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The Thinking Man's Surf 'n' Turf

August 05, 1993|COLMAN ANDREWS

Sophisticated diners deride "surf 'n' turf"--which usually just means steak and lobster (or shrimp) cooked separately but served on the same plate--as silly food, hick stuff. Indeed, it's difficult to see what the combination has going for it since the flavors of beef and crustacean are not particularly complementary and since the dish makes no attempt to blend these flavors anyway.

But there is one kind of meat that is blended and eaten with fish--and, above all, shellfish--quite sensibly and successfully all over the world: pork. Pork is the most versatile of meats (the great French epicure Grimod de la Reyniere called the pig "an encyclopedia animal, a meal on legs") and has a pronounced flavor, heightened by salt and smoke, that makes it valuable not just for eating in itself but as flavoring. Thus chefs from Hong Kong to New Orleans, from Barcelona to Hanoi, use pork in one form or another--often preserved, as in bacon, ham or sausage--to enrich the flavors of seafood soups and stews, roasts and grills, even a thing so delicate and independent as the oyster.

In Bordeaux, for instance, oysters are sometimes served with chubby little chipolata sausages on the side. The classic English savory called "angels on horseback" consists of oysters wrapped in bacon, grilled or fried and displayed on rounds of toast. Hangtown fry, reputedly invented in 1849 by a newly affluent gold miner at the Cary House Restaurant in what is now Placerville, combines what are said to have been the three most expensive ingredients in town at the time--oysters, eggs and bacon.

Clams frequently encounter pork as well: Salt pork is an indispensable ingredient of true clam chowder, whether New England or Manhattan style. And the Alentejo region in southern Portugal can claim one of the greatest and most astonishing of all pork-and-seafood dishes, carne de porco a alentejana --cubes of marinated pork cooked in a covered pan with clams, then flavored with cilantro.

In fact, the Iberian Peninsula is particularly adept at combining such ingredients. In the Spanish Pyrenees (Andorra, for instance), ribbons of good mountain ham are scattered over fried trout. The Galicians use ham to season scallops. Paella, in the form it is usually encountered all over Spain, includes sausage alongside the mussels and shrimp and hake and whatever else goes in.

And in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, there's a whole genre of dishes known as mar i muntanya or "sea and mountain" (not that far from "surf 'n' turf," come to think of it). Though the simplest and most common of these is a sort of ragout of chicken and shrimp, the more baroque variations include sausages of various kinds and actual pork meat (either in cubes or ground and turned into meatballs) alongside shrimp, salt cod and/or fresh fish.

In Asia too, pork and seafood are combined in countless ways--such as in a Vietnamese version of fried rice with lap xuong sausage, shrimp and crab meat, or a Vietnamese bun noodle soup made with ground pork and shrimp balls; or in the Chinese presentation, common to several regions in slightly different form, of whole fish with ground pork sauce.

And let us not forget good old all-American catfish, dredged in cornmeal and fried in bacon fat--or that classic of the new American cuisine (casual division), probably invented by Anne Rosenzweig at her Arcadia in New York City: the lobster club sandwich.

Here are four recipes combining fish or shellfish and some form of pork--three of them traditional and one of them, the chowder, an invention of my own.

ANGELS ON HORSEBACK 4 large slices sourdough bread, crusts trimmed off Butter 16 fresh oysters, medium-sized, shucked 8 strips thin-sliced bacon, cut in half crosswise Dash Worcestershire sauce 3 eggs, lightly beaten Fresh bread crumbs 1 lemon, halved, optional Salt, optional 4 sprigs parsley, minced

Brown bread slices in skillet with about 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Pat dry on paper towels, then cut each slice into 4 equal pieces and place 4 pieces on each of 4 plates.

Wrap each oyster in half strip of bacon, lengthwise if possible, and secure bacon with wood pick.

Stir Worcestershire into beaten eggs, then dip each oyster in egg mixture and roll in bread crumbs.

Heat about 3 tablespoons butter in skillet and fry oysters quickly, turning once, until golden brown. As each oyster finishes cooking, place on top of piece of toast and remove wood pick.

Season each oyster to taste with lemon and salt. Sprinkle on parsley. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about: 646 calories; 899 mg sodium; 307 mg cholesterol; 41 grams fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 32 grams protein; 0.09 gram fiber.

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