March 25th, 2010 § § permalink
Some consider it a luxury item, served only on special occasions. Others relegate it to the brunch table, as topping for a bagel. Yet, to me, smoked salmon is far more than fancy finger food. Whether featured in a pasta dish, incorporated into a salad or filling a fajita, it remains a versatile, multi-faceted fish.
Although considered a delicacy, smoked salmon has quite humble beginnings. Born out of necessity, smoking was the means by which medieval Europeans ensured that their bountiful salmon catches would remain edible throughout the year.
To preserve their fish, the anglers would first clean and fillet their salmon. They then sprinkled salt and sugar onto the flesh, stacked the fillets on top of each other and inserted them into an active smokehouse. There the salmon would remain in roughly 75 to 85 degree Fahrenheit temperature until smoked completely.
Unlike the tender, moist products of today, the early European versions had a tough texture reminiscent of jerky. They also possessed a strong, salty tang that differed greatly from the present day’s milder flavor.
While the taste and texture have evolved over the years, what hasn’t changed is its healthfulness. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, smoked salmon remains a high protein, low calorie food.
Although purists may opt to eat smoked salmon with a dusting of ground pepper and on a cracker, bagel or slice of rye or pumpernickel bread, a wealth of hot and cold recipes exist. Consider an updated croque-monsieur or eggs Benedict where smoked salmon replaces the ham. For breakfast sample a smoked salmon quiche, omelet or frittata or smoked salmon wrap, pasta or polenta at dinner.
Prefer cold dishes? Try a chopped smoked salmon-avocado-tomato-red onion salad, smoked salmon and cucumber tea sandwiches or smoked salmon gazpacho or vichyssoise soup.
SMOKED SALMON-AVOCADO-TOMATO TARTARE
Serves 4 to 6
You can call this either a tartare or chopped salad and serve it as an appetizer, side or first course.
4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup red onion, cut into thin, ½ to 1-inch long strips
2 avocados, flesh scooped out and cut into cubes
¼ cup fresh parsley, washed, dried and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup (approximately 6 ounces) smoked salmon, cut into small strips
freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Place the tomatoes, onions, avocados and parsley in a medium-sized bowl and drizzle the lemon juice over top. Add the smoked salmon and a dash of ground white pepper. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning, adding more ground pepper if necessary. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap, pressing down on the surface so that no air collects beneath the wrap, and refrigerate for up to 5 hours.
March 18th, 2010 § § permalink
I spent much of last week in Dallas so the obvious choice would be to write about Tex Mex food. Yet, as I quickly learned, there’s more to Texas cuisine than chilies and guacamole. For instance, there is beer. No, I don’t mean the obvious, South-of-the-Border choices such as Corona or Dos Equis but rather all the other fine brews found on tap there.
Want an American craft beer such as Ommegang‘s Three Philosophers or Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA? How about an Italian Peroni, English Young’s Double Chocolate Stout or a Belgian Maredsous, Leffe Blonde or Chimay? I could enjoy them all and many more at the lively Old Monk and The Ginger Man.
Drinking all these heady lagers and ales made me think, unsurprisingly, about food and how infrequently I use beer when cooking. Sure, every now and then I pull together a tasty Guinness- or Victory Lager-based cheese fondue. Still, I’ve not spent enough time tinkering in the kitchen and seeing what other recipes can benefit from a bottle of good beer.
Thanks to adventurous friends and restaurants, I do know the pleasures of shellfish cooked in this liquid. Mussels, clams and shrimp all perk up when steamed or sauteed in beer. Pair them with an IPA and molasses barbecue sauce and you’ve got a lip-smacking, finger-licking meal.
Fish not your favorite? Braise pork, sausage, beef or chicken in a pilsner. Use stout as the stock for an incredibly rich chili or beef or vegetable stew. Bake bread from an ale-based batter or cake from a porter-chocolate mix. If all else fails, fire up the barbecue and grill some succulent beer can chicken. The options are endless.
Likewise limitless are the number of books devoted to this subject. When searching for a quality beer cookbook, avoid those with recipes that don’t differentiate between varieties — i.e. “12 ounces of beer” versus “12 ounces of stout, pale ale . . ..” Contrary to the generic instructions, the brew that you choose will greatly influence how your dish tastes.
Until I have more time to experiment and test other beer-infused offerings, I’ll pass along a tried and true recipe for cheese fondue. Needless to say, it goes well with an iced cold beer or two.
VICTORY LAGER CHEESE FONDUE
Serves 2 to 3
3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
juice of a lemon
8 ounces Victory Lager or any well-balanced, German-style lager
2 cups Grueyere cheese, shredded
2 cups Emmental cheese, shredded
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash ground white pepper
1 baguette, cut into cubes
Special equipment: Fondue pot and fondue forks or long, wooden or bamboo skewers
Place the apple slices in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice over them to stop them from browning.
Pour the beer into a fondue pot and bring the liquid to a simmer over moderate heat. Gradually add the cheese to the pot and stir so that the cheese melts evenly. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until cheese is completely melted and the liquid is creamy. Add the nutmeg and pepper and stir to combine.
Place the bread cubes in a separate bowl. Serve them, along with the apple slices, for dipping.
March 11th, 2010 § § permalink
I used to believe that some cuisines were best left to the professionals. Why spend hours scouring specialty markets for hard-to-find ingredients when I could just order take-out from the nearby Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese restaurant? Then I spent a day in the kitchen with my husband’s step-father. A native of Vietnam, Luong is the guy to go to if you want to learn about, if not master, the fine art of Asian cooking.
On that transformative day we focused on won tons. A staple of Chinese cuisine, these dumplings required no lengthy shopping trips for rare ingredients. Likewise, they involved no special culinary skills. Just chop, stuff and boil. Who knew that cooking Asian food could be so easy? Not me!
With our ingredients spread out on the kitchen counter, Luong coached me on how to make the perfect, time-saving won tons. His trick? Store-bought, wheat flour dumpling wrappers. These can be found online as well as in specialty grocery stores and the Asian section of most supermarkets. Remember to moisten the wrappers with a damp towel and let them sit and soften for a few minutes before using.
Wrappers limber, we set out to stuff and seal our dumplings. Although usually loaded with ground pork as well as shrimp and minced onions, these won tons contained chicken. Perfect for pork-abstaining or shellfish-sensitive Asian food fans.
Once we had formed the dumplings, we reserved half for a bubbling pot of won ton soup. The others we boiled and paired with a dipping sauce of two parts soy sauce to one part honey and rice vinegar. In the end we had two fabulous Asian meals, neither of which depended upon calling for take-out.
CHICKEN WON TONS
Makes approximately 60 dumplings
1 lb. lean ground chicken
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 shitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
small piece of ginger, grated
12 water chestnuts, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
8 – 10 shrimp, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons soy sauce
60 Shanghai-style won ton or dumpling wrappers
salt and pepper to taste
6 to 8 quarts salted water, for cooking
soy sauce, for garnish
Fill a medium-sized stockpot with lightly salted water and bring to a boil.
Wet a paper towel and place it over the dumpling/won ton wrappers to moisten them.
Place the shallots, scallions, mushrooms, garlic, water chestnuts, ground chicken, shrimp, ginger, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the soy sauce and stir again.
Bring the salted water to a boil.
Peel off a dumpling wrapper and place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper and fold into a crescent. Press down on the edges with the tines of a fork. Place on plate.
Repeat this process with all the wrappers, making sure not to overlap the dumplings on the plate or they will stick together.
In batches place the dumplings in the boiling water and cook. When they float to the surface, they are finished. Remove won tons with wire skimmer or slotted spoon. Serve on plates with soy sauce or place in a broth and serve as a soup.
*Note: The same ingredients can be used for won ton soup. After filling the won ton wrappers, twist the edges up into a tepee. Place in won ton soup broth (1 chunk of whole ginger to be removed once soup is finished, 1 sliced shallot, 1 can of chicken broth) and cook.
March 4th, 2010 § § permalink
Over the weekend, while everyone else was off enjoying a few snow-free days, I sat in my office, struggling over an assignment on sardines. Whenever I became convinced that I had captured the delights of these small, iridescent fish, my husband would read a few lines and announce that I still hadn’t sold him, yet.
He isn’t alone in his status of sardine sourpuss. Many Americans write off this flavorful, little fellow as being too oily, boney, fishy or just too startling – with its head and tail intact – to use in a dish.
For me, though, sardines remain a tasty, smart, and economical alternative to ‘fast fish’ such as canned tuna and larger, carnivorous creatures such as salmon. With a flavor reminiscent of a heartier, earthier tuna sardines can jazz up a variety foods including sandwiches and subs, salads, pasta, pizza and dips.
Their rich, meaty flavor also allows them to stand on their own, grilled and served with a side of mixed greens or couscous. Their fatty flesh makes them perfect not only for grilling but also for broiling and frying.
Recoil at the thought of fattiness? Think again. Sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and arthritis. They likewise are a good source of protein.
The health benefits don’t end here. Thanks to their short life spans, primarily herbivore eating habits and wild-caught status, sardines are low in mercury and other toxins. Although abundant in supply, these guys have stringent catch quotas, further enhancing their low environmental impact.
If these wonderful aspects don’t sway naysayers, consider the price. A 3.75-ounce can of boneless, skinless sardines cost as little as $1. Talk about value on your plate.
Still feel that you’ll never try a sardine? Chances are that you already have. A generic term, “sardine” applies to a variety of tiny, soft-boned, saltwater fish. Anchovies, herring, pilchards and sprat all fall under this category. So, if you’ve ever nibbled on a Caesar salad, with its salty, anchovy-laced dressing, or chowed down on bread slathered in the warm Italian dip bagna cauda, then you’ve eaten sardines.
Serves 4 to 6
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ medium white onions, peeled and sliced into crescents
¾ teaspoon salt
1 (3.75-ounce) can of skinless, boneless sardines
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out the thawed puff pastry and place it on an ungreased baking sheet.
In a medium frying or sauté pan heat the oil on medium high. Add the onions and salt and sauté until softened, about 6 minutes. You should end up with about 1 1/2 cups cooked onion. Remove the onions from the pan and spread them evenly over the puff pastry.
Using your fingers, break the sardines into chunks and place them on top of the onions, spacing them evenly apart. Sprinkle the fresh rosemary and dried thyme over the onions and sardines and insert the puff into the oven.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry has puffed up and the edges have browned slightly. Cut into squares and serve warm.