Archive for July, 2013

Larb

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

 

Ever ready to put fork or chop stick to the spiciest, strangest foods most people consider yucky, Sophia Padnos is a food adventurer.  When I need someone to join me in Lowell for unpronounceable authentic Cambodian food, Sophia, who has eaten pig colon in Queens, not only agrees to come, but jumps for joy.

In last week’s heat, as Sophia and I planned our Cambodian trip, conversation strayed from Lowell to what to make for dinner that night.  Our minds still in Southeast Asia, Sophia called out, “Larb!”

Boy, was she ever right.  Larb, the national dish of Laos, is food for steamy nights.   Ground meat – (I used ground turkey, but pork, beef, chicken, duck and fish are all acceptable in Laos) – is dressed with a lime, sugar and fish sauce.  Fundamental to Larb is toasting a handful of rice, grinding it in a mortar and pestle or food processor, and tossing the toasted, crunchy bits into the meat.  This adds texture and taste that make the whole dish more mysterious than mere sauteed ground turkey and fish sauce.  Add the toasted rice just before serving so it doesn’t become a mushy toasted taste.

 

 

Serve the seasoned meat over jasmine or sticky rice strewn with fresh herbs – cilantro, mint, basil – any combination of those or all three.  Cool leaves of bib lettuce and cucumbers hedge the platter, doubling as beauty and utensils.  Scoop rice and seasoned meat into the lettuce leaves, pour some mint tea, and turn your fan to high.

 

 

 

 

I served my larb beside a bowl of sliced mango and basil, how to keep dinner inspired in weather meant for gazing at the Mekong.

Here’s a bit of sad history culled from a quick scan of Wikipedia:  The North Vietnamese apparently used the country of Laos as a covert route to South Vietnam; the U.S. thus bombed the country to smithereens.

“It has been reported that Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973.  Of the 260 million bombs that rained down, particularly on Xiangkhouang Province and the Plain of Jars some 80 million failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy…Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world.”

 

 

Sophia’s Larb 

serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 pounds ground turkey or pork

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil or olive oil

2 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 cup fish sauce

2-3 Thai bird chilis or Pequin chilis loosely chopped  (or red pepper flakes)

2 cups jasmine rice + 1/2 cup for toasting

1/2 medium red onion, halved and then thinly sliced into crescents

1 small head Bibb lettuce, washed, dried, and separated into leaves

1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced into crescents

1/2 cup each chopped cilantro, basil, and mint (or any combination of these)

chopped scallions or chives (optional)

 

Instructions

Prepare the 2 cups rice according to the directions.

Heat a large saute pan to medium high.  Add oil, and heat.  Gently break apart meat into the heated pan to cover the bottom leaving spaces around.  If the pan is not large enough to leave space between the chunks do this in two batches.  If there is too much meat in the pan it will steam rather than brown.

Allow the meat to get brown and crumbly, about five minutes.  Turn meat gently, allowing it to crumble, and brown on the other side.  Cook for another two minutes, and remove meat to a bowl while you cook the second batch.

Heat a small saute pan to medium high.  Add the 1/2 cup of rice, and cook until each grain is toasted light brown.  Remove the rice from the heat.  Once cool, put the rice in a food processor (a small one works best, but a large one will do.) and whirr to grind to tiny chunks.

To make the dressing, stir together sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and chilis in a small bowl.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.

Make a bed of rice in the center of a medium-sized platter.  Drizzle a bit of the dressing all over the rice.

Toss the remaining dressing over the meat and mix well.  Add the toasted rice, and mix in well.  Lay meat over the bed of rice.  Strew the chopped onions over the meat.

Tuck the Bibb lettuce all around the edges of the rice.  Sprinkle the cucumbers over the lettuce.  Toss the chopped herbs over all.  Add scallions or chives if desired.

 

The Gloucester House

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

 

This is a portrait of a perfect traditional Gloucester meal.

Setting:  the moon rising over a granite-calm Gloucester Harbor, framed by the masts of the Thomas Lannon, hemmed by the gray sides of Intershell Seafood, Mortillaro’s Lobster, North Atlantic Fish, and Cape Pond Ice, hardworking remainders of the Gloucester Fishing Industry.  Seagulls tipping against the dusk.

Atmosphere:  an eventide hush off the boat-less, lapping waters, the occasional clink of china from inside the restaurant, a few muted voices from other tables’ conversation.

Service:  warm and attentive

Wine List:  two glasses of summer-evening white wines, both flattering to seafood, a Viognier and a Gruner Veltliner

The Meal:  hot, plump, sweet steamers and a warm dish of pink lobster chunks baked beneath a cover of fresh, buttery crumbs.

This was dinner at the Gloucester House a few evenings ago.

 

 

I drive by The Gloucester House ten times a week; it’s such a part of Rogers St.‘s cobbled architecture I don’t even see it anymore;  I’ve been dismissing this Gloucester matron as a tourist destination for too long, but after the above serendipitous dinner with out of town friends I learned the tourists know something I don’t, until now.

 

 

Run for 37 years by Lenny Linquata and his family, The Gloucester House also operates a wholesale lobster business.  Eight lobster boats head out everyday to pull traps, so what better place to enjoy a fresh lobster at a great price?  Linquata’s fish come from Intershell, Ocean Crest, and Steve Connolly, Linquata’s brothers-in-seafood on the harbor.

 

 

To repeat a bit, my steamers were fat, so sweet they were almost confections, and sandless.  Linquata prides his restaurant on having clean steamers, washed a minimum of 5-6 times.  As mentioned, the lobster dish was piping hot, chunks of delicious rich lobster dressed in nothing but toasted buttery breadcrumbs and lemon.

 

 

The hostess, smiling beneath a large glowing painting of some mid-century Gloucester boys probably on a Gloucester dock, greeted us with a calm warmth almost inexplicable in a busy waterfront restaurant.  Our waitress was so cheerful and easily competent, she added pleasure to the dinner without even trying.

 

 

I had a short talk with Lenny Linquata the next day.  We finished our conversation around 3:30, and the restaurant was strangely already full of small groups and large families happily enjoying plates of fried clams and lobster dinners..  Linquata said goodbye to me rushing, clearly off to his next appointment, but, as I walked to the front door, I heard him behind me say, “Hi, Hon,” and turned just in time to see him pausing to touch the shoulder of a woman probably in her 70‘s waiting on the bench for a seat.  Call it hospitality or call it grace, the warmth and kindness here feels organic.  This alone is one of my reasons to return.

 

 

Again, the  setting – beautiful Gloucester and working Gloucester – the service, the wine choices all combined to make this a lovely evening out.   Even the accompanying Caesar Salad made us happy:  crisp romaine leaves tossed in a homemade lemony dressing with freshly shaved Parmesan.

This is not a restaurant review, but a review of one perfect Gloucester meal, and many reasons for declaring The Gloucester House tried and true; it should be a local favorite, not just for tourists.

 

 

The recipe for Gloucester House Lobster Pie, and a video of Lenny Linquata preparing it, are here:  http://food.gloucestertimes.com/recipe-video/Baked-Lobster-Pie.html

 

Polenta Crusted Savory Cheesecake, and some Open Door news

Monday, July 15th, 2013

 

First Open Door; then cheesecake.

The Cape Ann Open Door, our local food assistance program, never takes a vacation from the most tender population, tirelessly creating new programs to meet the ever-changing nutrition, health and cultural demands of the growing numbers of people living on the smallest of means.  Summer is no exception.  Here’s some news on what’s going on at the Open Door right now:

Who is the hardest to pin down for a balanced meal in the summer?  Teens.  The Open Door has two teen dinner sites, one at the Rockport Teen Center from 5:00 – 7:00 and and one at the Gloucester Chill Zone from 6:00 – 8:00.  Any teenager can drop in and receive a dinner which includes the four components required of a Federal Nutrition guidelines:   1 milk, 2 fruits and vegetables, 1 grain or bread, 1 meat or meat alternative.

Without the reliability of school schedules, younger children who might be missing meals because of their family’s economics are harder to reach in the summer, but The Open Door has nine sites around Cape Ann  – from Riverdale Park to Arthaven –  where children can receive healthy lunches made with locally grown vegetables (from the Open Door’s own community garden) whole wheat bread and low fat milk.  For information on the exact locations and who can participate call 978-283-6776 or go to the Open Door website.

Special dietary sensitivities are not neglected even in the Open Door’s Food Pantry, where a gluten-free shelf always stays stocked.  As an aside, recently Cross Fit Cape Ann, the local branch of the national fitness program, prepared a “paleo” dinner for an Open Door community meal.  (Crossfit is one of forty groups that regularly volunteer to prepare Open Door community meals.)  The “Paleo” diet, part of Crossfit’s regimen, stacks up on whole foods, lean meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils;  it’s long on protein, short on anything that spikes a glycemic index, including carbohydrates, dairy and even fruits.  Brisket –  humanely raised, pasture fed – was dinner that night.

 

The Open Door’s Community Garden, beautiful rows of raised beds built with the support of The Food Project and The Backyard Growers Project,  flourish right now with swiss chard, squashes, beans, tomatoes and herbs.  As mentioned, all this organic, locally raised produce makes the summer lunch program and community meals more interesting, delicious, and carbon-light.  The garden’s herbs are being dried and packaged to use in meals or offered to clients in the Food Pantry.

From minding teenagers to weeding the garden, the people of The Open Door are busy this summer.

Here’s a recipe that might meet those Federal guidelines – milk, vegetables, whole grains, and meat alternative –  in one dish, polenta crusted savory zucchini cheesecake.  Serve it as a beautiful entree or a surprising appetizer.  The polenta crust gives it a satisfying, rustic quality.  Maybe serve it to a busy teen in your life!

 

 

Savory Cheesecake with Polenta Crust

serves 10-12

 

Ingredients

Filling

2 cups shredded zucchini

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella

2 cups ricotta cheese

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded mozzarella

 

Polenta Crust

1 shallot, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon butter

3 cups chicken stock

1 1/4 cups polenta or cornmeal

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Salt the zucchini, and let sit in a strainer for 10 minutes.  Squeeze out excess moisture as much as possible.  Saute the zucchini in the olive oil until tender.  Add the  pepper.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Combine the zucchini and mozzarella in a bowl and mix well.  Set aside.

For the custard, combine the ricotta cheese, eggs, heavy cream, parmesan cheese, shredded mozzarella in a bowl and mix well.  Set aside.

To prepare the polenta crust, in a medium saucepan saute the shallot, salt and cayenne pepper in butter until the shallot is tender.  Add the stock.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  Whisk in the polenta gradually.  When it begins to thicken, remove from heat, and pour into a 10 inch springform pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom.

Spread the vegetables over the warm polenta; the cheese begins to melt which helps merge the layers.  Pour the custard over the vegetables.  Bake for 50 – 60 minutes or until the custard is set and light brown.  Cool in the pan for at least 1 hour.  Run a thin, sharp knife around the edge to loosen the cake, and then remove the side.

 

 

 

Fresh Peach “Burgers”

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

 

Peaches will be arriving in our Famers’ Markets soon; here’s an unusual and delicious way to turn them into a light summer meal – Peach “Burgers!”

Remember, we have three Farmers’ Markets on Cape Ann:

The Essex Farmers’ Market happens on Saturday mornings at the Ebb and Flo Parking Lot on Rt. 133.  Aster B, the new locally-grown flower business is there creating bouquets.

 

 

Melissa Glorieux arrived in Essex from San Francisco, home to one of the lushest farmers’ markets in the country.  On just under an acre of cultivated farm land, Glorieux and horticulturist Renee Portanova now grow peonies, sweet peas, icelandic poppies, sunflowers, nasturtiums, strawflowers, lisianthus, verbena, and bouquet-herbs like verbena, oregano, sage, rosemary, lavender, camomile, fennel dill, and more.  Wedding planners, a steady business for Aster B., are swooning over the homegrown aesthetic, but the fetching bouquets are there for all of us on Saturday mornings.  As summer flows the flower palettes will just keep getting brighter.

 

 (photo – Jason Grow)

Our old favorite Cape Ann Farmers’ Market, the grand dame to the young Rockport and Essex Markets, still offers not just a bushel basket of farm choices, but a wonderful late afternoon out.  Located in Stage Fort Park from 3:00 – 6:30, the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market invites a stroll past an abundance of vendors, a chance to meet friends, and grab some homemade Lebanese flatbread for a snack. The Cape Ann Farmers’ Market is the best of marketplace shopping.  The parking is easy; the view of Gloucester Harbor is spectacular, and farmers like Maggie from Mehaffey Farm, a farm in Rowley in the Mehaffey family since 1718, smiles warmly at you as she hands you a magnificent chartreuse Romanesco broccoli grown by her son.  (Maggie’s on the right in this great Jason Grow photo.)

 

Who needs a grocery store in Rockport when we’ve got a Farmers’ Market Saturday morning?  Everything you need for a beautiful summer dinner is there – two farms worth of local produce, Sasquatch Smoked Fish, homemade bread, fresh pasta, The World’s Best Pesto, locally raised grass-fed beef, flowers, a Homegrower’s wheelbarrow, advice from experts, Mercedes Flavin pies, and Maple Syrup from the Sullivans, who are so nice it’s just worth stopping by to say hi.

Here’s my Peach Burger recipe, adapted from something called a “peach and goatcheese sandwich” I found scrawled in my mother’s handwriting in her recipe box.   After you’ve eaten enough ripe peaches out of your hand, make this; it probably the best thing to do with a peach after making pie.

 

Fresh Peach “Burgers”

serves 4

4 ounces ricotta cheese

4 ounces goat cheese

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

2 large ripe peaches

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

4 crusty round rolls

lettuce

Instructions

Mix cheeses until smooth and creamy.  Fold in walnuts and mint.  This mixture is best allowed to sit for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors develop.

In a small bowl stir together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Slice the peaches in half, and toss halves in the dressing to coat well.

Heat a grill pan or skillet to medium high.  (You could also do this on an outside grill.) When the pan is hot, lay peaches cut side down in the pan.  Cook for four minutes or until side is dark brown and beginning to caramelize.  Flip, and cook for four minutes on the other side, really just to heat the peach, as the curved bottom doesn’t allow grill marks.  Remove to a warm oven while you are assembling the sandwiches.

Toast or grill the buns.  Spread one half thickly with the cheese mixture.  Lay lettuce leaves down on the other half, and lay the warm peach on top.  Drizzle any leftover dressing on top.  Close the sandwich and serve.

 

The Food Less Traveled – an update

Friday, July 5th, 2013

 

Buddy doesn’t care about fresh lettuces, garlic scapes, swiss chard, kale, spring turnips, fresh radishes, and kohlrabi, but he comes every Saturday morning  to the Rockport Farmers’ Market with his pal, Mike Raymond from First Light Farms.   Mike unloads a truck-full of locally grown (Hamilton) produce in a flurry, usually just as the market is opening at 9:00, while Buddy goes back to napping.  Mike’s a little late because he’s often harvesting and loading up his truck by himself in Hamilton, and he wants to pack as much in as he can.   Along with Buddy, it’s a friendly farm stand.  One of my daughters is often there to help Mike sell.

 

And now we have Apple St. Farms produce, too!

 

 

 

When your own cherry tomato crop overwhelms the  deck, bring your overflow to The Rockport Farmers’ Market.  We’ve got a “Homegrowers’ Wheelbarrow,” dedicated to local people with just a few of their own garden crops to share.

 

Local grower Marvin Roberts has been with us with his – whoosh!  There it goes! – Well, Marvin WAS selling his rhubarb, but it sold out before the bucket touched ground.  Marvin has a wonderful garden.  If the birds don’t get them first, he may bring raspberries and peaches, but we’re not promising.  Marvin’s had a beautiful selection of herbs and onions recently, but each week will be different.  You have to come check out the Wheelbarrow to see what Marvin – or anyone else – may have.

 

Last week at our “Ask The Expert” table, Mary White was answering questions.  The first week Marvin talked about perennial vegetables; this week he’ll be there answering questions, and probably giving a short talk.  I believe Jerusalem Artichokes (a native species!) are part of the syllabus.

 

Of course, we also have Pride’s Osteria with us.  Pride’s makes the pesto that won the World’s Best competition in Genoa, Italy.  But they’ve also been preparing homemade foccacia, which is for sale by itself, or you could take away a fresh foccacia, buffala mozzarella and heirloom tomato lunch, one of the most delicious meals I personally have had in ages.  This sandwich is perfection.  When Mercedes ran out of tomato, she substituted paper-thin slices of Mike Raymond’s spring turnip.  Perfection improved.

The best smoked fish ever is with us, too – Sasquatch Smoked Fish – along with Seaview Farms grass-fed beef, fresh eggs, and honey.  And more.  Brothers’ Brew coffee, homemade donuts, Anadama Bread.  And more.  Each week will be a little different, but we’ll never be too big, and we’ll always be dedicated to the best most local food around.

 

 

Here’s The Official Rockport Farmers’ Market menu; post it on your refrigerator; plan serving a variation of it every Saturday night from June 22 – September 7th.  While you’re there, add foccacia to your Saturday afternoon lunch.

 

Sasquatch smoked mussels served with toasted Fish Shack Bread croutons and salted First Light Farms spring turnips

Pride’s Osteria fresh fettucini and pesto

Seaview Farm Rib Eye Steaks

Brothers’ Brew Homemade Bread

First Light Farm salad of spring greens and herbs

Homemade Crostada from Mercedes Flavin 

 

The Rockport Farmers’ Market, “The Food Less Traveled,”

Located Saturday mornings, Harvey Park in downtown Rockport, 9:00 – 1:00

You can watch Paolo Laboa making his winning pesto on this video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYdAW9sZQrQ

Green Pea Salad (with frozen peas!)

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

“Way-ah not playahs,” Marguerite Kelly insisted, her Louisiana drawl, not always audible, rising like the Mississippi delta up through the extra vowels.  She was referring to the Machiavellian social operations of just about everyone in Washington, D.C., claiming the Kellys weren’t like that.  Standing in her kitchen, her round, four-foot-eight- inch frame leaned into me to impress her point.  The feminine softness of her eyes hardened.  I was suddenly aware of the mascara on her eyelashes, which made me think of the petite beauty with soft blond curls in the wedding photo a room away.  It was sixty years later, but I could see that Southern graciousness still urged Marguerite to the mirror each morning armed with a pink lipstick and eye-lash curler.

“Way-ah not playahs,” she repeated, pausing from the meal preparation, a filthy dishcloth in her hand, a little sour cream on her front because she is so short and her chest so broad it swipes the kitchen counters. Marguerite had single-handedly (ok, her daughters showed up to help and early guests did some chopping), prepared an election night dinner of fried chicken and biscuits for fifty friends and relatives in her grand, not so gently-lived-in, Capitol Hill home.

In fact, Marguerite Kelly and her late husband, Tom, were indeed serious Washington players.  Marguerite is an author and writes a family advice column for The Washington Post.  Her husband, Tom, was an author and journalist.

The Kelly’s are a family of writers.  Their only son, Mike, was editor at large of The Atlantic Monthly and, tragically, the first journalist to be killed in the Iraq war.  Their daughter Katie wrote for People Magazine.  Daughter Meg is an Emmy Award-winning writer for day time television.

All the Kellys speak of journalistic integrity as if it’s a close personal relative; anyone who messes with it will have to mess with them.

“I just can’t stand it when I read a reporter’s story and I know how they vote!” I’ve heard three Kellys avow with anger most people reserve for someone stealing their parking space.

As for not being a player?  When she was on the bench, Sandra Day O’Connor invited Marguerite and a few ladies in the neighborhood to join her lunch-time exercise class in the Supreme Court Building.

Ok, Marguerite, we believe you.  You’re not a player, but you are a generous, spirited hostess.  Fifty people (I think even more showed up.) packed into the luminous Victorian home that night.  They sat on anything horizontal – window sills, coffee tables, ottomans, probably even the kitchen trashcan – but everyone had silver utensils and linen napkins on their laps.  The house buzzed with conversation evenly sprinkled with family, food and, of course, politics.

The chicken was hot and perfectly tender, brined two days earlier in buttermilk, the biscuits’ buttery layers delicate, but the interesting curve to the menu was this salad, which is miraculously easy and surprisingly fresh, a great pea salad no matter how you vote.  Made with un-defrosted frozen peas, the whole salad stays crisp and fresh even at at Fourth of July party in Washington.

Perhaps some of Marguerite’s best entertaining wisdom is this:  “The older I get, the simpler my recipes.”

 

 

Marguerite Kelly’s Green Pea Salad

Ingredients

1 bag frozen petit pois

1 bunch chopped green onions

3/4 cup sour cream

 

Instructions

Stir everything together in a bowl, and allow to sit for 45 minutes before serving.  Do NOT defrost the peas; that’s the trick.  This is fabulous at a summer picnic or barbecue.

 

 

Sockeye Salmon and A Simple Cambodian Sauce

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

 

More on salmon:  some friends in the Pacific Northwest recently sent me a ravishing Sockeye salmon, Oncorhyncus nerka.

“Sockeye” has nothing to do with the fish’s vision, but is, according to the NOAA, an adulteration of sukkai, “red fish” to the indigenous people living along the Fraser River of British Columbia.

After Pink and Chum, Sockeye is the most common salmon, but in parts of the Snake River and Ozette Rivers it’s considered an endangered species.

The salmon delivered to my door step came from conscientious, Sockeye enthusiasts in Washington State, where Sockeye is not an Endangered Species.

 

My Seattle friends say it’s the best salmon.  I happened to notice Atlantic Monthly food writer Corby Kummer does, too.  Along with Sockeye’s almost vermillion color comes an earthier, wilder flavor than other species.  The NOAA site attributes that flavor and color to Sockeye’s 100 percent plankton diet.  That diet, again says NOAA, is also responsible for the Sockeye’s extremely low mercury levels.  Pregnant and nursing women, and the rest of us, can safely tuck into this pumpkin-colored, anadromous species.  (Bright red ocean fish that spends half its life in rivers.)

“Seattle” recommended nothing but salt, pepper, and some time on the grill for our Sockeye, but, like almost every day here now, it was pouring rain, so we broiled.  “Seattle” forewarned a thin layer of omega-3’s would rise to the top, that treasured elixir of fair skin and clean arteries, fish oil.  This is apparently another distinctive Sockeye feature.  Our fish was delicious; you could almost taste that Pacific plankton, and the top glistened with oils, an embarrassment of good health riches.

I’ve been enjoying the leftover Sockeye as a salad now for days, and I almost enjoy it more.  While still firm and ultra-rich, the meat has mellowed to sweet.  It’s fabulous with sriracha and mayo, or soy sauce and scallions, even my light homemade, blue cheese dressing.

 

 

Today I had it in a mustard greens and fresh mint salad drizzled with a simple Cambodian dressing which my friend Bonna Sam just showed me.  Bonna drizzles this dressing over salmon cooked simply on top of the stove, and serves it with rice and a salad, over which she pours more dressing.

This sauce is a great thing to know about; just five easy ingredients, it makes the simplest of meals instantly delicious and instantly Asian.  Clean, light, oil-less, it’s a particularly delicious counter to the nutrient-rich Sockeye.   If you’re having salmon for the 4th of July, whisk together some of this on top of the stove, and drizzle it on top.

 

Bonna Sam’s Cambodian Dressing for Salmon and Salads

 

Ingredients

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/8 cup white vinegar

1 cup water

1 clove minced garlic

optional: 1 tablespoon shredded carrot for color

 

Instructions

In a small saucepan whisk together the first four ingredients.  Heat to medium high, and bring sauce to a simmer.   Simmer to dissolve the sugar, and remove from heat.  Add the garlic and the carrot, if desired.

Salmon with Honey, Hazelnuts, and Basil

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Here is a recipe to re-instate the once traditional Fourth of July salmon.

Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking, offers some fascinating facts on this favorite.  One of the oldest fish, salmon was apparently swimming someplace 100 million years ago.  Salmon are carnivores born in fresh water, then head to the sea to mature, and return to freshwater to spawn.  Trout, in the same family as salmon, evolved when groups of Atlantic and Pacific salmon, for whatever reason – glacier action? –  became landlocked.

 

 

Salmon is orange, according to McGee, “due to astaxanthin, a chemical relative of the carotene pigment that colors carrots.”  In salmon’s case, astaxanthin comes from its tiny crustaceans meals.  Most fish have astaxanthin, but store it in their skin and ovaries.  Salmon store it in their muscle.  When heated, as in broiled, grilled or poached – all the delicious ways we cook salmon – astaxanthin produces volatile molecules that resemble those found in some fruits and flowers.  This, apparently, is why we love the taste of salmon.

Although the image lingers, Fourth of July salmon and peas had only a brief run as a food tradition.  For a short time after the American revolution the season’s first peas coincided with Atlantic salmon’s arrival at river mouths preparing to spawn.  Yet, food historian Sandy Oliver claims that a cold spell gripped New England in the 18th century.  Indeed, Nasa scientists describe a Northern Hemisphere “Little Ice Age” beginning in 1550 and lasting until 1850, with three stages of cold spells in between.  In 1816, Oliver says, Maine saw snow in June and a killing frost in July.  July peas, she guesses, were rare in those years, making Fourth of July salmon and peas a treat only from mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, when Atlantic salmon stocks began their tragic decline.  By the 1940’s, Oliver says, Penobscot Bay salmon were “just about gone.”

According to NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, Atlantic Salmon were once native to almost every river north of the Hudson River; now wild populations exist in only eleven rivers.  A 2006 evaluation put Atlantic salmon’s risk of extinction between 19 and 75 percent.

Still, the Alaskan wild salmon fishery is thriving; even previously frozen wild salmon is delicious.  My neighbor, Heather Ritchie, recently offered me this recipe, which we prepared for a potluck dinner.  Not only did it vanish quickly, but, the ultimate test of recipe-worthiness, more than one person asked for the recipe.  The distinctive crust of hazelnuts, faint sweetness of honey and brightness of basil aren’t traditional, but that pea and salmon thing was apparently just a cultural  aberation.  This gives salmon a whole new outfit.

 

 

Salmon with Honey, Hazelnuts and Fresh Basil

serves 4-6

Ingredients

grapeseed, safflower, or olive oil to coat pan

2 pounds salmon fillet

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 cups roughly crushed hazelnuts (Don’t worry about removing skins.)

2 teaspoons olive oil for drizzling

1 cup basil, chopped into a chiffonade

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Coat a rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan in one of the three oils.  (Heather Ritchie prefers one with a high smoke-point.)

Rinse fish, and pat dry.  Lay in pan skin-side down.  If there is a thin end, tuck it under so that the fillet is even in thickness.

Drizzle honey over the fish flesh.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with hazelnuts.  Drizzle oil over nuts to guarantee they toast.  Sprinkle basil chiffonade over all.

The basil will brown when cooking.  If that is undesirable, add it half-way through the cooking time.   Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the fish is lightly brown, and just beginning to flake.