Archive for the ‘Seafood’ Category

Slow Food USA $5 Challenge

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Slow Food USA laid down the gauntlet: Prepare a slow food meal from whole foods, for less than $5 per serving.  At $5, these meals are less expensive than fast food, and support the ideals and the budget many of us have for feeding our families.  I’ve been looking forward to posting a meal for a few weeks now.

Given that the challenge date falls on Saturday, there was no question how I was going to approach my challenge. Saturday is farmers’ market day for our small business, and we would be covering two markets, Western Wake Farmers’ Market and The Saturday Market.  Our family MO is we split up to cover these venues, and each of us does a little shopping, with no consultation with the others (except to make sure we don’t duplicate items) – this way everybody gets to have something that they wanted during the upcoming week.  Sometimes we have meal ideas when we buy, other times the ingredients just speak to us.  I was simply going to work with whatever we brought home today, with no preconceived notion about what to prepare.

Today turned out to be a banner day for fresh food.  It’s change of season, so our market bags were overflowing with loot: first-push mustard greens, Sungold cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, pears, whole chicken and chicken livers, fall asparagus, flounder and swordfish, eggs, queso fresco, butter beans, okra, and a few things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  In the end, two things spoke to me: fall asparagus, because I have never before encountered it (the vendor told me that when asparagus plants become very mature, they produce a little in the fall, in addition to the usual spring harvest), and the swordfish steaks, because we don’t really enjoy frozen seafood, so our habit is to eat seafood starting Saturday evening and keep eating it every night until we finish what we bought on Saturday (so weekends are usually fish nights, as is Monday about half the time).

The final dish wound up being Homemade Pappardelle Pasta in Brown Butter Lemon Cream Sauce, with Lemon-Caper Swordfish Steaks and Autumn Asparagus and Sweet Red Peppers.

After a long, raw day at rainy farmers’ markets, we were all in the mood for a more hearty meal than the summer fare we’ve enjoyed till now.  My thoughts turned to pasta.  While I have no moral objection to boxed pasta, after a long week I needed the kind of therapy that comes from making pasta from scratch.  And while I love making pasta dough, I lose patience with tedious preparations on Saturday nights, since I usually don’t start making dinner till after 5 PM.  Pappardelle noodles are lazy man’s noodles: rich and delicious, but quick and easy to make: literally 5 minutes to prepare dough, and about 10 minutes to roll and cut after the dough has rested for a half hour.

I also don’t want to fuss with sauce after working all day, so a brown butter sage lemon cream sauce was just what the doctor ordered.  It’s a simple, delicious way to dress pasta in no time flat.

Swordfish steaks were a last minute addition to my market basket from Not Lin of Locals Seafood, after I realized the the single whole fish he reserved for me was not going to be enough to feed four people well.  We had a quick negotiation about them, a calculus that involves the exchange of market goods and cash in varying amounts each week.  I’ve adjusted my meal cost calculations to account for the true street price of the ingredients I used, however, so you can rest assured that you can reproduce my meal for the amounts I quote.

The star of my meal, however, was fall asparagus.  Gertrude’s Garden Gems had this unusual offering, and it could not be passed up, or passed over this evening.  Asparagus is a spring treat with a short season, and having it in the fall was an extraordinary treat. I decided to pair it with peppers from Redbud Farm.

Here’s the photo blog on how to pull the meal together:

Make a basic pasta dough by combining 3 cups of flour, 2 tsp salt and 3 eggs. Knead by hand or with a machine until you achieve a compliant ball that isn't sticky. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water - add them one TBSP at a time till the dough comes together. If you add too much water, don't panic, just dust in a little more flour to compensate. When the dough is kneaded, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour.

Cut off hunks of dough a little bigger than a golf ball, and roll them on a well-floured surface (or with a pasta machine) till they are a few millimeters thick. Cut noodles about 3/4" wide.

While the pasta dough is resting, marinate the swordfish in lemon juice (the juice of half a lemon). You can add some white wine, too, if you like.

Here are the noodles, asparagus and peppers. Trim the woody ends of the asparagus (about the bottom inch or two) and blanch for about a minute, then shock in cold water. You'll reheat them in the pasta water immediately before serving. Cut the peppers in a coarse dice.

Pan sear the peppers in some EVOO. Just a few minutes is enough. Retain the oil in the pan as the base of the cream sauce.

Pan sear the swordfish in EVOO and cook gently until cooked through to desired doneness. About 5 minutes per side was enough for these steaks. Meanwhile, get the sauce started by melting half a stick of butter in the pepper pan with the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and add about 1 TBSP dried sage.

Boil the pasta till al dente, about one minute or maybe two. It's fresh, so it needs hardly any cooking. Also, add capers and caper vinegar to fish (about a TBSP of each). Turn the cooked pasta out into the browned butter, and add about 4 ounces of half and half or heavy cream. Toss gently till noodles are coated and warmed, about 2 minutes.

Plate the meal as you like. This is one suggestion.

That’s all there is to it.  It was about 30 minutes of prep, 30 minutes of waiting for dough to rest, and maybe 10 or 15 minutes active cooking.

Here’s the costing:

 Total Cost Portions  Cost per Portion
Protein fish  $         13.50 4  $                         3.38
Capers  $           0.20 4  $                         0.05
Pasta flour  $           0.52 5  $                         0.10
eggs  $           1.14 5  $                         0.23
Sauce Butter  $           0.27 5  $                         0.05
Lemon  $           0.33 5  $                         0.07
Cream  $           0.28 5  $                         0.06
Veg Asparagus  $           1.75 4  $                         0.44
Peppers  $           1.00 4  $                         0.25
Marco Polo EVOO  $           0.25 5  $                         0.05
Salt  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Pepper  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Total per portion:  $                         4.69

We achieved the Slow Food criteria pretty easily, and had a luxurious meal for less than the cost of a fast food meal.  You can do it, too!

And now a word from our sponsor: find the best, freshest coffee at:

Follow the author on Twitter or Facebook.


How to make cioppino (fish stew) from whole fish

August 28, 2011 8 comments

Yesterday was perfect for soup, as we watched the rainy tail of hurricane Irene move north.

Earlier in the day my fishmonger, Not Lin, hooked me up with my usual weekly fix of whole fish.  (I call him Not Lin because after months of calling him Lin, his wife one day said to me “his name’s Not Lin”.  Actually, his name is Ryan, so you don’t have to call him Not Lin.)  Yes, sadly it’s gotten to the point where obtaining whole fish is a special-order proposition.  And that, in fact, is the reason for this post.

Because I don’t understand why people prefer to buy fish filets.  So much waste! So much expense!  And why?  It takes just minutes to filet a fish, and there are so many nice things you can do with fish heads and carcasses.  Even if you can’t use the heads and carcasses immediately, they freeze well, or make stock from them and freeze the stock.  (Funny aside: my daughter turned on the Food Network show Chopped after dinner last night, and one of the mystery basket ingredients were fish heads.  No kidding.  If any of the wanna-be chefs had ever worked with whole fish before in their lives, which apparently they had not, they may have made a respectable showing.  The judges had to select the one that was least bad, in my opinion.)

So I thought we would use this blog, whose point is to teach people how to deal with “difficult” ingredients and teach lost (among the average eater) techniques, to teach how to begin with a whole fish (OK, ours were gutted before we got them), and turn them into filets, fish stock, and a beautiful cioppino.  Cioppino is fish stew, usually credited to San Francisco fishermen of Italian descent.  Traditionally, it has a tomato base.  Making cioppino is kind of like making chili – there are lost of recipes out there, and there is really no right or wrong way to do it.  Following a recipe is likely to lead to frustration, because so many of them have exotic, or at least lots of diverse ingredients.  Who buys like 5 kinds of seafood in a single shopping trip?  Not me.  So feel free to adapt and use whatever YOU have on hand.

I started with three fresh fish from my local fishmonger, Locals Seafood. I have a standing order for three whole fish every week. I never know what they are going to be. This week it was Sheepshead (sort of like the lovechild of Snapper and Grouper), a Sea Trout (like a freshwater trout but not as delicate), and a flounder. Note my knife sharpener in the background - fileting fish is best accomplished with a very sharp, flexible knife.

Start by slicing perpendicular to the torso, from behind the gill up to the spine - almost like you're going to cut the head off, but not so deep (cut until you encounter the resistance of the spine). If you've never done this before, you need to know that fish are generally fileted one side at a time, so you're going to work on one side, obtain one filet, then repeat on the other side. Note also that my fish were gutted and scaled before I got them. It's unlikely you'll ever encounter a fish for sale that hasn't been gutted, because that's necessary just after catching. If your fish isn't scaled, search this blog for a post called "Best fish scaler ever" to see how to scale a fish.

Now repeat that 1st cut, but across the tail.

Now slice along the back, keeping the knife edge as close to the bony middle as possible. It will be more obvious in the next photo. Slice from the 1st cut you made along the head, all the way down to the 2nd slice across the tail.

Now filet the fish by continuing to cut away the filet from the carcass. Work your way from head to tail, slicing down an inch or two at a time, then go back to the head and start again. repeat until you have fileted the fish.

Another angle on the fileting process. Pile of pin bones from previous fish on edge of cutting board (read next photo caption).

Some types of fish (like Sheepshead, and Salmon), have bones called pin bones that need to be removed. You can feel them by running your finger along the filet - they will prick you like a pin. Get yourself a pair of pliers - I have stainless pin bone pliers, but regular needlenose, or even a pair of kitchen scissors would do the trick. Just grab each pin bone you find and yank it out. Some of the flesh will come along with it. One of the fileting photos above has a pile of pin bones on the edge of the cutting board for reference.

Here are the beautiful filets of three fish. You can use them however you like, and they will freeze well, too. We'll use the Sheepshead and Sea Trout tonight in the cioppino, and we'll save the Flounder for tomorrow night. This took me about 5 minutes, literally. Now granted, I have a lot of practice. It might take you 15 minutes. But the price of these filets would have been about $45. I paid $30 for the whole fish. Is it really worth an extra $15 to you to save 15 minutes? If you make more than a dollar a minute in your spare time, I'd like to join your MLM. And, you would be robbed of the fish carcasses and heads which will make the lovely fish stock we need for the cioppino, and it would cheat the dogs out of about a pound or two of food (see later pics). No, pre-cut anything is a mystery to me.

Now take the carcasses, and cut them into pieces that will fit into your stock pot. A knife or a pair of kitchen shears will do the job.

Into the pot with all of the carcasses.

Add a few quarts of water to the carcasses, as well as whatever soup herbs you like and have around. In this case, I threw in some bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme branches. Simmer the mixture for a couple hours, stirring once in a while. I like my strainer pot because it makes it easy to separate the fish parts from the stock later, but a collander will do the job just as well after the fact.

Here's the finished stock, before straining.

Here are the fish carcasses. We'll turn this into dog food later.

Here's the strained stock. The straining basket in the pot does most of the work, but I still poured it through a finer strainer to catch any small chuncks that got through the post strainer, which is quite coarse. We'll need about 1.5 liters for the cioppino (that measuring cup is 1 liter).

Now to start the cioppino. Saute some aromatic veg and a can of tomato paste until soft and well mixed. In this case I used onions, peppers, and garlic because it's what I had around. All together, it was probably 2 cups of veg. Once the veg is soft, add a quart (or 28 oz can) of crushed tomatoes, and about 1.5 liters of the fish stock. I forgot to photograph that step.

Once you have the aromatics, tomatoes and fish stock simmering, add some seasonings. Now don't be too dogmatic about this - whatever you like and hav is just fine. In my case, I added about 1 TBSP smoked salt, 1 TBSP smoked paprika, the zest of a lemon, a couple teaspoons of dried oregano, a pinch of saffron threads, and a big pinch of dried lemongrass.

I added a couple pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced, because I happened to have them and the skins were starting to turn green. I pan fry them first before adding to soup, as it improves the texture. Add them to the soup only after the soup has simmered for at least an hour, because you don't want the taters to overcook. Add them about 15 minutes before you want to serve, because that's all the longer they'll take to cook.

Skin the filets in preparation of going into the soup. This step isn't mandatory if you like fish skins (I do, my family doesn't). Start from the tail, and with your fileting knife cut the filet free from the skin. Should take about 20 seconds per filet.

Coarsely cut the filets. This is the filets of the Sheepshead and the Sea Trout.

Add the filets to the simmering pot. they will cook through in about 5 minutes. Stir gently once or twice while they are cooking.

Finished dish! Enjoy!

After dinner, separate the meat from bones of the carcasses you boiled, and cook the skins in a little extra stock. Chop them up for the dogs. No waste!

Now for a little costing analysis.

The fish were $30.  They made 8 portions of cioppino, and 4 portions of flounder filets. $30/12 portions = $2.50 per portion.  And that doesn’t account for the dog food I got out of it, or the extra fish stock I froze.

The cioppino used probably $3 worth of aromatics, $2 worth of potatoes, and let’s say $1 for tomato paste and herbs.  The tomatoes we canned; I used one jar, and we get about 9 jars out of a $25 box of tomatoes, so that jar was worth $2.77.  Total for ingredients exclusing fish is 3+2+1+2.77=6.77, divided by 8 portions is $0.84.

Add $0.84+$2.50 = $3.34 per portion.  You can’t buy a fast food meal for that amount.

And now a word from our sponsor: find the best, freshest coffee at:

Follow the author on Twitter or Facebook.