Monday, October 20, 2014

Flashback to Maine: Lobster Rolls at Red's Eats

Those of you who know me well know that I have an uncanny attraction to the state of Maine.  Even though I was born in, raised, and have lived almost all of my life in Texas, something about The Pine Tree State has always drawn me in and fascinated me.  I really can’t explain why.  I had no real exposure to anything remotely related to Maine as a child, other than perhaps Hawkeye Pierce’s wistful reminiscences of his (fictional) home town of Crabapple Cove, Maine.  Since I looked up to Hawkeye as a role model, that was probably it. 

So, finally after college I was able to visit Maine.  I fortuitously chose October for my visit, and much of the state was afire with autumn splendor.  It was like a fall fantasy land.  Everything that should be right and sweet and proper about a fall that could only be remembered (but had never existed) from one’s childhood was right here in Maine.  Fall colors to rival a Maxfield Parrish palette, little country roads, carnivals, pumpkin patches and fields of Indian corn.  It was as if I’d landed in a Ray Bradbury novel, only without the supernatural shenanigans.   



Yes, Maine is a trip back in time, a best-kept secret, a throwback to an idealistic era.  Here is a land where people don’t lock their doors, where people are kind and gregarious, if a little reserved in that Yankee charm sort of way.  Even the ‘big’ cities (Portland, Bangor) are little. And charming.  And quaint.  But take care, particularly if you’re looking for a meal.  Restaurants and pubs, particularly out of season, can have notoriously quirky hours, and some of the smaller towns in Maine roll up the sidewalks at dusk. 

One of these places I discovered on a coastal drive in Maine many many years ago was Red’s Eats.  It’s a little roadside stand (or, more appropriately, lobster shack) in Wiscasset, Maine, and I discovered it on my way to Castine, or Stonington, or one of those other little coastal Maine towns I’ve visited way back when.  It was the middle of the day, half way between lunch and dinner, but something made me stop and check out this little place. 

I decided to get something I could carry with me and eat in the car, and for some reason, hot dogs sounded like a good bet from a place called ‘Red’s.’  (Red Hots, get yer Red Hots!)  Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Red’s turned out to take hot dog production to a new level.  It was, indeed, the best hot dog I’ve ever had.  They start by splitting the plump beef frank and sort of butterflying it open, 

then they grill it on their ancient griddle, weighed down with a cooking weight so it gets a nice sear.

Then they load it up with relish, mustard and sauerkraut and serve it on a buttered and toasted New England style hot dog bun. 

The N.E. hot dog bun took me for a bit of a loop when I first saw it.  Coming from Texas I’d never seen anything like it, so I at first thought that they had just folded a piece of bread around the frank, for the sides of a New England hot dog bun look like white bread, and not the brown crust color of the buns I was used to here in Texas.  

After eating my dog on this bun, however, I have to say that I don’t know why they are made any other way.  This exposed crumb texture (looks like a slice of white bread from the side) allows them to be buttered and grilled, giving one’s dog a much more crispy, savory taste.  Also, the split is on the top, and not the side, so all the ingredients and fillings stay put.  Gravity works, my friends. 

This of course, is a good thing, when it comes to a proper lobster roll, the item that Red’s is actually famous for.  I didn’t try one that first time, but I did the next, and the next, and so on and so on. 

The N.E. hot dog bun is proper because it can hold a lot of lobster, and that, in my opinion, is absolutely required in a good lobster roll.  And Red’s doesn’t skimp on theirs.  There is more than a whole lobster in each roll.  


Another thing in their favor is they don’t try to turn their lobster meat into some sort of salad, like some places do.  There’s no celery to be seen, and if you want mayo or drawn butter, it’s served on the side.  No, it is the unadulterated flavor of lobster that you get from a Red’s roll, and that is as it should be.  The lobster is always perfectly cooked and served chilled on the hot bun.  Basically, what you’re getting with a lobster roll like this is the same thing you’re getting from a whole lobster, just without all the work.  With a lobster roll, someone has deconstructed your lobster for you.  I like to eat mine starting out with a fork, 

as the meat is spilling over the bun, with just maybe an occasional dip in the butter.  

When the lobster’s under control, I’ll pick up the bun and get down to business. 

So, to sum up, here’s how to make the perfect lobster roll. 

Get one more lobster than the number of rolls you’re going to make.  I.E., if you’re going to make four, get five, so that you can have some extra meat, and have ‘more than one lobster in each roll.’

Boil or steam the lobsters as you choose, just don’t overcook them.  Overcooked lobster is rubbery.  Separate the meat out of the claws and tail.  Coarsely chop it.

Try your best to acquire New England style hot dog buns.  Butter them and toast them on the side.  Fill them with the lobster meat and serve with a little drawn butter on the side. 

That’s it.  You’re done.  Go and enjoy your lobstah rolls. 

Note, if you can’t get New England hot dog buns, regular can be used, or even a hamburger bun.  Try to butter and toast them as best you can.  This really ramps up the experience.  One other alternative is to make your own buns.  I have this handy-dandy New England hot dog bun pan from King Arthur flour that makes a perfect batch of buns every time. 

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mushroom Vol au Vents

There’s something about French cuisine that sends my heart (and my stomach) on flights of culinary fantasy.  The very names of the dishes seem steeped in legend and lore, calling forth images of the finest of tables laden with dishes of renown.  These names in the French tongue, perhaps the most beautiful of any language I’ve ever heard, lend themselves to this fancy.  Cordon Bleu, Coq au Vin, Pot au Feu…and of course, Vol au Vents.  It’s both beautiful and fun to say as well.

Vol au Vent means 'blowing wind' (more or less) in French, and perhaps this pastry got that name because they are light and airy, as if filled with the air from the very wind that blows across the land.  These pastries are often filled with sweet, fruity or creamy concoctions at French patisseries, but they are also served savory style, and that is where we are going today, courtesy of the champignon, or as we say here in ‘merica, the mushroom.

Mushroom Vol au Vents

2 Sheets Puff Pastry, Rolled Out 10”x10” Square
1 Egg, Beaten
1 Lb Cremini Mushrooms, Chopped
1 Large Onion, Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Tablespoon Herbs de Province
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
1/4 Cup Flour
1/3 Cup Milk
1/3 Cup Heavy Cream
6 Tablespoons Butter

For this recipe I use frozen puff pastry sheets.  

They are quite good, and making homemade puff pastry at this point in life is beyond my skill set.  If you want to make things even easier, you can by puff pastry shells for your Vol au Vents, but I think this takes some of the fun out of the process, and they don’t seem to taste as good as making them out of the sheets.

Preheat Oven to 400F.  Thaw the puff pastry sheets according to directions on the box and, when they are fully thawed, lightly flour a work surface and roll out the sheets with a rolling pin until each is about ten inches by ten inches.  (you can do them one at a time, if space is a premium)  

With the first sheet, use a four inch biscuit or cookie cutter and cut out four disks of puff pastry.  If you’re like me and don’t have a four inch biscuit cutter, use a small bowl, and press it down firmly onto the dough. 

Lay these disks on a baking sheet that is greased or lined with parchment paper.  

Brush the egg wash over the disks. 

Now, with the other sheet of puff pastry, cut four more disks, then, using a smaller two and a half inch cutter, cut another circle centered in each of the disks.  

Now take each of these doughnut-like rings you’ve created and place them on the solid disks.  

Brush again with the egg wash.  

If you want, you can also place the smaller, two and a half inch disks on the baking tray.  They’ll puff up as well and make little lids for your Vol au Vents. 

Place the baking sheet in the 400F degree oven and bake for 20 minutes, until they are puffed up and golden brown. 

While these are baking, you can make your filling.

Melt three tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet.  Add the diced onion and sauté until translucent.  Clean and chop your mushrooms, 

then add them to the skillet.  

Cook until the mushrooms have softened and reduced in size.  At this point, add the minced garlic and herbs de province and let cook for about a minute.  Add the white wine and stir to deglaze the pan.  Let the wine reduce by half and then sift in the flour and stir.  

Cook for 30-40 seconds and then add the milk.  

Stir and lit this reduce a bit.  Add the heavy cream 

and allow this to reduce by about a third.  Finally, add the last three tablespoons butter and allow this to melt, stirring frequently.  

When butter is melted, turn off heat.

When the puff pastries are baked, remove from oven and let stand a minute or two.  

Sometimes the middle of the pastries will have risen as much as the outer ring—if this is the case, remove the middle cap and any thin pastry crumb that may be inside.  

Use a knife to gently cut the disk out if you have too. 

When this is done, spoon the hot mushroom filling into the pastries, 

partially cover with a pastry cap, and serve immediately, either as an appetizer course or as a side.

Here we’ve served one with some Chicken Normandy

Until Next Time,

Bon Appétit!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coquilles Saint Jacques

There is something so utterly visceral about eating a mollusk.  They are nature’s original hand-held eats.  Dining on some clams or oysters, I feel a kinship with the primitive peoples that probably polished off a plethora of them as they sat along the seashore.  (although how they ever figured out that an oyster was anything other than a rock I’ll never know). 

Of all the mollusks of the sea, the Scallop has to be the beautiful white swan to the oyster’s ugly duckling.   Its shell is graceful and symmetric; its flesh white and uniform—a marshmallow of the sea.  It can be served simply on its own or gussied us fancy.

In this dish, we’re gonna go with gussied up fancy.  (It is a French dish, after all).  Dining on Coquilles Saint Jacques is the opposite end of the spectrum from primitive, however.  This dish takes an already elegant foodstuff and raises it to even greater heights of elegance and allure.  This dish ranks right up there with Lobster Thermidor and Pheasant Under Glass for high end haute cuisine.  I can’t help envisioning the staid, wood paneled walls, white tablecloths and fine china of a three Michelin star restaurant when I make this dish, one that the great Julia Child herself might be seen sipping a nice white Graves or white Burgundy. 

Yes, this dish sends my mind on flights of fancy.  But it also does a number on one’s taste buds.  Here’s how:

Coquilles Saint Jacques

1 lb Bay Scallops, Washed
6 Tablespoons Butter, Divided
8 Oz Fresh Mushrooms, Cleaned and Chopped
1 Cup Chopped Onion
1 Cup Dry White Wine
2 Tablespoons Flour
1/3 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
2 Egg Yolks
Fresh Tarragon, Minced
Salt and Pepper
1/2 Cup Grated Gruyere
1/4 Cup Breadcrumbs
Squeeze of Lemon Juice
6 Scallop Shells or Small Ramekins

If you’re going to go to the trouble to make this dish, go the extra mile and get the scallop shells.  They are cheap, just a few bucks at a kitchen supply store, and you will truly wow your guests with the presentation. 

To start, melt three tablespoons of the butter in a skillet.  

When this is good and hot, add the (well-drained and dried) scallops and allow to sauté for 60-90 seconds undisturbed.  

Then use a spatula to roll them over and sauté on the other side for another 60 seconds.  Use a slotted spoon or similar to remove the scallops and reserve.  

Now, I know you’re thinking, they can’t be finished cooking yet.  Well, you’re right.  They are not.  But we’re going to be broiling them later, so if we fully cooked them now, they would get overcooked in the broiler.  And we don’t want that.  Overcooked scallops are tough and rubbery. 

After you’ve reserved the scallops, reserve the white scallop broth that has rendered out into the skillet as well.  Lot of flavor in that liquid that we will use later. 

Add the rest of the butter to the skillet, and when it is melted add the onions and mushrooms.  

Cook these for 8-10 minutes until the onions clear and the mushrooms are cooked.  Remove both with a slotted spoon and reserve. 

Add the white wine to the pan 

and scrape the bottom with a spatula to break up the browned bits.  Add the reserved scallop broth to the pan.  

Let this cook a minute, then sift in the flour.  After this has cooked a bit, add the milk and stir frequently for a few minutes.  

Then turn off heat to the pan. 

Meanwhile, mix the heavy cream and the two egg yolks in a bowl.  

Mince your tarragon 


and add it to the cream egg mixture and blend thoroughly.  

To this, add the mixture from the wine/broth/milk mixture from the skillet and blend again.  

Return this concoction to the skillet and heat through, but do not boil. 

Return the mushroom onion mixture to the skillet, 

then add the scallops.  

Turn off the heat. 

Butter your scallop shells on the inside, then spoon a portion of the scallop concoction into each of the six shells. 

Grate your gruyere 

and mix it with the bread crumbs.  Sprinkle this mixture on the top of each scallop shell.  

Dot with a very small pat of butter if you like. 

Turn on your broiler and get it hot.  Broil the shells about 6 inches from the broiler for about 4-5 minutes, a little longer if necessary to melt the cheese and get the top golden brown.  

Basically watch the process closely and just make sure the cheese doesn’t burn. 

Remove from the oven and admire.  Squirt with a bit of lemon juice if you like, and serve immediately as a nice first course of an elegant dinner. 

Until next time,

Come out of your shell, have some scallops!