Saturday, September 19, 2009

Even a decent cook can have an off night

dinner, originally uploaded by Kim De.

I consider myself a decent cook. I have been doing it since I was a child, so I have had lots of practice. But sometimes a meal doesnt turn out as planned. This was one such meal.

We love calamari and mussles. We make them frequently enough that it is an easy undertaking, but when new recipes are tried it is always a gamble.

Lets start with the mussels. Usually I start with fresh whole mussels, simmer them in a broth of some sort, then serve them with bread for dipping. Sometime last spring a box of mussels frozen on the half shell showed up in our freezer, so those needed to be used. I found a recipe from Mario Batalli that I used, and combined it with the baking instructions on the box. They werent bad. Bo liked them. They just werent what mussels the way I like them, brothy with the seafood providing a stock mixed with wine and olive oil.

Next is the calamari. Usually I grill or saute it, and we love it that way. When we are at a good restaurant, we love to try their fried calamari. I have a recipe from Giada for it, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Now, you must know, I have never made anything deep fried before. I dont own a deep fryer. I was going to improvise. I set up the flour with a touch of salt and pepper and coated the calamari. I put oil in a deep, heavy pan and started the flame. When the thermometer registered 350, I carefully dropped in three pieces. Immediately they oil dropped 10 degrees. I quickly turned up the flame to bring the oil back up, but it took its own sweet time. After 4-5 minutes, I pulled them out, turned up the flame and added three more. You get the point.

They all cooked. A few of them even turned a lovely golden color. The smalled pieces fared much better then the larger tubes. We both agreed the oil wasnt hot enough to flash fry as was necessary for really good calamari. It was a learning experience. Deep frying is messy, it is hard to do without a fryer, and really isnt worth it for us. Oh, and does anyone know how to discard a pot of oil?

Mussels Alla Piastra with Prosciutto Bread Crumbs (Adapted from Mario Batali)

4 pounds small mussels, frozen on the half shell
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 cup toasted bread crumbs
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, -- coarsely chopped
1 bunch lemon thyme, leaves only
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350.

Put the mussels in a large metal bowl, add the orange and lemon zest and juice and the jalapeño, and toss gently. Set aside.

Place the bread crumbs, prosciutto, lemon thyme, and scallions in a food processor and zap until well mixed, 6 or 7 pulses.

Working quickly, dump the mussels (with everything else in the bowl) onto a baking sheet and scatter the bread crumb mixture over and around them. Bake for 20 minutes.

Fried Calamari (Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 pound clean squid with tentacles, bodies cut into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rings
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dried parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Your favorite jarred or homemade marinara sauce, warmed

Pour enough oil into a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 350 degrees F. Mix the flour, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Working in small batches, toss the squid into the flour mixture to coat. Carefully add the squid to the oil and fry until crisp and very pale golden, about 1 minute per batch. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the fried calamari to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

Place the fried calamari and lemon wedges on a clean plate. Sprinkle with salt. Serve with the marinara sauce.

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