Early Spring Soup, based on Kesakeitto

March 27th, 2013

 

This is a reprint of a recipe I love.  It looks like a painting and tastes like a spring garden.  Based on a Finnish recipe called Kesakeitto, or Finnish Summer Soup, this is a small mound of the most delicate spring vegetables pooled in a broth of hot, fresh milk, garnished with smoked salmon and peas.  My version of the dish crosses the Atlantic and backs up a season; I call it “Early Spring Soup in New England.”

 

Small parsnips, baby turnips, tiny yellow beets, broccoli florets, the tiniest baby potatoes, and a dice of carrots, all cooked quickly in boiling salted water, mound in the center of each bowl.

I looked for the best vegetables I could find.  I chopped the larger vegetables like parsnips and carrots, still looking for the smallest versions of them, into a tiny dice.  If a beet or turnip was small enough, I sliced them into rounds.   Along with a variety of vegetables, I wanted a variety of shapes, not just a pile of diced Birds Eye veggies.  The only vegetable I kept whole were the tiny potatoes.

I found a treasure of root vegetables at a Winter Farmer’s Market, but if seeking freshly dug produce isn’t on your to-do list this week, a keen eye at the grocery store will allow you a beautiful palette in your bowl, and probably a delicious one.

All the vegetables are cooked in boiling, salted water, beginning with the vegetables that make take the longest, (in my case it was the potatoes,) to the vegetables that will cook the fastest, using your judgement.  My order went like this:  potatoes cooked for two minutes, then I added the diced parsnip and carrots, then the beets and turnips, then the broccoli.

Half the deliciousness of this soup is the milk broth, simply the freshest, best milk you can find heated with a tiny bit of sugar and flour, and poured hot over the vegetables.  The thirty-eight Jersey cows at Appleton Farms in Ipswich can take a bow here.

I slit open a few snap peas, and saved the tiny beads inside for a garnish, along with some thinly sliced radishes, and fresh dill.  Rosy chunks of smoked salmon crumbled over the top.  I prefer the hot-smoked chunky kind for this, and used the locally cured Sasquatch smoked salmon available at Willowrest in Gloucester, but Steve Connolly also sells excellent hot-smoked salmon.

 

 

Early Spring Soup, based on the Finnish Kesakeitto

 

serves 6-8

Ingredients

4 cups organic whole milk, preferably local

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1 tablespoon for the vegetables

8 cups of tiny, fresh vegetables:  broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, new potatoes, zucchini, carrot, onion, asparagus tips, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, fennel, radishes,  and especially peas

water to cover

for the garnish:

1/2 pound hot-smoked salmon

fresh radishes, thinly sliced

fresh peas, or the tiny peas from inside 4-5 snap peas

fresh dill, chopped

fresh pepper, use white pepper if you want to retain the whiteness of the milk

 

Instructions

In a large saucepan stir together the sugar, flour and salt.  Slowly at first, stirring to blend, add the milk.  Whisk until mixture is smooth.  Gently heat the milk, whisking it occasionally to keep the flour from cooking on the bottom of the pan. Do not let it boil.

In a separate large pot, bring the salted water to a boil.

Prep the vegetables, peeling the potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips to keep them tender, and cutting all into roughly equivalent size.

When the water boils, drop in the vegetables that will take the longest to cook, like the potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, and then add the lighter vegetables like radishes, peas, and broccoli.  Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon or sieve, and distribute them evenly into heated bowls.  Pour the hot milk over the vegetables but not to cover.  Allow the vegetables to rise attractively in a mound out of the milk.

Crumble the smoked salmon over the top, and garnish with radish, peas, and dill.  Grind some pepper over all, and serve immediately.

 

Summer Means Whiting in Ipswich Bay

July 21st, 2016

 steamer

 

Many people reading this blog will say whiting is old news. And it is; the whiting fishery in Gloucester was once so important that many families made a living fishing nothing but Gulf of Maine shrimp in the winter and whiting in the summer. They didn’t even bother with ground fish; shrimp and whiting provided a comfortable enough living for a fisherman’s family. Gloucester whiting went directly to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City, where vendors from New York and Philadelphia purchased almost all of it. Jewish cultures smoke it and serve it with bagels; the Spanish split it, grill it, and drizzle it with olive oil. In Sicily whiting is considered a definitive delicacy and sells for many euros a pound.

I spoke to Gloucester fisherman Al Cottone, Executive Director Gloucester Fisheries Commission, at the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives offices after his fourth day fishing for whiting. A strapping, dark-haired 50 years old, Cottone confessed he was beat. He’s not used to the unrelenting action fishing for whiting demands anymore.
Cottone has been fishing since he was 17, and has never had any other kind of work. But his ground fish quota this year, allocated by NOAA, was pared down to almost nothing: Cottone is allowed to catch 1,800 pounds of cod, 2,800 pounds of dabs, 3,000 pounds of grey sole, and 2,400 pounds of yellow tail flounder for the year. He has been ground fishing two times since the season began, when the allocations were announced in early March. In just two “tows,” meaning two drops of the net – that means ground fishing for four hours in total – he landed 700 pounds of grey sole, 600 pounds of dabs, and 300 pounds of yellow tail. In four hours of fishing he landed 1/4 of his quota for the year.

This means two things: Cottone cannot catch enough fish to make a living, unless he begins leasing quota from other fishermen, which has added costs. (Cottone says that many fishermen are so fed up, or they are just leasing their allocated quota to the few fishermen left, and finding other work.) It also means Cottone is out of shape; he just hasn’t had enough fishing practice recently.
But Cottone loves fishing for whiting.

“I fell in love with it immediately. Fishing for whiting is constant work; it’s constant action. You’re moving constantly, fishing the whole time. There’s no time to eat, no time to do anything, and you fish everyday.”

Ground fishing is long tows that take a couple of hours each. Fishing for whiting means short tows that take an hour at most. As soon as the catch is landed on the deck the other partner begins sorting the catch, while the net goes down again. Whiting fishing requires two men, one to run the boat and tows, the other to sort the catch. Most ground fishing these days is done solo, a particularly dangerous situation.
Cottone fished for whiting on the FV Razzo with Captain Joe Randazzo for four days. They did three tows, and landed 6,000 pounds the first day, 7,500 the second, and 6,000 the third, Thursday, the last day, rough seas limited the catch to 4,500 pounds. NOAA allows 7,500 pounds of whiting per day per boat. Ipswich Bay, where Cottone was fishing, is teaming with whiting.

The whiting first show up in the middle of June. Cottone says he doesn’t know where they come from. When they disappear in October, they are gone – just gone – until the following June.

“When I started fishing,” Cottone said, “we would only fish for ground fish in the spring. We fished whiting from June to November, and Gulf of Maine shrimp all winter. Now the shrimp fishery is gone.”

And whiting in Gloucester is news again. When the Fulton Fish Market in New York closed down in its old site, the Gloucester whiting market lost its market, and the fishery faded away. Now, with the ground fish quota so spare, and the whiting fishery so healthy, fishermen are pairing up to go for whiting again.
But it’s a grind, Cottone reminds. And most of the fishermen left, the ones who just can’t stop fishing, are not young. With all the ground fish conflicts and closures of the last twenty years, a generation has been lost. John Sanfilippo, 70, and his brother-in-law Joe Orlando, 62, are the ones out there in Ipswich Bay beside the “Razzo,” dropping nets and sorting fish on the FV San Pio.

Captain Joe Orlando

John Sanfilippo on boat

 

“I don’t know how they do it,” Cottone says.

 

Whiting are sorted in three sizes, small, large and king, the last of which are usually more valuable.

sorting the catch

king whiting

 

Maybe it is the light texture and super-mild flavor, but Italians consider whiting health food. One Gloucester fisherman’s wife even believed it should be sold commercially as baby food. In the past month I have poached it in an infused olive oil, and served it over crispy paella. I have fried it so the skin is very crispy and served it with a fermented sofrito sauce. I have dusted it in flour, fried it, and served it with the cool, spicy Portuguese molho vilhao sauce – lots of diced raw onion, chilis and white vinegar. I have dipped it in vodka, rolled it in cornstarch and flour, and fried it to super-crispy. I served that with a black garlic, hoisin style sauce. I also prepared a winning recipe for whiting from a seafood throw down last season, Common Crow chefs’ recipe for whiting in lettuce cups with rice noodles and peanut sauce.

Danielle Glantz, from Pasta via Corta, the new cheese and pasta shop in Gloucester, gave me a recipe for steaming it in grape leaves, and serving the whiting with a lemon and olive-cured black olive salsa. Angela Sanfilippo would say that fresh whiting is so delicate and delicious that doing the least to it is the best way: dust small whiting lightly in flour and fry them or steam them and dress with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Maybe garlic.  Versatility, thy name is “whiting.”

simple fried whiting

crispy fried whiting

But here’s the thing. Currently, New York is the only market receiving whiting. I wrote this blog in the first week of July. This week, July 11th, Joe Orlando was heading out fishing and the New York market called him to say, “don’t go.” The whiting market was flooded, and the price was down to pennies. So the boats returned to the dock, while people in Gloucester who would love this fresh, seasonal catch, can’t get it. These are the complex vagaries of the fishing industry today.

But I am going to leave you with the Rung McLean’s recipe for Thai Fish Cups.  Chefs Rung McClean and Mark Delaney of the Common Crow Natural Food Market, Gloucester, MA, took home the seafood throw down win with this ravishing Thai inspired dish: steamed delicate whiting, a nest of rice noodles, nestle into a burst of Boston lettuce leaves. A sweet-hot Thai chili-peanut dressing is spooned over the fish, and a cool watermelon/fennel salad, dressed in a purple-basil vinegar dressing, is spooned beside.

McClean wrapped the whole whiting in foil, and steamed it while she prepped the sauce, noodles, and greens. Any small to medium whole white fish could be used the same way, like pollock, haddock, hake or even halibut.  This is a light, fresh recipe that uses a lot of local produce, and it includes all the flavors no one can refuse.  As watermelon comes into the markets, the salad alone is great recipe to have on hand.

 

Thai Whiting Cups

Thai Fish Cups
prepared at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market Seafood Throwdown, August, 2015
Serves 6

For the Fish:
2 whole king whiting, or 3-4 pounds other whole fish or 2-3 pounds fillets (If you can find medium-sized whole fish that’s great.  But you can steam fillets in the foil also.)
olive oil for rubbing
salt and pepper
6 fennel fronds

For the sauce:
6 Thai chilies, seeds and ribs removed, diced small
2 red bell peppers diced small
5 cloves of garlic crushed, and made into a paste
11/2 cups sugar
11/2 cups rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup crushed peanuts

For the salad:
2 tablespoons purple basil vinegar (or herb vinegar of your choice)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 large fennel bulb thinly sliced
1 seedless watermelon either red or yellow diced small
1 lb. arugula

1/2 pound white rice noodles or brown rice vermicelli

1 fluffy head Boston Lettuce
1 bunch Thai Basil
1 bunch cilantro
For the fish:
1. Rinse and scale the whole whiting. Lightly score both sides. Rub both sides and cavity with olive oil, salt and pepper. In the cavity place fennel fronds. Loosely wrap fish in tin foil, almost tent-like, so the fish will steam inside the foil (- much like fish cooked in parchment paper en papillote style). Place foil package over a medium-high grill or place in a 400 degree oven. Roast for 20 minutes, or peek, opening up the foil, and checking to see that the meat is cooked through completely. If done, open foil package to stop the steaming, and allow the fish to cool slightly. When ready to serve, take forks and pull away large chunks of fish, discarding the skin. Set 2-3 large chunks (about 1/4 pound in total) upon the lettuce leaves, and continue with the plate.

For the sauce:
1. In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and reserve.

For the salad:
1. Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a glass measuring cup. Toss fennel, watermelon and arugula together in a large bowl, and coat lightly with vinaigrette.

For the Noodles:
Prepare as directed on package. Rinse, and set aside.

Garnish:
1 bunch Thai Basil
1 bunch cilantro

To Assemble the Dish:
1. Place a large Boston lettuce leaf or two on each plate. Set on that a portion of cooked rice noodles, a portion of steamed fish, draping all in the sauce. Place a portion of the watermelon/fennel/arugula salad beside the greens, and garnish with a few basil and cilantro leaves and a pinch more of the crushed peanuts.

Gloucester Fisherman’s Wife Seafood Casserole

July 3rd, 2016

GFWA cass

 

The fishing industry today has copious layers obscuring its comprehension (which some people view as intentional; if no one understands what’s going on, they can’t protest the regulations), starting with quotas and ending in catch shares. Fishing policy is byzantine and often seems contradictory, resulting in a cloud of thought hovering over the average consumer’s brain that looks like this at the fish counter:

I should eat fish because it’s good for me, but local fish is so expensive. But everyone says I shouldn’t eat cheap imported fish. But there are fish, specifically wild salmon, on the USDA food pyramid. The USDA is telling me to eat more fish, at the same time the government tells me that the fishing industry is dying. All kinds of people say that salmon is packed with omega 3‘s, and I should be eating lots of it. But not farmed salmon. Is salmon not fish?!

Leaving a salmon discussion out of it for now, no one understands anymore what fish to eat, or who are the good and bad guys in the fishing story. Sadly, since the 1990’s, the narrative being told throughout the media was so simple a kindergartner could understand it: the fishermen fish too much, and that’s why there are no fish left.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently held a two day workshop in Gloucester, a workshop called “Local Food Local Places,” created to help cities improve their local food systems. Historically Gloucester’s most important local food, fish, headlined the conversation. The participants at the workshop struggled to chart ideas for innovating the local fishing market in Gloucester. Those ideas will result in a report that Jason Espie, who directed the workshop on behalf of the EPA, will create. That report will be delivered to the White House.

Just weeks before St. Peter’s Festival and the blessing of the fleet, the fishermen in attendance at the workshop looked tired and depressed, as if they had seen all this before. They had attended too many meetings and tried to fight too many losing battles, and were still being defeated by government policies based on that much too simple, way too consumable tale: fishermen fish too much, and are destroying the ocean.

At the workshop, describing this battle to the other attendants, fisherman Joe Orlando told the story of how his own daughter once came home from Gloucester elementary school crying, accusing her father, who comes from generations of fishermen, of destroying the ocean. Again, a story so simple a kindergartner can understand it.  David Pierce, then Director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, had asked a room full of Gloucester school children how many believed over-fishing had destroyed the ocean; 90% of the children raised their hands.

Angela Sanfilippo, the daughter of a fishermen, the wife of a fisherman, and Joe Orlando’s sister, also participated in the EPA workshop.  Sanfilippo has been the outspoken and influential president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association since 1977. From the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association Cookbook, written by Susan Pollack, here is a list of what Sanfilippo had accomplished by the time the book was published in 2010:

“On Angela’s watch, among other accomplishment, the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association has helped bring about improved safety standards on US vessels, the end of ocean dumping, a ban on destructive factory trawlers, the first subsidized health plan for fishermen (upon which the Affordable Care Act was based), and a marine sanctuary at Stellwagen Bank.”

This is just the beginning of a long, rich story that disproves the short narrative about which those school children were surveyed.

I recently heard another daughter of a commercial fishermen, Emily Peterson of the podcast Sharp & Hot, say, “ like any other species, the best way to keep fish alive is to harvest and eat them.”

It is possible, as Angela SanFilippo is proving, to be a fishermen and the ocean’s best partner.

Watch for actions that resulted from the Local Food-Local Places workshop soon, but in the meantime, seek out local fish in the market, demand local fish at your favorite restaurant – even if it does cost a little more. You will be reminded of what honestly fresh fish tastes like and you will be rewarded in deliciousness; you will ask why you ever settled for “refreshed” (read: frozen) imported fish.

Lastly, greet your local fishermen with kindness, and stop accepting that suspiciously simplistic fish tale.

Here is a rich, delicious recipe from Angela; make it if you can with local lobster and scallops. If you can’t find USA wild caught shrimp, which I have been able to purchase frozen in Stop & Shop, simply omit the shrimp and make this with equal parts lobster and scallops; it’s even better that way. This recipe is also delicious, Angela says, made with monkfish cut into 1” chunks. Don’t scream, but I have been cooking with sea robin fillets recently, a fish the French feature in their most traditional bouillabaisse. They would be great here, as would layered dabs or flounder.

cass on table

Fishermen’s Wives Seafood Casserole

serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter + butter to rub in the dish

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh red chile (or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)

1/2 -3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

pinch of salt

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes

1/2 can (14 ounces) crushed tomatoes

1 1/2 cups plain breadcrumbs (or Panko)

1 cup grated Romano cheese

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound fresh lobster meat (cooked)

3/4 pound raw scallops, rinsed, patted dry, and halved if very large

3/4 pound cooked shrimp, halved if large, preferably wild caught in the USA

Instructions:

  1.  Rub a medium size, approximately 2 quart, glass or ceramic baking dish generously with butter. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Heat a large saute pan to medium heat, and add olive oil and butter. When butter is melted, add onion and cook until almost transparent, about 10 minutes. (Lower heat if onion is browning too quickly.) Add garlic, and cook for 5 more minutes. Add chiles, parsley and salt, and cook until onions begin to brown. Add tomatoes and let the dish cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until the tomatoes have lost their raw taste.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix together the breadcrumbs, cheese, and black pepper. In a separate bowl toss the seafood together. When the tomatoes mixture is cooked, add the breadcrumbs into the pan and gently stir together. The mixture will thicken. Toss that into the seafood bowl, and combine all together well. (Use your hands if that works best. The mixture will be stiff.) Pour into the prepared dish, distributing evenly. Pat down to even out the top as best you can. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling at the edges and bits on the top are slightly browned. This dish is actually a little more flavorful when allowed to cool slightly.

Rockport’s Midsommar Festival!

June 17th, 2016

swedish-midsummer

The Annual Midsommar Festival is being held by Spiran Lodge #98 on Saturday, June 25 from 11 AM to 2 PM at Spiran Hall at the corner of Broadway and School St. in Rockport.  Nisu and scandinavian pasteries, Swedish meatballs, strawberries and cream, hot dogs and Swedish hamburgers, and Scandinavian gifts will be available.  Entertainment will be provided by the Finnish folk singing group HYVAA.  Come and enjoy a taste of Nordic culture to start summer 2016.

This photo is Sweden, not Rockport, but you get the idea.

The Best Bacon.

June 17th, 2016

BLT salad

 

Make Dad the best bacon in the world for breakfast.  Or make him the best BLT, or if he’s skipping carbs make this BLT Salad draped in homemade blue cheese dressing.: all-natural, no nitrate, chemical free, hand rubbed, applewood smoked from Pennsylvania Amish pigs, created by a guy from New Jersey who grew up kosher.

He’s participated on Chopped. He is a savant with flavors, and has developed his own line of rubs that are nothing short of molecular gastronomy. Jewish kosher thing aside, (and it IS aside!) no one – NO ONE – is as passionate about bacon and grilling meat than Doug Keiles.

A Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned team, he and his crew (which sometimes includes local darling Laurie Lufkin!) travel on weekends to super-charged barbecue competitions and firey catering gigs, where he makes people very, very happy. In June, the team came in 3rd and 4th overall in the first three of the season’s Kansas City Barbecue Competitions in Staten Island, Ridgefield, CT., and Green Lane, PA., taking home the blue ribbon for pork in Green Lane.

Ribs Within bacon is exactly balanced – again, that molecular gastronomy strength Keiles intuitively has.  The beautiful Amish-raised meat flavor is entirely present; it tastes partnered with salt, sweet and smokey, not consumed by it.  This is the blue ribbon, the ultimate, the gold standard of bacon.  Dad’s eggs might be embarrassed beside it.

Since I am late in posting this, you probably won’t receive your bacon by Father’s Day, but don’t let that stop you. If yours is a bacon household, run don’t walk to Ribs Witihin.

Ribs Within

To order, and find out more go here:  http://www.ribswithin.com/

Rhubarb Cocktail, MV

May 25th, 2016

Rum Cocktail-10480

photo by Allan Penn

 

It is hard to find glamour in rhubarb. New Englanders desperate for spring tramp across mud-covered fields with a sharp knife in their pocket, ready to cut stalks from the domes of pan-sized leaves at the edge of the yard. They collect the ruby stalks so happy to have a harvest that isn’t a root, that bears the tang and juice of freshness, that no one cares at first how much sugar it takes to bribe the chopped pieces into being dessert.

In the beginning, we’re so happy for spring tastes that we don’t even make pie; we stop at rhubarb compote, yes with lots of brown sugar, topped with ice cream, cream or even just yogurt.

But, later, as spring days honestly warm, and seep into summer, the rhubarbs stalks mean more than winter’s release. They’re appreciated again for the uniqueness and strength of their tang. Come June, we get a little free and easy with our rhubarb; it becomes strawberry rhubarb pie, rhubarb upside down cake, and, in this case, a wonderful spring cocktail, recipe from The Malkins of Martha’s Vineyard: rhubarb getting glamourous.  – reprinted from my book, “In Cod We Trust, from sea to shore, the celebrated cuisine of coastal Massachusetts.”

Make the rhubarb syrup

Ingredients

8-10 rhubarb stalks

1/2 – 3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon, or to taste, grated fresh ginger

1” water, or to cover

Instructions

  1.  Chop rhubarb stalks into 1″ pieces and place in saucepan.  Add sugar (use more rather than less as you can always add more sugar at any point in time while it is cooking).  It should be sweet, but not overpoweringly so.  Taste as you go, so you can see if you like the sweetness.  You don’t really want to taste the original tartness of the rhubarb.
  2. You can add fresh grated ginger if you want at this point.  Less ginger for a hint – more to give it a peppery kick. Add water – enough to more than wet the bottom of the pan; say an inch or so. The rhubarb will produce a large amount of liquid, so a lot of water isn’t necessary.  The only downside of adding too much water is that the syrup will be somewhat diluted,though still tasty.  Plus, if the brew is looking too thick and jammy, you can add water during the stewing.  Cook on the stove top on medium low for approximately 20 mins. When the mixture is completely soft and the rhubarb pieces have lost all of their shape, remove from the burner.
  3. Once cool, push through a fine sieve with the back of a wooden spoon or a rubber scraper/spatula to extract as much of the liquid as possible.  It should be very syrupy – roughly the consistency of maple syrup.  It may be kind of frothy.  This is fine. Store in a container in the refrigerator. It should keep a few weeks.
  4. To make the cocktail: Ingredients 2 ounces rhubarb syrup (above) 1 – 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 1 1/2 ounces rum several ice cubes Instructions 1. Pour into a shaker syrup, lime juice, rum and ice cubes.  Shake well and strain/pour.  Garnish with fresh mint and/or a lime slice .  Makes 1 cocktail.

Calamari Season!

May 19th, 2016

dirty squid

 

While woody Chilean strawberries continue to mock the seasons from their shelves in large chain grocery stores, more and more farmers are tilling local soil. More and more farmers’ markets are setting up on town greens and in parking lots allowing us to purchase local, seasonal food. Our children know better when and how strawberries grow. The principle of eating from the calendar, eating seasonal local foods, has thankfully, at least in some communities, survived big supermarket’s grip.

Not so much for fish.

Rarely anymore does a fish market or the fish counter of a grocery store reflect what is seasonal and local. Most fish markets fill their cases with haddock, cod, Chilean sea bass, tuna, swordfish, and some shrimp and oysters all year long. Almost never do we feel either the absence of a fish out of season or the arrival of a fish in season because there is always Norway, Iceland, and Southeast Asia to fill the gaps. The local food movement is leagues ahead of the fish local movement, but the same principles apply.

Enough preaching. Here is a great local catch we should all be eating right now!

Late April – early May is squid season, as regular as lilacs. New England fishermen say that when the buds pop out on the trees the squid “come in,” and all the fish follow. Longfin Inshore Squid, or Doryteuthis pealeii, also known as Loligo pealeii, spend their winters in deeper waters along the edge of the Continental Shelf. Their arrival inshore – they come to spawn – marks the start of spring for those living close to the Nantucket Sound waters. For the fishermen, the squid are like the gunshot in the air declaring the start of the year’s fishing season.

Jared Auerbach, CEO and owner of Red’s Best Fish Distributors, said that all the Cape Cod fishermen he dealt with are landing squid right now. If they aren’t landing squid they are landing fluke with bellies and mouths full of squid.

“This is a sweet time; everything is coming in from off shore or coming North. The water temperatures are up. The boats area all in Nantucket Sound, because the squid have arrived there,” and with them everything else.

All winter the fishing in Nantucket Sound has been punctual but not thrilling. The squid return every year to these waters to spawn, and every year the fish follow.

“From late April, early May to December we are shining!” Auerbach grins. And it’s dramatic:

“The squid light up and change colors in the water,” Auerbach said, “when they attack they are vicious! They come on deck and squirt you with ink, and I mean, they attack!”

After squid spawn, they return to deeper waters, retreating from the paths of rapacious striped bass and bluefish; almost all New England fish consider squid a favorite meal.  People say the best tasting squid are the ones in Nantucket Sound and particularly off Point Judith, R.I., because they’ve been feeding on fish that have been eating blue-green algae, which sweetens everything.

The best testament to squid deliciousness comes from the chef/owner of the Italian restaurant Erbaluce in the Back Bay, Charles Draghi. Draghi, who has a classical chef’s training, still approaches cuisine with the Old World Italian ways of his Peidmontese relatives; he sources produce almost exclusively from local farms and farmers markets, and calls his fishermen friends each morning to ask what they’re catching.

At a recent Seafood Throwdown Draghi seared local squid rings and tentacles in a hot pan, and then tossed them in a black olive, saffron and fresh herb sauce. Praising the flavor therein, Draghi said, “you know squid are delicious because they are the absolute favorite food of striped bass, and stripers have their choice of anything in the sea!”

My squid came from the FV Rimrack out of Portsmouth, NH.  Fisherwoman Amanda Parks met me in a Portsmouth parking lot with 60 pounds of freshly caught squid destined for a bunch of happy Cape Ann kitchens.  Parks was as happy about the squid season as Auerbach, and had already created a bunch of squid recipes right on the boat.

The recipe below is meant to be a super-quick way to tuck calamari into a dish that everyone loves: tacos. The mild, sweet taste of calamari welcomes the strong flavors of chilis and lime. Add some cool slaw and a toasted corn tortilla and this is an easy, light, and unusual vehicle for this great local seafood.

squid tacos 2

 

Chili Lime Calamari Tacos

2 pounds cleaned squid, bodies cut into 3/4” widths and tentacles

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for cooking the squid)

3 tablespoons minced garlic zest from

3 limes

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or kosher)

4 cups shredded cabbage (a mix of purple and green is ideal)

1 cup cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon diced jalapeno

juice from 3 limes (about 3 tablespoons)

16 small corn tortillas

1 medium avocado, halved and cut into thin slices

sea salt more

chili powder for dusting

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl toss together squid, olive oil, garlic, lime zest, red pepper flakes, chili powder, cayenne, and sea salt. Let sit for at least 15 minutes, but no more than 1 hour.
  2. In a separate large bowl toss together the cabbage, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime juice. Let sit for at least 15 minutes, or up to an hour.
  3. When ready to prepare the tacos, begin warming the tortillas: Preheat oven to “warm” or lowest temperature.  Lay out a clean dish towel in which to wrap the heated tortillas. Set out a bowl of water.
  4. Heat a large skillet to medium high. Add a shimmer of olive oil.
  5. Dip each tortilla in the water and then immediately into the hot pan. Allow them to get hot, and brown, and then turn over. Let cook 1 minute, and then remove to the dish towel.
  6. Wrap them, place them in the oven, and continue with the rest. Keep warm until the squid is ready.
  7. To cook the squid, heat a pan that will hold them in a single layer, or use two pans, to high heat. Pour a shimmer of olive oil in the pan, and heat to high. Add the squid in one layer, and do not touch! Let the squid sit in the pan on high heat for about 1 1/2 minutes. Once they squid has solid brown marks, move them gently in the pan, turning to brown the other sides.
  8. Cook like this for 3-5 minutes, but no more, until the squid are sort of scorched in places, cooked through, but not tough. The garlic may scorch in the pan by the end, but just leave that there. It has done its job of seasoning the squid.
  9. To assemble the taco, lay out a tortilla, top with a scoop of cole slaw, and then 4-5 pieces of squid. Lay a slice of avocado over the squid, and dust with salt and chili powder. Serve immediately.

Cloumage Coffee Cake

May 12th, 2016

 

Cloumage Cake photo Allen Penn

photo by Allan Penn

(Reprinted from “In Cod We Trust”)

Shy Brothers Farm The long gray dairy barn sits atop Sherman Hill in Westport, MA; the Santos Family cows – Holsteins and Ayrshires – roam in pastures all around. The 120 cow herd can stand chewing their cud looking in the distance to the West Branch of the Westport River. Too far to see but close enough to feel its breezes and be stopped by its salt-tinged fog, the East Branch of the Westport River juts northward into a pastured and stonewall-laced landscape east of the Santos Dairy Barn, also known as Shy Brothers Farm.

From this windy crest of hill, where the Santos family has been milking their cows for three generations, Main Rd. runs south quickly. In less than three miles the elevation drops from 2000 feet above sea level to 200 feet at Westport Point, where those two river branches meet. Just across Westport Harbor is Horseneck Beach State Reservation.

Westport, Massachusetts is 64 square miles in total, and one fifth of those miles is water. A town that seems to be nothing but pasture land threaded with salt water estuaries, Westport was once the dairy farming center of Massachusetts, a bucolic combination of sea breezes and sweet grasses; cows loved Westport and proved it with a plentiful flow of high-quality milk. As recently as the year 2000 there were still fourteen dairy farms trucking milk out of Westport; now there are two.

This is the story of how the Santos family reinvented themselves to become Shy Brothers Farm, a third-generation Westport milk-producer turned maker of award-winning cheeses, now with a Whole Foods contract. And, yet, they are still the Santos family – two sets of twin brothers, one set 52 years old, the other just turned 50, who mostly want to do what they’ve been doing since they were kids. Norman milks the cows. Arthur feeds them. Kevin runs the machinery, and now Karl, who is famous for fact-keeping, makes the cheese.

Barbara Hanley, a friend who was brought in to consult the brothers on how to not be one more failed Westport dairy farm, helped them make the transition from dairy to cheese. She and Karl traveled to Burgundy, France together in 2006, looking for a cheese style that would suit the Santos dairy. Hannahbells, named for Hannah, the boys mother, is a small thimble-shaped or bell-shaped soft cheese made with fresh Shy Brothers cows milk and lactic bacteria. In Burgundy they are called “buttones de culottes” or “trouser buttons.” Hannahbells are soft, mellow and come in shallot, lavender, rosemary, and classic French flavors. Small enough to put four of them, quickly warmed in the oven, on top of a frisee salad with toasted walnuts for one person’s luscious salad, Hannahbells win the “Dainty doesn’t Mean Dull” award for cheeses; these little thimbles may be adorable, but the flavor they deliver is old world aged, the perfect bite with an aperitif.

Cloumage is a creamy cheese that comes in a tub, to start. It has the texture of baked ricotta, but with the yeast of champagne and acidic tang that makes it a superpower in the kitchen. Cloumage is eaten straight, with almost anything from fresh pears to roasted peppers or simply strewn with fresh chives. It can bind lobster; it can stuff a pepper, rise in a soufflee, even bake into a luxurious coffee cake. Some Westport chefs say they have yet to find a place in the kitchen that Cloumage doesn’t improve.

Where there is sour cream, cream cheese, ricotta, or creme fraiche substitute Cloumage, and that dish will always be better. As the cheese making began to grow, and Hanley began to give presentations about the farm, people at an event would ask, “where are these brothers; can we meet them?” Hanley would confess, “well, they are shy.” And so the dairy has been famously – and honestly – renamed, “Shy Brothers Farm.”

Hanley gave me a tour of the cheese making operation and then took me to see the family farm, the dairy barn, and to meet the cows. Hanley pointed to a small house where Arthur and Norman live next door. I asked how they felt about the contract with Whole Foods, and about all the excitement buzzing among chefs using the Shy Brothers cheeses; Hanley paused for a second, and then said, “I don’t think they even know; all those boys want to do is take care of the cows, they way they have all their lives.”

Katie’s Cloumage Coffee Cake

serves 10

Katie Martin is Karl Santos’ cheese making assistant; a single mother of five, Katie is Shy Brothers Cheese’s fiercest defender. (Just try to mention another cheese-maker in the hallowed Cloumage and Hannahbell-making room!) Martin loves proving the superpowers of Cloumage; the cheese could become famous if only for this outrageously moist and tangy Cloumage Coffee Cake.

Ingredients

Layer Mixture:

3/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 cup walnuts

Cake Batter: 16 oz Cloumage

1 cup sugar

2 sticks butter, softened

2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 10″ bundt pan with vegetables oil.

Mix sugar and cinnamon together well, then stir in walnuts to evenly distribute.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer on medium speed combine Cloumage, sugar, and butter.  Then add vanilla and eggs. In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the Cloumage mixture to make the cake batter.  Stir gently just to combine.

Place 1/3 of the cake batter in the Bundt pan.  Layer with 1/2 of the nut mixture. Then repeat until you have three layers of batter and two of crumb mixture. Bake for an hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before inverting.

Le Cirque’s Pasta Primavera

May 6th, 2016

pasta primavera

Le Cirque’s Pasta Primavera

In May, 2012, Bon Appetit Magazine invited readers to request recipes from magazine issues “pre-internet,” in other words, readers could ask for un-google-able recipes printed before there was an internet to post upon or search. By far THE most popular recipe, the recipe that overwhelmed Bon Appetit with requests was Pasta Primavera, published in 1979. Who knew?

Pasta Primavera is a strange emblem of Italian food’s sometimes quiet, sometimes brassy, sometimes crooked march into the mainstream American kitchen. Created in the U.S., Pasta Primavera (which means spring in Italian) isn’t Primavera at all. Half the ingredient list says spring or at least close – baby peas, asparagus, parsley – but the other half says summer – – broccoli, zucchini, and tomatoes. So, it’s name alone is an issue, but now too famous to resolve.

For centuries Italians have made an art of coupling pasta shapes with sauces, the architecture of a pasta specifically supporting a sauce with complementing elements. The engineering to a bowl of macaroni with peas, ham, and cream, for instance, is poetry, an efficient use of the exact right ingredients – the sweet peas, the salty ham. The cream is the vehicle that transports all over the pasta, the macaroni acting like hundreds of little bowls to hold the peas so they don’t roll away.

In Pasta Primavera, the vegetables are steamed, and then swirled together in a shallow skillet with cream, Parmigiana Reggiano, and fresh basil. The cooked spaghetti is added into the pan, but physics will not allow those chunks of broccoli and straight-edged zucchini to cling to a strand of spaghetti, no matter how velvety the sauce. The dish often looks like a small garden sprouting from the top of a mound of pasta, the vegetables an accessory at best, if not excluded altogether from the strands of cheesy deliciousness. And yet, there is much to adore about this dish, created by one of the world’s most charming Italians.

Pasta Primavera SAID “1979,” maybe because it was about America STILL getting everything wrong about Italian food. And yet, it was created by an Italian – an Italian immigrant who left his impoverished country, like so many southern Italian immigrants, a very young man full of hopes. Siro Maccioni worked on cruise ships which took him around the world, and then to New York in 1956. His good looks, and quickly acquired polish sent him straight up the ranks of fine NY restaurants. By 1973 he was opening his own dining room, which was, of necessity, French/Contintental. Fine dining in those years was being created by toqued chefs named Pierre and Jaques. Italian food, which was really Italian-American food, nothing like what Maccioni or any of the immigrants had eaten at home, had caught on, but mostly by bohemians and artists. Italian-American food was what was being served in tiny places with cheap red-checked tablecloths. The Chianti poured quickly; the cliche was the reality in those years.

Sirio Maccioni, the immigrant of our Primavera story, missed the beautiful basics of his home cuisine, but was sure that the rich and famous, the clientele he had befriended at The Colony Restaurant, needed veloute, foie gras and caviar. So, with French chef Jean Vergnes, Maccioni opened Le Cirque, which was to become the most famous and sought after reservation in the country. Richard Nixon, Bill Blass, Paloma Picasso, Woody Allen, Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti all made Le Cirque a habit. The restaurant also launched a fleet of chef careers like Daniel Boulud to David Bouley.

Before I discuss how this great French/Continental New York Restaurant came to be synonymous with Pasta Primavera, let me give a little background on what had happened to Italian cooking when those immigrants first started arriving on U.S. shores around the turn of the 19th century.

John Mariani*, in his facscinating book How Italian Food Conquered the World, explores this in detail. Here’s a fact to start with: When Southern Italians first started leaving their native land at the turn of the 19th century for the U.S. they were desperate. They had been required to turn over 4/5ths of the food they farmed to their landlord, and were spending 75% of their income on food. When they arrived in New York, the pay was not much better, but there were plenty of jobs. The big difference came in the price of food, which was abundant and cheap, particularly meat. Suddenly these Italians were spending only 25% of their incomes on groceries. The Italian meatball is the perfect symbol of what happened in Italian American kitchens – what in Italy had been a tiny 3/4 “ ball made with scraps of anything – chicken, fish, even tripe – called “polpetonne,” became in New York a 1/4 pound ball of beef and pork. The Italian mama went from being a scrawny mother scraping together a weak soup for her family’s dinner to the plump matron of the kitchen who suddenly took pride in having the best recipes. Foods that had in the old country been reserved only for feast days – like cream filled pastries and buttery cookies dusted in confectionary sugar – were suddenly available every day. Other Italians opened businesses to serve the needs of these Italian communities, including bakeries and restaurants. These were inexpensive places that began to attract other adventurous, but unwealthy groups, like artists and musicians. The Italian cooks in these places began to realize that the new non-Italian American customer anticipated some version of meat and potatoes in a meal: spaghetti found its purpose as a required carbohydrate beside a plate of meatballs in marinara sauce.

Here’s another fascinating fact from Mariani’s book – The marinara sauce that came to be synonymous with Italian-American food? That came from Naples, the bottom of Italy’s boot, which had been home for so many of these new immigrants. In Naples many of the men had been fishermen, or “marinari.” Their wives would see their husband’s fishing boats sailing into port, and run to prepare for them a hot meal; the wives needed something that could be put together quickly, impromptu, at the whim of a fishing boat’s landing: this became a bowl of pasta with a simple, fresh tomato sauce, appropriately named “marinara!”

Back to Maccioni, who became one of the world’s most famous restaurant owners in the U.S., and had for his friends some of the world’s most famous names, including the New York Times food writers Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey. Maccioni admitted to missing the foods from his childhood, but his had become a tuxedoed life of Dover Sole and Chateaubriand. In an interview with Saveur Magazine, Maccioni describes how the first ever Pasta Primavera came to be: In 1977, he and his wife were all on vacation with a group of friends, including chef Vergnes, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, at a lodge on Prince Edward Island. After too many days of wild boar and lobster somebody asked Maccioni to make pasta. Maccioni’s son described the dish his father prepared as actually being VERY Italian – “It’s called “frigidaire,” he said – when you make a pasta with all your leftovers in the refrigerator! (By the way, in another version of this story Maccioni claims that his wife made the dish that night.) Everyone loved it, Claiborne and Franey so much that they printed the recipe in the New York Times food section.

Suddenly, much to Vergnes’s French dismay, the clients at Le Cirque were demanding Pasta Primavera. Vergnes loathed all pasta, and now this was becoming the symbol of his kitchen. Pasta Primavera was at first sentenced to being prepared in a hall outside the kitchen, as Vergnes couldn’t stand to see it. Then, as its inevitability became apparent, the pasta was assigned a drama to be prepared tableside, often by Maccioni himself.

Here’s another fascinating aside: Mr. Vergnes had worked at The Colony, where Siro Maccioni gilded his reputation as a suave host, but left in 1962 to run the commissary at Stop & Shop which wanted to develop a prepared-food service. He was there for 3 years before returning to the boutique fine restaurant scene rising in New York. He joined Maccioni in 1973.

Mariani explains that something happened in the early 1980’s that helped to elevate pasta away from huge portions of meatballs in marinara sauce, allowing Americans to suddenly appreciate the lighter, fresher, more artful Italian ways with pasta, for them to understand better the meal Maccioni was creating that day on Prince Edward Island. Fed Ex. Fed Ex began flying special ingredients overnight from Italy to the U.S. Cheeses, artisanal pastas, a variety of risotto rice were suddenly available in quality and quantity, and beginning to star in cookbooks, in restaurants, in gourmet shops (Chuck Williams of Williams Sonoma began selling Balsamic Vinegar from Modena in his Beverly Hills store in 1973.) and therefore American kitchens. Whereas the Joy of Cooking in 1964 mentioned olive oil once, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1968 not at all, but by the mid 1980’s Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking series devoted four pages to olive oil.

With the arrival of all these fresh new Italian ingredients, the American public began to understand the foods that had truly been made in Italian kitchens. Pasta Primavera was never one of them, but its principles – quick, economical, fresh, and delicious – are all there, and VERY Italian. When Pasta Primavera hit the big time, with the recipe printed in the NYT, people clamored for it, but, of course, no Italian chef or cook had ever heard of it!   

Le Cirque and its many sister restaurants are managed by Maccioni’s three sons now. Pasta Primavera can always be ordered.

pp

 

 

Recipe from the New York Times article by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey

serves 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli

2 small zucchini, unpeeled

4 asparagus spears

1 1/2 cups green beans

Salt

1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas

3/4 cup fresh or frozen pea pods

1 tablespoon peanut, vegetable or corn oil

2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon minced hot red or green chili, or 1/2 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 cups 1-inch tomato cubes

6 basil leaves, chopped

1 pound spaghetti

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream, approximately

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts.

Instructions

  1.  Trim broccoli and break into florets. Trim off ends of the zucchini. Cut into quarters, then cut into 1-inch or slightly longer lengths (about 1 1/2 cups). Cut each asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Trim beans and cut into 1-inch pieces.

  2.  Cook each of the green vegetables separately in boiling salted water to cover until crisp but tender. Drain well, then run under cold water to chill, and drain again thoroughly. Combine the cooked vegetables in a bowl.
  3. Cook the peas and pods; about 1 minute if fresh; 30 seconds if frozen. Drain, chill with cold water and drain again. Combine with the vegetables. 
  4. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the peanut oil and add the mushrooms. Season to taste. Cook about 2 minutes, shaking the skillet and stirring. Add the mushrooms, chili and parsley to the vegetables. 
  5. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and add half the garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook about 4 minutes. Add the basil. 6.
  6. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and add the remaining garlic and the vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring gently, until heated through. 
  7. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until almost (but not quite) tender, retaining a slight resilience in the center. Drain well. 8.
  8. In a pot large enough to hold the spaghetti and vegetables, add the butter and melt over medium-low heat. Then add the chicken broth and half a cup each of cream and cheese, stirring constantly. Cook gently until smooth. Add the spaghetti and toss quickly to blend. Add half the vegetables and pour in the liquid from the tomatoes, tossing over very low heat. 
  9. Add the remaining vegetables. If the sauce seems dry, add 3 to 4 tablespoons more cream. Add the pine nuts and give the mixture a final tossing. 
  10. Serve equal portions of the spaghetti mixture in hot soup or spaghetti bowls. Spoon equal amounts of the tomatoes over each serving. Serve immediately. 

*I put together this story after reading John Mariani’s book How Italian Food Conquered The World.  Most of the facts came from that book; others were culled from the Le Cirque website.  The recipe is from the original NYT article.

“What boat landed this fish?”

April 28th, 2016

dabs

 

To ask the question “what boat landed this fish?” may be one of the most important environmental, social and political acts of 2016.

These are some names of Gloucester day boats, boats that make short trips to Jeffreys Ledge, Ipswich Bay & Middle Bank: the Maria GS, the Santo Pio, the Angela & Rose, the Janaya & Joseph, and Cat Eyes. And there are more. These boats land a mix of species that call the Gulf of Maine home, but they are primarily landing codfish, dab flounder, blackback flounder, yellowtail flounder, grey sole and some whiting.

These are some of the off-shore Gloucester boats currently fishing the northern edge of George’s Bank: The Miss Trish, The Midnight Sun, the Teresa Marie III, the Harmony, the Teresa Marie IV, and the Lady Jane. Again, there are more boats than this. Right now they are landing haddock, redfish, pollock, codfish, dab flounder, grey sole and some hake.

In port, these boats, and others, can be seen tied up at Felicia Oil, Rose Marine, Rocky Neck Railways & the State Fish Pier, wharfs along the inner harbor, many in clear sight of some Gloucester restaurants.

In an effort to celebrate and promote the quality seafood these boats land, Gloucester Seafood Processing in Blackburn Circle, Gloucester, stamps every issue of fish with the name of the fishing vessel that landed it.  They are hoping other processors will, too.

 

vessel labeling

 

Restaurants – particularly in Gloucester – should proudly be announcing to their guests, “this pollack was landed yesterday on the Angela & Rose!” – or the Janaya & Josesph, or the Santo Pio.

I had lunch recently at Hillstone in downtown Boston. The restaurant was mobbed with dining business people. There was a lot of fish on the menu, and I apologized to the server for even taking her time, but I had to ask, “do you know where any of this fish comes from?” The young woman immediately stood straighter, grinned, and declared, “yes, I do!” reciting to me exactly the body of water where each fish was landed and how it was caught. She didn’t know the name of the vessel, but she had clearly been educated. Not only did she and the restaurant take their seafood purchasing seriously, they enjoyed being able to educate their guests. Every Gloucester restaurant – and the North Shore, for that matter – should be doing the same. Every restaurant in this city should be serving only seafood landed and cut in Gloucester.

The alternative, the specious siren to a restaurant’s bottom line, is inexpensive imported fish. When there is no transparency in fishing, when you cannot name the boat which landed that fish, there is generous opportunity for horror.

The least offensive possibility is that fish was farmed with heavy doses of antibiotics. Then there are these very real possibilities: it has been well documented, particularly by microbiologist Michael Doyle with the University of Georgia, that animal waste (even human) is a primary ingredient in Southeast Asian seafood.  This is an extreme case, and certainly does not represent all imported fish, but it emphasizes the very real horrors of untraceable seafood.

Another gruesome and very real consequence of fish with no definitive provenance is slavery. The Associated Press received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for their story exposing human slavery in Southeast Asian fisheries, fish that is regularly shipped to the U.S.

These are just some of the hidden costs of inexpensive, imported fish, not to mention the costs to local fishermen in losses.

American fishing is the most regulated fishing industry in the world, the curse and the blessing of the American fleet. American fishermen must comply to severe, onerous, and what sometimes seems like nonsensical regulations, but those rules make American fish the most responsibly landed fish in the world.

As mentioned, many Gloucester restaurants have dining rooms with views of the Gloucester fleet; it makes sense that diners from Iowa would simply assume the white fish in the fish sandwich they are having for lunch was landed by one of those picturesque boats tied up at the dock. If that fish is not Gloucester fish, if it’s an inexpensive “refreshed” imported seafood, that Iowan will walk away feeling nothing special about the taste of Gloucester fish. It’s the same when a restaurant claims to be serving local greens in their salad and it’s actually California lettuce. The brand the local farmers have worked so hard to develop is undermined. The Gloucester brand these fishermen have struggled to bring back is destroyed.

It’s almost criminal that when a local chef is asked why they are not purchasing the fish that is landed at their feet, the chef must respond, “show me a price list.” Gloucester-landed fish must still compete with the price of “refreshed” imported products, or whatever fish agrees with its bottom line. Again, the price of imported fish with no transparency is far, far more expensive than that restaurant realizes.

Another important but discreet value to local fish, something built into the dollar amount on that chef’s price list, is the promise of a clean product. Any sanitary questions are eliminated when there is complete transparency. For a look at good, local processing transparency, visit Gloucester Seafood Processing.

Gloucester Seafood Processing processes – or cuts – fish specifically caught in the Gulf of Maine, that means the boats listed above. I visited the facility to see a high-tech, immaculate operation, rooms filled with filleters – U.S. citizens (to be clear) originally from Guatamala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Portugal, and Mexico. Everyone who works at Gloucester Seafood Processing is issued a pair of rubber boots and a pair of crocs. The boots never leave the processing area, and the crocs are for everywhere else in the plant. No dirt or dust from the outside ever enters the fish processing facility.

boots

 

Before anyone enters a processing room, they stand for a few seconds in a shallow trough of sanitizer, guaranteeing nothing is ever tracked in. They place their hands in a sanitizer equipped with a sensor that only stops whirring water when the hands register as “clean.”

A favorite detail: Gloucester Seafood Processing uses shaved ice rather than traditional chunks which may bruise or damage a fish. Also, the fish is not stacked in crates on ice; fish float in a saltwater slurry, even better preserving the quality.

Filleters at Gloucester Seafood Processing begin at $16 – $17 an hour, and are trained to cut fish, an important skill that has almost vanished from our work lexicon. From there cutters have the opportunity to develop that skill, and earn more within the company, as well as having the opportunity to move up within the company.

 

filleting

cutting redfish

 

Closing the sustainable loop, Gloucester Seafood Processing fish frames go to lobstermen for trap bait.

Frankie Ragusa, Director of Fresh Seafood at the plant, grew up in the fishing industry in Gloucester. He bemoans the fact that there are few local people working there. “It’s a good job and a skill. We would like to have a facility filled with local people!” he said, but there are not enough Cape Ann residents walking in the door to keep up with production.

With the decline in the fishing industry over the last twenty years, Ragusa says, Gloucester fishing has lost a generation. Gloucester High School once trained students in jobs associated with the fishing industry. Not only is fishing a fraction of what it was in the old days, but the shoreside industries that supported it are equally diminished.

And yet, with an intelligent, regulated fleet of local fishermen, and with thorough transparency from landing to processing, Gloucester fishing may be able to return as a vital, environmentally responsible industry. A shining new website, “Gloucesterfresh,” is part of the city’s full-on effort to make Gloucester a proud fishing town again.

As America’s oldest seaport, Gloucester has had its struggles. Today, the city stands at a crossroads: Will it be a tourist town with a little engineering thrown in, where the restaurants serve “refreshed” imported seafood, and guests visit the new wing of the Cape Ann Museum dedicated to yet another lost industry – fishing? Or will it be a city unique among others, that proudly goes fishing, where people come to eat its delicious seafood, where the fishing boats line up along Rogers St., maybe we have a waterfront festival once a year, and the seagulls still squawk overhead? (I recently heard Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives’ Association, describing a visit to San Diego, no longer a fishing town. She sadly identified the strangeness of that place: to be standing by the ocean in a busy city, with the sky empty of seagulls.)

Ultimately, this fate hinges on whether or not Gloucester fishermen can afford to go fishing, and so much of that depends on whether their own city supports them. In response to over-fishing and fishing degradation around the world, people everywhere should be demanding to know what boat landed their fish, but in Gloucester, a city fortunate to have its own local seafood, it is even more poignant a question to ask.

Gulf of Maine Dab Flounder is currently my favorite seafood. These small, delicate fillets are so versatile you will never ask for cod again. Two pounds of Dabs at first may look like a daunting number of fillets, and they are if you imagine standing at the stove frying, but in the preparations below the fillets are simply layered and baked. Easy, easy. The Thai recipe is loaded with flavor, and proof that this fish can wear cilantro and chilis; I offer the butter and breadcrumb recipe so you can taste the singular delicacy and sweetness of this fish. It’s hard to say which recipe is better.

Thai Dabs

 

Thai Steamed Dabs, adapted from Jamie Oliver

serves 4-6

(note: This recipes makes a lot of rice, but it is so delicious you might want seconds. Cut the proportions in half if you do not.)

Ingredients

For the Thai Paste:

1 large bunch cilantro, stems removed

2” chunk of fresh ginger, peeled

3 cloves garlic

1 fresh red chilis, deseeded and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons sesame oil

5 tablespoons soy sauce

2 limes, juice and zest

1 can (400 ml) light coconut milk

For the Dabs and Rice:

2 cups basmati rice

sea salt freshly

ground black pepper

2 pounds Dab fillets

1 cup (roughly) sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and strings removed

1 cup spring onions, halved and thinly sliced in half-rounds, + green tops thinly sliced

1/2 a red chili deseeded and finely sliced

1 lime

1/4 cup cilantro leaves for garnish

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade process the cilantro, ginger, garlic, chilis, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and zest, and coconut milk. Set aside.

Cook the rice in salted water as directed. (1 cup rice : 1 3/4 cups water) Stir processed paste into rice, and spread out on a 9” x 11” glass baking dish.

Lay Dabs on top of rice, over-lapping fillets as necessary. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Toss snap peas loosely over Dabs. Seal dish tightly with aluminum foil, Bake for 25-30 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Remove foil, and distribute spring onions and red chilies over the fish. Squeeze the lime over all, and garnish lightly with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

dabs with mustardlemon butter and crumbs

Dabs with Lemon/Mustard Butter and Crumbs

serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 pounds Dab fillets

1 stick butter

juice from 2 lemons

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

sea salt

3/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs (more or less)

lemon for serving

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt butter in a small sauce pan.

Add lemon juice, mustard, and Worcestershire.

Brush the bottom of a 8” x 8” glass baking dish, (or 7” x 11”) with the butter mixture. Lay down 2 or 3 fillets, depending on their size. Brush the fillets with the butter mixture, and sprinkle with salt. Then sprinkle breadcrumbs over fillets to cover.

Continue layering fillets this way: fish, butter, salt, and breadcrumbs. When finished, pour remaining butter mixture generously over top of breadcrumbs so they will brown well in the oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until fish flakes easily in center.

Potato Kugel

April 23rd, 2016

Kugel

 

Passover began yesterday evening (Friday, April 22nd), and will continue for another 8 days.

Last night I was asked to bring a potato kugel, one of the most traditional Jewish dishes, to my friends’ seder.  I had never made a potato kugel.  I had never eaten one either. I envisioned carrying a large rectangular glass baking dish brimming with crispy browned potatoes to this seder, but as I began to look for recipes, everything seemed dull. Potatoes, eggs, oil, salt and pepper. Period.

But I learned this: Kugel, according to food historian Gil Marks, is another dish created by clever people trying to figure out how to have a good meal by Saturday evening without cooking, because of the Sabbath, when no work can be done.

Cholent was the first answer to this meal conundrum. A very, very slowly cooked stew that Eastern European Jews set to simmer on Friday evening, cholent became the welcome ready-made dinner for Saturday evening after a day of prayers in the 12th century. Someone around that time also returned from a trip down the Silk Road, with dumpling lessons. Dumplings were dropped into the cholent, and discovered to be delicious after a good soak there. Someone in the German Jewish community then thought to put the dumpling or bread dough into a bread pan – a Kugelhopf pan – and set the pan into the pot of stew, where it cooked equally slowly, perfect for the Saturday evening meal. This Eastern European pudding-like dish became known as “kugel,” named for that pot, although in western Europe it became known as “schalet.”

Through the Middle Ages only the wealthy owned home ovens; people had to carry their breads and doughs to a community oven, and often had to pay for baking. So kugels, and so many other home dishes, remained something to be steamed by themselves, or steamed in cholent, where the temperatures could be best moderated over an open fire.

In the 17th century groups of European Jews took their kugel recipes with them to Jerusalem, where the dish integrated even more fully into Jewish culture. The ingredient list expanded. They added onions, gribenes, or cracklings. They made kugels with noodles, and added sugar. The basics remained the same: a starch, eggs, and a fat.

It was not until the 19th century that kugels left the stew/steaming situation completely, and arrived in a baking dish, to be baked in the home oven. That was the kugel I envisioned carrying to my friends.

I thought that kugel needed more regency than just potatoes, eggs, and oil after this long journey through history. I finally found Melissa Clark’s mother’s recipe, which adds garlic, rosemary, and crispy shallots. Clark’s mother adds the potato and egg mixture right into a thin layer of very hot oil in a very hot pan.

kugel in pan

 

She lets that sit on top of the flame for three minutes, promising a crispy golden bottom, which, when served, becomes the top. My kugel experts had all anticipated a glass baking dish affair; everyone declared this really a very large potato latke, which is probably true, but we also thought the flavors delicious. I thought the mosaic of browned potato gratings beautiful, a shining arrival out of the cholent.

 

Kugel side

Melissa Clark’s Potato Kugel

Ingredients

6 large russet potatoes (about 3 pounds) peeled and quartered

2 yellow onions, peeled and quartered

5 large eggs

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

Instructions

  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a food processor fitted with a grating blade, process the potatoes and onions into grated pieces.  Transfer the mixture to a dish-towel lined colander.  Wrap the mixture in the towel and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, flour, 1/4 cup oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil in a wide skillet.  Add the shallots in a single layer over high heat.  Let sit several minutes before stirring.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the shallots are crispy and dark brown, about 7 minutes.
  5. Fold the potato mixture and shallots in the egg mixture.  Return the skillet to high heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil.  Tilk the skillet to grease the bottom and sides of the pan.  Carefully press the potato mixture into the pan.  Cook over high heat for 3 minutes, this will help sear the bottom crust of the kugel.  Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the potatoes are tender and the top of the kugel is golden browns.  1 to 1 1/4 hours.
  6. Place the kugel under the broiler for 1 – 2 minutes to form a crisp crust on top if it is not yet adequately crispy.  This is for crispiness, not appearances, as the bottom of the kugel becomes the top.
  7.   Invert the kugel onto an attractive serving dish.  Sprinkle with salt, preferably Maldon if you have it, and serve.