Seafood and Cheese: To "Pair" or "Not to Pair," That IS the Question!



Darlings!  Recently La Diva's cooking prowess was put to the test via a dish I cooked for a competition and was put in front of several esteemed judges.  It all came down to the taste of the dish in one bite.

La Diva thought long and hard about what to make and decided that a recipe using grilled oysters on the half shell, a recipe that I'd inherited from a restauranteur, ex-boss and dear friend of mine when while living in Sydney.  I named the dish Oysters a la Carl, after the man who taught it to me, Carl Blance.  The dish included an egg custard, extra virgin olive oil with minced garlic, prosciutto and arugula all on an oyster in the half shell and then topped with parmigiano cheese and grilled to a bubbling brown.  It's a creamy, savory, salty perfection of a dish, all in one beautiful bite.

Yours truly has served this dish numerous times and always with many gracious accolades!


"Delicious!"

"Divine!"

"I love this and I don't even like oysters!"





La Diva's "Oysters a la Carl!"  Creamy, savory and MORE-ISH!

I've been making this dish for 15 years and what's so great about it is that La Diva considers it a "bridge" dish for those that don't really eat oysters in their purest form, RAW.  This scrumptious dish is for those that love Oysters Rockefeller or Mornay, cooked with a hint of cheese!


BUT THE CHEF JUDGES HATED IT!


Comments ranged from

"No, I can't.  I can't "do" seafood and cheese."

to

"Why?  An oyster is already a perfect thing?"

and

"You were so close.  You should have left out the parmigiano."

Your La Diva was devastated.   I was made to feel like I'd committed a sin against humanity!   And here all along, La Diva thought the dish was a shoe in, a sure thing.  So, I took the criticism on the chin and thought to myself, "I call BULLSHIT" and began to ponder about all the cheese and seafood pairings I could recall!




AHH, the Sydney Rock oyster, in it's natural state!



What's all the fuss about cheese and seafood, you say?

Here's the thing:  traditionally, if you are Italian or an Italian American, it's considered a NO NO to pair seafood with cheese.  If you order Shrimp Fra Diavolo (spicy shrimp pasta!) in any good Italian restaurant, you will NOT be offered cheese to top your pasta.  In fact, the waiter would not only refuse but possibly sneer at the Philistine that dared to desecrate this dish of beauty by smothering it's delicate sea flavors with a pungent parmigiano or pecorino!






Okay.  I GET IT.  I KNOW.  And yes, when it comes to oysters, I AM A PURIST and I believe that LESS IS MORE.  But....if you know anything about La Diva, you know I'm an irreverant rule breaker!  Convention?  BAH!  BORING!

Now La Diva was irked.  Now I had a bee in my bonnet and it was buzzing bigtime.  What about ALL OF THE OTHER dishes that paired seafood with cheese?  

Oysters Mornay:  a bechamel sauce containing CHEDDAR CHEESE!

Oysters Rockefeller:  grilled oysters topped with PARMIGIANO CHEESE!





And what about the French classic dish of Coquille St. Jacques?  That is a grilled scallop on the half shell and includes the addition of gruyere cheese AND parmigiano cheese!  Are you telling me THE FRENCH don't know what they are talking about?  Harumpf!

Even the Greeks do it!  Anyone ever have that beautiful dish of shrimp in a tomato sauce with a piquant feta cheese?!  It's called "garithes saganaki," and it's one of my fave dishes!

Then, there's shrimp alfredo, shrimp and scallop enchiladas and the good ol' American tuna melt!  And let's not forget lox and cream cheese with bagels!  I'm starting to think this "no seafood with cheese" thing is a bit like three day  old fish...I AIN'T BUYIN' IT!




Off the boat direct from Italy, Chef Fabio Viviani approves of the Southern American classic dish of "shrimp and grits!" 

Of course it was only last winter that La Diva had the pleasure of meeting ex Top Cheftestant Fabio Viviani and posed the very same question to him:  "Fabio, what do YOU think of pairing cheese with seafood?"  He answered positively that there are many great dishes in America that do this, including the Southern classic dish of "shrimp and grits" which naturally includes good ol' cheddar cheese.

Well, it was too late now.  I could lament all I wanted but I still got slammed in the competition.

And then I saw it.  On FACEBOOK, a friend of Italian heritage had posted a delightful version of Lobster Macaroni and Cheese!  It looked DIVINE.  And there it was, right there in the title CHEESE.  Ha!   With LOBSTER!  Ha to the HA!   I could taste sweet, sweet vindication coming my way.




Yo, Gina!  Wanna try my oysters with parmeezhan cheese and proshut?

So, La Diva reached out to this friend.  After all, HE would know THE ANSWER to this age old question of whether it is "proper" or "right" to pair cheese with seafood!  His name is Mike Colicchio and he comes from an Italian American family, has been cooking with his family his entire life, has traveled to Italy countless times AND has a famous chef brother.   Cooking is his passion.   La Diva was certain that he would be a reliable expert on the subject.

So, I asked him and here is his response:

"I think the whole "no cheese and seafood thing" is total nonsense.  Why?  You can pair anything, offal chefs stuff their hearts with a mixture that includes cheese so what makes seafood and cheese so verboten? 

I have had sardines and provolone with olives and crostini and clams oregenato have parmesan and breadcrumbs.  I adore anchovy with pizza.  Isn't that mixing seafood with cheese?

I have been to Italy seven times.  I have been served pecorino cheese with spaghetti all vongole. (spaghetti with clams)

I have had this disagreement with my (chef) brother for years.  I really do bring my own cheese to his house on Christmas Eve.  Our Mom loves it also!"

Ahhh SWEET VINDICATION!  In fact, when this question was posted on his   thread, others came to my defense!  They, too, had eaten spaghetti and seafood with cheese!




Mike Colicchio's Lobster Mac and Cheese.  Yeah, it says CHEESE right there in the title and it looks GREAT!

So, while La Diva didn't win the competition, I DID win peace of mind.  And in this world of "thinking outside of the box" where individualism is lauded and creativity in the kitchen is king, isn't that what it's all about?  Convention is  boring and rules are made to be broken.

Ciao for now, darlings!








16 comments:

The Fish said...

Are you CRAZY!!!! We need to have a live conversation about this one.
There is a HUGE difference between FISH and SEAFOOD... This is not that easy to determine the cheesy factor on this subject. A dish like Shrimp and Grits does not count and which I happen to LOVE. Manchego and Chorizo on an Oyster? He should be arrested!!!!!
If you don't like seafood and think you want to look like you have some class, by all means order some fish. But eat it as it was meant to be eaten. Real fish lovers eat fish on a wood plank or off the grill or baked or fried or poached. I love a good poached dill salmon myself. I Happen to LOVE Good Fish, But Would I smother it with cheese? Nope, Nada, Never. This topic of subject makes me picture a Chilean Sea Bass Filet covered with American Cheese. That just grosses me out. If you Love seafood and fish like I do you won't put cheese on your fish. If you don't like the the flavors of the ocean, by all means cover it up!!! Pour some Ketchup on it while your at it, maybe a little A1 steak sauce on your fish (Which is only good on a steak omelet in the morning at IHop) The things people do to their Steak OMG!!! Thats a whole nother subject!! BTW, Cream Cheese and Lox Doesn't count!
Bottom line is if you need to Cheese Up your Fish Please go buy some Tofu and cut it in the shape of a fish and cheese it up. I'm with your brother on this one.

LaDivaCucina said...

Haha Fish, you crack me up! First of all, this is mostly about shellfish NOT fish, which to me is a different animal all together. I am trying to think of a fish dish where I've had cheese on it and I can't...but that doesn't mean someone hasn't made it! And for the most part, I agree with you, that a lovely piece of fish should be cooked perfectly and served with minimal sauce, breading or any other additions. But, you yourself said there were exceptions, so that pokes holes in your theory! Love the idea of a fish shaped tofu (which sounds gross with cheese to, by the way!) and love the imagery of Chilean Seabass with American Cheese! Haha! We'll have to meet and duke it out verbally, THE FISH!

mike said...

Hey Fish. You can make whatever you want. You can eat or not eat whatever you want. I can do the same. But ton say that something I made grosses you out, is very insulting. You are a bit narrow minded and childlike. The last time I heard "eww that grosses me out and I won't eat it" was from a little child. You are taking yourself way too seriously. Who are you to say how anything was meant to be eaten? God? Grow up.

Velva said...

Oh wow, what a conversation that took place prior to this comment.
Here are my thoughts: I agree fish and cheese, probably not. I know, I know, this was not about fish.

Seafood...like oysters...with cheese, I think so. It can be done right, and it would be delicious. I think your oysters would be a good example.

Cooking is about breaking the rules. A good cook, always breaks the rules.

Velva

P.S. I am going to post this on my Facebook.

LaDivaCucina said...

Thanks for defending your dish, Mike! I know I'd love a big bowl of your Lobster Mac and Cheese RIGHT NOW!

Thanks for your comments and input, Velva. And for the repost!

It's kind of snooty and silly to think that Italians, the most irreverent rule breakers of the world (!) would have any influence on American cuisine!

The Fish said...

First of all little Mikey, Whoever you are. I never said "Eww" That came from your child like mind, second of all I never said "and I won't eat it" That also came from your child like mind. I happen to be a bit of a food critic and write for a magazine so my opinion is VERY VALID whether you like it or not, as is everyones opinion about food.
SEEMS YOU TAKE "YOURSELF" WAAAY TO SERIOUS. Funny how you had "God" appear also. I think you are the one who needs to grow up here. I would love to have a battle of wits with you but I can see you are UNARMED. Maybe you can have someone explain that one to you. Maybe you should go have a nice Filet Mignon smothered in cheese whiz.

The Fish said...

BTW DIVA, Seafood and cheese yes. Fish and cheese no. Just to clarify my original post. I am guilty of making my own Lobster Mac n Cheese. Clams Oreganata and other traditional seafood and cheese dishes. Been to New Orleans a dozen times too for the best oysters ever. Try the Acme Oyster House if you go there.

24 fresh shucked oysters, on the half shell
1 lb unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped
20 garlic cloves, pureed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons creole seasoning
2 ounces white wine
1 cup grated romano cheese
1 loaf French bread
Directions:

1
Melt half the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add your lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, green onions and all herbs and seasonings. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then stir in wine.
2
Keep stirring and remove from heat as soon as the green onions wilt. Let cool for 3-4 minutes. Add the rest of the butter and stir until completely incorporated.
3
Heat grill to to 350°F Place oysters on grill. When the oyster liquor starts to bubble, spoon 1 tablespoon of sauce on top of each, then top with 1 tablespoon of Romano cheese. Let the cheese melt.
4
When oysters begin to slightly brown at the edges, remove from grill and place on a heat proof plate or tray.
5
Top each oyster with an additional tablespoon of the butter sauce and serve immediately with slices of french bread for dipping.
6
All you need is a good pint of lager and a few friends. I suggest a little Jazz in the background.

Mike said...

Hey Fish. I'm not so little and would love to debate wits with you any time you self proclaimed jackass. You are what all restaurateurs hate, a critic. You write for a magazine and that validates your arrogance? Why not make my dish and THEN criticize it. Or just come to New Jersey and tell me to my face what you think. Punk. Yeah that's right. I called you a punk! I suggest some rock and roll in the background, jazzman.

LaDivaCucina said...

Holy Cow! I go away for a few minutes and look at what happens! Sheesh!

Listen, fellas, I write these posts to stimulate conversation and comments but I don't like it to get personal. The Fish, you said yourself you like and make lobster mac and cheese, which is exactly what Mike made. You said it was an exception. And to be honest, you kind of missed my point. I never really talked about cheese and fish, but specifically shellfish.

It's obvious both of you are passionate about food, which I love. What I don't love are personal attacks against commenters on my blog. Otherwise, all comments are welcome.

So, let's stop it here, please and no last word Louies! Both of you are my Facebook friends, and I respect you and your opinions. if you guys want to take it further, you can "duke it out" privately there. Thanks guys!

chickory said...

why have rules? If it tastes good, then its right. It really is that simple. this is cooking not building a space station. You serve a meal -everybody likes it? You get an A. Tell those rigid controllers to stuff it from me. and trout. and koby. and the hens say they shit in the haters general direction.

Buzz Kill said...

I'm with Chicky. It's all about taste. If it doesn't taste good, then chances are the recipe will die out. And for a judge to not try something or have a pre-conceived notion he won't like it because it violates some kind of cooking rule-of-thumb, well he probably shouldn't be a judge.

That being said, many years ago I made a bluefish parmasian. And it tasted pretty good because bluefish is a pretty strong flavored fish that can hold up to cheese. But I haven't made it in years, so I guess the recipe kind of died out...

LaDivaCucina said...

Thanks Chicky baby, we are the rule breakers! I think that everything I'VE ever had that included cheese and seafood tasted good and RIGHT. And that's what counts. Those oysters....never any left on anyone's plate!

Buzzy, thanks so much for your comments too, long time no see! Kitchen done yet? I had some foodie friends re-post this on Facebook and the consensus is pretty much the same, if it tastes good, why not? I agree with you, stronger tasting fish can handle a cheese. One commenter wrote they did a swordfish with tomato, olive and feta! I think that sounds dee-lish! And I always applaud your kitchen efforts, Buzz, in spite of all the picky eaters, you manage to still be creative! That's what it's all about for me.

Thanks for all the comments, kids!

LaDivaCucina said...

Ha! I just looked at the Thanksgiving Day menu at The Forge, in Miami, with the talented Chef Dewey LoSasso at the helm, and guess what he's offering as an appetizer? Blue Point oysters with brie, spinach and lemon dust!

http://www.theforge.com/seasonal-notes/

Stupid judges!

Roses said...

Your dish looked fabulous. I'd even try it and I loathe oysters. Yes, truly I do. I keep trying them...and spitting them out.

Rules? About food? Hmm...

I suppose I'm looking at it from a layperson's view point.

I don't care much for rules. If it tastes good and it won't kill you, why not? And those oysters looked fabulous.

Katherine said...

Now that I've read the background story, I'm irked! I too love oysters raw and cooked. Especially adore Oysters Rockefeller. I break the no cheese with seafood all the time. I'll eat fish tacos with a bit of queso fresco...pasta vongole with a dash of parmesan. The judges were far too traditional with their analysis. Unlike you, I'm a fan of Bourdain and thrilled he complimented you or, at least it sounded complimentary to me! Bravo, La Diva!

Adventures with Nanette said...

I know this is a year old, but La Diva, I must chime in. Italians never pair cheese with fish or seafood. I know of no exceptions. In Italy, I've only seen it in not so good restaurants catering to tourists. Twice. Ever.

Other than Italian cuisine, seafood/fish is paired with lobster quite frequently, including as you note, right next door in Greece.

That said, just because your friend is Italian doesn't mean her Italian mac n cheese n lobster is an Italian dish. As for Tom's bro, I'd side with the chef with regard to authenticity. They were born and raised in America, however, so his brother has been exposed to, and chooses to cheese up his fish/seafood!

Cheers - happy food adventures in 2014!