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Archive for the ‘Fish and Seafood’ Category

tastes as beautiful as it looks

tastes as beautiful as it looks

If you want to sing because you have just eaten something delectable – if you want to feel like you are dining in the manner of aristocrats – if you want an absolute slurpy flavor explosion with each little bite of food, then you need to prepare and eat the mussels that I just had for lunch.  Seriously.  I’m getting really passionate again about my lunch but it’s completely valid. 

Mussels are so good and easy to make.  The strangest thing is trying to guard their little lives so much from store to home, then confirm that they’re all healthy and thriving, only to quickly extinguish those little lives in a steaming pot.  I would be kind of sad about it if they weren’t so extravagantly delicious. 

I have been craving mussels and a  smattering of left over ingredients from the week came together very quickly to make an absolutely glorious broth that obviously gets me very excited.  A pinch of saffron and the addition of a tiny anchovy filet (both pantry staples in my house) added an extra layer of flavor to ingredients that are already outstanding.   Imagine this bite: one tender little mussel swimming in a fragrant broth that tastes of wine and lemon and garlic and fresh parsley and summer with a hint of thyme and saffron.  I realize that I sound a bit over dramatic sometimes when I talk about some of these things, but when food tastes this good it makes me want write poetry.  And love letters.  Food love letters, if you will. 

We ate these mussels with some toasted slices of french baguette, rubbed with a clove of raw garlic and drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper.  If you haven’t eaten bread this way, you are missing out on one of life’s great and simple pleasures.   

The recipe below serves two and the entire meal took about twenty minutes to prepare; there really isn’t any excuse for you to not share in this experience with me.  I want everyone to experience these little tastes of the good life – together.  Let’s start with these mussels. 

tender mussels in fragrant wine broth

  • a pound and a half of mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary
  • a cup and a half of white wine
  • three cloves of garlic, chopped
  • a quarter of an onion or a couple of shallots, chopped
  • a generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • four or five sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
  • half of a lemon (meyer is best)
  • one little anchovy fillet
  • a pinch of saffron (maybe five or six small threads)
  • one tbsp of butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • about one tsp of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. add the saffron to the wine and let soak while you begin cooking
  2. heat the butter and olive oil in an appropriately sized sauce pan over medium heat, and add the chopped onions, salt and pepper and stir frequently for about two minutes
  3. add the garlic, anchovy and thyme and cook for a minute or two more, stirring frequently
  4. add the wine (with saffron) and about two thirds of the fresh parsley and bring to a boil
  5. gently add the mussels, cover and reduce to medium, cooking for six to seven minutes (all mussels should be open – discard any that do not open)
  6. ladle the mussels and plenty of the broth into wide bowls and garnish with the rest of the fresh parsley; serve with crusty garlic bread

All mussels should be scrubbed and inspected before cooking; discard any mussels that have cracked or broken shells.  If a mussel is open, gently tap it on the shell; if it doesn’t close it should also be discarded. 

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see the foamy white goodness on the salmon?  that's hot butter

see the foamy white goodness on the salmon? that's hot butter

I think I may have mentioned this already, but salmon isn’t really my favorite fish.  It’s just so salmony.  So it’s funny that we eat it about once a week in our house.  Clarification: I don’t care for it as much when other people fix it, I love it when I prepare it myself.  Is that snooty?

The thing about salmon is that it’s so affordable and a cinch to prepare, extremely good for your body and a very sustainable fish.  All of these things appeal to my sensibilities.  Also, I have found some ways to make salmon taste creamy, not salmony. 

Imagine a plumpy, flaky, juicy little piece of pink fish, covered in a delicious blackened crust – onions, garlic, paprika and cayenne all come together to create a smoky depth of flavor – a little lemon and thyme add brightness and keep things interesting.  Imagine drizzling a little bit of browned butter on the fish – it sizzles on the crust – buttery magic is happening.  Now imagine yourself taking the perfect bite of creamy fish – the crunch of the crust is so toothsome – the soft richness of the salmon is a perfect contrast.  I mean really, imagine this.  You too can be so passionately dramatic about a fish that you’re not even sure you like.  Indeed, that is how spectacular this recipe is.  I’m getting worked up just thinking about it (even with a belly full of the best homemade pizza that has come from my kitchen to date)…    

Furthering the greatness of this dish is the fact that I can throw it on my indoor grill with some asparagus and call it a night.  Jon and I split a large, skinned filet between the two of us but you could get wild and have an entire filet to yourself – just increase the amount of the spice mixture.  Speaking of wild, Sockeye and other non-farmed varieties of salmon are abundantly available right now – there are no excuses to not to have a euphoric salmon experience this week.

blackened salmon with a brown butter drizzle       

  • one large, skinned salmon filet cut in half
  • two tbsp of onion (red, white, yellow – use what you’ve got), finely minced
  • two cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • a heaping tsp of paprika, maybe a little more
  • a heaping tsp of dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper, or more if you like heat
  • 1/4 tsp of smoked pimenton or smoked paprika (if you don’t have this on hand just omit it – it’s just a bonus)
  • a very generous pinch of kosher salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • a very generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, probably a few tbsps
  • half of a lemon
  • a tbsp or so of butter
  1. combine the onion, garlic, cayenne, paprika, thyme, salt, pepper and lemon in a small bowl and add enough olive oil to form a nice wet paste (just for fun, take a big whiff of the mix – it will be aromatic and wonderful)
  2. cover one side of each piece of salmon with some of the spice mixture, and place spiced side down onto a well oiled grill pan or skillet on medium heat
  3. add the remaining spice mixture to the exposed side of the salmon
  4. cook the salmon for three to four minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the filet (be gentle when you’re turning the fish over so that the crust stays with the fish)
  5. in the last few minutes of cook time, melt some butter over medium heat, swirling gently until is begins to brown
  6. plate the salmon and drizzle the hot butter immediately over each fillet – serve with another squeeze of lemon and thank God for the privilege of food and taste buds

Do you want more salmon?  How about favorite spring salmon on peas with lemon brodetto or salmon with citrus pesto? Mmmmm….

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bright, crispy, buttery salmon

famous salmon

Does it matter that it’s April and it snowed this week in Atlanta?  No.  Is that going to keep me from craving the flavors and brightness of Spring?  No.  I persevere.  I pray for warm weather.  I eat springy food.  Actually, I eat this dish year round because it is so mind-blowingly delicious; however, the flavors are delightfully green and fresh and therefore appropriate for Spring.  In fact, this dish is what turned me on to salmon.  I’ve never really loved the fish; the strong flavor was not appealing to me.  Providence and this recipe lured me into trying it in my own kitchen.  What a wonderful day that was.  Now we eat salmon at least once a week in varied marvelous preparations that are also gorgeous and amazing. 

These flavors are astounding; you can’t imagine them until you’ve tasted for yourself.  The brightness of the peas with a little mint and garlic and the velvety, lemony brodetto sauce make the salmon taste like butter.  Fresh – beautiful – delicious.  I love to let the salmon get a crispy crust on the outside – so, so good.  This dish is a favorite with my husband and the regulars in our home; the sight of green peas evokes a silent hush and then a whispered question – “are we having the one with the peas?”  Oh, yes.  That’s the one. 

This recipe is from Giada DeLaurentis (bless her).  It serves four.  I love to serve it with roasted or grilled asparagus or squash and zucchini.  Please get in the kitchen and cook it immediately so that your world can be changed.

favorite salmon on peas with lemon brodetto

for the lemon brodetto:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • the juice of two lemons (meyer lemons if you have them)
  • the zest of one lemon
  • 2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped

for the pea puree:

  • 2 cups of frozen petite peas, thawed (do NOT cook – will alter the flavor of this dish)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic
  • kosher salt to taste (at least 1/2 tsp)
  • freshly ground black pepper (at least 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (no cheating with the fake stuff – a good wedge of fresh parmesan cheese is one of the best kitchen staples anyway)

salmon:

  • 4 fresh salmon filets, skinned (your butcher can skin the salmon for you)
  1. start the brodetto by warming the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat – add in the shallots and sautee until tender but not browned (7 minutes or less)
  2. add the lemon juice, zest and broth – bring to a simmer and keep warm, covered over low heat
  3. next, put thawed peas, 1/4 cup mint leaves, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor, and pulse until well “chopped” and combined
  4. then, slowly pour the 1/2 cup of olive oil into the food processor while simultaneously pulsing to combine
  5. scoop the puree into a bowl and mix in the parmesan (taste it this point to test for salt) – set aside
  6. heat a grill plan or skillet over medium with some olive oil – season your salmon filets with some salt and pepper and put in the hot pan
  7. cook salmon about 3 to 4 minutes per side depending on thickness, only turning once (this will allow for a lovely brown crust to form)
  8. meanwhile, mix the remaining mint into the brodetto, saving a little bit to garnish the salmon
  9. serve with a few spoonfuls of brodetto on the plate, topped with a generous mound of pea puree, with the salmon crowning the top – sprinkle a little fresh mint, serve and become famous

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john alma’s trout almandine

My post on sole almandine reminded my mother that I have been anxiously awaiting my grandmother’s recipe for trout almandine.  This is a fabulous dish, and I believe that trout is abundant in the markets right now.

I remember thoroughly enjoying the French/Creole dishes prepared by John Alma (my grandmother on my father’s side); smothered quail at Christmas, the richest French onion soup, spicy gumbo and jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, and my favorite, trout almandine…  They were delicious – the amount of butter prolific.  These were pretty fancy dishes coming from a woman who claimed she ate black-eyed peas every day of her childhood.  My mother also cooked many recipes that came from John Alma and the wholly unique culinary culture that emanates from New Orleans and the Delta South.  The smell of flour and oil browning in a pan instantly transports me to a time when I had to stand on my tip toes to peek at the roux that one of these talented women was carefully stirring.

I was reminded of the extensive culinary diversity of New Orleans during a recent visit.  The city is rich with the most vibrant and ostentatious food, overflowing with accidental fusion cuisine.  France, Spain, Italy, Haiti, the West Indies – all stake a claim to the food that Louisiana is famous for.  The bizarre landscape of this swampy state provides some interesting star players for the main course; turtles, frogs, squirrels, fish of every size shape and color…nothing is safe.  Put all of this together and you have some spicy, steamy, intense food.  No worries.  You can balance the savory with the sweet; my personal preference being a hot, fluffy biscuit doused in cane molasses, or a sticky bread pudding spiked with rum or bourbon.  Only in Louisiana can you have food that is at the same time elegant and wacky.

It is only through cooking that I continue to discover the subtle influence my early years in Louisiana have on the dishes I now prepare.  Believe it or not, I can clearly remember sucking down crawfish, raw oysters, beignets and cafe au lait from my highchair.  Some would scoff at a three year old eating raw oysters and drinking coffee from a sippy cup.  Not me!  I couldn’t be more grateful for my dive head first into some serious food.  I am not only thankful for being exposed to something other that fish sticks and mac and cheese, but also for having recipes that have been prepared by at least two generations of women in my family.  Thankfully, I have fabulous cooks on both sides of the family.  I’ve also had the very good fortune of living in three states with completely different styles of cuisine; California, Texas and Louisiana.  Even as I am writing, I am flooded with the best memories of eating or watching my mother, grandmother or aunt fixing something delicious.  These memories are still so near and close to my heart that they actually have a fragrance – the image of the food and hustle bustle in the kitchen flawlessly clear in my mind’s eye.  

But back to the topic at hand, which is the most delicious and delicate trout you will ever eat.  My mom expertly prepared the freshest trout – typically just caught from Lake Ponchartrain by my proud father and his best buddy.  Even cooked from the tiny kitchen of a Residence Inn, my mom could turn out some trout that tasted as if was prepared by the most accomplished chef in the finest kitchen.  It was one of my absolute favorites and I could never get enough of it.

Below is John Alma’s recipe with a few of my mother’s minor alterations, posted exactly as provided to me.  Mom has never prepared this dish with stream trout; only the fat, speckled trout from Lake Ponchartrain.  No matter; you can always imagine that your trout was swimming in that vast Louisiana lake mere hours ago.  A few other notes from my mother:  “There is nothing low calorie, fat or carb about this recipe! Do not modify, it alters the soul of this dish! Just enjoy its buttery deliciousness without guilt…”

I couldn’t agree more. 

john alma’s trout almandine

  • 6 mediums size trout, filleted (you can substitute redfish fillets if trout is unavailable) 
  • 1 tsp. season salt (I use Nature’s Seasons, it is very well balanced and doesn’t overwhelm)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground Savory
  • 1/4 tsp. ground Turmeric
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 tsp ground Mace
  • 1 pack (2 1/2 oz.) slivered blanched almonds
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
  • thin lemon slices for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place baking sheet or serving platter in oven to prewarm.
  2. Melt butter in sauté pan until foam subsides and it barely starts to brown. NOTE: Watch carefully that butter doesn’t burn. If butter has very dark granular specks, it has burned!  Throw it away, clean pan, and start again.
  3. Roll freshly washed (slightly patted dry) trout fillets in mix of season salt, savory, turmeric and flour. Only flour as many as will fit in your sauté pan at one time.
  4. Brown fillet in butter on both sides (about 2 minutes per side, depending on size of fillet). Place cooked fillets on warming dish or baking sheet in oven as they finish. Place skin side down if skin is still on fillet, they look prettier that way. Place a piece of loose foil over warming dish of fish to preserve moistness if cooking a lot of fillets.
  5. Cook remaining fillets in batches until all are on warming dish.
  6. Add additional butter to sauté pan if needed for sauce. Turn heat to low and melt butter and add mace and almonds. Stir constantly and lightly sauté almonds. They will burn easily if left unattended. Turn off heat and stir in lemon juice and parsley.
  7. Keep fillets on warming dish or place fillets on warmed serving plate, or individual plates. Place thin lemon slices on fillets. Spoon sauce over fish, any remaining sauce may be placed on the table in a bowl for spooning on fish or side dishes.

More of mom’s notes:

The flavor of this dish is very delicate and relies on the turmeric, savory and mace with a browned butter foundation. I have tried to use oil and low fat substitutes for all or part of the butter and it didn’t work, the taste was not the same.

 

I have never cooked this with freshwater stream trout (rainbow, golden, etc.), only with pretty big trout from Lake Ponchartrain. I think that the trout down there are speckled trout and the fillets were about 1/2 lb. each.

 

I would serve this with a mild flavored spring vegetable such as fresh sautéed green beans. A strong flavored vegetable such as broccoli will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish and sauce. Wild and Basmati mixed rice, Jasmine rice or my favorite, Konriko wild pecan rice are really good with the fish. 

 

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