Ryan Allenbach and Brian Schroeder have been doing everything together since they were in high school in Medford, Pa. By now, the chef-owners of One Fish, Two Fish in Wildwood are pretty good at it.
From pumping gas together to packing fish food - Allenbach jokes they started feeding fish first, then people - the two would push each other "to get better every day." When he attended the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, Allenbach picked up key techniques, such as patting dry fresh scallops for their popular risotto dish with a paper towel.
"It's what separates a place that's good from being the best," Allenbach says of such little chef's tips, adding he and Schroeder are the only two cooks in the small kitchen serving the cozy 36-seat restaurant on Pacific Avenue.
"Moisture is a terrible thing when you're trying to sear something," Schroeder says. "Especially with a steak or any piece of meat you're trying to brown, it's going to caramelize better (without water stuck inside)."
Schroeder can explain the difference between Arboria rice for risotto and regular rice just like an avid home cook who is figuring it out as they go along - because that's how he became "such a good chef" in Allenbach's opinion. Schroeder says he paired lemon-flavored scallops with risotto because their lightness complements the richness of the risotto. And to all those who say risotto is too hard to make, Schroeder says just hold on.
"Patience, patience is the key to making good risotto," he says. "You have to keep stirring the rice the whole time as you're cooking because the starch breaks down and if you don't it will get sticky.
"Also, you don't want to put too much stock in at once, you have to stir it in slowly."
Scallops only take couple minutes to sear, but preparing them involves a little more. First, they should be brought to room temperature and the adductor muscle removed so it is not chewy, then patted dry. Allenbach says he goes through rolls and rolls of paper towels on a typical night, as scallops are popular in classic preparations - or on specials with a twist, such as with braised pork belly instead of bacon.
And "there's no reason anybody should have to use frozen scallops," he says.
The key thing both chefs agree on is using fresh, local produce almost exclusively. And that doesn't happen by chance, even with just 36 people to feed at once.
"People come down the shore and they think of course, the fish is fresh. But they don't realize a lot of this stuff is shipped out to Philly first and then trucked back out to the shore," Allenbach says. "So we try to catch the boats right here on the shore and just deal with the fishermen themselves."
That leads to "catch of the day" specials with the likes of fresh halibut, tuna and red drum fish.
"There're a lot of farmers markets and coop startups around here," Allenbach says of where he gets his ingredients. "Sometimes you have to substitute, but if you have a small operation and you plan ahead, it's very realistic and sustainable to use local farmer's markets (exclusively)."
Wildwood's blue-collar, surfer vibe matches the easy-going, beachy theme the two chefs envisioned for their restaurant. And they enjoy the idea, if not the reality, of taking it easy in the slow season. Allenbach says he spent last winter repairing the property after it was damaged by Hurricane Sandy while Schroeder headed back to Pennsylvania. But after being open every night this summer, the two chefs expect to take it easier after September, maybe opening only on weekends and for holidays such as New Year's Eve. Remember it's Allenbach or Schroeder making your dinner, or One Fish, Two Fish is not serving.
And yes, the restaurant was named for the Dr. Seuss book, just because Allenbach always thought it would be cool to call a seafood restaurant that.
Contact Felicia Compian:
Jersey Corn Risotto with Seared Scallops
•4 U-10 scallops
•6 ears Jersey corn
•1/2 onion, chopped
•2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
•1 cup arborio rice
•3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
•1 tablespoon cooking oil
•Salt and pepper to taste
•1 cup fresh lemon juice
•1/4 cup white wine
•2 tablespoons sugar, plus more as needed
•1 stick unsalted butter
Remove adductor muscle and pat each fresh scallop dry on all sides with paper towel. Let sit while they come to room temperature and keep more paper towels on hand for cooking.
Heat oven to 375 degrees and roast corn about 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Peel corn husks back and slice kernels off cob into a bowl.
Saute onion in oil or butter about 3 minutes. Add rice, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add white wine or pilsner beer 1 cup. Then stir in 1 cup stock, stirring continuously until liquid is absorbed. Add remaining stock 1 cup at a time, stirring until liquid is absorbed. Stir in corn kernels with unsalted butter (optional). (This yields about 3 cups cooked risotto, portion accordingly.)
Mix lemon juice, wine, sugar and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, cooking until liquid is reduce by about half and starts to thicken like a syrup, about 10 to 15 minutes. Slowly add cold butter, one tablespoon at a time, whipping to incorporate so it does not separate.
Heat cooking oil in a skillet until it just starts to smoke. Season scallops with salt and pepper and then sear about 2 minutes on each side. Drizzle with lemon butter and serve hot over corn risotto.