Month: July 2014

How to Debone and Enjoy a Whole Cooked Fish

Having grown up near a coast, I love the smell and taste of freshly caught fish – a hint of an ocean spray. (Remember: fresh fish should have no other smell!).  Although my preference is for saltwater fish, I wasn’t about to turn down a recent offering of freshly-caught golden trout from a local creek. After all, this is the middle of the trout fishing season based on the dates (April 1st to October 15th) when  trout fishing licenses are issued, which means that the lakes, ponds, and creeks are full of golden, brook, brown, and rainbow trout. While I do enjoy trout, I am not adept at eating it cleanly off the bones. When A. mentioned an interest in learning how to cook and debone whole fish, I thought that I would record my husband demonstrating the process in just a few steps. He promises that they are easy to do!

Besides being cheaper pound for pound (whole fish vs. filet), a whole cooked fish served on a white platter surrounded by fresh greens and colorful vegetables looks impressive. Fish cheeks and fish head are prized delicacies in many countries as is the meat near the bones. Trout bones cannot be used for stock, but if you buy whole flat fish or other less oily fish, the bones can be cooked with white wine to make a delicate fish stock.

Trout is an earthy-tasting, plain fish, and like salmon it is an oily fish rich in the good omega-3 acids. Trout is available all over the world and cooks quickly on the grill or under the broiler. Here are some suggestions for cooking trout.

In England, brown trout is stuffed with parsley and lemons and grilled with a dash of olive oil, served alongside lightly-buttered boiled Jersey new potatoes.

Rainbow Trout steamed in a Chinese style: Marinate the fish in a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil for about ten minutes. Steam for ten minutes with slivers of fresh ginger, scallions (spring onions), green chilies, and cilantro tucked in and around the fish.

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Scandinavian festivities include smoked trout on an open-face rye bread sandwich topped with crème fraiche, cucumber, and dill. Substitute the smoked trout with cooked trout or combine the cooked trout with crème fraiche and seasonings to make a fish mousse.

Get a whole fish next time you buy fish,  and ask the fishmonger to scale and gut it, removing the heads (if you prefer) and fins. Show off your new skills in deboning and enjoying a whole fish.

 

Summer Soups: Gazpacho and Cucumber Yogurt Soup

When I know that A. and N. have a busy week ahead, I share with them easy recipes that require little preparation. While checking out the farmer’s market this week, I noticed piles of long, earthy-green cucumbers, and varying shades of red, misshapen heirloom tomatoes – the intensity of colors would add up to flavorful summer soups.

Apart from Sangria, gazpacho, the cold tomato soup, was my favorite of the dishes that I encountered in Spain. I’ve eaten gazpacho before (and not much cared for it), as it had either mushy vegetables or a tart flavor that was all the more startling in a cold soup. However, in Spain, the gazpacho that I had was a smooth soup with hints of green peppers and cucumber and subtle garlic and onion flavor. Bread, traditionally added to bulk up the soup, was present as croutons, served on top for a much lighter garnish. More importantly, the soup had a perfectly balanced finish; the acidic flavors were absent from the deliciously-sweet tomatoes.

Cucumber, the other summer vegetable that is now in abundance, blends well with yogurt (see last week’s blog: Yogurt: Food for Longevity). In Lebanon and Bulgaria the two are combined to make a refreshing soup. Cucumber yogurt soup, like gazpacho, requires no cooking. Both soups should be made ahead as they need to be served chilled; this makes them both great options for a no-fuss summer meal.

Cucumber Yogurt Soup

Cucumber – 2 peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks

Scallion (spring onion) –1 large or 2 small, sliced

Olive oil – 1tbsp

Lemon juice – 1½ tbsp (about ½ a lemon)

Garlic clove – 2, crushed

Plain Yogurt – 2 cups

Salt – to taste

Garnish – Sprig of mint and dill

  • Put all of the ingredients, except the yogurt, into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
  • Add yogurt and mix for about 30 seconds.
  • Store chilled until ready to use.
  • Serve in chilled glasses or fun soup bowls, topped with thin slice of cucumber, dill, and mint.

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Gazpacho

Large Heirloom (or sweet) tomatoes – 3, chopped

Red pepper – 1, deseeded and chopped

Cucumber – 1, peeled and deseeded

Onion – 1, chopped

Garlic – 2

Red wine vinegar – 4-5 tbsp

Sugar – ½ tsp

Salt – to taste

Garnish – croutons, scallion, and cubed cucumber

  • Add the first five ingredients into a food processor. If you want a smooth soup, blend the vegetables in smaller, separate batches.
  • Strain the vegetables through a colander to collect the liquid. Using the back of a large spoon, press the vegetables into the colander to extract and collect as much of the liquid as possible. Add a glass of chilled water to the vegetables and continue to squeeze out as much liquid from the vegetables, until you have just the skin and fibrous tissue left behind.
  • Add the red wine vinegar.
  • Add sugar and salt, and adjust them to balance out any acidity in the tomatoes.
  • Chill overnight.
  • Garnish just before serving.

 

 

 

Paleo Diet: From Stone Age to Modern Age

I have never followed a diet successfully, mainly because I enjoy food too much to give it up. I’ve noticed that every diet has the naysayers who point out the flaws of what they see as a passing fad. Yet when a friend explained about Paleo diet, I was intrigued by the notion of going back in time to find healthy options.

A Paleo diet, an abbreviation for Paleolithic diet, is one that closely follows what our Paleolithic/Stone Age/caveman ancestors ate. The present day version of hunting or foraging translates to eating free-range animals and sustainable seafood, and enjoying a rotation of seasonal vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

When A. said that she was substituting rice with cauliflower in a recipe for fried rice, I realized that this represented a perfect Paleo concept. I recognized that it would be my biggest challenge since I love rice. A Paleo diet is similar to the low-carbohydrate/high protein diet, but the types of carbohydrates allowed in each are different; In a Paleo diet, carbohydrates from grains, cereals, and legumes are excluded and come primarily from vegetables and fruits. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle that predates our agricultural past also means that dairy is excluded from the diet. While the Paleo diet is good for those with wheat and dairy allergies, the diet is tough for vegetarians to follow. Legumes, a major source of proteins in a vegetarian diet, are not allowed. However, no one can complain about the health benefits of excluding refined sugars and oils, processed foods, and salts.

I can do without refined and processed products, but I wondered how the bland cauliflower taste would stand in for both texture and crunch as a replacement for rice. I substituted cauliflower in an abridged version of my mother’s recipe for aromatic rice pilaf.

Cauliflower Pilaf

Cauliflower – 1 medium, separated into florets (use about 10)

Mixed vegetables (peas, beans, cabbage, carrots) – 1½ cup

Coconut oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, minced

Garlic – 3 cloves, minced

Ginger – 1-inch, minced

Serrano pepper – 1, minced

Green Cardamom – 3

Whole Cloves – 5

  • Put the cauliflower florets in a food processor. Pulse three times, or until the florets are the size of rice grains.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or sauté pan.
  • Add the minced shallots. Stir until they turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, Serrano and stir for about a minute.
  • Add the cloves and cardamom.
  • Add the cauliflower, mixed vegetables, and 3 tbsp water (or stock).
  • Lower the heat, cover and cook for about five to eight minutes.
  • Remove the whole spices before serving.

 

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I didn’t expect the substitution (cauliflower instead of rice) to work, but its crunch and appearance in the dish was deceptively close. I won’t be giving up rice anytime soon, but every time you encounter the familiar in unexpected new ways, you might just surprise yourself!