layer or in multiple layers separated by waxed paper to prevent sticking.