[Photographs: Vicky Wasik. Video: Natalie Holt] More BEER! We love it. And you’ve voted. See which is the best American beer city. Although I’m known for spending my free time peeling grapes, in reality, most weeknights end with me standing pantsless in front of an […]
Month: April 2018
[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt, Vicky Wasik, Nila Jones] There are times when I’m happy to spend all day on an elaborate dessert, but sometimes I want something sweet in a hurry. Whether it’s a sudden craving or the panicked realization that I have company coming […]
One of the best things about working for Serious Eats is the chance to chat with other bakers on Twitter; folks who have the time and curiosity to tinker with my recipes and share their results. Sometimes these interactions illustrate the risks of cavalier substitution, but just as often they prove how imaginatively recipes can adapt and grow once they’re released into the wild.
Take my fresh lemon syrup, for example. In the original recipe, I use sugar and a little patience to extract residual lemon juice and essential oils from lemon carcasses (the empty husk leftover from juicing a lemon, with or without zest) to make a no-cook syrup without any added water. This keeps the lemon’s flavor bright, clean, and concentrated. It works just as well with limes, oranges, and grapefruit, but as one fruit-loving reader pointed out, the same technique can also be applied to mango pits.
It seems obvious in retrospect: mango pits (and peels, for that matter) are a “waste” product loaded with moisture, but I’d never considered handling them the same way as I do citrus fruits. So when mango season rolled around, that idea shot to the top of my to-do list. My first attempt with mango pits was a fantastic proof of concept, producing a syrup so thick and mellow it bordered on creamy. Round two saw it much improved thanks to the inclusion of mango skins and their piney aroma. Subsequent rounds were all about playing with the inclusion of leftover citrus rinds in varying amounts to help cut through the mango’s natural sweetness.
Ultimately, I found that for every pound of assorted mango pits and peels, I needed a quartered lemon or lime carcass along with a half-pound of sugar. I like plain white sugar to create a more neutral syrup, but palm sugar would be a natural choice for those inclined to bring some smoky complexity to the mix. With those ingredients all sussed out, the method is simple.
Combine the mango pits, peels, and lemon rind, and toss them with sugar, letting the mixture stand at room temperature until the sugar has completely dissolved. If you bother to toss and stir the mixture from time to time, it can take just four hours; for a more passive extraction (and my preferred method, out of sheer laziness), you can just cover the bowl and leave it out overnight.
When the sugar disappears into a syrupy sauce, transfer the mango- and citrus-waste to a non-reactive sieve and let the syrup drain into a bowl. Press and smash the mixture with a spatula to release any syrup trapped in the peels and rinds. The recipe should yield about a cup of syrup, although the specifics will vary depending on the juiciness of the fruit itself and how thoroughly it’s drained in the end.
Due to its lower acidity, this syrup won’t keep as long as its lemon-centric counterpart, but in a glass bottle or jar, it’ll still hold up nicely for a week or two in the fridge (avoid plastic containers, which may harbor funky odors the syrup can draw out over time). If you need it to last a little longer, just pop it in a freezer-safe container and freeze it instead.
Mango syrup can be used in all the same recipes on Serious Eats that call for my lemon or lime syrup—as a sweetener for chantilly and candied pistachios, or as a tropical twist on my lemon poppyseed dressing. It’s also a breath of fresh air poured over waffles and French toast.
Truth be told, I love it best as a simple soda. Just pour an ounce of the mango syrup into a tall glass of ice, then top it off with club soda to taste.
What starts out as a beautifully layered drink will turn into an opaque mango soda by the time you stir
in a shot of gin it up with a straw.
As with my lemon syrup, the “recipe” serves mostly as a guideline and can be easily scaled up or down according to how many mango scraps you have on hand. Or, if you’re the sort of person who only snacks on a mango from time to time, stash the pit and peel in the freezer until you build up a large enough stockpile to justify a batch of syrup.
It’s a fun and thrifty way to get the most out of mangoes while they’re in season, and a great change of pace from traditional simple syrup in cocktails and iced tea. If you’re inclined to spice things up, toss in a handful of cilantro or some pieces of sliced ginger to add yet another layer of flavor—and please, if you happen upon a great new combination, please share with the class.
1. Combine mango pits and peels with the lemon rind and sugar in a large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel mixing bowl. Toss to combine, then cover tightly and let stand at room temperature, stirring once every 45 minutes or so, until sugar has completely […]
[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] We here at Serious Eats are always hungry. We’re also always on the lookout for great food that won’t break the bank. So we thought it would be a perfectly reasonable task to come up with a short roundup of our favorite […]
Essential techniques, recipes, and more!
Fusion food takes many forms. One common instance involves a chef who pulls a little from Cuisine Column A and a little from Cuisine Column B, then smashes them together. The chef hopes this new creation will be the next Cronut, but usually what you end up with is the next Egg Stew Young (don’t you dare steal it, that one is totally mine). Another type of fusion occurs more organically as cuisines, techniques, and ingredients mix over time. That mixing may be the result of two cultures existing in close proximity to one another, or due to the spread of foods along vast trade routes, or, frequently, by violence and conquest. Often, it’s all of these forces at once. Tested by time and generations of cooks, this form of fusion is almost always far more successful than the impromptu creations of an individual who’s just trying to do something “different.”
One great example of this kind of historic fusion is the Italian dish known as pasta con le sarde—pasta with sardines—which seamlessly blends Italian and Arabic cuisines. While there are some differing theories on its origins, it’s very likely a byproduct of Islamic rule in Southern Italy, dating back to the tenth century. Pasta con le sarde is a Sicilian dish, from the city of Palermo more specifically, and it’s unlike just about any other pasta in the Italian canon. On paper, it can sound unappealing, something I hadn’t even realized until I started to write this; I learned of it by eating it, and so I’ve never considered how it might sound to someone who’s never breathed deep over a plate of it, then taken a bite. It’s incredibly delicious, to me.
There are many variations of pasta con le sarde, but they all consist of an unlikely combination of sweet and savory flavors: sweet sautéed onions, aromatic fennel and saffron, plump raisins, toasted pine nuts, salty anchovies, and oily chunks of fresh sardines. Plus pasta, of course (often bucatini, but spaghetti is a great choice, too). The pasta, sardines, fennel, and anchovies are all typical Italian ingredients, and the inclusion of raisins and saffron and pine nuts is a textbook example of Arabic culinary influence.
One Fish, Two Fish
As its name indicates, pasta con le sarde is pasta with…sardines. A key detail, though, is that sardines are not the only fish typically found in pasta con le sarde. Anchovies play an important role, too, upping the overall savoriness of the sauce and reinforcing its full-fledged fishiness. Sardines, after all, are not a mild fish. They have dark, oily flesh that’s rich and undeniable fishy. Anchovies are similar in that respect, just saltier and funkier.
The key in both cases is to make sure they’re high quality, because there’s good fishy and funky, and then there’s bad fishy and funky. For the sardines, good means fresh fish that smell like they only recently were scooped from the ocean; it does not mean fish that smell like they’ve been sitting in the sun for the past six hours. (Read all about how to clean and fillet fresh whole sardines, with step-by-step photos.)
Some shortcut pasta con le sarde recipes call for canned sardines, which are no doubt easier to find, and, I suppose, could work in a pinch. But you lose a lot by going that route, and I say that as someone who adores canned sardines. The problem with them in this dish is that they’ve already been cooked hard in the can, rendering the flesh dry and dense. Toss it in a skillet and cook it into a sauce, and you only compound the problem. That, or they’ll eventually just fall apart, depriving you of the slick chunks of tender sardine the best versions of this dish offer.
For the anchovies, you want high quality oil-packed fillets. If you feel up to it, you can follow my instructions for oil-packing your own salted anchovies, a worthwhile project if you eat a lot of them (they’re so good done this way, so much better than most anchovy products, that you will eat a lot of them). Just for reference, if you’ve ever eaten a whole anchovy fillet, say on a pie from an average pizzeria, and found it alarmingly salty and weirdly furry, that was a bad anchovy. Good ones are salty too, but not cringingly so, and they have a smooth and firm texture that won’t remind you of a hairy caterpillar. Whether you prepare your own or buy them already in oil, they are worth seeking out.
Taming a Wild Beast
In Italy, pasta con le sarde is made with wild fennel, which grows along the roadsides. It doesn’t have a large bulb, like our cultivated fennel does; instead it boasts thick tufts of fronds that have an especially intense fennel aroma, underscored by a menthol-like kick. It’s also not nearly as delicate, and requires longer cooking to tenderize it.
In many recipes, what you’ll see is a blanching step in which the fennel fronds are boiled for a few minutes until softened. The cooking water, which has now become infused with fennel flavor, is later used to boil the pasta, imbuing each noodle with a blast of herbal anise. Then the cooked fronds are chopped up and added to the sauce.
If you live where wild fennel grows, this is the best way to do it. If you don’t, cultivated fennel will have to do. Luckily, there are ways to make it work. To start, you’re going to want to use the bulb of the cultivated fennel along with the fronds. I dice the bulb, adding it to the pan with the onion and sautéing them both together until soft and tender. This creates a good base-layer of fennel flavor that will spread throughout the dish. The delicate fronds are best used as a fresh herb, especially since most cultivated fennel bulbs don’t come with all the fronds still attached, leaving you with only a few to play with.
Some people—usually chefs—will also sneak fennel pollen into the dish, which has a more intense wild-fennel flavor that can make up some of the difference. Fennel pollen can be expensive, though, and, unlike at a restaurant, it’s not something that’s easy to use up quickly at home. Instead, I punch up the fennel flavor with ground toasted fennel seeds, which I mix into the bread crumbs that garnish the pasta.
Saving the Crumbs for Last
You’ve probably heard the rule that says to never combine fish and cheese. It’s not a very solid rule, but this is one pasta where you’re going to want to leave the Parm out. In its place are bread crumbs, which help soak up the oily sauce and add the perfect contrasting texture to the slick noodles. By seasoning the bread crumbs well with fennel seed, salt, and pepper, they play a role not totally different from a showering of grated cheese, but they do it without introducing the aged flavor of cheese. It’s a trick that can be used to good effect in many dishes—not just fish-based ones—in which we tend to reflexively layer on grated cheese.
Pasta Con le Sarde: Step by Step
Step 1: Steep Raisins and Saffron
I don’t like cooked dishes with raisins where the raisins are fully dry and shriveled. I like them plumped up. So I start by soaking the raisins in hot white wine with the saffron. This gives the raisins a chance to soften, and pulls the saffron flavor out into the wine, so that it’s well extracted before going into the sauce near the end.
Step 2: Make Seasoned Bread Crumbs
Then I prepare the breadcrumbs, which only go into the dish right at the end, but need to be ready when the time comes. I’m partial to panko, even in an Italian dish like this, because it has a lightness and excellent crunch without being gritty. If the panko is too large, you can crush it into smaller bits in your hands.
I toast it with olive oil and ground fennel seeds, then season it well with salt and pepper.
Step 3: Cook Aromatics and Anchovies
To cook the sauce, the first step is to cook the onion and fennel in olive oil until sweet and soft. Just as the vegetables are approaching that stage, add the anchovy fillets and cook them until they dissolve into the oil.
Step 4: Add Raisins, Saffron, Wine, Pine Nuts, and Sardines
At this point, there should be some browned stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan. To stop the browning and scrape up all that flavor, I add the wine, along with the raisins and saffron, then reduce it until the wine is just about fully evaporated.
Finally, in go toasted pine nuts and sardines. Let them cook just until the sardines are reaching doneness.
Step 5: Finish With Pasta and Pasta Water
While all this is happening, you will also have had a pot of water boiling on the side to cook the pasta. As soon as it’s al dente, transfer it to the skillet with the sauce along with a quarter cup or so of the starchy pasta cooking water. After some quick stirring and tossing, the pasta water will emulsify with the sauce, coating each noodle. If the sauce is too dry at any point, just hit it with another quarter cup or so of pasta water.
Step 6: Serve
I always hit the pasta with a final generous glug of olive oil, just to sex the whole thing up, then toss in a small handful of the breadcrumbs, incorporating them so that there’s a very, very light coating on the noodles.
Onto plates the pasta goes, topped with a much more generous handful of the breadcrumbs (and sometimes an extra drizzle of olive oil—there’s never really a limit), and reserved fennel fronds.
The flavors are global, but you’ll only notice if you pause to think about it for a moment. It’s usually too tasty to bother with that.
[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] A classic pasta from Palermo in Siciliy, pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) is unlike just about any other Italian pasta dish. Heavily influenced by the cooking of Arabs who ruled Sicily more than a thousand years ago, it features long […]
[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, J. Kenji López-Alt, Daniel Gritzer] When I was a kid I hated broccoli. Like Brussels sprouts, another often-unappreciated brassica, broccoli’s reputation has been marred by decades of bad steaming and boiling. Overcooked broccoli is an abomination, with a mushy texture and a […]
When you hear a Pacific Northwesterner casually drop the term “clamming,” they’re probably not talking about the bivalves most of us enjoy tossed into spaghetti or served on the half-shell. They’re boasting about razor clams—the big, oblong ones you unearth from sandy shores with a shovel or gun, then quickly clean and (if you’re like most clammers) coat with bread crumbs and pan-fry, then serve with lemon and tartar sauce.
I moved from New Jersey to Seattle over 20 years ago to go to culinary school, and when I first heard my Seattle friends were taking their guns to the beach to hunt clams, no one could blame me for thinking that I’d relocated to the Wild West. These same friends, after all, had already taken me on a death march up the side of Mount Baker in a snowstorm, with steel-toothed crampons on my boots for traction. I had good reason to be afraid.
But I quickly discovered that the “gun” refers to a length of PVC pipe with a handle, which you wiggle into the wet sand, pulling up a core sample that, if properly extracted, will contain Siliqua patula, a.k.a. the Pacific razor clam. Gone was the image of me holding a Remington shotgun and pointing it hesitatingly at a bivalve on a sandy beach at night.
Still, that doesn’t mean my first time razor clamming, years ago in early December, wasn’t memorable—equal parts The Walking Dead meets Survivor, it’s the kind of experience one tells their grandkids about with bravado. A fine mist was falling, and the wind blew sand and water into psychedelic rivulets at my feet. A friend and I fell in line with other bundled-up, intrepid hunters as we trekked out toward the surf line in the pitch black, the collective light of our headlamps casting eerie shadows on the beach. Occasionally, a jeep would zoom down the beach; heads would lift up to watch, then drop back down, scanning left and right for the telltale quarter-sized, doughnut-shaped dimples in the sand that indicate a razor clam is hidden beneath the surface.
Since that night, I’ve learned a lot about the rugged approach Northwesterners take to their food—particularly their striking degree of savvy about stalking it in the wild, capturing it, and then, importantly, knowing how to clean and prepare it. The Pacific razor clam is a prime example. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about this unique regional delicacy, guns and all.
What Is a Pacific Razor Clam?
The Pacific razor clam is not to be confused with the Atlantic razor clam (Ensis directus), which is narrow, rectangular, and more aptly named, given its resemblance to a straight razor. The Pacific razor clam, on the other hand, is beefy and ovoid, with far more protein. It’s the meaty equivalent of a Dungeness crab compared with the smaller blue crab, to put it in East Coast seafood terms.
The clams can grow as long as six inches, in contrast with the common Manila clam, which tops out at three to four inches. (Of course, razor clams are dwarfed in size next to the Pacific Northwest’s most famous clam, the geoduck. If you include its siphon, the geoduck can be over three feet long, making it a clam so immense—and phallic—that nearly two million people, presumably mostly 12-year-old boys, have viewed my educational video on the subject just to gawk and send it to their friends.) The greatest concentration of razor clams is found on the 53-mile stretch of shore on Washington State’s southern coast, where the flat, sandy beaches make an ideal habitat.
How to Gather Them
Razor clams are collected in the hours just before low tide, when the receding water leaves behind soft sand and the above-mentioned little dimples, or “shows,” appear where the clams have been digging downward. Physically incapable of moving sideways, razor clams occupy the shellfish equivalent of an elevator, spending their days going up a few floors for food, down a few for safety. (Sometime last year, you may have caught a viral video of a burrowing Pacific razor clam spurting a jet of wet sand, much to the delight and revulsion of many internet commenters.)
To harvest them, you’ll need boots, a clam gun or shovel, a shellfish license, a headlamp—many low tides occur after dark—and a net bag or bucket to store them in. You’ll also need to check any lingering self-consciousness at the door: When you spot one of those shows, you’ll have to spring into action, and let me tell you, the first few times I did this, it wasn’t pretty to watch. It takes a lot of leverage, wrist strength, butt-wiggling, and speed to plunge the gun into the sand, meaning you’ll look funny from the back, sides, and front. If you give in to any feelings of self-doubt, the clam will sense your vanity and get a head start on its escape. Never turn your back to the ocean, as rogue waves are a real risk. You want to angle the gun ever so slightly toward the ocean, and twist or plunge the tube like mad until the pipe is at least two feet down into the sand. If you hear a crunch, as I have numerous times, you definitely got one, but you also mangled it. You are required to keep it and count it toward your daily limit of 15. (Luckily, mangled clams are still edible.)
The thrill is in unearthing the big ones undamaged, and it’s especially exciting when you pull the core sample of sand up and out, kick it over to find nothing, and then see the clam in the hole, digging down like mad. Now’s the time to plunge your arm into the hole—be fearless!—and pull the clam up and out and into your net. And start planning your dinner, because you’re about to eat the best clams in the world.
If you need more advice (and encouragement), the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has a great video on tools and digging technique. And, if you’re not up for a wet-and-wild beach adventure, check out your local high-quality fish market to purchase razor clams cleaned and ready to go, or order them online.
How They Taste
I’m likely biased, but I think razors are among the tastiest of all the clams, with both tender and chewy parts that make for a more interesting texture. (They would have to be this good, or why else would I stand out in the rain with a bunch of other shellfish-crazy yahoos holding clam guns?) The flavor of the siphon and digger, the choice bits most harvesters are after, are exceptionally clean-tasting, a little saline, with just a passing hint of sweetness, as if you were kissing a mermaid. Some folks also eat the brown bits, which include the stomach; I remove them, as I’m not keen on the slightly muddy, metallic finish.
How to Clean Them
If you’ve bought your razor clams from the store, already cleaned and frozen or on ice, congratulations—you’ll have literally no cleaning work to do. Processors flash-freeze the clams after cleaning them thoroughly. Thaw them and use them within a day or two, or keep them in your freezer for months. Side-by-side tests I’ve done comparing flash-frozen razor clams with fresh ones I’ve caught myself convinced me that these frozen clams—at least, the brand I bought (I purchased them from Alaska-based Custom Seafoods)—are equal to fresh clams in flavor and quality.
If you’ve harvested them from the beach, though, you have some work ahead of you.
Step 1: Rinse
Before you get started, rinse off all the sand from the clams, then place them in a bucket with a damp cloth over the top while you work. Do not keep them in a bucket of seawater, as they will run out of oxygen and die.
Step 2: Remove the Shell
Right away, we have our first debate: Though some people blanch and shock the razor clams for five to 10 seconds, in order to pop open the shell and release the clam, I prefer to use a knife to cut open the shell. Blanching may be the easier method, but I don’t like precooking the meat this way; it overcooks so easily that I’d rather not heat it any more than necessary.
You’ll want a paring knife for this job—a clam knife, designed exclusively for opening hard-shell clams, is of no use to you here. You need a longer, sharper, and, most importantly, thinner blade. Slide the blade carefully along the inside of the shell, cutting just underneath the small, bay scallop–looking pieces (known as adductor muscles) that attach the clam to its shell. There are two of these on each side of the shell. If you accidentally leave them attached to the shell (whoops), cut them off and add them to the cleaned meat to cook—they’re tasty!
Once the shell is released, you can compost it, or boil it for a minute to sterilize it, then use the shell to serve the cooked meat in for fancy-presentation points.
Step 3: Cut Lengthwise
Using kitchen shears, cut off the tough and dirty tip of the siphon. Next, use the scissors to follow the zipper line of the meat up to the top, butterflying the first chamber of the siphon. Then butterfly the second side of the siphon. Rinse thoroughly, as sand and dirt tend to get caught in the siphon.
Step 4: Remove the Brown Bits (a.k.a. Internal Organs)
Cut or pull out the brown bits and the digger foot, or leave the digger foot attached if you want to cook the razor clam in its entirety. You’ll be left with the splayed-open siphons and an oblong-doughnut shape of razor clam meat. Press on the digger foot to push the stomach forward, then snip off the stomach and compost it.
You might see a translucent rod, known as the crystalline style, jutting out from the digger. This is used to break down the silica-like shell of the plankton the clams consume, and it’s both shocking and fascinating the first time you see it emerge. Resist the temptation to scream, even though it could be an extra in an Alien movie (but do look for it so you can pull it out because, ugh).
Step 5: Butterfly the Digger Foot
Next, butterfly the digger foot, rinse, and pull or cut out any brown bits. You might see a brown line, which is the clam’s intestinal tract. Get rid of that, too, by scraping it out with your knife.
Step 6: Pound the Meat (or Don’t)
To pound or not to pound? The siphon part of the clam is the tougher portion, and some prefer to pound it a bit between two pieces of parchment paper, using a meat mallet, to tenderize it. I’ve found that you can save time by skipping this step, and focus instead on not overcooking the clam. Plus, I enjoy the slightly chewier texture, especially in contrast with the more tender digger portion. If you do go the pounding route, make sure not to hit it too hard, so it remains intact.
Cleaned meat can be vacuum-sealed and frozen for about six months, or stored in a container in the fridge for a day. However, the meat is quite perishable. The best plan is always to grab some friends and clean and cook them the same day they’re caught—failing that, clean and freeze them immediately, if at all possible.
If you prefer to see the cleaning process in slower motion than our quick video above, this is the best video I’ve found online to help guide you.
How to Cook Them (i.e., How Not to Overcook Them)
As with littleneck or Manila clams, a prolonged cooking time will lead to rubbery and tough razor clams. If you’re pan-frying or deep-frying, cook them at very high heat, and make sure they’re in and out of the pan in under a minute. As the siphon portion is especially prone to overcooking, I sometimes separate it from the rest to give it a little less time on the heat. Alternatively, try poaching the clams in hot liquid or, even better, butter.
The tougher siphon meat is great in ceviche, while the tender digger makes for incredible fried clams, though both parts can be used in both dishes for a mix of textures. You can keep it simple and go classic Northwest style, dipping the cleaned clam meat in flour, then egg, and finally bread crumbs or panko, then shallow-frying them and serving with tartar sauce, lemon wedges, and hot sauce.
Or, take them in a more unusual direction: Shota Nakajima, chef and owner of Adana Restaurant in Seattle (and a recent contestant on Iron Chef Gauntlet), sears both parts quickly with minced ginger, mushrooms, and burdock root, then poaches them lightly in dashi, white soy sauce, and a pinch of butter. He garnishes the razor clams with the Japanese herb mitsuba—think celery meets chervil, though it looks like flat-leaf parsley. Chef and cooking teacher Michelle Nguyen steams them and serves them with crushed peanuts, basil, chilies, garlic, and fish sauce.
Ashlyn Forshner, chef and owner of Whidbey Island Bed and Breakfast (and the friend who first took me razor clamming), riffs on an excellent ceviche with razor clams she learned how to make at Elemental Restaurant in Seattle. “I chop the meat into medium dice and then add the juice of a lime, lemon, and orange, as well as the zest,” she told me the other day, as we were heading to the Olympic Peninsula to hunt for mushrooms. “Drizzle good, fruity olive oil on top, thinly slice some jalapeños into rings, and add those for heat.” She then lets it all mingle in the fridge for a few hours before serving. I whipped up a batch the other day, added bits of orange flesh and Maldon salt, and served it with crispy tortilla chips, and it was one of the best ceviche dishes I’ve ever had. I imagine it would be equally great with a bit of diced avocado as well.
And, if you want to put your razor clams to work in a wholeheartedly American preparation, I’ve attached my recipe here for razor clam chowder, adapted from a recipe published in the latest edition of my book Good Fish: 100 Sustainable Seafood Recipes From the Pacific Coast. Here, the key to avoid overcooking the delicate clam meat is to turn off the burner after cooking the rest of the chowder, then poach the clams gently, off the heat, for just one minute. This will ensure that you don’t miss out on the unique flavor and texture of this chowder’s most precious feature.