Monday, March 26, 2012

Under The Sea

If any of you out there has ever had a bad oyster, you can join my shellfish hating club. Rather, the shellfish hating club I used to belong to up until two years ago. I had my first raw oyster when I was 19 years old down in good ol' Jacksonville, FL. I'd been excited to try them and man, was I disappointed. It was rotten and made me very sick for nearly a week. I swore I'd never eat another one the rest of my life so it was kind of a monumental evening when some friends and I went to Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar to reintroduce me to the suckers. I ended up really liking them and have since enjoyed a few more oyster extravaganzas.

In addition to the oyster thing, I also was never big on raw fish. Yes, I'd enjoy going for sushi and occasionally trying something raw but it just didn't appeal to me. Once again, I have to reference my trip to Sicily and credit that with changing my mind totally about raw fish, too. We ate almost nothing but raw fish everywhere in Sicily with the exception of one or two meals that involved different salumi. That is the cuisine on the island and some of the fish they have access to is rare and amazing. Here is but the smallest example of a few dishes we had (and this is only on day one of our trip!):
I'm pleased to say that I was really excited for seafood antipasti day at school now that I'm a new woman when it comes to things of the sea. Mainly, I was pretty psyched to work with octopus for the very first time.

We had the last round of our ServSafe lectures on Friday but we had to interrupt it to prep the octopus. It needed to poach at a low simmer for about two hours so we had to take a break and get it prepared, eeek:
That is one slimy dude. The octopus, not my partner, Mo. As we were prepping this thing, I couldn't help but think about how incredible an octopus is. I mean, it's the single weirdest creature yet one of the most fascinating. God has created some spectacular things on this earth and I must say the octopus is one of them. 

After ServSafe was finished, we got down to business with making tartara di tonna (tuna tartare), carpaccio of tuna, crudo and oysters. I wish I'd snapped a photo of the tuna and how gorgeous it was. I feel most fortunate to be working with the ingredients that we have access to. For those who don't know, tartare or ceviche are dishes where you're using raw fish but it's ultimately cooked by the acid in whatever citrus fruit or vinegar you use. I've known that's the process since I first tried ceviche but I had no idea just how fast the acid really does cook the fish. This is my tartare just before plating and you can see how the tuna has already turned a bit grey:
That's because it started cooking immediately when I added my vinaigrette! I was shocked at how fast it happened. This can serve as proof for you raw fish phobes that tartars and ceviches are not truly raw. Regardless, it was delicious and I ate it in a blink. 

We also made our own tuna carpaccio and crudo plates using flounder as the fish for the crudo. We had to make up our own flavor combinations and we were under a certain time limit so that was a bit stressful. For the tuna, I did a "salad" of black olives, pickled onion, parsley and lemon zest which I chopped together finely and plated in the middle of the tuna so you could take a little bit with each bite. Um, I forgot to salt the tuna which is the first thing you do with any meat, grrr! I had to go back three times when presenting to Chef because I couldn't get the flavors right. 

My crudo plate, however, was much better. I was running very short on time so my mind blanked on what to do. I knew I wanted to make a lemon vinaigrette but I didn't get farther than that. So, I whipped that up with finely chopped fresh parsley and fennel prawns and I ended up using that as the vinaigrette for everything. The other requirement for the crudo was that we each shuck two oysters and that really tripped me up. I started to get stressed out at that point because time was out so my plate ended up being a whole lot of white - white flounder, white plate, white fennel, "white" oyster - but the green in my vinaigrette popped nicely and Chef Guido's feedback? "Divine". I was definitely pleased with that review.

Before class ended, we all took our octopi and added them to one ceramic terrine to be refrigerated over the weekend. I could not believe how small the octopi cook down. There are five in this terrine:
It was definitely an experience to do seafood antipasti day but very cool. I've learned so much already in my first two weeks of school and it's honestly awesome. Oh, and we had our first Italian test after kitchen and I think I actually did well. YAY! That was a nice way to round out the week and head into my birthday weekend. :) 

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