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. 

Easy curried lentils 

I love Indian food, the smell of the spices and the simplicity. Curried lentils I eat probably once a week. It’s very simple to make and there’s no fuss to it. It’s also extremely tasty and smells incredible. What you’ll need:
Butter

Curry paste

Onion

Leek

Celery 

Lentils 

Salt/pepper 

Cilantro 

Parsley 

Mushrooms 

Chicken 
First off, I’ll get my butter nice and hot in a sautee pan, add your curry paste and lightly toast. I always prefer curry paste over powder. I think curry powder tends to be a little flat myself. Add your sliced onions, leeks and celery and sweat until translucent.
At this point I’ll go ahead and add my diced chicken and sliced mushrooms. Make sure you sautee these a minute before asking everything. The mushrooms cook much better that way. When your mushrooms are cooked add your lentils. Then add water or stock. I think water works just fine. Season and simmer until lentils are soft making sure to keep stirring and adding water as it runs out.
When your lentils are soft add your chopped cilantro and parsley and serve over rice. 

Porchetta one of my favorite Italian Dishes 

I really do love Italian food, the flavors, the ideas, the simplistic beauty of it. Of all the Italian Dishes Porchetta is one of my favorites. The most beautiful roast of a stuffed pork belly. It looks incredible and tastes amazing. It’s actually fairly easy to make too. What you’ll need: 
Pork belly
Pork sausage 
Butcher’s twine
Onion
Fennel
Celery 
Oregano
Basil

Thyme
Olive Oil 
Salt/pepper 
The first step is optional. I like to brine my pork belly. It gives it more flavor, moistness and it crisps up better I think. I can make a post all about brines if you’d like let me know. 
Next you’ll want to skin and butterfly your pork belly. Now that your pork belly is open I leave it like that for a minute. You’ll need to cook your onions, celery and fennel with your herbs. Just sweat them down well. Make sure to season your mix and ssusage. I lay this mixture on my pork belly. Then I lay my pork sausage over that and spread evenly. Then roll it tight onto itself.
The your pork at this point. Have a local butcher or YouTube video show you how to do this it’s pretty simple. Just a simple roast tie. Once it’s tied tight I score my belly making sure not to cut my twine. Then I rub Olive Oil and a little salt over top. 
When it comes time to roast I start it in a 500 degree oven for about 20 minutes, then drop it down 350 until it has a nice crispy crust and temps to the right temp in the middle. Remove from the oven and let rest. Slice into rounds and serve. 

My easy tomato sauce recipe

This is a special one to me. Being Italian, creating a simple, delisuous tomato sauce is a right of passage. Everyone has their method and their “secret” item. I keep mine simple and almost neutral. I can evolve it further to fit with what I’m cooking if need be. What you’ll need:
Fresh tomatoes

Thyme

Basil

Oregano 

Salt/pepper

Olive Oil 

Red wine 

Red chili flake 

Garlic

White onion

Celery 

Fennel 
That seems like a lot, but its so easy to do. First heat your olive oil, add your garlic and chili flake and infuse the oil with those flavors. 
Add your small diced fennel, onion and celery, sweat down and season. Once this is done I add my chopped herbs. I mix this around a bit and add my red wine. 
Then I add my diced tomatoes and simmer for around an hour. I like mine chunky, I like the texture. You can blend it, but I think it’s really better a little chunky. Chunky sauce sits on your pasta better anyway. Now this is a neutral Italian tomato sauce that can be used in so many ways. 

Tips for better pasta dishes

Pasta is a very simple thing, egg, flour, salt, oil and flour. With many simple things it can also be easy to make mistakes. Here are some tips to do pasta dishes right. 
Now first off let’s select the pasta we are going to use. You can make your own pasta which really has a wonderful texture. I can share how to do that in a separate blog post. However I really do think midshelf store bought pasta is good for the price. When selecting the type of pasta you’re going to use think about how it’ll go with the sauce. With lighter sauces like with a Vongole pasta I suggest something thin with a delicate texture like Angel Hair. For something thicker and chunky I suggest something like orchetti which is like a half circle. It’s thicker and can hold pockets of the sauce. For something cream based and richer I reccomend something like linguini, longer and a little on the thicker side, it allows it to stand up to the richness of the sauce.
Now that we’ve selected our pasta we must cook it. Always season your water and I always taste mine. I always make sure it tastes seasoned. Never use oil. Many cooks add oil to prevent your pasta from sticking together, don’t do that!! The oil coats the pasta and creates a barrier so the sauce will have no chance of sticking to the pasta itself. Always cook the pasta a little al dente it’ll continue to cook. Never rinse your pasta, this washes off all the starch that will help thicken your sauce.
Not that you have your seasoned and cooked pasta add it directly to your sauce. I always simmer my pasta in the sauce for at least a minute before serving. This allows ten pasta to incorporate into the sauce rather than just dumping some on top. Now you can serve a better pasta dish.

Easy Pasta Alla Vongole 

This is one of my favorite pasta recipes, it shows that simplicity can be best. It’s also very easy and fast for even the home cooks. 

What Youll need:

Olive Oil

Garlic

Red chili flake

White wine 

Angel Hair pasta 

Manilla clams 

Green onion 

Cherry tomatoes 

Parmesan or Asiago cheese 

The first thing you’ll want to do is start your pasta water. Always season with salt. Never add oil at this point, always just stir. By adding oil you coat the noodles and it won’t allow the sauce to marinade with the pasta when it’s done.

Next step, heat about a half a cup olive oil on a medium heat, add minced garlic and chili flake to infuse the olive oil. This step should be quick, as soon as the garlic is slightly toasted add your clams. Be careful with this step, the oil may crackle a bit.
Add your white wine. Just about a half a cup and cover. Once all the clams have opened add your cooked pasta. Also a tip never rinse your pasta it’ll wash all the starch off and it won’t thicken the sauce. 
Then it’s time to plate. Plate the pasta mix into your pasta bowl. Shave your hard cheese over top and garnish with sliced cherry tomatoes and green onion. 

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.