This was a meaty weekend, starting with a tower of various pig and cow parts brought in from Hill Country Friday night, and concluding with a Peking duck from Peking Duck House. Aside from a bellyful of fatty flesh, I came away, strangely, with a deeper understanding of the vegetarian life.
Vegetarians, I realized, are like scientologists, dwelling in, but not of, the surrounding world. You watch everyone eat meat, yet you poke through a salad or a veggie burger, or, in the latter case, strapped to an e-meter (is there a hyphen in there…not sure). Especially as winter turns to spring and there’s nothing better than a nice walk around the neighborhood. Restaurants unpack the tables and chairs stored since last year and set them up on the sidewalks; I can only imagine the torture of walking up Lafayette past the swept open windows and doors of Soho Park knowing you’re forbidden to sample the burger.
Yet there is, I suppose, a sense of community (see: A.A.); vegetarians united. Alas, such a group doesn’t exist for the haters of tuna salad; this is true loneliness, anomie at its most intense. I take solace, however, in the knowledge that I’m right, and that someday the world will come around to the fact that fish packed into a can, potentially for years, is incorrect.
When it comes to fish, the most frequent adjective is “fresh”: right from the sea, the “daily catch”, “day boat scallops”, line caught this and that. I like my sushi as fresh as possible; if I preferred an older product I’d eat, well, canned tuna. I also prefer my fish clean smelling, with only a faint briny odor. For those who prefer otherwise, there’s always canned tuna, which, when opened, emits the nauseating aroma of cat food.
Objection #3: color and texture. Overcooking tuna is a basic cooking no-no. The fish turns the color of molding clay and acquires the texture of compressed pencil shavings.
If it’s a seafood salad you’re after, chunk up a piece of cooled, recently cooked fish and toss it with some sort of vinaigrette. When thinking up a seafood salad, the best thing to do is close your eyes and imagine you’re on a the beach on a sunny day, thoughts of lunch floating through your mind like the waves washing over your toes. Unless the beach is off Chatham in the middle of great white season in which case it’s wiser to focus on something other than lunch.
A shellfish salad, perhaps, complete with mussels and clams and squid, or of course, a salad nicoise. Which brings me back to tuna. Salad nicoise is a perfect example of a correctly prepared ingredient bathing in its correct context. Tuna, seared rare, sliced, with a bunch of Meditterraneany stuff. Swordfish, while not the most exciting fish, is almost genetically engineered for salads: the firm flesh doesn’t collapse when tossed with a dressing or pierced by a fork. And it’s bland enough to take on any desired flavor. It also doesn’t come from a can, which is nice when it comes to fish.
Swordfish Salad w/ Thai Dressing and Broiled Scallions
1 ½ pounds swordfish
2 bunches scallions, trimmed
salt and pepper
For the Dressing:
¼ cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
juice 1 lime
1 minced garlic clove
1 minced fresh red chile
- Rub fish all over with a bit of olive oil and lay on rack over a foil-covered baking sheet. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Toss the scallions with oil. Preheat the broiler. Place on a rack with scallions. Place on a rack just under the heat. Depending on thickness, the fish will take 6-7 minutes, flipping once, and scallions 3-4. You want the veg just cooked through and just a little browned, not charred. Remove, let cool and refrigerate. When cold, cut fish into ½ inch pieces and the scallions into 1-inch lengths.
- Whisk the dressing ingredients until the sugar completely dissolves. Gently toss the fish and scallions in a bowl with the dressing and mint. Season as desired and serve.