Friday, February 20, 2009

Tuna Belly - Simply "BasqueTaztec" Marmitako

With renewed vigor (thanks to a kimbap fix earlier this week), I opened the freezer door tonight to find a couple of slabs of tuna belly.  Since Brian has been griping of late about missing red meat, I figured I'd feed him something with enough of a sanguine hue to sate his gastrointestinal quandary (because I'm just that nice).  So what does one do with tuna belly?

Since ours was probably not toro, I preferred to cook the fish very well and decided to whip up what the Basque call Marmitako.  Named for the pot or 'marmita' from whence it comes, this hearty stew of potatoes, peppers, and tuna belly was traditionally made on the fishing boats (kind of like cioppino).  Today it's found on almost any menu in the Basque Country.

Instead of bitter green peppers, I added very finely chopped celery and tons of green onion.  I probably doubled the amount of garlic that is normally called for and substituted the suggested wine or cognac for cheap but nonetheless tasty sherry.  For extra pep, I added a couple of deliciously dangerous chipotle peppers, which are essentially smoked and dried jalapenos.  The fragrant and spicy marmitako was served up with oven-toasted, crusty garlic bread.  Not to toot my own foghorn, but I'd say this turned out to be a fantastic BasqueTaztec soup!

Photo: Cooking Light

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kimbap to the Rescue

So this thirty-odd days of fish thing is kind of a pain in the ass.  (What was I thinking?) It's impossible to actually cook every night anymore, much less be creative and then document it all.  Feeling uninspired but famished, I stopped by California Market seeking the answer to my gastrointestinal quandary.  And lo!  I walked away with tasty treats and a re-invigorated enthusiasm for creatures from the sea.  

Besides a spicy octopus shilchae, a jar of pungent kim chi, and a lovely daikon salad, I got a giant and satisfying kimbap.  Kimbap is essentially korean sushi - steamed rice, assorted fish or meats, cooked egg, and pickled veggies all snugly rolled up in laver (or seaweed).  The kimbap I ate is not pictured here because I snarfed it down too quickly, but Just Delicious Meals has a good post on how to make it yourself. 

The lesson here is check out all your local markets when you get bored of eating the same things.  If you're lucky enough to live in a place like LA where you can find a pupusa for breakfast and kimbap for dinner, you'll never, ever be left wanton.

Homemade Cioppino Warms the Cockles

The recent cold weather made me crave a hot and hearty soup so I decided to make a home made cioppino last week that really did warm the cockles of my heart. Comparable to bouillabaisse or bourride, cioppino is apparently a San Francisco original.  Either way, it was awesomely delicious and I look forward to making it again.  Our daily "catch" included cod and mussels, but you can pretty much "ciopp" anything you like up and toss it in.  The secret is to use a combination of fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes to avoid both watery and dry consistencies.  And sprinkle the chili liberally.  I also added a bit of cayenne to the mix as well.  And a tiny drop of tabasco.  (Okay, three.).  Mine actually tasted as good as the first photo looks!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wakatay - Nikkei Peruvian Gem in Gardena

While visiting a friend in Gardena this week, we stopped for a late lunch at a local strip mall restaurant.  Tucked away in a corner between an udon shop, a pupil-burning pink nail salon, and a Hello Kitty store, Wakatay features a traditional Peruvian menu and a selection of Nikkei Peruvian dishes, which mix Japanese flavors with Peruvian ingredients.  Unfortunately for Jorge Nakamoto, the exuberant and pony-tailed owner, the local Japanese community isn't too fond of this dangerously different fusion, and the people who would totally enjoy it wouldn't otherwise venture to the Freeway City. It's actually a damned shame because the food is really tasty.  

We started with a lovely, fresh dish of Peruvian ceviche.  Fish, shrimp, and calamari were served with an irresistible mound of red onion, yam, corn, and cancha (crunchy roasted corn kernels).  For the main course we had taiba for two, a pan-seared dish of seafood (and other meats) and vegetables in a delicious brown sauce.  

The most notable was the restaurant's namesake salsa.   Wakatay (or huacatay) is a variation of Andean black mint that the Incas first started cooking with centuries ago.  For the salsa, it's mixed with chili pepper to create a perfectly pungent sauce in which to dip bread, fish, fingers...

For anyone passing through the Freeway City, I would highly recommend stopping by this lovely, hidden gem.

Striped Bass - So So Maryland Fish

Next on the weekly menu were a couple of whole striped bass.  Found mostly in mid-Atlantic and Northeast US waters, there really isn't a whole lot that interesting about the striped bass (or rock fish), except that has been the state fish of Maryland since 1965 and they are believed to live up to 30 or 4o years old.  Mmmm, old fish.

So, I found a simple lemon & mint recipe on Epicurious that I decided to try out.  It seemed a bit dry so I mixed the left over marinade with some fish bouillon, white wine and creme fraiche to make a pretty zesty and tasty sauce.  We weren't that hungry so we just ate the fish  with the cream sauce and a parsley garnish, but this would have been great with cold, boiled potato.  All in all, I just wasn't that fascinated by the bass.  (And I was kind of weirded out by the globby veined organ I found in one of the fish.)  Next!

Grouper - Who You Callin' Sweetlips?

The week started with a couple of rather intimidating slabs of pink grouper.  Like their cousins the sea bass, groupers have had their own share of scandal.  Apparently, restaurants have been known to substitute this hefty fish with imposters on their menus, secretly serving the likes of tilapia, bream, green weakfish, and painted sweetlips (yes, that's right, there's a fish called "painted sweetlips.") The experts say that it's best to only order grouper if it's served whole, since it has a pretty recognizable shape and girth.  Who knew?

Since it felt similar to red snapper in density and texture, I figured that grilling would be the best way to cook it.  Feeling brave at the beginning of the week, I decided to improvise and actually came up with a pretty good recipe.  I soaked the filets in vietnamese fish oil for a while rather than salting them, then coated the filets in a dry rub of turmeric, black pepper and cayenne pepper.  I finished by coating them with Lousiana fish fry (which is essentially finely ground corn meal and flour).  This gave them a nice crunchy, colorful, and flavorful crust.  I served them up with grilled onions and a shitake risotto that I made in my trusty rice cooker that I've had since the college days, and topped everything off with an asian-inspired salsa (I say asian in jest, since really the only thing asian about this tomato + cilantro + red chili concoction was the rice vinegar).  The creamy risotto went nicely with the spicy, meaty fish, and the light salsa moistened each bite.  As with the Nuh-uh Nola, Hello Chola fish tacos, this hot pink grouper went great with beer.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cat Fish - Nuh-uh, NOLA. Hello Chola!

When I was an irresponsible college student living in New Orleans, there were inevitably months when my financial aid cash would be depleted before month's end on necessary school supplies (ie. daiquiris and books).  Rather than survive on Stove Top as many of my classmates did, I opted for catfish.   After a while, I developed a strong distaste for those whiskered bottom-feeders and I've avoided them ever since.  But catfish-hater, I am no more.

The catfish, or seawolf, lives in the muck at the bottom of rivers.  It's not the most noble of fish but when left in peace, they can get pretty damned enormous.  A friend told me about Volkswagen-sized suckers being found in St. Louis when they diverted a part of the Mississippi, and I actually saw a documentary on the gigantic Mekong River catfish.  Those things are mythical!

Seeking to rekindle some kind of a relationship with the seawolf, I tossed up some up this week in classic southern fish fry (otherwise known as flour and cornmeal).   Rather than serving them up NOLA style, I went chola! (That's a shout out to my favorite demi-chola, Aunny D!).  Brian fried up some corn tortillas and I made a chipotle cream sauce (sour cream and chipotles in adobo).  The piping hot crunchy catfish paired with cooling shredded cabbage and a spicy, smoky cream sauce made for some pretty delicious midnight fish tacos.

The fish was crunchy on the outside thanks to the cornmeal, and soft and tasty inside.  Altogether, I'd say it was one of my better late night inventions.  Bad part?  The fish and the tortillas had to be fried.  Not so healthy...but damn they went well with cold beer.  Plus, we have left over catfish frozen for the next time we have a late night craving.  No better photos of the tacos themselves because we gobbled them up before I could snap a shot!

Belt Fish - The Hubei Jade Roll

Since work is relentless and crazy, my entries are a bit backed up.  However, earlier this week when I first initiated the "Thirty-Odd Days of Fish" experiment, I did something I've been meaning to do for a long time.  I bought a belt fish from Seafood City.

Also known as ribbon fish, these poissons are long, eel-like, and toothy.  Found in all oceans, they tend to live in deep waters.  Apparently, the belt fish's Taiwanese cousins are said to appear following earthquakes.  Fascinating, right?

So now to the important stuff: how do you eat them?

I found a pretty simple recipe from the eastern province of Hubei, China.  The belt fish has lots and lots of bones, so you kind of have to slice it carefully to get the meat away from the spine.  Once you do that, you end up with very thin, long pieces that you cut into segments.  To each segment, I added bamboo shoots, ham (the recipe called for it, thus I don't consider this a violation of the experiment!), and scallions.  Then you roll the segments up and steam them while you make a lovely sauce.  I improvised slightly by adding plum wine to the steaming water which gave the fish some added flavor.  I also skipped putting ginger IN the fish rolls since I hate biting into bits of ginger, and instead steamed the fish on thin disks of ginger.  I also added plum wine to the broth, with shitake mushrooms, scallions, and very small bits of ginger.  I served it over steamed rice with a cold white wine.

Overall, it was a pretty good recipe.  At once mild but flavorful.  Amazingly, the store-bought smoked ham (probably more suited for ham and cheese sandwiches) actually tasted great paired with the belt fish.  (I'm sure this is actually a blasphemous combination for purists!) I loved that there were no bones to worry about.  The best part was really the broth.  I learned that the best part of this Chinese dish is to start with a good chicken broth (again, not a violation of the experiment) and, whenever possible, add plum wine.

Ode to Le Poisson

Inspired by a few weeks of beach bumming in Brazil where our diet consisted mainly of caipirinhas, occasionally supplemented with fried fish and other deliciously prepared sea creatures, I've decided to (gulp, drumroll even pains me to type this!) give up red meat for a month.  All legged-meats, actually.  Any animal with legs is off the menu for a while.  I'm dubbing this experiment "Thirty-Odd Days of Fish," and by fish I mean fish and crustaceans.

This experiment is also driven by the ire I feel every time I visit Seafood City where I feel like a lost babe in the woods as I wander those endless aisles of fish on ice.  Belt, parrot, grouper, snapper, trout, milk, monk, yellow, etc.  I haven't the slightest clue what they are, how to cook them, how to eat them, or what wine to drink with them!  As a devoted foodie and amateur cook, this is incredibly annoying.  It's like a million little fishies throwing down the gauntlet with their tails.  Damned fish!

There's also the health question.  A diet high in fish is supposedly good in warding off Alzheimers.  Eating such a diet, according to one study of African tribes, also reduces the levels of a certain hormone that effects appetite.  Not that I'm losing my memory or constantly hungry (ok, I'll cop to the second one!), but now that I'm getting older (I'm admitting that too!) and seeing friends around me getting sick with cancer or diabetes, I feel like any small choices that I can make on a daily basis that might improve either my or my husband's health odds, I'm willing to try it out.

So, by initiating "Thirty-Odd Days of Fish," my goals are three-fold.  One:  learn more about tasty sea creatures and all the ways to cook them.  Two: figure out whether a high fish diet is tenable (and actually really that healthy).  Three: confirm whether retirement to a deserted island is really still in the stars for me (and my somewhat discerning palette).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Beautiful Brazil

Brazil was, in a word, phenome-fantas-amazing!  While we only managed to explore the Costa Verde during our two week stay, but it was enough to capture our hearts completely.  This energy-sufficient country is full of warm people, good food, great music, and natural wonders.  While we didn't spend enough time to claim we know it at all (like the violence, the crime, the poverty, the racism), it was enough time to know we are totally in love with Brasil.

From the sprawling yet majestic Sao Paulo.... the picturesque isle of Ilhabela (whose jungle would not let us go until we let go and where we spent a delightful few days in a remote fishing village)... the sultry, steamy and low-lying Paraty (which is something akin to New Orleans - flooding every time there is a full moon)... the lively and under-rated Guaruja, with its teeming sandy beaches and raucous nightlife.  We've never had a better beach experience.  There's nothing like lounging under your own umbrella, having the waiter bring you endless beer and yummies, then drinking the ice cold water out of a freshly-macheted coconut when you start to get too hot.  

Besides being the most relaxing holiday we've ever had, Brian and I managed to solve one of life's greatest mysteries: we found out where Mr. Miyagi's been hiding all these years!