Posts Tagged ‘seafood’

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Don’t quote me. (THE CHELSEA MARKET COOKBOOK)

October 14, 2013

ucc_cmcookbook

A while back MG and I contributed some recipes to a secret project. Now the official Chelsea Market Cookbook is here! Let the world be exposed to Metalbelly‘s Texas Chili and my own golden garlic butter, that mysteriously tastes just like movie popcorn, as well as great stuff from people way more famous than us… lots of them! Check it out at Amazon.

One of my recipes, originally titled ‘Market Fish Stew’, was retitled Provençal Fish Stew and likened to a bouillabaisse in its description. While the use of leeks, fennel and pastis are typical of Provence, I have to admit my dish is way too simple (and adaptable) to hold court in the tradition of bouillabaisse. If the recipe I developed for the Chelsea Market Cookbook is a speedboat, the bouillabaisse I ate many years ago, at a tiny port restaurant in Marseille, was a French naval ship.

That first time, I didn’t really know what I was in for while hunting for the historic soup, but my goal was to find the perfect place to eat it. It should be noted, this was before personal opinions could be publicly accessed with ease. I couldn’t look at scores of reviews, there was no googling to be done. These were my early days of culinary exploration and because there were fewer resources, I was honing the skill of spotting a real deal restaurant by wits alone. With each new travel, in seas of tourist traps and among hordes of menus and foreign words, finding the local gem just by scanning the immediate details became my superpower.

The day I went shopping for bouillabaisse, I was on a solo mission with no one to translate or steer. As I wound through the streets of the port I scanned for a place with just the right light, a healthy level of sound, happy relaxed guests and staff, good smells. My ideal was smallish in size and maybe a bit off the path. Scan the menu, is it traditional and also unique? Is there variety, is there a clear specialty? This is the first glance.

I found my spot and ordered a bouillabaisse. Soon after, the waiter presented me with a plate of raw Mediterranean fish and various sea animals. However confused, I signed off with a nod. He disappeared leaving me to devour a whole basket of bread and rouille, a garlic and saffron ailoi, named for its color (rust). Rouille is a mandatory part of a bouillabaisse, meant to be sunk in the bottom of the soup, making the broth thicker and richer –not eaten as an appetizer. The waiter came back with a huge bowl brimming with the seafood in an incredible broth, thick with fishy shrapnel and a little gritty with seasonings. As I worked my way through that bowl of perfectly cooked fish, my guy refilled broth from a tureen and bread/rouille as needed. It was impossible to stop eating this bottomless bowl, and I probably took down enough for four people.

Sorry to report that I don’t know the restaurant name or the street it was on. I didn’t write notes on food then or take pictures of my meals with the enormous Nikkormat I was probably carrying. Since this momentous meal, I have researched and discussed many more details of regional French cooking, learning that there is much debate about what an authentic bouillabaisse really is; seasoning, type of fish, order of plating, etc. In my food-obsessed travels I realize that eating any dish in the place of its origin is such a unique sensory experience that it is hard to describe the final criteria when looking for the best local spot. One might say that you have to give yourself over to the place you are visiting, and its customs, in order to be admitted passage to an authentic experience. If you search for a restaurant with ketchup bottles on the table wherever you go, it is sure you will be denied this.

I walked Marseille top to bottom, letting it take me where it would. On a desolate road that ran alongside the sea, there were signs indicating boats in transit to/from Corsica, Italy and Algeria. I remember reading the exotic port names and feeling small and far away, isolated from the rest of the world (remember, no cellphones). I accepted that no one on the continent knew where I was at that moment and I could be anywhere according to the rest of the world. I continued into the ‘the pannier’ or old town which was a tight maze of narrow corridors. It must have been during a particularly quiet siesta because what was described to me as the must-see, crazy, condensed part of town was silent. The strange, lonely feeling deepened but didn’t last long. The noise level rose as the streets pointed back toward port and I turned a corner just in time to see an outdoor beer garden full of people (travelers) just like me. I hung with them for a bit before the desire to continue my loner journey resumed.

I bought some cheap cigarettes in an alleyway. I happened upon a gallery opening in a cavernous garage-like space with minimalist paintings and loads of wine. Way earlier that day I trekked around the moon rocks of the Calanques peering down at the very place the delicious bouillabaisse fish come from. Traveling with my stunning vintage Laguiole (like a good Frenchman), I sliced saucisson and broke bread under the immense statues of the Palais Longchamp before wandering the fine arts museum inside. At night I sketched the illuminated windows of St. Vincent de Paul and pretended I spoke only Bulgarian to maintain my solitude when approached by curious passers by.

I fell in love with Marseille and its briny breeze. Was intrigued by the local accent and its choppy Italian inflection, the cultural mash-up, the crossroads and that overall, “hey! we’ve got a port so we can go anywhere, but we stay right here” kind of feeling. And after taking all that in, I’m pretty sure I had a spot on bouillabaisse that day.

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Strictly speaking. (BAKED SALMON CROQUETTES)

January 29, 2013

salmoncroq

For a couple of weeks MG and I have rid our diets of sugar, caffeine (Coffee, I miss you), wheat (Bread! I didn’t mean it! Please take me back), dairy, booze, etc. As the 14 days of clean eating were coming to a close I was making up stuff to ease us back into our really fun and slightly decadent reality. The key word is ‘ease’ because I didn’t want all of that abstaining to wind up being in vain. So, for these cute little suckers, I allowed for a dredge of breadcrumbs. Without the dip in the crumbs, this version of the recipe would be all-of-those-things free and full of healthy protein, salmon. I used the canned stuff for the sake of speed cooking but using 1 3/4 cups of freshly cooked salmon flaked with a fork would be a million times better.

This recipe can be seasoned in different ways, scallions, soy, ginger, or with mayo or add an egg, some old bay seasoning, cayenne, chopped herbs, etc. Just make a delicious mixture and form into patties. I left it at easy, threw some cooked brown rice (for sticking power), garlic, shallot and rosemary in the mini chop and mixed it with the fish that I seasoned a little. Simple as bonjour.

salmoncroq_minichop

BAKED SALMON CROQUETTES

(makes 10-12 small croquettes)

1 can of salmon such as Icy Point, about 14 ounces

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil

a splash of red wine vinegar

1/3 cup cooked brown rice

1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, or scant teaspoon dried

3 cloves garlic

1 small shallot

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon herbs or spices of choice*

Cooking oil, preferably in spray form.

  • Preheat oven to 400F. Cover a baking sheet in foil and spray (or drizzle) with your favorite cooking oil.
  • Flake the salmon thoroughly and mix in a medium-sized bowl with dijon, oil and vinegar.
  • Place rice, rosemary, garlic and shallots in a food processor until it forms a paste (or finely chop with a knife).
  • Combine the rice mixture with the fish in the bowl. Season well. Set aside.
  • Mix the breadcrumbs with the seasonings of your choice*.
  • Form the salmon mixture into 1/4 cup patties (not too big or they will be very break-y), dredge patties in the deluxe breadcrumbs and place on the prepared sheet pan.
  • After all of the patties are formed and crumbed, spray (or drizzle) the top of each one lightly with oil.
  • Place in the oven and cook as close to the heat source as possible until the desired color is achieved and croquettes are heated through. Flip once, about 8 minutes on each side.

* Here you can use dried herbs or any mix of spices to trick out the breadcrumbs. I used this blend from Penzey’s that I got from my rad sister.

Salmon croquettes are also excellent served on tiny bread to tiny people…

salmoncroq_burger1

And here is something I wrote about Icy Point Salmon back when I used to wear a thumb ring. I really do like this stuff.

icypoint

‘I think we can consider it a ‘whole food’, so much so that the salmon still has its bones! When you open a can of this stuff you are looking straight into a cross section of a beautiful Alaskan salmon. It is steamed in the can this way, bones and all, so that every part of the fish is edible and needs only to be broken up with a fork and used in your favorite recipe. It is a staple in my pantryXX’

The bones are soft and edible. What that looks like:

salmoncroq_icybones

That’s healthy but if it freaks you out, just cook up the fresh salmon. Ça va.
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New traditions. (MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER)

December 30, 2012

mussels_pic

When the Saints played the Colts in Superbowl XLIV (2010) I made up this dish, Mussels in Chorizo and Beer. It was the product of us being in a foreign neighborhood and running around trying to find cool ingredients for an extraordinary Superbowl concoction to make at our friends’ place. While it was being eaten almost no one yelled at the TV.

Even though it has no particular cultural alliance, once the mussels and chorizo came together I felt like it was reminiscent of something my Italian grandparents or great grandparents would have served back in the day. Back when Sundays were still a red sauce based, all day eating affair and calamari with the tentacles still totally freaked me out. (The ‘rubber bands’ were okay though.) All of my aunts, uncles and cousins would fight for a seat in the dining room, the losers sent to the card table parked in the back bedroom. I was the youngest and had my choice of laps to sit on, a great strategy especially at dessert.

The Christmas after that gourmet Superbowl when my cousins and I decided to honor the Feast of the Seven Fishes, I knew exactly what my contribution would be. We simmered pounds and pounds (and pounds and pounds) of mussels in the garlicky tomato sauce studded with spiced sausage. A side of pasta for folks like my dad and sliced up focaccia for the dunkers. The table groaned under six more fish, two more pasta dishes, salads and sides galore. It was a beautiful sight. All of the foods we were most excited about, all at once.

In more recent years we have experimented with some other seafoods and we have learned how to reign it in. This year, back by popular demand, we made the mussels again. I think they might become a regular addition to the table. We have some traditions and they are not strict, but it is sure that favorites will make an appearance; manicotti, antipasto with the biggest hunk of Parmiggiano you have ever seen, killer seafood salad, rum cake. Somehow even a platter of sushi has made it into the yearly mix. Our feast grows and changes a bit each Christmas, as does our family and by the same token it has a strong foundation in our history and represents the memories we share however hazy they may be. (Next year I promise to nail down the recipe for Pete’s Seafood Salad That We Think Grandma Used To Make.) The resulting dinner, both nostalgic and new, reflects everyone who has participated in it. And out of love, it also reflects all of those who eat it.

MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER

1 pound chorizo or hot Italian sausage

1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large can chopped tomatoes

1 can beer

1/4 cup fresh dill or other fresh herb

4 pounds mussels, scrubbed

salt and pepper

  • Cook chorizo in a large saucepan, breaking it up into pieces until browned.
  • Remove meat with a slotted spoon and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
  • Add butter to the saucepan and sautee onion, shallot, red pepper flakes and fennel seed with a touch of salt and pepper.
  • Stir in garlic and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add beer and dill.
  • Bring to a boil again and add mussels.
  • When most of the mussels have opened and are cooked through, Remove them and arrange in a large serving dish. Pick out and discard any mussels that have not opened.
  • Boil the tomato mixture for about 3 minutes, add the chorizo back in and heat through.
  • Season well and pour over the mussels in the dish.

Serve with bread for dipping.

(Photo courtesy of Jackii Laurenzano)

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From the box. (FISH KEBABS WITH COLLARD GREENS)

June 11, 2012

This season we joined a CSA coming from Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative and hosted by a dedicated gal who works with the sandwich professionals, Saltie. Sure we pick up our weekly share dangerously close to Saltie’s perfect food (I’m talking about you, Little Chef) but with a bit of restraint I go home and sort out what I will make from the bountiful box instead.

A full share offers up to a dozen different items, plus eggs and fruit which are additional options. The produce is so inspiring to cook with, meals have been extra fun to come up with lately. A challenge to use as much as possible before another box comes in! Potatoes, kale and collards, delicate lettuces (leafy greens galore), radishes, herbs and kohlrabi too, it seems like my fridge always has something to give.

While cruising through the farmers market for some interesting protein to go with all that gorgeous Lancaster veg, I came upon a fishmonger from Pura Vida, a Hamptons-based fishery. I asked for something good to grill and she gave me a pound of a thick filet, glistening with washes of red and purple grey . I am not sure if she called the fish ‘sand shark’ or if I just made that up… but I went home saying, ‘we’re having sand shark kebabs!’ Upon further research I came to the conclusion that either I am living on another planet (very possible) or she called it by some fisherman’s nickname or something, as most folks do not eat actual sand shark.

Whatever it was, it was killer. I haven’t been back to the market to inquire about the fish again. And with no luck getting in touch with the Pura Vida people I have decided, with the help of this website: longislandexchange.com, that I was eating tautog. It’s a hearty and sneaky (local) fish that might fit the description of what I got. Anyway it would make a fine substitution for whatever deliciousness I did happen to encounter so no harm done in the translation. In fact any sturdy fish filet or steak would work.

The meal that came together consisted of a whole bunch of  CSA goodies. The cubed mystery fish was left to sit for an hour or so in oil, lemon zest, mint, scallion, garlic, salt and pepper. The collards were lightly oiled, seasoned and folded up before skewering. (We have been grilling all different greens this year, kale, mustard, endive, etc. with lots of success.) Onions were the referee between the two. (see photo) After we took kebabs from the grill, a little squeeze of fresh lemon and a drizzle of olive oil finished them off. With accompaniments of foil-packet grilled potatoes and green-leaf lettuce dressed with garlic scape vinaigrette, at least six items from the box were used. Such high-quality ingredients and a good brainstorm equals a simple weeknight cook out with superior results.

I never soak the skewers. Quel rebel

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We all want to be useful. (FISH SAUCE)

April 12, 2011

During a recent class at the Astor Center, I was asked a question that I thought deserved public answering. One of the recipes we prepared included fish sauce. As an ingredient that is often used sparingly, my student wondered how to make a dent in the bottle that sits around after being used only once in an experimental while. In other words –allow me to paraphrase– ‘what the hell do I do with this stuff?’

A little background on fish sauce; it is the liquid extracted from salted and fermented fish or shrimp. Lending an aquatic (as in the bottom of an aquarium) and briny note, it is a major ingredient in many Asian cuisines. Each country has its own process by which they produce the stuff but Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Korea, Southern China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan all use a variation of fish sauce in alot or at least a little of their cooking. In my experience with Vietnamese food, it is a ubiquitous and staple item, sort of like the t-shirts they sell in tourist shops that say ‘Good Morning Vietnam!’.

The truth is, it stinks like no one’s business only to be intensified when heated. This should stop aforementioned no one from using this product. Once mixed with other ingredients it turns on its magic, amplifying the existing flavors, doing that umami thing that I can’t describe. It does something to make a dish taste as delicious as it did sitting on a small plastic chair, overlooking the beach at Nha Trang.

Wikipedia does a great job of providing mostly the truth and lots more fish sauce details. My mission is to list a few ways to help get through that bottle a little quicker.

TOP 15 USES FOR FISH SAUCE

  • in a curry
  • in salad dressing
  • as a marinade
  • as a dipping sauce
  • in a peanut sauce
  • in a crab cake or fish croquette
  • in a vegetable soup/stew (fish sauce loves kale!)
  • in beef stew
  • in (Asian style) chicken soup
  • in fried rice
  • sprinkle on fish before roasting/grilling
  • in a dumpling filling
  • tossed with noodles
  • in kimchi
  • in a stirfry

(‘in a stirfry’ is such a cop-out.) Enjoy!

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And some excess. (MALAYSIAN BUTTER SHRIMP)

February 17, 2011

I have never been to Malaysia. But as the five senses can help recall a strong memory, they can also conjure a fantasy. That is why this dish and all of its toasty coconut, hint of sweet spicy-ness and the way texture of the shrimp pops in your mouth, makes me feel like I am on a beach in deepest Malaysia… eating this creation from a piece of foil with my buttery fingers, leaving a pile of shrimp shells at my feet. Can you hear the waves lapping?

In reality, midwinter Brooklyn, UPS truck grumbling by, this dish is plain tasty. It entails a two-step cooking process that is maybe a little decadent but I think we deserve it. First, shell-on shrimp is fried in oil. This gives the shrimp a bright color and firm bite without drying it out. After making Butter Shrimp several times with students, we realized that for maximum flavor potential, it is nice to then peel the fried shrimp so it gets really doused in the butter sauce that forms in the final steps. And anyway most people prefer not to peel-and-eat, they just want to hurry up and eat. Do what you wish. In keeping with my Malaysian daydream, the shell stays on, but never mind.

MALAYSIAN BUTTER SHRIMP

(serves 2-4)

1 lb. jumbo/large shrimp, heads removed
2 cups canola oil, for deep frying
3 tablespoons butter
3-4 small red chilis, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or sherry
1/2 cup grated coconut, toasted

  • Prep the shrimp by making a slit down the back to de-vein. Pat dry.
  • Heat the canola oil in a skillet with high sides or wok. To test that the oil is hot enough, drop a tiny piece of butter into it. If the butter bubbles and sizzles, it’s ready to use.
  • Deep fry the prawns in the oil, do not crowd the pan, until pink and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
  • When cool enough to handle remove shells from shrimp, leaving just the tails, if desired.
  • In a clean skillet, melt the butter. Add chilis, scallions, garlic, salt and fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant.
  • Add shrimp to the skillet with sugar, soy sauce, wine, and coconut. Cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes until heated through, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.
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The law of least effort. (DASHI)

January 30, 2011

As in Western cooking, many Asian dishes begin with a type of flavorful stock. One of the most basic is a Japanese stock called dashi.  Like many other culinary conveniences, dashi can also be purchased in a dehydrated form, a bouillon cube, powder or concentrate, but to use it in this way is to forfeit its many health-supportive characteristics. And there is no excuse for that given the simplicity of its preparation. Homemade dashi consists of three ingredients: kombu, bonito flakes and water. That’s it! Of course there are endless things that can be added to the stock to make it more elaborate; dried mushrooms, chilies, ginger, garlic, miso and so on. But, basics first.

Kombu is a type of sea vegetable similar to kelp. It is the backbone of dashi and, like many varieties of seaweed, it is high in iodine, potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C and low in calories. Stored as a dried ingredient it has an indefinite shelf life and can be incorporated into any pot of boiling liquid to release its mineral value. It is also useful placed into a pot with cooking beans because it contains enzymes that help to break down the sugars that infamously cause gas and bloating. After it rehydrates, growing in sea monkey proportions, it can be sliced and added to your preparation. Texturally, it is not the most appealing of all sea vegetables, so if this is already more seaweed than you can handle, it can be strained out and discarded… only you will know.

Bonito, as labeled in Asian cultures, is a type of small tuna. Bonito flake is smoked and dried, then shaved into thin pieces. (Not to be confused with bonito from the Atlantic which is a relative of mackerel.) Another dry ingredient, bonito flakes also have an indefinite shelf life but during the winter when soups are king, you may find yourself purchasing bags of it at the Japanese market* more often than usual.

To make dashi, kombu is boiled in water (1-2 inches of kombu for every 2 cups of water) for 15 minutes. One-half cup of bonito flakes are added to the kombu-water mixture after it is taken off the heat. When the flakes sink to the bottom of the pot, the stock is ready to be strained and used. Vegetarian dashi simply leaves out the bonito, a minimalist creation.

Stock in every culture is just a starting point, taste-wise it is nothing much to speak of until enhanced by other ingredients. A quick and easy way to flavor the dashi is with miso, a paste made from soybeans that have been fermented with a grain, usually rice or barley. Miso can range in flavor from rich and savory (dark) to sweet and mellow (light). It lasts a year or more when stored airtight in the fridge and has immense nutritive value. By adding two tablespoons or so to your freshly made dashi, it will put to shame any powdered instant miso packet you might have had otherwise.

Miso paste should be whisked into the strained dashi just before you are serving. Boiling miso will kill its beneficial enzymes so, if reheating is necessary, do not bring to a full boil. Adding some chopped scallion, wakame (seaweed) and tofu cubes will give you the well-known Japanese restaurant starter but the addition of creative ingredients on the part of you, the chef, like noodles, meat, fish or veggies can turn this simple building block into satisfying meal.

* Japanese Markets in NYC:

Sunrise MartM2MKatagiri

Oftentimes Korean markets will carry above-mentioned items as well as Whole Foods.