Grilled Sardines

March 29, 2009

Never judge a creature by size alone.

Named after the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia, the name sardine is broadly applied to many small fish species of the herring family. Sardines reproduce rapidly and swim in immense sea-darkening schools, making them a proper sustainable choice for your table. As with all oceanic life, though, they still demand and deserve a favorable marine environment.

Sardines are chocked with nutritional value — they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and also a good source of vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese, and protein — while extremely low in contaminants such as mercury.

Little, thin planks of sea-heaven extolled around the world.

GRILLED SARDINES WITH LEMON & WINE VINEGAR

12-18 fresh sardines, scaled and gutted but heads and tails left intact
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1 C extra virgin olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1/2 t sugar
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 T grated fresh lemon peel
Chopped flat leaf parsley

Vigorously whisk all ingredients in bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, then set aside. This can easily be done the day before grilling.

Heat grill to medium high. Consider placing some fresh rosemary sprigs in the fire just before grilling.

Brush sardines with oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until just cooked through.

Drizzle with vinaigrette and top with grated lemon peel and chopped parsley. Serve over grilled bread which has been brushed with olive oil and rubbed with an open head of garlic or fresh tomato before placing on the grill.

SARDINHAS ASSADAS (Portuguese Grilled Sardines)

1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, cut into eighths
1 lb fresh tomatoes, seeded and sliced 1/4″ thick
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, sliced about 1/4″ thick

12-18 fresh sardines, scaled and gutted but heads and tails left intact
Sea salt, ample amounts
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

Sprinkle sardines liberally with sea salt and let rest for at least 1 hour, preferably more.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Season the peppers with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking dish lined with aluminum foil and roast until the skin blisters and darkens, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool in a paper bag, then remove the skin and seeds. Slice the peppers into strips, about 1/2-inch thick.

Place the potatoes into a saucepan, over medium heat and cover with water. Season liberally with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain. Toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, toss and set aside. Drizzle the onions with olive oil, salt and pepper, and set aside.

Heat grill to medium high.

Rinse the sardines under cold water and then dry with paper towels. Brush the sardines with olive oil and then grill for several minutes on each side, 3 to 4 minutes, depending on size.

Platter grilled sardines surrounded by the arranged potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Drizzle olive oil over the top, with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Pourboire: if grilling is not an option, simply use the broiler. Prepare sardines as above. Heat the broiler until hot. Move the oven rack as close to the heat source, and preheat until hot. Heat a jelly roll pan for a few minutes in the broiler, then carefully remove and place the sardines in the pan. Broil for 4-5 minutes, then check for doneness. The fish should be opaque, the tip of a knife should flake the thickest part easily, and the outside should be lightly browned.

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Squid Triad

February 2, 2009

The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure not a slight pleasure.
~Michel De Montaigne

Squid belong to the class Cephalopoda, which means “head foot.” They are mollusks and related to octopi and some other culinary delights, such as bivalves (scallops, oysters, clams) and gastropods (snails). Cephalopods are thought to be the Einsteins of invertebrates, with highly developed senses and large brains…they even have three hearts that pump blue blood throughout.

Squid grow rapidly, reaching maturity within a year, and reproduce in large numbers. These characteristics help keep populations robust even when they are heavily fished; so they are a scrupulous, sustainable seafood choice. Squid are relatively inexpensive, are quite versatile and also make simply wonderful eats. Try serving them with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or rouille (saffron & red pepper mayonnaise).

To clean squid, first separate the head from the body (mantle), cut free and retain the tentacles, trim off the eyes and hard beak which it uses to consume prey. With fingers or the back of a small knife, push out and discard the insides and the translucent cuttlebone or quill. Rinse, then dry thoroughly.

Squid must be cooked either quickly for a couple of minutes or slowly braised for about an hour—any time in between will result in one tough critter. Three variations on the squid theme (braised, fried and sautéed) follow:

CALAMAR AU VIN

3 T extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves peeled garlic, gently crushed
1 shallot, diced
1 clove peeled garlic, finely minced and crushed to a paste
1 C red wine
2 pounds squid, cleaned
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet with a lid, and turn the heat to medium high. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, then remove. Add the shallot and and garlic paste and saute over medium heat until shallots are tender. Add the squid and stir, then lower the heat, and add the wine. Stir, add the thyme and bay leaf, then cover.

Braise covered at a slow simmer until the squid is tender, about 1 hour. Uncover, season with salt and pepper to taste, raise the heat, and cook until most but not all of the liquid is evaporated. Stir in the remaining olive oil, and garnish with parsley.

CALAMARI FRITTI

1 lb fresh squid, cleaned
1 cup fine flour, such as semolina, rice or Wondra
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 C of peanut, sunflower or canola oil
Lemon quarters

Preheat the oven to 200.

Slice the squid bodies into 1/4 inch rings, and depending on the size, cut the tentacles in half lengthwise.

In a bag or an open bowl, combine the flour, 2 t salt.

Pour the into a heavy sauce pan or use a deep fryer. The oil should be at least 2 inches deep and should be heated to 375.

Dip a handful of squid into the bag or bowl of flour and shake to coat. Transfer the squid to a fine mesh sieve and shake to remove excess flour. Gently drop the squid in small amounts into the hot oil and cook until slightly brown—1 to 2 minutes. Do not crowd them. With a wire spider skimmer, scoop the squid from the oil and season immediately with salt and pepper. Then place in the warm oven with the door ajar as you continue frying the remaining squid.

Serve, garnished with lemon wedges.

SQUID WITH GARLIC, HERBS & TOMATOES

1 lb squid, cleaned bodies and tentacles separated but kept intact
6 T extra virgin olive oil
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (1 1/2-inch) serrano chile, halved lengthwise
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 C dry white wine
1/4 C drained bottled capers, rinsed & dried

1/2 cup loosely packed roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 T lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

If squid are large, halve ring of tentacles, then cut longer tentacles crosswise into 3″ long pieces. Cut bodies crosswise into 1/4″ thick rings. Rinse and thoroughly pat squid dry.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic and chili, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squid and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes and wine and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes. Add capers and simmer, stirring, 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Remove from heat and stir in basil, pine nuts, zest, and salt and pepper to taste.

Grilled Leg of Lamb

February 1, 2009

I am not a glutton, I am an explorer of food.
~Erma Bombeck

An earlier post on grilling set the taste buds aflutter (see Green Grilling Debate) . This makes no mention of my deeply rooted adoration of lamb. So, below is a very fine, yet simple recipe for grilled butterflied leg of lamb, which calls for a local, organic lamb. Usually, I would advocate cooking meat with a bone in, as that imparts flavor to the meat—but, when grilling a butterflied cut it seems a fine fit.

The lamb becomes succulent with a crusty, flavorful char on the outside, pink and tender on the inside. Before we embark on the cooking process, a few words on organic lamb…

Organic livestock farming promotes biological diversity and replenishment of soil without the use of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic certification means that the methods and practices of raising livestock have been reviewed by an independent third party. Organic meat production means that only meats labeled certified organic are 100% free of genetically modified organisms, pesticides, medications, and growth hormones.

You know what the word “local” means. Now, on to the queen for a day—

GRILLED LEG OF LAMB

1 boned and butterflied leg of local, organic lamb (5-6 lbs. boned weight)

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 T rice vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
2 T local honey
½ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup olive oil
3-4 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 inch slice of ginger root, peeled and finely minced
1 inch slice of ginger root, unpeeled and thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

Rosemary sprigs

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rub the halved garlic cloves over the surface of the lamb; salt and pepper liberally on both sides. Then, combine marinade ingredients & pour over lamb. Marinate at least 2 hours at room temperature and preferably overnight in the refrigerator, turning the meat at least once and hopefully more. If it is marinated overnight in the refrigerator, be sure to bring the meat to room temperature before grilling.

Drain before cooking and reserve marinade.

Prepare coals or gas grill for barbecuing. If using charcoal grill, open vents on bottom, then light charcoal. Charcoal fire is medium-hot when you can hold your hand 5″ above rack for 3 seconds or so. If using gas grill, preheat burners on high with hood closed 10 minutes, then turn down to moderately high.

Just before grilling, strew several rosemary sprigs around the outside perimeter of the coals to impart subtle flavor to the meat.

Place the grill 4-5 inches above coals & grill lamb, fat side down, covered, 15 minutes. Turn meat & grill, covered, about 10 minutes more on the other side or until it reaches medium rare.

Before carving, let the lamb rest on a welled cutting board for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to migrate throught. If you carve too soon, the juices will simply exit the lamb leaving a much drier piece of meat. Slice the lamb across the grain and on the bias and fan them onto plates. Heat remaining marinade, discard the sliced ginger root, and drizzle over the lamb slices.

Serve with a Côtes du Rhone or a California old vine zinfandel

Sustainable Seafood

January 31, 2009

Sorry, another screed from the bully pulpit…

Fish is a high-protein, low fat food that provides a range of health benefits. In particular, white-flesh fish is lower in fat than any other source of animal protein, and oilier fish contain substantial quantities of omega-3, or the “good” fat in the human diet. A growing body of evidence indicates that omega-3 fatty acids help maintain cardiovascular health by playing a role in the regulation of blood clotting and vessel constriction.

In addition, fish does not contain those “naughty” omega-6 fatty acids lurking in red meat.

Despite their nutritional value, fish can pose considerable health risks when contaminated with substances such as metals—the most commonly discussed being mercury. Once mercury enters a waterway, naturally occurring bacteria absorb it and convert it to a form called methyl mercury. Unfortunately, humans absorb methyl mercury readily and are especially vulnerable to its effects. Because the poison is odorless, colorless and accumulates in the meat of the fish, it is not easy to detect and cannot be avoided by trimming off specific parts. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of manufactured organic chemicals that contain 209 individual chlorinated chemicals, known as congeners. Eating fish contaminated with mercury or PCBs, can adversely affect the brain and nervous system, causing serious health problems, especially for young children and pregnant women.

How do you select a fish?

Rule: Know thy local fishmonger or butcher. There is no excuse for timidity—his job (the one he is paid to do) is to serve you fresh fish, fowl and meat. Probing inquiry about his product is completely de rigeur, if not mandated; and a fishmonger or butcher who does not openly share his intimate knowledge with you is one to avoid. (I knew one.)

(1) “Flat” fish:
The shorter the “boat to plate time” the better; firm, shiny, bright colored flesh; fresh, mild, open ocean-sea breeze scent, not “fishy” or ammoniac; scales intact & even; clear, not cloudy eyes (except for deeper fish, e.g., grouper); bright pink or red gills, not slimy, dry or mucous covered; fillets & steaks should be moist and without discoloration.

(2) Shell fish (crustaceans & mollusks):
“Boat to plate time” again rules; mild, open ocean-sea breeze scent; Lobsters and crabs should be purchased live and as close to the time of cooking as possible. Both should actively move their claws; lobsters should flap their tails tightly against their chests or, when picked up, curl their tails under their shells. Shrimp should have uniform color and feel firm to the touch. Hard-shell clams, mussels, and oysters, purchased live in their shells, should have tightly closed shells or snap tightly closed when tapped. If they do not close when tapped, they are dead and should be discarded. Soft-shell clams are unable to close their shells completely. To determine if they are alive, gently touch the protruding neck of each clam to see if it will retract. If the neck does not retract slightly, discard the clam. Discard any clams, mussels, or oysters that have cracked or broken shells. Freshly shucked clams, sold in their liquor, should be plump, moist, and shiny. Freshly shucked oysters should be surrounded by a clear, slightly milky, white or light gray liquid. Freshly shucked scallops vary in color from creamy white to tan to a light pink color. Squid should have cream-colored skin with pinkish patches.

Rule: Keep in mind how the fish in our precious oceans are preciptiously vanishing…the numbers from studies are staggering. For instance, since 1950, the harvests from about one third of the world’s fisheries have collapsed to less than 10% of their historical highs. Among the culprits are overfishing, habitat damage, climate change, oxygen depletion and bycatch. So, solemnly chose a species which is relatively abundant, and whose fishing/farming methods are friendly to the seas and rivers. The fish should also be one which is commonly free of known toxins or contaminants…that is, not found in troubled waters.

Because of the number of fish involved and the ever changing populations, a well researched, almost indispensable, site which rates current seafood choices is the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch . Another equally informative site is Blue Ocean Institute, offering assessments and suggested better alternatives to fish in significant environmental danger. Both sources also offer seafood and sushi pocket guides to assure your restaurant choices include sustainable fish.

Finally, a new book entitled Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving The Oceans One Bite At A Time was released for publication last month which provides a comprehensive guide for conscientious sushi diners.

A Sermon: Shop Local

January 30, 2009

…as in, a long tedious speech, particularly on a moral issue. It may sound trite, but our individual ecological efforts, each and every day, week, and year will make a collective difference to our Earth—so we become part of the solution and not the problem. Like life, this Earth is not a dress rehearsal. So, both environmental and culinary reasons abound for shopping in your own backyard.

Our Daily Bread is now grown and processed in fewer and fewer locales, often requiring extensive travel to reach your table. Although this production method may prove more feasible for larger suppliers, it remains harmful to the environment, consumers and rural communities. In buying local, your community is supported and fresher product adorns your table.

Transit
The average grocery store shelves produce which often travels nearly 1,500 miles between farm to home, and some 40% of fruit is harvested overseas. Those plants, fruits, seeks, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves and flowers that now grace the table were former transients—over land, sea and air—-for as long as 7 to 14 days. Local victuals are usually savored soon after harvesting, requiring fewer preservatives or chemical ripening agents. The trip from farm to palate doesn’t extend for days or weeks.

Vast amounts of fossil fuels are expended to transport foodstuffs with the accompanying release of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other delightful pollutants—joining hands, nefariously wafting into the troposphere. As a necessary evil, processors use unfriendly paper and plastic packaging to stabilize food for longer periods. These wrappings wind their way into already congested, greenhouse gas spewing landfills.

Apart from the environmental harm that results from processing, packaging and transporting foods, the industrial produce and livestock farms and packing plants are themselves often the birthplace of air and water pollution.

Nutrition
Extended travel and storage often means lost nutrients—so choosing local, fresher products proves a healthier choice. Also, the preservatives necessary to stabilize foods during long trips are not always substances you may want to ingest as part of your meal.

Larger agribusiness farms also tend to use more pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones, all of which can be damaging to both the environment and human health. On the other hand, local foods from small farms—especially organics—usually use fewer pesticides and fertilizers, undergo minimal processing, are produced in relatively small quantities, as they are distributed within a few dozen miles of where they originated.

Community
According to the USDA, over five million farms in this country have disappeared in this country since 1935. Family farms are rapidly going out of business, not only causing rural communities to dissipate, but resulting in a loss of food quality. The U.S. loses two acres of farmland each minute as cities and suburbs spread into the surrounding communities. By supporting local farms near suburban areas and around cities, you help keep farmers on the land, and, at the same time, preserve open spaces to counteract the environmental downside of urban sprawl.

Labels
Beyond the local market issue, there are a number of other labels and designations to keep in mind, including organic, biodynamic, and sustainable. Organic food is regulated by the U.S.D.A. and must meet certain standards to be certified as such. While there is debate over the value of the U.S.D.A. organic label and how much it corresponds to the initial aims of sustainable architecture, you can usually assume that any food bearing the U.S.D.A. organic label is free from artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Biodynamic farming likewise avoids pesticides and fertilizers which renders a sustainable system in which everything on the farm is reused or recycled. There are a myriad of other words used to define sustainable agriculture, but in its basic form, it strives to sustain rather than degrade the environment while also being econonomically viable.

For a local market in your area: www.localharvest.org

Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of scented urine.
~James Joyce

There has been ongoing lively discourse over the comparative attributes of charcoal and gas grills. Now, debates have been emerging around the country about whether is is greener to grill over charcoal barbeques or on gas grills. Which patio toy produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions in the long run?

In an article published in the The New York Times, Tris West, an environmental scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, calculated emissions from the two grilling methods. He concluded that since charcoal is derived from wood products— trees that absorb atmospheric carbon as they grew — burning it on the grill approaches a “net zero” result in terms of carbon emissions. By comparison, gas grills use propane which is a fossil fuel that adds to greenhouse gas accumulations. However, West cautions that the polemics become a tad more complicated because burning charcoal may release particulates into the atmosphere.

The good news is that your choice won’t effect any significant change in mass carbon emissions. By West’s estimation, the total amount of carbon dioxide released from barbecue grills on July 4 is on the order of .003 percent of the annual U.S. total. Has the discussion now returned to its origins…an issue of flavors and scents?

I am Sam, Sam I Am

January 29, 2009

Do you like green eggs and ham? Would you like them here or there? … Would you like them in a house? on a train? in the rain? with a goat? on a boat? You may like them you will see…

P.S. to an earlier post about developments in the White House culinary staff (Obama Fare—Gratin Dauphinois).

Sam Kass, a private chef who cooked for the Obamas while they were living in Chicago, will now serve them in the White House.

A Chicago native, Mr. Kass, 28, graduated from the University of Chicago and received his formal training at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe. He later worked at Avec, a Chicago wine bar serving Mediterranean food.

Mr. Kass then founded Inevitable Table, a private chef service in the Windy City that purports to be a “link to clean, healthy food.” The services advertised include cooking and shopping “mainly from local farms,” buying wines from “small sustainable wineries,” and offering meals for children and private parties.

Not to worry White House executive chef, Cristeta Comerford—a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama said Mr. Kass will not be the only cook preparing the first family’s meals, but “he knows what they like and he happens to have a particular interest in healthy food and local food.”

Mr. Kass’s appointment again underscores the Obama family’s commitment to healthy, local and sustainable foodstuffs. Is an organic vegetable and herb garden on the White House grounds in the offing? Imagine the bounty from the White House kitchen waste alone which could reaped to create an official presidential compost bin. A science project for Malia or Sasha?

I do so like green eggs and ham, thank you, thank you, Sam I am…

GREEN EGGS AND HAM

Pesto

3 cups fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 C pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/3 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil into a food processor or blender. Blend in pulses until the paste is fairly smooth, adding more oil if it is too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; set aside.

Bruschetta & Proscuitto

1 loaf Tuscan bread or baguette
1 head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 thin slices of proscuitto di parma or san daniele del fruili
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat broiler, placing rack 6″ from the element

Slice the loaf of bread, on the bias, into 3/4-inch slices. Place bread in oven on sheet pan and broil until golden brown on both sides, approximately 2 minutes for the first side and 1 to 1 1/2 for second side. Remove to a platter and rub each slice of bread with the garlic and then brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; set aside.

Heat olive oil in skillet and sauté proscuitto briefly, 1-2 minutes.

Poached Eggs

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature
Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated or shaven

Fresh eggs are mandatory as they will gather compactly around the yolk, resulting in a rounder, neater shape.

Fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure they are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex, whirlpool. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

To assemble: put a slice of bruschetta on a plate, toppped by a slice of crisp proscuitto; then place 2 poached eggs on top. Spoon a tablespoon of pesto over each egg. Finish with grated or thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

*Free range, organic eggs: Organic eggs are produced from hens that consume a special feed in which all of the ingredients are free from commercial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Free range chickens usually have a covered shelter and access to an outside scratch yard. They are pasture-fed, also foraging for worms and bugs, which are ideal for their health and immunity systems.

…I do, I like them, Sam I am.