HALIBUT cheeks and short ribs. Scallops and foie gras. Squid and pig's ears. Lobster and squab. Recognize the theme? It's surf and turf.
For the guy shuffling chips at a Vegas craps table, hoping for a hot roller — or at least a meal comped by the pit boss — surf and turf means a thick steak and a fat lobster tail. But chefs are navigating uncharted waters and ranging beyond the plains to create new takes on the steakhouse standby.
Their sometimes wild iterations continue to evolve and proliferate despite the fact that some food lovers think the classic American pairing is based on an uneasy marriage of meat and fish. And whether inspired by the land-sea combinations of international cuisines or maybe just the American dream of having it all, especially on one plate, today's surf-and-turf combinations are more varied than the possible rolls on a pair of six-sided dice.
"So many meats go really well with seafood because they'll add richness or fat that a lot of seafood doesn't have," says Water Grill executive chef David Lefevre. "With a flounder or a sole or a John Dory or a flakier, whiter-fleshed seafood, a rich piece of meat contrasts with the lean fish and adds a new dimension of flavor."
On the other hand, Sona executive chef David Myers combines big-eye tuna with veal tongue because of what he sees as similarities. The tuna is seared rare and the tongue is braised, then crisped in a pan. "I like the depth of flavors, the meaty richness of a specialty meat with the rawness and meatiness of the tuna . It's a combination that works as a red-wine-oriented dish," Myers says.
What's the obsession behind the compulsion to unite land and sea on the plate? "I think people will always gravitate toward surf and turf because we've all been raised with it. I remember it from my parents," says David Lentz, chef at the Hungry Cat, who has offered as a special a "mainstream surf and turf": grilled rib-eye and butter-poached lobster with a béarnaise sauce. It's the béarnaise sauce that helps pull it all together, Lentz says, because "you can use it either with the lobster on its own or the steak on its own."
Lentz also has experimented with pairings such as monkfish with beef cheeks. "It's through trial and error that we've come up with these combinations," he says.
Living large WHAT'S nostalgia for some may be culinary cliché for others. "I hate steak and lobster. It's so 1976. People have got to get past the whole steak and lobster thing," says Michael Bryant, chef at Norman's in West Hollywood. "When it comes to surf and turf, try something new."
Bryant definitely is. He's dishing out chocolate-glazed short ribs with parsnip purée paired with halibut cheeks over bacon-braised cabbage.
Sound like a bit much? But then, surf and turf was born of excess. Steakhouses of the '60s and '70s may have given rise to the term surf and turf — one of the earliest published references is said to be a 1967 advertisement in the Yellow Pages for a steakhouse in New York — but the American steak-and-lobster tradition extends back further. The late 19th century gave rise to New York's lobster palaces, restaurants that served seafood to the newly wealthy of the Gilded Age. One rich railroad salesman in particular, of significant globosity, liked to eat his steaks with his oysters with his ducks with his lobsters.
In 1940s New York, the Palm, an Italian-restaurant-turned-steakhouse, added 2-pound lobsters to its menu. The bigger the lobsters, the more popular the dish: When, in the '70s, the restaurant introduced 4- to-8-pound lobsters, sales jumped from 100 pounds to 25,000 pounds a week.
But there are other reasons surf-and-turf combinations are showing up on contemporary menus. The influence of cuisines that have a long tradition of combining seafood and meat, such as Spanish or Cantonese, and an ever expanding repertoire of specialty ingredients — Japanese sword squid, veal tongue, baby cuttlefish — are spurring exuberant experiments.
Lentz's squid stuffed with chorizo and a clam-and-chorizo dish owes a culinary debt to the Portuguese way with seafood, which often involves pork, as in clams cataplana, a stew of clams and pork sausage. Versions of clams cataplana have been showing up all over Los Angeles such as at the new wine bar Bin 8945 (actually, it's a sort of mussels cataplana there), and you can even find the Italian classic vitello tonnato, veal with tuna, at new restaurant Bridge.
The Spanish version of surf and turf, the lyrically named mar i muntanya, or sea and mountain, refers to the foothills of the Pyrenees that extend to the Mediterranean Sea. It's the underlying principle of Catalan dishes such as chicken with lobsters or rabbit with langoustines.
"It's very Asian to mix meat and fish together," David Burke of davidburke & donatella in New York, says of his roasted California duck with seared prawns, inspired by such traditional combinations as the Cantonese dishes that bring together crab and pork or prawns and chicken liver. Burke's also a fan of mixing up other kinds of meat and seafood. He cites the East Coast classic shad roe and bacon, as well as such recent innovations as pork and scallops or tuna and foie gras. "Sweet scallops with a rich oxtail stew is a beautiful combination," Burke says.
Comparisons in texture and flavor are important jumping off points for chefs' creations. At Providence in Hollywood, executive chef Michael Cimarusti pairs scallops with beef marrow, tuna with duck confit, and yari ika — Japanese sword squid — with pig's ear. "The texture of the pig's ear is similar to the squid. It has a snap . The squid has a very clean, nutty, sea-fresh flavor, and the pig's ear is rich and meaty." And in a nod to Spanish cuisine, the dish is flavored with smoked paprika and marcona almonds.
"It's a question of balance. You wouldn't want one element to trump the other," he says. Cimarusti says he loves working with sweetbreads. "Their rich unctuousness goes great with shellfish or with white-fleshed fish."
High concept SQUID or cuttlefish is an especially popular seafood to combine with meat because its mild flavor and leanness make it a veritable blank canvas. At Josie in Santa Monica, Josie LeBalch has combined sepia, or baby cuttlefish, with pounded seared pheasant. She also serves seared sepia with merguez sausage and lentils. The sepia is skewered and served on top of the spicy merguez and lentils.
"It's the lentils that are the conduit there. They go so well with both the sepia and the sausage," LeBalch says.
LeBalch's dish is only incidentally surf and turf, but other chefs are running with the original concept and repackaging it, with mixed results. At Republic, a surf-and-turf tartare is both beef fillet (with capers, olives, shallots and quail egg) and big-eye tuna (with mango, avocado, caviar and ponzu). Simon L.A., which opened a few weeks ago, is serving surf-and-turf tacos — two beef tacos and two lobster tacos are alternately skewered together.
A lobster-stuffed burger is on the planned menu for Sunset Beach, which is set to open this summer. Chef Joseph Gillard says he spreads out a pound of ground Kobe-style beef, puts poached Maine lobster in the center along with some lobster bisque, folds it all back up carefully into a patty, pan-roasts it and then serves it open-face on toasted brioche. "It's very rich," Gillard deadpans.
He might pull it off.
But "there are an endless amount [of combinations] that don't work together," says Michael Mina, the chef behind Stonehill Tavern in Dana Point, Michael Mina in San Francisco and Sea Blue in Las Vegas, among others. "You really have to consider what type of fish you're using and you have to pick exactly the right flavors and the right cooking methods. I'm a fan of fish and foie gras."
Another of Mina's favorite combinations is a crispy-skin black bass with big pieces of pork belly and deep spices such as paprika and curry. "Black bass is great because of the crispy skin. It's one fish where people will eat the skin. It's important that the bass is sautéed on that dish so that you get the contrast" of crisp and tender. The pork belly is cooked slowly and then crisped so that there's a mirroring of the contrasting textures.
But Mina says he still moves a lot of steak and lobster in Las Vegas. "It's what people want," he says.
For some, its bedrock popularity in casino centers make classic surf and turf a sure bet. Says chef Bobby Flay, whose Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa in Atlantic City opened this month, "We decided to make a steakhouse but to do lobster in a big way," Flay says. "I wanted to see steak and lobster at every table at some level.
"What's better than winning a few bucks at the craps table and then going to spend it on surf and turf?"
Roast duck with seared prawns
Total time: 30 minutes, plus 12 hours marinating time and 1 1/2 hours roasting time
Note: From David Burke of davidburke & donatella in New York
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 star anise
1/4 inch piece ginger, peeled and crushed
1 Long Island duck, 4 to 5 pounds, thoroughly rinsed and patted dry
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
8 prawns, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 small onion, julienned
1/2 cup julienned celery
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/4 cup sliced shiitake mushroom caps
1 tablespoon chicken stock
1/4 cup julienned snow peas
1 tablespoon chopped scallions, including some of the green part
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1. Combine the soy sauce, honey, water, cilantro, garlic, star anise and ginger in a deep, nonreactive container large enough to hold the duck. Add the duck, making sure that it is covered with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Remove the duck from the marinade (reserve the marinade) and pat the duck dry. Place it on a wire rack in a roasting pan breast side up. Roast the duck for about 1 1/2 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 165 degrees. Turn the heat up to 400 degrees during the last 10 minutes of roasting so that the skin turns a dark golden brown.
4. Place the marinade in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and set aside.
5. About 15 minutes before the duck is ready, prepare the stir-fry. Heat the peanut oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, prawns and minced garlic and allow them to sweat for about 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent. Add the minced ginger and sauté for about 1 minute or until the ginger has softened slightly.
6. Add the onion, celery and carrots and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, and add the mushrooms and chicken stock. Stir-fry vigorously to help the liquid evaporate, for about 1 minute. Add about 2 tablespoons of the reserved marinade and again stir-fry vigorously to deglaze the pan. Stir in the snow peas, and remove the mixture from the heat. Stir in the chopped scallions along with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Using a chef's knife, cut the duck into eight pieces, 2 thighs, 2 legs and the 2 breasts cut in half. Place a mound of the stir-fried vegetables and two prawns into the center of each of four dinner plates. Place two pieces of duck on top of the vegetables and prawns.
Each serving: 837 calories; 46 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 62 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 194 mg. cholesterol; 1,791 mg. sodium. *
Seared squid with merguez sausage
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes, plus 1 hour resting time
Note: Adapted from Josie LeBalch of Josie Restaurant in Santa Monica. The restaurant uses sepia, but squid can be substituted. For the squid, you will need four 6-inch wooden skewers soaked in water for one hour. Merguez is available at select Whole Foods Markets and Bristol Farms stores.
Mustard seed oil 1/2 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, combine the olive oil and garlic. Cook the garlic about 3 minutes, until it begins to brown slightly.
2. Add the cumin, mustard seeds and red pepper flakes and remove from the heat immediately. Allow the mixture to cool, then add the fresh oregano leaves.
3. Strain out 1 tablespoon of oil without seeds and oregano and reserve. Set aside the rest.
Squid, merguez and lentils 1/2 pound squid, washed, cleaned and cut into about 1-inch rings, leaving tentacles intact
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 fennel bulb
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/2 cup beluga lentils
1 cup packed spinach, leaves only
1 merguez sausage
1 recipe mustard seed oil
1 small tomato, peeled, seeded and diced (about 2 tablespoons)
1. In a small bowl, mix the squid with the garlic and season with one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon pepper. Cover and chill for one hour.
2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat the fennel with half a teaspoon of olive oil and roast until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Allow the fennel to cool and thinly slice.
3. While the fennel is roasting, rinse the lentils and place them in a small pot with 1 1/4 cup water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and cook the lentils until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
4. Bring a small pot of water, with one teaspoon of salt, to a boil. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
5. In a small sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and set aside to cool, then slice.
6. Pat the squid dry and place it on skewers — three rings plus a piece with the tentacles still attached on each skewer.
7. Place a medium-sized sauté pan over high heat. Coat the pan with 1 tablespoon of strained mustard seed oil. Add the squid skewers to the pan and cook until lightly browned on both sides and the edges begin to curl, about 4 minutes. Remove the squid from the pan and set aside; keep warm.
8. Add 2 tablespoons of the mustard oil to the pan, including the seeds, garlic and oregano. Add the spinach, sausage and fennel to the pan and heat 1 minute while stirring. Add the lentils and tomato. Add 2 tablespoons more of the mustard oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and continue to cook until heated.
9. On a large warm platter, spoon the lentil mixture in the center and top with the squid skewers.
Each serving: 506 calories; 20 grams protein; 21 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 39 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 145 mg. cholesterol; 382 mg. sodium. *
Foie gras and diver scallops with fig purée and watercress
Total time: 35 minutes
Note: From Michael Mina of Michael Mina in San Francisco. Foie gras is available at Surfas in Culver City and Nicole's in South Pasadena.
1/2 pint black missions figs (about 5)
2 cups ruby port wine
1 shallot, sliced
4 black peppercorns
1 sprig thyme
1 star anise
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 bunches watercress
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus 1/4 cup
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 diver scallops, about 2 ounces each
4 slices foie gras, about 2 ounces each
2 tablespoons clarified butter
1. Cut the stems off of the figs and cut the figs in half. Place the figs in a medium saucepan with port wine and shallot. Tie the peppercorns, thyme, clove and star anise up in a small square of cheesecloth; add it to the figs.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until 1 1/2 cups of the liquid remains, about 25 to 30 minutes.
3. Remove the spice bag and purée the mixture in a food processor until smooth. Strain it through a mesh strainer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside one-half cup for the recipe. Any remaining fig purée can be refrigerated and served with grilled meats such as pork, chicken or duck.
4. Rinse the watercress under cold running water. Break off any tough stems. You will have about 6 cups. Put the cleaned watercress in a salad spinner to remove excess moisture or pat dry on paper towels. Cover and refrigerate with a damp cloth until ready to assemble the plates.
5. In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar and minced shallots. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
6. Season the scallops and foie gras with kosher salt and pepper. Let the scallops stand at room temperature to temper before sautéing. The sliced foie gras should be kept refrigerated until ready to sauté.
7. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the clarified butter and swirl to coat the pan. Add the scallops to the pan, leaving space between each scallop to achieve a nice golden sear. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook 2 minutes until the scallops are golden brown and release easily from the pan. Turn and sear on the second side 2 to 3 minutes. The scallops should feel slightly soft to the touch. If they feel rubbery, they have cooked too much.
8. Remove the scallops to a plate and let stand while preparing the foie gras.
9. Wipe out the pan, return the pan to the heat and add the foie gras, leaving space between the slices.
Sear about 1 minute on each side. Remove to a cutting board and cut the slices in half.
10. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the warm fig purée onto the center of each plate spreading out in the center. Toss the chilled watercress with the dressing and divide onto each plate. Put two scallops on each plate; one on each side of the watercress salad. Place a piece of foie gras next to each scallop.
11. Slightly reduce the one-fourth cup balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan, 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle balsamic vinegar around the outer edge of each plate.
Each serving: 643 calories; 27 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 42 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 139 mg. cholesterol; 610 mg. sodium.