A Weekend With the Boys

Well I know it’s been a while, but Spiceboy is back with a new adventure and a new menu to share.

One of my very favorite times of year is Labor Day weekend, when the boys and I take off for the north shores of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It’s time for a few relaxing days of laying on the beach, shopping, chatting, eating good food – and indulging in some boardwalk-style junkfood while we’re at it!

As thanks for the invitation from my dear friends Mac and Christopher, I make it a point to prepare a meal for everyone.

When at the ocean, what could be more apt than to take advantage of all the fresh seafood? This year, I designed a 3-course tasting menu of small plates, built around a few staples I brought with me: Carnaroli rice for risotto, real stone-ground grits, and of course a handful of spice jars tucked into my knife bag.

Course one: I had in mind oysters, simply broiled with ginger-lime butter. This dish was more of a method than a recipe. With my able sous chef Victor D., we simply eyeballed the ingredients and went by taste, mixing lime juice, pepper, garlic butter, and finely minced ginger. We then topped each oyster on the half shell with a generous dollop of the concoction. (I got a lot of practice with my oyster knife , shucking all 16 oysters myself – I must say, I’m getting a little better at this!) When broiling oysters in the oven, I find that 10 or 11 minutes at 425 works pretty well. You want to barely cook them, and just see those edges begin to curl. The citrus and butter mixed delightfully with the oyster’s natural liquor and created a lovely sauce that draped the prize, as you can see:

(Pictures are by Mac M, by the way. His came out better than mine.)

Course two was a twist on the classic shrimp and grits. I made buttery ancho chile grits with sauteed shrimp and a fried green tomatillo. This was supposed to be a fried green tomato, but the market didn’t have any. Oh well, sometimes we have to improvise.  The grits incorporated a heaping tablespoon of pure ancho chile powder, and the shrimp carried a subtle dusting of my personal New Mexico chile blend, to continue the spicy theme. As an added texture, the tomatillo, first soaked in cream (because we had no buttermilk), was breaded with corn-flake crumbs (because we had no breadcrumbs) for some nice crunch. The tartness of the tomatillo played nicely with the slight sweetness of the corn-flake. Improvisation worked out this time – I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Course three was my version of surf and turf: sweet corn risotto with soft shell crab, and sirloin steak slices. Soft shell crabs may look intimidating, but they saute up so simply, and they have incredible flavor and texture. I have a couple of hints to share with you. When I make my sweet corn risotto, I slice the kernels from the cob, then simmer the cobs in the stock I’m using for the risotto as I complete the dish. By doing so, the “milk” that the cob exudes will give off more corn flavor, and make for a richer-tasting dish. Victor and I sauteed the crabs carefully until they were just cooked. We cut up the crab bodies into bite-sized pieces and stirred them into the risotto, which allowed their flavorful, buttery juices to carry throughout. The crunchy legs and claws were used for garnish.

In all, I think the boys were pretty satisfied, and though I wouldn’t say my invitation for next year is in the bag, I think my chances are pretty good. Do you think?