Articles in Fish

Spuma di tonno sott’olio. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Canned tuna is one of those great foods that is undervalued and underappreciated. You need to think of it as more than cat food for humans. Canned tuna is more than something you dump mayonnaise into for a sandwich. Canned tuna can be the basis for some impressive and noble dishes.

You will need to think beyond the standard dried out albacore tuna sold as some kind of bland chicken from the sea. What you really are looking for is tender tuna packed in olive oil. This is what the Italians call tonno sott’olio. Its uses are many, and the Italians will incorporate it into toast points, salads and tossed with pasta.

One delightful way of using canned tuna is for an antipasto from the region of Umbria called spuma di tonno sott’olio, which means “foam of tuna under oil.”

The Italian spuma, which means foam, is given to preparations that are beaten or whipped so the final result is not quite like the ethereal preparations found in the avant-garde cooking of 21st-century restaurant chefs called foams, but is meant to be light and flavorful. As Umbria is an inland region without a coastline, its seafood has traditionally been preserved either with salt or in oil or vinegar.

So now the bad news, or should I say the cautionary news? Good quality oil-packed tuna is going to be more expensive than the tuna you’re used to buying.

Consider this: You go to the market to buy fresh sashimi-grade tuna belly and it’s $25 a pound and tastes wonderful. Do you think your $3 a pound chunk light tuna canned in water is going to taste remotely similar? No, it’s not, and that’s why you need to think of this preparation as something special and look for some Italian tuna fillets packed in the best extra virgin olive oil. A 6-ounce jar will probably cost you $15.

You can preserve your own tuna too. Place the freshly bought tuna in a pan filled with water salted with sea salt and bring to a gentle boil. Turn the heat off and let the tuna sit in the hot water for 20 minutes. Then drain, pat dry with paper towels and pack the fish in glass jars and fill with the best olive oil. The tuna pieces can also be deep fried instead of poached. This is a special antipasto so treat it specially.

Spuma di Tonno sott’Olio

Serves 8 as an antipasto course

Ingredients

12 ounces canned tuna in extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons anchovy paste

½ pound mascarpone cheese

Olive oil

1 hard-boiled large egg, shelled and sliced

1 oil-preserved artichoke heart, sliced

Directions

1. Blend the tuna in a food processor with the anchovy paste and mascarpone until smooth. Place parchment paper in a 5-by-2-inch round terrine, and oil the parchment paper well with olive oil.

2. Spoon the mixture in and smooth the top flat. Cover with plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate for 2 hours. Unmold and garnish the top with sliced hard-boiled egg and artichokes and serve.

 Top photo: Spuma di tonno sott’olio. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Vegetable chirashi sushi. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

Some foods belong in a restaurant and some belong at home. To a Japanese person, sushi, for the most part, would be considered a restaurant food: You go to a sushi bar and the sushi chef makes it for you. The quintessential sushi is nigiri sushi – hand-formed rice made into a small, bite-size clump with sliced raw fish resting on top. With nigiri sushi, both the fish and the rice are fresh. When made by a skilled sushi chef, the flavor is divine. I don’t make that kind of sushi.

Still, when people find out that I teach Japanese cooking classes, one of the first questions they ask is if I teach sushi making. When I have to tell them that I don’t teach nigiri sushi, they seem rather disappointed. What I make is home-style sushi, which includes chirashi sushi, Inari sushi and maki sushi, but I leave nigiri sushi to the professional chefs. Most cooks in Japan will tell you the same thing. It takes years of laborious practice to learn how to properly select, clean and cut fish to make good sushi — just watch the documentary “Jiro’s Dreams of Sushi.”

Recently, I was browsing on Amazon and found dozens of sushi cookbooks, many of them featuring nigiri sushi. Can there be that many people attempting to make nigiri sushi at home? Or are they just salivating over the beautiful pictures of nigiri sushi?

On the contrary, if you go to bookstores in Japan, you will have a hard time finding a cookbook devoted to sushi for home cooks. You would mostly likely have to look in the professional section. And because sushi is a trade you learn through years of training under a sushi master, you won’t really find a manual for it at your corner bookstore.

The only memory I have of making nigiri sushi is with my grandmother while growing up near the sea in Kamakura, Japan, where there were plenty of fishermen and fish to be had. Grandmother and I would get up at dawn to buy fresh fish fresh off the boat. We got to look at and pick the fish, and the price depended on the fishermen’s mood. The fish was still wiggling in the bag while we walked home.

My grandmother would clean the fish, fillet it and marinate it in a vinegar sauce for a few minutes. We then cooked some rice, which she seasoned with salt, sugar and vinegar to make sushi rice, and she would julienne some fresh ginger. When the fish was marinated and cooked like ceviche, she sliced it up, made little rice balls and put the fish on top. That was her version of nigiri sushi. The rice clumps were not even and artful like a sushi master’s, but it was tasty because the ingredients were good and they were made by my grandmother.

Coming back to the present, there is hardly any sushi-grade fish like that available here in Southern California where I live, so there is no point in pursuing that kind of sushi. Sushi chefs can go to wholesale sellers and buy sushi-grade fish, but home cooks rarely have that kind of access to high-quality fish.

Let’s not be completely pessimistic. I do have a few things to make sushi that are harvested in Southern California — sea urchin, Santa Barbara shrimp and squid. But I don’t make nigiri sushi with them. I just slice them up sashimi style and eat them with wasabi and soy. Easy.

Sushi for home cooks

So what is the sushi I make at home or most home cooks in Japan make at home? There are basically four varieties: chirashi sushi, maki sushi, Inari sushi and oshizushi.

Chirashi is a kind of a pilaf, made with sushi rice and a variety of toppings. You are already familiar with maki sushi if you have eaten a California roll or other sushi rice — it is a sushi roll that includes toasted nori seaweed rolled around vinegar-flavored rice and various fillings, including raw seafood and vegetables. California roll was invented by a sushi chef based in Los Angeles who, in the early days of sushi, didn’t have good access to sushi-grade fish like the fatty tuna. He discovered that avocado had a similar meaty and fatty flavor and texture, so he used that to make the rolls, and history was made.

Inari sushi, or footballs, as Japanese-Americans nicknamed them, is a deep-fried tofu pouch stuffed with seasoned sushi rice and vegetables. There is also oshizushi, which is a type of sushi that uses a small wooden box to press the sushi into little rectangles.

These types of sushi are easy to make for a home cook, and the ingredients can be varietal. These types of sushi also don’t require hand-molding each piece. I wouldn’t hesitate to make sushi with non-Japanese ingredients.

In spring, Japan celebrates Girl’s Day on March 3 with chirashi zushi, but this pilaf-like sushi can be eaten throughout the year. I make it quite often, using a vegetarian recipe. But you can also add shrimp, sea urchin or slices of fish toppings. If you happen on something very fresh — sushi-grade quality — slice it up and put it on, too.

Vegetable chirashi sushi

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the sushi:

16 ounces (450 grams) short-grain rice

1 piece kombu, about 2 inches long

3 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced

10 shiso leaves, minced

3 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds

Amazu ginger for garnish (optional)

For the vinegar dressing:

5 tablespoons rice vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

For the kanpyo (dried gourd) and dried shitake mushroom filling:

8 dried shiitake mushrooms, hydrated with 2 cups water

½ ounce (15 grams) of dried kanpyo, hydrated

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 to 2 tablespoons sugar

For the carrot filling:

1 carrot, julienned

½ teaspoon salt

For the tamago, or egg topping:

3 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved with 1 tablespoon water

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the garnish:

2 or 3 mitsuba leaves or watercress leaf

Directions

1. Cook the rice with the kombu seaweed as you would standard rice, according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the vinegar dressing in a bowl and combine.

3. To make the seasoned gourd and shitake mushrooms, combine the hydrated shitake mushrooms and kanpyo in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat to a simmer and season the vegetables with the salt, sugar and soy sauce until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove the mushrooms and kanpyo, then mince them and set aside.

4. Bring water to a boil in a small pan, add salt and blanch the carrots. Drain. Set aside.

5. To make the tamago, beat the eggs, cornstarch solution, salt and sugar in a bowl.

6. In a non-stick frying pan, heat oil over medium high heat and add ⅓ of the beaten egg mixture to make a thin crepe. When one side is cooked, flip the crepe over and cook the other side. Repeat two more times.

7. Slice the crepes into 1½–inch (4-centimeter) matchsticks. Set aside in a bowl.

8. When the rice is cooked, discard the kombu and transfer the rice into a large bowl. Add the vinegar dressing  and toss lightly.

9. Add the minced ginger, shiso and roasted sesame seeds to the rice.

10. Add the minced shitake mushrooms, kanpyo and carrots to the rice and toss lightly.

11. Top with slices of egg and garnish with watercress or mitsuba leaves.

Top photo: Vegetable chirashi sushi. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

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Pesce spade alla “stemperata” made with red snapper. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

One of the most beautiful cities in Sicily is Syracuse, which has a history extending to the ancient Greeks. There is a method of cooking in Syracuse, especially applied to Sicilian fish, but other foods as well, that makes for beguiling dishes.

Stemperata is a Syracusean method of cooking that means something like “melting sauce” or “tempering sauce.”

The idea behind “melting sauce” is to meld a number of aromatic ingredients together by cooking slowly until the sauce or food is infused with flavor. The dish is finished with a sprinkle of vinegar that evaporates, or “melts,” into the sauce and it is the vinegar that gives the dish its distinctive flavor. Whenever you see a dish described as stemperata, you know it is a dish from Syracuse.

The concept of stemperata finds its roots in medieval cooking. According to the prevailing theory of dietetics at the time, prepared food had properties that would match the temperament of the person eating it.

In the mood for Sicilian fish

Certain foods were ideal for particular conditions or temperaments. The nature of foods could be changed by tempering the food with additions such as sauces or spicing.

In medieval Italian cookbooks one runs across the term temperare, which takes on a greater meaning than “to temper.” It implies that one corrects the food so it will conform to a dietetic humoral notion. So the Italian stemperare has the sense of taking something away, and in this recipe it is the vinegar that “is taken away” through evaporation to moderate the taste of the sauce.

This Sicilian fish dish is called pesce spada alla “stemperata” and it is typically made with swordfish, but two whole red snapper work well. The recipe, though, is written for swordfish.

Pesce Spade alla ‘Stemperata’

Serves 4

Ingredients

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

½ celery stalk, finely chopped

1½ tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped if large

10 large green olives, pitted and chopped

1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

⅓  cup water

1½ pounds swordfish steaks, cut into ½-inch-thick slices

All-purpose flour for dredging

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Directions

1. In a large sauté pan or earthenware casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook, stirring frequently, the onion and celery until softened, 5 to 6 minutes. (If using earthenware and if it is not flameproof, or if you don’t know, you will need to use a heat diffuser. Earthenware heats up slower but retains its heat longer than non-earthenware casseroles. When using earthenware, food may cook slower at first and then cook very quickly while retaining its heat, so adjust accordingly). Reduce the heat to medium, add the capers, olives and tomatoes, and stir. Pour in the water, stir again, and cook until denser, 10 minutes.

2. Dredge the swordfish slices in the flour, tapping off any excess flour. Set aside.

3. Arrange the swordfish slices in the pan or casserole on top of the sauce, spooning some sauce on top of the swordfish. Drizzle the vinegar over the fish, cover, and cook over medium heat until the vinegar is evaporated, 5 to 6 minutes. Serve hot.

Top photo: Pesce spade alla “stemperata” made with red snapper. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Oysters on the half shell with a perfect white. Credit: Jon Rowley

A Valentine’s Day menu needs to include oysters. First, just because it is tradition. Also, our hero of love, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (1725-1798), the famous Venetian adventurer whose reputation as a seducer of women was so great his name became synonymous with the art of seduction, says so.

Casanova wrote in his autobiography that cultivating and pleasing the senses was his main preoccupation. “Ho molto amato anche la buona tavola ed insieme tutte le cose che eccitano la curiosità” (I very much loved a good table and everything that excites the curiosity), he remarked.

Casanova ate 50 oysters every day for breakfast. Several studies show that the amorous benefits of this might not just be an old wives’ tale. Oysters are rich in zinc, which is important for hormone production related to sexual activity. It is important to eat the oysters raw, though, as cooking reduces this aphrodisiacal effect. Casanova also suggested how to serve them: “I placed the shell on the edge of her lips and after a good deal of laughing, she sucked in the oyster, which she held between her lips. I instantly recovered it by placing my lips on hers.”

Oysters in Thai chile cream sauce. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Oysters in Thai chile cream sauce. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Here is a delightful little recipe that will tingle both the senses and the expectation. The recipe is for two, of course, because three’s a crowd on Valentine’s Day.

Oysters in Champagne Cream Sauce With Thai Chile

Serves 2 as an appetizer

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 red Thai chile, thinly slivered

4 shucked Pacific oysters with their juice

3 tablespoons Champagne

¼ cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a small nonstick skillet, melt the butter over high heat and then add the onion and chile and cook, shaking the pan, until translucent, about 1 minute.

2. Add the oysters and their juice, pour in the Champagne and let it evaporate for 30 seconds.

3. Pour in the cream and cook over high heat, shaking the pan and turning the oysters until their edges curl up, about 4 minutes.

4. Remove the oysters to a plate or place back in their shell and continue cooking the liquid until denser and saucy, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the oysters and serve.

Top photo: Oysters on the half shell with a perfect white. Credit: Jon Rowley

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Coho salmon filet with crispy skin on a bed of parsnip puree with chanterelle mushrooms with a beurre blanc sauce in chef Taylor Boudreaux's kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille. Credit: David Latt

One of the delights of eating in a restaurant is enjoying a dish that seems difficult to create at home. Getting crispy skin on a salmon filet is right up there with making flaky pie crust or mastering an airy dessert soufflé that can survive the transfer from oven to table.

Helping bring one of those dishes to the home kitchen, executive chef Taylor Boudreaux reveals a restaurant chef’s easy-to-follow technique to create crispy skin on a salmon filet in his kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille in West Los Angeles.

Boudreaux prefers quality ingredients sourced from sustainable purveyors. He also adheres to the “less is more” approach, which he demonstrates with his preparation of Coho salmon. Easy to prepare, the dish is elegant enough to be the centerpiece of a romantic dinner for two, a dinner for friends for  New Year’s Eve or any celebration.

Children of military parents often lament having to move frequently, leaving behind friends and schools. Yet, there are those rare individuals for whom the glass-half-full becomes a golden opportunity. Because his dad was assigned to military bases around the country, Boudreaux was able to explore different parts of the United States. Regional food became his passion.

Preferring a country style of cooking instead of the rarefied gastronomic alchemy favored by many fine-dining chefs, Boudreaux likes to feature a few elements, presented as close to their original state as possible.

Leaving the chanterelles whole lends a rustic flair to the plate. Parsnips give up their native texture to become a creamy foundation for the filet of moist salmon with its contrasting crisp skin.

Some chefs use deep-frying to turn fish skin into crispy deliciousness. Boudreaux says a healthier way is to employ a sauté pan.

Chef Taylor Boudreaux in the Napa Valley Grille kitchen. Credit: David Latt

Chef Taylor Boudreaux in the Napa Valley Grille kitchen. Credit: David Latt

Pan-Seared Coho Salmon With Field Foraged Mushrooms and Parsnip Purée

The recipe is portioned for one. Multiply the ingredients by the number of servings. Depending on the size of the sauté pan, two to four filets can be cooked at the same time.

In addition to quality ingredients, Boudreaux stresses the importance of using a pan that can accept high heat. Because high heat is essential to creating crisp skin, chef uses a 20/80 mix of olive and canola oil. Canola oil can tolerate the high heat. Olive oil adds flavor to the sauté. Do not allow the hot oils to catch fire. The flames may be entertaining but they add an unpleasant flavor.

Instead of parsnips, Boudreaux sometimes uses potatoes or turnips, using the same ingredient portions and technique.

Serves 1

Parsnip Purée

Ingredients

1 cup parsnips, washed, peeled, roughly chopped

1 cup heavy cream

Directions

1. Place the chopped parsnips in a saucepan and cover with heavy cream.

2. Simmer till fork tender.

3. Place parsnip in blender and purée till smooth.

4. Add more cream, if necessary, to adjust consistency.

5. Pass through fine mesh and season with salt.

6. Return to a small saucepan. Reheat when the filet has come out of the oven and is ready for plating.

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

2 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, washed, pat dried

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

1 sprig thyme

1 clove garlic, washed, peeled, crushed by hand

Directions

1. In a hot sauté pan add 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil and sauté mushrooms on high heat.

2. When just caramelized, season with salt and pepper and add 1 tablespoon butter, sprig thyme and 1 fresh garlic clove.

3. Remove from heat and let butter brown, being careful not to burn the butter.

4. Discard thyme and garlic.

5. Set the mushroom dish aside. Reheat just before plating the fish.

Beurre Blanc

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 ounces white wine

1 shallot, washed, peeled, fine chopped

1 thyme sprig, washed, pat dried

4 to 6 black peppercorns, whole

1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, fine chopped

4 tablespoons sweet butter

1 half lemon, seeds removed

Sea salt to taste

Directions

1. In a saucepan, reduce by two-thirds 2 ounces of white wine. Add chopped shallots, garlic, thyme sprig, and peppercorns and simmer.

2. Whisk in 4 tablespoons butter to emulsify.

3. Season with sea salt and pepper.

4. Taste and add acid with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

5. Remove peppercorns

Pan-Seared Salmon

Ingredients

1 skin-on filet of salmon (6 ounce), washed, pat dry

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

4 teaspoons canola oil

2 tablespoons sweet butter

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1 garlic clove, washed, peeled, crushed by hand

1 sprig thyme, washed, pat dried

1 tablespoon microgreens, washed and patted dried or Italian parsley, washed and finely chopped

Directions

1. Place the filet flesh side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, in the middle of the filet, make a 4-inch incision in the skin (not the flesh).

2. Heat sauté pan until smoking.

3. Add blended olive oil and canola oil to coat pan.

4. Lightly sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper on both sides of the filet.

5. When oil smokes, lay seasoned fish skin side down. Because the heat will cause the salmon to curl up on the ends, use the fish spatula to lightly press down on the filet.

6. Cook till skin is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. When the skin has crisped,  it will be easy to lift from the pan.

7. Using a fish spatula, turn filet over so flesh side is down. Place in a preheated 350 F oven 6 to 8 minutes or until a temperature thermometer reads 125 F for medium rare.

8. Remove from oven and place pan on burner.

9. On medium heat add 1 tablespoon butter, a crushed garlic clove and thyme sprig.

Using a soup spoon, baste filet with butter as butter browns. Do not over brown butter.

10. Remove from pan to plate.

Directions for plating

1. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread the parsnip purée on the bottom of the plate.

2. Place the salmon filet on the purée in the middle of the plate, crispy skin side up.

3. Scatter the chanterelles along the sides of the filet.

4. Drizzle the beurre blanc on the plate and over the filet.

5. Decorate the top of the filet with microgreens or Italian parsley.

6. Serve hot with a dry white or sparking wine.

Watch Chef Boudreaux demonstrate the dish here:

Coho salmon filet with crispy skin on a bed of parsnip purée with chanterelle mushrooms with a beurre blanc sauce in chef Taylor Boudreaux’s kitchen at the Napa Valley Grille. Credit: David Latt

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Pickled herring. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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.”

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.

Branteviks Herring

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Wild salmon salad with wild rice and greens

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.

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

Serves 6

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.

Ingredients

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

Mixed greens

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

Directions

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.

Notes

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

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An amuse-bouche from Le Chat Botte, Beau Rivage Hotel, Switzerland, Geneva, chef Dominique. Credit: David Latt

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.

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.

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An amuse-bouche of a small soup of roasted tomato & sautéed spinach with homemade croutons. Credit: David Latt

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

Serves 4

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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

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