I’ve been called many things in my life, but a slave to fashion is not one of them. I don’t care what the calendar says. What, just because Labor Day has passed I should pack up and forget about all things summer? Fine, the white hot pants can retire for now, but I’ll be damned if the grill is being nestled back into the far corners of the garage. Not now. Not yet.
As the bounty of summer fruits has come pouring into my local farm stands, peaches and tomatoes are nailing it right now. Chefs like to say that “if it grows together, it goes together,” and I, for one, couldn’t agree more. I love a good old fashioned watermelon-tomato salad during the warmer months, but slipping a few peaches into your caprese takes it to a whole other level. The flavor of the peach is heartier and totally satisfying, especially after a quick go with the grates of a hot grill.
For those of you squeamish about working with a whole fish, I make one simple request: try something new. Enjoying a whole fish is a great interactive eating experience that encourages lots of sharing of plates at the table (be mindful of the bones in the meat). Any reputable fish market will take care of all the mess work, too — just ask them to gut the fish for you (they’ll even take the head off if that’s a bit too much for you.)
Sorry, one more request: don’t let the calendar tell you what to do, either. Enjoy the warm outdoor weather for as long as we’ve got it.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Whole Branzino with Grilled Peach Caprese
Photo by Kankana Saxena
Throughout most of Asia, fish is cooked and served whole (head and tail intact) for good luck. “Whole steamed fish with scallions, shiitakes and cilantro is classic. Every household in China has this recipe,” says award-winning food writer and cookbook author Corinne Trang. Whole fish symbolizes abundance, she says, and so for special occasions like weddings and birthdays, it is customary and good luck to serve a whole fish at the table. “I will make it any time I want to have it, and that’s not necessarily attached to a holiday like the Chinese New Year.”
Fish also has symbolic significance because the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for riches (abundance). California-based Chris Yeo, founder of Straits Restaurant Group in California, recommends cooking your fish for 8 minutes, as 8 is a lucky number. “It is customary to serve the whole fish last, pointed toward the guest of honor at the table.” He offers an interesting insight into the dish: The fish is never completely eaten, as leaving a little bit of it represents the family’s ability to “always have enough.” Chris, who co-authored The Cooking of Singapore (Harlow & Ratner, 1993), prepares his fish inspired by the flavors he grew up with in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Continue Reading How Eating Whole Fish Could Bring Good Luck
In my hometown in upstate New York, we’re going green in lots of ways — especially at the grocery store. I’m bringing in those eco-savvy reusable tote bags by the pallet right now because the produce section is exploding with delicious new spring harvests. Stumbling upon a particularly beautiful bunch of leeks the other day, my husband’s Simpsons-esque moment of Zen, of “mmm … melted leeks,” totally nailed it.
Melted leeks, I find, are one of those preparations that taste super indulgent without really being as such. Cooking down a mountain of leeks with some white wine, butter and herbs into a creamy side dish with just a bit of that beautiful spring onion flavor is like heaven in a skillet. Keeping things light, yet satisfying, I added some mushrooms to the mix and topped it all off with a piece of seared halibut spiked with a cap of classic Italian gremolata. (I got on a green kick, what can I say?)
Melted leeks are also a great transition side dish. As we upstaters can rock a T-shirt during the day but still need that down comforter at night for the next couple of weeks, such is dinnertime. I want a meal that is light and springy, yet satisfying enough for a night’s sleep with a bit of chill still stuck on it. Thanks, melted leeks, for the delicious dinner and comfy night’s sleep.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Italian Seared Halibut With Melted Leeks
Blue Moon Fish at the Union Square Greenmarket
At the farmers’ market, I usually beeline for the fresh produce — this summer, juicy peaches and heirloom tomatoes in all colors of the rainbow have captured my attention. But after a recent dinner, I am now seeking out the seafood vendors first. Not all neighborhood farmers’ markets sell fish, but if you’re lucky enough to frequent one that does, you can seafood-shop like a chef — just make sure to get there early like they do.
At New York’s A Voce Madison, Chef Missy Robbins is creating tasting menus that highlight the fresh, local and sometimes wacky seafood she discovers on her morning trips to the Union Square Greenmarket, just a short walk from her restaurant.
Continue Reading Fishing at the Farmers’ Market
Every episode of Hook, Line & Dinner needs a theme, and tonight’s is danger. And no, the threat isn’t the poisonous lionfish or the large sharks I swam with. It’s the barracuda, and not because of their size and sharp teeth and penchant for chasing after swimmers.
Throughout the episode, I make light of the foodborne illness ciguatera. Tourists to the Bahamas are very concerned with it while the locals believe it’s just a bunch of hogwash. The illness is said to be carried by large “top-of-the-food-chain” fish that swim in warm water. Symptoms of ciguatera are nasty and can get very serious. It’s hard to diagnose and has become a debatable topic. It’s believed to start with toxic plankton that’s eaten by small fish who are in turn eaten by larger fish. Once you eat that big fish — bam. You’ve got ciguatera.
Ebi, who was my barracuda guide, laughed with a roar every time I brought up the subject. He says it’s easy to tell if a fish has ciguatera: Feed the fish to a cat; if the cat dies , don’t eat the fish. It worried me, then, that I hadn’t seen any cats on the island. When I mentioned that to Ebi, he just laughed again.
Ebi and I Cooking Barracuda
We ended up catching three barracuda and ate the largest. I thought, the bigger the fish, the greater the chances, but Ebi wanted to cook that one so I said nothing.
Continue Reading Ooh, Barracuda!
Trying to stick to fish every Friday during Lent comes easy at first, but my resolve wears thin with each passing week. Forgoing the usual salmon or seared tuna, I decided to make pescado en salsa verde — buttery white fish fillets drenched in parsley sauce then baked with slices of potatoes. A staple in our Cuban house growing up, I asked my mother for her recipe.
I found that using half as much olive oil and vino seco as her recipe was more than enough, but cooking the potatoes without overdoing the fish was tricky. Starting them in the oven earlier, I used that time to pull the sauce together. Smothered in sweet onions, there was just enough garlicky salsa verde to warrant a second dip of crusty bread.
March is about looking forward to spring, but sometimes a quick look back lets you see something you may have missed.
Continue Reading Pescado en Salsa Verde
In this week’s episode of Hook, Line & Dinner, I’m heading down to Islamorada, FL — the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. I’m not after just one type of fish; I’m trying to catch them all.
The key to cooking your fresh-out-of-the-water fish is to keep it light, simple and whatever you do, don’t over cook. A lot of resorts and charter companies with fishing programs offer it up as “catch and cook”. You do the catching, they’ll take care of the cooking. In most cases, I wouldn’t let them near my fish. They don’t often follow the aforementioned keys to cooking great fresh fish. The fish ends up tasting like it came from a freezer, or it comes out drowning in a thick, gloopy sauce that masks its fresh flavor.
This is not the case at Lazy Days in Islamorada, Florida.
Continue Reading The Sport Fishing Capital of the World
Mark Bittman's Monkfish and Mashed Potatoes
It’s mid-September and school’s back in session. Between carpools and homework, weeknights leave little time for prepping hearty dinners these days. But quick and delicious can go hand in hand. After all, Giada’s Chicken Scallopine and Mark Bittman’s Pasta with Prosciutto and Lettuce both take less than 30 minutes. A quick gander was all we needed to notice that Cooking Channel fans have caught on. From Indian curries to Italian pastas, you’ve all been cooking up a storm, and sharing your take-aways and tweaks. With all the great recipe reviews, we’re chiming in once more to share some of our favorites.
The epitome of easy and wholesome, Mark Bittman’s Monkfish and Mashed Potatoes (pictured above) comes seasoned with garlic and thyme, and served over the butteriest mashed potatoes you’ll ever lay your fork on.
“If I could give this a 10, I would do it in a minute!!! This was super easy and delicious. What a great way to cook and serve fish. I used Cod because I didn’t have Monk Fish but it was great. Thanks!”
— VanceConnie10 in Charleston, SC