Seafood

26th March
2012
written by scott

shrimp in pea water

If being a student of Modernist Cuisine has taught me anything, it’s that I should strive for purity of flavor.  Achieving this goal is usually an exercise in what to leave out of a dish, not what you put in it, and this recipe is a great example.  Served chilled, the “broth” is made of centrifuged pea water and filtered celery juice.  When blended peas are separated in the centrifuge, most of the starch ends up in the fibrous layer at the bottom.  Since the presence of starch inhibits your ability to perceive sweetness, the starch-free pea water ends up tasting much sweeter than a whole pea.  I didn’t bother to centrifuge the celery juice, but I find that the flavor of celery is so strongly associated with the crunch of the stalks that it creates a fascinating synesthesia to consume it in liquid form.  I made the conscious choice here to leave out pea starch and celery fiber, and the bright flavors of the vegetables shine right through.

I plan on serving this dish for dinner tomorrow, and I may try adding a wasabi ice or a frozen foam to give it another level of texture.

 

INGREDIENT

QTY.

SCALING

PROCEDURE

Frozen peas, thawed

907g

453%

1.       Blend until smooth.

2.       Divide the pea puree among centrifuge bottles and spin at 1500Gs for 2 hours

3.       Decant the pea water through a paper towel or paper filter.  Reserve and chill pea water.

4.       Scrape, reserve, and chill pea butter.

Celery hearts

907g

453%

5.       Juice in a masticating juicer, such as an Omega.  Reserve and chill juice.

Shrimp, prawns, langoustines, lobster tail or other shellfish

200g

100%

6.       Vacuum seal together using weak vacuum pressure.

7.       Cook sous vide to a core temperature of 54C (for shrimp), about 12 minutes.

Duck Fat

30g

15%

Olive Oil

30g

15%

Small Shiitake Mushrooms

20g

10%

8.       Sweat vegetables in butter.

9.       Cut the onions in half and lightly char the cut sides with a blowtorch.

10.   Plate the dish by spooning 15g pea water and 5g celery juice into a shallow bowl.  Place cooked shellfish in the middle.  Garnish with onions, mushrooms and pea butter.

Small Pearl Onions

20g

10%

Butter

10g

5%

Salt

1g

1%

shrimp splash
One of the shrimp got away and tried to return to his natural habitat.

12th March
2012
written by scott

Last summer, I had the unbelievable privilege of participating in a documentary produced by Sahale Snacks founders Edmond Sanctis and Josh Schroeter, called Explore Taste Adventures.  The idea behind this project was to create a three-star meal using foods that are foraged, found, cooked and served using only what was naturally available in our immediate surroundings. 

We set up camp in the San Juan Islands with our fearless crew: Josh and Edmond, the explorers; Eric Rivera, the chef; Jennifer Adler, the nutritionist and seaweed expert; Langdon Cook, the forager; and me, the food geek.  We faced incredible challenges in the pursuit of this unorthodox meal, but the final results were amazing.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t around to witness the team’s triumph…

On the first day of our arrival on Whidbey island, the entire crew went out for dinner to kick off our adventure.  There were red tide conditions in certain locations around Puget Sound, but the restaurant at which we ate sourced their shellfish from red tide-safe waters.  I, along with everyone else, enjoyed a beautiful spread of seafood, including oysters.  Dun dun duuuuuuuuun….

The next day, I felt like a champion – I spent most of the day on the beach, assembling a smoker out of driftwood and aluminum foil.  Around midday, a rainstorm rolled in and we banded together to build a rainproof fort to protect the fire and the food.  By dinnertime, we were exhausted, but still feeling the adrenaline-powered victory of overcoming the elements.  In the evening, we gathered around the fire to sip a little whiskey and look up at the stars.  And then it hit.  Out of nowhere, I started to feel nauseated.  Urgently nauseated.  I, “gave my bounty back to the sea” a few times, but I still didn’t feel any better.  Within a few minutes, I was on the ground, incapacitated.  I crawled into a driftwood lean-to, seeking shelter for my heaving, not thinking that it might make me difficult to find.

After a few minutes had passed, Eric noticed my absence and went searching.  When he finally discovered me, curled into a ball and barely making sense, he knew something was seriously wrong.  This wasn’t normal food poisoning.  This was something else.

Eric alerted the team and everyone immediately sprung into emergency mode, getting me off the beach and calling an ambulance.  I don’t have a great recollection of of the next hour or so, but I do vividly remember everyone on the team going to incredible lengths to make sure I was OK.  They were worried – probably more worried than I was – but their actions likely saved my life.  When the ambulance arrived, I had started to regain lucidity, but my abdominal pain and nausea weren’t subsiding.  They phoned the emergency room at Anacortes, the nearest hospital, to which there was no land bridge.  They called in a helicopter, loaded me in, and airlifted me to the ER.  It was badass.

My incredible wife made the 2-hour drive to meet me in the middle of the night, after working a nearly 24-hour straight shift at another hospital in Seattle.  After several hours, a few IV bags, and a healthy dose of narcotics, my condition stabilized and they discharged me.  Rachel drove me home.  It was 5 AM.  To this day, I have no idea how she stayed awake for the drive there and back.

DSC_8687
A very healthy, delicious Blue Pool oyster (from a recent photo shoot I did for the Hama Hama Oyster Company)

It turned out that source of my illness was Vibrio parahaemolyticus – a bacteria found in oysters under certain, rare conditions.  I had drawn the short straw – one of the oysters at our kickoff dinner must have been infected, and I was unlucky enough to pick it.  Getting this sick sucked, but not as much as knowing that I was going to miss the dinner for which we had been foraging, fishing, building and cooking for the previous two days.  I had planned on being Eric’s sous chef, and I knew that his menu was extensive.  I wanted to be there to help, but also to witness the meal become a reality.  I wanted to celebrate the culmination of the adventure and high-five the team and sleep well that night, knowing what we’d accomplished.  I’ll always regret the fact that I missed the end of the trip, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

So, by this point you may be thinking that I have a vendetta against oysters, or that I’ll never eat an oyster again, or that I stand on the beach and curse the waves.  You’d be wrong.  After my hospitalization, I underwent extensive allergy testing to ensure that I didn’t have a shellfish (or any other food allergy).  All of the tests came back negative, and three days later, I was sitting at the counter at The Walrus and the Carpenter slurping Samish Sweets, Hama Hamas and Kusshis.  In the words of of Ghandi, hate the sin, love the sinner (I’m deep, you know).  I’ve probably eaten a hundred oysters since and, to this day, they’re still one of my favorite foods. 

I do hope you take 20 minutes to watch the 5-part documentary at the top of this post.  Even though my role was small, I’m so incredibly proud of this project. What Edmond, Josh, Eric, Langdon, and Jennifer pulled off is inspiring, and it speaks volumes of the philosophy and integrity of Sahale Snacks that they would produce this film.  Now stop reading and start watching.

04th March
2012
written by scott

blacklight oyster
I really wanted to make glow-in-the-dark oysters.  More accurately, I wanted to make oysters fluoresce under ultraviolet light (sometimes called “black light”).  Why?  Because it’s cool, of course.  [If you were hoping for a more noble, practical reason, you’re probably reading this blog by mistake.]

I knew two things before beginning this experiment: 1) the quinine in tonic water fluoresces under UV light, and 2) oysters are “filter feeders,” meaning they trap particles from the water as a means of taking in nutrients.  Modernist Cuisine includes a recipe, which is an adaptation from Dave Arnold and Nils Noren, for Beet Juice-Fed Oysters (book 3, page 206).  The recipe calls for submerging live oysters in beet juice strained through a 500 micron sieve and letting them feed for 48 hours.  The flesh of the oyster turns pink and red as it takes on the microscopic particles of beet juice. 

Following this example, I thought there was a good chance that the oysters might filter the quinine out of tonic water in the same way, leading to slightly sweetened oysters that would glow iridescent blue under a black light.  In my experiment, however, they did not.  The picture you see above is one of my test oysters under a fluorescent UV bulb.  Although it looks cool in the photo, it is very much not fluorescing.  If I put a white cloth next to the oyster, the cloth lit up like a warehouse rave, but the oyster was only reflecting the bluish hue of the visible light from the UV blub.  Interestingly, a portion of the shell just at the hinge is fluorescing (it’s a brighter blue-green in the picture) but I did not achieve my intended result of an iridescent mollusk. 

Why didn’t it work?  I have a few theories:

  1. Perhaps the oysters were DOA.  Shamefully, I purchased the oysters at the type of grocery store that also sells name-brand cola and US Weekly.  I should have known better, and I’ll never do it again, but it’s quite possible that these fugly-ass oysters were dead before I got them home.
  2. Salt problem?  The Modernist Cuisine recipe calls for 2.6% aquarium salt.  I’m not sure what that is, so I used regular table salt.  Perhaps that’s an important difference. 
  3. Is tonic water lethal to oysters?  The shells were still tightly closed when I removed them.  I did notice that, for about 30 minutes after I covered the oysters in tonic water, they were releasing a constant stream of very small bubbles from the edges of their shells.  I assume this was a result of them circulating the water through their muscular little bodies.  But perhaps the fact that the bubbles stopped after 30 minutes is evidence that they didn’t survive the pre-cocktail environment of a bottle of Canada Dry.
  4. The quinine in tonic water might be inaccessible to the oyster’s filtration system.  Either the quinine particles are too large, too small, or for some other reason can’t be filtered by the oysters. 
  5. Not enough quinine?  Perhaps everything did work as I anticipated, but the concentration of the quinine was just to weak to show up in the oyster bodies. 

I may repeat this experiment with higher-quality oysters and additional quinine.  Alternately, if any geneticists out there want to grab the fluorescence gene from a modified zebrafish and put it into a Samish Sweet or a Blue Pool, I’ll gladly shuck and slurp with you!

29th December
2010
written by scott

Hot Sauce Salmon Roe
Spherification is tricky, not just because of the chemistry involved, but because the technique has become associated with the most farcical extremes of modernist cooking.  However, when used with purpose and not simply ‘cause, spherification can still provide an element of surprise and delight to your cooking.  Tomorrow, I’m going to cook salmon (sous vide, if you’ve been playing along at home) with mascarpone and greens, an homage to the salmon crostini at Spur.  I wanted to top the fish with a spoonful of salmon roe for added saltiness and for their funny, squirm-inducing texture.  Unfortunately, roe is expensive.  So, I came up with a substitute: spherified hot sauce that looks like salmon roe.

(more…)

25th August
2010
written by scott

Raw Smoked Salmon-1
Low and slow… it’s true for sous vide, and its definitely true for smoking.  And, if you live in Seattle, you probably know that one of the worlds best smoked foods is salmon.  Smoked salmon has a wonderfully rich and concentrated flavor, but unfortunately it also has the texture of wet leather.  For this recipe, I used a Smoking Gun – a remarkable little device that creates a cold, concentrated smoke that can be captured in a container, or in this case, a vacuum bag [Disclosure: the Smoking Gun I used was a demo unit provided by PolyScience.]  The result: instant smoky flavor.  Then, we delicately cook the salmon to just above rare, which retains the fish’s buttery texture.

Total kitchen time: 25 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 2 salmon fillets, about 15mm thick
  • 1 tsp. smoked salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

 

  1. Preheat your water bath to 45.5°C.  [Note: Consuming undercooked fish blah blah blah.  Some people will cook their salmon at 39°C, but that’s a little rare even for my taste.  If you’re squeamish, crank up the temp to 52°C.]
  2. Remove the skin from the salmon fillets (reserve for frying, if you want.)  Divide the salt and pepper between the fillets and coat both sides.  Place the fillets, together or individually) into vacuum seal bags, but don’t seal them yet.
  3. Prepare an ice bath large enough for the salmon fillets in their bags.
  4. Load a Smoking Gun with hickory wood shavings.  Insert the exhaust hose into the open end of the bag and fold over the open edge to partially seal the bag.

    DSC_0416

  5. Turn on the Smoking Gun and light the wood chips.  Smoke the entire bowl into the bag, retaining as much smoke as possible. 
  6. Holding the open end of the bag up, submerge the bag into the ice bath for a few seconds to condense the remaining smoke.  Seal the open end in the vacuum sealer.
  7. Cook the salmon in the water bath for 15 minutes.  Remove and serve.

Given the soft texture of the salmon, I thought it would be good to pair it with something crunchy.  I fried kale leaves in grapeseed oil for a few seconds per side (look out for major oil splatter!) and roasted asparagus with olive oil and rosemary salt.  I also fried the leftover salmon skin until it was slightly crispy and used it to wrap the asparagus.  This is one of my new favorite salmon preparations, and I can’t wait to see what else I can instant-smoke!

06th November
2009
written by scott

salmon with cauliflower quenelle
As home chefs are becoming more adventurous, the line  between home and restaurant cooking is getting blurrier (read: moms making towers of PB&J on brioche with fireweed honey bruleé).  Since I’ve yet to attend culinary school, I can only fantasize that my kitchen resides in the back of a hip restaurant.  But if it did, here’s a dish I wouldn’t mind serving.  The sweetness of the vegetable puree is a cooling offset to the heat of the curry.  When working with small cuts of salmon, be sure not to overcook it. 

Total kitchen time: 1 hour
Makes: 4 carefully plated servings

Special equipment: immersion blender or blender, chinois or fine strainer or cheesecloth

Shopping list:

  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 leek (dark green part discarded), diced
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 stalks thyme, placed in a tea bag or bundled together with twine
  • 2 lbs. salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed
  • 2 tsp. red curry powder
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
  1. Preheat your oven (or toaster oven) to 400°F and set the top rack 6-8” from the heating element.
  2. Cut the cauliflower into small fleurettes (little pieces) and toss with olive oil and salt to coat.  Spread onto a lined baking sheet and roast until soft and just slightly browned around the edges, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a high-sided, heavy-bottomed skillet.  When it just begins to smoke, add the onion, leek and shallot.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. 
  4. Add the white wine, stirring up any browned bits from the bottom.  Bring to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced about 2/3rds.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the cream.  Add the thyme and simmer about 10 minutes.  Remove the thyme and discard.
  5. Add the roasted cauliflower to the onion mixture.  Using an immersion blender (or transferring the whole thing to your blender) blend until smooth.  Transfer the mixture to a fine strainer or cheesecloth, with a bowl placed underneath.  Strain all the liquid you can from the mixture, and reserve.  The mixture remaining in your strainer should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.
  6. Using two spoons of the same size, divide the vegetable mixture into 4 parts and shape into quenelles (little round things).  Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  7. Divide the salmon fillet into 4 servings and coat with curry powder, turmeric, sea salt and olive oil.  Sear in a hot skillet over high heat, about 2 minutes per side (timing will vary; look for the doneness creeping up the side of the fillet.  Some pink is good.
  8. To serve, spoon the reserved liquid into the bottom of a large bowl or plate, then top with a salmon fillet and a quenelle. 

I love the balance of flavors and fresh ingredients in this dish, but even more, I love that it let’s me play chef in my own kitchen. 

28th August
2009
written by scott

mussels bohemian 
There’s an undeniable connection between seafood and beer.  Whether it’s broiled salmon and an IPA, or barbequed shrimp and a Bohemia, the combination is satiating.  For this recipe, we’re using a bottle of Bohemia to poach our mussels.  Bohemia is a slightly sweet beer with just a hint of bitterness, and it balances perfectly with the bright, fresh aromatics that we add right before serving. 

Serves: 2 Hungry Beer Drinkers
Total Kitchen Time: 30 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp. poblano pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 bottle Bohemia beer
  • 12-16 mussels, cleaned thoroughly
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 lb. cherry tomatoes, diced
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Combine the garlic, shallot, poblano and olive oil in a small food processor.  Blend until the mixture forms a coarse paste.
  2. Transfer the garlic paste to a small skillet and cook over low heat (until just sizzling) for 15 minutes to mellow the flavors.  Salt to taste.
  3. Meanwhile, bring the bottle of Bohemia to a boil in a medium-large pot.  The beer should come up about an inch or so in the pot.  Add the mussels and boil until the shells have opened and the meat is tender, about 4 minutes. 
  4. Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon and place them in a large bowl.  Add the garlic mixture, parsley, cilantro and tomatoes.  Toss gently until the mussels are coated.
  5. If the mussels released a lot of sediment into the beer, strain through a paper coffee filter.  Add the heavy cream to the beer and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. To serve, divide the mussels between two bowls and add 1/2 cup of the beer mixture.  Add some toasted bread and enjoy!

You’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of good bread at the table.  I prefer a fresh sourdough, which goes hand in hand with (you guessed it) another beer!

 

Full disclosure: I got free stuff, but that doesn’t pay for my opinion.

06th August
2009
written by scott

ahi burger with nori fries 
On a recent visit to Joule, I had the great fortune of tasting their nori butter, which is a geniusly simple combination of soft butter and flakes of seaweed paper.  Now, thinking of seaweed as a seasoning and not just a wrap, I was inspired to create these nori fries.  And since fries need a burger, why not continue the Asian theme with a classic ahi tuna burger.  Pickled ginger replaces standard pickles, and a pungent wasabi garlic mayo adds a little kick and sweetness to the dish.

Total kitchen time: 45 mins
Makes: Burgers and fries for 4

Shopping list:

Ahi Tuna Burgers

  • 1.5 lbs ahi tuna steak
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. peanut oil, for cooking
  • 4 sesame seed brioche hamburger buns
  • 1 handful watercress
  • 1/4 cup pickled ginger
  1. Preheat the peanut oil a heavy-bottomed skillet or griddle over medium heat.
  2. Slice the ahi steak into 1/4” strips, then chop into 1/4” cubes.  Combine with the green onion, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, honey, soy sauce, red chili oil and beaten egg in a medium bowl.
  3. Divide the ahi mixture into 4 equal parts and form into 1” thick patties.  Press each patty firmly together to hold its shape. 
  4. Carefully transfer to the skillet and cook to medium-rare, about 1 minute per side.
  5. Assemble the burgers by topping the bottom bun with some watercress, then the ahi patty, followed by a little pickled ginger.  If you like, spread a little wasabi garlic mayo on the top bun.

Nori Fries

  • 2 lbs. French fries, prepared
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 sheet toasted nori (seaweed paper), crumbled (about 1 tbsp.)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  1. Make your fries, or heat up some decent frozen ones. 
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the fries with the olive oil and crumbled nori.  If necessary, add salt to taste.

Wasabi garlic mayo

  • 2 tbsp. wasabi powder
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp. mayonnaise
  1. Combine all ingredients. Duh.

This turned out to be a really tasty summer dinner, and I may have to carry around a jar of nori to sprinkle over my fries at Dick’s.  What’s your favorite French fry topping?  Leave your answer in the comments below.

07th July
2009
written by scott

salmon soft taco 
Now that salmon season is upon us, I try to incorporate a little sockeye or coho into my dinner menu at least once a week.  But some nights, when I’m just not feeling fancy, a little handheld comfort food hits the spot.  These salmon soft tacos are flavorful and filling, and require almost no effort.  Depending on your preference for heat, you can crank up or down the chili and chipotle powder.

Makes: 6 soft tacos
Total kitchen time: 15 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 1-1.5 lbs. salmon fillet, skin and bones removed
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 6 whole wheat tortillas
  • 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup cabbage (green or red), finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tomato, diced
  1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or griddle over high heat until it is really (really) hot.  If possible, use cast iron. 
  2. Season the salmon fillet on all sides with kosher salt, paprika, chili powder and chipotle powder.  Place the fillet on the heated pan, pressing down lightly to ensure the whole surface area is making contact.  Then, walk away.  Don’t touch or jiggle it or the fish will fall apart.  Let it cook for about 2 minutes, or until it naturally releases from the pan with a spatula.
  3. Flip the fish over and sear another 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and gently break apart the fish into large flakes using a spatula or tongs.  Transfer to a plate or bowl.
  4. To assemble each soft taco, heat a tortilla for 30 seconds in the hot pan (with the stove turned off).  Top with cheese, salmon, tomato, cabbage, sour cream and cilantro.  Serve warm.
22nd June
2009
written by scott

halibut 
Sous-vide cooking is a method that’s been around since the 70’s, but has just recently gained popularity in the mainstream.  In practical terms, it means putting your protein in a plastic bag and cooking it in warm water for longer than normal.  The benefit to sous-vide, particularly in this recipe, is that it keeps the structure of your proteins intact – our fish won’t toughen up or fall apart during cooking. 

I’m using a chile verde salt from SaltWorks, a gourmet salt company based in Woodinville, Washington.  I’ve recently been in a major salt bender and SaltWorks and Secret Stash Sea Salts have been my pushers.  You’ll see more on that next week.  Flavored salts like these are an excellent way to add flavor without adding additional work. 

Makes: sous-per duper dinner for two
Total kitchen time: 30 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 3/4 – 1lb halibut fillet, skin removed
  • 1 tsp. chile verde salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 1-gallon zip-top plastic bag
  • 1/2 can Kerns Guava Nectar

  1. Pat the halibut fillet dry and coat all sides with the chile verde salt, white pepper and olive oil. 
  2. Place the fillet in a zip top bag and place a sprig of rosemary (if using) on the top and bottom of the fillet.  If you’re lucky enough to own a vacu-seal machine, use it to suck the air out of the bag.  For the rest of us (and our pseudo-sous-vide) just try to get as much air as possible out of the bag.
  3. Fill a large stockpot with warm water over medium-low heat.  You’ll want to bring the water to 132°F, but not much hotter.  If you paid attention in chemistry class, you’ll know that the water won’t be close to boiling at this temperature. 
  4. Submerge the bottom of the bag in the water, leaving the top above the water line so as not to introduce any accidental leakage.  Cook until the halibut feels slightly firm, about 6-8 minutes.  You can test the doneness by gently flexing the fillet in the bag.  If it flakes easily, it’s done. 
  5. Meanwhile, heat the 1/2 can of guava nectar in a small saucepan over high heat.  Boil to reduce the liquid to about 2 tablespoons. 
  6. Remove the fillet from the bag and divide into two servings, discarding the rosemary.  Pour the reduced guava glaze over each fillet and serve.

This turned out to be a super easy and excellent dinner.  The saltiness and slight kick of the chile verde was an excellent compliment to the sweetness of the guava.  My original intent was to bruleé the guava glaze for a crispy exterior, but alas my torch was nowhere to be found.  If you’re feeling adventurous, won’t you light this dish on fire and tell me how it turns out?

Update: Jean-François at SousVideCooking.org has an excellent table of cooking times and temperatures for fish, along with other great sous-vide tips.  I’ve adjusted this recipe accordingly, since I didn’t have my stopwatch out the first time through.  Thanks, Jean-François!

09th April
2009
written by scott

seared scallops with tropical salsa 
I’m still on my healthy eating kick to get in shape for the summer, but refuse to resign myself to just baked chicken breasts and steamed broccoli.  This recipe was exactly what I needed tonight – something that involves a little bit of real cooking, fresh seafood, and a ton of flavor.  I will have to keep this one in mind for the upcoming summer evenings.

Makes: Awesome dinner for 2
Total kitchen time: 45 minutes

Shopping list:

Scallops:

  • 4 large, or 10 small, sea scallops
  • 2 tbsp. safflower oil (or peanut oil, but don’t use olive oil)

Salsa:

  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1/4 cup pineapple, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger (substitute 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, only if you must)
  • 1 tbsp. lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. + 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (use the best you’ve got)

Optional side: 1/2 lb. french beans

  1. Peel the shallot and slice crosswise into thin discs, about 3mm thick.  Place the sliced shallot, 1 tsp. of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a small skillet and bring to medium heat.  Cook the shallot for 5-7 minutes until it has softened, but has not browned.  Remove from heat.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the cooked shallot and the rest of the ingredients for the salsa.  Whisk together with a fork and adjust to taste by adding more honey, vinegar or salt.
  3. Wash, trim and steam the french beans.  Remove them from the heat before they’re done cooking (still a little crispy) and run them under cold water to halt the cooking process.  Set aside to dry.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the safflower oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat.  I highly recommend you use a cast iron skillet, both for its heat retention and for its natural non-stick nature.   Bring the oil just below its smoking point – you should see light whisps of smoke, but not much more than that.
  5. Ensure the surface of each scallop is as dry as possible to encourage browning.  Place the scallops in the pan, leaving plenty of space between each one.  Don’t touch them for 60 seconds – they’re busy forming a golden crust and if you move them, you risk tearing it away.  After 60 seconds, lift the edge of one of the scallops to check for brownness.  If it is golden brown, flip it over and give it another 90 seconds.  If not, let it sit for another 30 seconds.  Cooked scallops can still be translucent in the middle, but cook them to a doneness you’re comfortable with.
  6. Remove the scallops from the pan and turn of the heat.  Toss in the french beans and let them sizzle for about a minute, soaking up the great flavor the scallops have left behind.
  7. To plate, lay down a pile of beans and divide the scallops between two plates.  Top with the salsa mixture, and a little extra sesame seeds, if you so desire.

If scallops aren’t your thing, try this recipe with jumbo prawns, calamari, or even grilled octopus!  I can’t wait to bring a batch of that salsa to the next cookout and discover what else I can top it on.

05th March
2009
written by scott

crabcake rockefeller 
Why should oysters have all the fun?  After all, crabs are bigger, meatier and more vicious (making our conquest over them all the more victorious!)  And, I’ll unapologetically claim that this recipe is “healthy” since the crab cakes are baked, not fried, and spinach counts as a green vegetable. 

Total kitchen time: 1 hour
Makes: about 6 jumbo crab cakes

Shopping list:

  • 1 lb lump crab claw meat (I love the canned stuff at Trader Joe’s – you can’t beat the price)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 4 green onions, finely diced
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (Panko works great too)
  • 4 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 slices bacon or prosciutto
  • 4 cups (uncooked) baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup watercress stems
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
  • good salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • olive oil (in a sprayer, if you’ve got one)
  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F and set the top rack to the middle position (BTW, this recipe is a great toaster oven candidate).  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a nonstick cooking mat.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the crab meat, diced red bell pepper, half of the diced green onion (reserving the other half) and half of the bread crumbs (reserving the other half).  Mix in the honey and chili powder, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. I like to form my crab cakes by pressing them into a 1/2 cup measure, squeezing tightly so they’ll hold their shape.  You can mould them with your hands as well, but be sure to press them together tightly or they might fall apart in transit to the plates.  Arrange the crab cakes on the lined baking sheet, leaving at least 1” between each crab cake.
  4. Using your olive oil sprayer (if you have one; or by drizzling olive oil) lightly coat the outside of each crab cake.  This will help with browning and to form an outer crust.  Bake at 375°F for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile, fry the bacon or prosciutto in a large skillet until crispy.  Set aside to drain, then crumble into small pieces using a sharp knife.
  6. Finely chop the spinach and watercress stems.  In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute.  Then, add the remaining green onion, bread crumbs and watercress stems.  Sauté 1 minute more.  Finally, add the chopped spinach and cook until wilted, 1-2 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. To serve, plate a crab cake atop a smear of the spinach mixture, then sprinkle the whole plate with crumbled bacon.

20th July
2008
written by scott

plank salmon with piped potatoes_1
Perhaps you saw the Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon with Orange-Muscat Beurre Blanc recipe I posted last week.  Man, that was good eating.  “Wow, Scott!” I said to myself.  “How can you possibly make this dish any better?”  I think I’ve found a solution: a delicate halo of piped blue cheese mashed potatoes, gently caressing the salmon fillet as it develops just the slightest smoky crust. 

The potato recipe is quite simple.  Bake (or microwave) whole russet potatoes, about 1 potato for every 2 servings.  When they are fork tender, run them through your potato ricer.  This step is optional, but it’s the only way to guarantee lightness and fluffiness.  Mix in some butter, heavy cream, salt, white pepper and blue cheese.  Then, load the whole mixture into a pastry bag with an extra-large tip and pipe the potatoes around the salmon, directly on individual cedar planks.  Grill until the salmon is done, then serve directly on the planks.  Your guests will love it!

15th July
2008
written by scott

cedar plank salmon After grilling fresh Coho salmon fillets over cedar planks, its hard to enjoy salmon prepared any other way.  My building’s facilities manager, Bruce, generously shared his catch from a recent trip to Alaska.  This recipe combines the rustic, smoky flavor of the cedar planks with the subtle, sweet butteryness of the beurre blanc.  Its a great combo, as I hope you will soon discover.

Total kitchen time: 1 hr
Makes: 4 1lb fillets

Shopping list:

  • 4 1lb. salmon fillets (with skin is fine, without is fine also)
  • 2 large (or 4 small) cedar planks for grilling
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp. orange-muscat vinegar (honestly, any white wine vinegar will work, this one just adds a little flavor and a lot of adjectives.  Available at Trader Joe’s.)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into teaspoons
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
  1. Soak the cedar planks, completely submerged, in cold water for at least 1 hour.  Preheat your grill over medium-high heat before grilling.
  2. For the beurre blanc, heat a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the diced shallot and about 1 tsp. of olive oil and cook until the shallot smells great, about 3 minutes.  If it looks like the shallot is starting to brown, reduce the heat.
  3. Add the white wine vinegar (in this case, orange muscat vinegar) and stir to deglaze the pan.  Continue to cook until the vinegar has reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and 2 teaspoons of butter.  Continually whisk the butter until it is completely melted.  If the butter starts to foam, place the bottom of the pan on a cold surface (like a stone countertop) to cool it.  Add the remaining butter, 2 teaspoons at a time, whisking continually.  If the butter refuses to melt, hold the pan over very low heat for a few seconds and then remove. 
  5. Once all the butter is incorporated, taste the sauce and adjust with a fine-grain salt and freshly ground white pepper.  You can use black pepper if you want, but white pepper will make the sauce look prettier.
  6. Prepare the salmon fillets by patting them dry and coating with salt, pepper and fennel seeds on the flesh side.  Rub the fillets on all sides with olive oil. 
    salmon meal
  7. Make sure your grill has been preheated over medium-high heat.  Arrange the cedar planks on your grill and place the fillets, skin side down (if they have skin) on the cedar planks.  Close the lid and grill for 15-20 minutes, or until the fish is fully cooked.  The planks will give off a lot of smoke which adds to the excellent flavor.  However, if your planks should catch fire, simply spray them with a small amount of water (I recommend San Pellegrino :-)) until the flames dissipate. 
  8. When the salmon is cooked to your preferred doneness (let’s face it, either it’s undercooked, done, or overcooked), use a long spatula or a chef’s knife to remove them from the planks.  Top with a spoonfull of the beurre blanc and serve!

Look for more cedar plank recipes this summer.  I’m now a big fan of this cooking method and it deserves some further exploration.  Do you have any favorite wood cooking recipes?  Leave ‘em in the comments below.

01st June
2008
written by scott

salmon cups 2 
P.F. Chang’s ain’t got nothin on this.  Taking the lettuce wrap to the logical next level, these salmon cups are a delicious main course.  The blend of fresh, bright aromatics offset the saltiness of the salmon, and the mild crunch of the cabbage leaf cools off the spice of red chiles. 

Makes: 4 entree-sized delights of joy
Total kitchen time: 30 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 1 lb. skinless salmon fillet
  • 2 tbsp. low soduim soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. teriyaki marinade
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili oil
  • 1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup water chestnuts, finely chopped (find them in a can in the Asian isle of your grocery store)
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp. peanut oil (olive oil will work if you can’t find peanut oil)
  • 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 head green cabbage, separated into whole leaves
  • 2 tbsp. Chinese barbeque sauce
  1. Pat the salmon dry.  Combine the soy sauce, teriyaki marinade and red chili oil in large ziplock bag.  Add the salmon and marinate, 5 minutes up to 4 hours.  I usually don’t have the patience for long marinating times, so I can attest that 5 minutes will still yield great results.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the green onion, garlic, ginger, water chestnuts, lime zest and sesame seeds in a small bowl and set aside.  If you want, you can coarsely chop all the fresh ingredients and pulse a few times in a food processor.  Just don’t overdo it – we still want the texture and crunch of the garlic and water chestnuts.
  3. Preheat a grill pan or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Add the salmon and cook 2-3 minutes, covered.  Flip the salmon cook another 2 minutes or until done.  The sugars in the marinade will start to brown and caramelize immediately.  Don’t freak out if you see [what looks like] burning.  Everything will be OK.  When the salmon is done, set it aside to rest.
  4. In the same pan (if it is clean enough), heat the peanut oil until smoking.  Add the chopped fresh ingredients and the rice wine vinegar.  Stir fry until you can start to smell the aromatics.  You want to keep everything fresh and crunchy, so don’t cook past 1 minute.  Remove the fresh ingredients into a large bowl.
  5. Break the salmon unto small pieces using your fingers and add to the fresh aromatics.  Mix everything together.
  6. Divide the salmon mixture into four servings and spoon each serving into a cabbage cup.  Top with a drizzle of Chinese barbeque sauce and roll the cabbage leaf into a burrito shape.  Chow down!

This recipe also works great as an appetizer.  Substitute endive leaves for the cabbage, or even serve the salmon mixture in spring roll wrappers.  You’ll think twice before picking up the phone to order take out again.

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