Archive for the ‘Seafood’ Category

Garides Saganaki with Fennel

March 31, 2010

Ingredients: shrimp, tomato, fennel, breadcrumbs, feta, absinthe, fish stock, onion, garlic, chive, oregano, parsley, mint, bay leaf, sugar, olive oil, butter, black pepper, salt.

Served with: basmati rice.

I’d been wanting to try a dish with stewed fennel and tomato, as I happen to like fennel but don’t have a single “go-to” recipe for it. Part of the problem is that my mom never cooked with fennel, so its distinctive licorice flavor is not “intuitive” to me. What I mean is that I have to think pretty hard when I’m planning a fennel dish, because I can’t fall back on memories of what works and what doesn’t.

What I decided to make was a variation/bastardization of the Greek dish garides saganaki, which is basically jumbo shrimp in herby tomato sauce, topped with feta cheese and broiled. I figured it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to work some fennel into the tomato stew. I was also excited to accent the dish with flambéed absinthe (an analogue to the anise-flavored Greek liqueur ouzo).

I started by sautéing sliced fennel and onion in olive oil, then adding some crushed garlic and a bay leaf before emptying in a can of whole peeled tomatoes (plus a pinch of sugar to counteract the acidity). For some reason, whole tomatoes give me better results than diced, crushed, or puréed tomatoes, so that’s what I use exclusively.

While the tomatoes stewed, I prepped my tiger shrimp and tossed the shells into a pan with some butter, planning to rescue their flavor before discarding them. When the shells became pink, I added some fish stock, plus a splash of absinthe (the good stuff, not that neon green crap). Then, like a pro, I held a lighter to the pan to burn off the alcohol and develop the liqueur’s flavor. I also singed the hair off the back of my right hand. It was all on purpose, and it was way cool. I then strained the shrimp broth and added it to the tomato and fennel stew. I also removed the bay leaf, and added some oregano and parsley (which I like to postpone as long as possible, to preserve their flavor).

Next to prepare was the topping. I crumbled a block of feta into a bowl, and mixed in a handful of prepared breadcrumbs, plus some larger cubes from a slice of stale bread. I seasoned this mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, mint, and fresh chives, plus a tablespoon of olive oil.

I mixed the raw shrimp into the tomato & fennel, then poured it into a casserole and sprinkled the breadcrumb & feta on top. The dish was complete after about 10 minutes in the oven. I couldn’t wait to dig in!

Overall, this was very tasty. The tomatoes were warm and comforting, the shrimp tender and sweet-salty, the breadcrumbs crunchy and cheesy. I also loved the licorice accent from the fennel and absinthe, which kept making me think of Italian sausage. I would use twice as much feta next time though, and I’d skip the tiny breadcrumbs (the large ones were great) because they absorbed too much of the broth.


Stuffed Bitter Melon

March 25, 2010

Ingredients: bitter melon, shrimp, scallop, crimini mushroom, water chestnut, rice flour, cornstarch, palm sugar, egg, soybean paste, scallion, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, peanut oil.

Served with: white rice.

When I brought this wrinkly green bitter melon home with me, I was under the impression it was a winter melon — oops. I’d had no experience with either variety, other than passively learning of their existence via Iron Chef (which is where all this curiosity for Asian vegetables comes from). No matter; I went digging for bitter melon recipes, and saw that several involved stuffing the fruit with minced pork. I liked this idea of an encased meatball, so I decided to try a similar approach using seafood.

Let’s get the big question out of the way first. How bitter was it? I dared not taste the melon before slicing, hollowing out, and parboiling it. Even afterward, the first nibble led me to physically recoil. It was like licking aspirin. Clearly, more boiling was required (or perhaps some other technique). I’m still not sure I boiled it enough in the end.

While preparing the bitter melon slices, I created the meatball filling with a base of minced raw shrimp and scallop. I don’t own a food processor, so I did this by hand. While I didn’t really mind the extra work (my Shun santoku knife is a joy to use), I must admit that the texture of the minced scallop never really approached the mousse consistency I was looking for. The shrimp moussified nicely, at least.

To this mixture I added diced crimini mushrooms, diced water chestnuts, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice flour, an egg, sesame oil, a splash of Shaoxing rice wine, and plenty of soybean paste (which is great for adding soy flavor without liquid). I was improvising here, and didn’t exactly want to sample the raw mince, so I fried a small patty of it and adjusted the seasonings accordingly. In hindsight, I would have used less soybean paste and compensated with plain salt, so as not to cover up the lovely sweetness of the seafood.

After letting the hollow melon chunks cool a bit, I packed them full and pan-fried them for a couple minutes in peanut oil. I knew this wouldn’t be enough to thoroughly cook the filling, so I also let them steam for another 10 minutes using a pot and colander. A bamboo steamer would have been ideal, but I don’t own one.

As a finishing touch, I prepared a quick Chinese glaze of soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, sesame oil, and cornstarch. I dabbed this on top of each bitter melon section, and served them with white rice. As I said before, I’m not sure I cooked the melon long enough, as it was unpleasantly bitter (read: why-would-anyone-eat-this-twice bitter). The texture was quite nice though, firm and fleshy. Couple that with its undeniably cool shape, and I’m already thinking about working with bitter melon again someday.

Rainbow Trout Coulibiac

March 21, 2010

Ingredients: rainbow trout, puff pastry dough, flour, egg, basmati rice, wild rice, button mushroom, chanterelle mushroom, porcini mushroom, onion, parsley, butter, white wine, black pepper, salt.

Served with: cold dill sauce (crème fraîche, dill, black pepper, salt).

Long story short — this took me forever to make and was hardly worth the effort. Since I don’t often write about failures, one might get the impression that everything I cook is amazing. Not true. What usually happens is that I try again, then post when I get it right. In this case, though, I don’t intend to try again.

It all started with an episode of Dinner Impossible. Robert Irvine, in his quest to provide food for several hundred indiscriminately-palated people, wraps an entire side of salmon (plus some other random ingredients) in puff pastry and calls it coulibiac. I’d never heard that term before, so I fumbled around the Internet looking for answers.

Coulibiac is a French interpretation of the traditional Russian kulebyáka (“fish pie”), and is meant to be served at a banquet or other special occasion. Within a brioche or puff pastry shell are layers of salmon, wild rice, duxelles (sautéed mushroom mince), hard-boiled egg, and herbs. Recipes vary, but most recommend serving the slices of pie with either beurre blanc (a tangy butter sauce) or dilled sour cream. It sounded like a worthwhile experiment.

I began the project one day early by poaching 2 whole rainbow trout (which is in the salmon family, but less fatty). I had actually wanted to do something like this for a while, as a means to replenish my supply of fish stock (which I keep frozen in ice cube form). To prepare the stock/poaching liquid, I combined onion, leek, garlic, fennel, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, and celeriac in a stock pot with plenty of water and brought it to boil. Then I turned down the heat and added bay leaf, parsley, a couple black peppercorns, star anise, salt, and the 2 cleaned trout. After a few minutes of gentle simmering, the fish was perfectly poached. I carefully separated flesh from bone, returning the latter to the pot so as to continue extracting gelatin and flavor. After another 20 minutes, I strained the liquid and let it reduce a bit further before storing it away for future recipes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t very happy with the stock. It was overwhelmingly “rooty.” I will use proportionally more leeks and onions next time, and perhaps a different fish. On the plus side, the star anise was a nice touch.

Moving on, I prepared 4 hard-boiled eggs and chopped them for later. I also prepared some basmati and wild rice, cooked separately (using some of the fish stock) and then mixed together. It was a hassle, but wild rice takes much longer to soften than regular rice, and I didn’t want to risk ruining the combined texture by having one be under- or overcooked.

Next to prepare were the mushrooms. I used a blend of 3 varieties: fresh button mushrooms, canned chanterelles, and dried porcinis. I soaked the porcinis, rinsed the chanterelles, and diced everything up finely (along with half an onion). I sautéed this mince in plenty of butter on low heat, using a splash of white wine here and there to keep it from drying out. I seasoned the duxelles with salt, pepper, and parsley.

With everything ready to assemble, I began to unwrap the puff pastry. This is not something I’ve ever done before, and it showed. My nice sheets of dough became sad torn lumps on the counter. As I reached for the rolling pin and flour, I wondered resentfully why I’d chosen to buy the dough pre-made, or why I ever bother to bake at all.

In a feat of tireless ambition, I managed to get the damn pie together. My energy level was certainly waning as I carefully spread layers of rice, mushrooms, fish, eggs, and more rice, followed by a top layer of puff pastry and egg wash. In a giggling mockery of anyone who has ever put effort into pie crust latticework, I “decorated” the coulibiac with random strips of unused dough, in no discernable pattern. Regardless, it looked pretty awesome coming out of the oven.

Dinner was a letdown on the plate, though. I really did try to infuse flavor into each component of the coulibiac, but it simply tasted flat and lifeless. I was bored eating it. Did I do something wrong? Why is this considered “a classic?” I think I would have enjoyed the dish with a real beurre blanc sauce on the side, or with a more assertive fish instead of the trout. Either way, I was not impressed or inspired. Mostly I was exhausted.

Okra & Shrimp Tempura

March 12, 2010

Ingredients: shrimp, okra, tempura batter mix, flour, peanut oil, salt.

The last time I cooked with okra was about 3 years ago. I made a huge batch of gumbo, into which I incorporated half a bag of frozen okra. That was some delicious gumbo… except for the okra. I liked its flavor well enough (reminiscent of roasted green pepper and eggplant), but I couldn’t get past the squishy/slimy consistency. It was totally gross. I hate wasting food though, so I attempted to bread & fry the remaining frozen okra, with no less unappealing results. [Was that a triple negative? I’ll leave it; seems appropriate.]

Now, I take some pride in my palate. Very few culinary ingredients turn me off, and I like it that way. But I couldn’t lie to myself: okra was not something I ever wanted to put past my lips again.

Then I saw this post for Indian stir-fried okra. It looked great (as do all of Sebastian’s posts), but what really piqued my interest was his tale of plucking fresh okra pods and snacking on them “like french fries.” Wow! That is some seriously appealing imagery. I had no idea that okra could be eaten raw, or that it could somehow not be slimy.

I have since looked into de-sliming technique, and I present to you a few pointers:

  1. Slicing releases the slime, so do as little of that as possible. Use a sharp knife to minimize bruising.
  2. Slime runs vertically through the pod, so horizontal slices are guaranteed to release all of it. Try julienning the okra instead, or leaving it whole.
  3. The longer you cook okra, the more slime will emerge.
  4. Slime is water-soluble, so avoid steaming or stewing the okra, unless you are also using plenty of acid (such as tomato or vinegar) to break it down.
  5. Conversely, frying or stir-frying in oil prevents the slime from leaching out.

In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense that frozen okra would lead to excessive slime. Freezing any vegetable leads to cell wall damage from ice crystals. In the case of okra, that means free-flowing slime. So, avoid frozen okra for everything but stewed dishes.

Soon after regaining the desire to consume okra, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a lovely unmarked package of fresh, firm okra at a Chinese market. I dove right in. The raw okra was indeed addictive, crisp and with a hollow little *snap* when bitten into. The seeds did have a slight raw-flour aftertaste, but this was easily covered up with a touch of mayonnaise (or any other salad dressing/dip).

But what to cook? I wanted to see how far I could push the slime prevention, and eventually settled on tempura: no slicing, no water, minimal cooking time. Plus, I still had french fries on the brain after reading that post over at INJI. As you can see, I also chose to batter fry some big juicy tiger shrimp along with the okra. I used a box mix, so there’s not much to report as far as preparation goes.

The tempura was crunchy and savory, heavier than anticipated but still (predictably) delicious. The okra was fleshy, not slimy. This felt like a huge victory, for which I credit the opportunity to work with fresh okra. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it in the future, and I recommend you do the same!

Scallops, Water Spinach, Spaetzle

February 26, 2010

Ingredients: scallops, Chinese water spinach, bamboo, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing rice wine, peanut oil, sesame oil, ghee, cornstarch, black pepper, salt.
Served with: spaetzle.

I came back from a recent trip to Malmö with a bunch of new things to try. At the top of the list was a bag of Chinese water spinach. I’d grabbed it from an Asian market without any idea what it was; it just looked fresh and healthy. I highly recommend this tactic as a way to learn about new fruits and vegetables.

[Side note: our new fruit of choice, the nashi pear, is a result of one such blind-purchase experiment. They’re absolutely delicious, crisp like an apple but with subtle pear flavor and a hint of bubblegum. That’s right, they taste like bubblegum. Awesome.]

So what is water spinach?* It’s a tall flowering marsh plant with skinny hollow stalks and long flat leaves, and it is completely unrelated to regular spinach (except in terms of taste and texture). You don’t need to know any of this if you’re American, though. The USDA classifies Ipomoea aquatica as a “Noxious Weed” and prohibits its cultivation, sale, or possession. Oh, there’s no health risk to eating water spinach (after all, it is a popular crop in China and most of Southeast Asia). The bad rap comes from its tendency to aggressively multiply and crowd out other plant species; it’s noxious to the environment.

Come on, American plants. Is that how you deal with a bully? Whine to the USDA?

I decided to make a simple Chinese stir-fry with the water spinach, and to serve it as an accompaniment to seared scallops. [I’ve written about how to properly sear scallops before, here and here, so that’s all I’ll say about them now. Well, okay, I’ll also admit that they were delectable.]

I snipped the water spinach stalks into finger lengths, and sautéed them in peanut oil with garlic, ginger, and slivered bamboo shoots. Like regular spinach, it seemed to be thoroughly cooked in about a minute. I flavored the stir-fry with Shaoxing rice wine, salt & pepper, and a swirl of sesame oil. I also added a little cornstarch slurry to thicken it up.

White rice would have been an appropriate starch for this meal. Instead, I opted for a package of fresh spaetzle (German-style grated pasta dough) from a Polish grocery store. The last time I had spaetzle was probably 20 years ago, frozen together with Birds Eye® green beans and defrosted by Mom. I loved that stuff. This was much, much better. In fact, I’d like to learn how to make it from scratch… that will have to be another post.

* — aka. ong choy (Chinese); rau muong (Vietnamese); kangkong (Malay); pak bung (Thai); kankon (Japanese).

Spaghetti with Clam Sauce & Seared Scallops

November 12, 2009


Ingredients: spaghetti, scallops, clams, green peas, butter, olive oil, flour, garlic, parsley, oregano, lemon, Parmigiano-Reggiano, chili flakes, black pepper, salt.

One item I always bring back with me to Sweden is canned clams. Canned mussels are sold here, but they have no texture at all, and pretty weak flavor. Canned clams kick so much ass in comparison. I love their seashore aroma and just-chewiness.

The best part, however, is the broth they are packed in. It’s liquid gold! If I didn’t have to smuggle the stuff, I would add it to just about everything I make. Clam broth has such a bright, warm, mineral-rich taste. It’s also a natural way to get more umami in your mouthful.

What I decided to make with my very last can of clams (until next visit home) is a simple classic from childhood: Mom’s spaghetti with clam sauce. She used to make huge batches of this, with plenty of plump tiger shrimp on top. If this wasn’t my favorite of her specialties, it was certainly near the top.

Here, as you can see, I chose to swap the tiger shrimp for seared scallops. They tasted just as good as they look! First I defrosted them slowly in cold water overnight (to preserve texture), then dried them thoroughly by wrapping them in paper towels for an hour. Scallops need to be as dry as possible before searing, or else they stay jellylike and don’t pick up any color in the pan. It’s also important not to move them once they start cooking; this is another way to ensure a nice crust.

I seared the scallops in ghee, which is the Indian name for clarified butter (which is when butter is simmered and skimmed of all water and milk solids). I like using ghee for jobs like this, because unlike whole butter, it doesn’t burn on high heat. Analogously, this is why “regular” olive oil should be used for frying, as opposed to Extra Virgin.

The sauce for the spaghetti was easy. I melted whole butter (not ghee) in a pan on low heat with some olive oil, then lightly sauteed 2 diced cloves of garlic in it for a minute. To this I added parsley, oregano, chili flakes, salt, pepper, and a big pinch of white flour, making sure not to burn anything. Then I poured in the clam broth, plus the juice from half a lemon, and let the sauce simmer and thicken. This is a good time for frozen peas to be added, because they help to quickly lower the temperature. I dropped the chopped clams in last, because they are pre-cooked and easily overdone.

I tossed the sauce with hot spaghetti, sprinkled a generous amount of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, and served it with the seared scallops. I’m sure Mom would be proud of this one.

Chinese Shrimp-Egg Noodles alla Carbonara

November 10, 2009


Ingredients: shrimp-egg noodles, dried shrimp, shallot, green peas, butter, egg, Parmesan, dry vermouth, parsley, black pepper, salt.

Ah yes, another valiant vegequarian attempt to re-create a baconcentric dish using dried shrimp! Check out my first post about it here.

Pasta alla Carbonara is a very simple and satisfying meal. The idea is to use beaten raw eggs (along with grated cheese) as a sauce, and to let the hot pasta cook it. To be honest, until I looked it up online, I thought Carbonara was just Alfredo with green peas & ham. Beaten eggs? I guess all those classy Italian joints I went to growing up were confused, too. It’s okay fellas!

Since I already planned on replacing the pancetta with dried shrimp, I decided to push the Italian/Chinese fusion angle even more by using shrimp-egg noodles for pasta. These aren’t egg noodles; they’re regular wheat noodles, fortified and flavored with pink shrimp eggs. I saw them on Iron Chef once (Japanese version) and was intrigued, so I picked up a package at the Asian market soon afterward. Very tasty.

Preparation was simple. I soaked the dried shrimp in vermouth to soften them up, then diced and sautéed them in butter, quickly, with shallots and parsley. I poured this over steaming hot shrimp-egg noodles, along with some frozen peas (which don’t really need to cook much, merely thaw). Then I folded in beaten eggs and grated parmesan cheese, which set rather quickly into a creamy sauce. Salt, freshly ground black pepper, delicious!

Next time I try this, I will use scallions as a garnish, for a more distinct Asian flavor. I might even (bravely) substitute fermented tofu for the Parmesan.

Miso Cod

September 21, 2009


Ingredients: cod, fermented yellow soybeans, soy sauce, dry sherry, palm sugar, ginger, peanut oil, sesame oil, black pepper, salt.
Served with: snap peas, button mushrooms, bamboo, fermented yellow soybeans, black sesame seeds, white rice.

Miso-Glazed Black Cod, a heavenly teriyaki-style fish preparation, is a popular dish these days. I almost said “hot,” but stopped myself because honestly I have no idea if it’s already passé. All I know is that I first tried it in an upscale sushi restaurant outside Philadelphia, was blown away, and subsequently read about the exact same dish in a variety of blogs and food magazines. Apparently it is a Nobuyuki Matsuhisa original, from his famous Nobu restaurant in NYC.

I noticed some beautiful cod fillets in the supermarket here, so I decided to have a go at preparing Miso Cod myself. I began the marinade with mashed fermented yellow beans, which I figured would be close enough to miso. I used dry sherry instead of sake, and filled out the flavor with plenty of palm sugar (brown sugar works just as well), ginger powder, peanut oil, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. I let the cod swim in that for about a day and a half, less than the recommended 3 days but surely (?) enough to please.

To cook the fish, I placed the fillets onto foil and broiled them until mildly charred, then turned down the heat in the oven and let them finish for a few minutes. I served the cod with a quick stir-fry of snap peas, bamboo shoot strips, button mushrooms, and some whole yellow fermented soybeans (the same ones I mashed for the marinade). White rice and black sesame seeds rounded out the meal.

My cod was fine, but decidedly un-heavenly. What went wrong? The texture of the fish just didn’t seem to match the one in my memory. I was looking for a crispy, glazy, charry exterior, with a dense but silky inner texture. What I made was just sort of wet – inside and out. I had tried to pat it dry as much as possible before broiling, but it’s almost as if I had used the wrong kind of fish.

Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Thanks Google! Apparently, “cod” has nothing to do with “black cod,” which is another name for sable. I’ve had sable before, but only in cold-smoked deli form. Still, it makes sense, because I remember it having a silky, oily texture (which I liked very much). I can totally imagine that crisping up under a broiler.

Okay then, guess I’ll be looking for black cod from now on.

Cajun Shrimp & Polenta

September 19, 2009


Cajun shrimp ingredients: shrimp, garlic, honey, lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt.
Polenta ingredients: cornmeal, milk, butter, Grana Padano, black pepper, salt.
Served with: onion, red bell pepper, green peas.

Good lord it’s tough to resume blogging after a vacation!

I didn’t even cook anything for a week. I ate, of course, but fell prey each time to the temptation of cheese & pickle sandwiches and frozen dinners. Cereal was poured. Jars of pasta sauce clinked into the recycle bin.

Thankfully, a few loyal readers encouraged me to snap out of it and get back in the saddle. It wasn’t easy. I was out of kitchen-shape, and feared for my stamina come game time. This was not an unfounded fear, as it turns out, given the shakes I felt while cooking and the exhaustion afterward.

The other problem was that I’d had this particular dish in mind for a few days, but couldn’t commit to the exact details. I kept doubting flavor harmonies, consistencies, presentation ideas. I was fussing, but at least I got it out of the way before I started cooking. Decisiveness is key.

What I decided was to pair the juicy smokiness of grilled Cajun shrimp with the creaminess of polenta. (A similar pairing is found in the traditional US Southern dish of “shrimp ‘n’ grits,” which I have never actually had, but am eager to try now.) I circled the polenta in rings of grilled red bell pepper, which succeeded spectacularly in keeping the plate tidy. The green peas I added for color. I love them alongside mashed potatoes, so I figured they would go well with polenta too.

I was very pleased with my results, and incredibly relieved to be past my kitchen anxieties. Doing dishes afterward still sucked.

Stuffed Mushrooms Casino

August 26, 2009


Ingredients: button mushrooms, mussels, dried shrimp, green bell pepper, scallion, garlic, egg, dry sherry, lemon, heavy cream, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, chili flakes, butter, olive oil, black pepper, salt.

My new favorite ingredient is definitely dried shrimp. I’d seen them listed often in Thai recipes, but always figured that “real” shrimp would cover my bases and taste better anyway. As it turns out, dried shrimp taste very little like fresh shrimp. They are more like beef jerky, or bacon. This is quite a revelation for a pescetarian* such as myself!

To test my bacon analogy, I came up with a riff on Clams Casino — an American classic, and a bacon showcase. Clams on the half shell are topped with tiny slabs of bacon, bell pepper (optional), and bread crumbs, then broiled in an oven and served with lemon slices. When made fresh with good quality ingredients, Clams Casino is pretty close to heaven. I have fond summer memories of helping Mom prepare huge trays of these from clams that we had just scavenged directly from the beach.

Of course, nothing can top memories like those. However, armed with bacony dried shrimp, I figured I could transpose the same flavors onto (much humbler) stuffed mushrooms. They might not look like much, but these mushrooms were the tastiest thing to come out of my kitchen all year! I was ecstatic with the results.

To begin, I removed the stems and gills from the mushrooms. The gills I discarded (they are too strong in flavor, and add an unpleasant inky color); the stems I chopped up and sautéed in olive oil with garlic, chili flakes, green bell pepper, and diced dried shrimp (which I had presoaked for an hour). I splashed a little dry sherry in the pan, then turned off the heat and added some scallions and roughly chopped mussels. I chose not to keep them whole so as to avoid a texture catastrophe if they ended up being too chewy. To bind everything together, I whisked in an egg and some heavy cream, then filled out the mixture with a handful of bread crumbs. Finally, I seasoned my stuffing with parsley, oregano, black pepper, and salt.

Assembly was simple. First I basted the mushroom caps with melted butter, to keep them from becoming gray and wrinkly in the oven. I put a big spoonful of the stuffing mix into each cap, then sprinkled more bread crumbs on top, followed by a tiny drizzle of olive oil.

The stuffed mushrooms came out of the oven 25 minutes later, adorned with crunchy golden brown headwear and smelling garlicky-wonderful. The consistency of the interior was like a soft meatball, tender and bursting with the familiar flavors of bacon, green pepper, and clam. I gave each bite a heavy twist of lemon, which kicked the experience up yet another level.

* — Pescetarians are vegetarians that still eat seafood. The name is kinda stupid so I never use it. Perhaps “vegequarian?”