Sunday, January 19, 2014

December 26th Seafood Fest

Being in the seafood business, my family tends to send boxes full of seafood treats to our extended family members outside of Maine for the holidays. My aunt and uncle in Texas get box, as well as my grandparents in Florida. It makes Christmas shopping a whole lot easier. For a seafood lover, lobsters and scallops are way better then a gift card or some awkward gift that is just going to get returned anyway.

With David and me at his parent's house in southern Florida for Christmas this year, we too had a box shipped down. Every year on Christmas Eve, all of his extended family shows up for a big dinner on and I wanted to use the opportunity to show off some real Maine seafood.

On the 23rd of December I had +Gurnet Trading Co. pack a box with my dad's diver scallops, hand-picked crab meatcooked Maine crab clawswild Belon oysters, smoked fish dip, and crab dip. I had them pack enough seafood in a box for appetizers for more than 20 people. UPS picked up the box from Gurnet Trading Co. that afternoon. Guess what happened next.

Who heard about the massive UPS shipping failure? Maybe you even experienced some shipping problems yourself? Well, as Gurnet Trading's shipping manager, I spent all day on the 24th tracking down boxes we had shipped both for customers and our family members. By noon, I had received delivery exception notices on 50% of my shipments. I was frantic. In 10 years of shipping our products, we had never experienced a mass failure like this. I spent hours on the phone coordinating between regional distribution centers and recipients. By the end of the day, all but three boxes had delivered. The good news was that one of those three boxes was my own and I would not have to worry about an upset customer or refund. The bad news was that I had a box filled with live oysters and temperature sensitive products sitting in a non-climate controlled tractor trailer container in Orlando Florida. If a box of seafood is going to get stuck someplace, you pray that it is Colorado or Michigan; not Arizona, not Florida. All three of my stuck boxes were in Florida.

So Christmas Eve came and went without our seafood appetizers. Christmas Day came and went with thoughts of my four pounds of diver scallops sitting on a truck in Orlando niggling at the back of my mind. On December 26th I was up early, checking the tracking statuses on my remaining three boxes.

One box delivered with 10 pounds of dead lobsters. At least my customer had a sense of humor about it. This order has since been redelivered at no cost to my customer.

Another box delivered with 6 dead lobsters, 6 live lobsters, and 10 pounds of live clams. A full credit has been offered to make up for the late delivery and the dead lobsters.

And what about my box? Well, when it arrived the gel packs were still partially frozen. A good sign. We seal our Belon oysters with lobster bands so they retain their moisture; they were fine. We started sticking thermometers in everything and we found that all of the products were registering about 40 degrees. More good news. I did a quick sniff and taste test and happily declared everything good to go.

We had good news, all of our seafood had survived the disastrous four day trip from Maine to Florida. But we also had a bit of a problem: we had enough seafood for 20 people and only 9 people to eat it.

Step 1: Freeze 2 pounds of scallops. My dad had harvested them the day they shipped out, so a scallop frozen within 4 days of being caught would stay good in the freezer for up to a year (not that they would last that long in my Father-In-Law's freezer.

Step 2: Cook and eat everything else in an all day seafood fest.

The biggest oyster eaters, shucked them and ate them raw with cocktail sauce.

Wild Belon Oyster, raw on the half-shell.

The rest of the oysters were stuffed and baked.
Baked Stuffed Belon Oysters

Mike, my sister-in-law's boyfriend, getting ready to dig into a Belon oyster.

Baked Stuffed Oyster Recipe
  1. Set grill to high heat. Cook oysters until they "pop" open. Remove from grill. Oysters will still be mostly raw, but are much easier to work with. 
  2. Remove and discard the top shell. Scrape the oyster meat free of bottom shell but leave it sitting in the shell. 
  3. Cover the meat and shell with stuffing (bread crumbs, melted butter, Parmesan cheese, crab meat, parsley). For 20 oysters we used 4 oz of crab meat and about 3 cups of bread crumbs. 
  4.  Drizzle melted butter and squeeze a little fresh lemon on top of the stuffing.
  5. Broil the oysters on a cookie sheet on 500 degrees for a few minutes, until the stuffing is browned. As you can see our's could have cooked a touch less, but they were still delicious and I am not even a big fan of oysters.

Half of the crab claws we ate cold, straight out of the box. The other half we reheated and ate with hot butter.  
A small pile of crab meat I picked out for David's grandmother, who did not want to slurp the meat direct from the shells like the rest of us.

  The scallops were seared in butter and served with lemon risotto. 

Before we left Maine, we bought a pressure cooker. We had never used one but had read good things about them. We were especially interested because we would be travelling in a small camper with limited space for cookware. This quickly became our new favorite kitchen item. You can make complex multi-pot dishes in a single pot. So far we have made beet risotto, squash risotto, lemon risotto, chicken chili, beef chili, pot roast, mashed potatoes, spaghetti sauce, short ribs, country ribs, and more. What do you eat when you are on a road trip? McDonalds? Yea me too. Not this trip though. We ate homemade deliciousness. You can cook dry (un-soaked) beans in 45 minutes. A pressure cooker creates meals that normally take hours in only minutes. If you can't tell, I'm a big fan.

Anyway, this tangent has a purpose. We used our pressure cooker to make the risotto we served with the scallops. 

Seared Diver Scallops with Lemon Risotto Recipe
  1. On medium heat, saute one chopped onion in olive oil in the pressure cooker until the onion becomes translucent.
  2. Add 2 cups of Aborio rice and toast until lightly brown. 
  3. Add a splash of white wine to un-stick the rice. Heat until the alcohol has been evaporated.
  4. Add 4 cups of chicken broth.
  5. Close and lock the lid. Raise the heat to high until the pot reaches pressure. Once pressure is reached, reduce heat to low and cook for 7 minutes.
  6. After 7 minutes use quick pressure release method (run over with cold water).
  7. Mix in 1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, zest and juice of 2 lemons, and 2 cups of baby spinach.

While the rice is cooking . . .

On medium heat, sear the scallops in a butter coated frying pan or skillet. Cook each side until golden brown. Do not over cook; a scallop should be slightly raw at the very center. If you have a good product, do not worry about under cooking your scallop. While over cooking a scallop is criminal, you also want to make sure to cook it long enough to get a nice caramelization on the outside. All that being said . . . relax and have fun . . . its really hard to mess up a good scallop . . . even a poorly cooked high quality scallop is amazing. 

A Few Final Comments

The seafood was a hit. My husband's family loved it and they were stunned that I know how to cook. I just laughed and said scallops and oysters don't really count. Anyone can cook seafood like a chef if they have chef grade ingredients.

When the scallops arrived, Mike informed me that he does not like scallops. 
I said "Ok, maybe not. But wait until you have tried my dad's scallops before you condemn them." 
Mike ate more scallops than anyone. 

I was very frustrated with UPS. I still am. I am still working on processing claims to be compensated for my customer's dead lobsters. My customers pay a premium for overnight delivery, not because they are impatient or waited until the last minute to order, but because our products are highly perishable and need to travel as fast as possible in order to guarantee a live product. Yes, sometimes a box will be fine two or three days later, but that is not a risk I want to take with expensive living seafood. 

My seafood sat on a truck for four days and still tasted and smelled just as good as it would have had it arrived without delay. When I go into a supermarket or restaurant and I smell or taste something fishy, it really makes me wonder where it came from and what has been done to it.