Oyster House is one of my favorite restaurants in Philly, though I can only truly indulge in the experience once or twice a year. I distinctly remember visiting the old restaurant as a kid on a weekend trip with my dad and trying a small taste of his turtle soup. I love the vibe of the new restaurant and anyone who knows me can tell you that eating fresh seafood is one of my greatest pleasures. Being a Marylander, eating crabs in the summer has always been a must and there isn’t a plate of oysters that I’ve ever left unfinished. Through Oyster House’s consistent Facebook posts and email blasts (talk about a local business that’s good at staying on your radar) I learned about chef and cookbook author Aliza Green’s book signing of her new book: The Fishmonger’s Apprentice. The event also included a cooking demonstration and seafood discussion so signing up was a no-brainer.
I have been learning to cook for the past year or so with steady progress in skills, technique, knowledge and confidence, yet I still find the hardest part of preparing any meal to be sourcing the ingredients. This is one of the reasons I am excited about a Co-op in South Philly. Having a say in what comes to your food supplier is a great start. Uncertainty in knowing where your food originates most of the time is also why I have the least amount of confidence in cooking some of my favorite foods to eat: seafood. It all boils down to knowing your ingredients, where they came from, and what to do with them.
Aliza’s demonstration included pickled herring, sauteed calamari, and filleting an entire shad. Her insights were intelligent and her guests included the head of Samuels & Sons Seafood Co. and their expert fillet-man, one of the few who can actually properly fillet a shad and extract its roe. Just learning about a few new ways to prepare a fish I’ve never thought about buying was a real confidence booster and made me excited to visit Ippolito’s more often and ask “what’s fresh?” Here’s a few things I learned: go to a reputable fishmonger, ask what’s freshest and what’s in season, don’t be afraid of the smaller oily fishes, always ask for ice, keep on ice until the second you are ready to prepare your fish, try to prepare within 2 days of purchase, pickled and smoked fish can be a great way to enjoy seafood without worrying so much about its spoilage.
For those of you who are obsessed with seafood and want to start preparing it more in your homes I would highly recommend checking out Ms. Green’s book: The Fishmonger’s Apprentice. It’s a great place to start understanding seafood as opposed to your traditional recipe based cook books that have the same old methods for searing tuna, grilling shrimp, baking salmon, and sautéing tilapia. Fortunately we Philadelphians live in a major port town in the Mid-Atlantic offering us a great selection of both local and international seafood. I may not be jumping into steamed cockles and broiled skate just yet, but I will be asking more questions, taking more risks and definitely buying more seafood this summer.
Martin Brown is a musician and arts administrator currently venturing into the ice cream business with Little Baby’s Ice Cream (www.littlebabysicecream.com). Being a Maryland transplant his favorite food is crabs, as a South Philly homeowner his favorite food is anything he grills in his backyard.