Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Harvey, Max Harvey. Fish dude.

We did so much today, I couldn't even believe it all when I looked over the list. We must have eaten hundreds of dollars worth of seafood. Max Harvey is the "fish guy" for the Summer Shack and a graduate of the culinary arts (not gastronomy) program. I always enjoy meeting people that have come out of the program because it gives us a glimpse into what we can get into in the future (assuming of course, you want to work in the restaurant industry).

He gave a quick overview of different types of seafood in the morning, but it was a very general overview, since we only had an hour and a half. He did show us how to open oysters and clams and explained the differences each type of oyster displays, to demonstrate his point, Jenny and a few others were the class taste testers. Ten years ago I would have gladly eaten one for breakfast at 10:30am, but since developing a random allergy to them six years ago, I couldn't participate.


Max did make a really buttery and creamy fish chower for lunch out of haddock we watched him fillet from the whole fish. It was actually really good, but, of course it had a bunch of bacon in it, so it wasn't rocket science. The best part of the morning was definitely when we started talking about aquaculture and fish and oyster farms. It was a particularly good conversation because I think Max was reasonable and gave a good presentation of both sides of the argument. I', all for preserving the waters and taking care of the earth, but to tell people to just stop eating fish or argue that one solution will solve all the problems is silly and frustrating. It was obvious that Max had considered all the arguments and was well read on the topic, so I think we all learnt a lot about responsible seafood farming techniques and how much farther the industry needs to go before saying we have a real solution.

Once we got into the kitchen, we were mostly left to our own devices. Today wasn't just learning about types of fish and shellfish but also cooking techniques for the different seafoods, something I think is really important, especially since it is a far more delicate and faster cooking protein that is confusing for a lot of cooks.

We started with breaded fish fillet lightly breaded in the one-two-three breading (flour, egg, bread crumbs) and pan-fried over medium heat in a cast iron skillet (which keeps the heat better, giving it better browning). They cook very quickly and brown up beautifully, it really felt that the time between prep and eating was minutes. A great technique for fast dinners and stronger fishes, like tilapia. I wish I remembered what type of fish we used for this today, it was buttery and juicy and creamy. I'm definitely a big fan.

Actually, one thing I did think was unusual about this dish was that Max (or rather, Jasper White's recipes) told us to use olive oil to cook up the fish. I was confused by the choice because of the lower smoking point of olive oil, but he explained that we're not really getting too hot and he thought the taste of the olive oil was better.

Next, we made pan roasted lobster, which required him doing a quick demo of how to take apart a lobster, which should always be alive when you cook it. Max ripped off the lobster's claws before chopping off the lobster's face (and essentially killing it). A few people in class weren't entirely comfortable with this, believe that it made the lobster suffer unnecessarily, but, since they are the cockroaches of the ocean I didn't put too much thought into it. My seemingly cold-hearted approach is probably why my group nominated me to kill our lobster. I don't chop off the face, I actually just crack my knife right down the center of the body. There's no point in avoiding it, it's gotta get done.

Cooking up the lobster was great though, we cooked the different parts at different times, because the tail would cook faster than the claw, something that's pretty common in Chinese cooking, but not something we've really talked about in class, which is a little weird, if you ask me. We finished the dish under the broiler and burnt the top of the lobster's shell a little bit, but it still tasted just perfect. This and Jacques Pepin's lobster fricasse recipe have to be my two favorites now.

While we worked on the breaded fish, some other groups worked on the oyster stew. I was grateful we didn't have to work on this because, well, I wouldn't have been able to do anything. Damned allergies! I was kind of curious how it turned out.

We made some panseared scallops and Max explained how few people know the how to tell what a quality scallops look like and taste like. Each group was given the opportunity to cook them however they wanted. Catherine decided to just drop them in a hot buttered pan for a few moments on either side. They came out with a light crisp browned outside and a warmed, but still raw on the inside. It was really creamy and barely needed to be chewed, they kind of just tasted really good and disappeared into my body. I've been lucky enough to eat great quality scallops a lot growing up in Hong Kong, so eating them again today was a nice little throwback to being a kid. I would eat them more often if they were a more efficient source of protein, less expensive and more satisfying.

Next we all steamed a fish for Jasper's recipe, 'steamed fish with scallions and ginger,' a traditionally Cantonese treatment for whole fresh fish. I've probably eaten this a few thousand times and prepared it several times, so I'm very familiar with the technique. It was a little unusual for us to use so much sugar in the sauce, but overall the class enjoyed it. I certainly thought it was fine, except for the sweetness perhaps. :)

At this point, we were so spoiled by our seafood riches that my mind started the whirl at the concept of all the foods we were preparing and eating over the course of four hours: shrimp, calamari, raw clams and the various sauces for them, grey sole, more oysters, more varieties of fish... I think a lot of us were feeling guilty from the feast. The only thing that got me through it all was the application of all the various techniques. We pan-fried fishes, pan-seared scallops, stewed oysters, pan-roasted lobster, raw clams and oysters, shrimp... the list goes on.

Because I wasn't really able to touch the oysters (and stayed away from the clams for good measure) I was happy to try my hand at doing some squid cleanup. Removing the tentacles and internal body, pushing down the cap of the body to squeeze out any extra innards, peeling off the speckled purply-gray skin and fins, removing the beak and plastic fin... it was a very quick but involved process. The worst was when the ink sac would break, it would cover the cutting board and your hands, but the distinctive smell, which is just awful to me, would linger on your fingers even after several washes. I can't possibly understand why anyone would like food with squid ink in it, just tastes terrible to me. At least the calamari turned out nicely!

Max had also brought along a Grey sole for us to try, so someone breaded it and pan fried it for all of us. It was a very mushy tasting fish, does that make sense? The texture was very soft and whatever the flavor is made it taste soft too. It was a strongly flavored fish, but the strong flavor made it taste soft. I imagine the gamy taste (if I can apply that to fish as well) makes it like lamb, some people like it some people don't. It's a specific flavor and isn't everyone's cup of tea. I didn't like it at all. I think I like slightly firmer fish that have a bigger flake, but I'm glad I tried it.

At the end of class, I asked Max if he could show us an example of worms in a fish. We'd read so much about worms in fish, but I had never seen one (to my knowledge) and wanted to know what they would look like, so that I could identify them in future. He cut open a whole cod expecting to find several worms, but he couldn't find a single one. He was really surprised, I think he said that cod generally has at least four or five in each one, just because of the waters they live in. But, that's our luck I guess, the one day I'm looking for them, they just aren't there.

On the plus side, Max gave Potter and I the fillets off the cod to take home. I made it a fish and chips night, breading and pan frying the fish instead of battering and deep frying it. The cod turned out perfectly. Huge chunks of buttery, white flesh. It was hands down the best piece of fish I'd ever had.

I wonder if Max wants to take on private clients on the side...