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Kathy Hunt

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Philadelphia, PA

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A longtime food and travel writer, Kathy Hunt’s work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and in such magazines as VegNews and BackHome and at epicurious.com. She is the author of the seafood cookbook "Fish Market” (Running Press, 2013), which Weight Watchers dubbed “one of the top ten books to give and receive in 2013.” National Public Radio’s Kitchen Table also shortlisted “Fish Market” for “best gift for the beach cottage.”
Kathy was a contributing writer for the food encyclopedia “Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl” (Greenwood, 2008) and to an upcoming book on craft brewers and distillers. Presently she is writing the non-fiction book "Herring:  A Global History" for Reaktion Books.
Along with writing, Kathy works as a cooking instructor, recipe tester, lecturer and photographer.  She can be found at KitchenKat.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. An alumnus of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she holds two Master of Science degrees. Kathy divides her time between Manhattan and an 1801 farmhouse in suburban Philadelphia.

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Candy Corn Aside, Spiced Nuts Are True Halloween Treat Image

At times, just thinking about Halloween causes my stomach to lurch. No, it’s not the creepy costumes, scary movies and pervasive pranks that make me queasy with fright. Rather, it’s the mounds of sickeningly sweet, artificially flavored, mass-produced candies that show up in my house every Halloween season that give me tummy aches.

For as long as I can remember, Oct. 31 has meant collecting and eating gobs of individually wrapped, store-bought candy. Yet, there was a time when Halloween served reverent roles and featured much tastier and more nutritious foods than candy corn and peanut butter cups.

Halloween descends from harvest festivals, fall celebrations

During ancient times, Celtic tribes in what are now Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom held annual three-day harvest festivals known as Samhain. Beginning at dusk on Oct. 31, these feasts marked the end of summer and the temporary abundance of foods, such as apples, potatoes, turnips, cabbage and grains.

Along with celebrating the season’s bounty, the Celts used this time to remember and communicate with their ancestors. They believed that on Oct. 31 the doors to the afterlife opened, and on that night the living could interact with the dead.

Although by the 7th century the pagan Celts had converted to Christianity, many of their autumnal customs remained. On Hallow’s Eve or All Hallow’s Eve, which fell one day before the Catholic Church’s All Souls’ Day, Europeans remembered their dead by placing lighted candles on loved ones’ graves and in hollowed out beets, potatoes and turnips. The forerunner to the modern-day jack-o’-lantern, the “neep lantern” was said to symbolize a soul trapped in purgatory. They were placed in the windows of homes to welcome departed relations and friends.

Apples starred in harvest celebrations

Harvest fetes still took place in the Middle Ages. Apples remained a star of these occasions and were made into tarts, pies, breads, dumplings, puddings and cakes.

So plentiful was this fruit that people set out apples for the dead and used them to tell fortunes. If you saw two seeds in your apple, you’d soon marry. Three seeds indicated future wealth.

Potatoes were equally important to Hallow’s Eve meals. In Ireland and Scotland, colcannon — mashed potatoes, onions and cabbage — was such a popular Oct. 31 dish that the date became known as “Colcannon Night.”

On Colcannon Night, cooks hid small favors inside bowls of colcannon as well as in champ, potatoes mashed together with leeks and buttermilk. Supposedly, guests’ fates were determined by the tokens they found. If you received a dried pea in your serving of mashed potatoes, you’d have prosperity. Dig out a coin and you’d achieve great wealth. Unearth a thimble and you’d be destined for spinsterhood.

Nuts also acted as prognosticators. Before going to bed on Hallow’s Eve, people would mash together walnuts, hazelnuts, nutmeg, butter and sugar and consume the concoction in the hopes of having prophetic dreams. Earlier in the evening, they roasted walnuts or chestnuts over an open fire to determine the nature of future relationships. If the toasted nuts tasted bitter, they’d end up in an unhappy marriage. If the nuts seemed sweet, they’d have a pleasant spouse.

In addition to telling fortunes, food played a major part in the medieval act of “souling.” On Hallow’s Eve, the poor would travel from house to house, offering to pray for the souls of the dead. In return they requested soul cakes, small, spiced buns studded with currants and other dried fruit. Every household seemed to possess an endless supply of soul cakes. It sounds a bit like trick-or-treating, minus the sugary confections and pranks.

Irish, Scots brought Halloween to America

Although this holiday has a long, rich history in the United Kingdom, it didn’t permeate American culture until the mid-19th century. It was then that famines in Ireland drove millions of Irish immigrants to the United States. Wherever the Irish and, to some extent, the Scots went, Halloween, as it came to be called, went with them.

In America, Halloween took on new customs and flavors. Large, plump, orange gourds replaced turnips and other root vegetables in those hand-carved lanterns for the dead. At parties, apples took the form of entertainment, as in bobbing for apples, and in drinks, such as apple cider and juice. Guests no longer pulled tokens from bowls of mashed potatoes. Instead they pulled strands of boiled sugar and butter to make taffy.

By the end of World War II, Americans had largely abandoned plain apples, nuts and homemade Halloween treats for commercially produced candy. The sugar-corn syrup-wax combination known as candy corn became all the rage. So, too, did individually wrapped sweets. Unquestionably, the passion for store-bought goods continues to this day.

Rather than defy current customs, I’ll continue to stock up on bags of chocolate bars and gummy worms. However, I do plan on giving my belly a break and keeping my own stash of historic Halloween treats. At the top of my cache will be spiced nuts. Hearkening back to the tradition of eating walnuts and hazelnuts with nutmeg, sugar and butter, I created the following Nutmeg-Cinnamon Nuts.

Nutmeg-Cinnamon Nuts

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: Makes 3½ cups

Ingredients

1½ cups walnuts

1¼ cups hazelnuts

¾ cup pecans

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon allspice

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Spread the nuts over a large baking sheet and bake, tossing once or twice, for 10 minutes or until golden in color.

3. As the nuts are toasting, melt the butter. Place it along with the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and allspice in a large bowl and stir to combine.

4. Once the nuts have toasted, add them to the bowl and stir until all the nuts are coated with the spice mixture. Cool to room temperature and serve.

Main photo: Nutmeg-Cinnamon Nuts. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Ground Cherries: America’s Fruit Secret Image

Although serious, tromp-through-the-woods foragers may scoff at my claim, I’ve begun to think of the past few months as my season of foraged foods. With camera, notebook and canvas tote in hand, I’ve been heading off to southeastern Pennsylvania every other weekend to see old friends and collect uncultivated fruit on their 30-acre farm.

There, on the edge of a dense thicket, we’ve plucked black raspberries, wineberries and blackberries from jagged vines and snapped mulberries, elderberries and sprays of delicate elderflowers from their leafy branches.

Thanks to these excursions and my friends’ vast knowledge of wild plants, I’ve learned to differentiate between the edible and poisonous, and the ripe and unripe; often there is a direct correlation between ripeness and edibility. I’ve also developed an even greater appreciation for local, seasonal and oft-forgotten foods.

Ground cherries known by many names

Topping my list of wild, wondrous and overlooked fruits is the dainty ground cherry. Found dangling from low, bushy plants in early fall, a ground cherry resembles a tiny Chinese lantern or pint-sized tomatillo. Similar to tomatillos and tomatoes, it is a member of the nightshade family. Occasionally, it goes by the names husk tomato, strawberry tomato, cape gooseberry and its scientific genus, physalis.

When ripe, the ground cherry drops off the plant and onto the ground. If you pick up the fruit and peel back its straw-colored, tissue-like husk, you uncover a waxy amber berry that looks a bit like a cranberry or small cherry. Bite into the ripe berry’s thin skin and you will taste a pleasing combination of pineapple, strawberry and apricot. Sweet but not cloying, juicy but not sticky, this is an extraordinary little fruit.

What amazes me most about the ground cherry is that until a few weeks ago I had never eaten or even seen one. Considering that ground cherries are indigenous to the Americas, can be found in every state except Alaska and are commonly grows in the East and Midwest, I am stunned by my ignorance.

And yet, I’m not. In spite of the plant’s ability to thrive in poor soils, survive neglect and produce baskets of beautiful berries, the ground cherry has never caught on in the United States. Only Native Americans have been known to consume copious quantities of this vitamin C-rich fruit.

Outside the U.S., people feel more passionately about ground cherries. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the south of France and other temperate regions of Europe cultivate these plants commercially.

In Europe and elsewhere, cooks put ground cherries in pies, compotes, jams and sauces. Some dry the sweet berries and use them as flavorful substitutes for raisins in breads, scones, cookies and sweet rolls. Others pull back but leave on the fruits’ calyx, using the husks as handles to dip the raw berries into melted chocolate or caramel.

A ground cherry. Credit: Kathy Hunt

A ground cherry. Credit: Kathy Hunt

In England ground cherries appear in home decor as well as in desserts. Left in their paper shells, the long-lasting fruit brightens floral decorations during the winter months.

Although I may have lucked out and found a private source, you don’t have to drive hours or befriend farm owners to get ground cherries. Imported from New Zealand, they are available in springtime at well-stocked grocery stores. You can also find them in the fall at farm stands and farmers markets.

If you can’t track them down, you can always attempt to grow your own. Flourishing in a variety of soils and in garden pots, ground cherries require little else besides a sunny spot. The plants reach about 3 feet in height and possess green, somewhat velvety, heart-shaped leaves.

Whether you’re collecting them from the ground or a local market, look for fruit that’s plump and golden to orange-yellow in color. Green ground cherries are unripe and may prove poisonous for some consumers.

Choose berries that are still encased in their parchment covers. To prevent spoilage, leave them in their husks until you’re ready to consume them.

Placed in a paper bag and refrigerated, ground cherries will keep for several months. Before using them, pull off the husk and wash off the fruit. Ripe ground cherries can be eaten raw or cooked.

Ground Cherry Crumble

Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 35 to 40 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

3¼ cups ground cherries

1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar

¾ cup rolled oats

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Pinch ground ginger

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease a deep 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

2. Toss together the ground cherries, apple, lemon juice and granulated sugar. Spoon the mixture into the greased baking dish.

3. In a separate bowl, stir together the brown sugar, rolled oats, flour and ginger. Using your fingers or a fork, incorporate the chunks of butter until you have a well-formed, crumbly topping.

4. Spread the topping evenly over the ground cherries. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Serve warm.

Main photo: Ground cherry crumble. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Spiked Ice Cream: Dessert And Drinks In One Bowl Image

A few months ago, I began hearing rumors about a new dessert craze — wine-infused ice cream. At first I was skeptical. Although I like both ice cream and wine, I’ve never felt tempted to swirl the two together for a Port sundae or Pinot Noir float.

But a chance encounter with wine ice cream at the Williamsburg Creamery in Brooklyn, N.Y., changed all this. While out working on an assignment, I ducked into the shop for a revitalizing scoop of plain old chocolate ice cream. Instead, I walked out with a cup of Chocolate Cabernet made by Mercer’s Dairy. Bold, rich and complex, it tasted as delightful as the pairing of a glass of good red wine and a chunk of high-quality dark chocolate should.

Mercer’s Dairy has been making and selling its wine ice creams since 2007. The inspiration for this creation came from numerous Pride of New York events where the Boonville, N.Y., dairy was showcased alongside the state’s Wine and Grape Foundation, said Roxaina Hulburt, co-owner and director of marketing at Mercer’s.

“People get burnt out on just vanilla ice cream. Marrying ice cream with wine seemed like an obvious fit,” Hulburt said. She added that the dairy tries to use as many New York state-produced wines as possible in its ice creams.

In 2007, Mercer’s released its first four wine ice creams — Peach White Zinfandel, Port, Riesling and Red Raspberry Chardonnay — in New York state. Today it exports these adults-only flavors as well as Cherry Merlot, Chocolate Cabernet, Strawberry Sparkling and the upcoming Spice to 15 countries, including the Netherlands, Japan and China.

Spiked ice cream has been around for decades

Although it may sound novel, adding alcohol to ice cream isn’t a new concept. Those who grew up in the 1980s with a hand-packed pint of rum raisin ice cream tucked into the back of the freezer know what I mean. This adult favorite featured raisins soaked in rum for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

“Our survey of historic USA newspapers suggests the ice cream flavor ‘rum raisin’ became popular during the 1930s. We find no single chef, restaurant or company claiming the invention,” said Lynne Olver, editor of The Food Timeline.

Olver added that rum raisin’s popularity peaked during the 1970s and 1980s. This may explain my parents’ passion for rum raisin. Today, though, they might not recognize their favorite frozen treat; mass-produced versions have replaced the rum with extracts and other flavorings.

Substituting extract for rum may sound like you’re skimping on ingredients. However, as I can attest from repeated attempts, freezing alcohol-laced goodies can be tricky. In my quest for vodka-laced sorbets, champagne sherbets and brandy-infused ice creams, I’ve created countless soupy, boozy treats.

There is a fine line between a frozen dessert and a cold, slushy drink. If I use too much alcohol, I end up with drunken milkshakes. If I add too little, my concoction lacks the flavor of that special ingredient.

Try gelatin as a stabilizer

To skirt this problem, artisan ice cream makers may add gelatin, which acts as a stabilizer, or keep the alcohol content low, to less than 0.5 percent of the total volume. The theory is that consumers experience the subtle taste of, but not the actual, liquor.

At Mercer’s Dairy, a different approach prevails. With its products, you get both wine and wine flavor in every luscious spoonful. Its ice cream contains up to 5 percent alcohol by volume and 15 percent butterfat, Hulburt said. How the dairy manages to freeze wine remains a secret.

Along with the issue of freezing alcohol, commercial ice cream makers face the problems of liquor laws and underage consumption. In the United States, you must be 21 or older to obtain and consume alcohol-infused ice creams. Even if you’ve hit that ripe old age of 21, you still may be barred from buying a pint or scoop of these desserts. Some states, such as Louisiana, strictly prohibit their distribution.

In May, Louisiana state legislators voted down a bill to permit the sale of wine ice cream. Concerns about residents driving while intoxicated from ice cream and minors buying alcohol-infused confections were among the arguments against it.

Fortunately, you can make alcohol-infused ice cream at home. The following recipe illustrates how to combine fall flavors, dairy products and liquor for a spectacular 21-and-over ice cream.

Spiked Apple Cider Ice Cream

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Yield: Makes 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 2⅓ cups apple cider
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons Calvados or other apple brandy
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups whole milk

Directions

  1. Place the apple cider, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger and nutmeg in a medium saucepan and bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, whisking periodically, until the liquid thickens and reduces down to a generous ¾ cup, about 25 minutes.
  2. Pour the mulled cider through a fine mesh strainer and into a glass measuring cup, checking to ensure that it has reduced to the correct amount.
  3. Pour the cider back into the pan. Leaving the pan off the heat, add the apple brandy and stir to combine. Add the cream and milk and stir until well-combined.
  4. Pour the ingredients into a shallow bowl or pan and place in the freezer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chilled and just starting to freeze.
  5. If using an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making ice cream. If doing this by hand, leave the cream mixture in the freezer, removing at 30- to 45-minute intervals and stirring to break up the ice cream. Continue freezing and stirring until a thick yet fairly soft ice cream has formed.
  6. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

Main photo: Spiked Apple Cider Ice Cream. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Don’t Despair Summer’s End. It’s Wild Char Season Image

For fans of seasonal seafood, summer’s end is an eagerly anticipated event. This is the time when oysters recover their former glory and plump wild char return to northern rivers and lakes.

Not familiar with wild or even farmed char? You’re not alone. Although more than five years have passed since U.S. News and World Report ranked char No. 2 among the “11 best fish” to eat, this eco-friendly creature has yet to hit its stride with consumers.

I suspect the snub is inadvertent. When browsing supermarket display cases, shoppers tend to gravitate to what they know. They see fat, pink slabs of salmon and immediately reach for them instead of the coral-fleshed fillets and steaks labeled “Arctic char.” Unfortunately, by grabbing the old standby, they’ve deprived themselves of a versatile and delicious omega-3-rich fish.

Char pairs well with many flavors, can be cooked in endless ways

Those who take a chance and replace their usual purchase with char will find striking similarities. Like salmon, char possesses bright, silvery skin and flesh ranging in color from pale pink to ruby red. Its firm, juicy meat calls to mind a mild salmon or a bold trout.

In terms of cooking, char responds well to a host of techniques, including baking, broiling, braising, grilling, pan frying, poaching and cold or hot smoking. I find that it goes beautifully with a wide range of ingredients. Basil, chervil, chives, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, barbecue sauce, cream, curry, ginger, lemon, sesame, mushrooms, spring onions, shallots and white wine all complement its pleasant taste.

Flexible. Flavorful. Good for you. Sound a bit like salmon? It does to me. However, unlike salmon, which has a complicated track record with sustainability, char is an environmentally sound seafood choice.

Several varieties of char exist. Of these, I most often see Arctic char in markets and on menus.

How Arctic char gets its name

If you’re a stickler about nomenclature, you may think the name Arctic char is a bit misleading. Char comes not from the North Pole but 500 miles south of it, from lakes and rivers in Alaska, northern New England, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Great Britain, Scandinavia and parts of Russia. Its remote homelands make it the most northerly freshwater fish species in the world. These locales also provide it with the “Arctic” in Arctic char.

Most often the char I buy has been raised on land in tanks. This method of aquaculture releases little pollution or parasites, making farmed char a safe seafood choice. For the same reason, it is also a good alternative to farmed Atlantic salmon, whose aquaculture pollutes waters and contains a large amount of toxins.

Although I’m a big advocate of farmed char, I still look forward to wild char’s brief fall showing. After a summer spent gorging on cod, shrimp, snails, salmon eggs and other aquatic life, these char return to their cold, freshwater lakes 50%  fatter than when they left. Thanks to their rich and diverse diets, some reach up to 34 pounds in weight. Meanwhile, farmed char only grow to between 5 and 15 pounds. The added girth helps the wild species survive brutally harsh winters. It also makes them quite rich and delectable.

For centuries, native people have relied upon fat, hearty, wild char for sustenance. The Inuits of North America and the Arctic are especially indebted to this fish. They eat it in raw and cooked forms, smoking, drying, curing and grilling the meat.

Char roe is high in protein

They consume char roe, which is high in protein and Vitamin B, and leaving nothing to waste, Inuits have been known to use fish bones for knitting needles. They also turn the skin into a waterproof material for sewing pouches and coats for kayakers.

Because I am nowhere near as resourceful as the Inuit, I just stick with cooking char. When I’m lucky enough to come across wild char, I broil, pan sear or grill the fillets or steaks. Juicy and flavorful, wild char needs nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a drop of olive oil.

Should I crave a flashier preparation, I make the following dish. As with salmon, char has finished cooking when it reaches an internal temperature of 137 degrees F or its flesh has become opaque and flakes when probed with a fork.

Sesame-Crusted Char

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 4- to 6-ounce char fillets, skins on
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons water

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the tamarind paste, water, lime juice, sugar and salt, stirring until the tamarind paste has dissolved completely into the liquids.
  2. Place the sesame seeds in a flat, shallow dish.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. As the oil is heating, whisk together the egg white and 2 teaspoons water. Brush the mixture over the char fillets.
  4. Coat the skinless side of the fillets with the egg white and then dredge them through the sesame seeds. Place the fillets, seed side down, in the frying pan. Cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the fillets with tongs and cook on the skin side until just done. The fish should be pale pink and tender. Depending on the thickness of the char, this could be anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes.
  5. Place the fillets skin side down on four dinner plates. Drizzle the tamarind sauce over top of each. Serve immediately.

Photo: Pan-seared char. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Barbecue Boredom? Check Inside The Shell Image

Midway through summer I start craving a bit more excitement from my grill. Sure, I keep the usual burgers and kebabs on the menu. However, for a flashy, festive meal that’s a snap to create, I add bivalves to my barbecue.

Bivalves, a class of mollusk, possess two hinged shells, or valves, held together by a single muscle. Sound familiar? It should. This group consists of oysters, clams, mussels and scallops. Of these, clams, mussels and scallops all receive invitations to my cookouts.

Why aren’t oysters included on the guest list? It’s because of the “no R” rule — don’t consume oysters in a month without an “r” in its name. This is not an old wives’ tale. During the months of May through August, oysters spawn and become watery and unpalatable. Not even a smoky grill will improve their state.

Bivalves provide a chance of pace on the grill

Of the bivalve trio, the clam, specifically the East Coast littleneck clam, is a particular favorite of mine. Less than 2 inches in diameter, these are the smallest hard-shell clams. They are also the tenderest and one of the eco-friendliest.

Along with its sweet, somewhat briny taste, what I love about the littleneck clam is that it cleans itself, siphoning water into and out of its shell, pushing out debris as it goes.

Keeping this self-cleaning trait in mind, about a half hour before placing them on the grill, I lay my littlenecks in a bowl filled with cold water and pour a generous amount of salt over them. The clams immediately begin to push out the salted water and any sediment that has collected in their shells. You can watch the grains of sand and dirt float to the top of the bowl.

After 20 to 25 minutes have passed, I arrange the debris-free clams on a sheet of tin foil. Although this may seem like a mundane task, I stay on my toes, looking out for fastidious or feisty clams among the bunch. These invariably spit water at me.

Placing the foil on my preheated grill, I cover and cook the clams for five to eight minutes. They’re finished when all their shells have opened. Any that don’t open I discard.

The grilled clams, with their juices pooling in their shells, can be topped with a dollop of hot sauce, squeeze of citrus juice, drop of butter or pinch of ground black pepper. Juicy and mildly salty, they’re equally delicious without any adornments.

Clams on ice. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Clams on ice. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Mussels require a smidgen more effort. Look at a mussel and the first thing you’ll notice is a cluster of scruffy threads attached to it. Known as a beard, these fibers allow the mussel to cling to and grow on rocks and other substrate. Although useful to the mussel, they’re of no value to me and must be scraped off with a knife.

Beards removed, I scrub the mussels under running water with a stiff brush. If they seem heavy or dirty, I soak them in a bowl of cold water for an hour before draining and washing them off again.

Cleaning finally completed, I follow the same cooking steps used for clams. As for dressing the grilled mussels, I consider what complements their sweet, moist meat and adorn them with such ingredients as chives, shallots, mustard, lemon juice, tarragon vinegar or garlic-laced butter.

Scallops differ from the other two in that they’re shucked at sea immediately after being harvested. As a result, I don’t have much cleaning to do. I just rinse the meat under water and move on to cooking.

Unfortunately, the lack of shells means I have an increased risk of the scallops drying out on the grill. To combat this possibility, I generously coat the scallops with olive oil before laying them on a hot grill. After seasoning each with salt and pepper, I cook them for two to three minutes per side or until the translucent flesh has turned a beautiful pearl color. I immediately remove the scallops to prevent overcooking.

Similar to clams and mussels, scallops require few, if any, extra ingredients. A dusting of cayenne, scallions, shallots, and vinegar or lemon or lime juice will balance out their sweetness, while a splash of cream or white wine will enhance it. Chervil, parsley or thyme likewise pair well with these plump and flavorful bivalves.

The next time that you fire up your grill, add some bivalves to your barbecue. Simple, quick and flavorful, they’re a welcome addition to any summer feast.

Grilled Clams With Lemon-Basil Butter

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings.

From “Fish Market” (Running Press, 2013). If you don’t have an outdoor grill, you can make these on a grill pan.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 dozen medium-sized hard-shelled clams such as top neck or cherrystone, scrubbed

Directions

  1. Preheat the grill on high.
  2. In a glass bowl in the microwave or in a small pan on the stovetop, melt the butter. Allow the butter to cool slightly, about 10 minutes, and then add the lemon juice, zest, basil and pepper. Stir together and set aside.
  3. Place a layer of tin foil on the grill and then place the clams on top of the foil. Cover the grill and allow the clams to cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. After tossing out any unopened clams, place the grilled clams in a bowl or on a platter and drizzle the lemon-basil butter over the top of them. Serve immediately.

Main photo: Clams on a grill pan. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Invasive Fish: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em Image

As a longtime pescetarian and proponent of healthy eating, I’m delighted when people mention adding seafood to their diet. My heart sinks, though, when I hear that these additions consist of imported shrimp and tuna or farmed Atlantic salmon.

Although I appreciate any attempt to eat more wholesomely, I wish Americans would make wiser, more environmentally sound choices when it comes to shellfish and fish.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 91% of our favorite seafood was shipped in from overseas in 2011. Meanwhile, our own waters teem with nutritious yet highly invasive species such as Asian carp, northern snakehead and lionfish. In an age of increasing concerns about the environment and sustainability, our dependence on imported and ecologically unsound seafood makes no sense. It’s time for us to stop making unviable choices and start eating America’s glut of destructive, nonnative fish.

Eating invasive fish aids sustainability

Think that the need for invasivores – people who eat invasive species — might be overhyped? Consider Asian carp, specifically bighead, silver, black, and grass carp. They were introduced in the late 1960s to control parasites, algae and weeds in Southeastern U.S. aquaculture.

Unfortunately, these aggressive fish didn’t stay down on the farm. After escaping and crowding out or killing off  native aquatic life, Asian carp now rule over large stretches of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. Today, they threaten to take over the Great Lakes and other water systems.

This story is not unique. Dumped out of exotic aquariums, the flamboyant and venomous Indo-Pacific lionfish has infiltrated the coastal waters of Florida, spreading as far north as North Carolina and as far south as the Caribbean. Left unchecked, the lionfish has destroyed entire reef populations and drastically reduced biodiversity.

Native to Africa and Asia, northern snakeheads have likewise decimated wildlife in the Potomac, sections of the East and West coasts, Florida and Hawaii. Able to live several days out of the water, they wriggle over land to ravage nearby ponds, reservoirs and lakes. As a result, snakeheads are particularly troublesome.

Although America spends millions of tax dollars attempting to contain or eliminate these and other invasive fish, they remain prized foods in their native lands. In China and Southeast Asia, cooks grill, fry, poach, braise, steam or stew snakehead.

Zester Daily contributor Kathy Hunt preparing for a cooking class. Credit: Sean Dippold

Zester Daily contributor Kathy Hunt preparing for a cooking class. Credit: Sean Dippold

In Cambodia, this freshwater fish serves as an essential source of protein and stars in the traditional curry dish amok trey. Firm, white-fleshed and moderate in flavor, it makes a fitting substitute for overfished darlings such as monkfish and snapper.

Low in mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), Asian carp also abounds with culinary possibilities. Along with smoking, steaming, grilling and frying, it performs well in soups, curries and stews. Mild and white-fleshed, it’s a good stand-in for the depleted Atlantic cod and Icelandic pollock.

Lionfish, too, is a pleasant-tasting replacement for environmentally unsafe fish. In July 2010, the Washington Post prophesized that lionfish could be “the new sustainable ‘it’ seafood.”

Pan-seared lionfish with rice and beans. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Pan-seared lionfish with rice and beans. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Mild in flavor and white-fleshed, it offers a versatile alternative to popular but eco-unfriendly choices such as grouper and orange roughy. It responds well to most cooking techniques and pairs well with a number of ingredients.

Although lionfish does possess venomous dorsal spines, its meat is safe to eat. I say this from experience. This past winter in the Florida Keys, I had several lovely, light lunches of speared, filleted and then pan-seared lionfish topped with a spritz of lime juice or dollop of mango chutney. Obviously, I lived to write about it.

Our aquatic enemies may be tasty and a snap to cook, but not everyone will want to devour a fish called “snakehead” or “bighead carp.” This is where smart marketing comes into play. Most people would avoid the unattractively named Patagonian toothfish. However, tucking into an exotic Chilean sea bass has proved to be A-OK with diners. Same fish, different designation. Provide snakehead and Asia carp with fancy or friendlier names, and watch how opinions change.

Lionfish. Credit: Frank Wilmer

Lionfish. Credit: Frank Wilmer

Exposure will likewise aid in gaining converts. Invasive species-themed dinners have already taken place in Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Baltimore. Along with raising public awareness of these marauding creatures, the events aim to tantalize the public’s palate. Chefs create tempting specialties such as snakehead po’ boys, European green crab stew, lionfish sashimi and Asian carp croquettes. Bite into a moist and flavorful snakehead taco, and you’ll never fill your tortillas with shrimp or tuna again.

With a bit of consumer education, exposure and smart marketing, we could control — if not eliminate — America’s invasive seafood species problem. In the process, we would reduce our dependence on unsustainable, imported seafood. It’s time for us to take note of the invasive species’ culinary appeal and start catching and consuming our nemeses.

Main photo: Lionfish. Credit: iStockphoto / kiankhoon

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