‘Sea to Table’ celebrates New London’s seafood bounty
Editor's note: This version reflects a correction to Elisa Giommi's childhood hometown.
Amelia Lord and Elisa Giommi have a lot in common. Both are, for the most part, self-taught chefs who have been cooking since they were very young.
Both grew up locally (and still live locally) and are passionate about maintaining family traditions of cooking and consuming locally grown produce and seafood.
Both have traveled extensively and lived abroad, which has influenced and enriched their cooking styles and their use of farm-fresh local ingredients in their dishes.
Both stress the importance of technique in creating successful meals.
And together, both will be teaching a series of five seafood-themed cooking classes with dinner beginning June 20 at the Custom House Maritime Museum in New London.
The classes will be paired with talks and tastings by local growers and fishermen. The program, titled “Sea to Table,” is part of the museum’s fifth annual Sentinels on the Sound summer celebration.
“Each paired session features fresh, locally sourced seafood and is designed to encourage visitors to experience the region’s maritime bounty,” explains Susan Tamulevich, museum director.
Seafood to be discussed and prepared includes Niantic bay and ocean scallops, Fishers Island and Mystic oysters, Stonington red shrimp, UConn sea vegetables, Maritime Magnet School tilapia, Long Island Sound lobster and ocean conch.
About the chefs
Amelia Lord is a creative, intuitive home chef, who has been teaching individual and group cooking classes for the past three years; she works at Fiddleheads food co-op in downtown New London. She grew up in Niantic and now lives in New London and began cooking 24 years ago at the age of 12 when her full-time working mother gave each of her children a household task — hers was to cook all the family meals.
“She gave me the recipes and ingredients and said, ‘do it,’” Lord recalls. “I prepared a whole Thanksgiving dinner at 14, including slaughtering the turkey!”
Elisa Giommi of Groton is the former chef/owner of Mangetout Organic Cafe in New London, and has been cooking since she was a child growing up on the shore in Noank. She came from a family of “from scratch” cooks and fishermen. She began cooking with whole grains and natural and organic foods in the 1970s, and enjoys incorporating whole foods into her eclectic dishes.
“I like to cook as close to the ground as I can,” Giommi says. “I don’t use a lot of things that are prepared or canned.”
Lord and Giommi are enthusiastic about the talks and cooking series and say they have never done anything quite like this.
“I grew up around here, and my family owns White Gate Farm (in East Lyme) and I feel like I got a good sense early on about local producers,” Lord says. “We have a lot of really wonderful natural resources around here — amazing seafood, wonderful farmers and cheese makers, and still people in our area are not as in tune with all the resources we have here. It’s exciting to expose people to what we have right around us.”
“This is going to be great because these guys who have the knowledge of seafood will provide information about the process — what’s going on in the sound, in the business, with the shellfish,” adds Giommi.
So, how did the women decide what dishes they’ll be preparing during the classes?
“We sat down and started thinking outside what people would normally get at a clam shack or whatever — things we’d like to make that would be easy and fill people up and be different than what they normally get,” Giommi says. “Something interesting that you might not know about, might not have tried.”
Good technique in the kitchen is key to both chefs. Lord has found that if you know good basic cooking techniques, you can apply them to all different dishes. She admits she learned her techniques for preparing seafood through quite a bit of trial and error.
“Oh, fish is really not good when you overcook it,” she notes. “I like something seared really well and barely cooked through. I try to learn whenever I can, so I’m open to new experiences and information.”
Giommi had direct experience preparing and cooking fish from an early age.
“My grandfather had a fishing boat in Niantic — fishing was very closely tied to that little village,” Giommi says. “Yes, we ate lobster all the time, always had clams, did a lot of bluefish, and lots of squid. You can go to a restaurant and get Clams Casino — that’s good, but there’s a lot you can do without going down that same path.”
Examples of techniques that will be taught in the first two classes are varied. In the scallops class, students will learn the difference in handling sea and bay scallops. The chefs will explain texture, searing, sautéing and sauces. In the Thai-influenced shrimp class, participants will learn how to prepare fresh shrimp, use rice paper wrappers to make shrimp rolls, and learn about marinades, textures and sauces.
“This is all part of a larger initiative,” Tamulevich points out. We have our Long Island Sound Network idea behind this, which is for the Custom House Museum to develop a list of all the local seafood available — of the seafood farmers/fishermen, of the markets where these products are sold, and of the restaurants where this fresh local seafood can be eaten. It will be a great guide for everyone who wants to eat fresh, locally sourced seafood and a terrific list for tourists wanting to try the best local fare.”
Planning ahead can be a boon to kitchen enjoyment. I was the grateful recipient of a local boiled lobster dinner ages ago. Once I’d scarfed up every bit of meat, I gathered the wreckage of shells and splatter and threw it all in a pot. Covering with water, boiling for 20 minutes, and then straining left me with a few cups of lobster stock, which I cooled, bagged, and sent to freeze. Now I dip into my liquid stash whenever I want to make this risotto. It tastes as though I’ve spent oodles on a luxurious meal when really it’s just the bonus round from feastings past.
Makes 2 servings
About 1/2 cup Arborio Rice (approximately two medium-sized handfuls)
4 medium-sized shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 cup vermouth or other dry white wine
4-6 cups warm lobster stock (can substitute with chicken stock plus small can crabmeat and liquid)
Grated Romano cheese
10 raw shrimp
2-6 stalks of steamed Baby Broccoli split length-wise
Parsley for garnish
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan with curved sides over medium heat. Sweat minced shallots and minced garlic, making sure they do not color. Once translucent, add rice to the pan and stir until every grain is coated with melted butter. Once the edges of the rice grains begin to go translucent (this will take about two minutes, but watch the pan rather than the clock), add wine. Stir evenly; the object is to keep the rice moving so it doesn’t stick, and agitating the grains will release their starch, which will result in a creamy risotto.
Once the wine has been absorbed, begin to add warmed stock. Pouring about half a cup at a time, stir continuously, and once much of the stock has been absorbed, add another ladle. If it feels like the rice is sticking to the bottom of the pan, turn the heat down. It should always feel like a slide against the pan, never a scrape. This should take about 20 minutes. Begin tasting the rice for doneness and if still al dente keep adding stock and stirring. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons of cheese while stirring. Add salt to taste.
The shrimp cook quickly, so wait to start them until near the very end of the risotto. Heat a cast-iron pan over high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and allow to brown. Pat shrimp dry and lightly salt. Place flat side down in hot pan. Cook until pink on the underside and flip. Depending on the size of the shrimp this will take only 1 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan once the shrimp is done on the other side.
Arrange shrimp atop risotto and nestle a few lengths of steamed broccoli alongside. Top with another flourish of grated cheese and finish with chopped parsley.
Sea to Table sessions
Five Sea to Table Saturday sessions are planned for 2015. Attend a Talk & Tasting at 5:30 p.m. for $10; stay for the companion cooking class and dinner for $60. Sign up for all five talks and classes for $275. Classes are limited to 15 students. All profits from this program support the New London Maritime Society.
Purchase tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1672528 or call (860) 447-2501. The museum is at 150 Bank St., New London. More info online at www.nlmaritimesociety.org
Sessions run as follows:
June 20 - Sea and Bay Scallops
Aug. 1 - Stonington Red Shrimp
Aug. 29 – TBA*
Sept. 26 - Mystic and Fishers Island Oysters
Oct. 24 – TBA*
*Class content for these classes is still being compiled based on seasonal availability.