A cheese and salumi plate from Murray’s Cheese Shop; four courses of prawns each prepped in marinades made from scratch; frog’s legs; salad; one giant fish, cooked whole; and many bottles of wine — I love having friends who love to cook as much as I love to eat.
What was the occasion? Over the last few days prior, a crew of friends and a couple of family relations arrived in the city from various places overseas, the closest being London and the furthest being Australia.
On top of that, Pride Week was wrapping up with a parade and the rooftop we were on offered brilliant views of the streets below, which were alive with revelers, the cityscape, the sunset and, later, Pride-themed fireworks over the Hudson River.
I got to be the shopper’s aide the day prior on the trip to Chinatown’s fish markets, where I learned that the key to shopping at the various seafood markets is to first do a lap, scope out all the goods, and then on lap no. 2, buy the best. Just like markets everywhere, quality and quantity varies on a daily basis.
That gorgeous, orange-y fish top center became the piece de la resistance of the meal: It was baked whole, after being stuffed and rubbed with oil, lemon juice, fresh ginger, basil, green onions and fresh hot peppers. We thought it was a red snapper, but it didn’t quite cook up like a snapper, said the chef. Or was it the hugeness? (The fish weighed in at 4 lbs.) Needless, it was tasty.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of all the prawn courses, but we started with the ones on the left, which were marinated in a fresh and spicy lemon-ginger-herb mix, and ended with the ones on the right, which were cooked in a hoisin-style sauce with water chestnuts and diced Chinese sausages. (Which were my favorite.)
You cook before eating, right?” the market clerk asked us as he was heaping sausages into a plastic bag. (Generally a good rule of thumb to follow with Chinatown goods.)
… And then there are these little beauties. The frog’s legs were an impulse purchase — found at the same market were we saw this hulking alligator’s leg for sale,$3.99 a pound — and I am so glad we went for it. I’ve had frog legs before, but everything was buried under deep-fried batter.
A first attempt at pan-frying the legs turned out to be too much for the delicate meat; the legs fell apart under the duress of the high heat and being tossed in the pan. We simply baked them instead, and they turned out brilliantly. I’ve had nothing like them before. In texture, they’re as light as fish meat and the to eat them is not unlike eating chicken wings, where one part side of the joint is heavier on meat than the other, and you run into the occasional vein or tendon.
Verdict: I’d eat it all again tomorrow, but I’m not sure when we’ll have that exact same intersection of special occasions again, if ever. It was just lovely how everything worked out.