Oysters take me back to summer in Truro. While I’ll take a dozen raw ones over shaved ice any day, come summer we eat them Cape-style, i.e. fried. Fried oysters are the king of fried seafood: good oysters taste supremely of the sea, and so, rather than an excuse to eat fried stuff, a fried oyster is actually a fresh, oceany bite. Which happens to be fried.
There are two factors at play when considering the fried oyster: coating method, and plate construction. The former is a matter of taste. For a pure burst of oyster goodness, dust simply with flour and fry. From there, you move up the crust level, with increasingly thick layers of encasing crunch. Dip them in buttermilk, then flour, or your standard flour-egg-flour process. We went with a double dip: flour-buttermilk-flour then a return to the buttermilk and flour and into the oil.
Plate construction is a fancy way of saying accompaniments. I imagine that in the beginning, in seaside towns such as Truro, people ate their fried seafood Mediterranean-style: dropped in oil and devoured tableside by the water. Over time the dish took a distinctly American turn, and cooks created the “basket” or “dinner”. That is to say, an enormous salad of fried food served in a basket or on a frisbee-sized plate. And so, in Truro, my fried oysters arrive aside a high pile of French fries (and limp salad).
French fries-I eat them all, of course-are a poor foil for fried oysters; they dull the palate and dilute the sharp oyster flavor. It’s also an overdose of fried food. Better to munch on them with a simple tartar sauce or, as we do here, a plate of grits. And a few discs of fried pancetta because, well, fried pork never hurt anyone. At risk of violating seaside food history, French fries don’t necessarily improve a dish. Fried oysters, however, are always delicious and deserve a proper environment.
Fried Oysters, Fried Pancetta, and Grits
Serves 4 as an appetizer
1 cup grits
2 cups milk
16 oysters, shucked
12 slices pancetta
3 cups flour
2 cups buttermilk
oil for frying
salt and pepper
- Bring grits and milk to boil in a small pan, simmer till done, stirring, about ½ hour (add milk or water as needed). Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm
- Set at least 3 inches of oil in a medium pot over medium high heat. Set up two bowls, one with flour the other buttermilk. When the oil hits 325, start dredging oysters: flour then buttermilk, back in flour. Repeat, shaking off excess flour. Fry until golden, about 1 minute. Season with salt. Drain on a paper towel.
- When done, fry the pancetta a few slices at a time for about 30 seconds. Divide grits, oysters, and pancetta among 4 plates and serve.
Thomas Keller says he keeps two things on the stove at all times: salt and acid, acid being citrus, or more likely, some kind of vinegar. Rather than, say, pepper, which adds a unique flavor, salt and vinegar act as a welcome air current to bird, carrying and intensifying existing flavor. A pinch of cumin makes a dish tastes a bit like, well, cumin. But a splash of balsamic can balance, or round out the picture, cutting through the fattiness of a steak or creamy sauce.
In addition to vinegar, Keller also savours publishing the occasional punishing recipe. Like a tennis serve, the mechanics may seem simple, but take a long time to master. Such is the case with his famous salmon tartare cones, which took me about a year to conquer. (A tip: when the butter starts bubbling, it’s ready to flip and mold.)
A perfect sausage is a like a speedy, accurate, tennis serve, requiring more than a little practice. We make our own fresh sausages around here, thanks to Pino the butcher, the Meat Hook’s cheap casings, and a streak of ocd. Usually we encounter the occasional split casing, or, more typical, a puff of meat popping out from both ends while in the frying pan.
Only yesterday did we produce flawless links. Way back, we learned about pricking out air holes, but the final key, it turns out, is to spin the ends vigorously while forming fresh links. That ensures a nice tight tip guaranteed not to burst.
But while it’s nice to master tricky recipes, it’s even nicer to broaden your touch, your food aptitude. Which is where the vinegar comes in. We stole this sausage dish from Andrew Feinberg via the doorstop-sized CoCo cookbook, down to the sautéed peppers served alongside the fried links. Sausage and peppers is pretty common, but, due to a tiny splash of balsamic, these peppers were perfect. The vinegar lightened the pork and brightened the whole plate. Keller (and, of course, Feinberg, would approve.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s not to be discouraged by tricky recipes. Having salt and vinegar within arms reach is half the battle.
(NOTE: get a kitchen scale. Curing salt optional, but they retain freshness and color. These freeze well. Also, when you grind, run through large, then fine die. Also (#2) make sure the butcher (if you’re making links) gives you casings packed in salt-they last a year. If you already possess a Kitchen Aid and have a bit of time, don’t be a schmoe: get the grinder/stuffer accessories. We added a bunch of directions on the processing-the book is sort of for the already-chef.)
Homemade Sausage and Peppers (From Coco and adapted from Andrew Feinberg)
Makes about 20 links (or a bunch of patties)
For the sausage:
4 ½ pounds fatty pork butt
½ pound pork belly
1/3 pound chopped parmesan
4 cloves chopped garlic
2 tablespoons salt
5.6g curing salt
1. clean casings (see NOTE). Soak in a bowl of running water and run water through them several times. Make sure not to tangle.
2. Grind ingredients (see NOTE). Stuff casings – this probably takes 2 people – one to feed, the other to hold.
3. Prick all over with a sharp needle or some such device to pop air bubbles. Twist into links-turn several times. Freeze or use as desired.
For the peppers:
2 red bell peppers, cleaned, in ½ inch dice.
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
1. Warm about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add peppers and let fry, untouched until lightly charred, then toss and cook till soft. Add balsamic vinegar and toss until peppers are coated, season and remove.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Fry 4 or 5 sausages in a large pan (don’t overcrowd or they’ll steam), rolling gently to brown all sides. Remove to oven for a few minutes. Serve with peppers.
There’s something captivating about the entire Roux family. I used to think it was just the brothers (see earlier post), but the mischievous gene has been passed on to the next generation, specifically the younger Michel. On his BBC show, junior cooks French classics such as pigeon with peas, fennel-stuffed bass, morel and sweetbread-filled pigs trotter, and prune-stuffed rabbit saddle. I’ve never heard of any of this stuff-always thought classic meant soufflé-but maybe these are the burgers of France.
Funny, then, that Msr. Roux chose to make Oysters Rockefeller, a quintessentially American plate of food: something I associate with robber barons and businessmen and tourists at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central. But he chose the dish because its creation requires a handful of essential kitchen skills.
An Oyster Rockefeller (let’s use the singular, though I guess you can get a bunch) is a truly gilded lily. A plump, briny oyster is nestled in a bed of creamed spinach, coated with a rich thin custard, and broiled. The result is a warm, briny cream sandwich.
Back to the basic skills. You need to emulsify (egg with oyster liquor); squeeze dry (cooked spinach); broil gently; shuck; strain through fine mesh; temper a liquid; poach oysters very lightly. Nothing complicated, but a series of delicate steps. It’s a little ballet dance where one misstep wrecks the show.
As far as consumption, I envision tuxes, the Waldorf, and cigars. But the Cape being home of the oyster, we ate them picnic tableside washed down with growlers of Cape Cod beer. Msr. Roux would, I’m sure, appreciate.
Oysters Rockefeller (approximated via Msr. Roux)
Makes 4 oysters
4 large oysters
large handful spinach
½ cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
- Shuck oysters into a bowl and reserve in the oyster liquor.
- Steam spinach in a little water until limp. Drain, run under cold water. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and chop roughly. Place in a bowl. Fold in enough cream just to bind the spinach. Season and reserve.
- Strain oyster liquor into a small pan over low heat. Add oysters and poach 15 seconds, remove to a bowl. Reduce liquid by half, add remaining cream (about ¼ cup). Whisk egg yolk in a small bowl and incorporate into the cream as you would a custard: pour a bit of hot liquid into the egg to temper, whisking energetically. Pour mixture back into the pot over low heat, whisking, until creamy. Season.
- To finish, preheat broiler. Spoon a bit of spinach on each oyster shell. Top with an oyster, pour over the sauce. Place on a tray and broil until lightly browned. It could take a few minutes, but watch carefully. Serve hot.
There’s a lobster glut around here; they’re scooping them out of the Maine waters at a furious rate, surpassing demand. And so more people are eating and overcooking more lobster than ever .
Like a new store or a Gymboree, the food truck is a symbol of arrival, that people have moved into the neighborhood, or, in this case, a dish has reached ubiquity. Which explains the three cupcake trucks and stands within 100 feet of our apartment. Or, now, the lobster roll truck.
Here in Truro, on the Outer Cape, you can find a pretty good lobster roll, but more typical is the simple steamed lobster with a baked potato and maybe a basket of steamers. I never order or cook lobster any other way, or any other time of the year. To me, lobster signifies summer, baskets pulled right from the sea, pots of boiling water, cold beer, and picnic tables. Rather than chunks of it drenched in mayo, stuffed into a bun, and served from a food truck or in a restaurant.
Squid and clams are year-round fare, though in summer I eat them fried, and in winter I eat them grilled or sautéed. But grilled squid is fantastic and often overlooked, possibly because a handful of tubes and tentacles, squid is surprisingly tricky to cook. Extreme heat is critical for achieving the necessary charred bits, and as grills don’t often get as hot as a smoking pan, you need to let the squid sit for a bit longer. I know this violates squid cookery 101, which says that after 30 seconds the beast toughens. However, no one will turn down a bowl of lightly charred, smoky squid hot off the grill.
Less accessible than a roll full of mayo and lobster, grilled squid may not demand a food truck. But you never know. I’d rather eat great squid than a cupcake.
Grilled Squid with Fresh Basil
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 pound cleaned squid, bodies and tentacles
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
handful of basil, torn
salt and pepper
- Dry the squid and toss in a bowl with basil and garlic and a generous pour of olive oil. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
- Oil grill grates and preheat on high then toss on the squid and grill until lightly browned. Remove the tentacles, as they will cook quickly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.
A bowl of steaming hot mussels and a large hunk of crusty bread with which to dunk in the juices sounds like a wintry sort of thing to cook and eat. But summer is truly bivalve season: it’s food straight from the sea (or bay) onto your plate with not much of a stop in between, maybe a simple pot of boiling water (see: lobster). Dump a bunch of steamers on a picnic table and eat.
And so we bought a bunch of mussels, steamed them in the classic mariniere fashion (white wine, shallots), and ladled them into bowls, ready to devour. And then we were hit with a buzzkill as classic as the cooking method: the tiny mussel, a nugget of meat the size of a crouton. A bowlful of them, drowning in mussel juice like plankton in the ocean.
Like Moby Dick, a great bowl of mussels is something rarely seen yet worth a lifetime of searching. Once upon a time in a restaurant in the East Village a waiter set before me the ultimate bowl of mussels, each one fatter than the next, their shells barely containing the plump meat. Alas, since then I’ve been met with only disappointment.
On the plus side, serially dashed hopes can lead to innovation, which is why, resigned to a world of the midget mussel, I committed the heretical act of dumping out the cooking liquid in favor of a little dip of garlicky aioli. And it was quite tasty. Not as much as serving of bloated mussel morsels, but a sensibly delicious approach for the mussel lover.
Mussels and Aioli
Makes a big bowl
2 cups white wine
2 shallots, sliced
2 pounds mussels, cleaned
1 recipe aioli
- Add wine, shallots, and mussels to a big pot over high heat, cover and steam until open, about 3 minutes.
- Strain liquid into a bowl and reserve for another use.
- Serve mussels with a bowl of aioli on the side or, for an hors d’oeuvre presentation, squeeze a bit of aioli on shell and top with a mussel. Sprinkle with chives.
Makes 1 cup
4 cloves garlic, pureed
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup canola
½ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
- To puree garlic, chop, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and work into the cutting board, mashing to a puree.
- Combine lemon juice, garlic, egg yolk in a medium bowl and add oils in a thin stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.
I’m writing this in the majestic reading room in the NY public library: the guardian lions, gold leaf, crumbling texts requiring special gloves, donors names etched in stone. Oh yeah, and homeless shelter, or at least weirdo magnet. Here, in this august place, I’ve been ripped off and yelled at by guys who’ve taken a med holiday. Right now, a creep in a Mets hat, with an overstuffed Duane Reade bag, is staring at me with crazy eyes. But back to food, and, oddly, given the circumstances, terrines.
For whatever reason, terrines are sort of intimidating, but an old culinary instructor told us to think of it as fancy meatloaf, which it is, so maybe that helps. On the other hand, another teacher called terrine day a “war of attrition” and nearly lunged at me with a cleaver after seeing the blades of the giant meat grinder, choked with sinew from my poorly trimmed lamb shoulder. But ever since I insulted his pizza making skills he had it in for me, so it’s best to ignore that little terrine episode.
In fact, terrines are relatively simple, though less so than meatloaf: often layered, bound or topped with gelatin, wrapped in cured meats, etc. Most of all, you have to pay attention to ratios of liquid to meat, so you attain the desired texture. I like a rough, country style, and so tend to chop rather than grin the meat, and use eggs, booze, and pork fat instead of cream.
For a starter terrine, you can go vegetarian. Take a bunch of stuff, press it together or bind with gelatin, chill and eat. They look pretty, but you come up against the surprisingly frequent food issue of taste versus beauty. Minus the gelatin, the one below is a delicious salad of lentils, poached cod, roasted garlic, red onion and tarragon. Ruth Reichl would call it redolent of cool Provencal breezes and the shade under a robin’s wing. But back on planet Earth, I call it a damn tasty salad.
Is it better as a terrine, or simply kind of cool looking? In this case, unlike cobbling together a tricked out Hummer from a field of cool parts, it’s worth the extra effort. Eventually, you move on in the world of terrines, filling your porcelain mold with bits of squab and pork belly; it’s like stepping out the brass doors of the library onto Fifth Avenue and into the summer sun. Away from the creeps.
Haddock and Lentil Terrine (from Terrine)
7oz haddock fillet
3 garlic cloves
1 ¼ cups milk
½ cup French lentils
3 sprigs thyme
5 tablespoons white wine
1 ¼ cups vegetable stock
½ red onion, chopped finely
1 bunch tarragon, chopped
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
½ cup olive oil
3 gelatine leaves (or about 2/3 of 1 packet)
salt and pepper
- Add milk and garlic to a pan and simmer 8-10 minutes until flesh flakes. Remove fish, flake into a bowl and mash garlic to a puree in separate bowl.
- Cook the lentils: combine carrot and thyme with lentils, cover with water and simmer until done but not mushy-slightly underdone, actually. Drain, remove carrot and thyme and add to bowl with the fish. Stir in red onion, tarragon. Mix mustard with the olive oil and garlic puree and stir in. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into individual ramekins.
- In a small pot, boil the wine down by half, add the stock. In a small bowl add a little bit of water and sprinkle over the gelatine, let sit until firm, about 5-10 minutes. Bring stock mixture to a boil, whisk in gelatin. Pour the stock into the ramekins just until you see a bit of the liquid, but don’t drown it. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate 3 hours. Serve.
Drunk eats have a narrower range and variety than prison food. It’s always salty, often crunchy, often cheesy, always greasy, always brown or tan, and usually available by phone. That doesn’t mean, however that drunk moments don’t produce kitchen inspiration. Some great dishes (or at least they seemed that way at the time) have come while under the influence, wobbling over a hot stove, stirring a blazing pot of peanut butter, noodles, onions, and frozen peas. (Why does frozen food always end up in the equation?)
Tastes evolve, however, and sometimes dishes are conjured in the mind rather than on the plate or in the pot, and you make do with a sleeve of crackers or a plain bowl of cereal. Such was the case last week when, returning home from a gin and tonic or six I lay on the couch staring at the ceiling thinking about sushi and sandwiches (sandwiches and alcohol being a classic marriage).
The best bites of sushi I’ve ever had the privilege of consuming have been passed to me over the bar at Sushi Yasuda. The lone exception being the uni roll at recently closed Sushi Nozawa in L.A. It put me over the top, head nodding in a hallucinogenic sushi overdose, not recommended for a tourist in L.A., the most confusingly planned town on earth.
Back to the East Coast and last week. Uni on a sandwich, rather a crostini. But, being drunk, bacon came to mind, or, rather, its cold cut cousin, prosciutto. Why not? The next day I hopped on the bike to Chelsea Market-a place I loathe but whose fish market sells uni by the piece-and made said crostini to very good results.
I can’t boast of past drunk food, but perhaps with inebriation comes true gastronomic inspiration, if you can hold out till the next day. Or until someone comes up with a sushi snack in a bag, available via delivery guy.
(NOTE: Ficelle is a thin baguette, about 2-inches wide. It works for a delicate hors d’oeuvre, but you could use a standard baguette cut carefully.)
Uni and Prosciutto Crostini w/ Chili
Makes 8 pieces
4 large pieces uni
¼ pound thinly sliced prosciutto
1 thinly sliced small Thai red or green chili or other hot chili
½ fennel bulb sliced thinly plus a few fronds
few tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Slice ficelle at a severe angle very thinly, sprinkle with a little olive oil and toast lightly. Cool. Toss fennel with lemon juice and olive oil. Reserve.
- Arrange the uni and prosciutto over the bread, alternating the two. Top with fennel fronds and chilies and serve alongside fennel salad.
Paula Poundstone and Michael Pollan once had a memorable public radio confrontation (which may seem like an oxymoron). In terms of pure wit, it wasn’t a fair fight: she’s got it in spades. At the center of it all was the twinkie, which she called a household staple, and he labeled a chemical abomination. Relenting, he allowed as to it possibly being a (very) occasional indulgence. “Indulgence? I eat it every day. What do you mean indulgence?”
While I assume she doesn’t stock her pantry with sacks of twinkies, the discussion (if you can call it that) brought up the concept of indulgence. For some, it’s playing tennis occasionally despite the doc’s comment that your knee might explode. As this is a food blog, let’s stick to the topic.
Usually it means eating something crappy. Like half a pie or a bucket of fried chicken. Back on track: cooking. If you’re gonna indulge, why head to McDonald’s? Fry up a good cheeseburger. Instead of KFC, make your own fried chicken and mashed potatoes. It makes perfect sense: you get creative satisfaction as well as, yes, a superior product. Much of the McDonald’s indulgence factor is wrapped up in the instant satisfaction. But indulgence is about what goes in your body, not how fast it gets there.
There’s a place near us, which I’ve referenced many times; it serves one of the world’s greatest dishes listed simply as “sizzling pork fat.” Yeah. It’s not crackling or any of that nonsense. What comes to the table is, in fact, a small fiery hot cast iron dish full of popping and sizzling cubes of actual fat. Enough said. I’ll take this over fried chicken any day.
The point is, if you’re going to treat yourself, go for the real thing: the actual, unadulterated item, swollen with nothing but lovely fat. And so we come to butter. You could toss a chunk (knob?) or it in a sauce or use it to saute something. But, as our sizzling pork fat proves, messing with pure butter is like hiding a beautiful flower in an overcomplicated bouquet of junk. Let it shine; in other words, stick it on the plate and let it melt before your very eyes. I’m thinking hot pancakes, a warm biscuit, a steak topped with a thick compound butter coin, or, a personal favorite, a bucket of steamers accompanied by a jug of clarified butter for dipping. Butter as party dip.
Not surprisingly, scallops are popular in a nation of meat eaters. Otherwise you wouldn’t see them soaring through the air in a spray of bogus lemon juice in a Red Lobster ad. Properly cooked, it’s everything you might want in a protein: crisp exterior, soft interior, sweet, and rich. Sound like a steak? Why not do the same and top it with a disc of compound butter?
In the end you’re left with a scallop and melting butter. I can’t think of any better use for a scallop. Or butter.
(NOTE: Obviously this is a simple recipe, but it works fine as is. However, it’s also a good building block. Surround the scallop with clams; toss in pasta, or use the butter in any number of ways. I scored the scallop, a neat trick I saw somewhere: cut a tic-tac-toe pattern on one side. The butter melts into the crevices like an oceanic English muffin.)
Scallops w/ Herb Butter
Serves 2 as an appetizer
3 tablespoons minced herbs (tarragon, parsley, cilantro)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 large sea scallops, scored (see NOTE)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
- Combine the butter and herbs. Season with salt. Place in center of a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a tight cylinder. Refrigerate until hard.
- When ready to cook, season scallops on both sides, heat the oil in a medium pan over medium high heat until very hot. Gently add the scallops, pressing with your fingers to ensure contact with the pan. Let scallops cook about 2 minutes or until browned, flip and cook the same way.
- Serve hot topped with a thin disc of the herb butter.
So I discovered the world’s greatest condiment. It comes in a little jar and it’s called “chili oil with crunchy garlic”, which you have to admit sounds pretty awesome. Like many of the best condiments, this one is Asian (Japanese to be precise): I found it on a shelf at Pearl River. In a store otherwise full of schlock I plucked out the sole worthwhile item.
The label is entirely accurate, a virtue not to be taken lightly. Slipping in my spoon was like dipping a toe through a wave receding back into the ocean: halfway through the liquid, you’re met by a crunchy wall. My new little bottle was packed-packed!-half-full of, as advertised, crisp little bits of fried garlic. So I started doing something uncharacteristic: eating oil. On closer examination, the bits were a lovely mixture of fried garlic and a few other things equally delicious, the identity of which was frustratingly mysterious. I thought I sensed some dried fish in there, but the label said chilies and, oddly, almonds.
A proper condiment is like popcorn in a movie theater: without it, the main event is palatable but bland. For a condiment to attain pantheon status, its absence must render the central item irrelevant and pointless. A plate of fries with no ketchup, for instance. Munching fried garlic, chilies, and almonds; I couldn’t imagine a life without my new friend-in-a-little-bottle.
This stuff can be drizzled on noodles, meats, fish, chicken, added to stews, stir-fries, over toasted bread for a sandwich or a dipping sauce, etc. A bowl of noodles coated with the oil sounded particularly delicious, but too easy. I came up with squid, sliced thinly and tossed with the oil, scallions, black sesame seeds, and salt.
Ketchup is powerful; just ask the fry. But this stuff has a far wider range. In a forthcoming post I’ll attempt to recreate it in the kitchen, but for now I’m happy to enjoy my discovery and spread the word.
Oh yeah, it’s called Taberu Rayu.
(NOTE: Unless your squid/pan size ration is precise, you’ll probably end up with some excess squid liquid, in which case just drain it off in a colander. In general you shouldn’t crowd pans, but I don’t like a lot of extra dirty dishes. Also, to serve as an hors d’oeuvre we plated the squid in Chinese spoons. I’m not sure of any other practical way to do it. Maybe a little glass and a tiny fork or something. On a plate in lettuce cups would work. Finally, like steak tartare this is a season to taste kind of recipe. Just don’t add too much stuff; you’ll overwhelm the squid.)
Sauteed Squid in Chile Oil with Fried Garlic
Serves 2 as an appetizer, 4 as an hors d’oeuvre
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 pound squid sliced very thinly, including tentacles
¼ cup Taberu Rayu (chili oil w/ fried garlic)
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds or roasted sesame seeds
4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, whites only
- Heat the oil to smoking over high heat in a large pan. Add the squid and sauté for 45 seconds. Remove to a colander (SEE NOTE) to drain excess liquid.
- Add squid to a bowl and toss with remaining ingredients. Season with the salt and serve either on separate plates as an appetizer or small spoons as an hors d’oeuvre. You could simply set the bowl in the middle of the table with chopsticks.
I’m slightly uncomfortable with ubiquity. Not the word, rather things I see all the time. Like the college classmate who seems to be everywhere, knows your name, shakes your hand and scoots off, ready for his next encounter; the doctor whose ads plaster every subway car; beef with broccoli. Or, in this case, tilapia.
Whether the market is fully stocked with every type of meat, fish, and fowl, or the same shelves are as bare as a bachelor’s cupboard, the one constant (ubiquitous?) is tilapia. And the visual never varies, as if the long thin fillet was joined by a bunch of rivets and screws in a Ford factory. The whole thing makes me a bit suspicious.
I had in mind a picada, a sort of Spanish pesto, which, while pretty assertive, would be too mild for most meats, but perfect for fish, especially a white one such as cod. Alas, it was one of those tilapia days in our frustrating local market, and so, sighing, I brought some home prepared for the worst.
The tale has a happy ending, or I wouldn’t be writing this post. While relatively tasteless, tilapia is idiot proof, a rare virtue in the world of seafood cookery. The firm flesh doesn’t fall apart in a hot pan, resulting in a nice, crisp piece of fish.
Actually, to me, fried fish means sandwich, and this dish would probably be better between the bread or bun. And since fish sandwich is the home of the ubiquitous fish, tilapia would seem to fit the bill.
(NOTE: the picada texture is flexible. To make a little scoop it should be firmer. More nuts thicken the mixture. If you want a sauce, thin it out. Garlic is to taste.)
Tilapia w/ Picada
2 medium tomatoes, cored, halved
1 red pepper
1 bulb garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons blanched almonds
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
4 fillets tilapia, 6 oz each
- Preheat oven to 350. Coat a small pan with a few tablespoons olive oil. Add tomatoes, cut side up, season with salt and pepper and drizzle over another few tablespoons. Roast until slightly browned and wrinkled, about an hour.
- Meanwhile, place the pepper over a high flame, turning occasionally until charred, place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap to steam. When cool, peel off skin and core. Reserve.
- Add garlic to a small pot, cover with olive oil by about ½ inch and place over a very low flame. Heat about ½ hour. The garlic should be very lightly golden, completely tender but not dark. Make sure the oil only barely bubbles. Remove from heat.
- When tomatoes are done, add to a food processor (small if you have), along with the nuts and half the red pepper. Add a few tablespoons of the garlic oil. Puree until mixture is smooth but the nuts are slightly intact to provide a bit of crunch. Add parsley, pulse to incorporate. Add 2 or 3 of the confit garlic cloves and pulse. Season and turn into a bowl. (SEE NOTE)
- For the fish, heat a large sauté pan with ¼ cup olive oil over high heat. Season fish on both sides. When nearly smoking, lay in gently and brown on both sides, about 4 minutes total.
- To serve, divide fish, top with about a tablespoon of picada.