Friday, November 19, 2010

ATTACK! nantucket bay scallops & black bass in a lemon tarragon broth

I love waking up on a Friday morning to sunshine, no alarm clock, and the brilliant prospective of going to multiple markets! Come to think of it - I was going to check out a new French market, Marche du Sud, on the Upper East, but was so excited about my previous purchases that I completely forgot about it until now.  Next time!  My main concern today was to pick up as many items as possible for one of the greatest holidays of the year - Thanksgiving!  And also to see what tickled my fancy as far as a meal went.  Union Square here I come! I traipsed through the market, brushed off non-profit volunteers (I'm SORRY - yes I want to save the environment, but I HAVE to get to cooking sir!), got overly concerned that brussels sprouts were somewhere around the $4/lb mark (?!), and wondered why people STILL had tomatoes available. COME ON. Unbeknownst to me, there was also a "holiday market" at Union Square with a bunch of vendors with some good, some garbage goodies - although I did get interviewed by New York Public Radio - must have been the red coat! I was really trying to be good and think ahead as far as holiday gifts go - unfortunately, I was too overwhelmed by the amount of STUFF and completely random layout of the place. To Trader Joe's!  Thank you Joe for being a savior - 2.49/lb for brussels sprouts - that's more like it! And cranberry sauce - yes, folks. You cannot beat the taste of prepared cranberry sauce.  Ask any chef, and this is the case. It's not worth your time attempting to make it.  Someday I'll conquer that though! 

Post TJ's and a ridiculously long line, I bee lined my way up Broadway to that place I should get a frequent visitors card to.  They always have SOMETHING that will inspire me in the realm of cookery, since the market failed to do so today.  Fast forward to the fish counter: looks great, but nothing really was jumping out...Chasse to the right to the curstacean/shellfish area and what do I see? Hues of purple, orange, pinks, and blues in little, in-shell Nantucket Bay Scallops.  Now the bulb has lit, and the gears have started grinding! Black bass, check.  Pushing through troves of people to get to the produce, check (first trying Mostarda de Pere - OMG. I'm making some next.).  Beautiful tarragon, beautiful winter squash, and I am off! With ingredients in tow, it was time to had back to good ole Midtown!  This dish turned out better than I imagined - savory, tart, warm (from the coarse ground pepper and broth), and gorgeous. 

First, let's talk tarragon.  This is one of the most underrated herbs of all time.  It's sweet and lightly anise-y, and frankly, perfect.  I've gone through stages of tarragon obsession and left it, and this may have taken me OFF that wagon.  A sprinkle here with a light poached chicken, a dash there with a (REAL) omelet - tasty treats to say the least.
And, when I find a bunch with large, crisp beautiful leaves as such, I really can't resist.  They seemed perfect! 

Next up, bay scallops.  In season November-March - if you get them fresh, these are the sweeter, and obviously tinier version of the scallops most are used to.  Shell-wise, the bay scallop shell is what most people imagine when they think of scallop shells - beautifully colored, with deep ridges.  Again, with any scallop, big or small, they should be fresh, with no "fishy smell" at all.  When you get live, in shell scallops you have to clean the scallop at some point.  Remember those pictures back in pre-college school days (elementary, middle, high school - I don't know) - but scallops have about a hundred of Frank Sinatra baby blues.  Not a precious part of the meal - and that's along with scallop offal if you well.  You can remove this either pre-cook, or post cook - it's easier post cooking, but it's really up to you. Bay scallops have an extremely delicate flavor - hence why a subdued lemon and tarragon broth seemed to be appropriate.  Great flavors, but not too intense! On to the recipe - I'm getting hungry again!

Nantucket Bay Scallops & Black Bass in Lemon-Tarragon Broth
For two
10 bay scallops, preferably in shell for presentation
1 fillet black sea bass
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 preserved lemon, thinly sliced
1 lemon, zested and halved
3 T minced tarragon
1 C winter squash, cut into 1/2 inch dice
Olive oil/grapeseed oil
Sea Salt
Fresh ground pepper

For the broth:
To start, make your broth.  combine the stock and the wine in a saucepot and bring to a boil.  Once it's boiled, toss in 2 T tarragon and the preserved lemon.  Remove from heat, squeeze in juice of 1/2 lemon, stir, cover and remove it from heat.

 For the squash:
In a medium saute pan, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of pan over high heat. If you;re using olive oil, heat the pan over medium so it doesn't smoke and burn. With grapeseed or vegetable oil, heat that pan up! Throw in your diced squash and saute until browned, crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside, about 5-7 minutes. 
Once the squash has browned, throw in about 1/2 T salt, some fresh ground pepper, and 1 T minced tarragon and toss, cooking for one minute more.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve until later.

Black bass:

place the fillets skin side down and cook until the skin is crispy.  Again, with fish, it will let you know when it's ready to turn - it won't fight you when trying to turn it over.  Cook for about a minute on the flesh side until browned a bit and remove from the pan.


First off, beware that scallops are evil. I don't know if it's just me and mollusks/crustaceans, but they seem to hate me.  I've been attacked by spot prawn and langoustine, and NOW I'm getting attacked by BAY SCALLOPS. What is that about!? Why is it snapping at me?! Fine. I'm cooking you and I'm sorry, but at least I'm enjoying it. And yes, it was that guy on the left.

End of story.

Hey guy!
Now that you've tried to bite me, I will bite you. For the scallops, bring the lemon-tarragon broth back to a boil. Gently place the scallops in the broth and let cook until open.  If you haven't previously cleaned the scallops, now is the time to do so - remove the surrounded "stuff" (um..eyes, guts, gross, I know). Basically get everything away until it resembles a bay scallop.  
Now it's time to plate!

First, arrange all the ingredients besides the broth into your plate.  Everything should be kept warm - if it's been a minute, you can toss everything back in a saute pan to heat them up.

 Pour in the broth, ensuring to get preserved lemon in each bowl. This broth is absolutely delicious, so put more than you expect is necessary.

Once the broth has been poured over,  sprinkle some lemon zest haphazardly over the dish, chiffonade some tarragon leaves, and sprinkle those over as well.

This dish was unexpectedly delicious. I knew it would be tasty, but it jumped beyond what I had envisioned.  No onion, no garlic, simple flavors, and not much equated to a savory delicious and filling dish. The broth wasn't too acidic due to the use of preserved lemons, but it was brightened up a bit by the finishing of lemon zest.  The combination of cooked and fresh, raw tarragon really created a great play between ingredients.  AND because all of the players in the game were quite delicate, the flavor of the black bass and the scallops were able to shine through.  And finally, the squash really added a nice creaminess and sweetness to the dish.  Put it all together and you'll have created a bite of perfection!

I have nothing leftover but a bit of broth, which I am totally okay with.  I may experiment with this just to make a soup out of.  If you've had Greek avgolemno soup, you know how delicious it is to have lemon in soup - but this is more subdued.  If you think about it, it really is a kind of deconstructed chowder. We may be onto something!

Enjoy this recipe.  It looks like there is a lot going on, but it comes together in a flash and the flavors are absolutely glorious.  Not to mention, you have bay scallop shells to use for decorations, scoops, or whatever you please!

Monday, November 15, 2010

spicy lamb burgers with vietnamese greens

I'm really not too fond of making "burgers" or "patties" of any type, but these are a clear exception!  They are absolutely, divinely delicious, and I always end up forgetting until I re-make and eat them.  With the ingredients inside the actual burgers, and the vietnamese herbs, dipped in a tangy tamarind vinaigrette - you can't go wrong.  The combination of flavors is superb! It's got a bit of all those wonderful tastes - a bit sweet, a tad salty, a slight tangy sourness, and of course umami (side note: what a fun word to say) - there's even a little kick to them.  Furthermore, I absolutely love Vietnamese flavors for the freshness they bring to any dish.  Beyond being delicious, the burgers are super easy to make! You can make everything ahead of time as well, so they literally cook up in a flash.  They are a definite crowd pleaser, even for those who say they don't like the flavor of lamb.  The recipe is from Cindy Pawlcyn's Big Small Plates - a great book with a variety of dishes from around the world.

Tamarind Vinaigrette
4 T brown sugar
3 T water
2 T tamarind paste or concentrate
1 T soy sauce
6 T olive oil 

In a saucepan, combine the water and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  When it has all dissolved, add in the tamarind paste and the soy sauce - whisk to combine.   Finally, remove the mixture from heat and whisk in the olive oil until fully emulsified.  Let the vinaigrette cool, and save for later - refrigerate it if you're prepping it ahead.  If it's properly emulsified, the vinaigrette shouldn't separate - if it does before you use it, just whisk it back up, or give it a good shake in a covered jar.

Tamarind concentrate - quasi-readily available these days. I swear this is the secret to some cuisines because it has a flavor you can't mimic with anything else - sweet, sour and savory.
And it makes for a killer vinaigrette!
Lamb Burgers
1 lb ground lamb
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1.5 T oyster sauce (if you really can't find this, you can omit it - you can get it at any Asian market, and most grocery stores have it in the "International Aisle")
1/2 Serrano or jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
2 T chopped fresh mint leaves
1.5 T minced cilantro leaves
1/2 sweet onion, finely minced
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lime

Combine all of the ingredients but the lamb in a large mixing bowl - and toss around/mix until combined.  Next, crumble in the lamb meat and mix this until well combined. I suggest rolling up your sleeves and diving right in with your hands - it's a lot easier to handle and really get the ingredients combined.  A spoon or spatula is a pain in the behind! Just be sure not to touch your eyes until you've REALLY washed your hands - not because of the lamb, but in case you have some capsaicin on your fingertips from the chile. Not comfortable.  Divide the mixture into whatever size patties you want.  I like to make smaller ones, but a regular sized patty is absolutely fine - just make sure they are about 1/2 to 1 inch thick.  Place these into the fridge until you are ready to cook.

Vietnamese Herb Salad
2 scallions, white and light green parts, cut into matchstick julienne
2 Serrano chilies, seeded and julienned
1/2 bunch basil, small leaves only.  If you have big-leafed basil, you can just roughly chop it
1/4 bunch cilantro leaves
1/4 bunch mint leaves
1/2 bunch chives cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 bunch watercress leaves

For the salad simply combine all the greenery, and toss with a tiny amount of the vinaigrette right before serving.  You don't want to overdress this salad (or any salad for that matter) because it completely masks the taste of the greens.

When you're ready to serve, either preheat your grill or a saute pan over medium-high heat.  If you're grilling, toss them on and let them cook for a couple minutes each side - it depends on the size of your patty.  For smaller ones, it'll only take about a 1.5 to 2 minutes per side for medium-rare.  I highly recommend grilling these if it's not too cold outside! You really achieve a nice char on the outside.  You could broil them as well, but be careful that they don't burn. When you're ready to plate, serve with a bit of the herb salad, a patty or two, and some extra vinaigrette.  Serve with more vinaigrette on the side - everyone will be asking for it anyway!

Yum! I am actually salivating thinking about these right now.  The patties come out nice and juicy on the inside, but with a nice crisp on the outside.  As stated before, the savory elements of this dish are really brightened up by the herbs both inside the patty and in the accompanying salad.  It has the perfect amount of heat from the chilies as well - no one component overpowers the others.  You will have what looks to be a lot of vinaigrette but have no fear! Everyone will love it, and probably ask for more for their lamb - and also ask why you didn't make four batches of this dish altogether!

Friday, November 5, 2010

feeling autumnal...

I have a love hate relationship with autumn.  Love, because: the air smells nice, the breeze is crisp, the leaves look like they're on fire. And I get to wear gloves and scarves. Hate, because it means winter is around the corner.  Fortunately for autumn, it has one component that trumps it all: it's ability to change a cuisine. Yes, I know, that doesn't seem all that exciting but it is.  Gone are the crisp salads, sweet corns, juicy tomatoes, cold wines, and margaritas of summer time. This is the time of year where you can start to make food taste a little "warmer" - from the more cozy, deep flavors of roasted vegetables and damp, earthiness of cool-weather mushrooms, and the slight heat from different cinnamons, nutmeg, allspice, and other spices that really don't seem appropriate to use in the summertime.  Hot toddies, jammy red wines, apple cider. Brilliant! Not to mention, Thanksgiving is one of the greatest holidays ever - especially from a culinary point of view.  It is the bomb.  It's the one cultural tradition this country has hung onto for hundreds of years that hasn't changed much since its inception.  And, this may be odd to think about, it is one of the largest traditional animal sacrifices still around.  Even though it's not "sacrificial" like most would see in movies about the Aztecs or whatever, because let's be honest - this country was built on convenience....probably 1% of people in this country will actually go out to hunt turkey, but still.  It's sacrificial in that it has all the same elements, post hunt, as the traditional kind: one specific animal, the focus (read: turkey) is prepared, then the whole animal is typically displayed and shown to the diners before carving, and it's finally eaten.  I could go more in depth, but I won't because I'm more concerned about COOKING!!

It's been a little brisk the past few days - even raining yesterday (thank god for Hunter boots!).  I was in the perfect mode for a 100% autumnal meal.  It's Friday, it's a relatively decent day out, and the fall farmer's market is at peak! I haven't had my fair share of roasted, caramelized, Maillard-ized goodness of fall yet, so today seemed like the perfect day.  I didn't want anything too rich and heavy, but that had rich flavors and components to create a kind of false facade of food.  To the market!

I picked up some typical vegs, and also picked out a few winter squashes - kabocha, delicata, festival, among others - I had to restrain myself not to buy more, otherwise I would be sleeping in a PILE of squashes.  From here I saw sage and prosciutto in my future, and knew I had to get down to business.  I made a quick stop at my favorite place a few blocks up for some rainbrow trout (I was looking for salmon trout - next time!), black trumpet mushrooms, and other goodies, and made my way home quickly!

Prosciutto-Wrapped Trout with Autumnal Flavors

I really almost pulled a Grant Achatz and added burning oak leaves to this for another sensory stimulator, but decided against it in my own best interest (burning leaves in the house?!).  24 month aged pancetta, wrapped around fresh rainbow trout, stuffed with wilted spinach. Roasted delicata squash, sweet potato, and apple puree. Stewed leeks.  Just cooked black trumpet mushrooms and Brussels Sprout leaves.  Lots of components. Perfect harmony.

My apartment STILL smells delicious!

In a dish like this, you can prepare some components ahead, like the stewed leeks and the puree.  If you're doing it same day, be sure to start with the puree first! 

Squash & Sweet Potato Puree
1 delicata squash, cut into 1/4 or 1/2 in cubes
1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/4 or 1/2 in cubes
1 small apple, cored and cut into 1/4 or 1/2 cubes
1/3 sweet onion, or about 1/3 cup, roughly chopped
3 T chopped sage leaves
Olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1 C chicken stock 
Ground nutmeg
From this...
(don't forget to save the seeds to toast!) this! Roast 'em up.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Toss all the ingredients in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast until extremely tender at least 30 minutes.  Shake every 10 minutes or so, and start checking with a fork after thirty minutes. Once the mix is extremely tender, toss into the food processor or blender and whirl away.  Add chicken stock slowly until you reach your desired consistency - a bit thicker than a bisque, but more runny than mashed potatoes.  I even added a little bit of fresh carrot juice.  Once it reaches this consistency, add a dash or two of ground nutmeg, combine, and taste for sale and pepper.  Refrigerate, or keep warm if you will be plating soon.  If you're really ambitious, you can pass it through a chinois or sieve to get out little pieces of squash skin, or just for texture reasons.  I was hungry, so I passed on this step.

While the previous ingredients are roasting, you can start prepping your leeks. 

Stewed Leeks
3 medium leeks
1 T butter
1 C chicken stock
Sea salt and pepper

So easy, and SO delicious! Cut the dark green tops off of the leeks, and slice the remaining portion into about 1/4 inch slices. Place these slices in a bowl of cold water, and separate each leek - this helps clean the leeks as well.   Drain the leeks, place in a saucepan with chicken stock, butter, a bit of sea salt and pepper (start with 1 t - it depends how salty your stock is).  Let this cook over medium heat until the leeks are soft, turn to medium-high and let the liquid reduce, being careful not to burn the leeks - you can caramelize them a bit though!  Once the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce, remove from heat and reserve for later.  Taste how delicious they are!

For the trout:

Prosciutto-Wrapped, Spinach stuffed Trout, for 2
4 cups washed, baby spinach
Rice bran oil
Salt & pepper
2 whole trout, to prep yourself, or two butterflied trouts
8 wide slices of good prosciutto (oh lord, I sound like INA!!) - the amount really varies on the width.  Get enough to cover the entire length of all the fish you have

For additional fun:
1 c black trumpet mushrooms
1/2 cup baby brussel sprout leaves
1-2 T butter
Salt and Pepper

In a saute pan, heat rice bran oil over medium-high heat.  Cook the spinach, adding a bit of water occasionally, until wilted and soft.  Season with salt and pepper, and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350F. For the trout, you can either get it whole, gutted and scaled, and butterfly it yourself, or just get it pre-butterflied.  I was confused and decided to make it more difficult on myself, and got the whole trout.  If you do the same, remove the head and tail, and cut down the belly.  Open it up like a book, and slowly lift the backbone and surrounded bones out, running your fingers closely down the bone to remove and flesh.  This should be relatively easy with a fresh trout! Remove as many pinbones as possible.  Add the cooled spinach to the center of the butterflies trout.


Fold the fish back together.  Arrange slices of prosciutto, overlapping each other about 1/2 inch to cover the entire outside of the fish.  Roll it up tightly like a newspaper, making sure the prosciutto pieces are sealed together. You shouldn't need twine, or skewers, or anything for this.

the fall day was so happy for this that it threw a little sunshine in the mix
In a large saute pan, heat up some rice bran oil or canola oil over medium-high heat.  I fried a couple of sage leaves in the oil before putting the fish in to get a little bit of sage essence into this component of the dish.  These were removed and drained on a paper towel.  Place the fish in the hot oil, and let the prosciutto crisp up nicely. Once this side has crisped up, gently flip the fish to crisp up the other side.  Once the fish is sufficiently browned and crispy, transfer it to a sheet pan and roast in the oven for another 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. 

While the fish is cooking, and if you're feeling sprite in the kitchen, you can add a couple more components to this dish (what?! I know - the final result is amazing).  In a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium, medium-low heat.  Don't brown the butter. Once it's melted, toss in the mushrooms. Let these cook until they release their water and become soft and tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms to a small plate, and quickly saute up the brussel sprout leaves.  Let them char a tiny bit and just cook through.  Remove to a plate and reserve.
I scavenged every teensy brussel sprout this one farmer had
 For the brussel sprouts, just cut the bottom of, and peel the leaves.  Use a paring knife to cut the core out and get some more leaves.  I've concluded that involve a paring knife is a pain in the behind.

Once the fish is barely cooked through, you are ready to plate! Make sure all of your other components are warmed up and ready to go.  Cutting the fish in half is good presentation, because it allows the diner to see the cross section of the fish.  Make a clean cut though, or else you'll squish the fish!

For plating, I just created a mound of the squash puree as a base, with a little sidebar of the stewed leeks.  The brussel sprout leaves were just scattered about. Did I mention my kitchen still smells delicious? The flavors that came from all of these components created an AMAZING aroma.  Not to mention, all of these flavors together were awesome.  The light fish was moist and delicate - a great contrast to the crisp skin and prosciutto, which also added a great savory touch.   The flavor of the puree - a little sweet from the ingredients involved, plus roasting, with a little warmth form the nutmeg.  This really combined nicely, flavor-wise and texture-wise with the fish.  

The perfect bite contained a little bit of everything: a bit of the wrapped fish, a swipe of the puree, a dab of the stewed leeks, one trumpet, and a brussel sprout leaf or two.  Pair this with a  Central Coast Cali Pinot or a young French Burgundy - the dish can hold it's own.

This is seriously autumn in a dish - and it's a legit pescatarian Thanksgiving option! Wow. I am glad that it made enough for leftovers...heck, even the leftovers look nice!