Fish

My wife and I just returned from a short jaunt through Central America, celebrating 10 years of marriage. We never went on a honeymoon back in 2007, since our wedding was right in the middle of my health issues and I was in no shape to travel at the time. We had a great time visiting Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, our first time visiting the region (I shared some photos on my Instagram page, if you’re interested).

I didn’t get a chance to develop a new recipe for you this week–too much beach time, and maybe too many sips of rum. To compensate, I’m pulling an old favorite from my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table. To this day, Pesce al Sale is one of my favorite dishes to show people when I’m asked which recipe from the book they should prepare first. From the pages of the book:

This Italian favorite is the perfect date-night dish; in just a few steps you can have a perfectly cooked fish that’s a novelty to reveal to your dinner companion. It remains a common way of cooking fish in Sicily. Be sure to crack the crust and serve the fish directly on the serving table for the most impressive results. Honestly, I think it’s just as fun to put the salt on fish as it is to take it off.

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Moqueca is a fitting representation of Brazil’s diverse culinary background. There are several variations of this dish today, but Moqueca Baiana, from the Northeast state of Bahia, is one of the most interesting reflection of the traditions embedded in Brazilian cuisine.

Originally a seafood stew prepared by the native people of Brazil, Moqueca has taken on a new form over the past few hundred years. Some signature flavors of today’s Moqueca Baiana recipe include coconut milk, first introduced by Portuguese colonists who planted coconut trees as they removed other trees for wood, and palm oil, brought over by African slaves as part of the sugarcane trade.

Although palm oil contains some health benefits, there are ecological concerns with its production. I prefer to use Nutiva palm oil, which is certified organic and fair trade, and they ensure that no deforestation or habitat destruction results from the growing and harvesting processes. We also pop our popcorn in this oil, which gives it a rich, buttery flavor.

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I’m relatively new to the sous vide world, but it’s something that has always intrigued me. Sous-vide cooking involves placing food items in a sealed plastic bag and immersing the bag in a water bath for an extended time, set at a specific temperature, to evenly cook the food. This method was first popularized in the 1960s, as a method of cooking foie gras (fattened goose liver) to the desired temperature without losing any liquid in the process. It’s become very popular over the past 10 years; in fact, the barbacoa, steak, and carnitas served at Chipotle are all prepared using the sous vide method in a central location before being shipped to their restaurants.

It sounds daunting to dive into a new cooking method, especially one that has precise temperature and time requirements, but more tools are coming to market to make sous vide a breeze. Case in point is the Oliso Induction Smart Hub, which the company recently sent me to try. This device comes in two parts: an induction cooktop, which heats food efficiently (and super quickly) using magnetic induction, and the sous vide Smart Top, which sets atop the induction cooktop. I like this concept since the induction cooktop can be used in a variety of ways, independent of the sous vide oven; I use it to rapidly boil water without heating up the whole house, or to fry up a couple eggs in just a few seconds.

There’s a whole world to sous vide, with all sorts of charts and graphs (or as one of my favorite bands–Grandaddy–would say, “Chartsengrafs“), but I wanted to present a simple recipe to help folks dip their toes into this new adventure. Salmon is an ideal choice, since it’s very easy to tell when fish has been improperly cooked, and this method guarantees perfect texture every time.

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When first drafting my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table, I was hesitant to add my recipe for Sole Meunière. After all, it contains only a few ingredients – fish, butter, and lemon, mostly – not exactly a huge culinary journey. But as time marched on, I’ve come to realize that this is one of my most treasured recipes from the book, in part because it’s so simple and satisfying. A couple weeks back, as we made it again for dinner, I decided to share my recipe on this blog.

Because flounder is easy to find here in the South, we’ve been using it instead of the traditional sole. Other flatfish, like plaice or turbot, will also work fine. Fun fact: flatfish have four fillets!

From the book:

Sole meunière is a classic French dish and an easy inclusion in this cookbook; Julia Child, best known for introducing gourmet French cuisine to the United States, had what she considered to be a “culinary revelation” when she first tasted this dish. It’s easy to see why, as the combination of mild white fish, browned butter, and lemon is basic but striking and never gets old.

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Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is a traditional dish from Porto, in Northwest Portugal. As I’ve written in an earlier post using bacalhau, the Portuguese were one of the first European cultures to fish for cod, off the coast of Newfoundland after Columbus discovered the New World. Salted cod has been an integral part of Portuguese culture, and it’s often said that you can cook a new dish using bacalhau every day of the year – it’s often cited that there are over 1,000 total recipes to be found.

Advances in fishing technology in the mid 20th century had collapsed the Northwest Atlantic cod market by the 1990s – cod takes a long time to mature, and overfishing had run rampant. Today, bacalhau is most often made using cod harvested from Arctic waters under more strict quotas.

Bacalhau is made by salting and drying the fish in the sun; while it was originally a method of preservation (salted cod keeps a long time even without refrigeration), its unique, strong flavor is unmistakable and delicious, and its popularity endures today. The only downside to eating bacalhau is that it requires a bit of foresight, since it needs to be soaked overnight to reconstitute the fish.

If you’re new to using bacalhau, you might be surprised to find that it’s available in many common grocery stores, often sold near the cured meats section. For example, my local Publix grocery store sells a few different varieties of bacalhau. I like to keep some in the fridge at all times; I’ll generally throw some in a bowl of water, then put it in the fridge to soak overnight, and either pan-fry it to enjoy with my breakfast, or making something fancy like today’s recipe.

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I’m really starting to find beauty in simple meals. Like I mentioned a few weeks ago when sharing my recipe for three-ingredient Spaghetti Squash Bolognese Boats, I’ve had less time in the kitchen than usual (new babies will do that). It’s always tempting to reach for a takeout menu, but I’ve been determined to simply find quicker solutions for dinners. For example, I’ve been making a lot of pressure-cooker risotto, since it reheats well for lunches throughout the week.

This week’s recipe is similar in its approach – it contains just a few ingredients, and comes together in minutes. It’s a popular preparation in Hawaii, found on many restaurant menus. But to be honest, once I figured out how easy it is to prepare at home, I’ve had a hard time shelling out money to let someone else make it for me.

Furikake is a Japanese rice seasoning typically made with dried fish, sesame seeds, and seaweed. It was initially distributed in the early 1900s under the name Gohan No Tomo (“A friend for rice”) as a possible source of calcium (early recipes used ground fish bones). At first, the seasoning was too pricey for everyday eaters, but by 1948 it was commercially produced by Nissin foods (most famous for their Top Ramen), to help combat malnutrition in the Japanese population.

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Poke is a raw fish salad from Hawaii, most famously made with yellowfin tuna (“Ahi”). The word “Pokē” itself is a Hawaiian verb that means to slice or cut. It’s not unlike other raw fish dishes worldwide (fish tartare, carpaccio, and sashimi, for example), but it holds a special place in my heart, having lived in Hawaii for most of my 20s.

Originally made with sea salt and seaweed, foreign ingredients like soy sauce, ginger, onion, and tomato were added later when other cultures brought their cuisines (and ingredients) to the islands. Poke as we know it today – with a base of fish cubes, soy sauce, onion, and salt – became popular in the 1970s when it started to appear in local cookbooks, and has been growing in popularity ever since.

For those of you who haven’t picked up Paleo Takeout yet, or are thinking of gifting it, now’s the perfect time to grab it – the book is currently down to $18.13 on Amazon right now, which is 48% off its $35 cover price! Amazon is having some trouble keeping the book in stock, so if you want it even sooner, both Costco and BJs superstores are carrying the book at a deep discount, too (less than $22 each). For my international readers, keep in mind that Book Depository ships worldwide for free, and their current price isn’t bad either ($26.56)!

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Tuna Casserole is one of America’s most divisive meals; some love the idea of recapturing treasured childhood moments spent digging into this comforting dish, while others wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. I think there are enough folks in the first camp to provide me a steady stream of requests for a health-minded adaptation over the years, so here we are.

Initially, I couldn’t fathom why people were asking me to recreate Tuna Casserole – the dish I grew up with was made with egg noodles, and pasta is a no-go on the Paleo diet (well…I’m okay with rice pasta, but I digress). Turns out there is a segment of the population that feels a true Tuna Casserole is made with potatoes instead of noodles; once I got word of this concept, throwing the rest of the casserole together was cake.

As with a couple other recipes this month (see: exhibit 1 and exhibit 2), I was approached by Sharp to create dishes using their Convection Microwave, and this casserole seemed like a good fit; the microwave’s convection oven function worked like a charm. One advantage I discovered while making this dish in the microwave was that I could soften the onion in the microwave itself instead of dirtying an extra pan; I used the bottom roasting element to act as a conventional stovetop, then switched it to the convection oven setting and baked the rest of the dish. If you don’t own the microwave (yet?), I’ve provided conventional stovetop and oven instructions below.

I’ve also teamed up with Sharp to give away one of the microwaves that I’ve been using during these cooking adventures. See the bottom of this post for directions on how to enter.

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Last month I had the opportunity to visit Avery Island, Louisiana, the home of Tabasco. Each year the company selects a group of bloggers to visit their island (which is actually a salt dome surrounded by bayou). In turn, the bloggers are asked to write about their experience and create some recipes using Tabasco sauces. Since I was probably going to make some recipes using Tabasco this year anyway, it was an easy decision to join the event.

I’ve always valued Tabasco sauces for their short ingredients list (the original red pepper sauce contains just three ingredients – peppers, vinegar, and salt), and their ability to add a complex flavor to any dish; I feel that acidity is a tragically underutilized dynamic in most kitchens, and Tabasco has acidity in spades. But until this trip I never realized how much care Tabasco puts into each bottle, which you’ll see in my pictures below the recipe. But first, the food.

It’s coming into flounder season here in Florida, and it is easy to find in my area right now. The fish are caught using a spear (called a “gig”), typically at night, much in the same way that frogs are traditionally caught. A favorite preparation for flounder is to simply pan-fry them in Cajun seasoning (often used interchangeably with the term “blackening seasoning”); since I was already making the seasoning from scratch, I figured this is also an opportunity to incorporate it into one of my other favorite dishes from this area, Étouffée.

Étouffée translates to “smothered” from French, which indicates that the main ingredient (often crawfish, but in this case, shrimp) is smothered in a thick sauce of broth and vegetables. Might as well add some bacon to it for good measure, because bacon.

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Ceviche is a popular seafood dish in Central and South America made from raw seafood (usually fish or shrimp) marinated in citrus juices. Today, it is most associated with Peru, who even has a holiday to celebrate the dish (June 28, if you’re interested). Spaniards arriving in the Americas found that the pre-Inca peoples of Mocha had a similar dish, which used the fermented juices of the banana passionfruit. There is archeological evidence of ceviche’s consumption as far back as 2,000 years ago.

Unlike Peruvian ceviche, the Mexican variation often includes tomatoes, jalapeños, and green olives. That’s the variation we’re going to make today.

When choosing a fish, it’s best to use a white ocean fish like sea bass, grouper, halibut, or flounder. Keep the fish as cold as possible while preparing it, and be sure to remove the blood line (the dark line down the center of some fish) to keep the dish from tasting too “fishy”. I also prefer to combine the ingredients near the end; red onions steeped in lime juice will color the dish prematurely.

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