Oyster Stew

 

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With the first wave of Irish immigrants entering America in the 1700s, prior to the onset of the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852, many brought with them their culinary traditions of eating fish and shellfish of their home country. The vast majority Irish immigrants were Roman Catholic. And like most Catholics today, they followed religious dietary customs around holidays, one of which was to abstain from eating meat during Lent and on Christmas Eve and fish was the protein of choice.

In Ireland, the Christmas Eve meal revolved around a fish called the ling where home cooks made a simple stew using dried ling, milk, butter and black pepper. However, Irish cooks could not find dried ling in America and out of necessity, they adapted to using oysters because they were similar to dried ling. Today, many families enjoy serving a most satisfying dish of Oyster Stew as part of their religious customs. Oyster stew can be enjoyed any time of the year and the most important factors in preparing oyster stew is not allow the milk to boil and do not overcook the oysters. Be careful to avoid overcooking oysters, which causes them to become tough.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 quarts whole milk, warmed
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 dozen fresh oysters, shucked, with liquor reserved
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ bunch fresh chives, snipped, for garnish
Oyster crackers, for serving

Directions:
Drain the oysters using a very fine strainer to remove and reserve the liquor. Set aside.

In 6 quart Dutch oven, melt about 5 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and add the onion, celery and salt. Cook slowly, until onions are translucent and the celery is softened, for 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring well to blend, cooking for 2 minutes.
Whisk in the milk, heavy cream and reserved oyster liquor. Add the cayenne pepper. Reduce the heat to a light simmer, stirring often to prevent scorching, for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt the remaining butter. Add the oysters in a single layer, being careful not the crowd them. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper and sauté until the edges of the oysters begin to curl, slightly revealing the gills.

Add the oysters to the Dutch oven and return to a gentle simmer to warm the stew through. Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle the stew into shallow soup bowls. Garnish with chives and serve with oyster crackers.

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Parsnip and Leek Soup

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Photo Credit:Jonny Valiant, 2011.

 

 

For those celebrating the religious calendar, Lent is upon us, and for many it is the time to give up meat in our diets. For busy home cooks, this soup can be made in ahead of time, basically because it is an uncomplicated vegetable puree. For an added touch you can dressed-up this soup with a touch of American whitefish caviar, the salty counterpoint to sweet parsnips in the mix, makes the soup plenty festive for Easter Dinner.

 

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:
For the Soup:
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut 1/4 inch thick
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut 1/4 inch thick
3 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups water
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 cup whole milk

For the Black-Pepper Cream:
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
2 ounces whitefish or other caviar, for garnish

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Directions:
To prepare the leeks, rinsed well to remove the sand and grit. Cut the white and pale-green parts only into 1/4-inch-thick semi-circles and set aside.

To Make the soup: Cut a round of parchment to fit inside a large pot. Melt butter in pot over medium heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt, and cover with parchment round (this will help keep moisture in). Cook, lifting parchment to stir occasionally, until leeks are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in parsnips, potatoes, chicken stock, 2 1/2 cups water, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer gently, partially covered with lid, until parsnips are soft, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

Working in batches, puree vegetable mixture in a blender, being sure to hold lid down. Return soup to pot, and stir in milk. Reheat soup over medium heat (do not boil).

To Make the black-pepper cream: Stir 1/4 teaspoon pepper into creme fraiche.

To Serve: Ladle soup into 8 small bowls, and top each with a dollop of black-pepper cream and 1/2 teaspoon caviar.

Cook’s Notes:
Whitefish caviar is a relatively inexpensive variety and can found at Whole Foods  Markets or specialty gourmet food markets.

The soup can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. Stir in milk and rewarm over medium heat just before serving. Black-pepper cream can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.


Fancy Fried Chicken Livers

I love chicken livers as much as I love oysters and frying them highlights all the best qualities of the common  grocery store staple, and this quick recipe will make you want to cook them regularly because they are so economical. Really, you can season the eggs and flour however you want, just be bold. Sometimes I use Thai Sweet Chile Sauce, and the hotter the sauce the better—the liver can stand up to it. I like to eat them immediately after frying, when the crunchy exterior gives way to a still-juicy center.

Salt is mandatory plus more hot sauce and a squeeze of fresh lemon for lift. Fried chicken livers can be seasoned to almost any taste. You can swap the Old Bay for a combination of roasted sesame seeds and Korean red pepper flakes. Or try sprinkling them with crushed peanuts with a side of fish sauce and lime dressing and shredded cabbage.

Once cooked, fried chicken livers last in the fridge for up to two days, during which time you could simply snack on them cold with a dab of mustard. My favorite way to use leftovers is chopped in a hearty salad of arugula, ranch dressing, and roasted sweet potato, or you can tuck them into a roll with a spicy slaw and some sliced pickles.

Fried Chicken Livers

Photo Credit: TASTE, 2018

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1 pint container of chicken livers
1 egg
¼ cup hot sauce, plus additional for serving
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
vegetable, oil for frying
McCormick’s OLD BAY® Seasoning
Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions:
Rinse livers in cold water and pat dry with paper towels before trimming them of visible sinew, fat, and areas of green discoloration. Separate large connected lobes, but otherwise try keep the pieces as big as possible.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg with a fork until blended, then add hot sauce and mustard. Gently drop the livers in the egg wash and toss to coat. Let them marinate for up to 10 minutes while you prepare the breading.

To make the breading, mix the flour, cornmeal, and the remaining spices in a shallow pan or plate so you can spread the mixture out. Lay the livers on the seasoned flour and let them sit on one side for at least 2 minutes so the coating bonds well to the egg. Gently turn them over and repeat on the other side.

Heat half an inch of oil in a cast-iron or carbon steel pan. Fry the livers until dark golden brown before flipping, which takes about 2 or 3 minutes depending on the size of the piece. 5 minutes. Don’t be tempted to let them go longer than 5 minutes to insure a  perfectly pink interior, which is what you want. This is how you harness the elegant pâté qualities that are waiting to be unlocked, so keep an eye on the smaller pieces. When the livers are solidly golden brown on both sides, they are done on the inside, Be careful when cooking livers, the liver releases a lot of juice while frying on the first side. I like to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes and then sprinkle a pinch of the dredging flour on the top to absorb the moisture and prevent splattering. Flip the livers and continue to cook until they are uniformly brown, another minute to 2 minutes.

Drain on paper towels. Once the livers are fried, you would be almost negligent not to consider another layer of flavor for the exterior, so lightly dust generously with Old Bay. Serve with lemon wedges and hot sauce.