Monday, June 11, 2012

In the kitchen with VBG - JUNE 2012

You don't get the Voluptuous in VBG without loving great food. This gurl enjoys cooking as well.  I like to experiment - create steps to a dance if you will - of flavors, textures and delight for the eyes. So beginning this month, I'm sharing what I'm cooking and of course eating. 

For the last 7 years, I have sent the Wunderkind away, usually to camp, for at least 2 to 3 weeks during Summer. It has always been very welcome ME time.  She loved it also because she got to  meet new folks and do stuff that she just doesn't get to do normally like sleep in the woods (don't know where she inherited this love) horseback riding, swimming at midnight, cooking by campfire, etc. Well this year that won't be the case because at 15 1/2 I just couldn't talk her into it. She did say next year she'd like to be a counselor in training (CIT) so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Anyway, because she is severely allergic to fish and shellfish I rarely get to cook it unless you guessed it she's away. Hence my love of Summer despite the heat, humidity and bugs. Fish is my absolute favorite food with lobster ranking at the very top. Though I rarely splurge on that regal crustacean, I can and will shell out the dollars and effort for those sea creatures bearing fins and scales. I could easily be someone who eats only fish and vegetables if circumstances were different.  Things being as they are though I tend to binge on fish and shellfish only when she's away.  A couple years ago I even had a fish fry party which my mom (fryer extraordinaire) and I pulled off splendidly, I might add.

Now a word or three about fish.  I don't buy frozen fish period and almost never fillets unless it's wild, Pacific salmon.  And I don't go to my local "brand name" supermarket for fish either. Their fish selections are absolutely abysmal.  On Friday, I even went to my favorite upscale market and was so disappointed by the choices there I had to soothe myself with some of their awesome store baked macaroons :).  I do think a main cause of the nutritionally bankrupt American diet and subsequent health issues is because we are so far removed from our foods - chickens come in circles or strips, fish in squares, veggies in puffs or cans and God forbid you should ever come across skin, feathers, bones or scales.The newest health buzz is infused into everything - if I see acai or omega 3s in one more item I'm gonna scream! Nothing looks or tastes like it did when I was a kid except maybe fish.

If you live in or happen upon a large metro area get thee to the nearest Asian (as in Korean, Chinese, Japanese) market.  You will find THE best fresh, fish selection there.  Probably upwards of 25 varieties. So fresh in fact it can be swimming when you choose it and cleaned and dressed for cooking in less than 10 minutes.  All at a reasonable price. I typically go to H-Mart located less than a mile from my parents' home. While you're there, you might as well try a new veggie on the cheap - I get baby bok choy, assorted mushrooms and Chinese broccoli (yes, it is different) there all the time.

Now don't just go up to the fishmonger and say I'd like 3 pounds of bass, trout, or whatever is your pleasure and walk away. You'd never allow someone to paint your house without choosing the color first,  right?  Then be just as  specific about what you eat - this is a dance remember so choose your fish, making certain they have clear eyes and don't smell fishy or of ammonia. Then have them cleaned and gutted leaving the heads on for grins or to freak out your family and guests - it's definitely a conversation starter. Fish have heads not just the ones on your car bumper stickers, folks so get over it. I don't particularly like cleaning fish because the scales get everywhere but offered fresh caught fish that task will never stand between a good fish dinner and me. 

I've mentioned before I spent some time in Egypt. Well my former sister in-laws probably cooked fish  at least 3 times a week and I was indeed in heaven. We always had both fried fish and a baked fish dish.  So this past weekend I decided I wanted both as well but on different days. The baked dish consists of mackerel, fish I didn't grow up eating but have learned to love and it's so simple.  First put on some cooking music - seriously, we're dancing here! I prefer lounge or e-tango. Try it - you'll like it one (click that link, you know you want to). Take a whole cleaned mackerel (Spanish or Atlantic) that's been cut into 6-8 steaklettes like salmon steaks except they'll be much smaller. Place it in a baking dish. For each pound and half of fish, make a mixture of 3 diced Roma tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp. diced onion, and 2 tablespoons fresh parsley or cilantro or one of each. Place mixture atop fish.  Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil, salt & pepper to taste and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes. Serve with a fish rice, salad and lemon wedge and enjoy.
Egyptian Mackerel - BEFORE
Egyptian Mackerel - AFTER .. Good eatin'

Now for the piece de resistance.  There's nothing quite like fried fish and while I have not perfected fried chicken, I can fry up some fish. And no the irony of being an AA woman who can't fry chicken is not lost on me. Since I am a Marylander by birth I generally gravitate toward the mother of all MD seasoning - Old Bay.  It makes just about anything taste better - fries, fish, crabs, chips, etc. Even the Wunderkind has perfected a mean batch of Old Bay Wings - look out Buffalo! So I like to season my fresh fish with a bit of it and then allow it to marinate for a few hours or overnight. If I'm really in a spicy mood I'll cook it with the Egyptian twist. Grate a large onion, add 5 cloves of fresh, crushed garlic, 2 tbsp of ground cumin, a pinch of cayenne, some sea salt and lemon juice.  Combine the ingredients to make a paste that will cover about 5 whole tilapia. Rub the mixture inside the fish and onto the sides that have been scored - the slits will hold some mixture. The longer the fish sit the more intense the flavor.

When ready to cook, heat your oil - peanut, canola or vegetable but don't waste your good EVOO on frying, it will ad nothing but expense to your dish.  While the oil heats, combine equal parts finely ground cornmeal (or masa) and unbleached flour - do not use bread crumbs unless you are using fillets and if you're doing that then you haven't taken any of my suggestions have you?? Dredge the fish in meal/flour mixture making sure it's covered completely, shaking off any excess.

According to every cooking show we all should own several cooking thermometers but alas I do not. I test the oil by placing a couple of  onion slivers or sprigs of fresh cilantro in the oil.  If they sizzle ( a lot) and cook in less than a minute - I'm in business. Do not wait for the oil to smoke - that is a fire hazard and you'll have to start from scratch with a new batch of oil once you air out the house and calm your nerves from that gosh awful smoke detector. If the oil is hot though carefully place the fish in the oil, head to tail without overcrowding as that will cool the oil and make the fish more likely to absorb the oil which will render them inedible. Cook them about 5-12 minutes per side depending on the size and thickness of your little fishy. It's very easy to tell when fish is done - to the touch it's not nearly as firm as it was when raw but most importantly the meat is no longer translucent - it should be white all the way through (or beige-ish if cooking a darker fish like blue).  After you put the first fish in start on your rice and get the kids or spouse to make a quickie salad - not just a quickie, trust me it won't be as  quick as you think this time and the fish will burn.  I tested this just so you wouldn't have to :)
yes, these fish are missing a head but that's because it wouldn't fit in the pan properly

Recipe for Roz a Sumak (fish rice):

1.5 lg onions, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups long grain rice, basmati or jasmine preferred, soaked and  rinsed until water runs clear - about 4 times
4 cups of water
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp ground cumin

Heat oil,  and onion and deeply brown but do not burn the onion. This takes about 10 minutes under medium low heat.  Once onion is done add water and bring to boil.  Water will be ugly and brownish - trust me this is perfect.   Add rice, cumin and salt then cover and turn heat to low.  Cook rice for 15 minutes. DO NOT OPEN LID while it is cooking - it will explode!! Actually it won't explode but too many folks have said they can't cook rice when it is so easy.  This method is no fail just follow the directions, my 15 year old has already perfected it. After the timer buzzes - how else will you know 15 minutes have passed?  DON'T OPEN THE LID YET - my goodness, do we have an issue with patience darling? Let the rice sit covered for 10 minutes, I promise it will still be hot and perfect when you serve it.

Remove the fish from from oil,  place quickly on paper, then transfer onto a rack, garnish with lemon wedges, get your salad and rice into serving bowls, add some hot sauce or tahini to the table, pour some wine or iced tea,  and yell "Come and Git it!"  Watch out for bones and ENJOY!!

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