Articles in Fish

Anchoïade salad with anchovies and tomatoes. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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.

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

Directions

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

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Fish and chips for Red Sox fans. 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.

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

Serves 6

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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.

French Fries

Serves 6

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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A dish of cured salmon roe, or caviar. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

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.

 Caviar is a slippery subject in more than one way. On one hand, it is the simplest of food experiences: a delicate hint of fish enveloped in a salty brine that slides down your throat with no effort at all. On the other hand, it is an ingredient that suffers from guilt by association with extravagance.

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.

A salmon belly full of fresh roe. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

A salmon belly full of fresh roe.
Credit: Caroline J. Beck

Great Lakes Salmon Caviar

Ingredients

Fresh salmon roe (eggs) (see Note)

1 cup of kosher salt

8 cups of cold water

Directions
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.

Note

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 

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Cast-iron Korean griddles on their heat proof wooden platters at Gio Restaurant Equipment in Los Angeles. Credit: David Latt

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.

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.

Octopus, onions, shiitake mushrooms and garlic cooking on a cast iron Korean griddle. Credit: David Latt

Octopus, onions, shiitake mushrooms and garlic cooking on a cast-iron Korean griddle. Credit: David Latt

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

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Fresh corn from the farmers market in Pacific Palisades, Calif. 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.

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.

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Fishing in the South Indian chaakaras during monsoon season. Credit: Prasanth Gulfu

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.

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Fish caught in a chaakara in South India. Credit: Prasanth Gulfu

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.

Prawn Cutlets

The following recipe is adapted from “The Essential Kerala Cookbook” by Vijayan Kannampilly

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Pandan shrimp with Pandan extract in the background. Credit: Charles Perry

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.

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.

Pandan Shrimp

Serves 2 as a light entrée or 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients

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

1 shallot

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

Directions

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

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Surf and turf with penne pasta with caramelized chicken livers and anchovies. Credit: David Latt

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.

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.

Serves 4

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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

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