Good eats, great

fishing in New England

Posted: August 30, 2012

Excerpts from Craig LaBan's online chat.

Craig LaBan: Good afternoon, my hungry friends, and welcome to the summer's-just-about-done Philly food chat! Summer's done for me, now that I'm back from a great season of travels, the final leg being a loop through New England. We had great meals almost everywhere we went.

In Providence, R.I., we had grilled corn pizza and wood-roasted eggplant parmesan at the classic Al Forno, and amazing mac 'n' cheese alongside house-made charcuterie (kimchi sausage) at Farmstead/La Laiterie in Wayland Square. In Colchester, Conn., we visited the sublimely stinky cave of Cato Corner Farm, one of my favorite American cheesemakers, where the Main Line-educated mother-son team of Elizabeth MacAlister (Bryn Mawr) and Mark Gillman (Haverford) are making bold delights such as washed-rind Hooligans from their own organic Jersey cow herd. Try their aged Bloomsday, the Black Ledge blue, or Hooligan variations like the one we tried washed in pear brandy called Despearado.

The undisputed trip highlight, though, was a fishing boat chartered by my host into the bay off Provincetown, Mass. This was my first sea-fishing adventure, and it was an undeniably lucky one, as the fish were practically leaping onto our trolling lines.

First, there were schools of feisty, silvery bluefish. We landed seven of those beauties. Then I brought in my very first striper - a big 33-inch bass (14 pounds!), followed by two of similar size by my cohorts. With this embarrassment of riches - hundreds of dollars worth of pristine fish gutted and filleted by the mate on board the Beth Ann - I was on the clock to cook for my hosts. So I texted several fish-centric Philly chefs for advice. Chip Roman (Blackfish, Mica, Ela), just getting off his own boat at the Jersey Shore, suggested blackening the bluefish fillets. Done. Patrick Feury also suggested grilling them, with a side of tomato-pickled cucumber salad with dill. No problem. I simply seared the big striper fillets skin-side-down to a cracker crisp.

For the thinner tail ends, though, I had the ultimate trump card for the freshest of fish - this ceviche recipe comes straight over the e-mail transom from Jose Garces. Find it at philly.com/ceviche

Even if you don't have time or the ingredients to make the "leche de tigre" base, a milky citrus-fish slurry that adds an extra-funky deep-sea current, skip to the finishing garnish marinade for a tropical, orange juice-based brew that has transformative powers. The bluefish was excellent cured this way, too.

It's going to be hard to beat that meal for pure freshness and sense of accomplishment. But let's get to it! Any food adventures lately?

Reader: Craig, Marc Vetri's pork shoulder recipe (Alla Spina) just appeared in Bon Appetit - I tried it and the fennel/peppercorns, etc., hit all the notes (no surprise). Dealing with the leftovers now.

C.L.: That is a great pork dish, for sure, and it's always nice to see Philly's best get props in the national press. For leftovers, try fried rice.

Reader: Since you're just back from a seafood paradise, I'm guessing you're pleased with Mad River being replaced by Craft and Claw, with an Anastasi Seafood vet at the helm.

C.L: Can't wait! Anastasi's Italian Market restaurant was a pleasant surprise for simple, straightforward Italian-style seafood. No idea what Craft and Claw is going to offer, but it'll be worth a try.

I'm afraid this chat is done! Sorry to anyone whose questions didn't make it into the mix, but I'll be back next week with more tasty Philly fare, so come early and ask away. Until then, may you all be well and eat something worth bragging about!

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