Monday, October 7, 2013

Mixed Plate: An Oh-Fishally All-Seafood Post

You've heard my situation with seafood many times before -- I relinquished my Asian Card at a pretty young age by not growing up in a household that prepared seafood. My dad didn't like any of it and my mother's a combination of being very accommodating and just too tired to deal with much BS, so opts for the path of least resistance. Fair enough. I also was never forced to play one or all of the following instruments: a) piano b) violin c) flute, so that pretty much guarantees my being voted off Asian Island. But I'm working my way back into the Tiger Moms of the World's good graces -- look, I made a whole seafood-themed post, using recipes from the new Ivar's cookbook!

Ivar's somewhat Original Gangstah chowder, recreated at home - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Yes, Ivar's has a cookbook! And no, it's not just a hundred ways to batter and deep fry creatures of the sea. If you grew up in the Seattle area or lived here long enough, you've had a meal at one of Ivar's many locations. They're a local chain of restaurants, some that are sit-down dining experiences, several that offer fast, casual fish-and-chip bars, which I think most people are accustomed to. I don't think everyone appreciates the uniqueness of a local restaurant chain doing so well, but also managing to stay distinctly local. I spent many years in Arizona -- chain food central -- and they were all transplants from other states. It was fine, but it always felt a little off-putting, eating French onion soup in a fake bistro setting, surrounded by saguaro cactus. So when I arrived to Washington, seeing all these fish and chip places called Ivar's, and started realizing how legendarily good their clam chowder was, I felt like this was the best thing about local chains -- many easily-accessible locations for a familiar comfort meal, but something you can still only get in the Pacific Northwest.

Getting my chow-dah on and perusing recipes - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The book is to commemorate the 75th year since Ivar Haglund opened a fish and chips stand on the Seattle waterfront, featuring an aquarium, in 1938. He was an entrepreneur and quirky marketer, that Ivar, doing promotional stunts like bringing a seal to see Santa, having a former heavyweight boxer literally duke it out in a tank with an octopus, and he had wild notions like wanting to open a floating Roman bathhouse in Ballard. Someone should still do that -- the hipsters would love it. The cookbook is as much about the history of the business, and a showcase of its employees, as it's credited as being from the Crew at Ivar's, and dedicated to the employees, past, present and future. I have to say, it's a heartfelt book, and it's a really funny read -- it is flush with oceanic-themed puns, which I'm a sucker for. They invite you to try and guess how many plays on words are hidden throughout the book -- I lost count, so see if you manage to get a solid number. They even sneak them into the fine print: Written, produced, printed and shucked in the United States of America. Yep, hidden right by the Library of Congress fine print on the credits page.

Back to my own personal battle with seafood -- Ivar's was one of the many Washington eateries that got me initiated into eating more seafood. I still don't eat as much as I should, according to whatever Food Pyramid we're supposed to be following these days, but I always liked their Puget Sound White Clam Chowder. Buttery, creamy, delicious, and not an overly strong flavor, which was probably why it was one of the many gateway drugs towards developing an appreciation for seafood. I was glad to see they included their recipe, although they admit it's not exactly what they make, saying it's not the massive batches they make to serve Husky Stadium, but I do have the fishy suspicion (har har) like they modified the recipe just a little, to keep some of the magic to themselves. But it's no Red Herring (I know, I'm killing you with these) -- the recipe they provide is pretty dang near close, and I admit, I messed with it a little, adding some leftover bits of carrot and a bit of homemade Old Bay.  

Full disclosure: I messed with this chowder a lot, because in my grocery store haste, I grabbed a jar of fresh-shucked oysters, not clams. Yes, I know the difference, Spartacus, but I was in a rush and didn't realize it until I got home. I did a Homer Simpson forehead-slap "DOH," and that's when I decided, I'll be a little more liberal with some recipe ingredients, since it's now oyster chow-dah, not clam chow-dah. I didn't care,  it tasted great.

And why did I have these leftover ingredients? Because I made the biggest crabcake-stuffed mushroom in the universe.

Crabcake-stuffed mushroom - it's hyoooooooooge - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I fell in love with the pretty photo of the Dungeness crab-stuffed mushroom appetizers in the cookbook. They looked so dainty, colorful and delicious. I immediately wanted to make them. And then I realized, it's just me and the Mister. While I love mini food, the miniaturization maximizes the preparation, and really, are you just going to sit there and eat a plate full of crab-stuffed mushroms? Okay, don't answer that. Because we all know the answer is yes.

So, brainpowers = activate. Why not get a giant portobello mushroom, make the filling per the recipe, but pile each large mushroom cap high with the good stuff? I see no issue with this logic. The filling is fantastic -- I love that they use mascarpone cheese versus mayonnaise like most recipes. I don't know why I never thought to do that before, but it works perfectly and keeps everything so creamy and extra-rich. The sweet carrot-oil drizzle for a finish is a great idea. I kept the strained-out carrots and just mixed that in with the filling before everything went into the oven to bake. If you do this mega-version, it definitely takes more time in the oven -- I pre-baked the mushrooms for a few minutes, just to get rid of some of their liquid, since the filling doesn't need much cook time. The recipe uses just the broiler since the appetizer size is small, but I let this main-course size version bake in a 350-degree oven for maybe 10-15 minutes, just when the filling starts to brown and then a minute under the broiler to get that crispy char.

You want a crabcake? I'll give you a crabCAKE - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So as we near the holiday season and you're reeling in a list of gifts for people who like to cook and love word puns, Ivar's Seafood Cookbook is the perfect catch. heh-heh...

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