September 17, 2017 Salmon with Heirloom Tomato Scampi Sauce

It’s still officially summer for another week or so but it’s easy to see that fall is in the air. We haven’t experienced a ninety degree day in several weeks and the days are sadly growing shorter. The tomatoes are making their last gasp, maybe not quite tomato salad worthy but still so much more flavorful than anything a supermarket might have to offer.

This recipe, courtesy of Top Chef season two semi-finalist, Sam Talbot uses a combination of heirloom tomatoes, garlic, shallots, capers and fresh basil. The original recipe used sea bass but I substituted salmon with excellent results.

Scampi is the Italian word for a hard shell prawn or langoustine. Prized in the Mediterranean, they are pink in color and more closely related to lobsters. The traditional method of scampi preparation in Italy is to saute them with garlic, onion, olive oil and white wine. Italian American chefs adapted the preparation using more readily available shrimp. The dish was called shrimp scampi, as in “shrimp prepared in the style of scampi” and the name stuck.

This is a scampi sauce in the broadest sense of the term, it does have garlic, onion, in this case shallots, olive oil and white wine. It also includes celery, which gives some textural difference, briny capers and fennel seed that adds just a hint of anise.

Heirloom tomatoes aren’t necessarily part of a scampi preparation either but they are a nice addition to this dish. Some of the varieties Joe grew this year included Garden Peach, Marvel Stripe, Cherokee Purple and both Red and Green Zebra, just to name a few. Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated; pollen is carried by natural mechanisms like bees or wind. Heirlooms are varieties that are capable of producing seed that produce seedlings like the parent plant. In agriculture, the word “heirloom” doesn’t have a precise definition but usually refers to varieties that are at least 50 years old.

As always, we cook our fish according to the Canadian fisheries method. Popularized by legendary chef, James Beard, it is very simple and quite foolproof. Measure your fillet at the thickest part, one inch of thickness equals ten minutes of cooking time at 450°F. If you prefer your fish a bit translucent, deduct a minute or so off the cooking time.

 

An assortment of late season heirloom tomatoes.

Salmon with Heirloom Tomato Scampi Sauce

 Ingredients

  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 1 T fennel seeds, toasted in a dry skillet
  • 4 celery ribs, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1 T drained, chopped capers
  • ¼ c dry white wine
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 3 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes, cut in wedges
  • 1 cup tightly packed hand-torn fresh basil leaves
  • 1½ lbs salmon filet, cut into 4 six ounces portions

Directions for the Sauce

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic, shallots, and fennel seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the celery and capers and cook until the celery has softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the wine to the pan and cook until it is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar, lemon zest and juice, tomatoes and basil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to incorporate the flavors and heat the tomatoes through.

Directions for the fish

  1. A half hour before cooking bring the fish out to bring it to room temperature. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 450°F.
  2. Measure fish at the thickest part of the fillet with a ruler, one inch of thickness equals about 10 minutes of cooking time. Evenly space fish fillets in a lightly oiled baking pan and transfer pan to the preheated oven. Bake for the designated time.
  3. Serve the salmon fillets topped with tomato scampi.

May 30, 2017 Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Fish is on the menu at our house three nights a week and though the method of cooking is usually the same, I am always looking for new ways to complement it. This recipe, Baked Cod Fillet with Bouillabaisse Sauce with Green Olive Tapenade from the April issue of Food and Wine seemed to fit that bill. It combines the classic flavors of bouillabaisse: fennel, garlic, saffron and tomatoes, to make a delicious sauce along with a quick briny olive tapenade.

The origins of bouillabaisse can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks and was the humble fare of fishermen in Provence, specifically from the port city of Marseille. The best of the catch would be sold to restaurants while the less desirable bony rockfish and shellfish would become part of the fisherman’s dinner, a stew cooked with sea water and simmered over an open fire. Bouillabaisse has come a long way since then to become one of the most iconic French dishes.

The first step of the recipe is to chop the fennel, leek, onion and celery. This can be done by hand or a food processor makes quick work of this step. Just be certain that all pieces are relatively the same size to ensure even cooking. Sauté the vegetables over medium heat until softened then add the garlic and saffron. Saffron adds a subtle flavor and aroma and its beautiful golden color. At about forty dollars a bottle, Pernod is an ingredient I could not justify buying since I was only using a few tablespoons. It adds a subtle anise flavor so if you have some on hand, by all means use it. Add dry white wine and vermouth to the pot and reduce the liquid by half. Next into the pot are halved and smashed cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes are an acceptable substitute here.

The next step is to make fish stock. I am fortunate to have an outstanding fish market that supplies me with fish bones and heads needed for stock making. If making fish stock would stop you from making this recipe, substitute clam broth or  fish bouillon.  Always taste products like this first, since they can be salty. After the sauce cooks, cool slightly and carefully discard the fish bones if using. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce then pass it through a food mill into a sauce pan. Keep the sauce warm over low heat.

The green olive tapenade is very easy to do and adds a briny contrast to the rich sauce. Cook the fish according to your favorite method, we use the Canadian fisheries method with consistent results. The sauce and the tapenade can be made several days ahead making this an impressive recipe for entertaining.

Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Serves four

Ingredients for the sauce

  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1-1 lb fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 large leek, trimmed and finely chopped, white and light green parts only
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ t saffron threads
  • 2 T Pernod or pastis (optional)
  • ¾ c dry white wine
  • ¾ c dry vermouth
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved and smashed
  • ½ t smoked paprika
  • 2 lbs white fish bones, rinsed and dried
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice (plus more for drizzling)
  • Kosher salt
  • Four 6-oz. white fish fillets like cod, halibut, grouper

Directions for the sauce

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fennel, leek, onion and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and the saffron and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes
  3. Add the Pernod (if using) and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and vermouth and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fish bones and cook over medium high heat, turning once, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the bones to the casserole and add two cups of water. Cover partially and simmer over moderately low heat for 30 minutes. Let the sauce cool slightly then discard the fish bones.
  6. Using an immersion blender puree the sauce, then strain through the fine mesh of a food mill into a medium saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice, season with salt and keep warm.

Ingredients for the Green Olive Tapenade

  • ¼ c green pitted olives
  • 2 T rinsed and drained capers
  • 2 T flat leaved parsley
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ T fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for the Green Olive Tapenade

  1.  Place the first five ingredients in the bowl of a mini food processor and pulse until combined and roughly chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cooking the Fish

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Coat a shallow baking dish with non stick spray. Season the fish fillets with salt.
  3. Measure your fish fillets at the thickest point. Bake the fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.

Finishing the Dish

  1. Ladle the sauce into 4 shallow bowls and top each one with a cod fillet Spoon the tapenade over the fish. Drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice. Serve immediately.

April 1, 2017 Mayan Citrus Salsa (Xec) with Salmon

A vibrant combination of juicy grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime sections, accented with fragrant and spicy habanero pepper, the Yucatan peninsula is home to this colorful and healthy salsa. The Mayan name for this dish is Xec, pronounced, shek which roughly translates, “mixed”. It is an easy to prepare dish, all of the fruit is cut vertically and sectioned, the way you would cut into your morning grapefruit. If you prefer, the citrus could also be cut into supremes or segments.

The salsa gets its heat from habanero chiles. Lantern shaped and bright red, orange or yellow in color, the habanero is the hottest chile available in grocery stores. For perspective, a habanero registers in at 300,000 to 475,000 units on the Scoville scale, the standard for measuring the heat of a chili pepper, the jalapeno only 2,500 to 10,000 units. Treat all hot peppers with a certain amount of caution, wear gloves when working with them and keep your hands away from your face. It is best to add a little bit of chili pepper to see what your heat tolerance is before ruining a dish with too much at once.

I am fortunate to have a supply of NuMex Suave Orange peppers from the garden to add to the salsa. NuMex Suaves have the citrusy flavor that most people miss in the habanero, without the numbing heat. I like this salsa with fish, but it would pair with chicken or pork as well.

Mayan Citrus Salsa (Xec)

Makes four servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large orange
  • 1 medium grapefruit
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 lime
  • Finely chopped habanero pepper (according to your heat tolerance)
  • 1 NuMex suave pepper
  • ½ c finely chopped cilantro
  • Salt to taste
A combination of sweet, tart and sour citrus, habanero and cilantro are the ingredients for xec.
Section all the citrus the way you would a grapefruit.

Directions

  1. Cut orange in half horizontally and section it as you would a grapefruit. Do this over a bowl to capture all the juice. Remove the seeds and combine flesh and juice in a bowl. Repeat with the grapefruit, lemon and  lime. Stir in habanero, NuMex suave and cilantro. Season with salt.

December 31, 2016 Seven Fishes Christmas Eve

We have adopted the Italian/Italian American tradition of seven fishes and it has been our Christmas eve feast we share with friends for the past six years. I explained the tradition of the seven fishes in a post from 2012.

This year our seafood included oysters straight from the Chesapeake Bay courtesy of Nik.  The extra large succulent oysters are enjoyed both raw with lemon and a splash of cranberry pear vinegar and baked a la Oysters Kenwood. We had a traditional (for us) shrimp scampi pizza as well as a newly inspired creation of a clam and bacon pizza. Both were delicious. We had a refreshing calamari salad, seafood stew, the best stuffed clams ever, just hope Joe remembers the recipe. Homemade pasta was served in two forms, mussels diavola with fettuccine and delicious crab ravioli served with a delicate lemon butter sauce. Golden brown seared scallops were served on a bed of microgreens with mixed sautéed mushrooms. The last course was swordfish skewers and pearl onions with a balsamic sweet and sour sauce. Some years Joe has cooked these in the fireplace grill but due to exceptionally warm weather this year they were cooked outdoors on the grill.

We start the party a little earlier each year, so that we aren’t finishing the last course at midnight. That actually happened the first few years. To finish things off, we left just enough room to finish off the meal with delicious Italian cookies and pastries from Chambersburg, an Italian neighborhood in Trenton, courtesy of Rich.

Nik power washes the oysters before they come inside for shucking..
Joe and his wonderful stuffed clams.
Stuffed clams had bacon in them too.
Oysters Kenwood, oysters baked with tomato sauce, bacon and cheddar cheese. Delicious!!
Shrimp scampi pizza.
Clam and bacon pizza, this year’s new creation.
Delicate crab ravioli with lemon butter sauce.
Homemade fettuccine with mussels diavola.
Seared scallops on a bed of microgreens and sautéed mushrooms.

 

December 2, 2016 Tuna Poke

dsc_8340aOne of the highlights of last summer was our trip to the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen Colorado. It is touted as America’s premier culinary event, and certainly lived up to those expectations. We enjoyed three days of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and best of all, the grand tasting pavilion. It was there that we, and 5000 other fanatical foodies sipped, savored and sampled our way around the massive white tents. One area we were certain to stop at during each grand tasting was to sample the offerings of Food and Wine magazines best new chefs. Everything we tried was imaginative and delicious as well. Not coincidentally, the July issue of Food and Wine magazine offered recipes from each of these up and coming chefs.

With memories of the wonderful small plates we enjoyed at the classic, it was time to try some of their dishes for ourselves. This summer I tried the rather ambitious, summer squash with lemon curd and citrus vinaigrette from chef Brad Kilgore. Joe was more interested in the Tuna Poke on Nori Crackers. This very simple version is from Ravi Kapur, chef at Liholiho Yacht Club, a San Francisco restaurant with Hawaiian, Indian and Chinese influences.

If you are not familiar with it, poke, pronounced POH-keh is a raw fish salad. Poke, means chop or chunk, which refers to the bite sized pieces the fish is cut into. It is commonplace in Hawaii, found everywhere from the deli departments of grocery stores to fine dining establishments.

The first time we tried it just for ourselves and the poke passed our taste test with flying colors. The nori crackers are a nice “cheffy” touch but speaking on behalf of the cleanup crew, messy and not necessary for the home cook. For this recipe, make the poke with sushi grade ahi tuna from the most reputable vendor you can find. The spicy mayo has only three ingredients, tamari, sriracha and mayo. So it’s very simple, finely chopped tuna, scallion, ginger, jalapeno, tamari and dark sesame oil combined in a bowl and seasoned with salt. Spoon the poke on black sesame crackers, I like the ones from Edward and Sons, easily found in large supermarkets. Dollop or pipe some of the spicy mayo on top. Garnish with some Asian microgreens and a few toasted sesame seeds. We have served it at two parties so far this year, both to rave reviews.

dsc_8340aa

Tuna Poke

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the Spicy Mayo

  • ¼ c good quality mayonnaise
  • ¼ t tamari
  • 1 t sriracha (or to taste)

Ingredients for the Poke

  • 12-oz sushi grade tuna cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 4 t minced scallions
  • 2 t minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 t seeded and minced jalapeno
  • 1 t tamari
  • ½ t toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black sesame crackers
  • Asian microgreens and toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions for the Spicy Mayo

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together until smooth.

Directions for the Poke

  1. In a large bowl, fold all the ingredients except the garnishes together; season with salt.
  2. Spoon the poke on the black sesame crackers and dollop with some of the spicy mayo. Garnish with sprouts and sesame seeds.

August 5, 2016 Swordfish Steaks with Orange, Fennel and Kalamata Olive Salad

DSC_7633aWhen I am looking for a quick and easy fish entree that comes together in about 15 minutes, swordfish is one of my first choices. I love it’s rich, meaty texture and like to balance it with something that is tart, a bit sweet and a little salty. This palate pleasing salad of oranges, fennel and olives takes it’s inspiration from Sicily.

The orange supremes take some careful knife work but are worth the effort. Using your sharpest pairing knife, trim off the top and bottom of the orange. Rest the orange on one of the cut ends and trim off the peel and pith in large strips, carefully following the contours of the fruit. Cut the segments free from the membrane. Be sure to do this over a bowl to catch all the juices. Squeeze the remaining membrane to capture every last drop of juice. I reduced the juice in a small saucepan to intensify the flavor in the vinaigrette.

I think fennel is a greatly under used vegetable. Related to carrots, parsley, dill and coriander, it has a crunchy texture and refreshing licoricey flavor popular in Mediterranean cooking. To cut, trim the feathery foliage and stalks off where they meet the top of the bulb. The stalks and foliage can be used as a bed for cooking the fish. Cut the bulb in quarters lengthwise and cut out the core. Slice the sections thinly using a mandoline or a very sharp knife. I used fennel thinnings from the garden. They didn’t have a hard solid core so I used the entire fennel bulb.

Kalamata olives are almond shaped and dark purple in color. They are cured in a red wine vinegar brine that gives them a rich, fruity flavor. They are often found on the Mediterranean bar in many supermarkets. To pit olives, place them on a flat surface and lightly crush with the side of a broad flat chef’s knife. Remove the pit and cut the olives in half lengthwise.

Cumin is one of my favorite spices and toasting cumin seeds really intensifies their flavor. Use a small dry skillet over medium to medium high heat. Keep the pan in constant motion, the seeds will darken and your kitchen will be filled with a warm toasty aroma. Immediately remove them from the pan and transfer to a bowl or a mortar and pestle. Crushing the toasted seeds brings out their flavor even more. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, put the seeds in a plastic bag and crush them with the bottom of a heavy pan or a rolling pin.

Combine the reduced orange juice, toasted fennel and olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and lightly toss. Serve salad with the fish and garnish the plates with fennel fronds.

DSC_7602aOrange, Fennel and Kalamata Olive Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 small to medium fennel bulb
  • 2-3 medium oranges
  • 1//3 c kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half lengthwise
  • ½ t cumin seed
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

DSC_7606a

Directions

  1. Cut the fennel in quarters lengthwise, removing the core. Thinly slice the fennel, preferably with a mandoline. You will need 1 cup.
  2. Remove peel and pith from the oranges using a sharp paring knife. Working over a bowl to catch the juice, carefully cut between membranes, to remove segments. Squeeze remaining membrane to extract juice. In a small saucepan reduce the orange juice to two tablespoons. Set aside.
  3. Toast the cumin seed in a small non stick saute pan until fragrant and toasted. Grind toasted cumin seed in a mortar and pestle. In a small bowl combine reduced orange juice, cumin and olive oil, stir together.
  4. In a medium bowl combine the sliced fennel, orange segments, and olives. Pour the dressing over and lightly toss.  Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.
DSC_7598a
Baby fennel from the garden.

DSC_7608a

Ingredients

  •  2- 6 oz swordfish steaks
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Wondra flour
  • 1 T each olive oil and unsalted butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Measure steaks using the Canadian method to calculate total cooking time.
  3. Season swordfish steaks with salt and pepper. Dust with Wondra flour.
  4. Heat an oven-proof saute pan over medium high heat.
  5. Melt butter and oil in a saute pan large enough to hold the fish without crowding and small enough to fit in your oven.
  6. Brown swordfish for two minutes on each side.
  7. Move saute pan to oven. Finish in oven, subtracting four minutes from your total cooking time. For example 1″ fish=10 minutes cooking time minus four minutes equals six minutes in the oven.
  8. Using oven mitts, remove from pan from oven, transfer fish to serving plate with spatula. Serve with the orange, fennel and kalamata salad.

DSC_7614a

DSC_7631a