Maine Shrimp to the Rescue

Dinner:  January 26, 2010

I dove head-first into my new position this week, with my first trainee joining the department on Monday. Things are going great, but I’m still effectively doing my old job as well, and people, I am *beat* by the time I get home. I did myself a favor by writing up a meal plan for this week’s dinners over the weekend, but I had to fall back and punt last night when I realized that the fillets from the whole black sea bass I had in the fridge were not going to be nearly enough for two (particularly since breakfast and lunch are luxuries I haven’t had much time for lately).

Maine shrimp

Thankfully, I had portioned out some lovely little Maine shrimp a couple of weeks back and tucked them away in the freezer for future meals. After a quick water bath to thaw them, I gave them a quick saute with sliced leeks and a bit of grapeseed oil in my new favorite pan. They needed just a couple of minutes to cook through, and were delicious served alongside sauteed red cabbage and carrots on a bed of black rice. I whisked together the juice of a lime, some tamari, and a bit of toasted sesame oil to drizzle over the top of our bowls, a simple sauce that provided just the right notes of salt and acidity to complement the sweet shrimp and nutty rice.

Inspired

Dinner:  December 8, 2009

One of the most fun things about this past year has been my involvement with food52. The weekly challenges have made me look at cooking in new ways, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie there that isn’t present in a lot of other online forums. I have met, virtually and in person, so many great people, have become aware of a ton of new-to-me food blogs, and have been hugely inspired by the great dishes being put forth every week by the food52 community.

This dish is one that caught my eye a while back, and with cold, stormy weather headed our way, I knew it would be perfect for last night’s dinner. It comes from Brooke of not lazy. rustic., and it was just as delicious as I thought it would be. The Point Judith squid, inexpensive and sustainable, came from Mercato del Mare, and it became incredibly tender as it simmered in a bath of red wine, stock*, tomatoes, and aromatics. The olives really made the dish, mellowing as they cooked ever-so-briefly in the stew and leached a bit of their briny flavor into the rich broth. If you’re looking for a new take on seafood stew, give this one a try.

Recipe: Squid, Potato & Olive Stew on food52

*Brooke’s recipe calls for clam juice, which we didn’t have, so I substituted an equivalent amount of Maine shrimp stock that I had in the freezer.

Sea-food Diet

Dinner:  September 11, 2009

Commuting to Boston can be rough, and it makes for some very long days (12 hours from the time I leave in the morning to the time I walk through the door in the evening, assuming I don’t work late or have train delays), but it’s worth it for many reasons. Like Providence, Boston is a great food town, and it’s a treat to venture out on my lunch break to source out items for dinner.

One of my favorite discoveries since moving back to this part of the country is Mercato del Mare (a/k/a “the cutest fish market ever“), a jewel box of a store located in the North End. Since Friday was grey and gloomy, I decided to head to the store to pick up ingredients for a light but warming seafood stew.

In a riff on my standard preparation, I decided to toss some Point Judith calamari into the mix. I generally grill or fry calamari, but since tasting a red wine-braised version at Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Local Food Fest over the summer, I have been eager to try a long-cooked preparation, and the calamari turned out as meltingly tender as I had hoped it would be.

saffron

Seafood Stew with Saffron, Tomatoes and Fennel

½ lb. calamari, cleaned (bodies, tentacles or a mix of both)
½ lb. skinless, firm-fleshed white fish (I used cod), cut into 1 inch chunks
½ lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ lb. cockles or other small clams, scrubbed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
kosher or sea salt
1 cup diced shallot, red onion, or leek
a big pinch of saffron
¼ cup dry white vermouth
1 28 oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes with their juices (I prefer San Marzano), lightly crushed
1 cup peeled and cubed russet potato
½ cup chopped fennel bulb
1 cup water

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add half of the shallot, onion or leek and a big pinch of salt, stir to coat with oil, and cook for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Slice the calamari bodies into rings. Add the calamari rings (and tentacles, if using) and another pinch of salt, and stir to coat with the oil. Clear a spot in the center of the pan and crumble in the saffron, letting it toast briefly before stirring through. Add the vermouth and the tomatoes with their juices. Stir and let cook over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Let cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, and partially uncovering if the heat is too high. Add the potato, fennel and remaining onion, plus up to a cup of water and a pinch more salt, stir and let cook until the potatoes are just tender. Add the chunks of fish, the shrimp, and the cockles at the end, letting them simmer in the hot broth until they are just cooked through – about 5 minutes should do. Remove from heat and ladle the stew into wide, shallow bowls. Serve with plenty of toasted garlic-rubbed bread on the side.

(Weekend Eats (and Drinks) will return next week.)

In Dreams

halibut

When you’re sitting at a desk or behind cubicle walls, thinking about what you’d rather be doing, how you’d spend your days if money were no object, or if your circumstances were different, what do you dream about?

My answer has changed over the years, but it’s getting clearer, to the point where I now find myself taking notes, making lists, looking longingly through the windows of empty storefronts in my neighborhood, pondering the possibilities.

A storefront. A market.

Specifically, a seafood market, but more than just that.

halibut in marinade

There’d be a little space for retail, where I’d sell a small, well-curated selection of fresh, local seafood, and perhaps even a few sustainably-fished favorites from farther afield. There’d be things prepared in-house, seafood salads and cured and smoked fish, and things you could take home, heat and eat. There’d be baskets of lemons, good white anchovies and glass jars of briny capers for sale, homemade butter spiked with fresh herbs or lime and chile, sauces and salsas, a variety of tasty things to serve with your seafood.

There’d also be a small adjoining space, cozy, with a raw bar like our beloved Marlow and Sons with their oyster happy hour. We’d have tables and chairs and a small seafood menu, fritto misto and seafood rillettes, chowders and stews and seared or grilled fillets – simple, honest seafood dishes, prepared with whatever good things are in season. A neighborhood place, filled with laughter and conversation. A place that celebrates what we so love about living here – the ocean, the people, the bounty of this beautiful state we now call home.

Dinner:  May 20, 2009

And when the weather warms up after the long winter, we might even put some chairs out on the sidewalk, throw open the doors to let the breeze in, pour frosty beverages and linger, listening to the sounds of chirping birds and passing traffic. And maybe, just maybe, we’d serve up some grilled fish tacos.

Someday? Who knows. I have neither the means nor the experience to make it happen right now. But it sure is a nice dream.

Wading back in

We got back to Providence on Sunday evening, but since I had made a point to use up most of our fresh food before our trip, and since we weren’t around for Saturday’s farmers’ market, we had to make a quick trip to Whole Foods for provisions. I’ve gotten so used to buying the majority of our food at the farmers’ market that I was a little frazzled when we got to the store, but the seafood counter saved the day. I grabbed some sardines for Sunday night’s dinner, and a beautiful whole trout for Monday.

Dinner:  May 10, 2009

We had hoped to grill the sardines on Sunday night but it was a bit too chilly out, so after Mike cleaned them, I dipped them in a little bit of seasoned flour and fried them. I made a quick stew of fennel and tomatoes, one of my favorite partners for fish of any kind, and our Sunday supper was complete.

fiddleheads and chanterelles

Monday’s trout dinner was equally simple: our butterflied trout went into a grill basket rubbed with salt and a bit of olive oil, and Mike took care of cooking it while I worked on sides.

Dinner:  May 11, 2009

I had spotted some Massachusetts fiddleheads at the store, which I snapped up along with a few gorgeous chanterelles. I sauteed them in butter with thinly sliced spring onion until the mushrooms were a bit caramelized and the fiddleheads were tender, then I spooned them onto our plates with the grilled trout and some boiled, smashed new potatoes. I finished the fish with a spritz of fresh lemon juice and some thin slices of the bright green onion tips, and simple as that, dinner was served.

Oiled Up

Dinner:  April 9, 2009

After a couple of pork-heavy dinners in a row, I was craving something a little lighter last night. I thought about the remaining fish filets I had stashed in the freezer a couple weeks back, and decided to plan something around one of them. I’m still swooning at the memory of the striped bass I had at La Laiterie last Friday night, so I thought it was perhaps too soon to cook it again at home. So it would be cod then – but how to prepare it?

going into the oven

I didn’t want to roast it again, and fried fish didn’t really appeal, so in the end, I decided to revisit a technique I don’t use often enough when cooking fish: poaching. To simplify things even more, I decided to forego the traditional court-bouillon and poach the fish in olive oil.

my favorite spiced salt

I divided the cod into three relatively equal pieces, seasoned them well with my favorite spiced sea salt, and nestled them in a small baking dish. I added enough extra virgin olive oil to cover them, then placed them in a preheated oven set to 260 – the lowest setting on our oven. I set a timer for 25 minutes and got to work on accompaniments: Simmons Farm spinach, sauteed with sliced shallot, some previously cooked chickpeas (you can, of course, substitute canned) added to the pan to warm through, and a Middle Eastern-inspired sauce of flat-leaf parsley, chives, mint, chile flakes, lemon and more olive oil.

spinach, shallot, chickpeas

The cod cooked up beautifully, with a silky, flaky texture and no hint of greasiness, and the chickpea-spinach combo was a hit as well. I was so impressed with the results I can’t wait to try this again with other varieties of seafood (Bomster scallops, I’m looking at you).

One Fish, Two Fish

One of the reasons I’m so happy that Mike is as big a fan of seafood as I am is because it’s so darned quick and easy to prepare, and this week, quick and easy is about all I’ve had in me. I’ve been anxious to get back to the cutest fish market ever, and on Tuesday, the weather was finally (sorta) warm enough for me to make the walk up to the North End and pick up a few provisions.

I came home with two beautiful filets, one cod and one wild striped bass. I cooked the bass on Tuesday, portioning out a couple of pieces for our dinner and packaging the remainder to freeze. I stewed half of a fennel bulb, thinly sliced, along with some sliced onion, canned San Marzano tomatoes, a glug each of white wine and olive oil, and some Herbes de Provence, and when the mixture had cooked down, I sauteed the striper in a little olive oil until the skin was crisp and the flesh just cooked through. I spooned the fennel and tomato mixture into shallow bowls, placed a filet on top of each portion, and finished with a few fennel fronds, sprigs of flat leaf parsley, and lemon zest.

Wednesday night’s cod was even easier: I used this recipe as a jumping off point, but added my own spin by tossing the potatoes with a bit of smoked Spanish paprika before putting them in the oven to roast. After about 40 minutes, I added the cod (again, I portioned out two pieces and froze the rest), turning it on the baking sheet to coat it with paprika oil and sprinkling a little salt over it, and placed it back in the oven until the cod was just cooked through, about 15-20 minutes or so. I served the cod and potatoes on a bed of picked flat leaf parsley leaves, and sprinkled a little Sherry vinegar, snipped chives, and Basque herbed salt over each serving.

Both of these seafood suppers were incredibly simple and incredibly good, allowing the flavors of the super-fresh fish to shine through. We’re lucky to have access to such great seafood around here, and as the weather warms up and we crave lighter fare, you can bet we’ll be taking full advantage of it.