Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Fish Story

From sea to shining sea, our world’s waterways are teeming with fish, and it’s a good thing when you ponder the recommendation that everyone consumes three servings of fish per week, that’s a lot of fish in our plates!

The reason for this mass consumption of fish is simple: fish is heart healthy.  One serving of fish, even the fattier specimens, contains less cholesterol than one serving of red meat.  To boot, fatty fish including salmon and tuna are loaded with Omega3 fatty acids.  These fats are your friends, going to battle against harmful cholesterol in your body and also contributing their fair share of work in the antioxidant category.  Eating more fish is a win-win … well, except for the fish whose destiny is a date with your dinner plate.

There are numerous ways to enjoy fish.  Whether pan-fried, roasted, baked, poached, grilled or broiled, a fish fillet or steak can stand in as a starring entrée of any dinner, regardless of the menu’s culinary ethnicity.  In the French style Nicoise salad platter, the starring grilled tuna steak is surrounded by a variety of costars such as green beans, new potatoes, tomatoes, olives and hard-boiled eggs.  This is one of my personal summertime favorites.  When it comes to Asian appreciation, I must regularly frequent a Japanese eatery to feast on sushi and sashimi.  There is something blissfully carnal about savoring a cold, raw, deeply colored bite-sized slab of raw salmon or yellow fin tuna as it tantalizes the warm palate.  Okay, I’ll admit it.  If I’m preparing salmon or tuna at home for the grill or roasting pan, I have been known to slice off one of those bite-sized slivers for my personal enjoyment.  Classic French sole meuniere is among my home cooking repertoire, as is panko crusted salmon and seafood chowder.  Mexican fish tacos are all the rage these days, and Brian has perfected his recipe for them.  One of the most natural pairing of flavors is that of tuna and avocado, as with the tuna tartar that I made for a holiday appetizer.  Many Asian restaurants offer plates of alternating thin slices of tuna and avocado served atop a bed of seaweed salad.

For those who shy away from fish because they have an aversion to strong, fishy flavors, you can still get in your weekly quota of good health.  Stick with whiter fish varieties and season them with flavors that you do enjoy.  The combination of milder fish that is smothered with the flavors of tomato sauce, salsa, pesto or chili seasonings will make the meal enjoyable to your palate.

Be sure to make friends with your fishmonger; become a regular customer and they will sway you from fish that’s less than fresh, debone your fish and toss an extra shrimp or two on the pile for your cat.  I am fortunate to have a local fish market where the employees all know me and they have been in business for many, many years.  Of course, it helps that I am also fortunate to live on Long Island.  Surrounded by water, fish here is plentiful.  Over the next month, Long Islanders will be returning their boats to the water for the season.  Many of these boaters are avid fishermen who take to the ocean, the sound, the bays and the inlets in pursuit of our abundant fish, mollusks and crustaceans.  For the zoologically challenged, lobsters and shrimp comprise the crustaceans and clams, mussels, oysters and scallops fall into your mollusk category.

Cooking fish is easy and quick, so much so that is can easily be considered a home cooked fast food item.  Tuna steaks grill for about four minutes per side.  That’s eight minutes for my fellow math-challenged friends.  A salmon fillet roasts for twenty minutes in a 450-degree oven.  Pan-frying a fish requires just two minutes of your time per side.  As for the simplicity, always have some homemade sauces or jars of good salsa on hand.  A jar of salsa can be freshened up by stirring in a chopped tomato, some chopped fresh cilantro and a chopped fruit such as a mango, peach or pineapple.  Pour the salsa over a salmon fillet in a roasting pan and pop it into the oven.  One of my favorite dinner-in-a-hurry options is to generously smear homemade pesto over a fillet of Chilean sea bass and roast that.  It’s so simple and yet so flavorful.  To pan-fry sole, scrod, red snapper or other thin fish fillet, mix up a seasoned flour with flour, salt, pepper and a spice or two of your choice.  Dredge the fillets into the flour and then lay them in the hot olive oil or butter in a frying pan.  The fish will become golden brown and slightly crusty.
Are you ready to kick off your healthy dose of fish consumption?  This fish story has a happy and unexaggerated ending of three tasty ways to enjoy these creatures of the sea.  From the ocean waters to your table, enjoy!

Panko-Crusted Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1 pound salmon filet
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  Place the salmon fillet, skin side down, on a baking sheet or in a shallow roasting pan.  In a mixing bowl, gently mix the panko, pepper, salt, garlic, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes and lemon zest until everything is combined.  Cover the entire surface of the salmon with the panko mixture.  Very lightly drizzle olive oil over the top.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes and serve.  Serves two.
Serving suggestion: roast asparagus in the oven at the same time.  After grating the lemon zest for the above panko mixture, squeeze the juice from the lemon into a glass measuring cup.  Whisk in an equal amount of olive oil or walnut oil, add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and then pour the mixture over the asparagus before roasting.  Why not roast the entire meal in that oven?  Start roasting a pan of new potatoes fifteen minutes before adding the salmon and asparagus into the oven.  A sauvignon blanc would be ideal to sip with this dinner.

Wasabi-crusted Tuna Steak
2 tuna steaks
1 cup dried wasabi peas
½ teaspoon black sesame seeds
½ teaspoon white sesame seeds
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

Preheat oven to 450-degrees.  Place the wasabi peas in a food processor and process until coarsely ground.  Set aside.  Place the sesame seeds in a frying pan and toast over medium heat until the white seeds start to turn golden.  Remove from heat and transfer the toasted seeds to a glass measuring cup.  Add the ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil to the cup and set aside.  Place the tuna steaks in a baking pan.  Firmly press the ground wasabi peas into the tuna so that they adhere, covering the entire surface.  Whisk the ingredients in the measuring cup thoroughly until combined, and then lightly drizzle the mixture evenly over the tuna steaks.  Place the tuna in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the scallions and serve.  Serves two.
Serving suggestions: brown rice, lightly sautéed snow peas and a good craft beer.

Fish Tacos
1 pound firm white fish such as scrod, monkfish or halibut
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, cut into matchstick strips
1 small green bell pepper, cut into matchstick strips
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoon lime juice
3 teaspoons chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
Flour tortillas
Sour cream
Tomato salsa

Cut the fish into small bite-sized chunks.  Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Stir-fry the peppers and onions until the onions are translucent and the peppers are crisp tender.  Add the garlic and sauté for another minute.  Stir in the fish, lime juice, cilantro, cumin and chili powder.  Cook and stir until everything is combined and the fish is opaque and cooked through.   Serve with flour tortillas for filling, along with sour cream and salsa for condiments. Serves two.
Serving suggestions: accompany with margaritas and guacamole dip with tortilla chips.  For a salad idea, try tossing tomato wedges with thinly sliced red onion, avocado wedges and diced jicama.

Food For Thought
Long Island’s waters are home to a diverse variety of fish and seafood, and fisherman have put in years of laborious work aboard their fishing vessels.  From Little Neck clams to Blue Point oysters, our fishing territory is also abundant with mussels, crabs, lobsters, tuna, striped bass, bluefish, flounder, cod and much, much more.  Long Islanders know seafood, perhaps better than anyone else in the continental U.S.  Chefs in restaurants from Manhattan to Greenport, and everyplace in between, have been experimenting with new recipes and conjuring up some amazing presentations for these jewels of the sea.  Visit one of the numerous seafood restaurants on your next dinner outing and savor one of your three weekly servings of fish.  Try the Lobster Roll North in Baiting Hollow, the Seafood Barge in Southold, the Sea Basin in Rocky Point, the Soundview in Greenport or Land and Sea in Mount Sinai for my favorite picks.  Land and Sea also has a complete fish market, so be sure to go home with some fish to cook up your second serving for the week.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring Has Sprung Across the Land and In Our Kitchens

After record chilly temperatures in March, April has ushered in record highs this week as spring fights is way past last winter’s lingering oppression.  Yesterday saw 83 degrees here on Long Island and a close friend of mine reported 87 degrees in Virginia today.  Everyone sought an excuse to welcome the change, from swapping out jeans for shorts to popping open the moon roofs to rushing jubilantly to the home centers to contemplate garden plans.  While I was spurned to pull out short sleeves and open the windows to let the spring breezes drift through my home, my thoughts naturally also turn to the light and colorful fare of warmer days ahead.  How are you celebrating the arrival of spring weather? 

Many households opted to take their meals out on the deck for the first time after being sequestered in their homes for months by old man winter.  Leaving the heavy, multiple course meals behind, it can be truly relaxing to bring only a one-dish meal in a bowl and a glass of your favorite libation outdoors and dining with the sun’s rays basking on your face and gentle springtime breezes brushing past your shoulders.  There is something about spring air that invigorates us all and reenergizes us after our long winter doldrums. 

Some folks fired up their grills for the season’s premier barbecue, even if evening temperatures dipped enough to prompt having dessert around the patio fire pit.  As I browse recipes from summers past and become reacquainted with the vast array of incredible salads to accompany all of Brian’s grilling projects, I begin to ponder which one I’ll kick off the barbecue season with.    

Speaking of dessert, others indulged in a preview of summer’s favorite: ice cream.  Whether stocking up on Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey or visiting a local ice cream parlor for a sundae with all of the trimmings, everyone looks forward to dipping their spoon into the creamy sweet treat.

With baseball season underway and our local beaches and farm stands soon to be bustling with summer activity, warm weather dining generally becomes less complicated.  The fare can be prepared as simply or as complex as you like, depending on whether you’re hosting a weekend barbecue for friends or choose instead to stay an extra hour or two on the beach.  Steaks, sausages, hot dogs, burgers, fish, seafood, chicken, duck, ribs and pork chops can all be grilled with simple marinades or a brush of barbecue sauce.  Even a pizza can be created on the grill.  Most vegetables can be grilled as well with little more than a coating of seasoned oil.  Best of all, anything at all can star in a salad bowl, from vegetables, greens, beans, pasta, olives, cheeses, eggs, meats, chicken, duck and shellfish.  Anything goes with a salad, so it’s so easy to conjure up your own creation.

The best quality about cooking in the summer is the freshness of the produce.  Whether you boast a green thumb and grow a cornucopia of bounty in your backyard garden plot or you let your local farmers do all of the work, local vegetables and fruits offer a freshness and color that cannot be matched by supermarket specimens.  My annual anticipation has commenced as I count down the weeks until my local farm stand reopens for business to fill up my shopping basket.

In the meantime, I did create a flavorful one-dish meal this week.  I created a panzanella salad, which is an Italian bread salad traditionally made by Italian peasants to utilize day old bread and ripened tomatoes.  I took it a step further and added some protein to transform this colorful dish into a main dish salad sensation.  All that was needed besides the serving bowl and our plates and forks was a bottle of wine and the glasses.

Main Dish Panzanella Salad

1 large loaf of Italian bread or ciabatta
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons premium quality balsamic vinegar
Black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
3 ripe vine tomatoes, coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, then sliced crosswise
½ large red onion, chopped
¼ pound pitted kalamata olives
10 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 pound mini balls of fresh mozzarella (boccaccini)
½ pound imported prosciutto de Parma

Cut the loaf of bread in half.  Standing each half on its cut end, slice off the thin outer crust on all sides  (you can set these aside to turn into breadcrumbs in the food processor for another use).  Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes.  Heat four tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the cubes of bread and sprinkle generously with salt.  Toss and toast the bread until all sides are golden brown and crispy.  Remove from heat and set aside.
Whisk together the nine tablespoons olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, Italian seasoning, ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
In an extra large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion, basil, olives, mozzarella and the dressing.  Toss in the bread and toss well to mix.  Transfer to a large serving bowl.  Roll up each slice of prosciutto so that each roll looks like a cigar, and arrange the rolls decoratively (such as the appearance of spokes on a wheel) on top of the salad.  Serves 3.

*Note: you can substitute any Italian cold cut of your choice, such as capicola, salami, mortadella or ham cappy.

Food for Thought
In just a few more weeks, local farm stands will offer the first spring harvest’s culinary gems.  Watch for fresh spinach, strawberries and asparagus. 

Enjoy spinach as the palette of a salad studded with bacon, hard-boiled eggs, bell peppers, kalamata olives and sliced white mushrooms.

Try whipping a container of mascarpone cheese with ¼ cup of heavy cream, ½ teaspoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of sugar and then serving dollops of this mixture over bowls of halved strawberries.  Read more about strawberries and also try a recipe for a salad that showcases a combination of both spinach and strawberries.

After lobbing off the woody end of the asparagus, lay the spears in a single layer across a baking sheet.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast the asparagus in the oven at 450-degrees for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk together 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon-infused white balsamic vinegar.  Transfer the cooked asparagus to a serving dish, drizzle the vinegar mixture over them, season with additional salt and pepper as needed and sprinkle with some finely chopped fresh parsley.