Dinner Diary July 2, 1987
Yea stuffed squid! I think that I’ve stuffed them with just about everything that makes sense, also some things that don’t. Again, just the two of us for dinner, Bonnie and me, we very much like it that way. I can sometimes get the squid with the ink, a very special treat, from my most favorite seafood store in the whole world, noted before, Nassau Street Seafood in Princeton, New Jersey.
Squid are a versatile ingredient and easy to cook. I have yet to have mine turn rubbery, but there’s still time for that to happen. There is an old saying that goes, “you cook squid for either two minutes or two hours. Anything in between and they come out rubbery”. OK, I cooked these for 4 minutes a side. That’s allowable seeing as how they are stuffed. I save the tentacles to close the bottom opening of the squid, a very attractive presentation.
This is a good menu. I honestly don’t think that the squid filling needs to be pureed, as I’ve written. Just get the filling to the point where you can nicely stuff the squid with it. All the dishes work together, though I might serve a Pommes Anna rather than the wild rice. Pommes Anna? More simple than it sounds. Very thinly sliced potatoes are layered in a baking dish and drizzled with butter or pats of butter, salt and black pepper between the layers. The dish is baked and the and when the potatoes are a wonderful very deep golden brown the baking dish is inverted onto a plate, the potatoes slide out and are then put back into the baking dish with the ‘bottom’ , the as yet to be golden brown potatoes, up. The dish is returned to the oven until what used to be the bottom is now golden brown. The potatoes are unmolded onto a plate and served. The end result is a wonderful buttery concoction with a crispy top and bottom and creamy center. Potatoes kicked up to the point where they’re fit for the Gods.
Yes, I know what they look like
At Nassau Street Seafood the offerings are always fresh fish, seasonal – you won’t find soft-shell crabs in November. God bless them, they will get me fresh sea urchins, good smoked trout, cockles and real prawns. I think back on all of the wonderful seafood that I’ve gotten here and my thoughts latch on to scallops with the roe attached. The rarest of rare – scallops with the roe attached. My thoughts also skip to Hatch’s on the Cape who also carries these whenever they can. I don’t see a lot of folks leaping to buy these; supposedly they are more popular in Europe than they are here. But when Bonnie and I walk in to Nassau or Hatch’s and see these in the case it’s like surprise presents on Christmas morning. These shellfish are beautiful: good size, glistening, creamy white scallops with a pink or creamy-rose colored crescent moon of roe nestled to the scallop along the inside edge of the crescent, the crescent moon snuggling the sun, you and your love snuggled front to back in bed on a lazy morning. Beautiful sublime taste of sea, flow of the tides, warm sun, cold water, summer soft salt breezes, cries of the gull and terns and eternity stretching before you. You’ve got to ’listen’ to taste all of this but, it is all there, all in a single bite.
In preparing this posting I decided to revisit the recipe. The squid in the photo were stuffed with scallops and shrimp and seasoned with herbs. Stuffing them would have been easier if the stuffing wasn’t as coarse as I had chopped it. I wouldn’t puree the stuffing as I’d written, but a fine dice would make the job easier. And by the way, you don’t need the eggs and the breadcrumbs. The squid were served with squid ink pasta finished in garlic infused olive oil with parsley and asparagus with lemon butter. While the dish looks OK, I think that it’s lacking something. The squid needs more of a visual sauce than beurre blanc provided. Maybe a creamed sauce with a spinach, sorrel or chard base – something nice and bright and green that works with the herbed squid stuffing. Not withstanding my criticism the meal was tasty. I’ll go for tasty and better looking next time.
Scallops with the Roe attached
I know that the scallops aren’t the main course of this diary entry, but let’s wander a bit. Let’s muse on the scallops. These shellfish have to be just about the sweetest, creamiest, richest things that come from the sea. OK, lobster’s up there too, but these take first place in those combined categories. When you’re buying scallops you have to tell your fishmonger that you want to smell them. Don’t be embarrassed because these aren’t cheap. Put your nose right next to that scallop and inhale deeply. Let the scents roll around your mouth as if you’re tasting a fine wine. Chew on them and think about what you’re discovering. The scent and taste should be sweet and rich, almost scallop ice cream, with delicious undercurrents of beach sounds and scents. As I wrote in the diary entry, “Beautiful sublime taste of sea, flow of the tides, warm sun, cold water, summer soft salt breezes, cries of the gull and terns and eternity stretching before you.” If you smell any other scents than these you should run like hell from that fishmonger. The roe has different tastes and textures than the scallop proper (actually the scallop proper is the adductor muscle; the mussel that opens and closes the shell) and that difference works very well. The roe is firmer, much less sweet even verging on savory. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition of flavors and textures: soft/firm, sweet/savory. Please, please, please cook the scallops only about 3 minutes a side if you pan sautéing them over high heat. There are a lot of fancy recipes, Coquille St. Jacques, is a classic, but if I’ve got really nice scallops that’s just about all that I want to taste. Maybe some butter and lemon juice or a little butter and wine reduced. For me, culinary heaven.
I’ve been thinking about my cooking of late. Not the, “What’s for dinner?” cooking thoughts or the constant thinking about what can I try that I haven’t done before or the what can I do that I haven’t done in a while. Nope, not those thoughts.
On one level I’m becoming increasingly obsessed with working to be the best cook that I can be. I want my cooking to be perfect. I want it to be imaginative and/or I want that simple, single, ingredient to be the essence of that ingredient. For example, I’ve become obsessed with roasting a chicken perfectly – absolutely crispy skin, meat just falling from the bone and dripping with juices. I want this chicken so perfectly freakin roasted that all the other chickens are lining up to get in that roasting pan!
On another level I have been thinking of the solace that cooking brings me in these tough times. When everything else is going to hell the cooking is still there for me. When everything else is going to hell I can still make dinner for friends, enjoy the comfort in those friendships, enjoy the compliments and, in those moments, the tough times disappear. So, there’s no need to thank me for inviting you over to join us for dinner.
I thank you. Hope to see you at our table soon!
Next Week: May we’ll get to ‘The Prize’ diary entry. Then again, maybe not.