Saturday, June 25, 2016

Soft-Shell Crab Toast

The first time I had soft-shell crab was in the summer of 1978. I was running the Perkins 'Cake & Steak account at the time and I had traveled to the Jersey Shore to meet with a franchisee out there. Besides the seven Perkins stores he owned, he also owned a high-end supper club. We were having dinner there and he insisted I try their specialty, soft-shell blue crab. Well, I tried it and instantly fell in love with the dish.

Soft-shell crab season runs from April through September. During this period, blue crabs lose their shells. They are harvested immediately, before they can grow a new shell. This means the entire body is edible. While a lot of stores offer them frozen, I much prefer mine fresh. Whole Foods is my choice for fresh soft-shell crabs.

And I like to prepare them just like I had it that first time on the Jersey shore. The crabs are charred under a broiler and then served on toast. The toast acts like a sponge for the delicious crab juices and heightens the crunch. This is Melissa Clark's recipe, however, I usually skip the sauce and just squeeze lemon over the crab toasts.

6 cups packed Italian parsley
jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 slices of country-style bread
1 large garlic clove, halved and peeled
6, 3-ounce soft shelled crabs
Black pepper
Lemon wedges

  1. In a blender, combine parsley, jalapeño, lemon juice and salt. Add oil and 3 tablespoons water. Purée until sauce is smooth, adding additional water if needed, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a thick yet pourable sauce. Transfer sauce to a bowl and add more salt or lemon juice, or both, if needed.
  2. Heat broiler. Place bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil, turning once, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Rub toast with cut garlic. Drizzle with oil or slather with butter, remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Lightly coat crabs with oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer, belly side up, to a large baking sheet (you can use the same one you used for the toast). Broil, turning once, until crisp and golden, about 2 minutes per side.
  4. Place one crab on top of each toast. Spoon a generous amount of sauce over each crab and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Wine pairing: A nice, oaky Chardonnay (a Ramey if you are really lucky)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

10-Minute Thai Basil Chicken

There are days where I spend hours in my kitchen carefully perfecting a new recipe. Days like that bring me a lot of joy. Then there are other days where the very last thing I feel like is cooking (I hear you, Mom!). On those days I'm looking for fast and easy....a quick journey down the path of least resistance.

This recipe is for the latter type of days. But it's almost unbelievable how 10 quick minutes of labor can yield something that tastes this fantastic. But there are two crucial ingredients to make this dish absolutely stellar.

First are the Thai chilies. Sure, you could substitute jalapeños, but you really want the heat of Thai chilies to offset the sweetness of the honey. Second is the Thai basil. Unlike regular basil, you will notice the pronounced flavor of licorice. This "Woks of Life" recipe serves four.

3 tablespoons of oil 
3 Thai bird chilies, de-seeded (if desired) and thinly sliced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound ground chicken 
2 teaspoons sugar or honey 
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 bunch holy basil or Thai basil leaves


  1. In a pan or wok over high heat, add the oil, chilies, shallots and garlic, and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the ground chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes, breaking up the chicken into small bits.
  2. Add the sugar, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Stir-fry for another minute and deglaze the pan with the broth. Because your pan is over high heat, the liquid should cook off very quickly. Add the basil, and stir-fry until wilted. Serve over rice.

Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pressed Steak and Horseradish Sandwich

We're having a couple of 90º days up here in Minnesota. And to make matters worse, the humidity is at 74% and the dew point is not too far behind that. So the last thing I want to do is go grilling on the deck at 5:30pm when the weather is at it's most extreme.

This nifty little recipe from Food Network Kitchen let's me avoid that. You can do your grilling in the cooler part of the day because this is a pressed sandwich. Grill it, then press it in the fridge for 3 hours by setting a cast iron pan or foil-wrapped brick on top of the sandwich.  This serves eight normal humans or four linebackers.

1 flank steak (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1 medium to large red onion, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 large loaf rye bread (unsliced)
4 cups baby arugula
1 large tomato, thinly sliced

  1. Prepare your grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  2. Place the flank steak in a casserole dish or baking pan. Drizzle with the Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Rub this mixture all over both sides of the flank steak and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  3. Mix together the mayonnaise, horseradish and whole-grain mustard in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. When the grill is hot, cook the flank steak for 6 minutes on each side. When done, remove steak to a cutting board, tent with foil and let it rest 10 minutes before slicing very thinly across the grain. 
  5. Drizzle the onion slices with the remaining tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the onion on both sides to char and soften, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a bowl. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap to continue softening.
  6. Slice the bread loaf in half horizontally and lay the two halves cut-side up. Pull out some of the bread from both halves, leaving a 1/4-inch border (see top photo). Spread the horseradish and mayonnaise mixture on both halves. Layer half of the arugula, then the onion and the steak on the bottom half of the loaf and season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes, remaining arugula, more salt and pepper and top half of the loaf. Wrap tightly in parchment, wax paper or plastic wrap and tie with twine if necessary. Press 3 hours with a brick or cast-iron skillet on top to flatten the sandwich, refrigerated. About 45 minutes before serving, bring the sandwich to room temperature. Then slice and serve.

Pairing: It's 90º and it's a sandwich. I'll take a pilsner, please. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Steamed Mussels with Hard Cider and Bacon

When I have a hankering for mussels, I always wait until Friday when Costco stocks their display case with fresh-as-can-be mussels. I can usually pick up a 4 to 5 pound bag for less than $10. Then I head to the bakery and buy some French baguettes (which in almost every instance are still piping hot from the oven). You can't eat mussels without having french bread to dip into the broth.

The mussels sold at Costco (and most grocery stores) are farmed and therefore need no cleaning. The mussels are alive when you buy them. They will stay alive for up to 3 days if you place them in a bowl, cover them with a wet paper towel and stick the bowl in the fridge. When you steam them, the shells on the live mussels will pop open. The shells of dead mussels will remain closed. Toss those.

My favorite way to prepare mussels is steaming them in garlic and Chardonnay. But this Cook's Illustrated recipe caught my eye. Hard cider. Thyme. Bacon. And heavy cream for the richest possible broth. It is critical that you use a dry hard cider in this recipe. The drier the better. Sweet cider will ruin this dish. I'd suggest a dry cider from either Crispin or Angry Orchard.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cup dry hard cider
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 pounds mussels
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley


  1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Heat oil and bacon in large roasting pan over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon has rendered and is starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add cider, thyme sprigs and bay leaves and bring to boil. Cook until cider is slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Add mussels and salt. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and transfer to oven. Cook for 15 minutes, until most mussels have opened (a few may remain closed).
  2. Remove pan from oven. Discard thyme sprigs, bay leaves and any mussels that have not opened. Push mussels to sides of pan. Add cream to center and whisk until incorporated.  Then sprinkle parsley over mussels, and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir