What you need to know about crab 

Being a part time Alaskan something I know an awful lot about is crab. It’s a seafood fan favorite. I think every summer I worked in Alaska you can bet I cooked thousands of pounds of crab. Almost everyone that came off the cruise ship sought after king crab. 
This blog post will help you decide what crab to use for what, how is the best way to cook it and what to look for when buying crab. 
First of all lets talk about how to look for good crab. Luckily this is basically the same from crab species to species. You want your crab to look bright and vibrant not pale and dry. Look at where the legs meet, they should be clean and the flesh bright white. The legs should be firm and have practically no bend when you try. It’s pretty simple to buy crab. I always reccomend buying from boats on the dock. It’ll be the freshest and usually the cheapest. Fish markets are second best then grocery stores after that.

Crab from species to species have different flavor characteristic. My favorite is Dungeness crab it has the most distinct crab flavor. It’s a nice balance of salty and sweet when it’s been cooked. I used to go crabbing on weekends as a kid and I would get so excited when a big Dungeness crab would come off my trap when I pulled it up. 
Dungeness crab is good for crab cakes mixtures, but only about 50 percent of the crab you want to use. This is my favorite crab to eat by itself. Maybe with lemon and an herbed aioli. When you think Dungeness think what can I make with it that the flavor of the crab comes out more than anything else. Like a light crab salad or by itself. 

Rock crab come In several subspecies. Where I grew up there was no catch limit on rock crab. I caught and ate so much I almost got bored with it. Rock crab is sweeter and more mild than most other crab. Usually smaller and less meaty than Dungeness.
When you cook rock crab use them in things like crab cakes where they can be helped by your other ingredients. I also like to use rock crab in crab dips, hot or cold, and potato croquettes. Rock crab and things like bacon and pancetta go well together. Adding something salty really helps rock crab. It can be eaten on it’s own if you like crab that’s a little sweeter. 

King crab to me is like king salmon in the sense people love it because it’s big. You get huge meaty crab segments from it. King crab is more flavorsome then rock crab and less than Dungeness. King crab is the most meaty in texture. It’s actually pretty nice on it’s own. With and herbed aioli and lemon juice. Crab cocktails is a good usage of this type of crab too.
If you’re looking for the funnest crab to go fishing for I would go with king crab. Dungeness tastes the best, however the huge king crab are the funnest to pull out of the sea. 

When I cook my crab I just use salted water. It’s simple and the best way in my opinion. It keeps it flavor neutral so no matter what you’re going to do with it, it’ll taste really nice. Don’t limit what you can do with your crab by adding uneccisary flavors. 
Put your crab in at a full rolling boil. You can slice a knife through the head to kill them instantly before, but if you put them in alive still they’ll be dead within a few seconds. Either way is just as humane. Once your crab is cooked shock it in ice water. This prevents it from overcooking and separates the flesh from the shell. I slice my crab down the leg and peel the shell off to get nice clean segments of crab meat. 

Now that you have just your meat you need to cook something with it. I like a nice simple crab dip. Just mix it with a soft cheese, herbs, cream, butter and vegetables and serve or bake. Baked crab dip with warm bread is incredible. I’ll upload a post with my recipe for this in a later post.

Crab is also popular in sushi. Like in a California roll. A hand roll. Sushi is a nice way to eat crab because it balances the crab flavor with that of the rice and other ingredients. 

Scallops a culinary gem of the sea

Scallops are beautiful in flavor, texture and appearance. Sweet with a mild ocean flavor they’re a real treat. You can take a scallop dish so many different ways. I prefer them seared myself, however you can also poach, or eat them raw. 
Luckily, most scallops you’ll find in the store, or at the fish market will come cleaned and ready to cook. Watch out for milky looking scallops that usually means they haven’t been kept well. 

Sometimes they’ll come in their shell and you’ll have to clean them. Cleaning a scallop is easy. Simply take a small knife and insert it into the shell and gently scrape it from the shell. Open the shell and remove your scallop. Now all you have to do is remove the skirt from the scallop. Just run your thumb around the main peice if the scallop and gently pull the skirt off. You’ll be left with a beautiful,  clean scallop ready to cook.

Like i said before I like to sear my scallops. They get a nice crust and a beautiful medium rare. The middle of the scallop should be pink when you’re done searing it. Over cooking a scallop will make it go rubbery and lose its flavor. I use a very hot sautee pan with some butter. I also coat the foot, the flat end of the scallop, in seasoned flour. This does a few things, it makes the scallops crust nicer and more distinct, as well as creating more of a fond. That’s the brown bits at the bottom of the pan when you sear it. I also make sure to sear my scallops in butter. 

Place your scallops in the pan, making sure not to crowd the pan. Once you put them in don’t touch them until they’re ready to flip. Flip them after about 30 seconds once they have a nice golden brown crust. Wait about another 30 seconds and remove your scallops. 

Now I add some white wine to my pan and deglaze. I add aromatics like thyme and parsley. Thyme and scallops are a match made in culinary heaven. When the white wine is almost gone mount with butter off of the heat and stir vigorously. Pour this over your scallops and serve. Finish with parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. That’s my favorite way to have scallops. 

Tips to take the challenge out of Salmon 

I lived in Alaska on and off for years and one of the best ingredients there was the incredible salmon and crab. Almost everyday, all summer long I would come into work and fillet at least 2 big king or sockeye salmon. Fish can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. 
Salmon is great, it has it’s own distinct flavor, yet it’s light and takes on other flavors well too. Stay away from pink or chum salmon. I used chum salmon for bait and pink salmon for smoking. They don’t have the most pleasant and clean flavor you want out of a salmon. King salmon, or Chinook depending on what you call them where you live, are nice and large. King salmon to me has a little bit of a generic flavor compared to sockeye. Chinook is so popular, because of their large size. Sockeye is flavorsome and contains the least amount of mercury. The fillets that come off of a sockeye salmon have a very bright and distinct color.  Coho salmon is also pretty nice. It’s similar to the taste of a king salmon, just a bit smaller. 
I always prefer fillets over steaks. I think steaks don’t look as nice and they’re more of a pain to eat. Usually in super markets salmon comes fillet and with the pin bones already removed. Also I find salmon cooks more evenly cut into fillet portions rather than steaks. 
Look at the label in the case. Wild caught is always better. Farmed fish isn’t good. They feed it corn pellets and something to make the flesh look kind of how it’s supposed to. The flesh should look bright, not washed out or faded. Look for salmon that hasn’t been frozen. Previously frozen salmon will almost always end up being dry and it makes it harder to cook, because it’ll be falling apart more. This will also drain it of a lot of its flavor. 
Try cooking it skin on. A nice crispy skin can be nice on A salmon. I prefer it myself. If you don’t like the skin and don’t want to ruin your fillet by trying to skin it, cook it skin on and it’ll just come right off with your fingers. 
When it comes to cooking your salmon I prefer to pan sear, bake or eat it raw. Salmon is nice on sushi and in poke if it’s fresh and fatty. When I sear mine I just heat a pan up with some oil in it and put it skin side down in the pan. Let it cook about 70 percent the way on the skin and flip it. It will finish soon after. You can see it when you cook your salmon in a pan how cooked it is by looking at the side. Salmon is nice medium rare. When you bake it just season it and put it skin side down in a oven around 350 degrees until it’s done. It really is that simple. 

Want a flavor boost? Try a compound butter!

This was one of my favorite discoveries in culinary arts was my love for butter. A building block of French cuisine. It makes thinks taste so good, but it’s boring on its own. I love making compound butters. A compound butter is just a butter that’s had things like herbs, vegetables and spices added to it. 
        Making a compound butter is simple. You simply soften the butter and add things too it. When I make my compound butter I lay my mixture on parchment paper and roll it into a log. Then I freeze it for longevity purposes. Also remember to be careful with any spices or salt you put in your butter. If your dish is properly seasoned then this may make it salty. 
         Think about what you’re going to put your butter on. For fish I love to add lemon juice, chives and roasted fennel. All pretty neural, but beneficial flavors for most red and white fish. Now for shellfish like prawns you might want something more robust. Try espolette, lime juice and cilantro for a Spanish dish. Garlic, lemon juice and thyme for steamed mussels and clams.
          For something like a steak try maybe garlic, thyme and rosemary. You can even baste your steak in the butter after or simply rub it on top when it’s cooked. Rightc after your meat domes out is when I put my butter on. Let the meat absorb as much of those flavors as possible. With shellfish I usually cook it in the butter with some white wine.
     Compound butter gives your food a flavor boost as well as a nice sheen. Sometimes when you cook something like fish or chicken, it’ll look a little dry when in fact it’s not. The compound butter will prevent that. It’ll look moist and interesting. Remember butter is not a bad thing. In moderation it’s a great flavor enhancer like salt. 

        

Cooking Method-Braise

Cooking methods are significantly different with how the react to the food. Specifically designed to have certain affects on them. One of my favorite, especially with protein cookery, is the braise method.
The braise is usually classified as a low heat and small amount of liquid method. With protein braising it’s usually started by searing the meat. The braise is a slow cooking method, but can result with a great end product.
With proteins this style of cooking is used to break down connective tissue until the protein is tender. This is why tough cuts of meat are recommended. With chicken for example you would want to use the dark meat which is used more by the animal, thus has more connective tissue. Using a light meat cut would draw out the moisture and you’d typically end up with a dry piece of chicken.
With vegetables this method allows for very tender and flavorful product. You’ve slow cooked your vegetable in a flavorful liquid and a reduction of the liquid can make a great sauce in many occasions.
One dish I’ve made with this method that’s great for bacon lovers is braised pork belly. Make a flavorful liquid, usually a stock of some kind, and slow braise it for a 24 hour period at about 200F.

Always cook with a plan

Recently at school we have taken a mock version of a certified sous chef certification of the American Culinary Federation. On occasion I would go to class without much of a plan on what I would be making the next day. With a certification like this they want everything planned and a lot of technique shown. A menu, timeline, prep list, equipment list and a scrap utilization list are almost all required to pass. It can work, but if something goes wrong there’s little time to come up with a plan B.
I’ve been spending a lot of time working on organization and planning and it’s helped tremendously. You run into less problems and when problems do arise you’ve saved so much time by managing your time you can come up with a viable back up plan. The time spent making a prep list and time line beat the stress of having to come up with things and execute them accurately on the spot.
Time really is money in the restaurant industry, so writing tasks that need to get done can also help you find areas you’re spending too much time. Or it can help the order of prep make more sense so you’re not constantly walking around the kitchen looking for something. Gathering all the equipment and product you need and keeping them at the station minimizes walking time and saves labor cost. The time it takes a well organized cook to do 10 items is much quicker than an equally skilled less organized one.
Going to cook is a lot less stressful when you have a prep list and a time line. Most of the usual worries and stresses of cooking are eliminated. The more organized you cook the better cook you can become, in part because attention to detail becomes of the upmost importance. You start to do things more quickly and efficiently.

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The Advantage of Multiple Courses

In many restaurants today its typical to only order one or two courses. The meals are usually rather large and filling. Its become typical to only see appetizers, entrees and desserts on a menu. There is a huge advantage to the tasting menu type meal. They do still exist, but are not as common. A tasting menu type meal generally consists of about five small courses, and can really be a treat.

Trying many things in a meal can be good or bad. If the chef executes it well the meal will be well rounded and not overwhelming. Generally speaking a good tasting menu will stay with a theme. The them could be a region, cooking style, or things to that affect. Usually a lot of work goes into tasting menu type meals, so they can be pricey. In my experiences I ask around and do research on what restaurants do it well.

The food can be truly remarkable. The skill and care that goes into it can be a culinary adventure. You get to try a variety of foods and while you probably won’t love all of it, you’re bound to like a lot of it. You have the opportunity to try many flavorful dishes in one sitting. You can learn some new things that you like. A tasting menu is the chef showing off his skill and creativity, with an array of small plates.

Tasting menu type meals should flow well. For example, I would not serve a consume right before a curry. The meal should flow naturally and stick to the theme the chef picked. This is why I recommend researching the restaurant, before trying their tasting menu. A tasting menu can be terrible and not flow well if the chef doesn’t have a well rounded skill set. The expense is usually pricey, so you want to make sure your’re going to be trying a good one.

Creativity is One of the Most Important Skills for a Chef

Creativity cannot necessarily be learned, but developed over time. For a chef thinking of solutions and things to do with food must be rapid fire. Troubleshooting is an everyday occurrence chefs must be quick to resolve. A lot of the time solutions are unconventional, but work.

Mystery box challenges that you see on chopped aren’t realistic. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to make a special with olives and marshmallows. The chef has a busy job, so creating new menu items and specials on the fly is common. The chef has to work with what they have and create something different and special. It takes years to develop the rapid fire creativity that successful chefs have.

I’m currently in culinary school and its pretty frequent that were given a list of product and have to make a three course meal out of it. It’s exciting and helps develop skills necessary to make quick decisions. It seems amazing how some of the more successful chefs can think of things so quickly and generally have more options that come to mind. This skill comes by practice, but also developing a wider skill set. The more things you know how to do with food the wider array of things you can think of.

An example from my experience would be a Christmas party I worked. Poor communication caused a prep issue where the prawns were butterflied rather than being peeled and devained. In a situation like that you have to make it work. The dish we were planning on making would’t work with the prawns butterflied so we had to make an entirely different dish to make it successful. The guests loved the new dish and didn’t know it was different than we had first intended to do.

Food Should Speak for Itself

Confidence in the food you’re producing is of the upmost important to a chef. An insecure chef often times gets gimmicky with food and presentation. The flavor and look of the food itself should require no further explanation, than the description on the menu.

Things shouldn’t be put on the plate for show. Every component of the dish should serve a purpose. Putting parsley as a garnish on everything is a bad practice. It adds aromatic affects, but shouldn’t be overused. It should not be used to add color alone. Non edible items shouldn’t never be added to a plate.

A dish served multiple ways shows a lack of confidence. For example chicken 3 ways. It comes off as trying too hard thinking the customer is bound to like at least one of them. It seems often times that less care is put into something served multiple ways. Serving a chicken one way on a dish you tend to put more effort into it. This can also be bad, because it eliminates flow. Having an Asian, American and Hispanic cuisine all on the same plate is off putting. It messes with the pallet.

Gimmicky presentation is another key sign of a chef lacking confidence. Things coming out flaming that isn’t necessary or with a dome of smoke. It may look cool, but it almost never affects the overall flavors of the dish. I’ve seen things come out hanging from metal skewers in an awkward tower of over cooked meat and vegetables. I’ll take my meal on a plate please. I seldomly see it anymore, but some places serve dishes the customer doesn’t know how to eat.

One of my biggest guidelines is to keep it simple. It’s just better that way. Having to do crazy things to the presentation of food isn’t impressive as much as it is strange.

Fusion Cuisines

Fusion cuisine generally speaking means two cuisines coming together on purpose to create something new. Many people, I included, would argue that almost every establishment in America serves fusion cuisine. Now that we can get our hands on almost any product in the world and most American cooks use French cooking teqniques, different cuisines have several influences on them.

Take Chinese restaurants for example. Almost 90% of Chinese restaurants serve Cantonese food. China is a very large country and most of the food we would consider Chinese in origin comes from a small sliver of China. In America in large part French cooking teqniques are used in the making of Chinese food. French cooking teqniques are the standard here. The ingredients used are different as well. It’s easier to use what we can have here, than to import it from Asia.

Mexican food is the easiest example. Mexican food in America is influenced by Mexican food, it in of itself is not Mexican food. In most real Mexican food diary isn’t used almost at all. You would never find sour cream on anything. Real Mexican food is a fusion as well, of meso American food and Spanish food. The Spanish brought spices and domesticated animals that set the tone for real Mexican food.

Fusion food should be on purpose. I’ve tried several fusion restaurants here in Portland and have been impressed. The key to fusion food is to first understand the two cuisines you’ll be fusing. To make a successful Korean Japanese restaurant you need to understand bot Japanese and Korean cuisines to successfully fuse them.