Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fried Perch with Tarragon Butter Sauce

Summer isn't just about the harvest from the garden. It's also about the fresh catch
of the day!

Geographically, for most of my life, Lake Michigan was my playground.

Nostalgically, thus even more so, from a sentimental point of view, was a small pond in the woods behind my house. Jone's Pond. It was a satisfying, easy mile trek down a well-worn dirt path I often took with my little sisters and our Beagle, Buck. It was one of my most favorite of childhood places. We fished it in the summer. We skated it in the winter. It was home to "suicide hill," a treacherous, turning sled ride that steered itself onto the frozen ice below if one could navigate and avoid the large oak trees. A crumpled sled was cast aside as a warning and a reminder ...

There were other near-by watering holes, too. Schilling's Swamp. Plum Creek.

Of course, where's there's water, there's fish. And the fresher the fish, the better the meal. Summer isn't just about garden produce. It's about the freshest catch of the day, too.

For this recipe, I used fresh ocean perch that were not frozen and had arrived that very day.  I had Brad, my fish monger, choose about one pound of the smallest filets. Lake perch is even better, if you can find them. Or afford them. Blue Gill is good, too. 

When coating a fish as delicate as perch, it's important to use crumbs that are just as delicate or fine as possible. Keep the egg wash light, too. I grew up with "buttered perch" from a family restaurant my siblings and I worked for years. It is still in existence. TIEBEL'S. A plate of buttered perch will set you back a good 40 bucks ... or more. When I worked there ... I think it was around $4.50!

For a summer treat, I finely chop fresh tarragon to season the butter. Tarragon, lemon, salt and perch. It's a simple combination for an incredible summer meal.

I first had this dish at a fancy Michigan restaurant on the shores of Lake Michigan. I loved it then. I love it now. Sometimes, I also use dried "Fines Herbs" which is perfect when paired with any delicate white fish.

  • 1 lb. fresh perch filets (lake or ocean)
  • 2 eggs
  • Milk or cream
  • Self-rising flour
  • Bread crumbs, the finer the better
  • Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon finely-minced, fresh tarragon
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh Lemon
  • Oil for frying, about two cups for a 10 - 12 inch skillet.

First, make the butter. Add the minced tarragon to the butter and microwave until melted. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Stir. Set aside.

Rinse, drain and pay dry the fish.

Gently coat with flour. Set aside.

Crack two eggs into a bowl. With a hand-held beater, gently whisk for about two minutes until thick and bubbly. This is important.

This is what a hand-held beater looks like.

Add a bit of Tabasco to the egg mixture. I generally use about 6-12 drops or so. Add 1 tablespoon of milk or cream to the mixture and whisk until blended.

Coat each floured filet into the egg mixture then gently coat with the bread crumbs. Place on a plate.

Keep the fish coating light. 

Heat about 2 cups of oil in a largish cast-iron skillet or heavy pan. When it begins to shimmer a bit, it's ready. If in doubt, put in a crust of bread or two. If it browns too quickly, lower heat. This is probably the trickiest part of frying fish. If in doubt, you could always use a thermometer that measures the heat for you.

Gently slide in a few filets skin side up! The oil will begin to bubble immediately. Cook on each side for about two minutes or so. My filets were small, so 3-4 minutes total did the trick. The first time you flip the fish, moisture will be released and the oil will splatter. Once the flesh begins to crack, it's done. You will constantly have to adjust the heat as you cook and re-add fish.

Nicely browned. Notice how the fish has "cracked." An indication it is done.

Spoon the tarragon butter sauce over the fish. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher or finishing salt and a squeeze of lemon.

Fresh fish will never smell up your kitchen. Bad fish will. So will bad company.

After coating my fish with bread crumbs, I froze three filets for later use.

Notes: I use White Lily Self-Rising Flour. It's finer in texture than regular flour. Cake flour is a good substitute. Regular flour is fine, just be sure shake off the excess. I generally use corn oil or peanut oil, about two cups for a 10-inch skillet.

If you are adverse to frying fish or anything for that matter, it pays to invest in a "hotplate" or portable gas hot plate and fry outside on your porch or in the garage. It's a game-changer, for sure!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shoestring Herb Fries (and Steak)

Don't those look good? They were!

I've been seeing quite a few recipes on the web for "herb fries" so I decided to wing it. If you have a mandolin, nothing could be simpler. You want "thin" fries, for this recipe. I tried really really thin spaghetti-like fries, but I found them to thin for a wholesome "chew" or bite. I wanted an outside crunch and still just a bit soft interior.

For the herbs, I used rosemary, thyme and lemon. Yes, lemon. Don't omit it. For a final flair, I zested some Parmesan on top. These were a snap to prepare. Save your oil and do it again the next day.

But what made these even better, was pan-searing a porterhouse steak to go with it. All that was missing was a cold beer.

  • 1 russet potato, about 3/4 - 1 pound, thoroughly scrubbed and thinly sliced into fries
  • 1 heaping teaspoon mixed, finely minced herbs of thyme and rosemary
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and thick sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Peanut oil for frying

Place a good 1-2 inches of peanut oil in a medium pan and turn on medium heat. Add the garlic. When garlic turns brown, remove and discard.

Thoroughly mince the herbs with the zest and chop, chop, chop. Add the salt and with a pestle or the back of your knife, and begin working the salt into the herb/citrus mixture. Don't make it too wet, you still want to "sprinkle" it over the fries.

Cut your potatoes.

Add fries to hot oil slowly, you don't want the oil to bubble over and cause a fire. You may need to do this in two batches. Stir occasionally until brown and crisp. Remove to drain on paper towels.

I added a few "onion' pieces to the potatoes as they fried.

Place in a warm 200 F. degree oven to keep warm and crisp while you prepare the rest. When ready to serve, sprinkle with the herb/citrus salt. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve. You could also sprinkle with a bit of pepper or chile powder.

How to Pan-Sear a Steak

First, you need a cast-iron skillet. I can't imagine not cooking a steak without one.

On one side of your steak, season with a bit of garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. That's it.

Get you skillet HOT! Place a pat of butter in the pan and then lay the steak seasoned side down right on top of the butter. Lower heat a bit and don't move the steak. After about 3-5 minutes, take a peek. It should have a nice crust, even some blackened spots. Sprinkle lightly with a bit of salt. Flip. Lower heat a tad more and cook until it reaches desired doneness. I like mine RARE.

Remove to a plate to rest for a few minutes. Slice thinly on a diagonal. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and serve.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tomato Sauce with Pig's Foot and Sausages

(2021 Update: Weather we like it or not, we eat according to the times in which we live. Right now, those times spell doom for meat. The price is through the roof. Enter spaghetti. It has always been a savior's meal to tough times on the pocket book. Sausages are economical. More and more grocery stores are putting out cuts of meat never seen before because they are cheap. Pig's feet is one on them. Cheese is not cheap, so try to find it on sale. The other day one my favorite grocery stores had pasta on sale for one dollar a box, a real bargain. I bought five.

I recently purchased a new cookbook: "ODD BITS" recipes for the rest of the animal "head to tail." There is a chapter devoted to nothing but feet--from chickens to cattle. Ox-tail used to be considered an "odd bit," but it became so trendy that I recently saw a package for over 20 dollars! Hopefully, the price of pigs' feet won't make us squeal.)

I had been eyeing the packages of little piggy feet (trotters) for several days at my local Food Lion Supermarket. For an authentic Italian "gravy," they are indispensable. But not easy to find. So I purchased a package of four for less than four bucks and a nice package of Italian sausages to prepare a simple, basic sauce or "gravy." 

A pig's foot adds richness to a tomato-based sauce. If ever you've wanted a thick sauce, the pig's foot is what you're after. The pig's foot is very gelatinous (not fatty). After hours of simmering, it lovingly melts into the sauce and melds with the the other meats to create a deep, rich and unctuous sauce.

Look for trotters that are pink and flesh colored. They should have little or no smell. After a good wash, bring to boil in a pan and simmer 5-10 minutes. Rinse again and then slip them into your sauce to simmer for 2-4 hours or until tender and falling apart.

Feel free to add any meats to your sauce. I settled for the sausages and made some quick meatballs* that I add the last hour or so. This is probably the best spaghetti I've had. 

  • 1.5 lbs. fresh Italian sausage 
  • 1-2 pigs feet, sliced down the center (about 1 lb.) washed, lightly boiled and re-washed/rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, including juice, chopped (see update)
  • 1/2-1 cup water (or dry wine, red or white)
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh fennel seeds
  • salt and pepper (more pepper than salt)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly minced rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh oregano leaves
  • Grated cheese (Parmesan, Romano, etc)
  • Meatballs
In a large pot, add a bit of butter and olive oil. Add onions and sweat just until they turn brown. Add the fennel seeds. Stir. Add the crushed and diced tomatoes. Rinse cans with a bit of water (or wine) and add. Slice/chip garlic cloves into sauce. Add pig's feet and sausages. Dust with pepper and stir. Cover loosely and simmer for 2-4 hours.

The last hour, add the brown sugar, chopped rosemary and oregano and, if using, meatballs. Taste for seasonings adding salt and pepper as needed.

Remove and discard pig's foot (Some people pick the meat off, but there isn't much. After 3-4 hours of simmering, it's pretty much given up whatever it had to offer to the sauce. It may also leave behind tiny chips of bones, so beware.)

Serve over pasta of your choice with a liberal grating or shavings of cheese.

Notes: I used Tuttorosso brand crushed tomatoes with basil. You could complicate things and add green pepper and celery to the onions. My sausage was mild with a bit of heat. If you want a spicier sauce, add a pinch or two of red-pepper flakes to the onions. 

This is a mild-tasting and satisfying dish. The tomatoes are neither overpowering nor acidic. I give it five oinks!

Update: Wow. I've now made this several times. People who eat it want more, more, more. This is Italian "gravy." It is not a marinara sauce of just tomatoes. There's a world of difference between the two. The amount of tomatoes you use will depend on the amount of meat you add. The more meat--the more tomatoes. Start with a balance and go from there.

* Okay... A meatball is not just a meatball. It all depends on how and in what you are going to serve it. I no longer use egg in my meatballs. I use Ricotta. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Salt-Cured Salmon with Whiskey (Gravlax)

I'm always amazed at food or recipes I've heard about for ages but never tried. Salt-cured salmon is one. It was much easier to prepare than I thought and the result was nothing short of wonderful. After two days of "curing" in the fridge, the thin slices of flavored salmon were silky and buttery.

Now I feel even more venturesome to experiment with different flavors and liquors. 

"Gravlax" literally means "grave salmon." Fishermen would bury their salmon in the sand just above the high tideline. The salt in the sand would "cure" the salmon.

Dill is the preferred and standard herb to use when curing salmon. Along with "Aquavit," a Scandinavian liquor. This recipe, adapted from GQ, uses fresh fennel and whiskey. In the future, I could certainly imagine using flavored vodkas. Next time I prepare this particular recipe, I will add a grate or two of orange zest.

This is a great appetizer, especially on a hot summer's day. The prep is pretty simple--season, wrap and wait. Two days later, unwrap, slice and enjoy!

The delicate flavor of the cured fish is easy to lose with too many accoutrements. I prefer naked slices. But to be a bit fancy, I schmeared a bit of cream cheese on a plain water cracker followed by a razor-thin wafer of cucumber that I sliced with a vegetable peeler, a pinch of pepper and a few snips of chive. Lovely.

For this recipe, I used a beautiful center-cut one- pound filet of Sockeye Salmon that my fishmonger, Brad, cut for me. It was thrillingly red and meaty.

                                                                                                              (GQ Photo)

  • One, center-cut salmon filet, skin on
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 tablespoons good whiskey (I used Knob Creek)
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fennel fronds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • Black pepper (I used less)
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Brush the fish with the whiskey and place in refrigerator while preparing the other ingredients. (The whiskey will absorb into the flesh of the fish.)

Lightly crush the fennel and caraway seeds. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the "cure" of salt, sugar, lemon zest and fennel fronds.

Measure a sheet of cling wrap 3 times as long as the width of the fish and spread on a baking sheet.

Spread half of the salt/sugar mixture on the plastic wrap. Remove fish from refrigerator and place on top on cure mixture, skin-side down. Now pat down the remaining half of the salt/sugar mixture on top of the fish. 

Sprinkle seeds over the top and arrange the sliced fennel over the length of the fish. Sprinkle with pepper.

Wrap tightly. Place skin-side down in a large resealable plastic bag to catch any leaks and place the package on the baking sheet. Place a heavy pot on top. Allow to cure 2-3 days. (Some recipes say to flip every 12 hours or so. I did not.)

When ready, remove fish from plastic wrap. Remove the fennel and rinse the cured fish  under cold water. The fish will have "hardened." Pat dry. 

Using a sharp knife, cut thin slices on an angle. The skin will be tough as leather, but the flesh will be tender and succulent. Enjoy!