“What’s this?” I asked on my first visit to Seki, an unassuming izakaya — a Japanese bar with food — in a quiet corner of Washington. The menu was typically simple, listing sashimi, fried octopus, grilled eel, tempura, pickles, skewered chicken hearts and monkfish livers. And something I’d never seen before: ara yaki.
“Oh,” said Cizuka Seki, who runs the restaurant with her father, Hiroshi, a short, stout, gruff but pleasant man who trained in washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, in Tokyo. “We roast fish scraps, the leftovers from butchering the best fish.”
Paella need not be a huge ordeal; if it were called baked rice and shrimp in a skillet, you’d think it was a piece of cake—which it is.
3 1/2 cups shrimp or vegetable stock or water, plus more if needed
Pinch of saffron
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
Salt and pepper
1 pound peeled shrimp
3 large ripe tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds)
2 cups short- or medium-grain white rice, preferably paella or Arborio rice
Several sprigs fresh parsley for garnish
Shrimp is now the most popular seafood in America, and there is no wrong way to eat it. Wild shrimp from the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico is a treat if you can find it. Fresh local shrimp from Maine or the Carolinas is an even rarer gem. (These are all preferable from a sustainability perspective.) A vast majority, of course, is farmed and frozen, but you might as well buy it frozen and thaw it yourself to get the freshest shrimp possible. If you buy it ‘‘individually quick frozen’’ in resealable bags, you can take out only as many as you want and thaw them by leaving the shrimp in the fridge for 24 hours or running them under cool water for an hour or less.
In the go-go ’80s, “tartare” pretty much meant a pile of raw, well-seasoned chopped beef topped with a raw egg yolk. It was seen as food for the carnivorous power-lunch crowd — tartare even had a cameo as a status symbol in “Wall Street”— and for old-fashioned people who ate at old-fashioned restaurants.
I’m not sure what the first nonbeef tartare was, but I do remember getting a chuckle when my friend and co-author Jean-Georges Vongerichten introduced me to beet tartare sometime around 1990. In any case, tuna tartare has far surpassed beef in popularity, lamb tartare is fashionable and carrot tartare is expensive. In short, the field is wide open, and it’s time for home cooks to forge ahead.
Creamy, sweet, briny and meaty at the same time, scallops are the most user-friendly of mollusks, and the recipes here won’t unnecessarily complicate things. Half call for grilling, the remainder leave the scallops raw.
Much more difficult than cooking scallops is buying scallops. As with most seafood these days, unless you’re on the boat yourself — or have a trustworthy source — it’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting. Because scallops are often soaked in a phosphate solution that plumps them up with water (therefore making added water part of the selling price), it’s important to look for scallops that are labeled “dry” or “dry-packed.” A waterlogged scallop doesn’t sear well, and a phosphate-marinated scallop may taste like soap, especially when it’s raw, so make sure to ask for dry.
When you think of spring rolls, you probably envision the kind that are served as an appetizer at nearly every Thai restaurant in this country, a tangle of sometimes-identifiable vegetables rolled in a thin wrapper, deep-fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce.
But spring rolls go far beyond that. They’re found all across Asia, with wrappers, fillings and cooking techniques that differ from one country to the next. Fresh spring rolls, sometimes called summer rolls, are a staple in Vietnam. Most typically, they’re made of rice paper filled with rice vermicelli, cooked meat or shrimp, raw vegetables, basil, cilantro and mint. They’re wonderful, a rare combination of substance and light.
Even the best foods can become tiresome, which is the only reason you would ever do anything with oysters other than opening and swallowing them. For something almost as primitive, the people of western France, where some of the world’s best oysters are produced, perfected the idea of teaming them with sausage.
I was introduced to this combination in Brittany years ago. It happened before dinner, as an appetizer, and came just a few hours after a lunch that consisted of four dozen of the region’s finest.
Oysters go down easy, so I didn’t see this as a problem. If I was puzzled by this incongruous-looking duo, that lasted only until I started eating. The combination of crisp, hot, spicy sausage and cold, creamy oysters may have been unpredictable, but it was as sensible as waffles and ice cream.
Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.
Steaming fish with vegetables is a foolproof way to serve up a main and a side dish in a single pan. The recipe for steamed fish in The Basics features a classic summertime cast of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, but I opted to go with a more seasonal variation featuring leeks. Simply sautéed in garlic and sauced with a little white wine, the leeks become a fresh-yet-buttery steaming machine.
A thick, mild-flavored white fish pairs particularly well in this case – hake was my pick, but cod or halibut would be great too. Set atop the bed of leeks, the fish cooks in the steam as the vegetables bubble beneath. Lid on, it takes just about ten minutes for the flesh to become perfectly opaque and flakey. The leeks finish cooking with the fish, and, brightened with Italian parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, are transformed into a delicious side. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.