Articles in Fish
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
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
Pandan extract, derived from a Southeast Asian tree, has a wonderful flowery, nutty perfume. I’ve heard that cooks sometimes add it to ordinary rice so it can pass for an aromatic rice such as basmati. It goes spectacularly well with coconut. In fact, when I make coconut cake with untoasted coconut these days I always add a few drops of pandan.
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But its aroma also has a faint funky quality that I recently realized reminds me a little of shrimp. So why not pandan shrimp? It turned out even better than I expected, a glamorously perfumed crustacean.
My recipe was adapted from the pla goong in Nancie McDermott’s “Real Thai.” Basically, pandan extract replaces the fish sauce in that recipe, with some garlic added to make it clear that this is not actually a shrimp dessert, because the pandan has a very sweet aroma. If you’re one of those people whose secret shame is that you’ve never really learned to love fish sauce, consider this recipe.
Note: There are actually two aromatic members of the Pandanus family, the Malaysian pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius), with fragrant leaves, and the Indian kewra (P. fascicularis), the usable part of which is the flower stems. Kewra has a pungent floral aroma, but I don’t think it’s as good for this usage. What you want to look for in a Southeast Asian market is a little 2-ounce bottle with the words pandanor dau la dua (the Vietnamese name) on the label. These labels also usually show some pandan leaves. Just to drive the idea home, the liquid itself is usually colored green.
If you can’t get fresh lemongrass, you might be able to find tubes of lemongrass purée in a supermarket and add it to taste to the lime mixture, though you’ll be doing without the pleasant crisp texture of the lemongrass rings. If you can’t find that, you’ll just have to do without; adding a little lime zest will beef up the flavor.
Serves 2 as a light entrée or 4 as an appetizer
2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 medium lime)
½ teaspoon pandan extract
1 clove garlic, pressed or grated
1 teaspoon sugar
1 medium serrano chile
1 stalk fresh lemongrass
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup chicken broth, divided
1 big handful mixed salad greens, or butter lettuce
Leaves from 2 good-sized sprigs fresh mint
Salt to taste
1. Mix the lime juice, pandan, garlic, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and set aside.
2. Slice the chile on the diagonal to produce oval slices ⅛ inch thin or thinner. Remove the dried, tough outer leaves of the lemon grass and trim the tough roots. Cut off a length 3 inches (or a little more if wished) from the root end and slice it crosswise as thin as possible. Peel the shallot, trim the root and cut into very thin slices lengthwise. Put the chile, lemongrass and shallot in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Set the shrimp and ¼ cup chicken broth in a pan and cook until pink, 1-2 minutes. Turn once, just before the shrimp is done. (Alternatively steam the shrimp and use only ¼ cup chicken broth or water for the sauce.)
4. Put the salad greens in a mixing bowl and mix well with the sliced ingredients, using your fingers to separate the lemongrass slices into tiny rings. Mince ½ of the mint leaves and add to the greens.
5. Mix the shrimp with the lime juice mixture and ¼ cup chicken broth. Remove ½ of the shrimp with a slotted spoon, toss the greens with them and transfer to a serving plate. Top with the rest of the shrimp, the lime juice mixture and the remaining whole mint leaves. Add salt to taste.
Top photo: Pandan shrimp with Pandan extract bottle in the background. Credit: Charles Perry
In many Italian, Spanish and French dishes, anchovy filets supply a deeply nuanced umami that turns the ordinary into the passionately delicious. Italian puttanesca, Tuscan chicken liver paté and French tapenade are but a few examples that come to mind. Without anchovies they are good. With anchovies they are delicious. Combine skinless anchovy filets with caramelized chicken livers, toss with pasta and dust with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and surf dances with turf in the most beautiful way.
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Pasta is wonderful. Pasta is infinitely variable. Pasta can be complex or simple. For many cooks, the best pasta dish is one that allows the ingredients to shine through with a minimum of sauce. Toss penne with fresh English peas, a bit of oil and garlic, a dusting of cayenne and a fresh grating of Romano and all that is necessary to complete the meal is a crisp Fumè Blanc, a farm-fresh green salad and a dessert of fresh fruit with a nice selection of cheeses.
Chicken livers and anchovies are as different as can be. When cooked properly with a charred exterior and an interior still moist and pink, chicken livers are creamy and earthy with a hint of sweetness.
Anchovies on the other hand have a sharper impact on the palate — salty, raspy and tangy. Combined, they bring out the best in one another.
As with any simple recipe, this dish is only as good as the quality of the ingredients. Whenever possible, buy organic chicken livers to avoid the chemicals and antibiotics that can accumulate in birds that are raised in industrial coops. Skinless anchovies packed in olive oil are not overly salty. Because the fish are caught all over the world, experimenting with different brands will lead you to the one you like the best.
Spanish and Italian anchovies are especially good, whether packed in glass jars or in tins. The price can vary from an affordable $2 a tin to well over $15 for a glass jar of the same weight.
Pasta with Chicken Livers and Anchovies
Before using chicken livers, wash and pat dry. Using a sharp paring knife, cut away any fat, sinews or veins and discard. Separate the two lobes. Cut each lobe in half, making bite-sized pieces to facilitate even cooking of the livers.
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¾ to 1 pound pasta (penne, ziti, spaghetti or angel hair)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, washed, stemmed and skin removed, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only, washed
4 to 8 anchovy filets (the number depends on how much you enjoy anchovies)
1 pound chicken livers, washed, lobes separated, each lobe cut in half
¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only, washed
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
⅛ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
¼ cup cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered (optional)
1. In a 2-gallon pot, fill with water to within 3 inches of the top. Add kosher salt and bring to a boil. Put in pasta and stir well. Allow to boil 10 minutes, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Taste and when al dente, place a small heat-proof cup in the sink next to a colander and drain the pasta, capturing 1 cup of pasta water in the process. Return the pasta to the warm pot and set aside.
3. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil. Sauté onions, garlic and Italian parsley until lightly browned. Using a fork, add the anchovies, dragging them along the bottom so they break apart. Stir well with the aromatics.
4. Add the chicken livers to the pan, using a large spoon to move them around the pan so they lightly brown all over. Be careful not to overcook and dry out the livers.
5. At this point you have some options. You can season with cayenne for heat, add chopped olives for another layer of flavor, stir in quartered cherry tomatoes to contribute liquid and a bit of acid to the sauce and sweet butter for creaminess.
6. Or keep it simple and do one, some or none of the above. In any case, add ¼ cup of pasta water to the frying pan and stir well.
7. Just before serving, add cooked pasta to the frying pan over a medium flame and toss well until heated. Top with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve.
Top photo: Penne pasta with anchovies and chicken livers. Credit: David Latt
Looking ahead to hot days when meals must be light and flavorful, home cooks and restaurant chefs alike want light and flavorful dishes to put on the table. One dish perfect for the summer is tuna tartare, delicately seasoned and plated to satisfy any gourmand’s need for luxurious food, beautifully presented.
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Gabriel Kreuther, executive chef at The Modern, the fine dining restaurant at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art is a master at preparing beautifully delicious comfort food. With a dining room view of MoMA’s sculpture garden, Chef Kreuther lets his food take its cue from the art. His plates are mini-sculptures, animated with color, contrasts and meticulous detailing.
Tartare, like sashimi, is only as good as its ingredients and those must be as fresh as possible. Quality seafood purveyors are a good source of the high quality yellowfin tuna and diver scallops required for the recipe.
Adding to the quality of the seafood is the visual design. For Kreuther, the extra effort it takes to make a visually striking plate gives added pleasure to a dish.
Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna and Diver Scallops Seasoned with American Caviar
For the tartare:
12 ounces yellow fin tuna, sushi grade, medium dice (½-inch cubes)
12 ounces diver scallops (8 to 10 of the freshest, highest quality, firm), medium dice (½-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces American Caviar
3 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cucumber, not too thick, preferably seedless, unpeeled
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar (or reduction of regular balsamic vinegar made by reducing 8 tablespoons over a low flame), as needed
Baby greens or arugula for garnish
For the chive oil:
Chives, leftover parts from above chopped portion
4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
To prepare the chive oil:
1. Blend the chives and oil in a blender. Strain the mixture and reserve in a squeeze bottle.
To prepare the seafood:
1. Dice the tuna into ½-inch cubes. Place into a bowl, cover and reserve in the refrigerator.
2. Dice the scallops into similarly sized ½-inch cubes. Place into a separate bowl, cover and also refrigerate.
To prepare the bed of cucumber:
1. Wash the cucumber and pat it dry. Slice it very thinly using a Japanese mandoline slicer for better precision or if unavailable, use a very sharp knife.
2. Season the slices with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and arrange the slices on a chilled plate in 2 overlapping columns (6 slices each, arranged like shingles on a roof) down the center of the plate. Refrigerate until ready to plate the dish.
To prepare the tartare mixture:
1. Combine the tuna and scallops in one bowl and add the chopped chives, hazelnut oil, olive oil and caviar.
2. Season with salt and pepper and mix all the ingredients together gently. On the final stir, add some lemon juice to taste.
Note: Do not use too much lemon juice, as it will overpower the dish.
To plate the dish:
1. Place several spoonfuls of the tartare mixture along the length of the 2 columns of cucumber, down the center, leaving some of the outer edge of cucumbers to be visible.
2. Season the baby greens with some of the remaining lemon juice and olive oil.
3. Spike one end of the tartare with a few leaves of the seasoned greens.
4. Finally, using the aged balsamic vinegar (or reduced balsamic vinegar) and the chive oil in 2 separate squeeze bottles, make 2 straight lines, on either side of the columns of cucumber (parallel to and approximately ½ inch away from the cucumbers.)
Top photo: Tartare of yellowfin tuna and diver scallops seasoned with American caviar. Credit: Diana DeLucia
The non-descript bar was the perfect refuge for a rainy spring afternoon. Seated at a small Formica table that would have been at home in a 1950s kitchen, with small plates and a fat tumbler of Havana Gold 7-year-old rum in front of me, I discovered the new love of my culinary life: anchovies.
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In Bar Pozano, a narrow workingman’s hangout across the river from the Burgos Cathedral in northern Spain, half a dozen older men sat talking and ignoring a soccer game on mute on a flat-screen TV high on the wall near the front door. In the narrow refrigerated display case on the bar were the tapas of the day. Plates were displayed with Spanish omelets (tortillas de palatas), Iberian ham sandwiches (bocadillos) and skewered octopus bits seasoned with olive oil and pimentón. With all those delicious tapas inviting attention, it was the anchovies gathered around hard boiled eggs, pickles, pitted green olives, poached tuna and mussels that won my heart.
Anchovies are part of the ocean’s bounty. Found in great abundance all over the planet, the tiny fish, like goldilocks, prefer temperate waters that are not too hot, not too cold. Available in some areas fresh as filets with the silvery skin on one side, anchovies are usually sold as skinless filets in jars and flat tins.
I left my heart in Spain but brought home the anchovies
The thing about anchovies is that people either love them or hate them. With these delicate fish there is no middle ground. For those diners who enjoy them, anchovies have an umami flavor similar to that of shiitake mushrooms but with a deeply nuanced saltiness and feather-light raspiness on the tongue.
The Spanish get the best out of anchovies by applying them liberally on tapas and pinxtos, Basque open-faced sandwiches. Italians know that skinless anchovy filets will dissolve in heated butter or olive oil, creating an exquisite sauce that adds a depth of flavor to braising sauces and pastas.
Part of the beauty of anchovies is that they are easy to use. To have a delicious snack, just open a jar or tin, drag out a couple with a fork, lay the filets over a piece of grilled bread with slices of Manchego cheese, drizzle with olive oil, dust with pimentón and serve with ice cold beer or a light white wine.
For an entrée, only a little more work is required. Dissolve four or five anchovies in heated oil, toss with cooked pasta, sprinkle with finely chopped Italian parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the main course is finished in less than 10 minutes.
To have a thoroughly enjoyable evening with anchovies as the centerpiece, all that’s needed is a group of like-minded diners who regard the anchovy as one of nature’s best treats.
Anchovies With Hard-Boiled Eggs
Infinitely variable, the basics are the salty anchovy filets, which contrast with the dry and creamy hard-boiled eggs. In Spain, a condiment made with finely chopped, charred red and green peppers and onions is used as a topping on neutral tasting products like poached tuna filets or mussels. That topping goes beautifully with the hard-boiled eggs and anchovies.
I am indebted to Katie Goodman who described her method for hard-boiling eggs to facilitate easy shell removal.
4 farmers market fresh large eggs, washed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ red pepper, washed and seeded
¼ green pepper, washed and seeded
¼ medium yellow onion, washed and peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 anchovy filets packed in olive oil
4 mini-dill pickles, cut in half longwise
8 mussels, canned or freshly steamed, debearded and shelled
Pimentón (optional) or cayenne
8 long toothpicks or short bamboo skewers 3 or 4 inches in length
1. Cover the eggs in a pot of water. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a vigorous boil and cook uncovered for three minutes.
Remove from the flame, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.
Pour off the hot water and soak the eggs in cold water. Allow to cool, then remove the shells. Dry and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.
2. On a hot barbecue grill or on a stovetop gas burner with the flame turned on high, place the green and red peppers and the onion on the flame. Allow the outer skin to lightly char. Turn once with tongs and remove.
Once the peppers and onions are cool to the touch, use a sharp chef’s knife to finely chop the vegetables and place in a small, lidded container. Cover with the olive oil, seal and refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Assemble just before serving. First, carefully slice each hard-boiled egg from top to bottom using a very sharp paring knife. Slide the skewer through one anchovy, then through the side of one half of the hard boiled egg, then the pickle half and the mussel. Add one more anchovy on the other end if desired.
Top with an espresso-sized teaspoon of the marinated peppers and onions and a little olive oil. Season as desired with sea salt, black pepper and pimentón.
- Instead of the mussel, place a slab of canned tuna fish filet, preferably a good quality tuna from Spain.
- Instead of the mini-dill pickle, use a pitted green olive.
- Instead of the mini-dill pickle, use crisp and vinegary, pickled Basque guindilla peppers, available from Spain in jars.
- In addition to the marinated charred peppers and onion topping, dust the hard boiled egg with finely chopped fresh Italian parsley.
Top photo: A Spanish tapas made at home with anchovy, mussels, hard-boiled egg, marinated chopped peppers and onions and pickle on a skewer. Credit: David Latt