Eating Nose to Tail

Between making awesome tunes and flying all over the world, John B also spends time making delicious meals and letting us all have a look at them on Cooking With John B, his tumblr account devoted to food.

John B took some time to answer a few of my questions about food and cooking, and even share a few hints about his Mum's potato soup.
Photo credit
SO: Your food looks delicious!  How long have you been cooking?

JB: I started really getting into it a few years ago - when I broke up with my last girlfriend. She was really into too healthy stuff and I just kinda let her take over when we lived together, roasted vegetables with a bit of paprika on them, and over the top simple salads just wasn't cutting it! Plus - I now find cooking dinner for ladyfriends is such a good date activity. It’s much more fun than going out for dinner, cheaper too, and you get to demonstrate positive qualities.

SO: Got any favorite dishes you've been making lately?  Anything you've perfected?

JB: I think I've really started to nail soups. My mum makes an awesome leek and potato soup which I did a couple of times last week, it’s pretty simple to do, but really healthy and super yummy. Just sweat off a couple of leeks, an onion, carrot, seasoned etc for 15 mins-ish - then chuck in diced potatoes and some vegetable stock and simmer for a while. Then whizz it up with a hand blender and serve with cream and bacon on top. Love it. I'm getting pretty good at duck now too - pan frying it skin down to get the skin all crispy, then just brown off the rest and whack it in the oven for around 10 minutes - slice it nicely afterwards and do with a plum sauce and mash or whatever.

SO: Any particular favorite ingredients or techniques you've been using?

JB: I did a couple of slow-cooking casserole kind of dishes over the winter, Lancashire hotpots and lamb stew stuff. I bought a really nice casserole dish and lots of herbs - just following pretty standard recipes and cooking it low and slow until the lamb is super tender. It’s pretty heavy though, so I try to cook healthier, lighter stuff as well whenever possible.

There's a Gordon Ramsay recipe I always seem to go back to recently - think its on my site - the spicy chilli beef with mini gem lettuce and a nice sauce made with chilli, toasted sesame oil, fish sauce - good to share too.

A version of the Gordon Ramsey recipe mentioned above - using mushroom instead of beef. Photo credit

SO: I know you're a wine drinker - do you have any bottles you can recommend?

I'm a white burgundy man, currently really into Macon Villages, pretty cheap but just really nice. A good Chablis or Sancerre can't go wrong either. I had an amazing Pinot Gris from Alasace lately too - £11 a glass at the hinds head in bray though so can't drink too much or ill go broke!

SO: You're on the road all the time, do you have any favorite food destinations from your travels?

Whenever I'm in Miami there's a few places I always love to go - mainly light, sushi. Sushi Rock on Collins is always a favourite - but Doraku on Lincoln Rd is now my number 1 sushi in the whole world place. Followed by Sushi Samba in Vegas, I had a sushi with tuna, fois gras, caviar and gold leaf last time - amazing. Whenever I'm in Russia I love to get Blinis Ikroi - just the little blinis with the red salmon caviar - its much cheaper there than anywhere else and definitely a treat I reward myself with for flying on domestic Russian airlines.

SO: It's a particular interest of mine, but do you have any interest in nose to tail eating?

Errrrrr. Not entirely sure but I think I can grasp the idea. Not sure I'm fully into that but I’m all for trying new things. There are certain parts of an animal I don't think I'd like to eat, eyes, brain, and trotters etc. Even though apparently they're quite yummy. I do however like the idea of not wasting anything - that roe one you did looks interesting. I always thought you were supposed to throw that stuff away but I'll give it a go next time I do my seductive scallops.

SO: You should!  Scallop roe is delicious.  If the world were ending is there anything in particular planned for your last meal?

My Mum’s homemade lasagna would probably be up there - plus presumably I'd be eating it with my family which you'd want to be doing if you were about to melt into a fireball.

SO: Thanks again for doing this!

No problemo Sir!

And there you have it!  Lancashire hotpot, Mum's lasagna and white burgundy.  
Just because it's one of my favorites, here's a link to Robot Lover from John B's latest album Light Speed.
Another great big thanks to John B, and keep checking back here for a version of Mrs B's potato soup coming soon.
Some people thought I was crazy, signing up to receive 4-6 pounds of whole fish every week for nine weeks.  I might be, only time will tell.  But my first fish was a delicious resounding success, and I'm looking forward to next week's fish already.
Whole fish means the whole kit and caboodle, except the guts.  Which is nice.  When I signed up I thought they came with guts too.  I am by no means an expert at cutting fish, but by the end of this experience I hope to be better. 

For my first attempt it wasn't too bad, two filets, two cheeks, two pieces of cod belly and a tongue.  Along with a ton of bones to make stock.  I have to say this Cape Anne never disappoints, this fish was swimming that morning and smelled like the ocean.  A total joy to work with.
And there it is (those two pieces actually on the newspaper still have skin) all my bits and pieces.  

The first filet went into fried fish and grits with a spinach salad. the second filet was pan seared and put on quinoa 'risotto' made with fish stock.  The bones went into stock, for the risotto and for a big bowl of noodle soup.
Fish stock.
The soup is seasoned with cilantro and lime, and in it went the two pieces of fish belly and the lovely tender cheeks, a few quickly cooked maitake mushrooms and a heaping pile of yam noodles.  It was during this meal I learned that cod tongues have a bone - who knew?

Possibly my favorite meal of the week.
We got three filling meals out of one fish, at 22$ per week for the CSF that's 3.66$ each per meal.  Which I think is a totally reasonable amount to spend on locally caught, sustainably caught super fresh fish - don't you?
Fresh periwinkles
Fresh periwinkles, these babies cost 2.5$ and I have no idea how to cook them.  Thankfully, the internet came to the rescue - and the answer is boil them.

But first rinse, and rinse, and rinse in cold water until the water is totally clean and there's no sand in the bottom of the bowl.
Soaking until the water is clear.
I boiled mine with a few sprigs of thyme and half a lemon, I was surprised at the aroma of the periwinkles cooking.  It smelled like the ocean on a warm summer day, with a hint of thyme and lemon.
Drain after being boiled.
Drain them and discard the water, then get some garlic butter and a baguette ready and you've got a delicious - if not labor intensive meal.
Periwinkles, cooked and ready to eat.
After going through every poking device I could think of I settled on a sewing need to pry my little sea snails out of their twirly shells.  But I suspect a sharp toothpick would work as well.
Cleaned periwinkles.
I ended up taking all my periwinkles out of the shells (once I'd had my fill) so I could use them in another dish.
Perwinkle risotto
And later that day we feasted on a quinoa 'risotto' with mushrooms, shallots and peas, topped with tender periwinkles - and it was absolutely delicious.
Having a few good oysters when the mood strikes you is one of the best parts of living in New England.  After picking up a dozen or so at a reputable fishmonger, I pop open the first one to find this.
Has anyone ever seen anything like this?  For those that don't have the best eyesight that's a tiny, vaguely see-through crab inside my oyster.

Oysters by nature are a all-or-nothing creature.  Anything that's not the shell goes down that hatch - I'm not too sure about this little guy though.  Glad I noticed him before I got an extra crunchy bit in my oyster.
During the Halloween season nose to tail eating gets a few choice moments in the sun.  Food TV seems to trot out heads, tongues and trotters at the same time as they whip out the cotton cob webs and witch hats.  Eating all the less desired bits of animals conjures something sinister in many minds, as if there is something unnatural about happily munching on pig tails, chicken feet and liver.

For the last year I've been writing a couple recipe columns for SeriousEats, and in honour of Halloween I thought I'd post a few links to the more nose to tail inspired posts that the benevolent Editors in SE headquarters have let me sneak through.
Some bloody, tasty chicken insides.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween, filled with many delicious, scary meals.
Thanks to twitter, I was able to get some advice from Jamie Bissonette the Chef at both Coppa, and Toro about how to cook some of the shrimp I got through my CSF. 

His advice - "fry them in their shells until crispy. Toss with nauc chum, mint and cilantro. So simple. Soooo good"

I took his recommendation in spirit (because I had no nauc chum, mint or cilantro in the house) and tossed them in some arrowroot flour seasoned heavily with salt and pepper and deep fried them.

My first step was to soak them in cold water, changing the water every 10-20 minutes.  After five or six changes of water I set the shrimp on a paper towel to dry.
Next I heavily seasoned some arrowroot flour with a lot of salt and cracked black pepper.  Then I heated some vegetable oil over medium high heat and cooked the flour coated shrimp in small batches.
I fried four shrimp at a time, but I used a pretty small pot.
I was finishing a soup for dinner as well, so I held these shrimp in a 375 degree oven until I was ready to serve.
Fried Northern shrimp tossed with scallions.
A big dish of shrimp in the center of the table, and a few shrimp on top of each bowl of soup as a garnish.
Shrimp and fish stock, seasoned with lemongrass and ginger with fried shrimp cabbage and soba noodles.
Pull off the head to suck on (or eat whole!) then pop the whole tail in your mouth.  I've talked about eating shrimp tails before, and these really sealed it for me.  Shrimp tails are absolutely delicious.

Thanks for the great advice Jamie!
Thanks to Kumiko Mitarai at SeriousEats I've had a craving for onigiri.  And my leftover shrimp and rice from dinner will make four perfect little onigiri.  First I had to shell the shrimp -  the shells I saved to throw in the fish stock I've got planned for later.
Tiny little shrimp tails.
To make the filling for my onigiri I coarsely chopped the shrimp, then added a spoonfull of mayo and a big squirt of sriracha.
Shrimp, mayo, sriracha.
Next I simply filled my onigiri, sprinkled them with toasted sesame seeds and wrapped them with nori.
Shrimp onigiri
Wrapped in plastic these keep well in the fridge for a few days, but are much better at room temperature.  These little guys will  not be sitting in the fridge at all.
Through my CSF I ordered one share of northern shrimp, which is way more shrimp than you could possibly imagine when you're standing in a parking lot at 530 on a Monday night.
Northern Shrimp
And yet, when you toss what feels like a little less than half of them in sriracha and mirin then cook them over high heat, licking your lips the entire time, and finally sit down to dinner the truth about these shrimp begins to unfold.  Once you pull off their heads, they are actually very tiny.
Quickly cooked northern shrimp.
The largest ones were the size of my index finger (with their heads still on) and the smallest ones were half the size of my pinky.  The taste was delicate and sweet, and even though it was dinner you had to work for (not unlike artichokes) I would definitely get them again.

This was dinner for two (with a bowl of rice and some wilted spinach) and there were about a cup and a half of whole shrimp leftover.  As well as a bowl of rice.  Thanks to SeriousEats, I've had a real hankering for some onigiri - I'm thinking lunch tomorrow.
Community Supported Agriculture has been around for a few years, it's an excellent way to support small farms as well as eating local.  Those of us who live on the coast also have access to community supported fishing (or CSF).  The community supported fishing that we participate in offers whole fish shares as well as fillets.  And although scaling, and sometimes gutting fish may not be everyone's idea of a great time on a Monday night, the quality of fish is awesome (and way cheaper if you get the whole fish share) and the practice with a knife is worth the time (at least that's what I keep telling myself).

So far I've gotten pollock, haddock and monkfish.  This week it was redfish, along with a special share of Northern shrimp that I ordered a few weeks ago.
Whole redfish.
These are a smaller variety of fish, so these guys came with guts and all.  The fisherman process the larger fish varieties so they come gutted (and the monkfish came headless), these were the first small fish we've received so it was the first time I've had to gut anything with this share.

The three smallest fish I scaled, gutted and filleted.  Some of the fillet's I put in a marinade for later this week and the heads and bodies I saved for stock.
Heads, tails and fillets.
I sautéed onion, celery, carrot, garlic and ginger in butter until tender then placed some shrimp bodies on top (leftover from last night's dinner) followed by the fish heads.
Followed by the fish bodies.
Tails on heads.
I covered all of it with a kettle of boiling water and then simmered for one and a half hours with a few peppercorns and a bay leaf.  Be sure to skim often, I ended up straining it twice through two different sized strainers.
Strained out shrimp and fish.
Dinner tonight will be some of the fillet's poached in the stock, I haven't decided whether to add tomatoes and some of my whole shrimp for a European fish stew kind of thing, or to simmer some lemongrass in the stock and add soba noodles shrimp, veggies and a few dumplings for a totally different meal.
After  spending the day with a large amount of serrano ham, I really needed something soothing to put in my belly.  There are a lot of things that I find soothing (rice flour rolls, hot toddy's, leftover roast beef, warm bread, all soups) but today it was a bowl of streamed broccoli topped with dried shrimp and sriracha with a simple garlic/ginger congee.
These dried shrimp are far more delicate than the last ones I used in congee, much smaller as well - almost translucent.  Far less toothy and fishy.  It's a little hard to see in the picture, but I love the little black eyes staring out from their pinkish translucent bodies.

Use 1/4 cup of rice and 1 cup of water, with 1 clove or diced garlic and 1 knob of mashed ginger to make a very simple, easy on the stomach congee.  Just bring everything to a simmer, cook until the rice is soft, and season with soy sauce and/or fish sauce . Then simply steam the broccoli and top with dried shrimp and a drizzle of sriracha.  A few shakes of sesame seeds are nice as well.

If anyone has a suggestion of what else to do with dried shrimp I'd love to hear them.