Thursday, July 27, 2006

Off to Vancouver...

When I woke up this morning, I decided to do something I’ve never done before in my life. I decided to make… are you ready for this… scrambled eggs.

Why have I never made scrambled eggs before? You see, Jason had a terrible childhood experience with them and I haven’t dared to cook them for him for fear he’d throw up. And what would possess me to get out of bed on a random Thursday morning and make scrambled eggs just for myself? “My Life in France.” No, it’s not my life in France, although I did have one and remember it with great fondness, but Julia Child’s life in France. “My Life in France” is a memoir of her formative cooking years in Paris written with her nephew Alex Prud’homme. I got it for the flight to Seattle tomorrow, but couldn’t help reading the first few chapters last night.

Her description of Chef Bugnard’s demonstration of the scrambled eggs technique at Le Cordon Bleu got me so inspired that I pulled out Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decided to give it a quick try before running off to work. Don’t you just love Julia? No other person has this effect on me. She makes me stop in my tracks, drop whatever I was doing, whip out a pan and start cooking. I love eggs in most forms -- poached, sunny side up, en cocotte, and even hard boiled -- but scrambled eggs were never my favorite, at least not until this morning. Who knew scrambled eggs could taste this good! I am sure a little truffle oil didn’t hurt, but the texture was light and shimmery like a cloud.

I can’t wait to read the rest of the book on our flight to the west coast. We are spending a weekend in Seattle and then a week in Vancouver where we plan on eating mountains of sushi, with small breaks for hiking, biking, reading more of Julia’s stories, and activities I won't discuss on this family-friendly blog.

Many fish tales await you when we get back.

Scrambled Eggs
(Adopted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, by Julia Child )

Serves 4

1.5 Tbsp softened butter
8 eggs
4 tsp water
Salt and pepper
1.5 Tbsp heavy cream

  1. Rub the bottom and sides of an 8 inch non-stick skillet with butter.
  2. Whisk eggs in a bowl with water, pinch of salt, and pepper just until the whites and the yolks are combined, about 20 seconds. Don’t over-beat.
  3. Pour the eggs into the buttered skillet and set it over medium-low heat. You read that correctly – you pour the eggs into a cold skillet. Cook stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Nothing will happen for 2 minutes. Keep scraping up the bottom and sides of the skillet. The eggs will soon start to thicken and turn into pale yellow curds. Cook until they are no longer liquidy. This doesn’t mean they become the consistency of a yellow kitchen sponge. As soon as they are no longer runny, they are done.
  4. Take off heat, and stir in the cream. Serve with chives, parsley, or a little drizzle of truffle oil (my favorite). I am guessing these would be fantastic with a dollop of black caviar.

The recipe can easily be halved or quartered. Just use a smaller pan.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Technique of the Week: How to cook swiss chard

Swiss chard has been such a regular in our farm share boxes that I expected to be tired of it by now. But once I’ve figured out the best way to cook it, we just can’t get enough of it. The secret to swiss chard is understanding that it’s really two vegetables in one.

The sturdy stems (that can be found in all kinds of pretty colors) need time to get tender, while the green leafy part cooks almost instantly and gives the dish a lighter feel. I picked up this hint in Dorothy Kalins’ article about cooking in Paris with David Tanis, published in Saveur magazine (Nov. 2005). They offered a recipe for a handsome casserole of swiss chard, béchamel, and plenty of cheese. While I loved the idea of cooking chard stems for a while before adding the leaves, I found the béchamel to be a bit heavy. Besides, isn’t the use of 4 pans for one side dish a bit of an overkill?

This recipe was begging for a trim (in both the number of pots and calories). I just had to figure out how to do that without compromising the taste. My first change was to get rid of the béchamel. You don’t really want a stick of butter with your chard, do you? Instead I added a tablespoon of cream. Now you could actually taste the chard instead of milk, butter, and nutmeg. A nice side effect of this change was chucking 2 pans and whole lot of stirring in the process. There were still two pans involved – one for sautéing the chard, and one for baking it with the cheese. In my opinion this was one too many pans. Instead of sautéing the chard on the stove top, I tried roasting it in the oven right in the final baking dish. The stems not only became tender, but also caramelized and the greens wilted in the oven as well as on the stove top.

Isn’t it great to know that butter, sweat and tears are not necessary to make a great dish?

Serves 2 as a side dish
(it will seem like a ton of swiss chard, but it shrinks a lot during cooking)

1 Lb swiss chard (1 bunch)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Wash chard leaved in several changes of cold water.

Pull the stems out of each leaf and cut stems into 1/2 inch chunks. If the chard is older and thicker, you might need to use a knife to cut the stems out.  Dry the leaves on paper towels or spin in a salad spinner.

Put the stems in a 2 inch deep baking dish that is large enough to accommodate all the chard leaves later (I use an 8 by 8 pyrex). Drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and mix well. Roast in the middle of the oven until the stems are tender and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Turn down the oven to 350F.  Pile the leaves on top of the stems. Cover with foil, and return to the oven. Bake until the greens wilt, 5-7 minutes.

Stir in the cream, taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Return to the oven for 5-7 minutes or until the cream is bubbly and lightly thickened.*  Sprinkle with parmesan and return to the oven until parmesan is melted, 5-7 minutes.

* The dish can be prepared up to this point in advance, chilled and refrigerated.  Before serving, sprinkle with parmesan and bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the dish is heated through.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Not your average cole slaw

My recent posts would have you believe that I am a carnivore with expensive tastes chugging cholesterol by the cupful. So it might come as a surprise that most of our dinners in the past 2 months have been not only cheap, but healthy and vegetarian. We allow ourselves luxuries like tuna sashimi, kurobuta pork, kampachi, and burgers (yes, burgers are a luxury if you are counting calories instead of dollars) once a week or so, and they are great fun to write about. But since we subscribe to a farm share, we get a huge box of veggies every week and that's mostly what we eat.

Why have I not written about it? I am not sure. I guess I finally got a taste for what it's like to have a really good story. My stories on tuna, pork, and burgers just poured out of me. They were familiar and intimate, like old friends. These were foods I cared passionately about, foods I thoroughly researched, foods I fought so hard to improve. I've given these posts days to marinate and mature and I've taken care to take the best pictures I possibly could to entice you to read them.

What makes me sad is that I can’t seem to figure out how to work all those beautiful veggies into my blog. To begin with, I don't have a good story. Carrots, lettuce, and radishes are not particularly controversial, and there are no fishmongers or butchers to chat with. We just show up every Thursday in someone’s apartment building and pick up our box. I am sure Dan, our farmer, is a fascinating person, but I haven’t met him since the farm is 2 hours away from Boston.

The pictures have not been anything to brag about either. I find it much harder to take pictures of veggies than of fish and meat. Besides, I am usually too tired and hungry on a weeknight to care. And did I tell you what a pain it is to write the recipes for this stuff? I don't normally measure anything when I cook, so I can't write down the measurements unless I've done a dish at least twice (first time I just do what feels right; second time I try to recreate it using measuring cups). The problem is I never know what will be in the box the next week, so it's rare that I make any dish more than once.

Now that I am done complaining, I can tell you that I am having an absolute blast. I don't think I've ever had as much fun with veggies, and I am really worried about having to go back to the super markets (even Whole Foods) in November. I've been spoiled for life. The salads have been just spectacular. The baby carrots, beets, and turnips -- outstanding. The ratatouille I made out of zucchini and tomatoes tasted just like it did in France -- not at all comparable to the tasteless zucchini from the store. Our farm newsletter said that this hasn't been the best year so far. They give it a B- due to a ridiculously huge amount of rain. But although the quantity might have suffered some (I really wish we could get more of those awesome zucchini), the quality has been great.

What has been the most interesting vegetable that we've gotten? Well, I've never tried garlic scapes or mustard greens before, and I liked them both. But what I find most interesting about this farm share experience is not trying new veggies, but falling in love with the familiar ones all over again. Take cabbage for example. I am Russian, and even I can't muster much enthusiasm for it in the summer. Don't get me wrong -- braised cabbage is one of my favorite things in the whole world, but it's not very summery with all that butter and mahogany color. In my last 10 years of cooking, I can’t remember ever purchasing a cabbage in the summer.

When we got cabbage in our farm share last week, I was stumped. The newsletter suggested cole slaw, which didn't get my hopes up until I read the ingredients. I usually think of cole slaw as a goopy concoction that accompanies sandwiches in American delis. But when I saw lime juice as one of the ingredients on the newsletter I had one of those “Aha” moments. In my excitement I didn't even finish reading the recipe. I shredded up the cabbage, tossed in some chopped scallions and cilantro that happened to be in our box that week, squeezed one large juicy lime over the whole thing, tossed in a generous dollop of grainy mustard, salt, and a little sugar. Then I mixed it all in a large bowl with my hands. You could hear the cabbage crunching, wheezing, and soaking up all that yumminess. All I can say is – mmm :) Even Jason, who claims to be “allergic” to the idea of cole slaw liked it. Since we got another head of cabbage, this week, I made it again measuring everything this time. I threw in some carrots since they were in the farm share, but they are really optional.

Cole Slaw

Serves 4

1 small head of cabbage (5-6 inches in diameter)
1/4 cup chipped scallions
2 Tbsp chopped herbs of your choice (cilantro, mint, parsley, etc)
2 Tbsp lime juice (from 1 large lime)
2 Tbsp grainy mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
3/4 tsp sugar

Cut the cabbage in half through the core. Remove the core. Shred using an adjustable blade slicer, or cut into smaller pieces and shred with a slicing disk in a food processor. In a large bowl, combine cabbage with the rest of the ingredients and mix with your hand until all the seasonings are evenly distributed. Taste and correct seasoning.


Fennel Cole Slaw
Substitute half of cabbage with fennel sliced paper thin on a mandolin

Apple Cole Slaw
Throw in some finely diced apples.

Red Currant Cole Slaw
In Russia, we put fresh cranberries into our sauerkraut for a little zing. It’s a wrong time of year for cranberries now and they won’t have enough time to soften anyway since you are not pickling the cabbage here. But tart little red currants are a perfect summer equivalent. Let me just clarify here that red currants have nothing to do with little raisins called “currants” that you put in scones. Red currants are very tart little summer berries that can be tricky to find in US, but I am starting to see them more and more.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The other burger

Since I’ve been on the topic of burgers lately, I thought it wouldn't be right to end this discussion with beef, particularly on this fishy blog. With salmon and tuna burgers becoming a permanent fixture on the Whole Foods fish counters and making regular appearances on the pages of Gourmet and Bon Appetit, you’d think this trendy phenomenon got all the PR it can get. But that’s not the burgers I want to write about. To tell you the truth I never understood their appeal. Salmon has the potential for a making a great burger since it’s delicate and fatty, but using tuna for a burger is like using beef tenderloin. If that's what you do with your beef tenderloin, you should have a chat with your butcher.

Burgers are not about refinement; they are about grease and flavor, and no other fish embodies these concepts better than bluefish. I really don’t know how this lovely fish came to have such a bad rep. It’s wild. It’s chuck full of Omega-3 fatty acids. It doesn’t dry out even if overcooked. And it’s cheap. What more could you possibly ask for!? And did I mention that it makes for the ultimate fish leftovers?

The trick with bluefish burgers (actually, any fish burgers) is pan frying, not grilling -- unless you enjoy bringing fish sacrifices to the grilling gods. All but burgers made of the densest fish (like tuna) will fall right through the grilling rack. Dredging your fish burgers in bread crumbs and frying them is what gives them a bold and crispy outside and makes them such a decadent treat, rather than a pale substitute for a beef burger.

The following recipe askes for bluefish leftovers. Any leftovers will do, but may I suggest that you try bluefish with crispy potatoes? It’s the recipe that converted every single one of my students who thought they hated bluefish. Hmm, am I becoming a bluefish evangelist?

Fish substitutions: you can use leftovers of salmon, red snapper, striped bass, branzino, and pretty much any fish that's not too dense (not tuna, swordfish, or marlin).

Serves 2

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 Lb bluefish leftovers
1/4 cup mayo
2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
1 Tbsp finely minced ginger (optional)
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)
1 clove mashed garlic (optional)
Salt and pepper

For frying:
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup bread crumbs

For serving:
2 burger buns
Aioli (or plain old mayo)
Lettuce, thinly sliced red onions, and tomatoes

2 hours before serving or up to 2 days in advance:
  1. Heat oil in a skillet over moderately low heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until onions are soft and golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove skin from bluefish and break it up into flakes. Mix it with sautéed onions, mayo, mustard, ginger, herbs, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add salt if needed. Form the mixture into 2 burgers, 3/4 inch thick. Place the burgers on a plate (you can stack them between pieces of parchment paper. Refrigerate covered with plastic wrap at least for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
Right before serving:
  1. Pour the bread crumbs into a plate.
  2. Set a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot add the oil.
  3. Dredge both sides of blue fish burgers in crumbs and add them to the pan. Be gentle when handling burgers as they’ll be quite soft. Cook the burgers until they brown on one side, about 4 minutes. Flip using a spatula, and cook until they brown on the other side, another 4 minutes.
  4. Serve on toasted burger buns with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and aioli.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The burger

“So, what are we having for dinner tonight?” asked my Mom as we drove home from the airport. During my parents’ annual visits to Boston, I try to cram all my latest gastronomical discoveries into those short 3-4 days. They came to expect the menu to include some fish they’ve never heard of, interesting cuts of meat, and unusual vegetables that my Dad never thought he’d like and then ends up asking for seconds. In fact, if I told them that we were having snails or frog legs for dinner, they would be less surprised than when I said “Burgers.”

“Burgers?” my Mom said in shock. “That should be interesting. I’d love to try your burgers.” she quickly added not to hurt my feelings.

“It was Jason’s idea,” I said apologetically. When he suggested that I make burgers for my parents, I thought he was kidding. “They live 5 minutes from Fuddruckers!” I told him, “They’ve had plenty of burgers.” “But have they had your burgers?” he asked. He had a point.

I’ve been obsessed with making a perfect burger for the past 3 years. It all started with my internship in Casablanca restaurant. In the end of the night, Ali, one of the line cooks, asked everyone what they wanted for dinner. The options were roasted chicken, burger, or a salad with some veggie sides. The weight conscious side of me always asked for a salad, but one night I was so hungry and so tired that I asked for a burger.

“O-Ma-Gawd!” I mumbled with my mouth full, and the juices running to my elbows. I leaned over the counter so that I don’t drip on the kitchen floor. “This is so good.” Ali smiled. I squashed the bun around the beefy goodness with both hands and took another bite that revealed the pink and succulent center. That was my first real burger and I’ve been on a quest to reproduce it ever since. I’ve asked Ali to show me what he did, but he just shrugged, “You just mush the beef into a patty and put it on the grill.” “But how much do you season and how do you know when it’s done?” I asked. “Once you make enough burgers, you’ll know,” Ali answered.

The problem was that I don’t eat that much meat, and my burger practice of 3 times a year was not persistent enough to produce consistently excellent burgers. Doneness was a particularly big problem. Feeling how firm the meat is might work for a steak, but does absolutely nothing for a burger. With the burgers you have to dig in and look inside. The trouble is that digging in created such a pool of juices it’s hard to see the color of the meat without pouring out all that juice – not a good solution either.

This burger quest seemed so hopeless, that I gave it up completely and tried to find a restaurant that would serve a perfect burger. To my great surprise, I found that it was practically impossible to find what I was looking for. It was a rare case when the burger was perfectly seasoned, and even rarer case when it was cooked to medium-rare as requested. And not even once have the planets aligned for a burger that was both seasoned AND medium-rare.

“But surely, in culinary school they’d teach us how to make a perfect burger,” I thought when I set off on my boot camp adventure at CIA. We went around the room on the first day introducing ourselves and saying what we were hoping to learn. When I said that I wanted to learn to make a perfect burger, people gave me strange looks. Sadly, burgers were not on the curriculum.

There was only one thing left to do... buy 5 Lb of ground beef and make burgers and more burgers. Throwing food away makes me feel really bad, but eating this much beef makes me feel even worst, so I settled for the lesser of two evils.

The recipe that finally led me to success was Michael Schlow’s. His timing was dead on and the grilling technique flawless. The only thing that I changed was the seasoning. Instead of mixing all of the salt into the meat, I only mixed a little of it in and sprinkled most of it on the outside once the burgers were shaped. That’s the way Ali used to do it in Casablanca. By my third try I was getting pretty confident and Jason, my quality assurance department, proclaimed these to be the best burgers in Boston. But even if they are the best burgers, who (besides me) cares?

Since we already bought ground beef, Iggy’s phenomenal black pepper brioche buns, and all the fixings the morning of my parents’ visit, there was no turning back – burgers it was. I was a little nervous that I’ll overcook them, and then not only will I be serving burgers, I’ll be serving bad burgers. But everything went as planned. The mushrooms got sautéed; the buns got toasted and slathered with garlicky borsin cheese; the burgers got grilled and rested.

We opened a good bottle of pinot noir and toasted my parents’ visit. I held my breath as my Mom and Dad took the first bite. When I heard “Oh-ma-gawd!” I knew I got it right.


About that beef: Michael Schlow calls for 80% lean / 20% fat beef, and if you can find it more power to you. When I made these burgers for my parents the second time on the 4th of July weekend in Baltimore, I found 80/20 beef at Whole Foods. But the Whole Foods in Boston area is a bit too “health conscious,” so they only carry 85/15. It makes excellent burgers too, but if you go any leaner than that, I cannot be held responsible for the results.

Serves 4

2 Lb 80/20 ground beef
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Kosher salt (if using table salt, you’ll need to use your judgment)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 burger buns cut in half
  1. In a small bowl, mix salt and pepper.
  2. Combine ground beef with olive oil and one-third of salt/pepper mixture. Mix well and divide the mixture into 4 patties 2/3 inch thick.
  3. Make a slight indentation in the center of the patties to the thickness of about 1/2 inch to prevent your burgers from blowing up into meatballs. They’ll even out during cooking.

  4. Line a cookie sheet with paper towels, put the burgers on top, and press another sheet of paper towel on top of burgers. This will keep them dry before you grill them so that they can brown before they overcook. If not grilling immediately, keep burgers in the fridge (no longer than 1 hour).
  5. Get all your fixings ready. Preheat the grill to high. Have a timer handy.
  6. When ready to grill, season burgers on both sides with the remaining salt and pepper mixture (yes, it’s a lot of salt, but that’s what it takes to flavor ground beef). Immediately put the burgers on the grill (don’t cover).
  7. After 1-1/2 minutes, give the burgers a quarter turn to make grill marks. Cook 1-1/2 minutes. Flip the burgers and cook for 1-1/2 minutes longer. Another quarter turn and another 1-1/2 minutes. So, a total of 3 minutes per side for medium-rare burgers (4 minutes per side for medium-well). I grill my buns during this time too.
  8. Turn off the grill. If using cheddar or some other cheese you want to melt, put it on your burgers now and cover the grill. Wait 4 minutes without opening the grill. While the burgers are resting, get the buns ready with the fixings. Place the burgers on top and enjoy.
Fixings ideas:

Burger 1: Cheddar with bacon
(melt the cheddar on burgers while they are resting in the covered grill)

Burger 2: Sautéed mushrooms with garlic-herb boursin
(spread the boursin on the buns, not the burgers)

Burger 3: Blue cheese with caramelized onions (that’s the one in the picture)
(put blue cheese on burgers after they are done resting)

Burger 4: Bacon and horseradish sauce (sour cream, mayo, horseradish, and Dijon mustard)

I like lettuce, tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onion on all my burgers, so use them as you see fit.

Phew – that was a lot of instructions. But you wanted a perfect burger, right?

Monday, July 10, 2006


If Romeo and Juliette left you teary-eyed, wait till you hear Helen and Kampachi. Some tragic love stories take place on the streets of Verona, some in Egyptian palaces, and some in Boston fish markets.

* * *

I stopped by Captain Marden’s on my way home last week in search of something to grill. After checking out the usual suspects – swordfish, tuna, mahi, grouper, bluefish – I noticed a sign next to some off-white fillets that read “Hawaiian Kampachi, New! FARM-RAISED, $18.95/Lb”

I didn’t know what intrigued me more – the hefty price tag, or “FARM-RAISED” advertised in such big letters. All fish at Marden’s are labeled with either “farm-raised” or “wild”, but on most tags it is the fine print, not the headline. Considering how many times I’ve seen customers change their mind about a fish once they saw the “farm-raised” label, I was surprised Marden’s would emphasize it.

Unfortunately, Kampachi and I weren’t properly introduced. If the Captain (Marden’s owner), or Tom (one of his knowledgeable fishmongers) would have been working that day, they’d give Kampachi a proper introduction listing its merits and accomplishments in the culinary world. But since neither one was around, I took a chance and asked the fishmonger on duty what Kampachi was like. “Hmm … it’s kind of like swordfish,” he replied with so little confidence it was obvious he’d never had it before. Guys like this don’t make my mantra of “just ask your fishmonger” very convincing. I wish they could honestly say when they have no clue.

Kampachi fillets were no bigger than a red snapper, so it wasn’t likely to be as dense as a swordfish. Of course, there are some smaller fish that are firm (like grouper), but they tend to have a thick and rubbery skin. Kampachi’s looked fine and delicate, similar to salmon.

Now I really had to have that fish if for no other reason than to prove that it had nothing in common with swordfish. I can’t help being Miss Smarty Pants of Fish. When I brought my catch home, I gave it a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a light coat of oil, and then grilled it the usual way. The results? Simply fantastic! This fish had the silkiness of sable (a.k.a. black cod), but with a more savory rather than sweet flavor. It’s too bad my picture doesn’t do it justice. I took one in a rush thinking that if it turns out to be a good fish, I’ll buy it again and will have plenty of chances for more pictures. Little did I know that I might never see my dear Kampachi again.

The next morning, I googled for “Kampachi.” Turns out this Hawaiian fish has been delighting sushi and restaurant chefs since its arrival on the food scene in 2005. It’s a descendent of a wild fish called kahala. Kampachi’s flavor and texture is often compared to Hamachi (yellowtail in English). I believe that Kona Blue, the company that breeds this fish, came up with the marketing name Kampachi by combining Kahala with Hamachi. The reason you haven’t seen kahala (the wild fish) in your local fish market is that it’s prone to ciguatera toxin harmful to humans, so don't go fishing for it. But the controlled diet fed to the farm-raised version of this fish makes it not only perfectly safe but fatty and outrageously good. Maybe that’s why Marden’s was emphasizing the “farm-raised” part. And did I mention that it passes mercury and PCB testing with flying colors? That’s the maximum Omega-3 fatty acids with the minimum of mercury!

Most chefs prefer to serve Kampachi raw or rare; unfortunately, I didn’t know that when I first bought it, and sashimi is not something I do on my first date with fish. I try to give us a chance to get to know each other before getting serious. But by now, I was madly in love and couldn’t wait to taste Kampachi’s cool, creamy flesh over a bowl of rice, or better yet – seared quickly to crisp the skin while leaving the inside rare. Without further ado, I called Marden’s to place an order for Friday.

Can you believe my devastation when they told me they had no further plans to carry Kampachi. They said the distributor raised the prices and that they had a hard time selling it due to people’s unfamiliarity with the fish. The sad truth of the fishing industry... There are always new fish to discover, but you can’t get attached to any of them as the cruel fate of supply and demand might separate you forever. As long as everyone is paying $20/Lb for wild king salmon with no questions asked, what fishmonger will want to bother with an expensive fish that might not sell! Handing out samples might have been a better marketing strategy than a “New! FARM-RAISED” sign, but what do I know about fish marketing. All I know is that there is nowhere to buy Kampachi in Boston. At least not right now.

Here is the recipe for the dish I never got to make. How do I know it works? Trust me. I know. If you ever see Kampachi, give it a try.

Seared Kampachi

Serve 4 as an appetizer

1 Lb Kampachi fillet with skin
1 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

Optional Accompaniments:
1 Tbsp Lime vinaigrette (1 part lime juice to 3 parts olive oil) or Chive oil
6 radishes cut into fine julienne
2 tsp finely chopped chives
  1. Prepare 4 serving plates by drizzling them with a little lime vinaigrette, chive oil, or a cold sauce of your choice. Pretty much anything herbal and/or citrusy will work.
  2. In a small bowl, toss the radishes with a splash of lime juice and a pinch of salt.
  3. Dry the fish fillets well with paper towels and cut into 4 pieces.
  4. Set a non-stick or well seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat and wait for it to get hot. Add the butter and wait for it to melt.
  5. Sprinkle Kampachi with salt and pepper on both sides and place in the skillet skin side down. As soon as the skin browns, 2-3 minutes, remove the fish to serving plates with the skin facing up. No need to check for doneness as the fish should be rare.
  6. Sprinkle with radishes and chives. Then open a good bottle of Riesling and have a wonderful meal. Just don't forget to e-mail me with the details of your feast.
Fish substitutions: none of the other fish will taste quite like Kampachi, but this recipe will work with arctic char, salmon, sable, striped bass, red snapper, and many other fish that are either delicate or can be eaten raw like tuna. If using a substitute fish, cook it on both sides (starting with the skin side). Salmon, arctic char, and tuna will taste best if left rare in the center. The other fish should be cooked through.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Technique of the Week: How to skin a fish fillet

Valyn, one of the students from my fish class, just e-mailed me with a question of how to skin a fish fillet. This had “Technique of the week” written all over it. Thanks so much for the idea, Valyn!

You’ll need a sharp boning knife (see the picture) or a utility knife that has a flexible blade (no picture since I don’t own one).

Put your fillet on the cutting board skin side down with the tail end on the left and the head end on the right (or the other way around if you are left handed). If you have a small piece of the fillet that is of equal thickness throughout (like you see in this picture, the orientation of the piece doesn’t really matter. Make a cut to separate a small flap of the skin from the fillet in the left corner that's closest to you (or right corner if you are left handed).

Grab onto that flap, and slide your knife between the skin and fillet pointing the blade of your knife slightly into the board (about a 20 degree angle). This way you'll leave the least amount of fish on the skin.

Slide the knife all the way under the fillet.


Skinning a fish steak, like swordfish, is even easier. Place the steak on the cutting board, flat side down. Slide a knife between the flesh and the skin and work your way around the steak.

All the recipes on my blog specify whether to use fillet with or without the skin. But in case you are curious, here are some skinning guidelines.

Poaching does not bring out the best in the skin texture. Traditionally, the skin is removed before using this cooking technique, but if you don’t have a boning knife or find the above procedure tricky, the skin will come right off after the fish is cooked. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a fish (or is it a cat?)

If you are browning your fish in the skillet, on the grill, or under the broiler, the skin will turn deliciously crispy, so make sure to keep it on. Some of the fish with great tasting skin are salmon, arctic char, striped bass, black bass, Mediterranean bass, sea bream, red snapper, trout, and bluefish.

An exception to the above rule is dense fish, like swordfish, tuna, marlin, mahi-mahi, and grouper. Their skin is too tough and should be removed no matter how you are cooking them.