The alarm went off at 6 AM—an uncharacteristically early wake up call for someone who waits tables past midnight. Eyes hazy from a lack of sleep, I stepped into the warm shower with dreamy thoughts of an early visit to an unfamiliar downtown market. Soon there would be coffee. And fish. Lots of fish.
International Marine Products
The day started early at International Marine Products (IMP), a small but world-class fish market open to restaurant professionals only. On the fringe of downtown Los Angeles, chefs from LA restaurants don hairnets or baseball hats while perusing the diverse selection of ice packed fish, mollusks, and shellfish.
Brian, my friend and sous chef of Hatfield’s Restaurant*, agreed to give us an early morning tour of IMP. After a large cup of Blue Bottle coffee and an almost traffic-free commute across town, my husband and I met up with Brian. Outside the refrigerated market, Brian pulled two hairnets from his pocket for us to wear. “So you walk in there looking pro,” he said.
Once past the plastic flaps that held back the chilly air, I was lost in the beauty of the market’s aquatic treasures. Plastic tubs filled with ice suspended a school of silver-skinned fish in a static dance. Diver scallops, wide mouthed and alive, lined an crate alongside razor clams. A gargantuan side of tuna swaddled in ice—a truncated beast with black skin, spiked fins and blood-red meat–was an arresting reminder of the origins of one of my favorite foods comes from.
I snapped photos as we scanned the morning’s catch for our evening’s meal. Since no product is labeled or priced, the restaurant buyers must know their product by sight and have a sense for cost. Brian expertly pointed out brightly colored fish and named them one at a time as he collected up small handfuls of inspiring items like fresh razor clams from Rhode Island, farmed Kura Dai (Black sea bream) from Greece, live scallops from Massachusetts and wild California spot prawns.
An energetic IMP salesman named Toshi greeted Brian and bowed with every handshake. Toshi joked with Brian as he weighed the bags, never scolding our friend for our measly order of enough fish to feed four a multi-course tasting menu. He never made us feel at all bad for our minimal purchases–nothing we bought weighed more than two and a half pounds each.
I watched as Toshi rang up the items: $6.50 a pound for Black Sea Bream; $6.25 a pound for fresh scallops; $7.50 for razor clams. With a final price tag of $41 (including a dozen free Jidori chicken eggs to sample), we purchased enough seafood for a dinner for four. With prices like this ($10/person), it clearly pays to work in the restaurant business and have chef friends.
Later, Chef Brian and his girlfriend Lisa had us over to their apartment for our incredible five-course dinner. Thanks to Brian’s new found free time–he currently awaits Hatfield’s reopening in its new, larger space across town–all of the farmers market shopping, recipe development, and mise-en-place prepping was done well in advance of our arrival.
Razor clams with garlic, white wine, and salsa verde
Brian’s culinary inspiration and classic French technique brought together an incredible meal and celebration of the sea. If eating an entire razor clam is not for you, slide off the exterior “casing” of the clam and dip the sweet, central portion of the mollusk into the sauce.
Razor Clams with Salsa Verde Dipping Sauce
An appetizer inspired by chef Brian Best
1 lb fresh razor clams
2 tablespoon butter
4-5 garlic cloves, broken with palm of hand
1 teaspoon chopped hot red pepper, seeds removed
10 branches of fresh thyme
¼ cup white wine
Salsa Verde: the basic formula
½ cup densely packed flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons basil
3 tablespoons chives
3 tablespoons chervil
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 tablespoon pepitas
1 teaspoon salt-packed anchovy (rinsed and de-boned)
1 clove garlic
Combine parsley and herbs, zest, shallot, pepitas, anchovy, a healthy pinch of salt, and ¼ of the EVOO in a mixer or blender. Blend until a chunky paste. Taste for seasoning. Add more oil and salt for taste. Don’t refrigerate. Leave in a closed container on the counter.
Rinse razor clams in water to remove any sand, drain. In a saute pan over medium high heat, add butter. When melted and bubbling add garlic. Add razor clams, pepper, thyme, and white wine. Cover. After 3-5 minutes, check the clams. They should open and become extremely tender. Remove from heat. Serve immediately with small side bowls of salsa verde for dipping.
*My husband used to work at Hatfield’s Restaurant.