Recently in Seafood Category
Eggplant and peppers are abundant at the end of summer, and I indulge in them frequently before they are replaced by winter squash, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. I can’t resist experimenting with slender lavender eggplants, bulbous white ones, and magenta striped Italian versions. And it’s fun to compare the long red lipstick peppers, green smoky poblanos
, and meaty pimientos. I often include peppers and eggplant in the same dish because the creamy richness of roasted eggplant balances the tangy sharp flavor or browned peppers.
I recently braised eggplants and sweet peppers in a tomato and white wine sauce, seasoned with capers and olives. I made a big batch of this colorful dish so I would have plenty of leftovers for a second meal. Chunks of albacore tuna simmered in the sauce turned it into a piquant fish stew to spoon over quinoa on the first night. The extras became a hearty pasta dish a few days later.
The wild chanterelle mushrooms and sweet blue lake green beans I found at the farmers’ market this week reminded me of an intriguing fall salad I recently enjoyed at Jar restaurant. Chef Suzanne Tracht offered special dishes at a dinner benefitting the Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, and I was a lucky guest at my friend Margaret’s table.
I had been thinking about the salad ever since I tasted it, and I wanted to create something similar. I started by whisking up an easy vinaigrette with tangy whole grain Dijon mustard and Sherry wine vinegar, anticipating that the rich flavor of the vinegar would compliment the earthiness of the mushrooms.
The vinaigrette was sumptuous and vibrant, and I realized the concoction would make a fine seasoning for both the salad and the arctic char fillets I was fixing.
Artic char is among my favorite fish; I love its delicate, sweet flavor and pink colored flesh that flakes ever so delicately. I love how easy it is to cook; I prepare it all year- on the grill in the summer, roasted or sautéed when it is too cold to barbecue. I love its versatility - acidic ingredients brighten its flavor, earthy mushrooms compliment its salmon like taste. Last night I roasted char, and garnished it with a simple kumquat gremolata (chopped kumquats, shallot, and Italian parsley). I cooked potato and fennel wedges alongside, so the entire meal was made at one time.
Steve and I enjoy fish, and we usually eat it a couple of times a week. But choosing seafood can be confusing- which fish are environmentally correct, and which of those are low in mercury? It is easy to settle on wild salmon as the one safe fish, but I like to venture further out. My friends are always asking for help choosing and cooking seafood and I intend to help them and lure you with recipes for a variety of delicious, risk-free fish.
I was fascinated by polenta when I first tasted it at a rustic cabin restaurant in the Italian Alps. I ate forkful after forkful of the molten layering of cornmeal, mountain cheese, local sausage, and tomato sauce, trying to figure out how it was made. Soon after, polenta made its way into restaurants in the US, and during my long tenure as food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, I got to sample polenta in many different recipes.
But, I didn’t fully appreciate the versatility of polenta until I began experimenting with my newly imposed gluten-free diet. It was then that I realized polenta makes a great replacement for many wheat-based staples- bread, pasta, croutons, crostini, and even pizza crust. This discovery added new satisfaction to my meals.
The recipe here is my quick twist on traditional polenta, which can take up to 45 minutes of almost constant stirring to prepare. I was determined to find a way to make polenta effortlessly so I could enjoy it frequently. I played around until I came up with this creamy, microwave version. The key is using medium-grind cornmeal, rather than coarser ground polenta, which requires more than three times as long to cook.
Here is an easy, gluten-free dinner for this busy season: seafood simmered in a spicy tomato sauce and then spooned over quick, creamy polenta. Although we appreciated it on a busy weeknight, it is festive enough for the night you decorate your tree or an impromptu holiday gathering.
The seafood and the polenta are endlessly variable and indispensable dishes I return to over and over again. I gave you the recipe for my microwave polenta
a few days ago. Today I’m offering the seafood formula. The last time I made this satisfying meal, tender bay scallops were on sale, and the vibrant sauce enhanced their sweetness. However, I have made the same recipe with chunks of Alaskan halibut, wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, shiny black mussels, large sea scallops, and briny calamari.
I find that almost anything is made even better with a big handful of fresh herbs. Thyme, rosemary, and sage grow in my garden year around, and any one of them is great here. When I use rosemary or sage, which are woodier than the other herbs, I add them earlier than the thyme and let them sauté with the onion. I also love this with marjoram, Italian parsley, or cilantro- any of these get added at the same juncture in the recipe as the thyme. The real point is to use what you have on hand, either in the fridge or growing. No need to buy an herb just for this dish.
Wild salmon is one of my favorite foods. I am not speaking about frozen or farmed salmon; I love the fresh, wild fish from Alaska. This fish emerges from its days in the cold, pristine waters pure in flavor and resilient in texture. Remarkably tasty, wild salmon doesn’t need much help from the cook; I sprinkle it with lemon zest and fragrant fennel and mustard seeds, and then grill it. Add a topping of quickly sautéed farmers’ market cherry tomatoes, and a sublime meal is ready in minutes.
On a visit to Juneau last spring, to learn more about Alaskan seafood, I discovered that grilling with alder wood adds the fragrance of the Alaskan woods to the fish, and perfumes the air as well. That is how salmon was cooked at the Taku Glacier Lodge
, a log cabin restaurant set at the edge of the wilderness, with a view of the Taku
Inlet and Taku
Glacier, a spectacular 45 minute helicopter flight from Juneau. When I got back to Los Angeles, I searched for alder wood chips and found them at Barbeques Galore
Comforting mashed potatoes are accented with tender fish, formed into rounds, and then sautéed until golden and crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. I understand why fish cakes are a favorite way to use leftover cod in Nova Scotia. I was introduced to these marvelous treats on a trip to Halifax Canada earlier this fall, and ever since have been recreating them at home the evening after fish dinners.
I made them this week with salmon, but almost any fish would be good. To enhance the basic formula, I added a few spoonfuls of leftover basil and mint salsa verde and a few gratings of lemon peel. Dipped in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), and then cooked in just a little olive oil until a crunchy crust forms, these are most agreeable.
Tender, fresh lima beans are available right now at the McGrath Family Farms stand at several farmers’ markets. Because the beans are already removed from their pods, it takes only a few minutes to get them ready to use, and I am having fun fooling around with them. I have braised them with peppers, zucchini, and green beans; tossed them with spaghetti and fresh pesto; created a fresh succotash; and fashioned a hearty soup with the limas, fingerling potatoes, winter squash, and greens.
I discovered that the fresh limas develop a rich, earthy flavor and silky texture when simmered with sautéed shallot or onion and a few herbs until tender, and then left to cool in the salted liquid for at least 20 minutes. The first time I prepared the fresh limas, the process felt a little awkward, because I am accustomed to simply boiling frozen limas in water for about 15 minutes. Now I cook the limas when I get them home from the market, and store them in the refrigerator to use over the next few days.
I am working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium as the food editor for their Seafood Watch website, and the first post I produced is up. Each month we introduce one sustainable seafood item, with information about why it is a good choice for the environment and tips for cooking it. This is brought to life with 2 recipes fashioned specifically for the website; I will create one, and one will be from a chef who is dedicated to sustainability.
This month we talk about arctic char, a delicate fish that tastes like a cross between salmon and trout. The photo here shows the recipe I devised: very easy to prepare Char with Fennel and Orange
. The fish fillets
and fennel and red onion wedges are seasoned with fennel seeds and orange zest and roasted in a hot oven. While they cook, balsamic vinegar and orange juice simmer until syrupy, for a quick, sprightly sauce to spoon over the fish.
Cool weather and rain in the forecast make this a perfect week to cook a pot of warming seafood chowder. This recipe, with its creamy broth, delicate cod, smoky bacon, and fresh kale, has rich flavors and is simple to make. I developed it for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website, to entice people to try Pacific Cod, a sustainable fish that is terrific in chowder and tacos, and is not expensive. Atlantic cod is greatly overfished, so Pacific cod is a tasty alternative.
Recently we invited friends for a Spring Equinox dinner. The idea was to go for a full moon hike, and then return to our house for a meal, however It rained that evening. The hike was off, but dinner was not. It was cold and windy, and the chowder was the perfect antidote.
When I was growing up, my mother served shrimp for special occasions. They were delightfully sweet and briny, resilient yet fabulously succulent. But years ago, these little sea creatures changed, the flavor disappeared, the texture became mushy, and they were available everywhere, including at inexpensive eateries. Except for giant Pacific and Canadian spot prawns presented at the best restaurants, shrimp were no longer special.
I had read and heard arguments against eating inexpensive shrimp- environmentally unsound farming and fishing methods are employed to produce this low cost product. It wasn’t until a visit to a fish farm in Southeast Asia that I truly grasped the situation. One look at fish swimming listlessly in fetid brown water, and I understood why I had stopped liking shrimp, and recognized the toll on the ecosystem.
I like to prepare Valentine’s Day dinner at home, far away from overcrowded restaurants. Because the meal is my celebration too, I want it to be easy, leaving me time to focus on my sweetie. This year I am going to cook the Roasted Salmon with Thyme Vinaigrette I created last year. I liked the dish so much; I included it in my new book, Weeknight Fresh and Fast. The vivid thyme sauce seasons the fish and dresses a salad of delicate baby greens too, making it 2 recipes in one. Add smashed Yukon gold potatoes (more about those in a minute), and the main course is complete.
On Sunday, I will pick up fresh (or thawed frozen) wild Alaskan king salmon at Santa Monica Seafood
or Whole Foods markets. Alaskan salmon has a subtle flavor, underscored by a wonderful richness. In addition to being a favorite of mine, it is raised and fished using sustainable practices
, and is healthful too- a win, win, win. I will make the vinaigrette for the fish and salad when I get home from shopping.
To start off the meal, I plan on sautéing sliced fresh Chanterelle mushrooms with shallots and a little of the thyme already on hand for the fish. I will mound the mixture on toasted pain rustic, and serve it with flutes of sparkling rosé, so we can nibble and chat while I finish the cooking. An even easier starter- a luscious soft cheese with crisp crackers.
Today is an exciting day for me. My new book Weeknight Gluten Free
is finally available at Williams-Sonoma stores. When my childhood celiac disease resurfaced, I was determined to eat as well as I always had. I continued to focus on healthful, fresh, farmers’ market inspired food as I learned to cook without wheat, barley, and rye. This book features my favorite recipes developed during a year of glorious experimenting in my kitchen, and I'm so happy to be able to share them with you.
Rather than offering disappointing versions of dishes that require wheat, I focus on food that is naturally gluten free. I didn’t get depressed about giving up crusty bread and semolina pasta, but instead came to truly appreciate the beauty of polenta, quinoa, and corn tortillas. The book highlights creative uses for gluten-free staples such as quinoa pilafs, creamy weeknight polenta, herbed egg crepes, socca (savory chickpea pancakes), legumes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. I also created a crusty skillet cornbread that takes only minutes to prepare and competes with artisan breads for satisfaction.
You’ll find recipes for food to eat every night of the week, including meatless entrees, sustainable seafood, poultry, and meat. There are dishes like braised Moroccan flavored chickpeas and carrots with yogurt topping; crisp socca with burrata, greens, and olive dressing; polenta topped with fried eggs, kale, and blistered tomatoes; fish tacos with broccoli slaw and lime crema; turkey cutlets with green olives and lemon on quinoa; and quick Vietnamese beef and noodle soup.