Kitchen Shrink: A sad lobster tale and other food stories to kick-off the new year
It’s a new year, and while a lot of us are recovering from too much holiday cheer, I’m peering into my culinary crystal ball for some educated predictions, trends, and smart food options. Here’s to a healthy, happy, yummy, and prosperous one!
Maine lobster lovers are going to have to hunt down this seafood treasure as many fishmongers have put it on ice (figuratively speaking) due to a declaration of unsustainability by a pair of high-profile environmental watchdogs. Whole Foods (among others) are no longer offering this delicacy as it has been linked to jeopardizing the North Atlantic right whale species, a by-catch from lobster fishing. This devasting ruling has severely harmed the livelihoods of lobstermen/women, while depriving the gustatory pleasures of discriminating piscivores throughout the country. For now, they can indulge in local, succulent (albeit clawless) spiny lobster harvested from the Baja coast, North Atlantic Canadian lobster, or the European blue lobster from the coast of Normandy, Ireland, and Scotland with a side order of jet lag.
In the Can
The tinned fish craze nicknamed, among other things, “hot girl food,” has been making a splash across the land. Samplings from Portugal, Spain, Alaska, Italy, Morocco, SoCal, Thailand, and Japan are turn-key ready for savory palates to instantly relish without the fuss of prepping, deboning, cooking, marinating, or mixing. Kitschy cans emblazoned with foreign lettering and nostalgic, eye-popping graphics are packed with razor clams, whole sardines, white anchovy fillets, sea urchin roe, mussels, lobster chunks, rainbow trout, mackerel, wild cockles, baby eels and squid, and let’s not forgot pedestrian tuna and wild-caught salmon, all swimming in umami-flavored sauces and marinades. Some faves include, roasted garlic-infused olive oil, wasabi soy sauce, vinegar dill brine, smoky and spicy tomato and sofrito sauces, sweet Spanish paprika, lip-puckering lemon caper, and preserved lemons. These are served in upscale restaurants, and line the shelves of neighborhood markets to enjoy at home. You’ll fall hook, line, and sinker for these delectables tossed on pizzas and flat breads as sassy toppings, blended in assorted salads, pastas, omelets and frittatas, or chowed down straight out of the tin with an assortment of crackers, crostini rounds, and crisp, raw vegetables for an easy, brain-boosting, savory supper with a sprinkling of international flair.
With dinner parties and small gatherings slowly returning, so is the all-purpose, something-for-everyone charcuterie board typically displaying a mix of soft and hard cheeses, dried fruits, specialty nuts, and cured meats. It’s time to expand your charcuterie board horizons with some fun and creative crowd pleasers:
• A “seacuterie” board, which swaps out the meats for fish and seafood, including steamed or panko-breaded calamari, wild-caught shrimp and scallops, mini crab cakes, and assorted caviar accompanied by brioche slider buns, blinis, hard-boiled egg halves, chopped red onion, and a variety of dipping sauces like cocktail, aioli, zippy remoulade, and clarified butter.
• A canned fish board served au naturel in the old-timey tins with the lids removed, paired with an array of crackers, toasts, lemon wedges, and pickled vegetables.
• A Mediterranean-themed board featuring popular delicacies from assorted regions like tapas from Spain, (grilled octopus, chorizo and Serrano ham, croquettes, stuffed mussels, Marcona almonds, manzanilla olives), antipasto from Italy,(prosciutto, figs, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms, pepperoncini, buffalo mozzarella balls, Parmesan Reggiano chunks, crusty bread, roasted chestnuts), and delights from Greece, (dolmas leaves, home-made hummus, pita bread, kalamata olives, feta chunks, minty tabouli, marinated red peppers, Persian cucumbers).
• The trending “butter board” smeared with whipped butter, (goat or ghee for more digestible options), topped with edible flowers and coarse pink Himalayan Sea salt, and an array of all things that go well with butter.
• A bruschetta board with grilled, garlic-rubbed French bread rounds, and a selection of savory, marinated tapenades, (tomato/basil, mixed olives, baby eggplant).
• Breakfast/brunch boards for either sweet tooths displaying waffles, French toast strips, berries, and melon balls, amidst syrups and nut butters, or savory palates blending smoky, salty treasures from the sea, (salmon, sable, carp, and a creamy whitefish salad) as the centerpiece, surrounded by an herb goat cheese spread, caper berries, microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, sliced red onions, breakfast radishes, mini bagels, and dish of “Everything Bagel Seasoning”.
• A biscotti board with the biscuit done many ways, (Myer lemon/cherry, pistachio/saffron, matcha green tea, toasted hazelnut, espresso/almond) along with nutty, chocolatey, creamy, and fruity dips, and mounds of fresh, seasonal berries.
The list of gluten-free, keto-friendly, high protein, low carb pastas is linguini long and continuing to grow. Wheat is given the shaft as pasta evolves into sophisticated new formulations with such plant-based ingredients as legumes and beans (red and green lentils, lupini beans, yellow peas, black beans, chickpeas, edamame), fruits, vegetables, and roots, (zucchini, cauliflower, gourds, green banana, Jerusalem artichoke, cassava, and Shirataki from the root of the konjac yam), alternative grains, (chia, quinoa, brown and white rice, buckwheat), and nuts, (almond and coconut flours). While the texture varies among these fake fusilli, mock-up macaroni, and lookalike lasagna noodles, some are more authentic than others with a characteristic chew of the real McCoy. For pasta purists without gluten sensitivities, it’s a difficult transition. So, use your noodle and choose wisely.
Now, for my final contribution, here’s a healthier, buttery concoction, equally scrumptious on the kitchen table as on the charcuterie board. Goat butter is more flavorful and digestible than cow butter, has a lower melting point, higher moisture content, and produced without added growth hormones. Spread the word.
—1-cup unsalted goat butter, room temperature
—½-cup ripe mango, finely chopped
—4-tablespoons honey, orange blossom or chestnut
—Pinch of pink sea salt
—Cayenne pepper to taste
—In a mixing bowl using a wooden spoon cream butter with honey, mango, and seasonings. Transfer to a ramekin. Cover and chill.
—Substitute orange, tangerine, or Meyer lemon zest for the mango to enliven savory dishes.