Category Archives: Seafood

David Chang’s Shrimp & Grits

from Momofuku, pp. 110-111.

If you need more incentive to make David Chang’s Ramen Broth (or my version thereof), his Shrimp & Grits ought to be enough. I save the “Grub” category for special occasions, mainly those times when I’m in danger of licking the plate. Using the ramen broth adds two sub-basements to this structure. The flavor goes deep. And I’ll say it again: this recipe is all about umami. I could eat this once a week. But I won’t.

Here we go…

2 cups water

2 cups white or yellow quick-cooking grits from Anson Mills

Shadowcook: I order Anson Mills grits, but they did not arrive in time. The grits I used — Moore’s Flour Mill grits — compare unfavorably with those of Anson Mills, at least according to two grits experts, friends from South Carolina. Well, the grits I made were pretty good anyway. I’ll be curious to taste the difference.

2 cups Ramen Broth

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

Shadowcook: Given how I adapted the ramen broth recipe and omitted taré, I used regular soy sauce.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 pound smoky bacon, cut crosswise into 1- to 1 1/2-inch long batons

Shadowcook: Wary of adding more smoked flavor, I used guanciale, which added a surprising sweet note that comes soaring over the top.

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 poached eggs

1/2 cup chopped scallions (greens and whites)

1. Soak the grits in the water overnight or at least 8 hours in the pot you’ll cook them in.

2. Drain them, then add the broth to the grits and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk for 5 minutes after the liquid simmers, then turn the heat down to low. Chang cites Anson Mills’ instructions in this regard. The first 5-minute cooking period is called “cooking to first starch.” “First starch refers to the early stage of grits and polenta cookery in which fine corn particles thicken the liquid enough to hold the larger particles in suspension. It is crucial to stir constantly until the first starch takes hold and to reduce the heat immediately after it does so.”

3. Add the soy sauce, a large pinch of salt, and a few turns of black pepper. Keep the heat low and whisk regularly if not constantly; the grits should be thickening, undulating, and letting occasional gasps of steam bubble up and out. Soaked grits will be cooked after about 10 minutes over low heat; unsoaked grits will take 20-25 minutes. They’re ready when they’re no longer grainy, when they’re thick and unctuous.

Shadowcook: I think it generally takes longer. When I soak the grits, I cooked them for 30 minutes.  They were deliciously creamy.

4. Add the butter, stirring until it has melted and been absorbed into the grits. Taste them and add additional salt or pepper as needed. Set aside, covered to keep warm, while you get the rest of the dish together (or serve at once if you’re eating them on their own.)

5. Cook the bacon: Heat a skillet over medium heat for a minute or so, until very warm. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it shrinks to about half its original size and is crisp and browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Drain the bacon fat from the pan and return the pan to the stove.

6. Put the shrimp in a mixing bowl, pour the grapeseed oil over them, and add a couple of large pinches of salt. Toss them in the oil and salt until they’re coated. Wipe the pan cleanish with a paper towel and turn the heat up to high. Cook the shrimp, in batches if the shrimp will crowd your pan, which is probably the case. As soon as the shrimp hit the pan, press down on them, using a bacon press or the back of a spatula, or a smaller pan or whatever works, and sear them for 1 to 2 minutes on the first side.

Shadowcook: A bit fussy, that. Just make sure not to overcook them. Sear them but do not overcook them. So, pay attention to the following.

Watch as the gray-pink flesh of the raw shrimp gradually turns white in the side pressed against hot metal, and when that white line creeps about 40 percent of the way up the shrimp, flip them and press down on the second side. Sear that side only long enough to get a decent but not necessarily superdeep brown on them, about a minute. They should be just slightly shy of cooked when you pull them from the pan — they’ll continue to cook after they come out of the pan. (And nobody like overcooked shrimp.)

7. Poach the eggs.

8. Make up plates for everybody: start with a big helping of grits, nestle a poached egg in the middle of the dish, and arrange some of the bacon and shrimp in separate piles and then some sliced scallions in another. Serve at once.

Judy Rodger’s Salmon Cooked with Flageolets, Bacon & Red Wine

from The Zuni Café Cookbook, pp. 324-26.

I needed some comfort food this past weekend. That meant there was only one place to look. I swore I would not post another Zuni Café Cookbook, but the book is so deep that it’s difficult to judge where fair use ends. I decided I hadn’t reached it yet. And let me once again urge you to buy this book!

It would never have occurred to me to cook salmon with red wine and beans. I’m so glad the idea came to Rodgers. Now that I’ve made it, I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why it worked so well. It must have something to do with the so-called oiliness of the fish. Its richness sunk into the beans and drank up the wine.

I made one portion for myself, so if you’re cooking for two, just double the portion.

Here’s my synthesis of her recipes for the salmon and the beans…

1 cup dried flageolet beans

1/2 carrot, diced (save the other half for below)

1/2 small yellow onion (save the other half for below)

1 tablespoond duck fat

Kosher salt

1/3 lb salmon fillet, preferably Pacific or Alaskan, at least an inch thick.


1 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as a Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, or a light Merlot

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 thick strip of bacon, preferably unsmoked, cut into 1/4-inch strip

About 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/2 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1/2 small yellow onion, diced

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1/2 bay leaf

Seasoning the salmon (for the best flavor, do this several hours in advance): Season the salmon evenly with salt. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Shadowcook: Rodgers is a proponent of salting all meat, including fish, several hours, sometimes days, in advance of cooking. She urges home cooks to get into the habit of doing this, which means knowing what you’re going to eat well in advance, and promises that the meat will taste better and become more tender. I think she’s right.

First, my interpretation of Rodgers’ recommended method of cooking the beans: Put the cup of dried beans in a pot. Cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a simmer. After skimming the scum off the surface of the water, add the carrot, onion and bay leaf. Partially cover the pot and let simmer until the beans are tender. That could take about an hour, perhaps longer, depending on how old the beans are. Cook them until they still have a bit of bite to them. You don’t want them falling apart, because they have a few minutes of intense cooking under the broiler later in the recipe.

When the beans have reached that point, add salt. As Rodgers points out, it takes a while for the beans to absorb the salt, so judge by tasting the cooking liquid. Then add the tablespoon of duck fat to the beans.

Shadowcook: By now, I hope everyone who reads this blog has acquired the habit of keeping duck fat in the fridge at all times. It just makes life a little bit richer. They also now say duck fat is good for you, but who cares?

Update: Here’s the article about duck fat that reinforced my commitment to have it always on hand.

Remove a cup of beans from the pot. The cooking liquid that comes with the beans is fine. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler. Position the rack about 6 inches from the element.

Place the wine in a small saucepan and reduce to about 1/3-1/4 cup. Add the chicken stock and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat.

Place the bacon in a small ovenproof skillet and lightly brown it in its own fat over medium heat. Reduce the heat slightly and pour off all but a film of the fat. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, the other half of the chopped carrot, the celery, and the other half of the chopped onion, and the sprig of thyme. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the flageolets, the reduced red wine-stock mixture, the half bay leaf, another sprig of thyme, and more butter. Raise the heat to mediumm and swirl as the liquid comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, add the salmon, and swirl and tilt the pan to baste the top of the fish. Make sure no beans, bacon, or bits of vegetables are perched on top of the fish, where they could burn.

Place the pan under the broiler. Cook for about 6 to 7 minutes; the salmon should be quite rare and the whole surface of the dish should be sizzling and beginning to color. Watch closely; if the fish or beans threaten to char at any point, reduce the oven temperature to 500.

Shadowcook: I thought 6 minutes was plenty. It depends on the thickness of the fillet. My fish came out medium-rare, which was fine.

While the fish is cooking, set a plate in the oven for a minute to heat.

Transfer the pan to the stovetop. Using a spatula and tongs, transfer the salmon to the plate, where it should reach medium-rare as you finish the sauce. Protect from drafts.

Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Taste. If the liquid looks or tastes thin, simmer briefly to reduce and allow the starch from the beans to bind the sauce. If it seems winy, add a splash of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Correct the salt, Swirl in more butter.

Spoon the saucy beans over the waiting fish.

Shadowcook: And prepare to gobble it up!

Rick Bayless’s Mexican Paella with Shrimp, Mussels, and Chorizo

from Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends, pp. 276-280.

I’ve been home from New Orleans for a month now. What with the rich food I ate there and the hot weather here, I haven’t much been in the mood to cook. Last night, I made up for it. Rick Bayless’s new book has a recipe for paella cooked over a wood-fire. My pyromaniac nerve twitched the moment I saw the photos in his book. I summoned six of my friends together on a weekend night and we had a feast.

However, Rick let me down a bit. I should have known better. The cooking times don’t work. Plus, I overestimated the number of mussels.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. His recipe is intended to feed 30 heartily and 120 stingily. I am going to adapt his recipe to feed 8 people with leftovers. As usual, you will benefit from my mistakes.

The paella pan: I bought an enamel-coated paella pan for 10 servings at The Spanish Table in Berkeley for a comfortable $34. A well-informed employee explained to me the differences between the various kinds of pan. The one I bought was a good quality low-maintenance pan. The enamel does not require seasoning like the carbon steel one does. I thought it worked very well. Now that I’ve used it, I am interested in finding other things to cook in it.

The rice: The man at the store said to calculate 1/3 – 1/2 cup short-grain white rice (like arborio or better yet Catalan rice) per person. I think 1/3 cup of rice per person is ample.

The plan: Organize, prep, organize. Set up a table by the fire. Carry out to it aluminum foil, a timer, tongs, a long grill spatula, salt, trivets. Prepare all the ingredients, except for the chicken, immediately after lighting the fire. I put everything in separate storage containers until I was ready to work at the fire.

The fire: You need a base on which to place the paella pan. If you don’t have a base like this, go buy a bunch of fire bricks — enough to stack them in a circle four or five bricks high with airholes between them. You’ll build your fire within the circle. I know, I know: this is a commitment.

Here we go…

8 chicken thighs

3 – 4 cups chicken broth

1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled


1 – 2 lbs ripe tomatoes or 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice (preferably fire-roasted)

1 large fresh poblano

1 large red bell pepper

1 large white onion, chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, chopped

1 pound fresh chorizo sausage, casings removed

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups short-grain white rice

1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled (leaving the tail and final joint intact, if you wish) and deveined

2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, any “beards” pulled off

2 cups peas, fresh or frozen

1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup silver tequila (optional)

Heat the oven to 375. Put the chicken thighs on a baking sheet and roast until mostly cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and put on the prep table outside by the fire.

At the end of the 30 mins, go out and start the fire. Make it a good one. Then go inside immediately and get the following chopping done as soon as you can.

Put the broth with crumbled saffron threads in a saucepan and heat until warm. Turn the heat off or keep on lowest flame. You’ll bring this outside to the prep table when the other ingredients have been cleaned and chopped.

Set oven rack 6 inches from the broiler flame. Heat the broiler. Put the tomatoes, poblano chile, and red bell pepper on the baking sheet and broil, turning once, until they are charred on all sides. Remove from oven, put the peppers in a bag while you peel and chop the tomatoes. When you’ve chopped the tomatoes and put them in a container that you’ll take outside, peel and cut up the peppers. Add the cut-up peppers to the tomatoes.

Chop the onion and garlic and place in container that you’ll take out to the fire. Chop parsley and store separately.

Either sausages into 1/2-inch discs or break up into pieces. Put in a container to take outside.

Measure out the olive oil and the rice.

Clean the mussels, ripping or snipping off the gross little bits that hang outside the shell. Store in container with the shrimp, which should be peeled and deveined already.

Now you’re ready to put it all together. Get everything outside on a table within easy reach of the paella pan on the fire. Make sure the fire is hot and that you’ve got wood nearby to keep it hot. The way to adjust the heat is to use a poker to remove a log out from under the pan.

Place the pan on the fire and pour in olive oil. Tilt pan to let the oil cover the entire surface of the pan. Place the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down, salt the chicken, and let saute for about 10 mins each side. Remove and put back in the container they were in.

If there is still sufficient oil, don’t bother adding more. Add onions, garlic, and chorizo to the pan. Stir to make sure all of it will cook. In about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes and the peppers. Stir and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes, about 7-8 minutes.

Pour in the rice, stir up, and keep stirring so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When the rice has absorbed the oil and has become translucent, add most of the broth. Save some just in case it needs more moisture as it cooks. Stir thoroughly, assess the fire under the pan. And then don’t touch the rice for about 15 minutes. Adjust the fire, if need be. When the rice is almost soft, with still a little bite, quickly put the chicken, mussels, shrimp and peas in the rice. Bury the shrimp and mussels in the rice as close to the bottom as possible. If they sit on top, they won’t cook.

Cover the pan with foil to trap the steam. Remove the big logs underneath, but leave small pieces and embers. Push the burning pieces of wood and embers together so they form a hill. You want the pan to feel the heat but not enough to burn the rice. Let the rice stand covered in foil for 15 minutes. Test the rice and check whether the shrimp are cooked and the mussel shells open. If not, put one of the smoldering logs back under the pan for another few minutes. When the contents of the pan are cooked, you may sprinkle on the tequila.

Get the pan to the table and tell your starving guests sit and eat.

Then again, you could try all this with a small enamel paella pan on a gas grill. I may do that next time.

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’s Roasted Sardines

from Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe, p. 138.

When I see something fresh and unusual at the market, I am confident that one of my cookbooks will tell me what to do with it. A few days ago, I saw fresh, whole sardines in the seafood case. In this case, I was certain I had a recipe in Rose Gray’s Easy Italian Cooking, which I have used only occasionally. The recipe is drop-dead simple. Eating the first without ingesting small bones turns out to be a touch trickier — but not so tricky that it would discourage me from making them again.

I have to confess that I broke the Law According to Michael Pollan (LAMP): I bought cherry tomatoes at Costco in January. Printed on the container was the claim that they had been grown in the United States. This year? Where in this country was it hot enough in the last month to grow cherry tomatoes? My conscience vibrated with alarm for a few seconds. However, despite my moral qualms, I bought them. I have to say, they weren’t horrible. That’s the best I can say. The sardines were tasty and distinctly sardine-y in flavor. The saltiness of the olives complemented the flavor of the sea. The lemon brightened the whole dish like a ray of sun. Removing the head and lift the spinal column of bones from between the facing fillets of flesh were simple.

So, when you see fresh sardines in your market…

24 sardines

18 oz cherry tomatoes

2 oz black olives

4 lemons

extra virgin olive oil

Shadowcook: About the ingredients, 24 sardines seems like a lot for even four people, but perfect for eight. I bought two for myself and it was plenty. Judge for yourself how many cherry tomatoes and olives you want.

Heat the oven to 400 F.

Pierce the tomatoes with a fork. Toss with olive oil, season and bake for 15 minutes.

Pit the olives and grate the peel of 2 lemons.

Use a baking dish large enough to hold the sardines in one layer, and drizzle with olive oil. Place the sardines in the dish, side by side, and season. Sprinkle over the lemon zest, olives, and tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve with lemon.

Shadowcook: It really is that simple.

Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso: Seafood Salad with Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing


The Silver Palate, p. 223-24.

I know only two homecooks of my generation who learned how to cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MAFC) back in the 70s. Julia belonged to the women of my mother’s and aunt’s generations. I think I have known all my life practically how to recognize Child’s volumes on the shelf. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, however, that I first started making recipes in MAFC, but I never went very deep until the last ten years. The Joy of Cooking was another cookbook that I remember always being in any household I lived in. Looking now at my shelves, I see my mother’s copy of volume one of MAFC right next to my old copy of the Silver Palate Cookbook.

The first cookbook that made an impression on me was not The Silver Palate, but Craig Claiborne’s collections of recipes. Claiborne deserves several posts of his own. Lukins and Rosso took my interest in cooking to higher level. They took practically everyone to another level. Who has not made their Chicken Marbella? That recipe is the culinary equivalent of the Beatles’ White Album. However well you thought you cooked or thought you liked the Beatles’ music, Chicken Marbella and the White Album impressed a standard of euphoria in our minds against which we unconsciously measured all that we made or heard afterwards.

So, when I heard last week that Lukins had passed away, I felt a slight of anxiety that I really must be getting old if one of the authors of the still joyful and therefore Peter-Pan-ish collections of recipes had passed away.  I decided to pull out my old copy and, it being hot, settled on a seafood salad.

Which, of course, I revised according to what I had in the fridge:

The salad

1 pound medium-size raw shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 pound fresh bay scallops, rinsed thoroughly

1/2 pound lobster meat (about 1 1/2 cups meat, the equivalent of a 3 1/4-to-4-pound lobster), or a similar amount of frozen lobster meat, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

1 cup uncooked tiny peas, fresh or frozen

2 scallions (green onions), trimmed, cleaned and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing (recipe follows)

2 cups coarsely shredded raw spinach leaves, thoroughly cleaned and dried

Shadowcook: I was not about to buy lobster meat, so I chose two kinds of seafood: a pound of shrimp and a pound of squid. Since the squid came cleaned, I simply sliced the sheathes into rings. Instead of spinach, I used lettuce as the bed for the seafood.

1. Bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil in a pot. Drop in the shrimp, wait 1 minute, and drop in the scallops. Just before the water returns to a full boil, pour the contents of the pot through a strainer set in the sink. Cool seafood to room temperature.

Shadowcook: Stick to the time called for. You can taste a world of difference between sufficiently cooked, tender shrimp and overcooked shrimp. Shrimp retains more of its flavor when just slightly undercooked and loses it when cooked too long.

2. Drain the lobster (if frozen) and sort through it carefully to remove any bits of shell. Reserve several large pieces of lobster meat (particularly claw meat) for garnish and cut the rest into chunks.

3. Reserve 3 or 4 shrimp and scallops for garnish and combine the rest with the lobster meat in a mixing bowl.

4. Add peas and scallions, season lightly with salt and pepper to taste, and pour in the tarragon-mustard dressing. Toss salad gently and add more dressing if you like.

Shadowcook: In my humble opinion, one cup of the dressing is a hell of a lot. The trick to dressing salad properly — which I admit sometimes I’m too impatient to follow every time — is toss the lettuce leaves well at each stage as you gradually add more and more dressing. Add a quarter cup of dressing to the salad and toss well to coat it thoroughly. Only then decide how much more to add. Don’t overdress the salad! Dress it gradually!

5. Arrange spinach in a border around a shallow serving bowl. Spoon the seafood salad into the center of the bowl and arrange the reserved seafood garnish on top.

6. Serve immediately, offering additional dressing on the side if you like.

6 portions as a first course, 4 portions as a main course.

Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

1/3 cup prepared tarragon mustard, or Dijon-style mustard

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

1 teaspoon crumbled dried tarragon

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup best-quality olive oil

1 cup corn or other light vegetable oil

Shadowcook: I used fresh tarragon leaves, which I am sure works better than dried ones. Grey Poupon mustard works well if you don’t have the tarragon mustard. And instead of corn oil, I used canola oil for the first time ever. I’m still making up my mind if I like it.

1. In a blender, or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine whole egg, egg yolks, mustard, vinegar and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper and process for 1 minute.

2. Measure out the oil and with the motor still running, dribble the oil into the processor or blender in a slow, steady stream. Shut off the motor, scrape down sides, taste, and correct seasoning.

3. Transfer to a storage container, cover, and refrigerate.

About 3 cups.

Shadowcook: Definitely chose a blender over the food processor. The  dressing swirling around in the blender jar  thickened so much that it seemed to stall. I had to stop the blender and stir the dressing around to make it move again.

Food Alone: Pasta with Sautéed Gulf Shrimp and Radicchio

dsc04365I wasn’t sure this would work. In fact, I’m never sure anything I cook will work, especially the food I make up on the spur of the moment. For this reason, I almost never make up dishes for guests. Call me chicken, but I’ve produced for friends enough dismal food on a whim to make me hesitant to impose the fruits of my creativity on anyone but me. You may recall the rout I experienced in Bordeaux.

Last night, I decided to experiment in the safety and privacy of my culinary sanctuary otherwise known as “at home.” It worked! Not only did it work, but I thought the result turned out far more interesting than I anticipated. I bought about a third of a pound of fresh wild Gulf shrimp and a small head of radicchio with the intention of only of making a salad to accompany whatever it was that I would do with the shrimp. Once in the kitchen, my early evening laziness became the midwife of a new pasta dish.

Here’s what I did:

Two cloves of garlic

Olive oil

2 tablespoons good sweet butter

one small head of radicchio or half a medium-sized one

1/3 pound fresh wild shrimp

1/4 cup dry white wine

4 oz pasta, preferably penne, fusilli, or another dried pasta that will become entagled around the wilted radicchio

salt and freshly ground pepper

I prepped all the ingrediants initially: minced the garlic, shelled and cut the shrimp in two, sliced the radicchio into thin ribbons, and put a pot of salted water on the stove.

After turning on the flame under the water, I put about 1 tablespoon of the butter and a good slug of olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter and olive oil were melted and hot, I add the garlic, which I sauteed for about 2 mins, taking care not to allow the garlic to become golden. Something told me that bitter garlic would kill this dish. Then I added the ribboned radicchio. Stirring to coat the ribbons in the butter and oil, I let it cook for a few minutes until it was well wilted.

I tossed in the shrimp, making sure that they were in contact with the surface of the skillet. Then I turned up the heat. Once they have change color, I poured in the white wine and reduced the heat again.

Leaving the shrimp to sauté in the wine and radicchio, I looked to the pasta. Dumped the pasta in when it came to a boil and waited until it was almost done. I scooped out a quarter cup of pasta water, in case the shrimp and radicchio were too dry, but in the end they weren’t. I drained the pasta.

As soon as the pasta was drained, I added the extra tablespoon of butter — maybe a little less — to the shimp and radicchio. Without shaking the pasta free of excess water, I dumped it all into the skillet. Stirred to coat.

The result smelled briny like the ocean, tasted sweet like butter, and the bitterness of the radicchio snuck up behind the first two. The combination was subtler than I expected, given how pronounced the aroma of the ocean was. A very nice combination of flavors. NO CHEESE.

Next time…

To maximize the flavor of the sea, I might fool around with tying up the shrimp shells in cheesecloth and boiling it with the pasta. It might be a good way to infuse the pasta with the flavor of the shrimp.

Bordeaux: Hangar Café

Hanger Café, Quai des Chartrons, Bordeaux, France.

As a result of the 18 oysters, as many sea snails (bulots), 6 big prawns, and a few mussels I had for lunch on my last day in Bordeaux, I am awash in a sea of benessere — wrong language, right feeling. Did I really think I’d leave here without one extravagent gastronomic gesture? Exactly who did I think I was kidding?

I found a café in the sun along the river in the Chartrons district, a twenty-minute walk or easy tram-ride north of the city center. Once seated, I started to read the new novel I had bought, appropriately titled given what and how much I was about to consume, Une gourmandise, by Muriel Barbery (available only in French, but her new well-received novel, L’élégance de l’hérisson, has now been translated as The Elegance of the Hedgehog. But I digress.) I read quite a few pages before the food showed up at my table.

When the server placed the platter of oysters, prawns, and snails on the metal stand before me, I ate nearly everything on it, plus drank two glasses of a refreshing sauvignon blanc Bordeaux wine. The oysters soaked in the puddles of liquor in their shells. Once disrobed of their shells, the prawns were tender and even more delicious when dipped into accompanying fresh (I swear) mayonnaise. The snails caught me completely by surprise, because they had a subtle but distinct flavor that reminded me of Five-Spices, or maybe one constituent spice therein. I couldn’t put my finger on the name of it. I asked the server who looked like he was in charge what could the spice possibly be. He said the snails were prepared with no spices. I didn’t believe him, but was willing to let it go. They were chewy but not rubbery.

I took my time. Barbery’s novel lost the competition for my attention. That platter held a lot of shellfish. I was a pig. The cost of the platter and two glasses of wine was unreasonably high for one person. For two people, however, it would have been a bargain. I paid 34 euros for a very good shellfish lunch.