Articles in Fish
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
by: Caroline J. Beck
Toying with Thanksgiving tradition is tricky – I might disappoint my guests. From prior experience, they will arrive expecting to see the iconic farm table setting of Norman Rockwell’s wonderful mid-20th century painting. They have imagined aromas of a succulent bird with a crackling crust; rich side dishes piled high; and platters of homemade pies. They will not expect a fished, foraged and farmed one-plate meal.
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I will blame it on a recent cross-country trip where the trend toward local foraging was in full force. It caused me to rethink what I am thankful for during this holiday season and what to celebrate.
First stop, a small-town gas station on Minnesota’s river-etched border promoting true wild rice for sale from a local purveyor. Second stop, Santa Fe, New Mexico’s lively farmers market offering fiery chili powder roasted in an horno, or adobe oven, and seasonal wild mushrooms in all their delicate tenderness. Third stop, Sedona, Arizona’s hidden Oak Creek apple orchards heavy with fruit amid the blaze of red rock landscape.
As I wound my way through the countryside, it struck me that the best way to truly celebrate Thanksgiving is to pay homage to all the farmers and foragers who supply this bounty with one dish that explodes with fall season flavor. Wild salmon, foraged chanterelles, true Minnesota wild rice and California winter greens, all dressed with the season’s freshest olio nuovo and true balsamic vinegar. All that and a mountain-high apple pie might just make them forget about Norman Rockwell.
Thanksgiving Salmon Salad
I sheepishly admit that this one-plate dinner also offers a new stress-free approach to Thanksgiving. One that employs one hour of advanced preparation, not two or three days. One that leaves very few dishes to tidy up. And one that won’t have me wrestling over what to do with nonexistent leftovers.
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups wild rice
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Extra virgin olive oil, preferably olio nuovo, as needed
1 cup dried tart cherries
True cask balsamic vinegar (see note), as needed
Salt, preferably medium coarse
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound wild mushrooms, preferably Chanterelles
6 wild salmon filets, 6 ounces each
Amarillo chili powder (or any medium hot chili powder)
For the garnish:
2 green onions, chopped
bunch flat-leafed Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup toasted pine nuts
6 lemon wedges
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. On stovetop, bring chicken stock to boil, reduce heat to low simmer and add wild rice, bay leaves, thyme and nutmeg. Cook for 40 to 50 minutes until grains have bloomed and broth is absorbed. Remove bay leaves and stir in dried tart cherries. Let rest while plating the dish and grilling salmon.
3. While rice is cooking, thoroughly clean mushrooms, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, distribute on parchment-lined cookie sheet and place in preheated oven. After 10 minutes, stir and return to oven for additional 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
4. Place washed greens on individual plates and dress with a hearty drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, medium coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
5. Brush salmon fillets with generous coating of olive oil, season lightly with chili powder, salt and pepper. Grill over medium high heat for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until skin side is crisp and center is still red.
6. Mound rice in center of greens, top with salmon filet and roasted mushrooms, garnish with onions, parsley, pine nuts and a wedge of lemon.
As with any dish, the best ingredients are the keys to successful, robust flavor. Look for the season’s freshest olive oil, known commonly as olio nuovo and rich, syrupy, true balsamic vinegar. While expensive, a little of this elixir goes a long way. I’m partial to The Olive Oil Source’s True Cask 25 from Modeno, Italy, available online.
Top photo: Wild salmon salad. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
Start a meal with an amuse-bouche, and you’ve gone from zero to 60 in five seconds. Fine dining chefs learned long ago that an amuse-bouche gives a preview to the meal with a palate-pleasing morsel. At home, an amuse-bouche turns an everyday meal into fun.
Strictly speaking, an amuse-bouche is an amusement for the mouth, usually a single bite or small plate served at the start of the meal in an upscale restaurant. The dish is not on the menu, is free of charge and spotlights the chef’s culinary interests.
From Michelin-star kitchens to home kitchens
Doing research for a series of articles about five-star hotels in Switzerland, I was hosted in a dozen upscale restaurants in Geneva, Lausanne, Vevey, Interlaken, Zurich and Lugano. Without exception, every meal was preceded with an amuse-bouche, and they were as different as the chefs who commanded those kitchens.
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Some amuse-bouche featured expensive ingredients such as caviar, lobster and foie gras. Others employed labor-intensive techniques that transformed solids into airy foams. All were small plates of luxuriousness and indulgence, like the lemon-scented carrot gelée flavoring a disk of veal tartare at Restaurant Le Mont Blanc at Le Crans, a ski resort in Crans-Montana not far from Geneva.
At the three-star Michelin restaurant in the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, the amuse-bouche prepared by Anne-Sophie Pic’s kitchen was a single plate with three disks of flavor, texture and temperature, employing ingredients as disparate as avocado, ham, figs, Parmesan cheese, shrimp, tomato and mozzarella.
Get inventive with small bites
In the home kitchen, an amuse-bouche can be as inventive and flavorful as any from a Michelin-starred restaurant, but it need not be as labor intensive. An espresso cup with a fragrant soup of roasted tomatoes and spinach with homemade croutons on the side is a great way to begin a meal but does not require the crew of prep chefs necessary in a fine-dining kitchen.
The best amuse-bouche are packed with flavor. The point is not to satiate hunger but to stimulate the appetite. Think of an amuse-bouche as a gateway to the meal. A single grilled scallop seasoned with finely grated Parmesan cheese. A shucked oyster topped with a few salmon eggs. A cube of roasted kabocha squash flavored with caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms.
For a Vietnamese-themed dinner, I served an easy-to-prepare grilled shrimp with lemon grass to tell everyone the meal was taking its inspiration from Southeast Asia.
Lemon Grass Grilled Shrimp With Garlic and Onions
1 stalk lemon grass, washed, root end trimmed
4 medium sized raw shrimp, washed, shelled, deveined, pat dried
1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped yellow onion
⅛ teaspoon turmeric
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon olive or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce, Nam Pla or Nước chấm (optional)
Dusting of cayenne powder (optional)
1. Scrape the white end of the lemon grass stalk against a fine grater. Use the first 2 to 3 inches of the stalk and discard the remainder.
2. In a bowl, toss the shrimp, grated lemon grass, garlic, onions, turmeric, salt, pepper, oil, fish sauce (optional) and cayenne (optional).
3. Preheat an outdoor grill to high or the oven to 400 F. If using an oven, place a small wire grill on a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom of a small baking tray.
4. Skewer the shrimp using two skewers to the shrimp to keep their shape.
5. Place the shrimp on the outdoor grill or in the oven.
Turn over after three minutes. Remove when shrimp have grill marks but are not overcooked.
6. Serve each shrimp on a small plate with garnish.
Top photo: An amuse-bouche from Chef Dominique Gauthier of Le Chat Botté at the Beau Rivage in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: David Latt
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
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
With the outdoor barbecue mothballed for the season, cooks might think the joy of food caramelized by intense heat has to wait until summer. But maybe not. A chance discovery in a Korean restaurant supply store led to my discovering the pleasures of a cast-iron griddle that comes with a heat-resistant wooden platter that allows sizzling dishes to be carried directly to the table.
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In Latin restaurants, the pleasures of fajitas are well-known. Vegetables, usually onions and bell peppers, join meats, poultry and seafood on a cast-iron griddle to char and caramelize fats with as much sweetness as if they were prepared on the open flame of an outdoor barbecue. Asian chefs also place cast-iron griddles on heat-proof wooden platters so that diners can enjoy the aromas and excitement of vegetables and proteins charring right before their eyes.
The key to using a cast-iron griddle is being prepared. Like wok cooking, all the ingredients must be prepped before cooking begins. And once the ingredients are on the griddle, no distractions are allowed. To prevent burning, the vegetables and proteins must be turned constantly. A set of long-handled tongs is essential, as is a good exhaust fan over the stove to clear away any smoke.
All ingredients should be cut into bite-sized pieces, the better to cook quickly and also the better to create the greatest surface area for caramelization.
Griddles come in oval and rectangular shapes. Sizes vary from 8 to 14 inches. The recipe assumes a griddle at least 11 inches in length. A smaller size would require that the sautéeing take place using batches rather than all the ingredients at once.
Before using, the griddle needs to be tempered. Wash it thoroughly with soapy water and rinse with clean water. Place on a high flame (gas or electric) until all moisture has dried. When it is cool to the touch, place a small amount of oil on a paper towel and wipe it across the surface.
Before you store your griddle, cover it in plastic.
Before using it again, clean the griddle in case any rust has collected on the cooking surface. Place it on the burner on the highest possible heat. Do not apply oil.
Ingredients for griddle dishes should be tossed in oil and seasoned in a bowl before they’re placed on the hot griddle.
Cast-iron Griddle Sauté
2 pounds deboned chicken thigh or breast meat, skin removed, washed and pat dried. Alternately, use 2 pounds shelled, deveined shrimp, washed and pat dried; 2 pounds octopus tentacles, washed and finely sliced; 2 pounds filet mignon, washed and pat dried; 2 cups firm tofu, or 2 pounds skinned, deboned duck meat
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, skin removed, finely chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, finely chopped
½-inch ginger knob, washed, peeled, finely chopped (optional)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
⅛ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 large yellow onion, peeled, stem and top removed, washed, sliced thin, longitudinally
1. Except for the shrimp, cut the chicken (or other protein choice) into bite-sized pieces, approximately ½-inch square.
2. Place chicken into a bowl, toss with ⅔ tablespoon olive oil, the garlic clove, parsley, ginger (optional) and season with sea salt, pepper and cayenne (optional). Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, toss the sliced onion with the remaining oil. Season with sea salt and pepper.
4. Using tongs, place the onions on the hot griddle. The onion will sizzle and smoke, which is why you want the exhaust fan on high otherwise your cooking will rouse your smoke alarms. Keep turning the onions until they turn light brown. The caramelization has started.
5. Add the seasoned chicken or alternative. Toss well with tongs, combining the protein with the onions. Stir and toss until all pieces are cooked evenly and acquire a light brown patina.
6. Using oven mitts, transfer the sizzling hot cast-iron griddle to the wooden platter and carry it to the table where everyone is waiting for the feast to begin.
7. Serve with pasta, rice or a steamed green like spinach, broccoli or asparagus.
Top photo: Cast-iron Korean griddles on their heat-proof wooden platters at Gio Restaurant Equipment in Los Angeles. Credit: David Latt
By the end of summer, most of us are tired of heat waves, but that weather is just what seasonal produce loves. Super heated air and damp humidity can be trying for us two-legged types, but when temperatures soar, heat-loving plants would dance in the streets with joy, if they could. Gods of the summer kitchen, tomatoes and corn are at their peak of flavor this time of year. Adding roasting to the mix brings out their sweetness. Combining roasted tomatoes and corn with briny clams for a salty finish makes beautifully easy-to-make pasta.
Corn, boiled or grilled
Delicious in so many ways, corn can be eaten boiled or grilled on the cob, braised in butter, added to soups and tossed in salads.
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Boiled corn has a clean-tasting freshness. Topped with butter, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, corn plucked from a stock pot filled with boiling water is as simple as summer cooking can be.
Many people debate whether grilled or boiled corn is better and whether the husks and silks should stay on the cob to protect the kernels from the violence of the barbecue’s intense heat. Personally, I land solidly on the side of the debate that says to create the best tasting corn, throw the corn on the barbie naked, clothed only with a thin sheen of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.
Direct contact with heat caramelizes the kernels, adding an umami flavor that only a hot grill or roasting pan can supply.
Whole tomatoes and clams
Tomatoes can be prepared in as many variations as corn. Usually defined by their savory acid, when roasted, tomatoes release a happy sweetness locked inside.
With affordable seafood available in abundance during the summer, corn and tomatoes find able companions at the table. To my way of thinking, shellfish forms the best marriage with corn and tomatoes by adding saltiness to the flavor mix.
Of all shellfish, clams are the easiest to prepare, because they require only a good washing in clean, cold water before they go into a covered pot over high heat. Come back in five minutes and your salt-water protein is table ready.
Tomatoes, Corn and Clams With Pasta
At farmers markets, slightly bruised and overly ripe tomatoes are often sold discounted. These failed beauties are perfect for roasting. Once puréed, the sauce can be placed in airtight containers and kept in the freezer for months. In the fall and winter, when ripe tomatoes are objects of distant memory and you want to make a soup or pasta sauce, the roasted tomato purée in the freezer will bring back the warm taste of summer.
The best clams are the freshest ones, harvested the previous day either from clam beds or farms with a good supply of clean water. When you buy clams, they are alive. Even though they are out of water, once they arrive in your kitchen, they will keep in the refrigerator in an uncovered bowl for two or three days. While fresh clams are delicious, they lose their flavor when overcooked. The pleasure of their sweet chewiness is ruined if all grit is not removed before serving. It is important to give the cooked clams a thorough rinsing in cold water as described below.
If you like the flavor of clams but not their chewiness, finely chop the whole clams after you remove them from their shells.
For the pasta, use any style you enjoy. Orecchiette (“ear”) and gnocchi pasta work especially well because the pasta shapes act as little cups to capture the clams and corn kernels.
5 pounds little neck or butter clams in the shell, rinsed in cold water
3 pounds ripe, whole tomatoes, washed
2 ears corn, husks and silks removed, washed
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2 strips bacon (optional)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 pound pasta
¼ cup pasta water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, skins removed, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, root and stem removed, finely sliced top to bottom
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, ends of stems trimmed, finely sliced
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
Dusting of cayenne (optional)
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
For the clams:
1. Wash the outside of the clams with clean water. Place an empty, large pot on the stove on a medium-high heat. Put the clams into the pan. Do not add water. Cover. After 5 minutes, remove from the stove. Take out all the opened clams and set aside. Remove the clams and discard the shells. Leave any shells that have not opened in the pot and return to the stove. Cover and cook another 5 minutes. If any clams have not opened by this point, discard.
2. Pour the clam broth that has accumulated from the pot into a lidded container. Pour slowly so the sediment at the bottom can be discarded.
3. Rinse the clams in clean water. Place the clams into the clam broth and refrigerate until needed. At this point, the clams and broth can be frozen for future use.
For the tomatoes:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a sharp paring knife, make a triangle cut into the top of each tomato to remove and discard the stem.
2. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet covered with a Silpat sheet or piece of aluminum foil. Roast the tomatoes 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
3. Collect all the clear liquid on the bottom of the baking sheet. Press the cooked tomatoes through a fine mesh strainer or pass them through a food mill. Mix together the clear liquid and tomato purée. Should make 1 cup or more.
For the corn:
1. Preheat a barbecue grill or preheat oven to 350 F. Roll each ear of corn in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.
2. Grill the corn on a hot barbecue or place in the oven, turning every 5 to 10 minutes with metal tongs until lightly browned. Remove and let cool.
Cut the kernels off the corn, discard the cobs and set the kernels aside.
For the sauce and pasta:
1. Fry the bacon (optional) in a large skillet until crisp. When cool, crumble or finely chop with a sharp knife. Drain the oil. Use the skillet to make the sauce (below), deglazing the pan to add the bacon flavor.
2. Add kosher salt to a large pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well. Stir every 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and when al dente after about 10 minutes, strain. Reserve 1 cup pasta water.
3. Heat a large skillet, drizzle with olive oil. Sauté the garlic, onions and shiitake mushrooms until lightly browned. Add grilled corn and 1 cup roasted tomato purée. Add sweet butter (optional). Stir well. Dust with cayenne (optional). Add the bacon (optional).
4. Add clam broth. Stir well to deglaze the skillet. Taste. If more liquid is needed and if the sauce needs salt, add the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. Taste, being careful to avoid allowing the sauce to become overly salted.
5. Heat the sauce over a medium flame. Add the cooked pasta. Toss to coat. When the pasta is warm, add the clams. Toss until the clams are heated, being careful not to overcook.
Serve in a large platter, topped with a dusting of fresh Italian parsley and grated cheese.
Top photo: Orecchiette pasta with chopped Italian parsley, grated Romano cheese, grilled corn kernels, roasted tomato sauce and shucked butter clams. Credit: David Latt