03/20/11 12:14pm
03/20/2011 12:14 PM

JOHN MILLER PHOTO | skewered meats

“That evening, Alexi took me to a fancy nightclub. It reminded me of the Persian Room at New York’s Plaza Hotel. The head waiter, resplendent in black and gold brocade, led us to red plush seats around a gleaming brass table with a good view of the stage. His underlings, dressed like Sinbad, paraded in and out of the kitchen with skewers of flaming shish kebab, borne as if they were triumphal torches … ”

“Memories of Cairo” (1964)
by Diana Farr Louis

I have memories of going out to a fancy restaurant in 1964 and seeing “flaming shish kebab” on the menu. At the time it seemed exotic, as we were just learning that there was more to food than meatloaf, iceberg lettuce and Jell-O.

The notion of putting meat on a skewer and placing it over a fire goes back to antiquity, especially in ancient Persia and Armenia, where nomadic tribes rode camels, lived in tents and cooked over open fires. In modern America the tradition of skewered meat has lived on and prospered due to the backyard barbecue. Ancient cultures would marinate the meat to cover up some of the strong gamey flavor. We marinate the meat to tenderize and add pleasing flavors.

Skewering vegetables such as peppers, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms along with chunks of meat adds color and texture and reduces the need for large amounts of meat. When these skewered foods are placed on healthy grains, they make a complete meal that is simple, healthy and delicious. Here are a few examples:

Armenian Shish Kebab
Trim all the fat, skin and gristle from a boneless leg of lamb weighing about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks and place in a bowl. Combine 1/2 cup olive oil, the zest and juice of one lemon, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon each of coarse salt and pepper. Toss with the lamb chunks and refrigerate overnight. Soak wooden skewers in water overnight to prevent burning.
Cut one green pepper and one red pepper into 2-inch strips and cut the strips into squares. Cut one large red onion into quarters and separate into pieces. Trim one package of mushrooms by cutting off the stems. Remove the stems from 1/2 pound of cherry tomatoes. If desired, thaw out one package of frozen artichoke hearts. Place the meat on skewers, leaving a little room between each piece. Place the vegetables on skewers, keeping them separate by type (put all the mushrooms together, etc.).
As a base for the grilled kebabs, make a red wine barley risotto: Sauté 2 cups chopped onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in 2 cups quartered crimini mushrooms and continue to cook on high heat until mushrooms are brown and have released their juices. Stir in 1/2 cup pearl barley and continue to cook until barley begins to brown. Add 1 cup red wine and continue to stir until it almost evaporates. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary and ladle about 3 cups vegetable broth into the barley in batches, one ladle at a time. Let it cook, uncovered, between additions, allowing the liquid to evaporate. When barley becomes tender, but retaining a little bite to it, remove from the heat and season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
Grill the skewered meat on a charcoal grill while the risotto is cooking. Brush the skewered vegetables with olive oil and season with sea salt. Grill them when the meat is finished, being careful not to overcook.
To serve, place the barley risotto on a large platter. Remove the meat from the skewers and place on the barley. Remove the vegetables from the skewers and place in separate piles around the meat. Garnish with rosemary, chopped parsley and lemon wedges.
Serves 4-6.

Russian Shashlik
Trim all fat, skin and gristle from 2 pounds of boneless pork loin (or pork tenderloin) and cut into 2-inch chunks. Prepare a marinade by combining 1 cup pomegranate juice, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Toss the marinade with the meat and refrigerate overnight. Soak wooden skewers overnight to prevent burning. The next day, skewer meat and vegetables as for the above Armenian shish kebab.
Before grilling meat and vegetables, prepare a kasha pilaf by beating one egg in a bowl and stirring in 1 cup buckwheat kasha. Add 2 cups chicken broth to a saucepan and bring to a boil. In a separate large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 cup chopped carrot and 1 cup chopped celery. Cook until vegetables are soft and add the kasha/egg mixture. Continue to cook, breaking up the kasha so that it separates itself. Pour the boiling broth over the kasha and cook for one minute. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper and fluff it up before serving.
Grill the meat and vegetables and serve over the kasha on a large platter.
Serves 4-6.

Moroccan Beef Brochette
Trim all fat and gristle from 2 pounds of sirloin steak, cut into 2-inch chunks and set aside. Make a marinade by combining 1/2 cup red wine, 3 sliced scallions, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, the zest and juice of one lemon, 2 tablespoons curry powder, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon each sea salt and pepper. Toss the marinade with the steak and refrigerate 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Soak wooden skewers overnight. Skewer and grill meat and vegetables as for the Armenian shish kebab above.
Prepare whole-wheat couscous by boiling 1 cup lightly salted water and adding 1 1/4 cups couscous. Remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Dice 1/2 cup red onion, slice 2 scallions, chop 1/4 cup cilantro, cut up 5 dried apricots, measure out 1/2 cup currants and zest one lemon and squeeze out the juice. Toss these ingredients with the couscous in a large bowl, fluffing up the couscous. Check for seasoning and serve on a large platter with the grilled meat and vegetables.
Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: johncross@optonline.net.

01/24/11 9:09am
01/24/2011 9:09 AM

After reading Jane Starwood’s excellent article about plant-based nutrition in the Times/Review Health & Fitness section (Jan. 6), I was at first shaken and then reflective about my knowledge of nutrition. As a chef and teacher over a long career in food service, I have always tried to balance healthy eating with the immense pleasure derived from fine dining. I felt that fresh, seasonal ingredients, cooked from scratch at the last minute, would lead to a healthy diet. I have also felt that processed food, fast food, dietary supplements and fad diets were not the way to improve your well-being.

Jane discussed “The China Study,” a book written by Cornell professor T. Colin Campbell and his son. Campbell argues that a whole-foods, plant-based diet can prevent cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and many more “diseases of affluence” — in addition to providing a happier lifestyle. Can this be true? And if so, should I turn away from a lifetime of enjoying thick steaks, crisp duck, succulent oysters and rich ice cream?

Before overturning my world, I thought that I would review some nutritional advice from the past:

Fannie Farmer, Boston Cooking School, 1896: “The working man needs quantity as well as quality, that the stomach may have something to act upon — corned beef, cabbage, brown bread and pastry. Women require less food than men … brain workers should take their proteid in a form easily digested … fish and eggs form desirable substitutes for meat. The daily average ration for an adult requires 3 1/2 oz. proteid; 10 oz. starch; 3 oz. fat; 1 oz. salt; and 5 pints of water.”

USDA Daily Food Guide, 1956: The Basic Four Food Groups, which include 1) meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs and nuts; 2) dairy, including milk, cheese and yogurt; 3) grains; 4) fruits and vegetables. This basic-four group lasted until 1992, when the Food Guide Pyramid was developed. The pyramid had vegetables, fruits and whole grains at the bottom, indicating that large amounts could be consumed daily with lesser amounts recommended for fish, poultry and eggs. As you reach the top it’s recommended that you use sparingly red meat, butter, refined grains and sweets. Dairy is just below with 1 to 2 servings per day.

Frances Moore Lappe, ‘Diet for a Small Planet,’ 1971: In this explosive book the author says that “the amount of humanly edible protein fed to American livestock and not returned for human consumption approached the whole world’s protein deficit!” She went on to say that it takes 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of edible beef. It is not only healthier to eat vegetables, but much more sustainable.

Harold McGee, ‘On Food and Cooking,’ 1984: “It seems likely that we are conditioned nutritionally in our early years, that within limits we can adapt to the food supplies that are available to us. Nutrition by the numbers is no guarantee of the good life, and probably precludes it by overriding the calls of appetite and pleasure.”

Michael Pollan, ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ 2006: What to have for dinner when you can have just about anything nature has to offer? The three principal food chains identified by Pollan are the Industrial, the Organic and the Hunter/Gatherer. Pollan decries the industrialization of our food supplies, including the handling of corn, soybean and meat production. He feels that it is inhumane, unhealthy and not economically sustainable. He likes the “good farm” that grows crops organically and raises livestock in a natural, humane manner. “Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us ever pause to consider the life of the pig — an animal easily as intelligent as a dog — that becomes the Christmas ham.”

T. Colin Campbell, “The China Study, 2006: “I propose to do nothing less than redefine what we think of as good nutrition. The provocative results of my four decades of biomedical research, including the findings from a twenty-seven-year laboratory program prove that eating right can save your life.” To Campbell, eating right means eliminating meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products from your diet and replacing them with a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

For this chef, giving up more than 60 years of eating what I like will not be easy, but I also realize that our world is changing and will require further adaptation from the most versatile of creatures: us. Here are a few recipes that would meet Campbell’s criteria — and could save your life.

Vegetable Paella
Cook 1 cup brown rice in 2 cups vegetable broth until liquid is just absorbed, about 15 minutes, and set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When oil is shimmering, add 1 cup chopped onion and 1/2 cup chopped scallion. Cook briefly and add half of a green pepper and half of a red pepper, diced. Stir in 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 cup diced fresh tomato. Add the partially cooked rice along with 1 cup vegetable broth, 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, 1 package frozen peas, 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, and 1/4 cup shelled pistachio nuts. Season with 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cover and simmer until rice is just tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and serve.
Serves 4.

Lentil Stew
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 cup diced celery and 1 cup diced carrots. Cook for 5 minutes and add 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 2 cups rinsed lentils. Stir in 2 cups diced potatoes and add 1 quart vegetable broth along with 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer until the lentils and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Just before service, add 4 cups kale, cut into bite-sized pieces, and the juice and zest from 1 lemon. Simmer another 5 minutes and serve.
Serves 4.

Black Bean Soup
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup diced celery, 1/2 cup diced carrot, 1/2 cup diced red pepper and 1/2 cup diced green pepper. Cook at medium heat for 10 minutes and season with 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder and 1 teaspoon oregano. Add 2 cans (15 ounces each) drained and rinsed black beans and 1 can (15 ounces) chopped tomatoes. Add 3 cups vegetable broth, 1 tablespoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes and garnish with minced scallion.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: johncross@optonline.net.

01/07/11 6:02pm
01/07/2011 6:02 PM

Juicily enticing and glowing golden
Once opened in the tropical sun.
Promising the deepest satisfactions
Available in this life.
But the sweetness is simply too much.

So might the apple have appeared to Eve.
She ate from it anyway and I did not.
Sadly, though, that decision has not
Shielded me from awareness.

Perhaps I should have tasted it after all.
At least then, knowledge may have left
A somewhat better taste in my mouth.

If only I had known then
The things I think I know now
.

Hindsight is always so clear.
“Mango in Paradise: a Poem”
David A. Reinstein

In January on the North Fork, not many things are in season. It is a time to enjoy some of the tropical fruits that have become commonplace in our supermarkets. The mango, the papaya, the pomegranate and the persimmon are all available, along with the more common pineapples, kiwi fruit and bananas. Salsas, stuffings, sauces and salads are good places to start with these healthy fruits.

Mango: Indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, it is now cultivated in most tropical regions. India is the largest producer. When ripe, the mango turns red and contains a sweet yellow flesh. It is commonly used to make salsa, but is delicious by itself. To prepare the mango, peel off the skin with a knife and cut the flesh away from the large pit.

Papaya: Native to the tropics of the Americas, the papaya was first cultivated in ancient Mexico. The large oblong fruit is green but turns amber to orange when ripe. Slice the papaya in half and scoop out the black seeds. Peel the skin and slice the sweet, yellow flesh into bite-sized pieces. It can be eaten by itself or used in salsas and sauces.

Persimmon: The nonastringent “fuyu persimmon” is most common for eating raw. It is of Japanese origin but grows in many warm areas. The fruit has an orange skin and is squat like a tomato. When the stem and leaves are removed and the skin peeled off, the soft yellow flesh is sweet and slightly tannic. It makes a good chutney to serve with grilled fish and poultry.

Pomegranate: Widely cultivated in the Middle East, the pomegranate is native to Iran. Its juice is sold in bottles and its seeds are removed from the fresh fruit for use on salads and to garnish entrees. It has many health benefits. To remove the arils (seed casings), cut off the top of the pomegranate and score the outside skin along the membrane lines. Break the fruit apart over a bowl of water and scrape the seeds away from the pulp with a fork. The pulp will rise to the surface. Strain out the seeds and they are ready to use. Grenadine is sweetened, thickened pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses is used in cooking.

Roast Pork Loin
with Mango and Papaya

Purchase a 3- to 4-pound, boneless, center-cut pork loin and slice it almost in half lengthwise. Open it up like a book and place it in a shallow pan. Sprinkle 1 cup chopped onion over the meat. Prepare a marinade by placing 2 cups dry sherry in a saucepan along with 10 peppercorns and 10 whole cloves. Bring this to a boil and remove from the heat. When it cools, pour the marinade over the pork and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

While the meat is marinating, add 2 more cups dry sherry to a saucepan along with 1 cinnamon stick and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to simmer. Add 1/2 cup dried prunes and 1/2 cup dried cranberries. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Peel and dice 1 mango and half of a papaya. Stir this fruit into the prune mixture along with 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

When the pork is finished marinating, remove the meat and place it, opened like a book, on a board. Using a slotted spoon, remove about half of the fruit mixture and place it on the meat. Fold up the meat and tie it securely with butcher’s twine. Put the meat in a small roasting pan and place it in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and continue roasting until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees, about 1 1/2 hours.

While the meat is cooking, heat the remaining fruit and juice in a saucepan. Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in cold water and add it to the pan to thicken. When the roast is cooked, remove it from the oven and place it on a carving board. Pour off any excess fat and deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup chicken broth, scraping up any brown bits in the bottom. Pour this liquid into the fruit sauce and taste for seasoning. Slice the roast and serve the sauce on the side.

Baby Back Ribs with
Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce

Purchase 2 whole baby back pork spareribs and cut them in half. Make a marinade/sauce by heating a large saucepan and adding 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 cup chopped onion. Cook until the onion is soft and add 1 cup cider vinegar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 3/4 cup ketchup, 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, the juice and zest of 1 lime, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce. Simmer this mixture for 30 minutes, cool and pour over the ribs in a shallow pan. Refrigerate overnight.

Place the ribs on a sheet pan and brush them with marinade. Put them in a 250-degree oven and cook for 3 hours, basting every 45 minutes. Heat the remaining marinade and serve with the ribs.

Persimmon Chutney

In a saucepan combine 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup chopped red onion, 1 cup raisins, 1 chopped apple (peeled and cored), 1 chopped pear (peeled and cored), 1/2 cup sugar, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 jalapeno pepper (minced), 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, a pinch of ground cloves, and 1 teaspoon ground coriander. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Peel and chop 3 persimmons and add them to the pan. Simmer another 5 minutes and remove. Refrigerate the chutney and serve with grilled chicken breasts.

Mango, Grapefruit, Avocado
and Pomegranate Salad

Make a dressing by combining 1/4 cup pomegranate juice with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon grated ginger and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint. Whisk in 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and season with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Prepare the fruit by peeling 2 mangoes, cutting the flesh off the pits and slicing it into uniform pieces. Peel and cut the flesh off of 2 ripe avocados and slice into uniform pieces. Peel and separate the sections of 2 pink grapefruits, cutting off the membranes and removing the seeds. Cut the top off of 1 pomegranate and hold the fruit over a bowl of water. Score the side with a knife along the line of the membranes. Break it apart and scrape the seeds into the water. Remove the pulp and strain out the seeds. Place a 5-ounce package of baby greens in a bowl and toss with the dressing. Divide among 6 plates and arrange the fruit on the plate. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on the salad for garnish.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: johncross@optonline.net.

12/20/10 2:05pm
12/20/2010 2:05 PM

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My drive-through gave to me: twelve bags of Pepto,
Eleven pounds of blubber,
Ten baked potatoes,
Nine Polish hot dogs,
Eight bowls of chili,
Seven pints of coleslaw,
Six chocolate milk shakes,
Five onion rings,
Four Egg McMuffins,
Three Biggie Fries,
Two Happy Meals,
And a Big Bacon Classic with Cheese.
excerpt from “The Twelve Days of Fast Food,” author anonymous

When I was a young boy in the 1950s we saw the growth of the drive-in restaurant with its gaudy sign, big parking area and carhops. We also saw motels popping up along the highway. Both of these phenomena reflected America’s love of the automobile and its resurgence after World War II. By the late ’50s these mostly mom-and-pop operations were being replaced by chains.
Ray Kroc purchased McDonald’s and created a sparkling clean store with a friendly atmosphere aimed at families in the growing suburbs of America. Kemmons Wilson did the same with Holiday Inn, making it a clean, family-oriented place to stay along the new interstate highway system. By the 1960s, growth of restaurant chains and others was taking place at exponential rates. The term “fast food” was coined to reflect the rapid service at these establishments. The use of frozen food and deep fryers for cooking it were also integral parts of the formula. By 1970 the word “convenience” dominated our vocabulary and the convenience store was born.

All of these developments seemed pretty good, and they matched our increasingly fast-paced lifestyle. We were always on the run and we were willing to sacrifice a few things in the name of convenience. The ultimate expression of convenience was the drive-through window, which was a standard feature by the 1980s for fast food restaurants (and banks). Along the way we didn’t notice what this lifestyle was doing to our health — and the health of our children. We also failed to notice that the old-fashioned family meal was becoming an endangered species.

Americans are now increasingly concerned about how to undo some of the bad habits that we have formed over the years. In 1986, an Italian, Carlo Petrini, organized Slow Food International as a reaction to a McDonald’s that was opened in Rome. This movement has spread throughout the world. Our local chapter is called Slow Food East End; it’s headed by Kate Plumb. This movement strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine, promoting local farms and businesses and encouraging healthier food in our schools.

Here are some recipes that are fast to prepare, but slow to ruin your health:

Horseradish Crusted Cod with Cannellini Beans & Collard Greens

Cut 2 pounds of fresh cod into 4 portions. Shred 1 cup fresh horseradish with a box grater, using the medium holes. Place this in a bowl with 2 tablespoons soft butter, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 1/2 cup panko crumbs. Stir this mixture with a spoon until it forms a paste. Spread this on the cod portions and set aside.

Cut 4 ounces of pancetta into strips and place in a large sauté pan. Cook until pancetta begins to brown and add 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup diced carrot and 1/2 cup diced celery. When these vegetables are soft, add 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Rinse 2 small cans of white cannellini beans and add to the pan along with 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the zest of one lemon. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1 bunch of fresh collard greens with the stems removed and the leaves cut into bite-sized pieces. Cover and cook at low heat until the greens are tender and the flavors are combined, about 20 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

While this mixture is simmering, put the crusted cod on a sheet pan and place in a 425-degree oven for 15 minutes. Spoon the bean/collard green mixture onto 4 plates and place the crusted cod on top.
Serves 4.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lentils and Thyme
Slice 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in half lengthwise to make cutlets. Combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pour this over the chicken and marinate for 1 hour. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and add 1 cup chopped onion and 1 cup diced carrot. Sauté until soft and add 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Continue cooking and add 1 cup rinsed lentils, 3 cups chicken broth, and 2 sprigs of thyme. Simmer about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.

Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and dry with paper towels. Grill them with a grill pan or pan-sear them in a sauté pan until they are just cooked, about 5 minutes. Serve them on top of the lentil mixture along with steamed fresh kale.
Serves 4.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Cipollini Onions
Season 4 lamb shanks with coarse salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a Dutch oven and heat until the fat shimmers. Brown the lamb on all sides and remove. Pour off excess fat and add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 cup diced celery, 1 cup diced carrot and 1 cup diced leek. Cook at low heat until vegetables are soft and add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 sprig of thyme and 1 bay leaf. Add 1 cup red wine and cook until reduced by half. Add 2 cups beef broth and the lamb shanks. Cover and place in a 300-degree oven. Cook until lamb is very tender, about 3 hours, turning the shanks every hour to ensure even cooking.
While the lamb is cooking, plunge 2 dozen cipollini onions in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and peel. Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and 1 tablespoon sugar. Cook until lightly browned and add 1 cup port wine. Boil to reduce and add 1/2 cup chicken broth. Continue to cook until onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

When lamb is cooked, remove the meat and strain sauce into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, check for seasoning and stir in 1 tablespoon cornstarch that has been dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water. Bring back to a boil, spoon the sauce over the lamb and serve with the onions.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: johncross@optonline.net.

11/09/10 5:56pm
11/09/2010 5:56 PM

In Greek mythology when Aprhrodite rose from the sea she skimmed over the Aegean waves on a scallop shell. This foam-borne goddess had a team of six seahorses to take her to the island of Cythera, and the symbol of sexual love and beauty rode in a scallop carriage. The graceful form of these shells has been reflected in art and architecture since earliest times. The scallop is the only bivalve to have a patron saint. The name “coquille Saint-Jacques,” or St. James shell, is on the one hand an umbrella term for a variety of creamy scallop dishes, but it’s also the name used for this mollusk in France.
from A.J. McClane’s
“Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery”

The Peconic Bay scallop is one of the North Fork’s finest culinary treasures. The season begins in November and ends in March. Like oysters, clams and mussels, the scallop is a bivalve mollusk. But unlike them it swims through the water by snapping its shells together with its adductor muscle. Due to this activity the adductor muscle becomes oversized and is the most sought-after part of the scallop to eat.
The whole scallop is edible when very fresh, but the viscera spoils quickly because the shells do not close tightly as do those of clams and oysters. Bay scallop shells are grooved with serrated edges, making them a beautiful serving dish for the scallop. The scallop differs from other bivalves in that it has a life span of only two years, creating the necessity to harvest them before they die. The Peconic Bay scallop has become the signature dish of the North Fork’s cuisine over the past 100 years. Here are a few recipes:

Marinated Sautéed
Bay Scallops
Place 1 pound of Peconic Bay scallops in a bowl with 1/4 cup white wine, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Put 2 cups of cracker meal (available at supermarkets) in a shallow pan. Remove the scallops from the marinade, pat them dry with paper towels and roll them in the cracker meal. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the scallops in small batches, cooking each scallop until just browned and opaque, about 2 minutes. Add more butter as necessary. Serve over wilted greens with lemon wedges.
Serves 4.
Note: This recipe is adapted from a recipe by Jules Bond, former Suffolk Times columnist.
Bay Scallop Gratin
Soften 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon Pernod, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir this mixture together with a wooden spoon and fold in 1/2 cup of panko crumbs. Place 1 tablespoon white wine in each of 4 ramekins (or gratin dishes) and distribute 1 1/2 pounds of scallops between them. Spoon the butter mixture over the scallops and place in a 425-degree oven. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the crumbs begin to brown and the scallops are just turning opaque.
Serves 4.

Coquilles St. Jacques
à la Parisienne
Purchase 1 pound of Peconic Bay scallops and 6 shells. Add 1 cup white wine, 1 bay leaf, 2 tablespoons chopped shallots, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to a shallow saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and add the scallops and 8 ounces sliced white mushrooms. Cover, bring back to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove scallops and mushrooms and set aside. Boil the remaining liquid until it is reduced to 1 cup.
In a separate saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter and stir in 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Cook briefly and stir in the reduced cooking liquid and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the scallops and mushrooms with three-quarters of the sauce and place in the scallop shells. Spoon the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated Emmantaler (or Swiss) cheese. Put the filled scallop shells on a sheet pan and place under a broiler until the cheese begins to brown. Serve as a first course over a bed of baby spinach.
Serves 6.

Peconic Bay Scallop Stew
Heat 2 cups milk and 1 cup heavy cream to a simmer. Add 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Stir in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 pound of scallops. Simmer slowly for 10 minutes. Place 1 cup pilot crackers in a food processor and pulse for 10 seconds. Stir into scallop stew and serve.
Serves 4-6.

Peconic Bay Scallop Chowder
Dice 3 strips of bacon and sauté them in a saucepan. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup diced celery, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme. Cook just until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Separately, set up a double boiler and place 4 cups diced, peeled raw potatoes in it along with 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup milk, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the bacon/vegetable mixture to the double boiler, cover and cook at medium heat until potatoes are fully cooked, about 55 minutes.
While this is cooking, add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter to the first saucepan and place it on medium heat. When the butter foams, add 1 pound of fresh Peconic Bay scallops and cook, covered, until just opaque and they have released their juices. Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add 1 minced shallot and 1 cup white wine to the pan and turn up the heat. Boil until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup.
When the double boiler mixture is fully cooked, add it to the reduced wine sauce along with the scallops. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and check for seasoning. Remove from heat and serve.
Serves 4-6.

Kartoffel Klosse mit Muscheln (Potato Dumplings with Scallops)
Boil 4 potatoes in their skins until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, cool slightly and peel. Place in a potato ricer over a bowl.
Peel and grate 3 raw potatoes into another bowl. Finely mince 1 shallot and add to the grated potato along with 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Place this mixture into a cloth cook’s towel and squeeze out all the moisture that you can. Add this to the cooked potatoes. Stir them together and add 1 beaten egg and 1/4 cup flour. Scoop out 1/4-cup portions onto a cutting board and roll each into a ball. Make a large indentation in each dumpling with your thumb and insert 1 bay scallop. Seal the dumpling and set aside.
Bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil and add the dumplings. Let them simmer for 15 minutes. While they are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan and add 1 cup panko crumbs, stirring until they are golden brown. Lift the dumplings out of the water and roll them in the panko crumbs. Serve the dumplings with broiled or pan-fried fish.
Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: johncross@optonline.net.