Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Food lessons from the beach

A week at the beach is always an adventure. Even the beach house kitchen has an air of intrigue as we anticipate what it will be stocked with for cooking equipment and dishes. Will the oven work, and will the ice maker spit out ice cubes?

This year our clan was organized with supplies, even to the point of buying some groceries on the way to check into the house.

Day 2 brought a feast. Five members of our group went deep-sea fishing and brought home enough for dinner: a large flounder and seven other fish. Once scaled, cleaned, and filleted by dock "professionals," the bounty needed a little puffing up. So two of the fishermen bought a pound of fresh tuna and a one-pound wahoo steak.

We knew exactly what to do with the excellent flounder fillets and the other fish fillets: We dredged them in a seafood breading mix and pan-sauteed them.

The tuna to make sashimi stirred more thought and discussion. Last year we made Hawaiian poke with a dry mix and sesame oil. This year we had none of those ingredients. We did have a jar of Smithfield Carolina-style barbecue sauce made with a vinegar base and hot pepper flakes that we had bought on the trip south. Our sashimi expert mixed the hot sauce with the raw chopped tuna while an approving family member commented "how is this any different from pickled herring?"

He made sense to me. Pickled food has been preserved in a seasoned brine or vinegar mixture. It worked.

The next issue was how to cook the wahoo, which looked like a large (2-inch thick) halibut steak. We sauteed it in olive oil and seasoned it with ground sea salt and a lemon pepper grind. It was delicious. I think it also would have been great in a seafood stew.

I take no credit for any of these culinary discoveries. But upon returning to my office cookbook library, I learned that wahoo is categorized in the tuna and mackerel family and that in Hawaii it is called ono. Roy Yamaguchi in Roy's Fish & Seafood (10 Speed Press, $35) writes that it is usually served in fillets; ours was a steak with bones, which easy lifted out when cooked.

Day 3 brought no fish. Pork chops were breaded, baked, and served with pasta, corn on the cob, and fresh salad. I carried a prepackaged cake tart in my picnic basket and made a fresh fruit tart for dessert. We finished that off with the classic island fudge.

Day 4 was intended to include a lunch of steamed crabs, Maryland-style made with Old Bay Seasoning. After calling ahead to be assured the restaurant had steamed crabs, we trundled into town, sat down at the stools in the crab shack, and discovered the steamed blue Atlantic crabs were not in as promised. We decided on the New England-style steamer pails with shrimp, mussels, oysters in the shell, kielbasa, king crab, corn on the cob, and redskin potatoes.

While we were waiting for the "lunch" pails, two of our group checked on the availability of fresh and live crabs at a nearby fish house. What luck! The boat had just come in. But here we were with steamer pails. So they ordered up 3 1/2 dozen live crabs to be held until after lunch.

After lunch we divided the duties: Half the group had to buy a crab pot to steam the crabs. The other half had to get the Old Bay, vinegar, and items for dinner. With time out for the beach, we managed to steam the crabs (18 per pot). After the crab feast, we had six steamed crabs left over and three of us picked the crab meat for future crab cakes.

Day 5 meant crab cakes for lunch. Those six crabs heavy with meat were enough for 11 crab cakes, which we devoured.

Days 6 and 7: I declared, "This kitchen is closed. No dinner to be cooked. It is restaurant time."

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