It was a dark and stormy night last night. Here’s what we had for dinner: a rather ugly yellow plateful, true, but very delicious. Following a recipe from 660 curries, I coated rockfish fillets with turmeric, fried them in panch phoran spices (fenugreek, fennel, nigella, cumin, mustard seed), then simmered them with plain yogurt and red onion. This all went over steamed basmati rice and some simple sauteed cabbage with a few spices. The fish had a wonderful fragrance, and all the whole spices exploded in our mouths as we ate. We drank some Chinook Semillon that we had left over from the previous night, then sat by the fire and listened to the rain hammer against the windows.
For years we’ve eaten pumpkin on Halloween. Often in the form of soup, with Yorkshire pudding and sausages alongside, and sometimes in ravioli. This year we decided to take a complete break from it. Instead I made an equally autumnal supper of pan-fried rainbow trout and a rather successful melange of Brussels sprouts, onion and bacon, which worked extremely well. The trout was from Skagit’s Own Fish Market and was just beautiful, lightly floured and fried in a bit of bacon fat. The bacon itself was from Skagit River Ranch, and I wish I could say I liked it better. Everyone we know has been raving about it for the last year, and I finally got hold of some (whoa! expensive), but good lord it’s sugary. It smells wonderful in the pan, like smoke and maple syrup, but it burns really easily, and after a few bites I feel like I’ve eaten a candy bar. Brussels sprouts made the perfect vehicle for it, giving the sugar somewhere to go.
We drank a bottle of Sones Cancion del Mar white wine, gave out a few Butterfingers to the neighbor kids, and didn’t miss the pumpkins at all.
The summer weather has been coming and going with dismaying regularity, but we had at least one really nice day last week. We had gone out to Well Fed Farms to pick up our final batch of chickens for the season, then took the opportunity to swing by Skagit’s Own Fish Market on the way back. I found myself enamored of a tray of fresh rainbow trout, neatly butterflied and glistening in the case. They were far cheaper than any of the salmon options and looked wonderful; we brought home two.
It was too nice out not to grill, so I followed the fishmonger’s advice and stuffed the trout with lemon slices, then laid them carefully over moderate coals. When the skin on one side was crispy and golden, we carefully turned them to do the other side without flinging lemons into the fire.
The result was gorgeous. Apart from a bunch of tiny bones that had escaped the cleaning process in my trout, they were easy to eat, and the delicate meat was scented with lemon. I made coleslaw with a buttermilk-horseradish dressing from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, then opened a bottle of very dry and light French rose.
Even the scent of citronella candles couldn’t hurt this meal.
Last week I got an inexplicable craving for salmon cakes. This has been one of our standard pantry dinners for years – cheap, easy and healthy – but we hadn’t had it for a while. I made an executive decision and picked up a can of Alaskan salmon at the co-op.
Oddly enough, this may have been the first time I ever made fish cakes myself. My husband and I have divisions of labor in the kitchen, not always logical, and he’s generally in charge of curries, Thai beef stirfry, burgers, kebabs, and salmon cakes. He must have been busy with something else on this occasion, since I ended up making them myself. Fortunately for me, these are really, really simple. We use a recipe from the Joy of Cooking as our base, then add flavorings as we please. This batch was very basic, as I was also cooking Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes and wasn’t really focusing.
The version I made was just canned salmon (with a little skin and bone mashed in – I rather like the texture, and it’s full of calcium), matzo meal, egg, salt, pepper and parsley. Other times we’ve added red pepper flakes, herbs, or breadcrumbs instead of matzo, but I wouldn’t say we’d gotten really inventive with them. We usually make garlic mayonnaise to liven things up. What do you think would be good in fish cakes?
Adapted from Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. Easily scaled up or down depending on the size of your can of salmon.
- 2 cups canned salmon meat, with or without skin and bones
- 1/2 cup cracker crumbs or matzo meal
- 2 eggs
- chopped parsley
Mash all the ingredients together in a bowl. Shape into patties and fry in butter or oil until browned. Serve hot with garlic mayonnaise.
This was dinner last night: Chilean sea bass* in a sour orange beurre blanc, potatoes and sweet potatoes roasted in olive oil, and sauteed cabbage. The cabbage was actually a slaw left over from our shrimp tacos the previous night, marinated in lime juice and serrano chiles, but tossed in a hot wok it was really delicious, especially with the beurre blanc.
This was my first time making beurre blanc, and I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing until I was halfway through it. I was following a recipe in Moro East and wasn’t quite sure if it was working correctly, so I referred to James Peterson’s Sauces and saw that I was basically approaching it the right way, just with some unusual seasonings. The recipe uses Seville oranges, but allows substituting a mix of lemon and orange juice if you can’t get them. I combined the juices in a small pan, added a bay leaf, some thyme, finely grated orange zest and a sprinkle of cinnamon, heated it all to a simmer, and whisked in an improbable amount of butter. The sauce wasn’t particularly thick, but it didn’t break, and it had a wonderful tart orange flavor that went gorgeously with the fish and cabbage and sweet potatoes. Not an every day sort of sauce, but nice to know how to do.
*Yes, I realize Chilean sea bass is not the best choice, as it’s been red-listed by sustainable seafood advocates. I have bought it maybe twice in my life, both times from a local family-owned fish market that primarily sells only their own catch. But the Moro recipe specifically called for sea bass and I wanted to see what it was like (and it was, in fact, wonderful). As Rob DeBorde says in Fish on a First-Name Basis, “if the darn thing didn’t taste so good, we wouldn’t have to fret over eating it. Stupid fish.”
I’ve always been a big fan of fish tacos, and tend to order them any time I see them as long as they’re not deep-fried (not that I have anything against fried fish, but I prefer it outside of a taco). We recently had some fantastic halibut tacos out at Skagit’s Own Fish Market, grilled with a spicy rub and liberally dressed with tomato salsa and fresh cucumber. Then there was the taco, also halibut I think, at Fred’s Rivertown Alehouse in Snohomish, which was topped with cabbage and tartar sauce and came with some really excellent beans and rice. At this point I really wanted to make some of my own, to keep the streak going. We picked up some nice looking ling cod and a pack of fresh tortillas and thought about topping options.
This year I’ve been growing tomatillos for the first time. We got a couple of plants from the high school greenhouse of a variety I’d never seen before, just labeled “purple tomatillos.” With the hot weather we’ve finally been having, the plants have started bearing like crazy, and the fruits are, indeed, purple. I only had a few mature tomatillos, but decided to try whipping them up into a green (or purple) salsa to go with our fish tacos.
Recently, and perhaps foolishly, I accepted a challenge from a fellow blogger. Nothing to do with blogging, or even food – instead, the challenge is to hold a plank position for four straight minutes. Our deadline is September, and currently we’ve each managed a bit over two minutes. In a word? Ouch. If you’ve ever done plank exercises, I suspect you’ll feel my pain.
A much more pleasant type of planking is the sort you do with fish. We tried this again recently, with some gorgeous king salmon from Skagit’s Own Fish Market. Planking is a traditional technique in the Northwest, but it’s hard to find fish cookbooks that even mention it, let along give detailed instructions. So we’ve been somewhat making it up as we go along.
The theme for Casey Schanen and Tom Saunderson’s class at Gretchen’s last week was ostensibly Seafood with Wine Pairings. If you ask me, the real theme was Butter.
This was some of our mise en place – see that pile of butter pats on the plate? We used most of that over the course of the evening.
We put together an appetizer plate for the guests so they’d have something to nibble on right away. There were fresh radishes and turnips, Nell Thorn bread and rosemary crackers, all being dunked into an amazing dip of butter whipped with green olives. Yes, it looks like guacamole – but it ain’t. Caution is advised, as this stuff is addictive.
I wasn’t sure there was any higher calling for alder-smoked salmon than a bagel and cream cheese, but this risotto may have changed my mind.
Some friends brought this salmon to a party at our house (very good friends, indeed). It was from Pure Food in the Pike Place Market, according to the bag, and it was the best smoked salmon I have ever eaten, juicy and tender with just the right amount of smoke and sweet. I was trying to think of some way to use a bunch of it at once, and Jon said, “What about in that risotto we’re having on Thursday?” Hmmm.
Even after I had learned how to cook most things, I had no idea how to deal with a piece of salmon. It was embarrassing, but I was sufficiently terrified by the idea of cooking, not just salmon, but any fish, that I almost never tried. I was scared of it being raw, but I hated it overcooked. So I just skipped the whole thing, which is really a shame when you live in the Pacific Northwest.
Enter that saviour of timid chefs everywhere, Mark Bittman! All of his recipes tend to have a comforting, you-can-do-this sort of tone, with simple techniques and ingredients. I discovered a stovetop-to-oven method of cooking salmon fillets in his book The Minimalist Cooks at Home, and it worked so well I wouldn’t cook salmon any other way for years. It repeatedly produced fish that was moist, tender and cooked all the way through. It’s simple: crust the fish with herbs and spices, melt butter in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, add the fish seasoning-side down and cook one minute. Flip and cook one more minute. Put the pan in the oven and cook about five minutes or until done how you like. Easy.