Friday, July 26, 2013

HWY 12 SOUTH - Hatteras & Ocracoke

FRESH & LOCAL - that is what I preach.  And that is what you'll find on the Outer Banks.  Tender, flaky tile fish, at Ketch 55 in Avon or the Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head.  Sheepshead at The Back Porch on Ocracoke.  Fresh crab cakes with remoulade at the Flying Melon Cafe, also on Ocracoke.

And beautiful dry scallops, brought in fresh that day in big, muslin bags to the Ocracoke Seafood market.  A pound of those beauties found their way to my ice chest, to appease those left working back home.  Check out how they were cooked, and a recipe, below.


Bodie Island Lighthouse
NC HWY 12 is open.  Flowing south (and north!).  Past one of my favorite haunts, the Bodie Island Lighthouse, now re-opened for climbing.  The heat and I rolled past the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, where I stopped to see if any boats were in yet with the day's charter haul.  I was too early.

Charter Boats lined up at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center

Down HWY 12, past the temporary bridge, where the sand seems to be gathering on either side, past the high buildup of sand, pushed there ever too frequently to keep the ocean at bay, and on into Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, past Avon to Buxton, where I stopped to chat with Gee Gee at Buxton Books, one of the greatest little indy bookstores, and for dinner at Rusty's Surf & Turf.

Summertime on the Outer Banks is a real trip.  Patience must rule, with traffic, the heat, and frequent thunderstorms.  There's usually a wait anywhere you want to eat, but take it from this foodie, it's worth it.  Like at Ketch 55, in Avon, where a delightful filet of tilefish balanced on a bed of orzo with fresh veggies spilling out.

THE GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC MUSEUM is a fascinating place to explore and cool off. And they have frequent talks, about the civil war and World War II on the island, as well as culinary demos and talks by folks like myself, promoting both THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK and my newest, FOOD LOVERS' GUIDE TO NC'S OUTER BANKS.


With beautiful, brilliant red pieces of yellowfin tuna from Harbor House Seafood in Hatteras, we chatted about foods and stories while I prepared TUNA UDON, this time with sugar snap peas, red peppers, garlic, ginger and sesame seeds over udon noodles.  The smells permeated the gift shop and artifacts, with folks seeking out where the delicious smell was coming from!


At Dajio's, right on the main drag as you crawl through the village of Ocracoke, I smelled their delicious flatbread pizzas coming from their pub-side kiosk, now available during dinner through midnight. As usual, their terrific sandwiches and dinner menu, crafted from local catches, continues to impress my tastebuds.

Turning down the Back Road, I found where the Flying Melon Cafe had built their new, gorgeous facility, using artifacts and designs from their native New Orleans, like the charming interior doors to bathrooms and offices.  There's a beautiful spiral staircase that leads to a urbane waiting area.  But the thing that has not changed is the marvelous menu and local seafood.  As usual, it was outstanding, as was the service.

Eduardo has a new and improved Taco Truck, at the same location on the left as you come into the village.  He's added more outdoor seating in the shade.

Books to be Red, as always, is super friendly and carries a nice variety of books, including mine!  Stop in and see what best sellers you can find.  And of course, the Ocracoke Coffee Shop on the Back Road is THE place to catch up on politics wherever and the latest gossip, with the group of locals, mostly men, who gather on the porch.  Be patient, for I have never NOT had to wait in line for my morning coffee.  If you're on the waterfront, look for the relatively new Live Oak Coffee shop for a cup brewed "with intention."


Miss Della made my day.  Actually, she made my trip.

The winner of this year's Fourth of July Ocracoke Traditional Recipe, Mrs. Della Gaskill has been making fig cakes with her own fig preserves just about her whole life, she says.  But now, "old age is bringing me good luck," she added with a grin while adjusting her gray topknot.  She hobbled with her cane to the backyard to show me her fig trees.

Ocracoke is famous for its figs, with either 9 or 11 varieties grown on the island, depending on whom you're talking with.  Just about every single house with any age on it has a fig tree or two in a sunny corner.  Islanders cover the base of their fig trees with clam and oyster shells, to allow the minerals to leach down into the soil and to provide a mulch to protect them from sun and cold.  Legend has it that fig trees will mourn when their owner dies....but more likely, they are languishing from neglect.

"Miss Della" has several HUGE trees, one that almost blocks the steps leading to her tiny shop, WOCCOCON NURSERY & GIFTS.  She points to one budding fig.  "It's started swelling.  I been praying for it, otherwise, there will be no fig cakes."  She takes phone orders and ships her cakes all over the country.  (252) 928-3811.  Her husband Owen, until his death, sold veggies and fruits at the nearby stand, and she has self-published her memoirs, A BLESSED LIFE:  Growing Up on Ocracoke Island, sold at several of the island's shops.

Ocracoke Fig Cake, recipe from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK

 About that recipe?  She grins.   "Well, I do add more nuts.  And it's real moist, because I use a full pint of preserves."  But she's not about to divulge any more about her winning recipe.  I'll have to stick with the one I extracted from Dale Mutro for THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.

Before the ferry left the dock, headed to Cedar Island and home, I visited with Patti at the Ocracoke Seafood market, run and owned by the Ocracoke Working Watermen Association.

There are 40 of these dedicated souls, commercial fishermen, who worked and fought to save the last remaining fish house on Ocracoke Island.  Everything sold is caught locally, brought in by one of the members, except for the wild Atlantic salmon they contracted and bartered for in Canada.  "Our folks here asked for it.  They like a little variety, too," says Patti.

The scallops she showed me were huge, firm, fresh, smelling like the brine of the sea.  And they were packed dry, meaning they had been treated with the utmost care from the water, while stored on the boat, shucked, and then brought into the shop.

Don't crowd scallops while searing.
I find the that scallops scream for a simple prep.  Sear them quickly in just a little oil, cooking on one side for about 2 to 3 minutes.  Don't crowd them in the pan, or else they'll steam.  Flip them, and add a nugget of butter.  After a minute or two, no more, take them off the heat.

I served these with a quick saute of spinach with garlic and mushrooms, a little red pepper strips, on top of some leftover, warmed up udon noodles.  A little dusting of chopped chives, salt and pepper, and there you have it.

Delicious.  Simple, easy, fresh.  Wow!

No comments: