Monday, August 18, 2014

Removing Skin from Fish Fillet (video)

YouTube Link: Removing Skin from Fish Fillet
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

Does the fish skin keep you up at night? Here are answers to all your fish skin questions and a video on how to remove it.

Where can I buy a good boning knife?

In which cases should I remove the skin from a raw fillet?
  • When serving the fish raw
  • On fish with very tough skin (swordfish, tuna, mahi-mahi, etc)
  • For recipes that don't crisp up the skin (steaming, poaching, baking) -- in many of those cases, the skin can be removed after cooking, but if the fish is cooked with other ingredients (potatoes, vegetables, sauces, etc), it might be less messy to remove the skin before cooking.

In which cases should I *not* remove the skin from a raw fillet?
  • When cooking smaller fish (under 20 Lb or so) with direct heat it's best to keep the skin on.  The skin will turn crispy and delicious and will prevent the fish from falling apart on the grill.  Examples of fish in this category are: salmon, trout, arctic char, striped bass, black bass, red snapper, bluefish, branzino, sardines, mackerel.  Examples of direct heat cooking methods are: pan searing, grilling, pan frying, broiling.
  • When poaching fish or roasting it slowly in a very low oven (250F), it's best to keep the skin on and remove it after cooking.  It will insulate the fish from direct heat on the bottom of the pan and make it cook gently and evenly.  In both of those cases, the skin can be easily peeled off after cooking.
  • When cooking halibut steaks, it's best to keep the skin on.  It won't be as tasty as a skin on a salmon steak, but it will prevent your halibut from drying out and/or falling apart.  You can easily peel it off after cooking.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Does fairness = bad cake for all ?

If you are a parent, “That’s not fair,” is a familiar phrase.  “Why does she get to stay up and I don’t?”   “Why do I have to do homework if he doesn’t?”  As adults, we know deep inside that life is indeed not fair, but that is something we often feel uncomfortable telling our kids.  

Recently, I had an interesting dilemma.  We were having a joined birthday party for our 2 kids, ages 4 and 7.  The younger one is allergic to eggs, which rules the cakes out for him.  Usually I bake a tart for his birthday, which he loves.  But for many practical considerations, it would have been good to have a cake as well.  A cake can be decorated, a cake can feed lots of people (it was a large party), a cake is recognized and understood by normal kids.  While my kids love what I make for their parties, their friends turn up their noses at anything that doesn’t look like a normal sugar loaded cake.  My daughter was surprise that none of her friends last year were willing to try the plum cake I made for her.  “There is no icing,” they declared.  “We don’t want it.”  I’ve learned my lesson.  

This year, we decided to have a normal cake.  Well, almost normal.  I get my cakes from a Cordon Bleu instructor who can make these kiddie cakes taste as good as possible.  She told me she could make a vegan cake so that my younger one wouldn’t feel left out.  I’ve had my share of vegan cakes, and quite frankly, they suck.  Most likely the other kids wouldn’t notice.  If it looks cute and tastes sweet, I am convinced that most kids would eat a cake made out of play dough.  But my kids might notice.  Especially the allergic kid.  I’d tried to bake egg-free muffins for him before and his reception was lukewarm at best. I decided against the vegan cake.  If my older one gets one cake a year, why shouldn’t it be a good cake?   

Does this kid look devastated about missing out on the cake?  Who knows, he might have to work it out in therapy when he is 30, but for now he seems ok.  

I think that vegan sausage, veggie burgers, and gluten free pasta are futile ways to achieve fairness.  I don’t understand why every cookout needs to include veggie burgers.  Some good vegetarian food would be wonderful, but bad vegetarian food shaped into a hockey puck seems ridiculous to me.  Does the hockey puck shape make vegetarians feel included?  We just attended a family event for my husband’s work held at a baseball stadium.  The food was hot dogs, mac and cheese, etc.  All pastas and buns had eggs, but they dug up some egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free roll for my younger one.  It was their kill-all-birds-with-one-stone allergy food, and it was inedible.  Boy, how we would appreciate some veggies.  Allergy friendly food doesn't need to be shaped like a hot dog bun to make us feel included.  

Fairness doesn't mean sameness.  There is an enormous and very natural human desire to fit in, to be just like everyone else, and not be the one person left out.  But that is not what life is like.  We all have different needs, different limitations, and different abilities.  Learning to make the best of your situation is one of the most important life skills.  I wonder if we sometimes deprive the kids of that in our pursuit for fairness.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Grilled Chicken Thighs

YouTube Link: Grilled Chicken Thighs
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

Here are the recipes for two marinades to use with this technique.  Both are for 2 Lb of chicken thighs.

Yogurt Marinade (shown in the video)
4 oz plain yogurt (1/2 cup)
11 g salt (4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher or 2 tsp table salt)
1 garlic clove grated on a microplane zester (or turned into a paste using some other way)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
a few grinds of black pepper

Mix everything together in a large bowl and add the chicken.

Pomegranate Soy Marinade

Don't let the exotic ingredients in this marinade fool you.  The final result is deeply savory and not really exotic tasting.  Any American 5 year old would eat it without questioning what's on this thicken.  Pomegranate molasses is simply very concentrated pomegranate juice.  Zaatar is a blend of dry mint, thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds.  It's slightly tart but not spicy at all, so don't be afraid to use a good bit.  You can buy both pomegranate molasses and zaatar at Middle Easter stores and most Whole Foods Markets.  

1 tsp soy sauce (ideally Japanese style)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove grated on a microplane zester (or turned into a paste using some other way)
1 tsp pomegranate molasses (sold at most Whole Foods)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Zaatar spice blend (optional)
  1. Whisk the soy sauce, mustard, garlic, and pomegranate molasses together in a bowl until well blended.  Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking constantly.  Stir in zaatar if using.  
  2. Salt and pepper the chicken on all sides, then add to the marinade.
Both marinades need at least 4 hours, but can be applied up to 2 days ahead.  The ideal time is 8 hours, but do what's most convenient.  Wipe off completely before grilling the chicken.   Zaatar can be left on, but all the moisture needs to be dried off.