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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Monkfish Medallions in Fresh Tomato Sauce


Monkfish has a mild flavor and a texture similar to lobster. Here I serve it with a very simple sauce that complements it but doesn't cover it.

If you want to make it extra special, you could stir in some capers or a spoonful of heavy cream at the end.

Monkfish tail fillets usually weigh about a pound. Cut into 3/4-inch thick slices, one tail should yield about 12 pieces which is enough for 3 or 4 main course portions.

If you don't have monkfish you can substitute another meaty white fish like halibut or cod, or spoon the sauce over grilled sardines or shrimp.

If you don't like anchovies, add them anyway. They're good for you (full of healthy omega-3 fats) and you'll never even notice they're there. If you absolutely can't include them, substitute chopped olives.

I used red scallions because that's what I had on hand. You could use another variety of scallion or substitute shallot or red onion. For fresh herbs, I used oregano and basil, but you could substitute others, like thyme, dill, or parsley.

This year I planted two varieties of basil in my window garden: the popular sweet basil with large leaves and globe basil with small leaves. I like to use the small leaves in cooking because they're small enough to be added whole, so I don't have to chop them. I simply strip them from the stem. It saves me a step and prevents the leaves from getting bruised with a knife.
Globe Basil

2 tbsp grass-fed butter
1 pound monkfish tail fillet(s), silver skin removed
2 organic lemons
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
6 red scallions, red, white, and green parts, thinly sliced
4 anchovies
3 large tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, grated
Sprig fresh oregano yielding about a tablespoon of loosely packed leaves
Fresh basil leaves to garnish (sliced into ribbons if large)

Cut the monkfish into medallions about 3/4-inch wide. Arrange them on a plate in a single layer so they will come to room temperature quickly.

Zest the lemons and reserve the zest. Cut one of the lemons in half. Squeeze the juice from one half over the fish, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the medallions over and season the other side the same way with the other lemon half.

Once the fish has reached room temperature, warm the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the red, white, and light green parts of the scallion to the skillet (reserve the dark green parts). Sauté until they become soft and start to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, anchovies, and pepper. Cook until they begin to break down, about 5 minutes.

Place the pieces of monkfish on top of the tomato sauce and cook, uncovered, until just cooked through, about 4 minutes on each side.

Once the fish is just fully cooked, transfer the medallions to a plate. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon over the fish. Cover to keep warm.

Stir the garlic, oregano, and lemon zest (reserving a little for garnish if you wish) into the tomato mixture. Cook until the liquid reduces and it becomes a thick sauce, about 5 minutes more. Stir in 1/4 cup or more of the dark green scallion parts and save any remaining scallion for future use (toss them with salads, add them to scrambled eggs, or use them to garnish other dishes). Taste the sauce for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.

Once the sauce is ready, if the fish has cooled, place it back in the pan briefly, along with any juices, to re-warm it. Serve the monkfish medallions with the tomato sauce and garnish with fresh basil leaves and lemon zest.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Seafood Salad with Octopus


I love seafood salads, especially in the summer. In this one I used octopus and shrimp, but you could easily substitute firm white fish, squid, crab, or even lobster. If seafood is expensive or your choices are limited, toss a cup or two of cooked chickpeas into the salad and garnish the top with half the amount of seafood.

Octopus tends to get tough and rubbery, so I always cook it in a pressure cooker to ensure it  stays tender. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can simmer it slowly on the stove until it becomes tender, which can take an hour or more. 

This recipe calls for olives and caper berries. I used a combination of olives - Kalamata and green - but you can use any olives you like. I like to use caper berries because they have roughly the same shape and size of olives and cherry tomatoes. If need be, substitute capers, the small unopened flower buds of the same plant. 

For a fresh herb flavor, I added cilantro. You can use any fresh herb you like. Dill or basil would also be very good.

2-pound octopus at room temperature
2 tablespoons cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground peppercorn
1/2 pound peeled wild shrimp like pink shrimp or spot prawns at room temperature
1 organic lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 cup pitted olives
1 roasted red pepper, finely chopped
1 fresh chili pepper, any color, thinly sliced
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (any color)
2 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts 
1/2 cup halved caper berries, halved or quartered, or substitute 1/4 cup capers 
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems

Cook the octopus for 15 minutes in a pressure cooker according to manufacturer instructions. Cool down the cooker with cold water. Reserve the cooking liquid in the pot and lift out the octopus. Place it on a plate to cool.


Bring the cooking liquid to back a boil in the pressure cooker, uncovered. As soon as it starts to simmer, turn off the heat, drop in the shrimp and place the lid on top. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes. (Cooking the shrimp with residual heat prevents them from getting tough and rubbery.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, salt, and pepper with the zest and juice of the lemon (approximately 1 tablespoon of loosely packed zest and 2 tablespoons of juice). Smash the garlic cloves and add them whole. Stir in the olives, roasted red pepper, and chili pepper and set aside.

Strain the shrimp after 5 minutes, reserving the cooking liquid for another use (excellent in seafood soups and sauces). Transfer the shrimp to the bowl with the sauce and toss until they are evenly coated. Set them aside.

Once the octopus has cooled enough to handle, use a sharp kitchen shears to cut off the legs. Cut each leg into bite-size pieces, dropping them into the bowl with the shrimp as you go. Cut the head off the octopus and cut it into bite-size pieces as well. Because it's already been cleaned, you can eat the whole thing. Trim as much tender meat off the middle part as you can, avoiding the hard beak in the center. Discard the beak or save it for making seafood broth or freeze it for later.

Toss everything together until the octopus is evenly coated with the lemon sauce. Finish cooling the mixture to room temperature.

Cover and transfer to the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. Stir occasionally, if you think of it.

Just before serving, toss everything one more time. Remove the garlic cloves or thinly slice them and add them back in. Stir in the tomatoes, scallions, caper berries, and cilantro. Transfer the salad to a serving dish (covered with a bed of lettuce if you wish) and serve immediately while still cold.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Strawberry Vinaigrette


This dressing is a summer stunner.  It's one of my favorite vinaigrettes for summer salads (or magret de canard) so make it while strawberries are still in season.

Serve strawberry vinaigrette with fruit salads and vegetable salads. Serve it as a dipping sauce with grilled vegetables, or as a condiment with chicken, meat, or seafood.

This simple recipe lends itself well to variations, so feel free to add something extra.

Strawberry Lemon Vinaigrette: Add the zest of one lemon and replace the vinegar with an equal amount of fresh lemon juice.

Strawberry Dijon Vinaigrette: Add a spoonful of Dijon mustard.

Spicy Strawberry Vinaigrette: Add a minced clove of fresh garlic and/or a finely chopped fresh red chili pepper.

Strawberry Herb Vinaigrette: After the vinaigrette has been blended, stir in some finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, tarragon, or mint.

If you don't have red onion for the basic recipe, substitute shallots or scallions. You can also substitute white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or sherry vinegar for the red wine vinegar. It's OK to add a bit of balsamic vinegar but don't add too much or it will overpower the fresh berry flavor.

I made this vinaigrette with an immersion blender inside a glass measuring cup, but you could also use a stand blender.

1/2 cup finely diced fresh organic strawberries, about 4 medium or 3 large
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion 
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Add all of the ingredients to a glass two-cup measure (with a pouring spout, ideally).

Blend until the mixture is smooth.

Serve immediately or transfer to an air-tight container in the fridge.

Yield: a scant cup

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Blistered Shishito Peppers


Shishito peppers mostly mild and sweet, but occasionally you'll find a spicy one. They're in season now, so look for them at your local farmer's market.

These peppers can be eaten like any other pepper, in stir fries, curries, or omelets. I like them as a simple starter. It's one the quickest and easiest appetizers ever: Just sauté, salt, and serve.

You'll need a cooking fat that tolerates high temperatures to cook the peppers quickly, so they maintain some of their structure. I used ghee but you could substitute cold-pressed coconut oil. 

I prefer eating them au natural, but if you want to add some flavor, you can drizzle them with cold-pressed sesame oil once they've finished cooking. (Don't cook the sesame oil because it's too fragile for cooking.)

1 pound shishito peppers
1 tsp ghee
Sea salt
  1. If you've just washed the peppers, dry them. Any water droplets will spit and splatter once they hit the hot pan. 
  2. Warm a cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat. Once it's hot, add the peppers in a single layer and cook until they brown and blister, just a minute or two. 
  3. Flip the peppers over and brown the other side. Don't walk away from the stove because they will cook quickly. 
  4. Once they're evenly blistered, remove them from the heat, sprinkle with sea salt, and serve immediately. This dish is finger food: Hold them by the stem end and bite off the pepper part.