Monday, July 25, 2011

ingredient: DORADE

There are some highly talented people working in Aquatic Public Relations. The most famous example might be the transformation of the Patagonion Toothfish

i.e this guy:

to "Chilean Sea Bass." What's in a name? You ask. Well, after it gained its much more user-friendly name, the species became so popular that it's now completely over-fished. Having seen the huge differences a simple name change can make, the P.R reps for Gilt-head Sea Bream got on the case. They decided that henceforth on menus everywhere, this Mediterranean fish would now be called by its much more pleasant French name: Dorade.

Dorade are a relatively small fish, usually ranging from 6 to 9 pounds. They have shiny silver scales and a tender white flesh. The flavor of the fish is meaty and slightly sweet. Though the Italians call them orata and the Portuguese call them dourada and the Greeks call them tsipo├║ra, there are a few sure-fire ways to cook these fish. The first option is grilling the fish whole, which is no surprise given how Europeans love presentation. You'll often find this fish stuffed with herbs and laid on a platter so a bevy of men can fight over who gets to eat the cheeks and eyes. Another popular method is to throw Dorade in a seafood stew. It holds up well to cooking so it's a staple of Provencal bouillabaisse and zuppa di pesce alla Romana. But my new favorite method involves a whole lot of salt.

Salt-Crusted Dorade Stuffed with Herbs

I've always wanted to make salt-crusted fish. You can't really beat the wow-factor of packing a whole fish in a few pounds of salt, baking it, then cracking open the salt casing like an Arctic explorer uncovering long-lost natural treasures. Or baby penguins.

Luckily one of the benefits of having to pump out new recipes every week for a themed-menu column is that I have the perfect excuse to try out new techniques. So it was about a week ago, with many pounds of salt and some whole Bronzino in hand, that I first attempted salt-crusting. The results were amazing. It was fun, easy, and, most importantly, the fish turned out supremely moist and delicious. Unlike some other recipes I've done once and will never attempt again (let me warn you now: making jam to store for the winter just isn't worth the sterilization process), salt-crusting is now a favorite technique. The salt keeps all the moisture trapped inside the fish, but because the salt is outside of the flesh, there is no salt actually imparted into the flavor.

The best thing about my local fish store is that they're always bringing in new varieties of fish, leading me to discover fishy wonders I didn't know existed (hello, sablefish). When I saw some Dorade in the ice-packed window display, I knew that these pretty silver fish had to come home with me, and that they would end their days roasting in a block of salt. Well, the results was just as delicious as the bronzino. After cracking open the salt and removing the flesh, we had tender, sweet fish fillets scented with rosemary and lemon.

serves 2, easily doubled


one pound Dorade, scales on, insides cleaned
2 sprigs rosemary
1 lemon, half cut into 1/4 inch slices, other half reserved
2 pounds kosher salt
6 egg whites
extra virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites, salt and 1/4 cup water. Lay half the salt over the parchment paper, creating a rectangle that is just larger than the fish.

Gently stuff fish with rosemary and lemon slices. Lay fish on top of salt bed. Pat the rest of the salt around the fish, enclosing it completely in the salt crust.

Bake the fish until the salt is golden brown and
the fish is at an internal temperature of 135 - 140 degrees about 15 minutes.

Take fish out of oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Use a knife to crack open salt crust. Discard. Gently remove the two fish fillets.

Serve each fillet with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ingredient: CANTALOUPE

photo from geekspeakllc via flikr

My family seriously loves cantaloupe. I can't tell you exactly how much poundage we go through every summer, but let's just say that if cantaloupes were cannon balls we could have sunk the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

What is it about these melons that I prize above all others? Well, though I do love watermelon, I hate dealing with the seeds. And let's be honest, mushy or bland watermelon is all too common. I like honeydew, but sometimes it's too sweet, or too green applely, and something about it reminds me of bad hotel breakfasts. (Yes, if there was a fruit fault-finding contest I would surely win.) Cantaloupe is juicy yet firm. It's floral without being saccharine, refreshing yet sweet. And hey, if diners caught onto the nutritional benefits of cantaloupe in the 50s, I would hope you've taken notice as well.

In fact it's cantaloupe that may have saved the lives of the thousands of chain smoking, cottage cheese and melon- eating, dieting women of yore. Carcinogens in cigarette smoke induce vitamin A deficiency, and just one cup of cantaloupe has one hundred percent of your daily vitamin A. The vitamin A in cantaloupe not only restores your vitamin balance but helps prevent lung cancer and emphysema. Vitamin A also protects your eyes from the muscular degeneration associated with aging- though studies show you're much more likely to reap the benefits from the fruit than from pills. In other words, contacts ain't got nothin' on me.

Spicy Grilled Chicken with Cantaloupe Salsa

*sorry the pictures are so-so. My new iphone has found its first fault.

The only thing I can think of that I dislike about living in New York City is that I don't have a grill. Yes, I have a George Forman- and let's be real, I love that thing- but there is nothing quite like grilling outside in the summer. Luckily my boyfriend feels the same way. So on a recent trip home from Shelter Island, we forced our tired (and tan!) butts to detour to his parents house in Long Island in order to take advantage of their grill. It proved to be a great idea: the moon was full, the night was warm, and there were actually fireflies flitting their way around the lawn.

After a weekend of heavy eating we wanted something light and summery, so we went with grilled chicken and salsa. Before you sigh in boredom, I'll explain that these humble pieces of poultry are rubbed all over in a mixture of paprika, cayenne, cumin, and thyme. By creating a sort of crust, the spices seal in moisture and make the chicken extra moist and flavorful.

And while he manned the grill, I assembled this seriously easy cantaloupe salsa. Ripe cantaloupe is key, but that shouldn't be a problem in the summer. The fruit's sweet, honeyed flavor is brightened by lime juice and given some heat from jalapenos. Red onions add an acidic crunch, and the overall effect is a spicy-sweet, refreshing salsa that paired perfectly with the spice rubbed grilled chicken breasts. And because it comes together in about five minutes, I could hang outside and watch the grilling. One note: we like things spicy. If you're sensitive to spice, cut the rub in half.

serves two


for chicken:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

for salsa:

2 cups diced cantaloupe
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 jalapeno, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons olive oil
juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper to taste


For Chicken:

In a small bowl, whisk together spices. Rub chicken breasts all over with olive oil, then with spice mixture.

Prepare your barbecue over medium heat. Wipe Grill with nonstick cooking spray or olive oil. Grill chicken breasts until skin is crisp and the meat is juicy and just cooked through, about five minutes per side. Let rest five minutes before serving.

For Salsa:

In a medium bowl, combine cantaloupe, red onion, jalapeno, and cilantro. Toss to blend. Squeeze limes over salsa. Add olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, July 11, 2011

ingredient: LOBSTER

Lobsters are really enjoying their five minutes of fame. I've seen people in New York pay upwards of thirty dollars for a lobster roll. And before everyone jumps on my fellow citizens, I know for a fact it's not just the locals. Yes, lobster tastes good, but really this crustaceon has developed its own brand. Eating a lobster roll signifies you've probably been to Montauk, maybe even Nantucket or Cape Cod. Indulging in lobster rolls means you probably own boat shoes, definitely have a polo, and your sunglasses might have cost more than my dinner. Personally I'm not really into eating something with the same face as the design on my belt, but as long as you appreciate how awesome lobsters are, I'm not really against it, either.

In a way it makes sense that lobsters are the original blue bloods. Literal blue bloods, that is. Their blood contains haemocyanin and copper which turns it a shade of blue, and they've been around since the Cretaceous period. Lobsters can be found in almost every ocean, feasting on a range of mollusks, sea plants, and fish. They are pretty primordial in appearance- with their beady eyes and ten legs and no backbone and big ass claws. But most impressive might be their virility: lobsters get more fertile with age. That's pretty mind boggling when you consider that lobsters can live to be fifty years old. A fifty year old lobster at the peak of his sexual prowess? That's hotter than the East Hampton club he'll be sold at.

John's Lobster Rolls

Despite their recent surge in popularity, I assumed that lobsters always had a certain air of elegance around them. Sure, in the 1800s they joined oysters at the top of the "most under appreciated food" list, but by the 1980s everyone knew how chic lobster was. Right?

Well, apparently not if you're a kid living in Maine in the early eighties, where lobster meat was actually cheaper per pound than ground beef. Apparently if you're this kid, you think that ground beef is for fancy occasions, while lobster is the equivalent of a chicken dinner.

When I first heard this story from my boyfriend (who is the kid in question) I was struck both by how cute and how completely crazy this story was. Ground beef? Really? Well, sucks for me for not having lived in Maine, because this story has been validated by people who were actual adults at the time in question.

Having spent every summer in Cape Cod since birth, I have a lot of opinions on lobster rolls. Luckily for me, John (who will henceforth be known as "I can't believe it's not beef!") makes one mean lobster roll. Even better, he'll do the dirty work of killing the poor blokes and then dismembering their bodies, leaving me to nothing more strenuous than stealing the claws out of the bowl while he's not looking.

Serves 4


4 one pound lobsters (or, if you're gluttonous like us, 4 1.5-pound lobsters so you can make 1.5 rolls per person)
2 tablespoons mayo
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper

4 New England style split top rolls
2 tablespoons butter
4 butter lettuce leaves

Note: I never like celery in my lobster roll. Sometimes I like chopped chives, but here the meat was so juicy, so tender and sweet, it didn't need anything at all.


Fill a a large bowl with ice water. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. As quickly as possible, knife the poor lobsters through the head to kill them. Put lobster (my pot fit one lobster at a time) in boiling water and cook until red in color and cooked through but not rubbery. This will take about 4 minutes for a 1 pound lobster.

Transfer lobster to ice bath to stop cooking and continue to boil remaining lobsters.

When lobsters have been cooked and cooled, pick out the meat and discard the shells. Roughly chop the meat and transfer to a large bowl.

Add mayo and lemon juice to bowl. Toss to combine. Season lobster meat with salt and pepper.

I think lobster meat tastes best chilled, so at this point I always like to let my lobster meat rest in the fridge for an hour or more.

When you're ready to serve, melt one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet. Put first bun into pan and toast until golden, flipping over to toast second side. Repeat with next bun. Before toasting third bun, melt second tablespoon of butter.

Open a bun and put down one leaf of butter lettuce. Fill bun with lobster meat. Serve with a cold beer and follow with chocolate dipped soft serve.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ingredient: BARLEY

I'm going to go ahead and guess that most people consume the majority of their barley in the form of beer. Actually, people probably get most of their barley in an even more round-about fashion: barley is a major part of animal feed, so when we're eating meat, we're sort of eating barley too. Really the bottom line is that we need to get some one-one-on, up close and personal time with this delicious grain.

Did you know that barley is the reason we're here today? ("We" being the pinnacle of civilization, obviously.) Barley was the first domesticated grain in the Near East. Domesticated grains meant a reliable food source, which meant more free time to invent s*** and further all sorts of human developments. (Er, somebody go find Elliot Spitzer and tell him that domestication is the key to social advancement. )

Over the years, barley has been used as currency, as a beverage (barley wine, anyone?) and as medicine. The prophet Mohamed prescribed barley to soothe "seven diseases" and in medieval Europe, people drank barley broth to cure fevers. I believe they were on to something because barley is one healthy grain. Among its many benefits, barley has high levels of niacin, which protects against heart disease; fiber, which decreases levels of bad cholesterol and protects against asthma and breast cancer; copper, which eases arthritis; and selenium, which has been shown to significantly reduce your risk of colon cancer.

So why aren't people eating more barley? I think it's gotten unfairly labeled as a "health food" product; one of those things you only eat if your mom forces you to, threatening to hide the Playstation controllers until you finish your meal (or at least this will be my parenting tactic). But I promise: barley is delicious! It's nutty and chewy and plays well with other flavors. If you buy pearled barley, it cooks in 40 minutes or less, and let's be honest- you need that time to brush up on Angry Birds, anyway.

Barley White Bean Salad
with Parsley-Basil Vinaigrette

This past weekend was eerily dead in New York City. I oscillated between enjoying the quiet streets and the sky-rocketed dog to person ratio (I swear it was 1:1 in the West Village) and feeling depressed that I was landlocked when everyone else seemed to be on a beach somewhere, working on their tan.

Of course it was all worth staying around for July 4th itself, when I attended the almost-annual BBQ thrown by my childhood friends. As I've mentioned before, they're all awesome cooks, so we divvied up the menu, and I personally offered to bring dessert and a side. Dessert was a no-brainer (blueberry pie, of course!) but I spent some time deciding on a side dish. It was going to be super hot, so the food should be room temperature to cold, but there were going to be a batch of boyfriends lying around, so a pretty plate of lettuce was not going to cut it.

I decided to make a farro salad, because I simply adore farro and it's chewy and nutty and delicious. Of course I decided to wait until the last minute to buy the star ingredient and ended up face to face with CLOSED signs in all my farro-purveyors windows. (I thought this was the city that never went on vacation?) But then, as I walked desolately up and down the aisles of my still open overpriced understocked supermarket, I came upon a bag of barley. And you know what I realized? I realized that barley is chewy and nutty and delicious, just like farro. So in fact a perfect substitute was on hand (and at one third of the price!)

This salad is simple but wonderful. It's mostly barley, with some creamy white cannellini beans thrown in for texture and flavor contrast. The vinaigrette is a blend of olive oil, parsley, basil, and lemon. It's fresh and citrusy, and also reminiscent of everyone's favorite- pesto.

I'm going to eat this barley salad all summer, making big batches and serving it at room temperature alongside grilled fish or chicken.

Serves 12


2 cups dry pearled barley
4 cups cold water
2 teaspoons salt
2 19-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups basil, packed
1 large bunch parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


In a large pot, combine barley, cold water, and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat. Cook for 40 minutes or until all water is absorbed and barley is tender.

While barley is cooking, combine basil, parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until almost smooth. With motor running, add olive oil and pulse until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combined cooked barley and cannellini beans. Pour vinaigrette over barley and toss until evenly coated.

*Can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. Stays well for a few days in the fridge, though lemon flavor will decrease as time goes on.