BaltimOregon to Maine

Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Posts Tagged ‘Virginia

Considering MFK Fisher’s Oysters

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Consider the Oyster Stew: my re-creation of Mama Zu's version.

Granted East Coast seafood doesn’t usually compare to our abundant Pacific Northwest offerings: orange-red wild salmon, Dungeness crab, mussels, halibut. We even have our own respected local Yaquina Bay oysters there. But I might just prefer those plumper Chesapeake Bay oysters I indulged in while back here in Virginia. I got a mad craving for these luscious, briny mollusks while savoring MFK Fisher’s Consider the Oyster on the plane from Oregon to Baltimore. It’s hard to believe she produced such celebratory prose while facing the imminent death of her true love in war-torn 1941.

Fisher’s musings on the gastronomical pleasures of oysters made me lust for this most sensual of foods. She aptly describes the “three kinds of oyster-eaters: those loose-minded sports who will eat anything, hot, cold, thin, thick, dead or alive, as long as it is oyster; those who will eat them raw and only raw; and those who with equal severity will eat them cooked and no way other.” When it comes to oysters, as with all foods, I’m an omnivore, but I do prefer to slurp the freshest specimens raw. If they aren’t freshly shucked, my dad’s Mexican oysters and now oyster stews are my favorite cooked preparations. And of course I love them fried, if they aren’t too greasy, the batter light and slightly spicy. My grandparents contracted a bad case of hepatitis from some type of raw shellfish, so I try to avoid suspect ones.

Reading Fisher made me want to make a velvety oyster stew, that elegant “supper to sleep on” that I’d hardly eaten before. But there it was calling out to us this week at Mama Zu’s, our favorite no frills-yet-decadent Italian spot. What gave the creamy, smooth broth its piquancy? A pancetta base and crushed red pepper, obviously strained out, the waitress said. I had to recreate it.

Oyster stew recipes are as numerous as clam chowders, varying by region. Despite its simplicity, oyster stew gives the cook plenty of options, Fisher says. How do you assemble your ingredients? Boil the oysters in their own liquor first, and then add the creamy broth? Saute the oysters in butter first, until they furl? My father the chef recommended the latter. I fried up some pancetta, added the oysters and sizzled them with some dried chipotle peppers for a kick. In a separate pot, I boiled the oyster’s liquor, skimmed off the foam, added heavy cream and whole milk (healthy, I know), a pat of butter, celery salt and salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to substitute/add other spices, such as paprika. I simmered this broth and then added the oysters when ready. For a perfect texture you could strain the broth first, but I didn’t care.

Here’s to oysters for the rest of these winter “r” months. In truth, oysters are fine to eat anytime they aren’t diseased, but Fisher explains why oyster farmers have urged us not to consume them in the warm summer months. That’s the only time the ocean waters are warm enough for the oysters to spawn. Hence the rule. Indulge while you can now, comfort yourself now while the fields lie fallow, and then let our “indecisively sexed” friends reproduce in peace. Summer’s bounty will be enough to distract us then.

Fried oysters at Mama Zu's.

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Written by baltimoregon

December 26, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Wild, Wild Mushrooms Drag Us Away

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One of the three yellow chanterelles I found on our hike today up Mary's Peak just outside of Corvallis.

One of the three yellow chanterelles I found on our hike today up Mary's Peak just outside of Corvallis.

 My trip foraging for wild mushroomsin October has been one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had thus far in Oregon. So it’s no surprise my parents have gone ga-ga for the state’s champion champignons during their visit here.

For my birthday, we had a marvelous mushroom dinner at the Joel Palmer Housenear McMinnville, a meal that even included mushrooms for dessert in the form of truffle ice cream (I prefer to save the precious fungus for savory recipes!)

 Dad has worked his magic in our Corvallis kitchen, whipping up a spectacular Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup and a chanterelle pasta (made with local spinach fettuccine). Can’t wait to see what he’ll do with the three chanterelles I stumbled upon while hiking Mary’s Peak today.

Now the ‘rents are scheming up ways to smuggle mushrooms back to Virginia with them. Those precious chanterelles, for example, go for as low as $9 a pound here but can fetch as much as $20 to $30 a pound back East. And that’s only on the rare occasions when fresh ones are even available. Ah, a good reminder that life is good here in the fertile (and did I say wet!) Pacific Northwest.

Mom and Dad marvel over abundant but expensive matsutake mushrooms at the Saturday Farmers' Market in Portland.

Look But Don't Touch: Mom and Dad marvel over abundant but expensive matsutake mushrooms at the Saturday Farmers' Market in Portland.

Written by baltimoregon

December 2, 2008 at 1:33 am

Proud to be a (native) Virginian

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Virginia going Democrat for president is big election day news. The former capital of the Confederacy relinquishes its ghosts to cast a vote for social change.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/04/AR2008110404110.html

Maryland, of course went overwhelmingly for Obama, and approved slot machine gambling and early-voting. Those were hot issues while I was at The Baltimore Sun.

And in Oregon, Obama surely won but the Gordon Smith-Jeff Merkley Senate race was too close to call. This seat is essential for the Democrats to gain the coveted 60 seats, so much so that Obama taped a TV endorsement for Merkley. This Democratic activist Steve Novick had an aggressive plan to take on the incumbent Republican Smith. The WW  launched his campaign, his policy proposals got favorable coverage from the mainstream media and popular bloggers, but then he lost to Merkley in the primary. I heard him speak on political reporting at a recent journalism conference.

Written by baltimoregon

November 4, 2008 at 11:47 pm

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