What to eat when it's too hot to eat?
Oysters, mussels, cockles, and trout, of course.
It was too hot to eat for weeks. I went through quarts of iced tea a day—four bags of English breakfast tea in a two-quart pitcher will get you good tea after a couple of hours in the fridge, and you can leave them in overnight just fine—and didn’t have an appetite for too much else. Ripe, juicy peaches and blueberries looked just too heavy sitting in their bowls; tomatoes were globes of acid. I was about as likely to boil water in a pot or light a fire in the grill for some corn as I was to stick my hand in them once they were going.
The thing I enjoyed most this summer, apart from some peaches and blueberries in yogurt on a day that was less suffocating than usual, was seafood. At a picnic table in Dutchess County, New York, I cut up a thick tomato and a garden cucumber from the Clark Park Farmers Market into a steel box, slid two trout fillets in, drizzled them with a bit of oil from the tin, and sprayed them with lemon. It was essentially perfect.
The trout, a gift from a friend, was as good as it gets, smoky and succulent, firm but yielding. What I know about it is that it’s fantastic and that the company that makes it, Portugal’s JOSÉ Gourmet, has some of the most spectacular promotional copy in an industry that does not lack for spectacular promotional copy, describing both its philosophy (“We are not producers … We do not compete with competitors, whoever they are”) and its smoked trout in olive oil, specifically:
Imagine the trout’s /habitat/, the purity of the crystalline water, its richness in oxygen. Imagine the best smokehouse, sharpened by handcraft tradition and guaranteed by technological means. Imagine the delicious olive oil coming into play to complete a spectacular combination. Imagine and keep on imagining, until the you have the opportunity to try it out!
The rain and the sun challenged each other eternally. She prepared her nest of clouds and covered his solar rays. He warmed up the water mirrors, sometimes making them evaporate till the last drop. Tired of all the competition that filled him up and drained it without even asking his opinion, the river tried to get them to reconcile. He declared a tie and gave them an award: the rainbow trout.
(Bolding and mystifying virgule usage as per the original.)
I keep a lot of cans of seafood in my pantry, and the ones I reached for when it was hot were the ones that could inspire something this over the top. These tended, for whatever reason, to not be fish. Sardines, salmon, mackerel, trout, and tuna aren’t that heavy, as things go, but in the middle of one of the various heat waves afflicting Philadelphia, they definitely didn’t not seem like the sort of thing I’d have to choke down in a grim effort to make the little pie chart on MyFitnessPal fill out in an anxiety-reducing way. Oysters, mussels, and, cockles, though, just as Arya Stark (more or less) told everyone in Braavos, have been the way to go.
For oysters, I was really liking Ekone’s plain smoked oysters, which lack spectacular promotional copy but are absolutely fantastic atop a Triscuit with a splash of hot sauce and go really great on some crusty bread with tomato slices. As opposed to the dubious mass-market oysters this newsletter has previously covered and expressed satisfaction over with reservations, these are big, meaty boys—they go fantastic atop a Triscuit because they are the size of a Triscuit—that have a great texture to them, and, if not all the fresh liveliness of a living oyster, a lot of the essence of the living sea. The problem with them, if there is one, is salt. They have a lot of salt—49% of your daily needs, per the Ekone site. That’s of course a lot of why they’re so good and it’s not something you can’t fit into things if you’re inclined. I definitely managed to do so.
Mussels-wise, I’m addicted to Patagonia’s various mussels, which have previously been touted here. I don’t want to be, because the sea life sold by a globe-spanning fleece-vest concern that works with Jeff Bezos’ labor-violations operation isn’t, on a basic level, what I want to be affiliated with, and yet … they’re really good, readily available not just at Whole Foods but at my corner store (where I in fact saw an area man busted for trying to smuggle some out in his tight running shorts), and fairly cheap. I don’t know that there’s anything in a tin so versatile as their mussels in sofrito and their smoked mussels. If you make a plain salad, you can dump the contents of a can on top, hit it with a little bit of acid, and you have a meal. If you have some leftover rice or pasta you don’t know quite what to do with, you can dump the contents of a can on top, let the starch soak up the sauce, and you have a meal. They go as well with some toast as anything else you might get out of a can. They’re fantastic in soups (a topic to be touched on in future as I cosplay as His Excellency, the Duke of Fall.) They’re also downright pretty, outright enlivening a boring pile of kale and cucumbers and green onions and tomatoes. I just love them.
As far as cockles go, I will be honest and admit I’m not entirely clear on what a cockle is. Basic online research has of course enlightened me (I’m aware it’s a bivalve that is apparently capable of jumping, which I find questionable) but I just don’t have the kind of familiarity with it that I do with various other creatures you come to know by growing up in the Mid-Atlantic and eating them. This lack of familiarity, though, led to Dan of Rainbow Tomatoes Garden—often touted here as the place to go for tinned seafood due to its vast selection and general niceness—providing me with (full disclosure) Portomar’s cockles in brine for review, which led to the best non-trout gustatory experience of the summer for me when I just had them over some white rice with parsley and a salad. However heavy any fish can be, these are the opposite, so light they float up into the stars, a downright delicate experience that makes mussels and oysters and clams seem like lead. If lemon juice was tinned seafood it would be this—bright and refreshing. I don’t think there are any cheap ones, but you have to try these, they’re worth the money.
The other best tinned seafood experiences I’ve had in the long while since I last sent out one of these newsletters involved Scout’s tinned lobster and these French sardines in garlic, butter, and parsley sauce, which you need to warm and then fry and are fantastic. They do not fit in with the general theme here, though, so I will get to them another time.
Tins or cans?
If I’m being honest, one reason I haven’t sent this newsletter out in a while is the mild backlash against the term “tinned seafood,” which some people, including ones I like and respect, find precious and annoying (twee, even), and use of which which quantifiably seems to have peaked around the time right around the time Popping Tins started going out, at one point actually overtaking “canned seafood.”
I can understand finding the phrase “tinned seafood” precious and/or annoying and/or twee and/or unwontedly possibly Anglophilic—I certainly find the phrase “bone broth” annoying—which is why I’ve used tin and can interchangeably here. That said, the people who have been tinning and/or canning excellent seafood and promoting excellent tinned/canned seafood as an excellent thing to eat for the last while have been using the word “tinned,” I think, not out of the bad motives that lead to outright scammers calling stock bone broth, but for the good reason that the phrase “canned” has bad associations and connotations, in this context, that call to mind cat food, and so a little rebranding is perfectly warranted in service of making people a little more open-minded about the joys and satisfaction of eating sea life, fancy or not, from metal containers. I’ll bear in mind that the word “tinned” may be a little much if everyone else bears in mind that who fucking cares, and that cockles are a great thing to try.