I would like seafood to be my forte, but as of now I am not sure this is meant to be. I had high hopes for a recipe I found in Ina Garten's book for Seafood Gratin. The picture looked scrumptious and I couldn't wait to try it. Thinking that her recipes are simple and come out well, I embarked on my next seafood debacle.
My first problem was that I expected the ingredients to cost around $40 for everything. This was because a friend of ours had recently gone fishing and gave us incredibly beautiful pieces of halibut. All the seafood I needed to buy was 8 oz of shrimp and 8 oz cooked lobster.
I wanted to buy fresh shrimp that I would peel and de-vein myself. I had done this before and apparently had amnesia regarding the disgusting nature of this exercise. So I went down to the market to compare prices and talk to the flirtatious fishmonger guys. Everyone had a say in my seafood gratin. They all wanted to change the recipe and suggested monkfish and all sorts of other things I had no idea how to make. I explained that I needed to stick to the recipe.
The shrimp was priced as expected, but when I wanted cooked lobster, no one had it. They told me that the couldn't sell me anything short of a lobster tail, which was $27.99. Whoa. One of the fishy guys told me to buy these really weird looking enormous shrimp which he swore up and down tasted very similar to a lobster, and they had just got it in today. I bought two of them and already was up to $35 in my budget. I felt a little swindled when I left there but I was up for an adventure so I tried to remain positive.
Next on the list was Chablis, so I went to DeLaurenti's to pick out a bottle. I've never heard of Chablis but I guessed I could find something comparable. I asked the wine guy to help me out and he immediately said, "You're going to cook with Chablis? That's crazy. You don't want to do that. Let me show you something affordable." Turns out the damn wine went for $40+ a bottle. Thanks a lot Ina! Geez, it says right on your book: "Everyday recipes you'll make over and over again." I don't think so! I bought a $10 bottle of white and got out of there.
There were still a ton of items I needed on this list. The market seemed to be the place to get everything, as I luckily blundered into Market Spice for saffron. I was short on all the usuals at home so I figured I should just get everything while I was out there, but the excursion quickly turned into an unexpected cost of $80. I think I even lied and told my partner that I spent $50 on everything so he wouldn't think I was a total idiot. The gratin needed seafood stock, tomato paste, heavy cream, butter, parmesan cheese, panko, and various veggies. I went home thinking this had better be the most delicious dinner on earth.
I made the cardinal mistake of inviting a friend over for a dish I've never attempted before. We wanted to do something nice for the friend that gave us the fish, but the gesture was probably lost in the inevitable slop I made of it. I wonder if he was sad to think of how I butchered his poor beautiful halibut, when we could have just put the damn thing on the broiler with some lemon and dill. I misjudged the timing of the gratin, and possibly even read part of the directions wrong.
Professional photos of food in cookbooks should not be the reason you try a recipe. I admit being enticed by its beauty and allowed it to create a mouth watering desire for Ina's Seafood Gratin, but mine was definitely not worth capturing for a viewing audience. The only way to describe my version is to say we ate chunky pink vomit that night, and I was heavily disappointed. The guys were nice enough as they always are when something isn't my best, but no one had seconds which was a sure sign of failure. Those weird enormous shrimp had a terrible texture and even made me gag a little. Bites of halibut were the only good taste in there, but they were drowned in all the muck. I thought all that cream and cheese and sauce and carrots and shrimp just didn't go together properly.
In the beginning of the recipe you had to bathe the seafood in stock, which cooks it pretty well right there. I really felt like there was a better recipe somewhere in that moment when the kitchen smelled nice and you could see the ingredients before my sauce took over. It's possible that we have to have epic disasters in order to find the right recipe for our own taste buds. I just wish my experiments weren't so damn expensive.