Articles in Fish w/recipe
Everyone knows the holidays are steeped in culinary traditions, but who says you can’t steal from others? Pickled herring from Denmark, for example, defies the usual U.S. holiday fare that goes something like this: Roast a plump turkey for Thanksgiving. Simmer a pot of cranberries for Christmas. Chill magnums of champagne for New Year’s Eve. What happens, though, when you cannot bear the thought of doling out another spoonful of moist cornbread stuffing or pouring another round of cinnamon-dusted eggnog?
When I reach my limit with tried-and-true seasonal dishes, I look to what people in other countries make and eat during this festive period. Considering that my friends’ and family’s backgrounds are an amalgamation of different cultures, I don’t find it a stretch to include a taste of Scandinavia, Great Britain, the Mediterranean or Southeast Asia on my holiday menus.
Over the years, I’ve incorporated English mince pies and plum puddings; meringue-based Norwegian garland cakes; and the anise-flavored Greek bread Christopsomo. I’ve also introduced the Portuguese Christmas Eve staple buddim do bacalhao, or baked salt cod, and the Czech custom of eating baked carp on Christmas. This year, thanks to Danish friends and a recent stay in Denmark, I’ll add pickled herring to the holiday buffet table.
Pickled herring long a part of Danish culture
A staple of Danish cuisine, pickled herring dates to the Middle Ages, when fishermen caught and preserved massive quantities of small, oily-fleshed, saltwater fish known as herring. The fish became a valuable commodity for Denmark, one so important that it garnered the nickname “the silver of the sea.”
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Herring, particularly pickled herring, remains popular in Denmark. You will come across it in markets; at sidewalk food stalls; on koldt bords, the equivalent of the Swedish smorgasbord; and in tony restaurants. Dinners frequently begin with a herring course, and no smørrebrød platter would be complete without pickled herring.
If you’ve not tried this seafood specialty, you’re missing quite a treat. Velvety soft and delicately sweet, it almost melts on your tongue. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, low in contaminants and garnering an environmental “eco-OK” rating from the Environmental Defense Fund, it’s tasty, wholesome and relatively guilt-free. Even the most diehard herring skeptics must concede that this is one delectable fish dish.
Pickled herring begins with salted herring fillets. The fillets are soaked in cold water for six to 12 hours to remove the saltiness. They are then placed in a marinade, where they usually steep for at least 24 hours.
The basic marinade consists of vinegar, sugar and spices. However, Danish cooks have crafted countless recipes featuring such ingredients as sour cream, chives, mustard, dill, sherry and tomatoes.
For ardent home cook and culinary hobbyist Gilad Langer, no dish tops karrysild, or curried herring. Here curry paste is combined with mayonnaise, sour cream, sliced apple and spices such as crushed coriander and mustard seeds. The herring macerate in this mixture for at least an hour. The mildly spiced fillets are then served atop a piece of lard-slathered dark rye bread with optional slices of hard-boiled egg.
“For the holiday meals, people typically spend some time on making special marinades, while the everyday meals are kept to the common recipes, red [vinegar and sherry], white [plain vinegar] and curry herring. In any case, Christmas lunch and parties always have pickled herring,” says Langer, a former longtime resident of Hillerød, which is 30 minutes north of Copenhagen.
It’s said that a shot of Danish aquavit should be drunk alongside pickled herring and that it aids in digestion, washing the herring down into the stomach. “The aquavit, which means ‘water of life,’ really brings out the fishy taste and is an important part of the social etiquette of the traditional Danish lunch,” Langer says.
Along with aquavit, the fish marries well with a variety of ingredients. Cold, boiled potatoes, sliced onion, egg, tomato, apple, chopped pickle, chives, crème fraiche and a good, cold beer all complement its smooth taste.
Pickled herring is a common filling for open-faced sandwiches, or smørrebrød. For these sandwiches, cooks typically use rye bread as the base. However, rye crackers and flat or whole-grain breads are delicious alternatives. While some Danes swear by lard, others employ the less-controversial butter as their smørrebrød spread.
I encountered the following pickled herring recipe at a heritage festival in the eastern Danish city of Helsingør. Famed for its 15th-century castle Kronborg, which served as the setting for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Helsingør will also be remembered, at least by me, for its extraordinary herring offerings.
For the first marinade:
1 pound skinless, salt-cured herring fillets
8 ounces white vinegar
3 ounces water
1 tablespoon salt
For the second marinade:
8 ounces granulated sugar
20 white peppercorns, crushed
20 whole allspice, crushed
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf, crushed
1 small bundle of fresh dill, chopped
1. Soak the herring fillets in cold water for six hours, changing the water once or twice during this time. When finished, pat the fillets dry with a clean cloth.
2. For the first marinade, whisk together the vinegar, water and salt. Place the herring fillets in a shallow baking dish and pour the liquid over them. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.
3. Remove the dish from the refrigerator and drain the marinade into a bowl. In another large bowl, stir together the original pickling liquid and the sugar, peppercorns, allspice, onions, lemon zest, ground pepper, bay leaf and dill.
4. Alternating between layers of herring and marinade, fill a lidded glass jar or container with the fish. Make sure the herring is neatly packed and not floating about. You may need to drain off or withhold a bit of liquid. Don’t skimp, though, on the onion, spice and herb mixture.
5. Seal and refrigerate the container for at least 24 hours or up to three days before serving.
Photo: Pickled herring. Credit: Kathy Hunt
Provence in the south of France has certainly gotten all the glory with its jet-setter reputation. After all it has the Riviera with Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and Cannes while its neighbor to the southwest Languedoc seems like a distant cousin.
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Most people probably can’t name any place in Languedoc. However, Languedoc offers some delights for the non-jet-setting crowd. It’s quieter than Provence, it’s beautiful, and one can encounter food as good as — and some would say better than — in Provence. That’s impossible to judge of course, but I do find myself often leaning to certain dishes rather than the popular tapenade from Provence.
One such dish is a great salad from Languedoc called anchoïade, a tomato and anchovy salad that is a celebration of land and sea. As its name indicates, the star of this salad must be the local anchovies that are salted directly off the boats coming into the small ports of Languedoc or the Côte Vermeille in Roussillon.
For this reason your typical oil-soaked anchovies in little cans will not do. For this dish to be anything remotely notable you’ll need nice plump, silvery, salted anchovies. Anchovies like these are sold by the Sicilian firm Agostino Recca available at the grocery and gourmet food section of Amazon.
Because the tomatoes are equally important, I call for specific cultivars that I either grow or like, but you can use any kind of homegrown or farmers market-type ripe tomato, heirloom or not, as long as they’ve got full flavor. Anchoïade can refer to a kind of vinaigrette that has anchovies in it or to this salad.
Anchoïade (Tomato and Anchovy Salad)
Serves 4 to 6
16 salted anchovy filets, rinsed
1½ pounds ripe Principe Borghese or Early Girl tomatoes, quartered
3 to 4 ounces imported green olives (28 to 32)
2 large eggs, hard-boiled, shelled and quartered
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup very finely chopped red onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Soak the anchovies for 2 hours in water. Remove and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Arrange the tomatoes, olives and eggs on a platter. Drape the anchovy fillets over the tomatoes artfully.
3. Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, red onion, salt and pepper.
4. Dress the tomatoes, without tossing, and serve.
Top photo: Anchoïade salad with anchovies and tomatoes. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
I consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day. Most mornings, I cook a Japanese breakfast because that’s what my family prefers.
It consists of miso soup and a protein dish of fish (sometimes leftover grilled salmon from the night before), eggs or tofu. They are accompanied by a bowl of steamed rice or toast, with a crisp piece of nori seaweed on top, and for sides, I plate small portions of fermented foods — tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and natto (fermented soybeans), which is a strong food that can be an acquired taste for Westerners because it is stringy and stinky like cheese. I also serve fresh fruit with a dollop of yogurt and might also have a shot of apple cider vinegar, sweetened with a little honey.
If you are invited to my house for breakfast, you might actually think it’s dinner; it’s a hearty spread indeed. I also make a Western-style breakfast of buckwheat galettes and whole-wheat pancakes or stone-cut oatmeal with maple syrup, but whenever I go in that direction, I still try to include our Japanese breakfast favorite — miso soup. A bowl of soup with vegetables from the land and the sea and seasoned with miso has a way of ensuring a healthy balance in our diet. Here are ways to integrate the Japanese breakfast concept into your daily cooking.
Eat some type of fermented food every day
In the traditional Japanese breakfast, fermented foods such as miso, soy sauce, vinegar and koji salt made from fermented grains have been used as staple seasonings, and tsukemono (pickled vegetables), umeboshi (pickled plums) and natto (fermented soybeans) have been eaten since ancient times. The practice of fermentation was born out of necessity to extend the life of foods when refrigeration was not readily available.
The benefits of fermentation go beyond preservation. It is convenient to stock your pantry with fermented foods because they are ready-to-eat “cooked” foods, but they also aid in digestion and some are considered medicinal. There is an old Japanese saying that “an umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away.” A similar saying goes for miso. “If you eat miso soup on a daily basis, you don’t need a doctor.” In modern times, fermented foods continue to be a popular breakfast staple. The Japanese have also adopted Western fermented foods such as yogurt into their breakfast regimen. Eaten in moderation, fermented foods keep the intestinal flora healthy.
A Japanese breakfast includes a variety of dishes in small portions
The fundamental difference between an American breakfast and a Japanese one is not only its makeup but also its serving sizes. I remember when my mother took us to Big Boy when we first moved to Los Angeles from Tokyo. Half a cantaloupe with a maraschino cherry was offered as a single serving. I was surprised because a half a melon can serve an entire family in Japan. A typical American breakfast can include two to three eggs scrambled, two to three pieces of bacon or a thick sausage patty or slice of ham, with maybe three stacked pancakes dripping with butter, or French toast or muffins or sugar-glazed doughnuts and so forth.
Such an American breakfast is loaded with sugar and fat. In contrast, the Japanese breakfast is about serving a variety of foods in smaller portions. How you want to feel at the end of the meal is hara hachi bu — 80% full, not stuffed. My grandmother, who lived to 102 years old, made breakfast her biggest meal of the day, but always left room in her tummy so she could start thinking about what to eat for lunch. That was her secret to longevity.
Create contrast in your presentation
Flavor, color and knife skills are important in Japanese cuisine, and that applies to breakfast too. Even if you don’t have time in the morning, each dish should be beautiful. If you are using chopsticks for eating, the foods when served should not require cutting with a knife; they must be uniformly bite-size morsels. Irregularity of size can make them harder to eat and less appealing. In color choice, if you begin with something with white like tofu or daikon radish in your miso soup, something of a bright color like red will enhance it (carrots, red pepper), and a few green herbs will brighten the soup. No meals should be all white or all green or all brown. This also makes sure you are eating more than one vegetable.
Awaken your taste buds in the morning by eating a variety of foods in moderation. Use a combination of sweet (fruit), sour (a salad or citrus fruit or vinegar), salty (pickled foods) and bitter (coffee and green tea). The fifth taste, the umami flavor, is satisfied when you are serving miso soup — made with konbu seaweed, bonito flakes or shiitake mushroom; a meat stock; or serving some kind of umami-rich protein dish, such as grilled fish. Occasionally bacon is OK too.
Choose the freshest ingredients
Because a Japanese breakfast is largely butter-less, spice-less, sugar-less and sauce-less, the ingredients themselves must be flavorful and fresh. Greens must not be bruised or wilted. Fruits should be eaten in season. Visit the farmers market often. Make a fetish of freshness.
Once you have prepared a Japanese breakfast, the creative kitchen work and the deliciousness of the food will probably modify your regular American breakfast. You may cut down on fat- and sugar-loaded cereals and pastries. You’ll discover that whole grains; meat and fish; vegetables, both fresh and fermented; and fruit eaten sensibly can turn your breakfast into a feast. You will be a leaner and happier eater.
Koji Marinated Salmon
This salmon dish can be served any time of the day.
Serves 2 to 4
2 salmon fillets, 6 ounces to 8 ounces each
2 tablespoons shio-koji
1. Spread the shio-koji on the salmon fillets.
2. Marinate for 1 to 2 days in the fridge.
3. Before cooking, rinse off the shio-koji and wipe off any koji residue with a paper towel.
4. Broil the salmon fillets until they are lightly toasted and the meat flakes off easily with a fork. Be careful not to burn the fillets. Serve with lemon wedges.
Top photo: A hearty Japanese breakfast consisting of azuki bean miso soup with Napa cabbage, tofu and scallions; koji salmon; koji mushroom rice; pickled plum, or umeboshi; Napa cabbage, shiso leaves and yuzu pickles; and yogurt with peach compote. Credit: Sonoko Sakai
The 2013 World Series features a matchup between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Many of us expect to spend a bit of time in front of the TV. And we’ll need to eat.
There are three approaches to game-time TV food. The first is junk food like tortilla chips and salsa, potato chips or popcorn. The second is approximations of what you might eat at a ballpark, such as hot dogs. The third I propose here.
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Baseball games require a lot of TV time, so you’ll want a real meal at some point, and it should be a meal you can eat in front of the TV without much hassle. I like culturally appropriate foods, so I suggest Boston fans serve up some fish and chips and St. Louis fans serve up hot dogs. Beer and soda go without saying.
Fish and chips along with baked beans, fried clams and clam chowder are typical Boston foods, but fish and chips are perfect when you don’t want to look down at your plate during an exciting hit-and-run.
Hot dogs for St. Louis Cardinals fans
The hot dog is the perfect St. Louis food for baseball watching because you can bring it up to your mouth without taking your eyes off the called third strike. Furthermore, the invention of the hot dog, a frankfurter in a bun, is sometimes ascribed to the wife of a German named Antonine Feuchtwanger who sold hot dogs with buns on the streets of St. Louis in 1880 because his customers kept taking off the white gloves handed to them to prevent their hands from being burned while they ate. For our purposes, this story alone is good enough to declare the hot dog St. Louis food and an appropriate choice for watching the Cardinals in the World Series.
Another St. Louis food story relates the invention of peanut butter to the city in 1890, when an unknown St. Louis physician encouraged a food products company owner, George A. Bayle Jr., to process and package ground peanut paste as a nutritious protein substitute for people with poor teeth who couldn’t chew meat. No one knows where the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was invented, but that it existed around 1900 and it’s a good addition to the hot dog on the Cardinals’ menu.
The hot dog is easy enough, so here’s the recipe for fish and chips.
Fish and Chips
3 cups vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups beer (lager)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 egg whites, beaten to form peaks
8 cod fillets (about 2 pounds)
1. Preheat the oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
2. In a bowl, prepare the batter by stirring together the flour, beer, olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the egg whites.
3. Dip the fish fillets into the batter making sure both sides are coated. (You’ll have leftover batter). Using tongs carefully place 4 fillets in the hot oil making sure you do not crowd the skillet; cook in more batches if necessary. Cook, turning once with tongs, until golden brown on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes in all. Remove and keep warm in the oven. Repeat for the remaining fish fillets. Serve with lemon wedges, tartar sauce or malt vinegar.
4 russet potatoes (about 12 ounces each), peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths not more than ½-inch thick
2½ quarts peanut or canola oil for frying
Salt to taste
1. Dry the potatoes very well with a towel or multiple sheets of paper toweling. It is very important that the potatoes be dry.
2. Preheat the frying oil in a deep-fryer or large 12- to 14-inch skillet to 360 F. The oil should be at least 2 inches deep and no cooking should happen before that temperature is reached.
3. Cook the potatoes in five batches so they are never too crowded (otherwise the temperature of the oil will drop). Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Remove, drain and transfer to a paper-towel-lined platter. Repeat until all the potatoes are cooked. Let the potatoes cool completely, covered with paper towels. Do not salt. You can place them in the refrigerator for 8 hours if you’re not to be serving them until later in the day, but do bring them back to room temperature before proceeding.
4. Preheat the frying oil to 370 F.
5. Cook the fries in five batches again for exactly 4 minutes. Taste one fry and see whether you like it. If not, cook for another minute. As you remove the fries to drain on more paper towels, salt them immediately. Transfer the French fries to a platter and serve.
Top photos: Fish and chips. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Every morning during the fall in Michigan’s thumb, I watch sport fishermen skimming by in boats outfitted with everything from baited poles to fancy outriggers. They are all after the same thing: salmon. Whether the catch is Atlantic, chinook or coho, it doesn’t much matter as long as they reel one in. Some have a knack for it, some get lucky, some just enjoy a quiet morning on the lake. But I like it most of all when someone brings a fish heavy with roe (or eggs) to my home, because it means we will get two treats out of one catch: caviar and a couple of smoked filets.
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Prized specimens from the endangered beluga sturgeon of the Caspian Sea have been illegal for sale in the United States since 2005. Certain lesser grades like sevruga and osetra are available but can be astronomically pricey, at over $4,000 per pound. But fresh eggs from locally caught salmon in the Great Lakes are quite a different matter. Few fishermen bother to save these precious jewels. Fewer still know how simple it is to cure the eggs and prepare fresh caviar. So you can understand why I felt a little giddy when I got my hands on a recent 10-pound catch with two skeins of roe that yielded 2 pounds of beautifully glistening eggs.
The process for transforming the eggs into caviar is deceptively simple and takes about an hour. It involves little more than preparing salt brine and biding your time. Once the eggs are brined to a level that won’t overpower their delicate fish essence, they are ready to serve and share. All that remains is to offer a simple cracker with a smear of sour cream, a mound of cured eggs and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and chopped chives, or just a stunning spoonful to your grateful guests, and dig in.
Great Lakes Salmon Caviar
Fresh salmon roe (eggs) (see Note)
1 cup of kosher salt
8 cups of cold water
1. Place the salt and cold water in a large glass or stainless bowl and mix well until salt is dissolved.
2. Gently rinse each egg sac under cool running water to remove as much blood as possible and lower into the salted brine. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. While the eggs are curing, prepare a second bowl fitted with a colander.
4. After 30 minutes, remove the sacs from the refrigerator and place them in the second bowl and colander in a deep sink, reserving the brine.
5. Cover the eggs with hot running tap water (approximately 150 degrees). As the outer membrane is exposed to the heat, it will shrink and begin to pull away from the eggs, making it simple to gentle slough the eggs away from the membrane and into the colander. Within the sac will be threads of more membranes that can be carefully removed by hand.
6. Once the outer membrane is removed and the eggs are separated, continue to refresh the bowl with cool water and stir the eggs, gently rinsing them by hand to remove the smaller white membranes that will float to the surface and may still cling to the eggs. Drain and repeat the rinsing process until the water in the bowl runs clear. This may require several rinses. Remove the colander from the bowl, draining the clear water away from the eggs.
7. Return the eggs to the original salt brine and refrigerate for up to another 30 minutes. Check the eggs at 10-minute intervals, rinsing and tasting the eggs for your desired level of saltiness. Continue to brine if not salty enough. If too salty, replace the brine with fresh water and let the eggs rest. The water will draw out salt until the eggs reach your desired level of brine.
8. Drain the eggs from the brine and store in a clean glass container with tightly fitting lid. Caviar can be served immediately or safely stored in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days.
Salmon roe can be tricky to find if you don’t know a sport fisherman in salmon territory. Try making friends with a fishmonger instead, or check online purveyors.
Top photo: A dish of cured salmon roe, or caviar. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
It’s close to 6 in the morning, and the sky is muted and streaked with pink, white and blue stripes. I am on Kachemak Bay in a bright yellow kayak, and the water is as flat as a calm lake. A family of otters — a mother and two young cubs — swims alongside. Snowcapped mountains lie ahead in the distance. This is what dawn feels like in Alaska in the summer. The only problem: Alaska is so far north that the sun never sets this time of year, so kayaking or any other activity is done after a fitful sleep spent trying to keep out the light.
The idea of sunlight 24 hours a day sounds great. But, trust me, around midnight — or 3 a.m. or close to 6 a.m. — when your body is exhausted but your mind is saying, “Let’s go for another kayak ride,” it all begins to feel like a cruel joke.
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Sleeping was my biggest problem on a recent trip to Alaska. Actually it was my only problem.
I traveled to a small wilderness lodge called Tutka Bay, located at the head of a seven-mile fjord on Kachemak Bay, off the coast near Homer, Alaska. I was there to do the things I love most: write, cook, exercise and see wildlife.
I wrote each morning with the guidance of two mentors, cookbook and memoirist Molly O’Neill and poet Carolyn Forche. In the afternoon we learned to cook Alaskan specialties.
Tutka Bay Lodge’s Cooking School, located in a dry-docked converted herring boat, may be the only cooking school in the world without electricity or running water. You’d think it’s impossible to cook without those two basic elements, but using portable butane burner stove tops and a huge water cooler, matched with the talent of chef and lodge owner Kirsten Dixon, the cooking classes were flawless.
Dixon, who has lived in Alaska for more than 30 years and written several cookbooks, has become a kind of ambassador for Alaskan cuisine. She, along with her assistant Christie Maggi, taught us about the history, influences and current state of Alaskan cuisine.
Alaskan cooking school makes local ingredients shine
Yes, there is such a thing as Alaskan cuisine. And no, it’s not (just) moose stew, reindeer burgers and potatoes. We were introduced to sophisticated dishes like king crab beignets, cold smoked salmon with brown sugar brûlée, local oysters with pickled cauliflower and juniper crème fraîche topping, sourdough biscuits with house-made sweetened ricotta, and rhubarb preserves.
“Most people think we are too far off the beaten track to have a cuisine,” Dixon explains. “But there is a vibrant culinary scene here. Young chefs in Anchorage are beginning to pay attention to local foods, farmers markets and native traditions.”
Using ingredients such as seafood (Alaskan salmon, cod and halibut being the most obvious) and foraged foods such as sea asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, seaweed, mushrooms and wild berries, the food you find in much of Alaska is no longer frozen and flown in from the lower 48, but now focuses on local ingredients.
The state of Alaska even offers subsidies to chefs who use local ingredients. “This subsidy helps promote the use of locally grown Alaskan food,” Dixon notes, “and really encourages Alaskan chefs to shop in-state.”
Eating local, shopping local and growing your own food is something Alaskans feel passionate about. During the summer months, many try to grow, preserve and freeze enough fresh food to last them through the long winter.
“The thing about Alaskans is that we have this homesteading mentality,” Dixon says. “We are a can-do people. There is a degree of self-sufficiency and a joy about living close to the land. Alaskans pride themselves in surviving without a Whole Foods.”
With the longest coastline in the U.S. (33,000 miles), the seafood that comes from Alaskan waters is superb. The extreme cold temperature of the water produces some of the best oysters I’ve ever tasted. But it’s salmon that’s king. There are five distinct types of salmon that come from the Pacific Ocean off the Alaskan coast: Chinook, or King, is highly prized and the largest species (weighing in at up to 150 pounds). Coho, or Silver, salmon is smaller with a fine texture. Sockeye is famous for its deep red color and mild flavor. There’s also Chum and Pink salmon.
Virtually every day I was in Alaska I ate salmon — fresh, smoked, pickled, grilled, barbecued and sautéed — and never grew tired of it. Eating fresh Alaskan salmon was like tasting salmon for the first time. It has such a buttery texture and fresh, explosive flavor that it’s nearly unrecognizable.
Alaskan-born Chef Rob Kinnan of Crush Bistro in Anchorage says when he came to the East Coast and tasted farm-raised salmon for the first time he couldn’t believe the fish was related to the salmon he grew up eating in Alaska. “It was like someone leeched all the flavor, texture and nutritional value out of the fish,” he explained. “Cold water means more fat in the fish, which equals more flavor. The fish create fat to insulate themselves in these very cold Alaskan waters.”
Benefits of an all-daylight growing cycle
Although I had a hard time with the 24-hour a day sunlight, it has its advantages for farmers in Alaska. The growing season is short (a mere 100 days) but intense. Crops can soak in the sun all night and day, which means Alaska grows incredible produce: broccoli and cauliflower the size of watermelons; berries and oversized root vegetables; winter-hearty vegetables like kale, rutabagas and potatoes. Because the state was once dominated by glaciers, much of the underlying subsurface is glacial till, silt and sand. This is rich soil.
With such a short season and the cost of shipping food from other places prohibitively expensive, the cooks at Tutka Bay do a lot of canning and preserving. In my few days there I sampled pickled cherries, fennel and cauliflower, not to mention a gorgeous selection of jams, jellies and preserves from local berries and fruit.
“Putting up” seasonal foods dictates a lot of what goes on during an Alaskan summer. Dixon talks about the troubles she has during berry season. It’s not just the bears that want a piece of the action. “There’s this ritual in Alaska that when the berries are ripe — blueberries, raspberries, huckleberries — women go out and pick for days, camping and make a ritual of it. It’s hard to get people to come to work when there’s berries to be picked.”
Dixon laughs at her own story. She points to a group from her kitchen that has just gotten back from a hike around the lodge foraging for fresh herbs and seaweed for the evening’s menu. Tonight we will eat roast Alaskan duck, a salad with foraged herbs and smoked salmon, and an assortment of pickles. After dinner, while it’s still perfectly light, we will walk along the bay, look for seals and otters and watch the brightly lit night sky. And then I will try to get some sleep.
Quick Pickled Cauliflower
Makes 4 to 6 accompaniment servings, depending on the size of the cauliflower head
At Tutka Bay, Chef Kirsten Dixon serves these pickles on top of fresh-shucked raw local oysters and tops them with crème fraîche seasoned with juniper berries.
2 cups cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 head of cauliflower, shaved into thin slices
1. Mix all ingredients except cauliflower in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Place cauliflower in a bowl and pour hot liquid on top. Allow mixture to steep for at least an hour. The mixture can then be used, refrigerated for up to a month or canned.
Top photo: Alaskan king crab. Credit: Kathy Gunst
Stellar waves and sunsets attract surfers from around the world to Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s southwest coast, where beer is a major food group and simply grilled seafood comes along for the ride.
Years ago I tasted anise-flavored mussels at a nondescript joint overlooking the famous beach. As I watched cooks throw seasoned black bivalves onto an open-fire grill, I knew I’d be making this fast and easy recipe for years to come.
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Back home in Southern California, I used to get huge black mussels at my Wednesday Santa Monica farmers market from a Santa Barbara aquaculture company that, alas, no longer exists. Another local company, Carlsbad Aquafarm, Inc., showed up one Wednesday with smaller mussels, similar to Prince Edward Island’s. It’s not that I have anything against the small, sweet-fleshed beauties (perfect for garlicky moules marinière), but big mussels are simply easier to cook on a grill. Tiny PEI mussels tend to fall through the grates. And grates are necessary in this recipe to keep the mussels flat so their precious juices stay intact. Recently I started grilling New Zealand green-lipped mussels for their herculean size and significant meaty mouthfuls of sea goodness.
Grilled mussels a fast and easy appetizer
As far as a recipe goes, Grilled Anise Mussels couldn’t be easier. Dump cleaned mussels in a bowl, mix seasoning all over and place on the grill. That’s it.
I have an indoor gas grill that makes cooking a snap. If I’m grilling throughout dinner or feeding a large group I may switch to a mighty outdoor gas grill or a kettle grill when wood smoke is part of my flavor equation.
Seafood lovers go nuts over Grilled Anise Mussels. This recipe is such a cinch I guarantee it to be your new go-to appetizer. The important ingredient is anise seed, with its subtle licorice taste and softer crunch than harder, bolder-flavored fennel seed. You can find anise seed in well-stocked supermarkets, specialty spice shops and mail-order Internet sites.
Grilled Anise Mussels
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
2 pounds New Zealand green-lipped mussels or black mussels as large as possible
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the grill to hot.
2. To clean cultivated mussels, scrub them under cold running water with a brush and trim off their beards with a paring knife. As each is cleaned, set it in a colander and drain and dry for about 10 minutes. If there’s one that stays wide open and does not close, throw it away. Transfer the damp mussels to a large bowl.
3. Stir together the anise seeds, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Scatter over the mussels, and with your hands mix the seasoning throughout, deep into the bowl, covering each mussel all over.
4. Start grilling immediately, before the salt starts dissolving, by using long-handled tongs to quickly place each mussel on the hot grill with one of its flat sides down. (If an open edge is facing down, all the aromatic juices escape into the grill as soon as its shell opens.) In a minute or two, as each opens, place it on a serving platter, again flat side down. Some mussels take longer to open so turn them a few times with the tongs, being careful not to scrape off seasoning. Sometimes, too, tapping an uncooperative mussel with tongs encourages it to open. A few may char, and that’s fine. Throw away any that do not open.
5. Take the platter to the table to serve.
6. Here’s the fun part. Break off the top shell — it’s your spoon. With it, scrape the mussel meat from the bottom shell. Slide it into your mouth along with those valued juices while licking anise seasoning off the shell.
Top photo: New Zealand green-lipped mussels ready for serving. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky
The southwest monsoons arrive in Kerala with all their fury by mid-June every year. For the following 2½ months, raging seas, heavy rainstorms and rumbling thunder reign. Monsoon is also the lifeline of the region where food production and harvesting are still deeply seasonal. It is the time of renewal of the life cycle of farming and monsoon fishing.
The strong winds and high waves during monsoon season make it impossible even for fishermen with motorized trawlers to go out into the deep sea. But for the artisanal fishermen in Kerala, the early days of monsoon are the much-awaited time for Chaakara, the mud bank formations that arise along the coast within a few days after the onset of southwest monsoons. Chaakara is a welcome geological occurrence that happens only along Kerala’s coast in India.
Chaakara, or mud bank formation
The violent winds and strong ocean currents created by the monsoon winds stir the bottom of the sea, and fine mud particles are churned up into a thick suspension. The southerly currents that run parallel to the coast at maximum speed drive the entire floating mud slowly towards the shore. A semicircular boundary develops around the suspended mud, which consistently absorbs the wave energy and substantially reduces turbulence. Kerala has an intricate network of interconnected rivers, canals, lakes and inlets including five large lakes linked by canals, fed by more than 40 rivers that extend virtually half the length of the state.
During monsoon rains, clay and silts rich in silica and organic matter are washed down from the mountains and are carried down the rivers to the lakes and then on to the sea. Muddy water attracts a wide variety of fish, shrimp and prawns in abundance, and they surge to the surface from the bottom of the sea where they normally live. The tranquil waters inside the mud bank turns into a bustling fishing harbor.
Kerala’s fisheries and aquaculture resources are rich and diverse, and Kerala accounts for 20% to 25% of the national marine fish production. Fish catches from the state include more than 300 species, such as sardine, mackerel, seer fish, pomfret and prawn.
Artisanal monsoon fishing
Chaakara is the seasonal windfall for artisanal fishermen. Heavy surf and turbulent waters are dangerous for small canoes and catamarans and fishing in the artisanal sector is generally at a standstill during the monsoon. Thousands of fishermen from the surrounding areas rush to the fishing village where Chaakara has surfaced. In this safe and hospitable environment they harvest shoals of fish from their traditional fishing canoes. During the short-lived chaakara season the shore is lined with fishing canoes and catamarans and fishermen landing, sorting and selling a wide variety of fish. A single throw of nets enables them to bring home a miraculous bumper harvest of mackerel, prawns, sardines and others. Seafood processors and exporters buy up the bumper crop and cash in on the abundance. The price of seafood drops to attractive levels.
The breeding season of the majority of the fish varieties coincides with the south-west monsoon season in Kerala, and it is essential that trawling is stopped during this period because it destroys fish eggs and young fish. The trawling ban is also necessary to ensure the safety of fishermen as the seas turn very rough during the monsoon.
Kerala has pioneered a fisheries management technique, an annual 45-day ban on trawling in the state’s waters during the monsoon season since 1988, for the long-term conservation of marine resources. This ban creates a major boon for artisanal fishermen because they get exclusive rights to fish in the vicinity of mud banks during this period.
The chemistry of chaakara
Chaakara is a unique phenomenon that happens along a stretch of nearly 270 kilometers (160 miles) along the Kerala coastline. At times these mud banks run several kilometers long, taking on the size of a lake. After a few weeks the fluid mud settles at the bottom, dissipating the mud bank. The mud bank formation is erratic and varies from year to year, in location, extent and duration.
One theory about the abundance of marine life close to the shore is that the muddy waters at the bottom of the sea contain less oxygen, so fishes and prawns that live at the bottom of the sea swim up to the surface to catch a breath. Veteran fishermen have a different take. They believe the rich nutrients from the mountains carried down by the rivers and backwaters attract fishes to the calm area formed in the sea.
Whatever the reason, it’s the perfect time to take advantage and make dishes served up by the monsoon’s bounty.
The following recipe is adapted from “The Essential Kerala Cookbook” by Vijayan Kannampilly
1 pound medium-sized prawns
¼ cup rice flour
Salt to taste
3 to 4 green chili peppers thinly sliced (less for milder taste)
1½ inch piece of fresh ginger grated
⅓ cup thinly chopped shallots
¼ cup curry leaves, thinly chopped
2 cups of oil, preferably coconut oil
1. Shell and remove heads of the prawns. Devein them and wash well. Place the prawns in a pan along with ½ cup of water and cook till tender. Remove from the stove, drain any remaining water and cool.
2. Grind or mince the prawns in a food processor. Add rice flour, salt, green chilies, ginger, shallots and curry leaves, and mix well. Divide the mixture into small 1-inch round balls and shape into round cutlets.
3. Meanwhile heat the oil in a frying pan to 350 F. Deep-fry the cutlets till both sides are golden brown. Serve hot.
Top photo: Fishing in the South Indian chaakaras during monsoon season. Credit: Prasanth Gulfu