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!
"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."
"Why? An oyster is already a perfect thing?"
"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!
Why, even Chef David Bracha of one of Miami's best seafood restaurants serves a grilled oyster topped with manchego and chorizo at their Cajun seafood festival!
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!