Rinse and Repeat

Aside from having the occasional relentless sushi craving, at which time I could easily devour four maki rolls by my lonesome, seafood has not been a mainstay in my repertoire as of late. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve cooked plenty of seafood dishes, cephalopods included, but it’s been quite a while.

Does the oyster-shuckin’ day even count?! And if not, then it’s been almost a year since seafood has had a presence here – yikaroonies! Needless to say, that has got to be remedied.

Because here’s the deal – here’s my beef with seafood: you have to plan for it. Yeah, I know, that’s not normally a problem for me at all; I plan what days of the week my hair gets washed, for cryin’ out loud. But when I cook fish, I want it to be fresh as all get out. I want it to smell like the sea, and I want to buy it as close to when I hope to prepare it as possible – a day apart, tops. That’s where I run into an issue because I like to buy groceries on Sunday in the early afternoon, with hopes of eating any fish I’d purchase on Monday (don’t forget – Sundays are for the big time-consuming meals). Now, if anything goes awry on Monday, say a last minute plan with a friend, or a husband working late, or maybe I get a wild hair up my ass to finally go for a run after work (which, when the mood strikes, I must take advantage of said urge), the plans for fish-cooking are ruined.

You still with me? Because this is real life – I had to toss a couple of lovely halibut fillets into the freezer a few weeks ago because the Monday cooking didn’t happen, and cooking that same fish on Tuesday seemed like such a travesty. And yeah, it’s not like I wasted the fish and threw it away, but still – frozen halibut just isn’t the same.

You may be sensing some degree of stubbornness on my part, and that’s spot on. But this time around, I did bend the rules just a tad. I stuck to my regular method of purchasing fish on Sunday. When Monday rolled around, I stuck to my plans of cooking that night. Of course, Chris tried to throw a wrench into my plan and work late, but I just snacked and waited patiently, vowing not to ruin my fish this time. At the last minute, I decided to cook half of the fish (only 2 fillets), so that I could – get this – cook the other two on Tuesday night (because another issue I have with fish is that leftover fish tastes like poo, and that’s not good for anyone). Yeah, I know – crazy, huh?! But here’s where it gets even crazier – it was still just as good on Tuesday.

I’m sure the red pepper and harissa pesto that was nestled under those perfectly-cooked fillets helped in the taste area, but the point of my story is a point you’re not going to hear me make too often: I was wrong. (ps – you might want to do a screenshot of this page before I update this post and delete that sentence.)

With that point out of the way, maybe I can slowly work a weekly seafood dish back into my weekly cooking, like we used to do back in the day. We’ll see how it goes…

In the meantime though, take yourself to the grocery store on Sunday (or Monday, if you’re feeling frisky) and buy the prettiest pink wild Alaskan (sustainable) salmon you can find, as well as the remainder of the ingredients for the pesto. If you can’t find harissa, you can use tomato paste, which is what the original recipe used – I just wanted more spice in my life. Come straight home from work on Monday and cook half of the fish, one for you and one for your lucky guest. Whip up the pesto while the grill does the rest of the work. Eat said fish, and thank yourself for such a lovely dinner.

Rinse, and repeat on Tuesday.

Salmon with Red Pepper-Harissa Pesto
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 15 minutes (enough time to toss some edamame into the microwave for steaming in which case you’d have a full freakin’ dinner!)

printable version

4 6-oz wild Alaskan salmon fillets
3/4 t salt, divided
cooking spray
3 medium-sized bottled roasted red peppers, rinsed & drained
1-2 T bottled harissa
1 t olive oil
1/4 c blanched almonds
1 garlic clove

heat grill pan over med-hi heat. sprinkle fish with salt. coat pan with cooking spray. grilled fish for ~4 minutes on each side, until fish flakes easily (I like to leave some of the middle less cooked, as it cooks a little after it’s taken off the grill).

meanwhile, combine remaining salt and other ingredients in a small food processor or blender, and blend until smooth. serve pesto with fish.

Getting Fresh

Now that the big secret’s out, we can get back to this backlog of recipes I’ve been wanting to talk about for ages but wasn’t able to since there’s been about ten thousand things on my mind.

And let there be no doubt, there are still at least 9,000 things on my mind, but nonetheless, enough space has been cleared in my brain where I can talk about food again. Cooking it is another thing, but fortunately I have a pretty big backlog.

I don’t know about you, but one of the first things that comes to my mind when I think of California (my future state of residence!!) is all the fresh food. The words fresh and local will be a little different in the Golden State than here in the Midwest – word on the street is that people grow oranges, and lemons, and maybe even avocados there! I’m hoping real hard to land a place with a lemon tree in the backyard, and if not, you best believe I might plant one myself, even with my horrible track record of growing things.

This is certainly a recipe that should fit well into any season, but it’s usually in January or so when I really crave something light and fresh in between all the stews and chili. Plus, with having a constant meat rotation with the CSA, I find that I need a good excuse to have some fresh fish that isn’t something coming from my freezer. This is a good, easy answer to all of those things.

And I never turn down a taco, or an avocado, or salmon for that matter. All things that make moving to the West Coast even more exciting, if truth be told.

Chipotle-Rubbed Salmon Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

time commitment: ~30 minutes

printable version

1 Granny Smith apple—peeled and small-diced
1/2 cucumber—peeled, seeded, and small-diced
1/2 small red onion, small-diced
1/2 small red bell pepper, small-diced
1 1/2 T champagne vinegar
1 1/2 t sugar

2 T mayonnaise
2 t fresh lime juice
2 t chipotle chile powder
2 t finely grated orange zest
2 t sugar
1 lb skinless wild Alaskan salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
1 T plus 1 t extra-virgin olive oil
8 corn tortillas
1 Hass avocado, mashed
zest from 1 lime

cut up all ingredients for salsa. toss with vinegar, sugar, and salt. can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

preheat the oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lime juice. In another small bowl, combine the chipotle powder with the orange zest and sugar. Rub each piece of salmon with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and then with the chipotle–orange zest mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until they are softened and heated through.

Meanwhile, heat a grill pan. Season the salmon with salt and grill over high heat until nicely browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.

Break salmon into small chunks. Spread the mashed avocado on the warm tortillas and top with the salmon, and salsa. Drizzle each taco with the lime mayonnaise and serve right away.

Nectar of the Gods

In the compass of cooking, the word ‘easy’ is arbitrary. If you’re a French pastry chef, you’d whip up a batch of macarons (no, not macaroons – those are easy if you’ve got at least one hand and egg whites) with your eyes closed. They do not appear easy to me, although I will admit I haven’t tried. If you’re Masaharu Morimoto, you can carve sashimi that’s one-eighth of an inch thick with precision and agility that I can only dream of, or watch on TV. If you’re me, you pride yourself on ‘supreming’ citrus.

Yes ma’am. Su-prem-ing. Say it loud and proud like the French, and not like the pieces of chicken (su-preeeme). And when you say it, think of my picture beside it in the dictionary. Because I am a supreme master.

The definition? According to Wiktionary, to supreme is to divide a citrus fruit into segments, removing the skin, peels, pith, membranes. I suggest you go to either your nearest grocery store, your local farmers’ market, or (if you’re lucky) your backyard and grab a bag of fresh, juicy citrus fruit – now. Then head over to YouTube and watch this video, ignoring the ginormous knife he’s using and the weird music that sounds as if he’s about to murder someone with said knife rather than cut citrus. To be quite honest, a simple paring knife would do but I’m sure he thought the shiny butcher knife would give him more authority in his instruction. Whatevs.

Nevertheless, you do not have to go to culinary school to learn this trick. And with citrus fruits cropping up all over the place during these winter months, the timing is on par.

Now that you’re back and ready for supreming (citrus in one hand, ginormous butcher/puny paring knife in the other), I present to you a perfect recipe to test your skills. Citrus salad. Over salmon. A perfectly supremed, juicy citrus salad accented with the salt of capers, the freshness of mint, and the bite of lemon that’s covering an ever-so-slightly-sweetened, moist filet of wild Alaskan salmon. Sweetened with, you guessed it, nectar of the gods – and I don’t mean honey, friends. I mean agave nectar.

You want to buy some of that fine, fine stuff. Like, it’s so good you should have bought it in 2009. It’s sweeter than sugar, lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners, natural, vegan, and so lovely I could probably drink it straight if I weren’t busy putting it on fish or making granola bars with it. Yeah, it’s versatile too.

Did I mention that it’s made from the same plant as tequila? If that doesn’t seal the deal, I’m not sure what will. On the other hand, you could just down a few margaritas, sweetened with agave nectar, and call it a night, skipping the dinner altogether – and you can test your supreming skills out on the limes.

Salmon with Agave Nectar & (Expertly-Supremed) Citrus Salad
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis, Giada at Home; serves 4

Serve this dish with millet or another healthy grain. For millet, cook 1 cup organic millet in 3 cups of water. Bring to boil, stir and reduce heat and cover for about 15-20 minutes or until water is gone. Let sit a few minutes and fluff with a fork. For this dish, I squeezed some citrus juices (basically, the juices remaining after segmenting the fruits) and tossed some chopped mint, salt, and pepper into the millet.

printable recipe

2 large oranges
1 large grapefruit
1/4 c evoo
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
1/3 c chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 scallions, finely sliced
3 T chopped fresh mint leaves
2 T capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
2 T orange zest
1 t lemon zest
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

2 T canola oil
4 (4 to 5-ounce) center cut wild Alaskan salmon fillets, skin-on
2 T amber agave nectar
salt and pepper

For the salsa: Peel and trim the ends from each orange and grapefruit. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, scallions, mint, capers, orange zest, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Toss lightly and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the salmon: Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat an oven-proof skillet with canola oil over medium-high, until oil starts to shimmer but not smoking hot. Brush the salmon on both sides with the agave nectar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Saute, skin side down, for about 2 minutes. Flip carefully and sear other side for about 30 seconds, then place in oven for about 4 minutes or until cooked and flaky. Transfer the salmon to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Spoon the salsa verde on top of the salmon or serve on the side as an accompaniment.