Tag Archives: seafood

Cooking With Wood

22 Oct

Our electric oven caught on fire.

I didn’t even know this was possible.  But there I was, standing in the kitchen staring at a giant fireball in our oven which was emitting noises I have only ever heard in a sci-fi film.

I was preheating the oven so I could roast the half-dozen free oysters my fishmonger had given me (free oysters!) and then I was going to make clam chowder.  I quickly shut it off and watched the coil cool from white to blue to yellow to orange to red and then back to black.  It was obvious to me that we would not be using that stove to make dinner.  I looked around at all the perishable seafood sitting on the counter: Oysters, clams, scallops and a brick of frozen flounder.  I called to Isaac and we came to one conclusion; we still had to cook. So Isaac started a fire in the wood-burning stove and I pulled out my gorgeous, fire-engine red Emile Henry dutch oven.

With a small hesitation I set the pot down on the stove and added a few shards of bacon.  And then we waited.  Ever so faintly we heard a soft, sibilant sizzle, and then it turned into a roar.  It was working!  The bacon cooked!  Then I added leeks and garlic and potatoes and carrots and herbs, and it cooked, too! And then the clams opened and the stock came up to a boil! And then I added the frozen flounder and, well, yeah, things ground to a halt.

Head below the jump for faux Pot au Feu, how to roast oysters on the oven and more.

Paper Fishes

24 Oct

I suffer from intense paper towel-guilt.

Unlike my battle with saran wrap, this guilt stems not from the product’s inefficiencies.  No. My paper towel-guilt is born entirely from my own inefficiencies.  There is nothing I hate more than having to grab the roll of towels, yet again, because I have caused a huge mess in the kitchen (living room/bathroom/dining room) due to my need to act first and think later.

Isaac and I are currently upstate.  We both desperately needed the break–for our sanity and health–and, we needed to get someone in to clean the chimney.  It sounded like the perfect excuse for taking a few days off.  Yesterday, after having to shame-facedly ask the chimney sweep how to start a fire in a wood-burning stove, I set to making a chicken stock out of the carcass of the frankenchicken I had pot-roasted two weekends ago.

Everything was going along swimmingly until it came time to strain the stock.  I pulled out a storage container and my sieve and started pouring… the soup all over the counter top.  Swearing loudly, I set the pot of stock down and grabbed the paper towels.  As I was mopping-up the mess it occurred to me that I would be better off putting the sieve in a bowl with a pour-spout, pouring the stock into the bowl, then transferring it into the storage container.  Apparently there is some truth to that old adage “haste makes waste,” and I’m living proof of it!

But there is one time where I never feel bad about using paper towels, and that’s while cooking fish; especially breaded and pan-fried fish.  I proclaim to not be a big fan of fish, but this is really a load of rot.  I do like fish, just most of the time I don’t care for how other people prepare it.  When I finally give in to Isaac’s wishes and cook fish at home, nine times out of 10 I love it.  And then I get all enthusiastic and say, “I love fish! I’m  going to eat it all the time!” And then I run out at lunch and get a salmon salad and remember that most people cannot cook fish to save their lives.

But there is one person out there that can cook fish, reliably and beautifully, and can translate his recipes into print. It’s Nigel Slater.  I love Nigel, as if he were a favored uncle.  I love the way he thinks and the way he writes and the way he talks about food and gardening and eating, the way his recipes are just so barely recipes, more like sketches.

I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired in the cooking-sense lately.  I attribute this entirely to the credit crisis.  I wake up and work.  I go to work and work.  And then when I get home I lie on the couch and shut my brain off, and sometimes work.  My Google reader is permanently stuck in the 1000+ mode.  I can’t remember the last time I had the chance to really sit down, relax and browse through some blogs, bookmarking recipes I want to try and absorbing inspiration.  But, seriously, after spending 12 hours a day, or more, staring at a computer screen, the very last thing I want to do is get home and stare at one some more.

So, last week, in an attempt to reboot my creative cooking processes, I grabbed Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries and burrowed into the couch.  As always, Nigel provided, amply.  In one of the fall months (I can’t remember which, and don’t have the book up here with me) was a recipe for fennel, pear and watercress salad and another for haddock breaded with tarragon bread crumbs and anchovies.  Though they were part of two separate meals, they sounded like they’d be divine together to me.  And they were.

I made Nigel’s breading mixture a bit more bold with the addition of finely minced garlic, and carried the tarragon into the dressing for the salad, and I used sole instead of haddock because our fish monger didn’t have any.  And the meal was perfect.  After a quick drain on some paper towels, the fish was crispy, moist and utterly delicious.  I immediately wanted seconds, but resisted.  The leftovers were perfect a few nights later, warmed in the oven, and served over a bed of watercress and buttery lettuces.

So, no recipes from me, because they really are Nigel’s and you deserve to hear about them from him, and then take them and run with them and make them your own.  Even if it does involve using paper towels.

All Sole Day

27 Sep

Tell me something…

Manhattan Bridge

Have you ever made Sole à la Meunière? You know, the über-classic French dish of sole cooked in butter and then served covered in foamy beurre noisette?

No? Well, you should. Today.

Go on. I’ll wait while you skip down to the fish monger to pick up a sole fillet for each of you, a bunch of parsley and a lemon.

Tap, tap, tap. Back? Okay, good, let’s get started!

Manhattan Bridge

You’ve got a small sautée pan, right? Good, put 2 tablespoons of butter into it and heat it over a low flame. There should be a white film at the bottom and foam on the surface. When the foam dissipates (or nearly so) and the butter is clear pour it into a larger sautée pan and add a glug of olive oil. My butter went beyond pale yellow to a nutty brown and it was just fine, so don’t panic. Heat the fats in the larger sautée pan over medium heat.

Rinse your sole (heh), season with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour and place immediately in the pan. Do not crowd the pan or you’ll never be able to flip them. Turn the heat down to lowish and allow to cook for 5 minutes or so. I flipped my sole when it began to feel firmer and I could see the edges becoming opaque.

Manhattan Bridge

Now the fun part. It might help to have an extra set of hands around for this one. If you’ve got a fish spatula, use it. If not, use your biggest, yet thinnest, spatula and a fork or something to try and flip your fish. Be delicate. The fish is incredibly flaky and there’s a large quantity of very hot fat in front of you. My sole broke. I know, tragic, right? But I survived and you will too!

Allow the fish to cook on this side until it loosens from the bottom and feels firm when you poke it. Move your sole to the plates you’re going to eat off of and cover with a smattering of washed, picked parsley and if you’re feeling sassy, a few capers. Drain the cooking fats from the pan and return it to the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of your very best butter and heat slowly. Don’t take your eyes, or your nose, off it for a second.

This is the time to use the good stuff lurking in your fridge, you know, that fancy pants French beurre you paid an arm and a leg for? Yeah, this is the time. You’re making beurre noisette mon amie! The word noisette here doesn’t refer to actual hazelnuts, instead it refers to the aroma the butter will release when it is heated to a certain temperature. It will turn a light golden brown and smell of roasted filberts. I kid you not.

Manhattan Bridge

This will happen in a few minutes time. When it does, immediately turn the heat off and remove the pan from the flame and pour directly over the fish. It will hiss and pop and make all sorts of wonderful noises and release delicious aromas. Take the plates to the table, squeeze some lemon over your sole and dig in. This is seriously good stuff and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

I awoke to this adventure on Saturday morning after a late night of playing poker with friends. I was neither bright eyed and most certainly not bushy tailed when the Boy returned from the gym, much to my dismay, perky, enthusiastic and babbling on about how the fish guys have soul.

Manhattan Bridge

Now, I’ve seen these guys and they most likely do not have rhythm and probably cannot sing the blues so I had to assume that he meant sole, not soul. I was skeptical. I’m not a huge fish person (aside from clams), but he looked so excited. I agreed to play along.

I had no idea what to do with sole so I turned to The Madame. That recipe above, that I distilled for you into about 400 words, runs on for 2 1/2 pages in La Bonne Cuisine, but, as with my Sauce Périgueux, it turned out perfectly.

Sole a la Meuniere

To accompany I braised some fresh lima beans with prosciutto and dried porcini mushrooms. I’m kind of sad that this recipe played the Miranda to the sole’s Carrie, because it was so good. The mushrooms and their soaking liquid along with the cured meat add so much heft and depth and profundity to this lowly, unloved bean.

Luckily though, there were limas left over, and we had them for dinner last night, heated through and tossed with farro pasta and a little cheese. Boy was that a vavavooom dinner!

Luscious Lima Beans

So I hope this has encouraged you and heartened you to try making this bistro classic in your own home. Don’t be afraid of the smells (if your fish is fresh and you have good ventilation, no problem), or the flipping or the butter browning.

It’s all doable and will impress that pants off your hubby or wife or mother-in-law, or hell, even the Pope. But he’s German, so he’d probably hate it (you know, because it’s French).

Head below the jump for the recipes for The Madame’s Sole and Luscious Limas.

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