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Crabs in Clement and Crab Cakes in the Castro

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Where do you get Dungeness crabs in the city?

The first place that comes to mind is, obviously, Fisherman’s Wharf teeming with seafood street vendors and restaurants.   But the Wharf gets extremely crowded most of the time unless you go on a rainy weekday.  A great alternative is the city’s Asian supermarkets.  There’s certainly Chinatown, but there are two new cool neighborhood discoveries I recently made: Clement Street in Inner Richmond and Manila Oriental Market in Excelsior.  Start at Clement and Arguello, walk westward down Clement and you’ll hit a goldmine of all things Asian.  And there’s Manila Oriental Market along Mission Street in Excelsior, a place that definitely reminds me of home with aisle after aisle of Asian goodies like oyster sauce, tapioca starch, bibingka mix, dumpling wrappers, saba bananas, fresh whole fish and, of course, live crabs.

Manila Oriental Market in Excelsior

And if you feel like indulging in Dungeness crab cakes but don’t have the luxury of time to make them, where do you go for crab cakes in the city?

Here’s another surprising discovery: the Castro.  Instead of taking the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf, hop on the Muni and head over to the Castro and enjoy delicious crab cakes either at Woodhouse Fish Company along Market Street or Anchor Oyster Bar along Castro Street.  Their cakes are fresh and tasty.

Crab Cakes at Woodhouse Fish Company

Here are more information about the supermarkets and restaurants mentioned in this blog.

Where to buy Dungeness crabs

Wing Hing Seafood Market
633 Clement St between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94118
415.668.8986

Richmond New May Wah Superemarket
707-719 Clement Street and 8th Aveue
San Francisco, CA 94118
415.221.9826

Manila Oriental Market
4175 Mission St between Ney and Trumbull Streets
San Francisco, CA 94112
415.337.7272

Where to enjoy Crab Cakes

Woodhouse Fish Company
2073 Market St between 14th and Reservoir Streets
San Francisco, CA 94114
415.437.2722

Anchor Oyster Bar
579 Castro St between 18th and 19th Streets
San Francisco, CA 94114
415.431.3990

How to Make Dungeness Crab Cakes at Home

January 26, 2010 1 comment

It’s Dungeness crab season in San Francisco and there’s no better way to enjoy these tasty crustaceans than to make crab cakes! Alice Waters has a great simple recipe for crab cakes in her amazing book The Art of Simple Food.

Making homemade crabcakes is an excellent example of why homecooking is so cool: you actually know what ends up in your plate because you made it yourself.  Most of the time I wonder how much crabmeat there is in the crab cakes I get when I dine out.  Get the best crabmeat, pick the freshest herbs, make your own breadcrumbs and if you’re a little adventurous, make your own mayonnaise from scratch! Fresh ingredients plus a simple recipe equals great-tasting food.

Crab Cakes

1 lb crabmeat (picked from 2 Dungeness crabs)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp chopped chives
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp chopped chervil
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and cayenne to taste
1-1/2 cups breadcrumbs (click here to learn how to make fresh breadcrumbs)
5 Tbsp unsalted butter (click here to learn how to make clarified butter)

Cooking the crabs

Boil salted water in a large pot and then carefully drop in the Dungeness crabs. Two Dungeness crabs will yield roughly a pound of crabmeat but use as many blue crabs or other crabs as needed to yield the same.  Boil for 15 minutes.  Remove the crabs from the pot and let them drain and cool.

Pull off the large top shell, remove the fibrous lungs and rinse lightly.

Cracking the Crab Open

Split the main body in half down the center.  Pull off the legs, crack them, and pick the crabmeat from the body and legs.  Big chunks of crabmeat are good for texture. Put the crabmeat in a bowl and gently go through the meat to remove any bits of shell left in the meat.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Picking the Crabmeat

Making the cakes

Stir the chives, parsley, chervil, lemon juice, salt and cayenne into the mayonnaise and mix thoroughly.  Let me make a note that chervil is pretty difficult to find. Even the local Whole Foods does not normally carry them.  If you find yourself chervil-less, don’t worry I think you’ll be fine without it.

Stir the mayonnaise into the crabmeat, mix gently but thoroughly. Taste and add more lemon juice and salt as needed. Form the mixture into patties. I ended up making six 3-inch diameter cakes.  Roll the patties to coat in the breadcrumbs.

Forming the Patties

Warm a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  Pour in the clarified butter (click here to learn how to make clarified butter) and when the butter is hot, carefully add the crab cakes and fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. If the breadcrumbs start to burn, turn down the heat.

Simple Crabcakes

A cool variation to this dish is to use fish fillet to make fish cakes.  Waters recommends using a firm white fish like halibut, haddock or ling cod.  Use two cups of chopped fish fillet in place of the crabmeat.

How to make fresh bread crumbs

Breadcrumbs are best made from bread that has been dried out for a day or two.  For breading and frying, Waters recommends using white bread.  First, remove the crust. Cut the crustless bread into cubes and grind up the bread in batches using a food processor or a blender.  The bread should be ground up thoroughly so the crumbs are more or less the same size.  Crumbs for breading need to be ground very fine, so they will stick to and evenly coat whatever is being breaded.

How to make clarified butter

Melt unsalted butter in a small heavy pot over medium heat.  Cook the butter until it has spearated and the milk solids are just turning a light golden brown.  Pour through a fine strainer to remove the milk solids.

Brining Chicken Thomas Keller-Style

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Brining is an amazing tool to cure meats and to season them uniformly.  Here is Thomas Keller’s recipe for chicken brine that you can use for roasting or frying chicken.

Chicken Brine Thomas Keller-Style

The key ingredient is lemon, which goes wonderfully well with chicken. Adding the herbs: bay leaf, parsley and thyme gives the chicken a wonderful aromatic flavor.

The recipe makes 2 gallons of brine which is enough for 10 pounds of chicken.  This  may be a bit much for a single person, a couple, or a small family.  I recommend either brining a big batch and freezing the brined chicken that you won’t use or simply dividing the recipe accordingly depending on how much chicken you are going to cook.

5 lemons, halved
24 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
1/2 cup honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt
2 gallons water

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours. The chicken may be too salty if you brine the chicken for more than 12 hours.

Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse with cold water, pat dry with paper towels and let it rest at room temperature for over an hour. Roast or fry the chicken.

Here is Thomas Keller’s recipe for his amazing Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

How to Make Ad Hoc Fried Chicken At Home

January 20, 2010 7 comments

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Driving home from Napa, still under the spell of the best fried chicken I have ever had, I started planning on recreating Thomas Keller’s famed fried chicken. There are two things that set Keller’s fried chicken apart from the rest.  First, the chicken is brined for 12 hours in a herb-lemon brine, which seasons the meat and makes it moist and juicy.  The key ingredient is lemon, which goes wonderfully with chicken.  And second, the chicken is dredged in flour seasoned with garlic and onion powders, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper, then dipped in buttermilk and then dredged again in the flour.

The following day I bought myself a copy of Ad Hoc At Home and then assembled the ingredients for my very first homemade Ad Hoc fried chicken.

Buying and Brining the Bird

The recipe calls for 2-1/2 to 3 pound chickens. As Keller suggests, cooking smaller chickens, typically found in farmers’ markets and smaller grocery stores, gives the optimum meat-to-crust proportion, which is critical to excellent fried chicken.

Cut the whole chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Keller is a huge advocate of buying whole chickens.  It’s a way to become more intimate with the act of cooking, he says and I agree.  For those who have not attempted  to cut a whole chicken before, let me forewarn you: it is not easy.  But I guess like anything else, practice makes perfect.  For the faint of heart, you can always buy a whole chicken and have it butchered before taking it home.

10 Piece Chicken Cut

For the Chicken Brine

5 lemons, halved
24 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
1/2 cup honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt
2 gallons water

Ingredients for Chicken Brine

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

The recipe makes two gallons of brine that is good for 10 pounds of chicken (3 to 4 whole chickens), which may be a bit much for a single person, a couple or a small family.  I recommend either brining a big batch and freezing the brined chicken that you won’t use or simply dividing the recipe accordingly depending on how much chicken you are going to cook.  I made fried chicken using a single 3-pound chicken and ended up using 1/3 of the amount of each ingredient and it worked fine.  The important thing to remember is to keep the proportions intact.

Pour the brine into a container  large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours.  The chicken may be too salty if you brine the chicken for more than 12 hours.

Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse with cold water, pat dry with paper towels and let it rest at room temperature for over an hour.

Dredging and Frying the Bird

Keller recommends peanut oil for deep frying, which I found to be rather elusive when I was shopping for groceries.  I ended up using canola oil, which he, likewise, recommends.  Fill the pot with at least 2 inches deep of oil and heat to 320 degrees F.  If you have the luxury of two large pots and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark meat in one pot and white meat in another pot.  Otherwise, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat.  Note that the oil should not come more than 1/3 of the way up the sides of the pot.

For Dredging and Frying

1 quart buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
peanut or canola oil

For the Coating

6 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp cayenne
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Again the coating recipe is good for a large batch. For frying just a single 3-pound chicken, I found that using 1/3 of the amount of each ingredient is more than sufficient. Do not be too consumed about measuring the right amount of spices. Feel free to experiment and use the recipe just as a guide.

Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk on a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, and the second bowl of coating.

Fried Chicken Dipping Station

Start with the chicken thighs.  Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess.  Dip them into the buttermilk, then dip into the second bowl of coating.  Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil.  Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the temperature of the oil at 320 degrees F.  Turn the chicken pieces carefully around in the oil and monitor the temperature.  Fry until the chicken is deep golden brown in color, cooked through and very crispy.  The recipe recommends 11 to 12 minutes of frying but, seriously, one important thing I realized is that if you follow the recipe (or any recipe for that matter) to the dot and you get too consumed about details you end up burning the chicken!  Frying for 11 to 12 minutes is not set in stone.  The deep golden brown color, I think, is a better gauge of completeness.

Keller recommends skimmers and spiders instead of tongs when handling the chicken pieces.  Lifting food from below, rather than pinching onto it, allows you to work the food gently.

Using Spiders Instead of Tongs when Making Fried Chicken

Transfer the fried thighs to a cooling rack skin-side-up to allow excess fat to drain.  Make sure that the oil is at 320 degrees F.  Coat and fry the chicken drumsticks.  Turn up the heat and set the oil temperature to 340 degrees F.  Coat and fry the chicken breast and wings.  Make sure to carefully lower the chicken pieces into the hot oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through.

Arrange the chicken on a serving platter.  Add rosemary and thyme sprigs to the oil, which will still be hot and you’ll know what I mean when you drop the herb sprigs in the hot oil.  Let them cook and crisp for a few seconds and use them to garnish your chicken.

A final Keller note is that they let the chicken rest for 7 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the fryer.  If the chicken has rested longer than 10 minutes, keep the chicken in a 400 degree F oven for a minute or two to ensure that the skin is crisp and the chicken is hot.

I love fried chicken.  I really do.  The recipe sounds a bit complicated but you’ll be rewarded with genuinely tasty fried chicken.

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Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Made at Home

Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Night

January 19, 2010 2 comments

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I have found the best fried chicken.

Ad Hoc Fried Chicken

It’s in Yountville in Napa Valley fifty miles north of the Golden Gate.   It’s served every other Monday night in Thomas Keller’s amazing Ad Hoc. The fried chicken is by far the best I have had.  The skin is crispy, the meat is moist, the chicken is perfectly fried with an incredible aromatic flavor, which I was told comes from lemons, the key ingredient used in the chicken brine.  They brine their chicken overnight before they are coated in buttermilk and spices and then deep fried.

Ad Hoc offers a topnotch 4 course family style menu that changes everyday using the freshest, local and seasonal ingredients.  The wine list is accessible and outstanding.  The staff is accommodating and friendly.  The dining room is casual yet elegant: hardwood floors with tables lined with a metallic top that beautifully reflects the light toward the ceiling.  Our dining experience truly reminded us of the warmth of dining at home.

The buttermilk fried chicken was amazing but there were also other noteworthy highlights throughout the evening.

Ad Hoc Salad Course, Mixed baby Greens

Our fried chicken night started with a salad of baby mixed greens: living watercress, shaved brussels sprouts, 
red radish, nantes carrots, polenta croutons
 and sweet fennel vinaigrette.  The greens with a light drizzle of the sweet fennel vinaigrette was refreshing but the real star of this dish is the polenta croutons, which is simply fried polenta, a delightful discovery.

The chicken was served family-style with roasted cauliflower and carolina gold rice, hot smoked pork and 
cranberry beans.  The roasted cauliflowers came with 
capers, golden raisins, and pine nuts.  The dish was so simple yet so delicious.  And the rice, pork and beans dish was amazing as well.

Ad Hoc Roasted cauliflower with Capers, Pine Nuts and Raisins

Ad Hoc Rice, Pork and Beans

The cheese course was Pedrozo Dairy Northern Gold
 with sweet butternut quickbread.  And a trio of cupcakes, devil’s food, lemon curd, red velvet nicely capped off the evening.

Ad Hoc Trio of Cupcakes

Ad Hoc is an hour and a half away from the city but saying that it’s well worth the drive is seriously an understatement.  I highly recommend the place to both locals and visitors alike.

Fried chicken night is every other Monday night.  You can check out Ad Hoc’s daily menu at their site to find out what’s for dinner.

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Vibrant Winter Colors in Napa Valley

January 14, 2010 3 comments

Tired of the gray?

Where can you find the most vibrant winter colors?  Napa Valley.

Vibrant Winter Colors in Napa Valley

It’s mustard season in Napa.  It’s the season when the grapes take a winter break and the yellow wild mustard flowers bloom.  Driving down Highway 29 is a delight.  Winter is a great time to go visit when the crowds are low.  You can see rows upon rows of yellow wildflowers in between bare grape vines.  The scenery is truly picturesque.

The Napa Valley Mustard Festival starts January 30th and runs through March.  Click here for more information.

Aside from the incredible scenery and, obviously, the wonderful wine, there is also one other thing that makes a trip to Napa, particularly to the town of Yountville, worth while.

It’s fried chicken.

Vibrant Winter Colors in Napa Valley

Lelenita’s Nicaraguan Tres Leches (Three Milk) Cake in Bernal Heights

January 13, 2010 2 comments

If you find making your own tres leches is a bit daunting there’s a Nicaraguan bakery in Bernal Heights that makes this seriously delicious sweet treat.  Check out Lelenita’s Cakes.

Nicaraguan Tres Leches at Lelenita's in Bernal Heights

Lelenita’s makes delightful tres leches cakes and other Nicaraguan baked treats like the Pio Quinto, a Nicaraguan rum cake with walnuts and dark rum.

Many people believe that tres leches, a popular Latin American cake, originated from Nicaragua.  There are actually two types of tres leches.  One is the deliciously moist traditional sponge cake soaked in a glaze made of three types of milk, and the other is a sponge cake with a fruit filling, usually strawberry, which is not soaked in a milk glaze and is less sweet.  Both are topped lavishly with meringue instead of the more common whipped topping.  Meringue actually makes their cakes truly Nicaraguan.  But if meringue is not your thing, Lelenita’s can bake you a cake with either a vanilla or chocolate flavored whipped topping.  They also make delicious and detailed decorated cakes for weddings and all occasions.

A slice f Lelenita's Tres Leches.
Lelenita’s Cakes is in Bernal Heights.
3743 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
415.282.2253

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