Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 41 Issue 15 • August 18-24, 2011
now in our 41th season

The Chef's Stomach

by Jenn Farmer - Chef and Food Fancier

Part of Nantucket’s magnetism is the bounty of the sea, sky, and soil.  Fresh scallops, striped bass, bluefish, tomatoes, corn, lettuces, herbs, cranberries...and even honey are all part of the superb, diverse harvest here.  It makes it hard to go wrong when seeking refreshment in the array of dining establishments or when cooking at home.   It is a haven for those of us who live to eat.  I love to cook, but I really love to eat.  I have traveled far and wide, and eaten all sorts of delicacies and rustic dishes.  I get enthusiastic when I get to try something new or a different preparation of an old favorite.  I especially adore trying the local libations (hooray Cisco brewery), homemade brews, caustic spirits and concoctions to wash it all down with.  The most memorable was when I was traveling in Mongolia and Siberia.   I had a drink called kumis.  Kumis is typically made from fermented horse milk, though I had it made from yak milk once.  It is bubbly and sour, and is considered a health potion, as well as an alcoholic beverage.  The smell was intense, and the flavor was admittedly distinctive, but still I had no problem drinking it on more than one occasion.

Stateside I have indulged in mountain goat, snake, scorpions, water buffalo, stinging nettles, fermented tofu, and cod tongue (the cheeks are delicious too!).  I shudder to imagine a world without pork belly or rich cream, foie gras, wild mushrooms, and sprouted grains.  Even the offals (nasty bits) appeal to me.  In other words, I am rarely afraid to eat (or at least try) nearly anything.  That was until recently.  Keeping my belly full of wonderful delights has now backfired on me.  My stomach has become my enemy, and is starting to consume me. 

For several years my favorite foods were the freshest local cuisine, even if that meant the fare was alive.  Fat briny oysters on the half shell, sweet clams, freshly shucked scallops, and once when I was in San Francisco, I even ate a live baby octopus.  It was well, um, unusual.   I could feel the pop of tiny suckers on the tentacles as it went down.  I am glad I tried it, but it is not something I want to do again.  I was proud of my iron-clad stomach. 

One of my favorite experiences was an oyster tasting we had at a raw bar where I worked.  There were musky Belons, moonstones, sweet gulf oysters, and my personal favorite kumamoto.  All were vastly different, but all were brimming with life.  Not long after that experience, IT happened.  IT started with a little uncomfortable feeling when eating shellfish, or particularly spicy food.  Then IT began to happen more and more.  I felt pain in my belly after some of my favorite meals or drinks.  Then IT escalated.  At the pinnacle, glasses of water started to become enemy.  It hurt to eat or drink anything.  That is when it dawned on me.  Just like the little bivalves I tossed back with great abandon, my stomach had taken on a life of its own; seeking revenge for all the torture and pleasure I had inflicted upon it.  Call it karma.  Call it poetic justice, irony, or a paradox.  I call it mockery. 
So I am popping another antacid and am off to my doctor’s office, with intentions to fix my ungrateful gut (turncoat!).  In the meantime,   I am saluting today’s fresh catch, especially the bivalves.  May you all enjoy their pleasure, and none of the pain. I suppose the adage, everything in moderation is a very accurate one. 

Watermelon is revitalizing during this humid weather, and it is, thankfully, in season.  Mignonette is a unique condiment I enjoy in the summer, since it is light.  The following dish is beautiful for special occasions.  I love to serve it for first course, along with a nice glass of bubbly.  Follow it with a fresh local greens salad, and an entrée of striped bass or lobster, and you can impress any guest.

Oysters with Watermelon Mignonette

  • Fresh oysters on the half shell (or clams may be substituted)
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • One quarter cup balsamic vinegar (the older the better)
  • One cup watermelon, very finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
  • Nantucket Salt (if necessary)

Carefully mix all the ingredients together and serve with fresh oysters or clams on the half shell. I actually like it on grilled fish too like tuna or arctic char.  If you are worried about the dark appearance of the balsamic vinegar, use white balsamic. I have even successfully made it rice wine vinegar, (not the seasoned variety).  Recipe makes about a cup and a third of mignonette.

Striped bass is in season. Go out and enjoy some of the tastiest fish Nantucket has to offer while it is available.  I love to prepare it by either pan-searing it or grilling it.  The texture of the fish is firm, the flavor is light and delightful.  Here is one of my favorite striped bass dishes. 

Pan Seared Striped Bass with Sweet Corn and
Wild Mushroom Salad with Local Greens

  • 4 portions of striped bass
  • 4 ears local sweet corn, husked and silk removed
  • Olive oil
  • One half pint of local fresh mushrooms (chanterelles, chicken of the woods or
     oyster are my favorite),  cut into quarters if large
  • 1 tablespoon shallots
  • 3-4 cups local greens like arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, or kale
  • 1-2 tablespoons cream sherry
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • One half tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon minced chives or scallions
  • One half cup local cherry tomatoes, or heirloom tomatoes diced
  • Nantucket salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salt and pepper the striped bass portions.  Pre-heat a sauté pan with some olive oil, and pan sear the striped bass.  When the fish has a beautiful golden crust, carefully turn the filets and allow the fish to finish cooking.  Set the fish aside (or keep warm in the oven).  Cut the sweet corn off the cob, carefully.  In a large pan heat a little olive oil in a large sauté pan.  Add the shallots, and mushrooms, allow to caramelize.  Add the corn and sauté for a minute or two.  Remove the vegetables.  Add a bit more oil and quickly sauté the kale, chard or other greens.  Remove from the pan, and then deglaze the pan with the cream sherry, and add the cream.  Allow to reduce for a moment.  Mix in the sherry vinegar, Dijon, fresh herbs, and tomato.  Toss all the ingredients together and taste.  Salt and pepper to taste.   Makes 4 servings of fish and warm mushroom salad.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Caviar

  • 2/3 pound fresh local cauliflower, broken into fleurettes
  • 2/3 small white onion,  diced
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • One an one third cup milk
  • Nantucket Salt
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Crème fraiche
  • Black sturgeon caviar (or other favorite caviar)

Cook the cauliflower and onion in chicken broth until tender.  Smash the cauliflower with a potato masher.  Add the remaining ingredients, and taste.  Salt and pepper.  Garnish with the crème fraiche and put a small dollop of caviar atop the crème.  Serves 4.


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