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September 23, 2009

King Crab, vinegar, aromatics, seaweed

Oh, you should've seen the cooking and posting schedule I had planned for the month of September.  After a relaxing beach vacation in August where I cooked nary a thing and was fed every single delicious meal by amazing friends, I was ready to get back into the kitchen and cook up a storm.  I'd scheduled my September days and nights around food shopping, prep, cooking, and writing when, of course, all hell broke loose with three clients in the days after Labor Day weekend, and here we are nearing the end of the month, and I feel so far behind and so rusty and cranky.  I've barely cooked a thing.  Wait, I made a bowl of Rice Chex the other day... does that count?  My eyes hurt.  My hair even hurts.  I'm starting to lose my voice from talking with journalists and politicians and clients and colleagues.  My garbage can lid can barely close as it's stuffed full of empty takeout containers. And I ache to be in the one room in my house I haven't been able to spend time in for weeks: my kitchen.  Even though, as I type this, I'm just a few feet away from my kitchen, I miss my kitchen.

Even though I loved not cooking while on vacation, I was ready to come back and chop.  Stir.  Braise.  Toss.  Cooking soothes me... keeps me sane.  Even these dishes from the Alinea cookbook, as challenging and sometimes frustrating as they can be, relax me in ways I find hard to describe with words.  Some people have explained the effects that yoga and meditation or exercise have on their well being, and for me, well, cooking has that effect.  It's the ritual of prep work, combined with the smells and sounds of the process, capped with the final product and a sense of accomplishment, that makes me comfortable and happy.  And I miss it when circumstances beyond my control change the dynamic of my time at home.

But, you didn't come here for the Carol Pity Party 2009.  So, let's talk about something I'm really happy and excited about:  

*  *  *  *  *

Announcements, announcements, annooooouuunnncements!!!

For all you Wisconsin-ites and Chicagoland area peeps, guess who's coming to Madison?  I am!  That's right -- I'm giving a free public talk at the University on Thursday, October 1 at 4 p.m. in the Helen C. White Hall (Room 6191).  Here's the skinny:

"What's Ethical about 'Cooking the Books'?: Food Writing, Adaptation, and Storytelling"
Please join UW-Madison's Contemporary Literature Colloquium for the inaugural talk of its 2009-2010 lecture series, "Adaptation: The New Lives of Narrative."  In her lecture, food writer Carol Blymire will consider the ethical ramifications of the production and consumption of haute cuisine; she will also discuss the possibilities for creating new narrative via the adaptive cooking she chronicles on her blog.

If you're in the area, I hope you'll come.  I'm really excited about this event, energized by this topic, and very much looking forward to ginning up some great conversation during the Q&A.  If you can't make it on Thursday, shoot me an email and let's see if we can't organize some sort of meetup at the farmers market on the Saturday morning.  It's been ages since I've been to Madison, and I can't wait to get out there and see all of you!

*  *  *  *  *

So, king crab.


(it's about time, I hear you saying)

Cue obligatory story about how main ingredient of dish skeeves me out/made me vomit once/does not thrill me in the least.

The last time I ate a king crab leg was in 1992, at one of those all-you-can-eat seafood extravaganzas at Chesapeake Bay Seafood House.  I can feel the vomit rising in my throat just typing those words.  My friends and I were a year or so out of college and making no money, so we'd go there on nights we had a BOGO coupon for the king crab leg buffet.  One time, a group of us went there just before I was leaving to go on a business trip (BIG mistake), and I ended up getting really sick on the plane, at baggage claim, in the van, at the event venue, on a colleague's feet... humiliating. 

So, I haven't eaten king crab since then.  I can't even see a Red Lobster commercial out of the corner of my eye without my salivary glands going into overdrive in a bad way.  Not even my imaginary boyfriend Michael Bloomberg draped in king crab legs could have made me try it again.

Only Grant Achatz wields that kind of power, I guess.  Lucky him.  And, no pressure.

I desperately wanted to cook something this week in the small window of time I had free, and I wanted to cook something for the blog, so when Scott at Blacksalt (who is leaving in October, and I'm more than a little sad about it) said he had some king crab leg coming in, I got everything else together and got crackin'.  And away we go!

First step was making the vinegar gel.  I'm so used to using white wine and red wine vinegar, that I'd forgotten how strong regular, ol' distilled white vinegar smells.  My mom used to use vinegar on bee stings when my brother and I were little, so I had a few flashbacks.  Not bad.  Just itchy.

I mixed the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and brought it to a boil:


I turned off the flame, and added the agar agar, then blended on high speed with my immersion blender for about 3 minutes:



I'd soaked five gelatin sheets in cold water, so I squeezed out as much water as possible and whisked them into the vinegar liquid, then poured just under half the liquid into a 9x13" pan lined with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to set (which took about 15 minutes).


While the liquid was setting, I got to work on the crab legs.


[cue involuntary shudder.  deep breath, aaaand exhale.  very good.  namaste.]

I broke them apart at the joints, cut them open with a pair of kitchen shears, and pulled the meat out of each piece.  Then, I cut the meat into 2-inch pieces.  I had leftover meat, which I'll talk about at the end of the post.


I placed the crab meat on top of the now-set vinegar gel, then poured the rest of the vinegar liquid on the surface, as well.  I wish I'd done less than the quarter-inch the book recommended doing in the first layer, because there wasn't enough to come up around the crab meat.



Back in the fridge to set.

The next element in this dish was to make the sushi rice.  Aaaaaaaaand, forgive me readers for I have sort-of-sinned.  Instead of making the rice myself, I picked up sushi rice from one of my favorite Japanese restaurants, Murasaki, on the way home from picking up the king crab legs.


I'll also let you know right now that I don't have access to the three kinds of fresh tosaka seaweed this recipe called for, so I subbed in some amazing seaweed salad from the Asian market.  Just telling you this in advance so you can have some time to prepare your scathing criticism in the comments section.  Heathen!  Heretic!  Cheater!!  Slacker!!  Seaweed Substituter!!!

The second layer of gel had set around the crab after another 15-20 minutes, so I removed it from the pan and cut around the crab pieces and prepared all eight servings for plating.



Hmmmmmm, she says with pursed lips and a small sneer.... see how the gelatin ended up not fusing into one giant layer and ended up being two layers, one sliding off the other?  THAT WAS ANNOYING.  I purposely checked the first layer of gel every two minutes or so to make sure I got it at the point it was just set enough so that wouldn't happen, and it went ahead and happened anyway.  Dagnabit.  I could go off into a rambling, angry, sleep-deprived Moammar Gadhafi rant about it, but I won't.  One rambling, angry, sleep-deprived Moammar Gadhafi rant per week is enough.  Somebody get that guy a casserole or something.  He's crankier than I am.

And now, we plate.  Instead of the red, green, and white seaweed, you'll see I used an already prepared seaweed salad (way to half-ass it, Blymire! next time, fly to Japan and pull it out of the ocean yourself, you amateur!). Bring it, haterz. You'll also note I didn't use fresh sea grapes, either.  Had I been at the beach, I might've been able to scrounge some up, but instead, I used dulse flakes.  I thought it would complement the flavor profile (and I was right, so there).  (alright, someone bring me a casserole, too.)

On the left, a little 2-inch log of sushi rice, topped with seaweed salad.

On the right, the crab not-really-all-that-encased-in-vinegar-gel-but-nice-try... on top of which went a parsley tip, dulse flakes, fresh ginger, saffron, and black lava salt:


.... and oh, how DELICIOUS this was.  Wow, wow, and wow.  I love how everything worked together.  The seaweed salad had some sesame elements in it, which really drew this dish together even better than I thought it might.  The crunch of the seaweed with the rice really complemented the texture of the gel and the crab... and the flavors?  Wow.  I mean, I can't say it enough.  The ginger added a nice bump of heat and freshness and the saffron added a mouth warmth... the salt was crunchy, and the dulse flakes gave it a nice overall nose feel.

And, perhaps, the bonus?  I had enough leftovers of all the ingredients and elements to make myself an omelet the next morning, and a salad the day after that.

That's really one of my favorite things about doing this blog... finding creative ways to use the leftover ingredients in my everyday cooking.  It reminds me to be more adventurous than just making scrambled eggs the next day for breakfast -- why not throw in the crab, some saffron, chopped fresh parsley and a little ginger and seaweed on top?  For lunch, why not toss the rice with some watercress and mache, crab meat, seaweed, ginger, and a light vinaigrette with a hint of dulse?

Up Next: Corn, coconut, cayenne, mint ('cause I've been having SUCH great luck with layered, gelled things!)

Resources: White House vinegar; gelatin sheets and agar agar from L'Epicerie; Domino sugar; king crab from Blacksalt; sushi rice from Murasaki; seaweed salad and dulse flakes from HMart; ginger from TPSS Co-op; parsley from my garden; La Mancha saffron; Soul of the Sea black salt.

Music to Cook By: Miles Davis; Kind of Blue.  My brain has been so fried lately, I needed music without lyrics while I cooked.  But I needed traveling music so I could get the job done.  That's what Miles Davis does for me.  Miles is the soundtrack for what my hands and eyes do at the kitchen counter.  Freddie Freeloader is one of my favorite songs to cook to.  Actually, it's one of my favorite songs to pour a glass of wine to, as I scope out the pantry and fridge to decide what to make for dinner during the workweek.

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Where the hell is he going?!?

you should post pictures of what you do with the leftovers for dishes too sometimes! i'd love to see your cooking creativity when not following a recipe book!

Excuse me for a moment, while I dismiss the drool from my chin. This looks oh so excellent. When I get crablegs at a restaurant, I always (*always*) make an enormous, embarassing mess of them. They always look so sorry that they gave their lives to become my dinner.

Your pieces look happy and not mangled all to hell. Nice one, Carol. Very nice.

Two questions: Scotty? Why?!? and what in the hell is a sea grape?

This looks delicious and easy to make. I am curious, how come you use agar and gelatin sheets? Wouldn't one or the other be enough to set the vinegar?

That's beautiful! Cringing over your sick
story - been there done that, and there is NOTHING worse than being sick in transit.

This was entertaining and informative at the same time. I always find it nice to be able to pick up little cooking tips whenever I look in on someone prepping a dish. And I would'nt dare just blurt out "semi-homema.." I'm not even going there!! Lets just say that the little shortcuts add to the "vacationesque" flair of the dish, which is just fine, considering you're a business owner first. Way to utilize a time slot, and way to take me there!!

I, for one, love the little bit of cheating. I've been reading you for long enough that I know you very well COULD have made the seaweed salad had you wanted to, you just didn't want to this week. It looks amazing.

You know, I think the crab looks kind of pretty, sticking out of the gelatin like that.

Great job!

First time poster, long time lurker. All I have to say is: You are awesome.

Thanks for this great blog!

Wow, what a mouth watery article. It looks so yummy. YUM, YUMMMM!!! You make me starving. Anyway excellent blog. Keep up the excellent work.

I agree with edwin, I kept thinking "Sandra Lee does Achatz" when you confessed to the cheats. A real writer would be on "Deadliest Catch" whipping the stuff out between stacking pots.

I am also curious about using agar-agar and gelatin together.

I have a ton of the purest agar on Earth here in my lab, but never attempted to do any cooking with it... When making plates, the only reason to mix gelatin with agar is to make the plate a little softer, so that when it goes at 37 degrees bacteria can swim easily inside it

(that's probably more than you wanted to know...:-)

but anyway, I guess the addition of gelatin would make the assembling of the sheets trickier.

Loved this post!

oh, that looks so awesomely delicious.

tosaka seaweed is SO hard to find. even moreso, sea grapes. the only time i saw (EVER!!) sea grapes was at the Okinawa Food Fair this summer. And they looked so scary!

Hi. This looks awesome. Giving it a try tomorrow.

Great post. Kudos to you for facing your fears time and time again. Being from Louisiana, I suffer no aversions to any seafood what so ever. If it swims, I've probably eaten it(and liked it). Pescetarianism all the way! woohoo.
However, being in La. pretty much precludes me from seeing your seminar. Do you have any plans to video it and post it perhaps?
Much Love, SgW

Totally agree on the Kind of Blue. For me, I don't think I really knew what jazz was until I heard All Blues. Next time I try something really hard in the kitchen, that's what I'll cook to.

You get the job done with Miles? I get a lot of sleeping done with Miles.

You are one disciplined woman to be cooking such recipes with Miles in the background. I would probably zonk out to him just pouring cereal.

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