The Original En Papillote

Text and photos by Mark Bittman

When you’re buying fish in a strange place, it helps if both you and the person you’re buying it from know all about marine taxonomy, including the Latin for everything. Since this is almost never the case, you can run into the kind of situation I was in last week in Dominica, where I was told what was pretty clearly some kind of jack was a salmon. When I said, “That’s not what they call a salmon in the rest of the world,” another fishmonger intervened and said it was in fact a blue runner. When I later looked online at pictures of blue runners, I found that indeed they are a kind of jack, but not the jack that I’d bought and had filleted.

As they say: Whatever. It’s a fish. With an unreliable grill and novel fuel—a kind of wood that burned slowly but not especially hot—I thought the fish needed some protection, some kind of en papillote situation, or it was going to stick to the grill grates like it had been superglued. I thought about this while slow-grilling some beautiful garlic, green onions, and “seasoning chiles,” which look like habaneros but are mild enough to eat, almost like padróns. I had no foil, so that was out. I had no parchment paper, which is what we think of as the “real” en papillote wrapper, though I wasn’t certain that would work anyway. Continue reading

Posted in Grilling, Seafood, Travel

Seafood Boil on the Grill

Photos and text by Pam Hoenig

This summer my husband and I vacationed in Rhode Island with our friends Dolores and Steve. Dolores is a Long Island girl who knows her way around fish; she’s particularly fond of seafood boils, which I’ve enjoyed at their house several times. We talked about making a classic version but decided to do it on the grill instead: We’d try wrapping the ingredients up in individual-serving foil packets and let them steam over the fire.

It ended up being great fun. We started by placing a sliced red potato in the center of a large sheet of heavy-duty foil (about 16 inches long), then put crab claws on the top of that, followed by 5 to 6 shrimp, and finally a handful of littleneck clams. We broke shucked ears of corn and placed them on either side of the seafood. The whole thing got a generous sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning (Dolores kept telling me to add more, and she was right—about 1 teaspoon per packet), a tablespoon of butter cut into bits, a shot of white wine (again Dolores’s excellent suggestion) and two thin lemon slices. And instead of including sausage in the packets, we decided to put it directly on the grill (linguica, since we were in Rhode Island).

Next came the crimping of the packets. Dolores insisted that there needed to be good height over the center, so that there would be room for the steam to collect, then condense and fall back onto the food. We ended up with kind of a foil fan affair. (My goal for next year is to add a swan’s neck at one end!) We used a gas grill that had seen better days. We put the packets and sausage over direct heat, with the burners up as high as they would go, and it still took the better part of half an hour for the potatoes to cook through.

With the mingling of the seafood juices, the wine, butter, and Old Bay, the final flavor was fantastic—especially the potatoes, which soaked it all up. And the char on the sausage was a great complement. We did agree that the seafood got overcooked because of the extra time the potatoes needed, and next year we’ll parboil the slices for a few minutes before building the packets. And we might try Alaskan king crab legs cut into smaller pieces (to make them fit) instead of the steamed crab legs they had at the fish store—they’ll be a lot easier to eat, instead of messing with a cracker. Vacation cooking—especially with a friend like Dolores—doesn’t get much better!

Posted in Seafood

Bait Plate

Photo by Mark Bittman

One of the things I look for in food when I’m in a place is a sense of place; you get it in those farmers’ markets that limit their vendors to actual producers. You get it in the best, most honest restaurants. (You don’t get it in dishonest restaurants, which probably comprise the majority.)

I’ve complained for years that Cape Cod restaurants don’t strut the Cape’s stuff—which, despite declining stocks of cod and other fish, is still a pretty rich place—as well as they might. (By the way, note that that link goes to a piece I wrote nine years ago, so the information in it is way out of date.) So it was with delight that I recently visited Terra Luna, whose site (I assume kiddingly) describes the restaurant’s cooking as “rustic neo-pagan,” and was served, as an appetizer, what chef-owner Tony Pasquale calls the “bait plate,” a pile of what were once considered trash fish, all (or nearly all; depends on the night) sourced locally.

Razor clams from Eastham, which have been scarce—not because they’re not there, but because no one’s bothered to forage for them—are often on that plate, as are Eastham mussels; these are also hard to find, because almost everyone is selling the vastly inferior farmed mussels from Prince Edward Island. There’s also squid caught off the pier in Provincetown (such an easy catch that even I’ve done it), and a couple of small baitfish, which might be sardines (not always local, I’m sad to say), mackerel, eel, and the awesome Cape herring.

The cooking of these fish happens to be perfect, although—not to downplay it, kudos to the kitchen—that’s the easy part. It’s making the effort to deal with local fishers and ensure the product is genuine that’s tricky. This kind of behavior has got to be applauded.

– Mark Bittman

Posted in American, Seafood

Perfectly Cooked Salmon, Every Time

salmon the kitchen matrix

Whether it’s farmed or wild, salmon is an absolute treat. Farmed salmon comes with two distinct advantages: it’s not expensive, and its high fat content makes for not only good eating but also for extremely forgiving cooking. Wild salmon (like King, Sockeye, and Coho) is leaner, much more flavorful, and generally better; and you can typically find wild Alaska salmon in the fresh or frozen section of your grocery store.

As with any seafood, mislabeling is something to look out for. It’s not unheard of for purveyors to label any kind of wild salmon—or even farmed salmon—as King. Buy from people you trust.

A good piece of salmon only really needs a hot skillet and a sprinkle of salt, but to make it even more enticing, I’ve included recipes spanning a wide range of flavors and cooking methods, all of which will work for whatever kind of salmon you can get your hands on.

To learn how to cook salmon 12 ways, read this excerpt from my new book Kitchen Matrix here

For this week’s Matrix Challenge, I will be offering one of those above mentioned rare treats. Cook one of these recipes this week, or share a salmon recipe of your own, using #MatrixChallenge, and one person will win a $50 gift card to purchase Alaska salmon.

Posted in Seafood

What Oysters Reveal About Sea Change

This is kind of the good news/bad news department, as so many things are: The good news is that terrific oysters are being farmed in several locations in California; the bad news is that ocean acidification — the absorption of carbon dioxide into the sea, a direct result of high levels of carbon in the atmosphere — is a direct threat to that industry.

I saw both when I visited Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, an operation north of San Francisco on Tomales Bay. (Actually, I’ve eaten at and of Hog Island dozens of times, and even shot video there for a PBS series more than 10 years ago.)

I went with Tessa Hill, who’s been researching ocean acidification at Bodega Marine Laboratory for eight years. Hill studies how changes in marine chemistry impact a variety of marine animals, including oysters, whose shells are getting thinner, smaller and more susceptible to predators. Her research looks at current conditions and develop a baseline for tracking the effects of climate change going forward.

Read the rest of this column here.

The Ultimate (for now) Pasta with Clams

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.23.40 AM

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

I’ve made many pasta-with-clams recipes. This is the current, simplest, and I believe best version. My mouth waters just thinking about it; I’d say three of the best meals I’ve had in the last six months were just this. Is that too hard a sell? Try it.

Good olive oil as needed
24* hardshell (“littleneck”) clams, the smaller the better, scrubbed and dried in a salad spinner or a towel
¼ cup (a little splash) of good white wine (or use water)
6 to 8 ounces linguine or other long pasta
1 tablespoon, more or less, minced garlic
Dried red chile flakes to taste
½ cup chopped parsley

1. Salt a pot of water for pasta and bring it to a boil.

2. Put olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the clams in one layer; be generous – the oil should thickly coat the bottom. Heat until shimmery, then add the clams and, quickly, the white wine. There may be some spattering but it’s worth it; don’t cover the pan; keep the heat medium-high to high, depending on your stove.

3. Start cooking the pasta.

4. The clams will open one by one, and exude a lot of liquid. (You probably will not need to salt this dish but you’ll see later.) Keep cooking until the pasta is nearly done. When the clams are all, or mostly open, add the garlic and chile. Stir a few times, drain the pasta, and toss it with the clam mixture and the parsley. Cook if necessary, tossing, until the pasta is perfect.

5. Add salt if necessary — you might also add a little splash of olive oil — and serve. Do not fall for the trap of discarding clams that appear not to have opened; just open them with a butter knife. If the clams were unbroken and tightly sealed to begin with, they are fine.

*: You can use 36 if they’re real small or you just want more. Or you can use cockles, which are tiny, and use 48. Your call. All should be firmly closed – any that you can pry open with your fingers are dead and should be discarded. And don’t buy any with broken shells.

Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Every Last Bit

Photo by Grant Cornett

Photo by Grant Cornett

“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.”

“And you serve it with . . . ?”


Read the rest of this column and get the recipe here.

Posted in Japanese, Recipes, Seafood

HTCE Fast: Recipe-Free Steamed Fish


Here’s how to make steamed fish without a recipe, with any vegetables you like or have on hand—a foolproof, versatile technique with a built-in side dish.

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Posted in Mark Bittman Books, Produce, Recipes, Seafood

HTCE Fast: Shrimp and Tomato Paella


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

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Posted in Mark Bittman Books, Recipes, Seafood, Spanish