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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Food With A View

On a painted sky
Where the clouds are hung
For the Poet's eye
You may find Him
If you may find Him.

On a distant shore
By the wings of dreams
through an open door
You may know him
If you  may
  -Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Drenched in quiet revelry, Michael and I lost ourselves on the beach, in the water, in the sand,  in our books, in the wind, and in the silence. While secret tides swept our thoughts far out to sea, we melted into the wet sand like sunken castles, losing  ourselves in each other.

On a distant shore.
On a painted sky.
Lost at sea.

Beach life.
Seven days.
Small kitchen.
No shoes.
No car.

Emerald water.


Before holing up in our beach shack, we hit the liquor store, a roadside farm stand, and the best local boat-to-market fresh seafood place in town.

During the day, we jammed on sweaty sunblock-seasoned chips, cookies, pretzels, and sandwiches.  At night, after sunset, we cooked and ate ridiculously  fresh seafood.

Red Royal Shrimp.

With a very short season, Red Royals are harvested in the deepest waters of the Gulf of Mexico. When I saw them at the fish market, I thought they were already cooked.  They looked like enormous bright red steamed shrimp. Gorgeous. We picked up a pound...with heads attached.  I had plans.

I didn't have a bamboo steamer basket or a colander, so I lined a skillet with lettuce leaves, sliced onions, sliced lemons, parsley, black peppercorns, and minced garlic.  I placed the gigantic Red Royals on the lettuce leaves, dusted them Old Bay seasoning, and drizzled 1/2 cup white wine under the lettuce leaves.  After cranking the electric burner on high heat until it glowed like lava, I clamped a lid on the skillet and slid it over the molten heat. After 10 minutes, I pulled the big Reds from the heat, showered them with fresh parsley, poured goblets of wine, and brought the steaming shrimp-filled skillet to the table.

The heads. When we snapped off the heads, head-juice squirted and splattered everywhere. Michael's pristine white t-shirt was covered with specks of grainy gray head-juice. Hysterical. After the initial beheading carnage,  I carefully snapped off the remaining beady-eyed heads, sucked them dry, and swallowed the stuff.  Fabulous.  The soft brackish brainy bits  tasted like shrimpy tomalley, the livery green goo found in the body cavities of lobsters. G-spot. Dripping with edible gunk,  Michael graciously and generously offered me his shrimp heads. I sucked them all, mopping up any puddles with plain white bread.  Cook's treat.

With the  heads snapped, dispatched, and sucked, we dove into the meat. Incredible. Unlike any shrimp we've ever eaten, they had the texture and sweetness of very rich lobster meat.  We had little cups of horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce that we left untouched. It would have been sacrilege to muck up such delicate sweet meat.

Fed by the silt-laden water of the Apalachicola River, slate-gray Apalachicola Bay Oysters are considered to be plump mellow delicacies  Yep.

I ate my fill of them on the half shell doused with horseradish, cracked pepper, Tobasco, and sherry vinegar before poaching the remaining oysters in chicken stock. After infusing 3 cups of chicken stock with garlic, ginger, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and ground white pepper, I steeped the oysters in the simmering stock until the edges started to curl (about 3 minutes), and ladled them into bowls  garnished with juliienned carrots, red bell pepper, scallions, sliced lemons, drops of toasted sesame oil, and frozen Sriracha drops. A beachy oyster riff on hot and sour soup. Crazy.

I kept it simple. After preheating the oven to 350 degrees, I prepped new potatoes for roasted  Hasselback (accordion) potatoes by slicing the potatoes at very thin intervals (1/4 cm) along the length of the potatoes while leaving the bottoms intact. After brushing them with melted unsalted butter, I slid the slivered potatoes into the oven to  roast for 30 minutes.

While the potatoes baked, I layered foil packets with julienned carrots, onions, gorgeous grouper fillets, sliced lemons, fresh dill, salt, and pepper. After drizzling olive oil and white wine over the fillets, I sealed the packets, placed them on a sheet pan, and slid them into the oven alongside the potatoes to bake/poach/steam for 15 minutes. During the last 8 minutes, I tossed seasoned pencil thin asparagus onto the sheet pan and let everything rip while we toasted the bright constellations with another glass of wine.

After removing the steamed grouper from the packets, I poured the "pan sauce" over the fillets, drizzled parsley butter over the Hasselback potatoes, and tumbled the asparagus to the side.

With hints of lemon and dill, the grouper was moist, buttery, and incredibly fresh. It tasted like the sea.   Clean. Bright. Simple.
No mess. No fuss.


Beach life.
Beach food with a view.

and happy.

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