Hack the Recipe: Fung Tu’s Manila Clam & Black Bean Sauce Noodles

Manila Clam & Black Bean Sauce Noodles

A couple weeks ago, Serious Eats published an article on the clam and black bean sauce noodles at Fung Tu. They interview Chef Jonathan Wu and follow him step by step through a dish that is “a simple one, and easy enough for home cooks to adapt to their kitchens.” There’s enough detail in the article that you can figure out most of the recipe, but there’s no actual recipe published. (Not surprising, I don’t blame Wu at all for not wanting to make it that easy.) Moreover, the steps Wu follows make about 12 servings of noodles. I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t cook for quite that many mouths in one sitting.

Well, this sounded like a challenge. Could I figure out how to replicate the dish and adopt the recipe for say, four servings?

It helps that one of the key ingredients is manila clams, and I happen to be working for a company that sells manila clams. So after rustling up the other ingredients and doing some educated guesswork, I came up with the recipe below for the noodle dish.

My only problem was that more clam broth was generated than needed for the noodles. I ended up reserving about 1.5 cups of the broth and freezing it for later. If the full amount had been used, the noodles would have ended up far too soupy and salty.

The chili oil was also a bit of a conundrum, since Wu lists the ingredients that he uses (neutral-flavored oil, dried chilies, smoky chipotles, fresh chilies, garlic, confit shallots, fermented black beans and tomato paste) but no proportions. In the absence of any guidance, I simply made something up based on what I had already in my kitchen.
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Barnstable: Welcome to the Napa Valley of Oysters!

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Photos: W&T Seafood

One of the best parts about working in the oyster industry is that you’ll naturally find yourself in scenic, postcard-perfect coastal inlets and rustic seaside towns. This is why when Tamar Haspel at Barnstable Oyster announced that I’d be spending the afternoon counting, cleaning, bagging and tagging oysters, I didn’t bat an eye. Repetitious manual labor out on the water? Throw me the nearest set of waders!

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About two years ago, Nellie went to visit Barnstable Oyster immediately after Hurricane Sandy had swept through and pummeled much of the East Coast. Luckily, there wasn’t much damage done to the oysters, and Barnstable Oyster has been growing slowly but surely ever since. I stopped by a few weeks ago to catch up and hang out with our favorite do-it-all oyster farmers, husband & wife power team Kevin Flaherty and Tamar Haspel.

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But first, the paperwork. Tamar and Kevin take safety regulations very seriously, and do their best to go above and beyond what is required. Each bag is marked with a tag to record the exposure time and the ice time, with the idea being that oysters that are harvested and cooled rapidly will not incubators for vibrio bacteria. Last year, after reports of vibrio-induced illness, there were widespread harvest closures in Katama Bay and Duxbury. This affects all growers at once, so it’s paramount that everyone be vigilant and not cut corners. “We have two hours to ice the oysters after harvest, which means we must be at the dock well before two hours,” said Tamar. “Based on the tides, we can know the exposure time for the oysters pretty easily, but the ice time is trickier to estimate. Unfortunately, the tags can’t be written on when wet, and the oysters need to be tagged out on the boat.”

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It was a common theme among oyster farmers, who are constantly trying to balance the best way to adhere to regulations and meet the practical needs of their operations. “The rules are applied to everyone equally,” explained Kevin, “from people who don’t have boats and just drive trucks straight onto culling flats, to people who have boats and also dockside facilities, to us with our shit pick-up truck that we’ll run into the ground with saltwater corrosion. Some of the rules may seem silly and don’t apply to us, but it does apply to someone. If we do have a particular way of doing things, we can ask an officer to come check us out and they’ll make exemptions sometimes.”

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A short drive and bumpy boat ride later (“hold on to your hat!”), we were at the Barnstable Oyster lease. “Welcome to the Napa Valley of oysters!” said Kevin. “There’s about 45 oyster leases here run by different farmers. We’re friendly with all of our neighbors here.” I looked around. Which indistinguishable patch of ocean was it?

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Then, magically the waters parted. In just thirty minutes, the tide had receded and row after row of shining oysters appeared. (Note to any filmmakers out there, we ought to have a time-lapse video of the bay to capture this incredibly dynamic place.)

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Meanwhile, Kevin was hard at work power hosing each tray of oysters. Tamar and Kevin are truly perfectionists when it comes to their babies, and we cleaned each one, picked off any stray barnacles and carefully counted them into bags. “Each bag of oysters is a 100-count, so count until 101 and then tie it off,” said Kevin. We counted in silence, trying not to break each other’s concentration, until we’d gotten through 19 bags of oysters, some of which would be destined for their spotlight at the Brooklyn Oyster Riot in two days. “My, aren’t these beautiful animals!” Tamar exclaimed. “Sometimes I like to look at the shells and see which ones have upturned hinges, or downturned ones, or which ones are more rounded or crescent shaped. I wonder if it’s genetic, or if it affects the taste, and how it all comes together.” I chose a couple dozen oysters, up and downturned, and we packed them away for a late snack.

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Back at the farm, Kevin iced the oysters and arranged them carefully in a cooler, with 2″ of ice on the bottom, 2″ around every bag, and 3″ on the top. According to regulations, oysters must be cooled to <50°F within 10 hours of harvest time. Kevin's next task would be to drop off his oysters at his interstate shipper's facility, from which they will be trucked to NYC. "We'll be driving for about 45 minutes and the oysters will cool off in that time, and today wasn't a terribly hot day. So, I'm hoping that by the time we get there, the oysters will already be under 50° when we deliver them." Sure enough, after unloading the oysters into the walk-in, the temperature gun read a cool 47°. Kevin grinned.

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Now, here’s the part that will make you truly jealous. Not only are Tamar and Kevin accomplished oyster farmers, growing one of the finest oysters I’ve ever seen, they are also chicken wranglers, beekeepers, oven builders, bread bakers, jam makers, vegetable gardeners, shed builders, log splitters, turkey smokers, master chefs, trout fishers, deer hunters and consummate party hosts. Oh, and Tamar is a full-time writer with a wonderful column in the Washington Post.

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As we walked around the property, Kevin regaled me with stories of projects past and future. “Sometimes I work on things while Tamar is out of town,” Kevin said. “Take this tool shed, a friend and I basically put it up in a week, so it was a surprise when she got back.” We donned beekeeping hats and gloves and went to inspect the hive. “Don’t worry, we’ll use plenty of smoke, and wear loose, light colored clothing, so you won’t get stung,” said Kevin. “Why light colors?” I asked. “Because dark clothing makes you look like a bear, which is the natural enemy of the hive,” Kevin replied. Frame by frame, we examined the hive for its ratio of honeycomb and honey, worker bees and drones (“look for the ones that are fat and lazy, like men”). Sadly, the hive wasn’t holding much honey, which means the colony will need to be fed to ensure it makes it through the upcoming winter.

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It was time for a quick round of oysters before the plane ride back to New York. We shucked and slurped each oyster, marveling at the complex dance of salt and honey on our tongues. “Man,” said Tamar, “sometimes I forget how great it is to be able to bring home and eat your own oysters! Now if only we could land a bluefin tuna…”

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Thanks for coming out,” said Kevin. “I’m so glad you got to see where the magic happens!” Until next time!

An Oyster Grows in Greenport

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Photos: W&T Seafood

A few weeks ago, the New York Oyster Lovers Meetup ventured off to Greenport, NY for a quick swim in the oystering world. We visited Little Creek Oyster Farm’s sparkling new U-Shuck market, cruised around Greenport Harbor with Captain Dave of the Glory, and visited Widow’s Hole to see one of Long Island’s most eminent oyster farms. It was a great exploration of oyster aquaculture and we got some great perspectives from both newbies and old salts in the industry.

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Sunny skies above us, we settled into a pair of picnic tables at the Little Creek market and owner Ian Wile chatted about how he got started in the oyster business. He explained that he was part of the first rookie class for an aquaculture lease program, and his cohort was a mix of baymen, chefs and total neophytes. “One of the best parts about the program was the cool community that it built, that’s the part I really like,” said Wile. He went on to say that it’s been a long road, and there were often regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to clear when “common sense and rules fight,” but for the most part, the Department of Environmental Conservation is a partner for him. “Don’t treat ‘no’ as no, instead react with how we can do something about it,” he suggested.

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It was time for us to start shucking, and we were well-armed with knives, shucking boards and gloves. There were three varieties of oysters on tap: East End, Shinnecock and Peconic Gold. The East End oysters were from Peconic Bay and packed a very briny punch, perfect for salt fans. The Shinnecocks were from Shinnecock Bay, harvested by the Shinnecock tribe. These had a nice sweetness to them and were meaty, but the shells were more brittle and required some finesse to shuck. “Don’t blame yourself if it crumbles,” Wile advised. “It’s the oyster’s fault.” Finally, the Peconic Golds had a lovely golden brown hue to them, with strong shells and a nice balance of sweet, salty and earthy mushroom overtones.

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We whiled away the afternoon shucking, chatting, and drinking beer, when suddenly an oyster popped open with an unexpected visitor. A crab! These are pretty common in fresh oysters and there’s no harm done to the oyster, but the person who’d shucked the oyster was a little perturbed. “That’s a sign of good luck!” said Wile. “You should buy a lottery ticket now!“
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Brooklyn Oyster Riot Recap

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Photo credits: Julie Qiu

We came, we slurped, we had a great time!

Here are just a few scenes from the Brooklyn Oyster Riot, many many thanks to all of our friends and partners who helped us pull this together! You can also check out the full album on Facebook here. See you next time!

The Brooklyn Oyster Riot Is Coming

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Brooklyn Oyster Riot

We are thrilled to be sponsoring the Brooklyn Oyster Riot, the launch event for New York Oyster Week this year! Join us on Thurs, Sept 11 at the Palm House at Brooklyn Botanic Garden at 6:30 pm. The event will be showcasing some of the finest oysters and shellfish in the world, as well as the stories of those who grow, forage and distribute them. Come meet your oysterman and ask questions as he hands you an oyster that he carefully cultivated from seed to half-shell! All oyster shells from the event will be recycled and donated to the Billion Oyster Project and New York Harbor School.

The Brooklyn Oyster Riot includes:

  • Punch card tasting ticket (up to 3 oysters from each vendor) featuring oysters from the East and West Coasts (that’s 30 oysters)
  • A tasting menu of passed plates featuring eco-friendly seafood and other food items, created by Charlie Krause
  • 10 +/- Oyster varieties from near and far
  • 10 +/- Oyster Farmers, Divers & Shucking Champions showcasing & shucking their oysters, interacting with guests and telling their stories
  • OPEN BAR featuring 5 +/- Wines, Beers & Cocktails, including an exclusive Oyster Stout brewed by Blue Point Brewery for NY Oyster Week and Finlandia Vodka. Drinks will be curated to pair with specific oysters and oysters in general.
  • Enjoy the event surrounded by natural splendor at the Palm House at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

You’ll meet farmers and representatives from:

  • Taylor Shellfish featuring Shigoku oysters, Shelton, WA (Meet Tom Stocks)
  • Montauk Shellfish featuring Montauk Pearl oysters, Montauk NY (Meet Mike & Mike)
  • Forty North Oyster Farms featuring 40N° Shore Point oysters, Mantoloking, NJ (Meet Matt Gregg)
  • Atlantic Cape Fisheries featuring Cape May Salt oysters, Cape May, NJ (Meet Ned Gaine)
  • Barnstable Oyster featuring Barnstable oysters, Barnstable, MA (Meet Kevin & Tamar)
  • Duxbury Bay Shellfish featuring King Caesar oysters, Duxbury Bay, MA (Meet Paul & Matt)
  • Fishers Island Oyster Farm featuring Fishers Island oysters, Fishers Island, NY (Meet Steve, Sarah & Pete)
  • American Mussel Harvesters, Kingstown, RI
  • Meet the restauranteur, chef and speed shucker John Bil, proclaimed by the NYT as a “shellfish shaman” and by Josh Ozersky as “ungodly fast!” He is a renowned Canadian oyster shucking champion and consultant for many top restaurants, including M. Wells Steakhouse (NYC), Flex Mussels (NYC), Joe Beef (Montreal) and Catch (Toronto).
  • Meet Sam Janis from the Billion Oyster Project, a long-term project to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor and educate young people about ecological restoration and marine science.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for seafood fans and farm to table eaters to mingle with and learn from oyster farmers, divers and award-winning shucking champions in a fun and immersive environment.

For more details and tickets, please check out: http://www.oysterweek.com/events/2014/brooklyn-oyster-riot

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Photo: CharlesSallyCharles Caterers

Meetup: Greenport Oyster Farm Tour & U-Shuck

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Little Creek Oyster Farm Market
Photo: Little Creek Oyster Farm

I’m excited to announce another oyster farm field trip! On Saturday, Sept 6th, we’ll be heading to Greenport for an oystercentric day with some of New York’s leading watermen. I’ve been talking to these folks for a few months now, and they can’t wait to share their stories and knowledge about our favorite bivalve. Here’s an approximate schedule for how the day will work:

8:45 am Meet at the Hampton Jitney stop at 44th St & 3rd Ave.
9 am Hampton Jitney will depart Manhattan.
11:35 am Arrive in Greenport.
12 pm We will divide the group in 2. Half of the group will go to Little Creek Oyster Farm’s new U-Shuck market, where each person will receive one dozen oysters to shuck. If you aren’t confident about shucking or don’t know how, this is a great opportunity to learn! The other half of the group will go on a 45 min harbor cruise on the Glory. Captain Dave is definitely an old salt, and he can’t wait to share his stories and passion for crassostrea virginica, and his method for super safe shucking with us.
1 pm I will be picking up pizza from Rolling in Dough and bringing it to the market. We will have a light lunch on the picnic tables there.
1:30 pm The second group will attend the harbor tour, while the first group shucks their oysters.
3 pm We will walk to Widow’s Hole Oyster Farm to visit Mike and Isabel Osinski, see their farm operation and sample their oysters. (Some of you may recall a previous trip to Widow’s Hole a few years ago.)
5:50 pm Depart Greenport.
8:30 pm Arrive in Manhattan.

The cost for this trip will be $101.75, which includes transportation to/from Greenport, a dozen oysters at the Little Creek Oyster market, a harbor tour on the Glory, pizza lunch, and a tour and sampling at Widow’s Hole. We have 18 spots available, so if you’re interested, sign up now because historically farm trips have been very popular. Note: There will be no refunds for this trip, so please be confident you can make it before signing up.

RSVP: http://www.meetup.com/New-York-Oyster-Lovers/events/200749072

Please bring your own water, camera, sunscreen and feel free to bring extra food/drinks for yourself or to share. The Osinskis have encouraged us to bring wine to Widow’s Hole. You’ll also have the opportunity to order additional oysters at the market if you’d like.

See you there!

Captain Dave
Photo: Newsday

Widow's Hole
Photo: Widow’s Hole