seafood

Decadent Bubbles: Champagne And Caviar

After printing a successful issue, my first editor in London brought caviar to the office. The team was excited to enjoy this expensive gesture. The black bubbles of cured sturgeon roe glistened from a small glass container, sitting on top of a mound of crushed ice. A delicate mother-of-pearl spoon rested nearby. While everyone savored the refined treat, I seemed to be the only one who didn’t appreciate the caviar’s long aftertaste. However, I changed my mind about caviar this New Year’s Eve.

To ring in the New Year, my neighbor served a delicious appetizer of caviar, crumbled hardboiled egg, and onion on lightly buttered toast. The two additions provided a delicate balance to the texture and salty flavor of caviar, and for the first time, I enjoyed this extravagant food.

A few days later, I saw the holiday episode of The Great American Baking Show that featured champagne “caviar” as a dessert garnish. The “caviar” was easy to make; the golden champagne droplets were teased out from stock items in my pantry such as gelatin, sugar, and oil. I was inspired to create a whimsical twist on the champagne and caviar pairing. I topped the black sturgeon beads and orange salmon roe with the captured champagne “caviar” bubbles, which added a hint of sweetness to this festive and decadent treat.

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Champagne And Caviar Bubbles

Caviar – 1 container

Boiled eggs – 2-3

Champagne Caviar

To assemble:

  • Scoop out some of the yolk from the hard-boiled egg, and replace with caviar.
  • Sprinkle the champagne “caviar” on top of the caviar.

Another option: Combine the hard-boiled egg with caviar and serve on toasted bread. Top off with champagne caviar.

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Note: This luxurious treat can be made a little more affordable by replacing champagne with sparkling wine and /or using locally-farmed roe. Here’s to a year of celebratory meals that don’t break the bank!

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Shrimp Scampi

Short on time but long on previously-frozen shrimp, I needed two or three easy sauces in order to vary a week’s worth of meals. The simplest that I came up with was the American-style shrimp scampi. In America, scampi refers to a type of dish, (e.g. shrimp scampi), in which prawns are cooked with white wine and served over pasta. Scampi, however, is actually a small variety of lobster that is also called Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn, and lastly by its Italian name, scampi. A fresh langoustine needs just a hint of butter to draw out its sweetness.

The light classic wine and stock combination, which conveniently uses the shells to make shrimp stock, forgives one for using frozen shrimp.

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp with shells – ¾ lb

Olive oil – 2 tbsp

Shallot – 1, chopped

Garlic cloves – 3-4, chopped

Lemon – 1, juice

Thyme – 2 sprigs

Bay leaf – 1

White wine – ½ cup

Stock – ½ cup

Salt and pepper – seasoning

  • Peel and devein shrimp. Keep the shells.
  • To make a shrimp stock: Boil 2 cups of water. Add the shells and bay leaf. Cook on simmer for 15 minutes. When cool, strain the liquid and reserve.
  • Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a medium pan. When oil is hot, lay the shrimp out in a single layer in the pan.
  • After about two minutes or when shrimp turns pink, turn the shrimp over. Repeat on the other side. Remove the shrimp and keep aside.
  • Heat the remaining oil in the same pan. Add the chopped shallot and cook until softened.
  • Add garlic. Sauté for a minute or until garlic turns lightly brown.
  • Add the reserved stock and wine to the pan.
  • Add thyme. Cook for 10 minutes on low, until the liquid has reduced in volume by about half.
  • Add lemon juice.
  • Add shrimp and cook until heated through.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour over cooked pasta or spiralized zucchini. Serve immediately.

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Note, two mild sauce combinations that also accentuate the briny flavor of shrimp are:

Classic White Wine Sauce: shallots, garlic, and cream.

Coconut Sauce: shallots, garlic, ginger, green chili, and unsweetened coconut milk.

Chinese Hot Pot: Communal Food (Part 4)

It is enjoyable to have friends and family stay over for the Thanksgiving holidays. However, arranging other meals can get tiring after the frenzy of T-day cooking. Communal foods such as fondue, shabu shabu, and injera are stress-free options to feed visiting family. When friends introduced us to the Chinese hot pot last week, I realized that this is yet another communal meal that is easy to put together. There are no hard and fast rules on what to add to the broth or the type of ingredients required. Ingredients can be bought in advance, and the meal can be stretched depending on how many there are present. Your choice of hot pot ingredients becomes more diverse and interesting as more people join!

The Chinese hot pot is built around three soup bases: hot and spicy, white (fish stock), or a vegetarian option. The accompaniments can be ingredients from a regular supermarket such as mushrooms and cabbage or the more exotic lotus root, winter melon, and pre-cooked frozen fish egg balls and fish tofu from the Chinese supermarkets. Everyone can be involved with the meal — whether slicing meats and vegetables or preparing simple dipping sauces.

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For the Hot And Spicy Broth:

  • Boil a large pan filled water.
  • Add 2-3 bouillon cubes of fish, vegetable, or meat stock.
  • Add daikon (radish), mushrooms, garlic and ginger slivers to build up the broth flavors. Season with cinnamon, anise, and dried red chilies, and bring the broth to a boil.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil.
  • Once thickened and flavorful, the broth is ready. Keep the broth simmering to dip the uncooked accompaniments.
  • Alternatively, follow the directions of a ready-made hot pot mix available from Chinese supermarkets.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Lettuce

Bok Choy

Chrysanthemum Leaves

Yam

Taro

Sirloin or Flank Beef

Lamb

Shrimp

White Fish Fillet

Sliced Squid

Tofu cubes

Slice all the chosen ingredients into thin strips or small chunks. Keep raw meats and fish on separate plates.

Dipping Sauce:

Mix together light soy sauce (2-3 tbsp), sesame oil (1 tsp), fresh ginger slices (3-4 slivers), and scallions (2, chopped). Season to taste.

When Ready to Serve:

  • Present everyone with plates, chopsticks, and a bowl of dipping sauce.
  • Place all the sliced accompaniments within easy access.
  • Keep the broth simmering: You can use an electric heating plate or have everyone gather around the stove.
  • Use slotted spoons, small strainers, or chopsticks to dip the uncooked ingredients into the broth.
  • Cook vegetables such as lotus root and taro (3-4 minutes), until soft; meat (1-2 minutes) until cooked through; and tofu and mushrooms (30 seconds), until just warm.

 

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Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and a restful weekend filled with communal meals!

 

 

Étouffée (or Etouffee)

Even a week after Mardi Gras’ end in New Orleans, the colorful bead garlands continue to drape trees along the parade route. A time for simplicity that follows all the merrymaking seems harder to shed in the city, especially one noted for its soupy gumbo, meaty jambalaya, and crawfish étouffée (pronounced ay-too-fay). It is here on a cool February afternoon as I was enjoying étouffée, a seafood dish ladled over plump rice grains, that I realized that this dish could be even further enhanced with compound butter.

Étouffée originated in the bayous of Louisiana where crawfish, a small lobster-like crustacean, is plentiful. When crawfish isn’t in season, shrimp is substituted and is “smothered” (from French verb, étouffer) in a creamy roux sauce. The shellfish flavors in the dish are developed through a two-step process. Combining shrimp stock with butter makes shrimp compound butter, and this modified butter provides the base for a rich roux.

Shrimp Étouffée

Raw shrimp (with shells) – 1 lb

Butter – 4 tbsp

Flour – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Bell pepper – 1, de-seeded and chopped

Celery stalk – 1, chopped

Bay leaf – 1

Seafood stock – 1 cup

Cayenne pepper – 1 tsp

Red chili pepper – ¾ tsp

Fresh pepper – ½ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Lemon – ½, juiced

Green onions – 3, chopped finely

Parsley – 3 tbsp, chopped

Cooked rice – for serving

  • To make the stock: Shell and devein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Make a shrimp stock by adding the heads and shells to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cook on low for about 20-25 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Divide the stock, keeping one half of the stock with all the shells.
  • To make the shrimp compound butter: Add 4 tbsp of butter to the stock with the shells. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Strain the shells, and allow the liquid to cool. The butter will solidify and can be skimmed off the surface to become shrimp compound butter.
  • To make the roux: Heat a cast iron pan. Add the shrimp compound butter. When it melts, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, stirring and incorporating it into the butter. Keep stirring on simmer. As the roux cooks, it loses the floury taste. The color changes from white to cream to brown, and the aroma from sugar cookie to toffee.
  • Once the roux has turned to a rich brown color, add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, celery and bay leaf and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
  • Add the cayenne pepper, chili flakes and pepper. Sauté for one minute.
  • Add the stock, salt and bring to a boil. Whisk so that the roux and stock are well mixed. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and cover and cook for 5 minutes until the shrimp has turned pink. Do not overcook.
  • Just before serving, add the lemon juice, green onions, and salt. Garnish with parsley.
  • Serve over cooked rice.

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One Cup of Semolina: Three Tastes Semolina Snack (uppamav)/ Couscous (Part 1), and Gnocchi (Part 2)

One of my favorite Indian breakfasts (although I could eat it at as a snack or dinner too) is a semolina dish called uppamav. Its creamy texture is my comfort food, with a hint of aromatic ginger and a nutty crunch. Uppamav, couscous (or couscous pearls), and gnocchi are all made from semolina, the inner yellow endosperm of a variety of protein-rich wheat grain called durum wheat. While gnocchi is made using semolina flour, uppamav and couscous are made with semolina granules. They have this silky consistency because the granules easily absorb water, causing the grain to swell and soften.

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This makes uppamav and couscous a filling meal – the same grain appears in various guises in the Middle East and Israel, North Africa, and the Asian subcontinent. The fluffy couscous is paired with meat stew (in Africa) and combined with dates and pistachios and perfumed with saffron (in Israel and the Middle East). In North Africa, couscous is steamed in a couscoussier. It is a specially designed pot, featuring a steamer perched above the main pan that slowly stews the meat and vegetables. The process can be replicated with a homemade steamer, but the process is time-intensive as the couscous cooks slowly in the steam.

Semolina grain cooks quickly in boiling water, allowing the couscous to plump up and soften. The couscous pearls, which are bigger semolina granules, look like orzo or rice. The flavors vary when water is substituted with broth, stock, or wine or by adding vegetables or meat. Semolina dishes make a versatile standalone dish bulked up with meat or vegetables or can be served plain as an accompaniment to a stew.

 

Semolina (Couscous Pearls) with Soprasetta

Semolina or couscous pearls – 1 cup

Oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Garlic – 3 cloves, finely chopped

Cooked meat  (soprasetta) or de-veined raw shrimp  – ½ cup

Saffron – 3-4 strands, soaked in 1 tbsp. warm milk

Salt and pepper – 1tsp

Water and white wine combined – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan with oil. Add the shallots and cook until golden brown.
  • Add the ginger and garlic for a about a minute.
  • Add the water and wine to the pan. Add the salt. Bring it to a boil.
  • Add the shrimp and cook it for two minutes.
  • Add the couscous in small batches, stirring vigorously as each new batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes for semolina and about 8 minutes for couscous pearls. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Add the cooked meat and fresh pepper.
  • Fluff the semolina. Add the soaked saffron and milk. Serve warm.

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In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. The following recipe combines previously cooked or frozen vegetables to serve either as a complete vegetarian meal or as a side dish for meat consommé.

 

Semolina With Mixed Vegetables

Semolina granules – 1 cup

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Serrano chili – 2, chopped

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds –1 tbsp

Lentils – 2 tbsp. (any, as it is for the crunch)

Chopped mixed vegetables (frozen) – ½ cup

Cilantro – ½ bunch, washed and roughly chopped

Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp. (optional for garnish)

Salt – 1tsp

Water – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan. Add the semolina (no oil) and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it is heated through and has a war aroma. Keep aside.
  • Clean and heat the pan. Add oil to the pan.
  • When the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it starts to pop, add the lentils and sauté until it changes color.
  • Add the chopped shallot and sauté until brown.
  • Add the ginger, chili, and cashew nuts and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the frozen vegetables or cooked fresh vegetables and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the water and salt and bring the water to a boil.
  • Add a third of the toasted semolina to the boiling water, stirring vigorously to prevent it from clumping. Add another batch and keep stirring, until the final batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Fluff the semolina. Serve warm. Garnish with cilantro.

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Infusions: So Simple, Yet So Complex

A. had a sore throat during my last visit, so I made her my mother’s remedy – a ginger and cinnamon infusion made with grated ginger shavings, a cinnamon stick, and sweetened with a dash of honey. Infusions have long ago come out of medicinal closets and are now staple cooking embellishments. They are turning up with ultra-hip allure as hibiscus-infused teas in gin cocktails or Serrano infused vodka in spicy cocktails. An infusion is simply a “tea” made by pouring boiling water, alcohol, or oil over herbs, spices, or other plant parts. The resulting “tea” when added to a drink or dish add yet another subtle layer – a fragrant flourish to the final dish. Aromatic lemon rinds and cinnamon inspired my two infusions below – one with seafood and the other in a soup.

Infusions are made with unfussy ingredients such as lemon peels, slivers of fresh ginger, cinnamon, or rose petals (pesticide-free petals from your garden are best). I had previously used lemon zests (many!) to make Limoncello, and the fragrance on my fingertips remained with me for a long time. As I am partial to lemon’s lingering aroma and flavor, I use the fruit often in savory dishes. A lemon zest and herb infused oil adds summery hints to a seafood salad, instantly enlivening plain cooked shrimp and steamed mussels. The infused oil adds an understated flavor without overwhelming the delicate taste of seafood.

Cinnamon showcases its aromatics best in an infusion. In Indian cooking, cinnamon is stir-fried to release its warm tones. However, if cinnamon is added to a simmering soup or stock, the fragrance overpowers the dish and masks the finer flavors of the vegetables. Butternut squash, a fall feature in farm stands and supermarkets, has many nutritive qualities and makes for a good soup. The squash, being somewhat bland, benefits from a cinnamon-infused cream which gives the soup a  smoky warmth and flavor. Infusions are easy to make — just as simple as brewing a cup of tea with fresh tea leaves. An infused cream is made by pouring gently-heated cream over some whole cinnamon sticks and allowing the mixtureto steep for couple of hours. Easy, but the new ingredient adds a quiet complexity to the soup.

 

Seafood Salad

Olive Oil – 2 tsp

Butter – 1 tbsp

Lemon – 1

Tarragon – 1-2 sprigs

Shrimp – 6 large, deveined

Mussels – 12

Scallops – 6

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Zest and juice the lemon. Keep both separately.
  • In a frying pan, heat 1 tsp. each of oil and butter. Once it starts to smoke, turn off the heat.
  • Add the lemon zest and tarragon sprigs to the hot oil. Let it steep for half-hour.
  • Steam the mussels.
  • Cook the shrimp, either grill, broil, or quickly dip in boiling water and remove.
  • In another pan, heat the remaining oil.
  • Add the scallops. Cook each side for about 2 minutes.
  • Mix the shrimp, mussels and scallops together.
  • When ready to eat, toss them with the lemon-herb infused oil and lemon juice.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

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Butternut Squash Soup

Cinnamon sticks – 2

Cream – ½ cup

Butternut squash – 4 cups of cubed squash or half a squash

Olive oil – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1, chopped

Ginger –1-inch, peeled and chopped

Carrots – 2, cubed

Low sodium stock – 2 ½ cups

Salt and pepper –to taste

  • In a pan, heat the cream gently. When it starts to simmer, remove it from the stove.
  • Add the cinnamon stick to it. Keep aside for about two hours.
  • Peel the butternut squash. This is the hardest part of the recipe as the skin is tough. However, it is cheaper to buy the whole squash, and you can toast the seeds — which can be added for a crunch in the soup or eaten on its own.
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan.
  • Sauté the onion and ginger for a minute.
  • Add the cubed squash and carrots. Stir fry until mixed well with the onion and ginger.
  • Pour the stock and 1½ cups of water. Bring it to a boil.
  • Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the squash can be mashed easily.
  • Strain the vegetables from the stock and grind them in a food processor until you have a creamy mixture. Add it back to the stock.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Just before you serve, drizzle the cinnamon infused cream. Decorate with toasted seeds.

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Note: Infusions can be used right away (cream-based) or they can be stored for later use (herb-infused oils).

Fusion Flavors

A and N. grumbled when I spiced up meatballs for dinner, stating that the dish wasn’t really Italian anymore! I admit to adding couple of dried red chilies to the tomato sauce and a hefty pinch of red chili powder in the meatballs, but I tweak every recipe to suit my palate. Even the classic dishes, I think, can benefit from a change occasionally. There is a lot of leeway when you are experimenting with food – ultimately, you, the taster, determine whether the new flavor is worth repeating or abandoning.

Fusion cooking entails combining two different styles of cuisine. Both cuisines are represented on the plate, and neither style should dominate; rather, they should complement and round out each other. At one of my favorite restaurants, Tamari, owner Allen Chen combines Asian and Latin flavors. “The gateway to exploring a culture is through food,” comments Chen, who ran a Chinese restaurant in Mexico, subsequently married his Mexican wife, and now creates food encompassing both cultures. One of the dishes, Pork Cheek Quesadilla, is served with aged cheddar, sweet shishito pepper and a creamed winter squash called kabocha that replaces sour cream. The main dish looks and tastes Mexican, but has an Asian overtone. In another dish, Asian Sea Bass, the broiled fish is placed on top of a bed of finely chopped Brussels sprouts, watercress, and pomegranate, and spiced with mojo and chili oil. An overtly Asian dish now has hints of Latin flavors through the sauce, mojo. A mojo sauce is made with olive oil, heaps of garlic, vinegar, and juice of a citrus fruit (lemon, lime, orange juice), and variations of this sauce is used in Spain, Cuba, Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic.

I grew up on Indian-Chinese food, a hybrid cuisine that was developed out of the Hakka Han community. This group settled in Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta), India around the 18th century. Indian-Chinese cuisine is one of the most commonly chosen fast foods in India, and a growing fan base exists in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States due to the cuisine’s spiciness quotient. Indo-Chinese food is prepared by slightly altering the steps of a traditional Indian meal. First, ginger, garlic, and chilies are sautéed; next, instead of adding spices, soya sauce and cornstarch are introduced; and for the final stage, vegetables, chicken, or noodles are added. The nomenclature is simple: The protein or vegetable’s name is tagged on to Chinese descriptions, such as “Manchurian,” “Chop Suey,” “Fried Rice,” and “Chow Mein” – resulting in dishes like Chicken Manchurian, Vegetable Chop Suey, and Prawn Fried Rice.

Blending two cuisines at home is easy. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, but your taste buds may try to protest at the thought. Begin by choosing a familiar dish and substituting one or two ingredients from another cuisine. Maintain similar textures, such as grits, polenta, and cream of wheat (semolina) or brown rice and quinoa. Stick with elements you favor from the original dish and introduce only one or two flavors from a different cuisine. However, it comes down to experimenting and practice, practice, and more practice to make the perfect fusion food!

My attempts at Mediterranean-Korean fusion even impressed A. and N., who are here this week. I made Mediterranean-style Shrimp with Garlic, with bay leaf, lemon, and dried red chilies, served over couscous. I paired this with an Asian-inspired salad of baby spinach and Korean-flavored vinaigrette. To make the vinaigrette, I combined 1/3 cup of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of plum sauce, 1 tsp. of sambal paste, ½ tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

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