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.
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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.
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By Alaina Sullivan
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.
By Alaina Sullivan
There’s no better way to celebrate Mardi Gras than with a Po’ Boy (a beer-battered one at that.) Not only does beer give the shrimp great flavor, but it is scientifically proven to make superior batter. As soon as the beer-battered shrimp hit the pan, CO2 bubbles begin to dance and foam up around the shrimp. A panko dredging assists the process, and, as a result, the shrimp are left trapped in a flavorful and lacy-light crust. Pile them high on bread with mayo, lettuce, and tomato, and you’ll have a happy Fat Tuesday indeed. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Beer Batter Shrimp Po’ Boy
Heat oil for frying. In a bowl, mix together one can of beer; one and one-half cups cornmeal (or panko) and pinches of salt, pepper; and paprika. Dip shrimp into batter and fry in batches until golden, about three minutes (flip once). Serve on split crusty Italian or French loaves with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise; lemon juice and hot sauce are also great here.
By Alaina Sullivan
When it comes to preparing scallops, less is often more: Salt, pepper and a quick butter sear is all it takes. Allow each side to caramelize for just a few minutes in a hot skillet – any longer and you run the risk of the scallops turning rubbery. Simple garnishes — a kiss of lemon juice and fresh parsley — add the perfect amount of brightness without overpowering the mild flavor of the scallops. Greens make a reliable companion, too. Here, the fresh crunch of romaine brings balance to the scallops’ soft flesh. Grilling the romaine adds even more character to the dish – its smoky flavor is an excellent foil to the sweet, buttery scallops. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Seared Scallops with Romaine*
Season scallops with salt and pepper; then sear the scallops for a few minutes in butter, turning once, until just browned on both sides. Drizzle a bunch of romaine lettuce with some olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the scallops with a bit more freshly squeezed lemon juice (some zest is nice here too) and some chopped parsley, and serve over the dressed lettuce with the pan juices.
*For grilled romaine: Cut the romaine hearts in half lengthwise, leaving the core intact,brush with the olive oil and some minced garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down until the lettuce begins to brown and get some grill marks, but remains crisp – 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, let it cool, and dress with the freshly squeezed lemon juice.
By Daniel Meyer
A good treatment for mackerel: dunk a few fillets in soy sauce, mirin (optional) and a little sesame or peanut oil (some garlic and ginger would be good, too.) Let the mackerel marinate while you heat a grill or broiler, the hotter the better. (For concentrated heat, I’ve started grilling directly over a chimney starter.) Grill or broil the fillets until nicely charred on both the flesh and skin side, and just cooked through, 2 or 3 minutes per side if your heat is really cranked up. Serve over rice with scallions and sesame seeds (kimchi and and an egg yolk are a treat, but by no means necessary.)
Poaching — cooking in simmering liquid — is a fairly forgiving way to cook fish, since it’s not likely to dry out. (It also virtually eliminates the likelihood of anything sticking to the bottom of the pan, which is often in the back of your mind when you sauté.) I love using this method with striped bass, which has the added bonus of being a local fish, but you can use any firm white fillets or steaks. It’s also a great way to cook mackerel or bluefish, other locals.
As the fish cooks, the soy sauce turns it a beautiful golden brown, almost verging on mahogany. Since the skillet is uncovered, the liquid reduces, intensifying in flavor and becoming thicker and thicker. In the end you want to be left with a kind of glaze that coats the fish and serves as a sauce for the rice that you should definitely eat with it. Use a minimal amount of liquid; if you start out with too much, the fish will cook through before the liquid reduces.
One unexpected treat in this recipe is the scallions. They drink up all the flavor of the poaching liquid and become tender, but they still hold on to a slight crunch. A whole skillet of those served over rice would almost make you not miss the fish.
(Watch the video and get the recipe here.)
I wish I’d been in La Jolla a couple of weeks ago to see the green inflatable airship flying overhead with a cartoon mermaid on one side. She was curvy and blonde, with a cigarette in her mouth and a bloody fish impaled on her trident. Around her was text that read, “Chicken of the Sea: Carnage in a Tuna Can.”
Are we looking at another tuna boycott? Many readers will remember 1988, when biologist Sam LaBudde went to work as a cook on a Panamanian tuna boat and secretly shot film that showed dolphins dying in nets and being crushed in winches, as many as 20 for every tuna. The video was shown to a Senate subcommittee and sparked a consumer boycott of canned tuna. Two years later, Starkist — then owned by Heinz — announced it would no longer buy any tuna caught by methods that threatened dolphins. Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea quickly followed suit, and “dolphin-safe tuna” was born. (Strangely enough, the World Trade Organization just ruled against dolphin-safe tuna labels, but that’s another story.)
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Photo: Greenpeace via Flickr
The pleasure of eating lobster is intense, and the reward-to-work ratio is unsurpassed, all of which is fun to talk about. What’s not so fun to talk about is lobsters and pain, which is why I’m going to avoid it. All of us lobster eaters do. (If you want a full consideration of the lobster/pain issue — one that resolves absolutely nothing but grapples with it beautifully — read David Foster Wallace’s hilarious essay “Consider the Lobster.”)
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By Alaina Sullivan
This unique salmon preparation involves a cut of fish that falls somewhere between razor-thin smoked salmon and a robust wild Alaskan filet. I rarely think to slice fresh salmon filets horizontally, but one of the beauties of preparing it this way is the speed of its execution – it can go from pan to plate to palate in a matter of minutes. (Shorter if you skip step two like me). The most time-consuming part was removing the tiny bones from my fresh Coho, but speed bump aside, a swift slice down the middle, a generous seasoning and the fish is ready to go. The cooking, as the name suggests, is over in a flash: a brief touchdown in the hot skillet and the salmon slivers are cooked to perfection with a rosy hint of rareness in the middle.
Though robed in curry powder and delicious on its own, pairing the salmon with a creamy chickpea raita rounds out its Middle Eastern flavors. I rarely pass up an opportunity to use yogurt as a condiment – I love that its subtle tang adapts to sweet or savory, and its creamy texture is an invitation for ingredients to nestle within. It is no stranger to being used as the base of sauces to adorn meat, poultry and fish – the Indian raita being no exception. This cool condiment, spiked with cumin and mustard and textured by chickpeas, minced cucumber and red onion, takes as little time to assemble as the fish. A dash of red pepper gives it the perfect dose of heat to compliment the curry-spiced salmon. I recommend having a warmed pita or naan bread nearby to mop up any sauce that lingers at the end. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes On America’s Chefs.