Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dida's Lobster Curry

So, it's been a while, folks. Between starting residency and getting married, all my free time had been spoken for. But now I'm back! I can't really think of a better recipe to get back into it with. This recipe is dear to my heart as it was my grandma's specialty. Whenever we visited India, I knew that I would not leave without tasting two things: Potol Dorma (more on that later) and this lobster curry. Now, after nearly two decades, my grandma does not quite have the stamina to spend hours in the kitchen, so the lavish dinners have been replaced by just some quality time together. However, I've been working on perfecting this recipe, so that the next time we visit, I can treat her to the same dishes that she gifted with me for so long. By now, I've made it quite a few times using this recipe, so hopefully, you guys also experience this little piece of home. 

Honestly, the hardest part of this recipe is shelling the lobster. You have to start with dead lobster, so choose your desired method for their demise and go for it! I will say that boiling the lobster does lead to chewier meat and using the knife to the brain technique will cause the delicious tomalley to leak out. I, personally, just buy already dead lobsters from the store, generally Asian grocery stores. It freaks my husband out, but honestly, I've been doing it for years and I've never had an issue. Just make sure to ask your fish counter person how long they have been out, cause most of them were fished out of the tank that day. So, once you have your dead lobster and you've scrubbed the outer shell down well without soap, here's how I shell the tails. A strong pair of kitchen shears is your best friend!

1. Cut off the 2 big pincer claws and the 8 little legs. Save for later. 

2. Cut off all the antennas, little flippers and whatever little extra appendages there are. 

3. Find the place where the tail shell meets the head shell. There is a thin membrane in between the two. Cut all the way around this membrane, but be careful to support the tail! If it's too heavy, it will tear away from the head. 


4. Cut lengthwise down the center of the top and bottom of the tail shell. Careful not to nick the meat underneath. 


5. Now the hard part. Rip apart the two halves of the shell leaving the tender meat in the tail free. This part can be a giant pain in the butt, especially if the meat starts to stick to the inside of the shell. If that's the case, I start from the top of the shell and gently slide my fingers down each side to detach the meat from the shell. 

6. So you may notice in these pictures a large green vein like thing down the center of the tail. That is NOT a digestive tract. That is in fact a lobster egg sack. It may look gross and green now, but will turn a nice orange color like the lobster and be delicious. 

7. Repeat steps 1-5 with the rest of the lobsters. This recipe is for about six 1 to 1.5 pound lobsters, so adjust as necessary. Keep the claws and legs separate. As you are going through this process, you will notice a lot of liquid pouring out of the lobster. Save it!


For the lobster: 

6 shelled lobsters about 1-1.5 pounds each
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne powder
2 tsp turmeric 
1/4 cup Canola oil

For the gravy: 

1 Tbsp ghee (can substitute butter)
1/4 tsp shah jeera (can substitute whole cumin)
2 large onions puréed/ chopped very finely
1 tbsp sugar 
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste

1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 medium tomatoes,pureed

1 can coconut milk
1 cup lobster juice
1/2 cup water

For the finishing:

Two tbsp ghee
1 tsp Ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom mixture, I generally use a spice grinder to grind this fresh

1. Mix together the salt, cayenne pepper and turmeric. Use half the mixture to coat all the lobster heads and tails. Use the other half to coat the claws and tails

2. In a wok or a curved pan, bring the canola oil to high heat. Fry each lobster for 30 second on each side. you aren't trying to cook it thoroughly, just get a good sear. Then fry the claws and legs in the same oil. 

3. If you have a leftover oil, take out any burnt bits and large lobster pieces. Over low heat, top off with more oil and ghee. Once you reach the proper temperature, add the shah jeera and fry for 15 seconds. 


4. Add the pureed onions. Fry for 15 secs and add the sugar

5. Fry for 1 min and add the garlic paste and ginger paste. It should start to look like a homogenous mixture. Add the turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. 

6. Increase to high heat. Add the tomato puree. Fry this mixture for about 10 min or until it becomes golden brown and the oil starts to separate it away from the gravy. 

7. Add the lobster juice and water to the puree, stir for a few secs, and THEN add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. You don't want to add the coconut milk straight into the hot mixture as the heat can cause it to clump. After the mixture reaches a boil, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer.

 8. So, here is where it become more of an art than a science. As the mixture cooks, parts of it are going to adhere to the bottom and brown. As you occasionally stir, those caramelized bits are going to incorporate into the gravy and give it a nice brown color. As you notice the coloring darkening and the oil start to separate from the gravy again, add in the claws and legs. Cover and simmer again. The claws and legs are essentially giving the gravy the nice lobster flavor. Being encased, they can withstand the boiling temps for a longer period of time and the meat won't get too tough. You want to cook the gravy down further until it thickens and is almost fully cooked. About 10 minutes before you are done, add in the lobster bodies and cook in the sauce.This is also the time for a taste test. More sugar? More Salt? More heat? Up to you! When it reaches the consistency in the picture below, turn off the heat.  

Note how the oil has separated it itself from the gravy. 

9. Add in the ghee and the ground cinnamon, cloves and cardamom mixture. Stir gently. Let rest for 10-15 minutes. Plate over hot rice and ENJOY!


Now, you may ask, do we really need to shell the lobster? The answer is I don't know. I've never tried making this curry without shelling the tail and giving it a sear because it just made sense to me that the sear would give it a better flavor...and also cause that how grandma did it. So, if you try it both ways and its the same, definitely let me know!

Also, this gravy can also be use for other seafood like shrimp and fish. I would recommend used a hearty fish like salmon or swordfish because its such a thick, flavorful gravy that a more delicate fish would get lost. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Seafood Stew with Zucchini

This is actually one of my mother's recipes that I have appropriated for this blog. Fair Warning: if you don't like ginger or cilantro, you aren't going to like this recipe. I find it a great recipe for winter colds because the ginger really sears into your sinuses and the chili powder adds a kick.

Most of the ingredients used in this are straightforward Indian spices which do not require a trip to your local Indian grocery store. However, there is one ingredient that might give you a bit of trouble, "Panch Poran" which literally translates into "5 Seasonings". Unsurprisingly, it consists of 5 different whole seeds: fenugreek, nigella, black mustard, fennel and cumin.

It's sold in most Indian grocery stores and is a cornerstone of Bengali cooking. If you can't get it, no worries. Just substitute some 1 tsp each of cumin and coriander powder.

1 1/2 pounds of white fleshed fish. I personally like Basa (see my Chili Fish post for more info about it)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
Cooking Spray
2 medium sized zucchini, skin on, halved lengthwise and then cut into 2 inch pieces in cross section
1 tsp panch poran
1 3inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated (I use double this amount, but I really like ginger)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 bunch of cilantro, leaves only

Ginger and Onion

Ginger about the size of my hand, 5-6 inches
Ginger peeled and grated, will definitely be less than what you started with

1. First coat the shrimp and fish in turmeric, chili powder and salt and let sit for 10-15 min
2. Coat a pan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat
3. Fry the shrimp until they just start to turn orange, about 20 secs on each side. 
4. Recoat the pan with cooking spray
5. Fry the fish, until the flesh starts to firm up and gets a little crisp, about 45 secs on each side.
6. Drain both the shrimp and fish on a paper towel and set aside

7. In the same pain, heat 2 tbsp of oil over med high heat
8. Add in the panch poran and stir fry for about 20 secs or until fragrant
9. Add in the onion, ginger, tomato and stir fry until the panch poran is well distributed in the mixture
10. Fry for about 5 min, adding more oil, 1 tsp at a time, if the mixture starts to stick to the pan
11. When the onion and tomatoes form a paste, add in the zucchini and stir until the zucchini is well coated with the onion/tomato mixture

12. Turn the heat to low and cover the pot. The zucchini should start to release water. After about 10-12 min, add the 1/2 cup of water and bring to a simmer.
14. Simmer for 20-30 more min or until the zucchini is 3/4 cooked through.
15. Add the fish in and cook until the fish is cooked through
16. Add in the shrimp and cook for 5 more min. Season with salt to taste.
17. Turn off the heat and add in the cilantro on top

I didn't precook the fish in this recipe just to see how it would be. I prefer it gently fried before hand

If you let the cilantro just sit in the hot broth, it should wilt sufficiently and lend its flavor to the broth. The timing of when to add the fish and shrimp is the hardest part so that you don't over cook either, so be extra cautious during this period. You can also add fresh ginger at the end to give it a bigger kick. 

Spoon over hot rice and enjoy!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Great Limoncello Endeavor

Ah, Limoncello. Ever since that first sip on a terrazzo in Sorrento, Italy, I have been trying to find something at the same standard as that delightful concoction in the states. That has proven to be rather difficult as my benchmark came, not only from the country that invented limoncello, but the region that perfected it. Even "imported" limoncello just did not hold a candle to anything that we tried in Italy. So, I had two options open to me if I ever wanted to taste that elixir of the gods again: go back to Sorrento or make my own. While I would jump at any opportunity to return to the land of Michaelangelo and gelato, medical school had put a roadblock to travel plans. So I turned to internet to help me out. To my surprise, there were multiple ways to make limoncello that each person swore by. Vodka vs Grain alcohol. Direct immersion vs suspension. Zest vs Peel. So many choices. Here are a few of the many links I perused in my search. SuspensionZest ImmersionPeel Immersion. I tried out a few ways, but there were too many variables to compare and keep track of. At the end of the day, there was really only one way to find out which recipe was truly the best: AN EXPERIMENT. I channeled my inner Bill Nye and came up with the following scenarios.

Basically, there were six scenarios, four with vodka and two with Everclear. I was a little skittish about using Everclear for the first time, so I decided to just try two conditions with it for the first go around. I used 200ml of vodka and 100ml of Everclear for each condition. For the lemons I used Meyer lemons, since they are supposed to be a little more sweet. Even though some of the recipes call for organic lemons, I just used the regular store bought kind. I was just careful to wash and scrub all the lemons thoroughly under hot water. For my containers, I used wide-mouth one quart mason jars.

The Prep

Whole Lemon Immersion: This was the easiest. Just plop that sucker in the jar and close the lid. 

Lemon Peel Immersion: This was the most time consuming. I used a regular vegetable peeler to get the peel off the lemon. It had a significant amount of white pith still stuck to it, so I had to use a serrated paring knife to get the peel off. Significant amounts of pith can lead to a bitter taste to the limoncello, so I tried to get as much off as possible. However, you don't have to go crazy. A little bit of pith is acceptable and okay. I found the Wusthof serrated paring knife worked wonders in getting the pith off. 

Pre and Post Depithing

Lemon Zest Immersion: This method also took a little effort, but not as much as the peel. I found a microplane to be an essential tool for this job. It allowed me the best control over how deep I went and made very fine pieces of zest so that there was a lot of surface area to interact with the alcohol. After I collected all the zest, I just swirled the microplane in the alcohol a couple times and that was that.

The lemon doesn't have to completely white after zesting

Whole Lemon Suspension: This required the most materials, but was surprisingly quick. The concept behind this method is that, as alcohol vaporizes at room temperature, it rises, macerates the lemon peel and extracts the oils and then condenses on the side of the jar. And repeat. I got some restaurant grade butcher's twine and cheesecloth just to keep things safe. To prep, wrap the lemon in the cheesecloth and tie it off with the twine. Make sure to cut off all excess cheesecloth above the knot. Then suspend the lemon over the alcohol, but as close as possible and secure the twine in place by screwing the mason jar lid over it. I found that if I hung my lemons too high, the oils would condense on the twine, travel up and leak out. I don't why hanging the lemon lower prevents this. My guess is that the oil dense vapor can only rise so much before condensing, so the lower height gives it more chance to condense. However, this is pure conjecture and I will have to do more research into the subject. Hang your lemons low. Just trust me.

The Run Down

Whole Lemon Immersion:Vodka

Peel Immersion: Vodka

Zest Immersion: Vodka

Whole Lemon Suspension: Vodka

Zest Immersion: Everclear

Whole Lemon Suspension: Everclear

I used one lemon in each test condition because I wanted to keep things equal. So even though the recipes you see call more a greater ratio of lemon to alcohol, I want to see what method does the best job of extracting lemon flavor. So there is only zest from one lemon in each jar, and peel from one lemon. Once I figure out the best method, I'll go forward from there to optimize the flavor profile.

After all the jars are sealed, I like to leave them in a cool dark place for about 4 weeks. The end point should be a translucent yellow. If it starts looking brown, you know you've gone too far. I'll be posting picture updates every 2 weeks just to show how the limoncello are progressing and, of course, a post at the end of the month with the results of our blind taste test!

So, I didn't quite get to doing the two week updates, but the ones with the best flavors were both the suspended ones and the zest submersion with vodka. The others had a slightly bitter taste that came, I assume, from the pith that I was not able to remove. Also, the everclear sucked the lemon flavor out nicely, but it was just too strong even with the simple syrup at the end.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shrimp Tacos

Most of the times when I cook, I throw random things into a pot and hope for the best and, most of the times, it turns out okay. Sometimes, its a disaster and I try to make someone else eat it. Then there are those rare times, a miracle happens and all things come together for an amazing bite and I know I have something special. It happened once before with Cilantro Chicken and now, thankfully, I got lucky a second time. 

This recipe is actually a collection of four recipes that come together in the tacos. I also added my recipes for tortilla chips, cause lets face it, you need something for all that guacamole.

3 Haas Avocados, pitted and peeled
1 Lime, juiced
5-6 sprigs of cilantro, washed and leaves plucked
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
5 cloves of garlic
2 tsp cumin powder, freshly ground is better
Salt to taste

1. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend. Now, normally, I am all about the chunky, hand mixed guacamole, but for this particular recipe, I like the creaminess of the food processor version. It's a good juxtaposition to the salsa. 

Tomatillo Salsa
5 tomatillos, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, pulp removed and chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
5 sprigs of cilantro
Salt to taste

2. Combine all the ingredients together into a salsa. Add salt to taste. I really love the texture and flavor of the tomatillos in this recipe. They are readily available in most bodegas and even some mainstream grocery stores. They taste like a cross between a granny smith apple and a tomato. There's a crispness to them that I love. 

2 pounds of shrimp, 26-30 count
2 tablespoons of garam masala
Cooking spray

I actually prefer the smaller sized shrimp as you get a good mouthful with each bite. As for the garam masala, this is the one of the few times I would HIGHLY recommended a particular brand. There's just something about this MTR garam masala that goes phenomenally with this taco. 

3. Coat the shrimp with the garam masala and leave for 10 min. Can be done quicker if you are in a hurry. 

4. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. I like to use cooking spray for a light even coat of oil. Fry shrimp evenly on both sides (about a minute on each side) or until there is a light char on both sides. 

I personally prefer corn tortillas for this recipe and you can get them for very cheap at most bodegas and for a decent price and supermarkets. For the tacos, I like toast the tortillas in an skillet before serving so they are warm and a little crispy. 

Tortillas, cut into sixths
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 400, 
2. Spray some parchment paper down with cooking spray
3. Arrange the tortillas on the greased baking sheet
4. Spray the tops of the tortillas with the cooking spray
5. Sprinkle salt on top
6. Bake for about 10-15 min or until crispy.  

Assemble your ingredients and enjoy!

Photo Credit: Paul Sirajuddin