There are lots of great seafood options at Asian restaurants (the sole fish fillet in chili bean sauce at our favorite local place is amazing), but delicate seafood often doesn’t hold up well in sauce when ordered for delivery. Rather than suffer through soggy seafood, we usually stick to proteins that can better handle the trip—pork in garlic sauce, Mongolian beef, or General Tao’s chicken to name a few—when paying someone to bring Chinese food to our door. We also have a couple of go-to Asian seafood dishes that are worth sacrificing the ease and convenience of either dine-in or delivery to cook for ourselves at home. Our Thai coconut curry soup with sea bass or shrimp is a favorite that placates Dan’s sad cravings for the lemongrass-poached Chilean sea bass with rice noodles in chili lime broth from our beloved Malai Kitchen back in Dallas. We also love our simple, yet elegantly delicious ponzu sea bass. Now we have a third recipe to add to our crave-worthy Asian-seafood-at-home repertoire. This shrimp stir fry is bright and fresh with a nice amount of spice and tang from the hot and sour sauce. We also appreciate how cooking the ingredients in batches keeps the veggies crisp-tender, while making it easy to cook the shrimp to plump perfection. The only thing missing is a fortune cookie.
One of the many things we love about New Orleans is the vibe. It’s a place where we feel like we belong, the moment our feet hit the quaint, festive, balcony-lined streets. There’s an indulgent “anything goes” atmosphere that dovetails with a welcoming spirit and sense of community—even for tourists. This shrimp dish evokes that Big Easy experience with its bold, spicy, complex flavors and communal, one-pot serving that encourages a little bit of messiness and finger-licking as you peel and eat the shrimp and dip your bread in the sauce. In our humble opinion, New Orleans is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. But if you’re not able to get there, try making a big pot of this shrimp, then eat it with your favorite person (or people) while listening to Van Morrison (or jazz, or whatever music puts you in the most relaxed, happy mood possible), and you’ll get very close to the next best thing.
With ingredients including coconut milk, curry paste, lemongrass and kaffir (dried lime leaves), this recipe sounds a lot more intimidating than it actually is. Not only is it easy to make, but it tastes so good that you’ll want to stock your pantry with these items to keep this soup in your regular meal rotation. When we cook new dishes, we often make notes on changes we made to the original recipe or comment on how the dish turned out. The first time we made this soup, my notes on the printed recipe included the statement “holy sh*t GOOD” because we loved it that much! We adapted the original recipe a bit and followed some of the suggestions from this version, and now we have a crave-worthy soup recipe that we look forward to making at least once a month. Whenever I see a can of coconut milk (surprisingly, readily available at the grocery store), I think of this soup in the best, most mouth-watering way.
Mark Twain probably said it best: “New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” For us, one of the foods that most epitomizes The Big Easy is crawfish etouffee. Done right, it’s rich in a subtle yet complex way, with a nice amount of heat and a silky, comfort-food texture. And the fact that this Cajun specialty is made with the small crustacean also known as a “mudbug” gives the dish a gritty undertone evocative of Post-Katrina New Orleans. (“Gritty” in the conceptual sense, as in moxie or determination. If yours is literally gritty, then your crawfish probably weren’t cleaned properly and maybe you shouldn’t eat them.) There are a lot of different etouffee recipes out there, but this version seems to be the most authentic homemade interpretation of one of New Orleans’ most sinfully delicious favorites.
My dislike of fishy-tasting fish is pretty well-documented on this blog. I don’t like fish, but I do like to try to eat healthy, and since fish can be a really good-for-you food to consume, I’m always looking for seafood recipes that don’t make me want to gag. Bonus points if said recipe is also easy to prepare. This fish dish fits both requirements, and then some. The recipe is inspired by one I heard about on the fourth hour of the Today Show (I know, I judge me too) from Hoda Kotb, who makes delicious sea bass by putting the fish in a shallow baking dish, adding ponzu sauce and baking it in the oven for about half an hour. That’s it. Hoda and Kathie Lee raved about the fish so much that we had to try it. We adapted the recipe a bit to have more of a sauce or glaze for the finished sea bass (fish with a sauce always seems more appetizing to me than plain fish), and we could not be happier with the result. Our recipe was further inspired by this one, which includes a marinade made with sake, mirin and soy. Instead of just ponzu and ginger for the sauce, we added sesame oil and brown sugar. With both a marinade and a sauce, the recipe sounds complicated, but it’s really easy. Just marinate the sea bass for about 30 minutes, sear it on both sides in a hot skillet, then finish by baking in the oven while the sauce simmers and thickens on the stove. I’m truly not exaggerating when I say that this is our new favorite fish dish, and that I actually crave it. If you like subtle Asian flavors, you will love this dish — even if you don’t particularly care for fish. Fellow Fish Haters (you know who you are): I hereby double-dog-dare you to try it. In fact, I insist!
Salad niçoise (pronounced “nee-swaz,” in my best, butchering attempt at a French accent) is one of those menu items that we tend to skip right over in search of something that sounds a bit more appealing on the plate. The idea of lettuce, potatoes, green beans and tuna served together in the same salad always seemed more odd than appetizing, so we’ve never actually ordered salad niçoise in a restaurant (plus, I like being able to pronounce what I’m about to eat, although I’m also a fan of the point-and-mumble style of advising the wait staff of my selection from the menu. Whatever works.) We decided to try salad niçoise at home because we’re always looking for new fish dishes to try and we found a relatively easy recipe in a Cook’s Illustrated magazine, “Modern Classics.” And cooking a new dish at home, then deciding you don’t really like it is preferable to trying (and paying for) something new at a restaurant and deciding you hate it. Luckily, neither scenario occurred here. We absolutely loved this salad and will add it to our regular rotation. The combination of lettuce, potatoes, green beans and tuna wasn’t strange at all, especially with the addition of hard boiled eggs, Kalamata olives and a tomato-onion mixture. The vinaigrette made with olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon, shallot and fresh basil, thyme and oregano simultaneously brings out the best flavors from the different ingredients and ties them all together beautifully. Salad niçoise is a dish that we will crave from now on, even if I still can’t reliably pronounce or spell it.
As much as we have tried, and want to, love (or even like) grilled salmon, we’ve yet to find a recipe that musters anything more than a “good-not-great” reaction from us. But we very much enjoy smoked salmon, and often have it for a weekend breakfast with cream cheese on a toasted English muffin, some finely chopped red onion or shallot, and maybe a little bit of diced hard-boiled egg and/or tomato. Dan will sometimes order salmon in a restaurant, but only when it is Copper River Salmon, which is only available for a limited amount of time once per year. So why don’t we like salmon? Mostly the taste. To us, salmon has one of those love it or hate it flavors, which is tough to describe, other than “it tastes like salmon.” I also have issues with the texture of salmon, which is a meaty fish. Grilled salmon will flake, but the texture is still pretty dense, which I don’t really prefer. So why do a post on grilled salmon if we don’t love it? Because salmon is amazingly healthy for you (with loads of protein and omega-3 fatty acids), and if you like salmon even a little, this recipe is a tasty way to prepare it, with a lightly spicy Asian marinade and good grill flavor. In the meantime, our quest for the perfect salmon dish — preferably one that doesn’t taste like salmon — continues.
Food memories can be powerful, in terms of a certain dish conjuring thoughts of a place or event associated with that meal, and vice versa. The strength of food memories is no surprise, given the fact that eating has the potential to engage all five senses: taste and smell (obviously); sight (think of a dessert almost too pretty to eat); hearing (just try and resist the urge to watch a movie when you hear popcorn popping) and touch (ever been to a crawfish boil in the spring time?) For Dan, there is a certain fish dish that will always make him think of the time he spent working at an old-school seafood restaurant called Poli’s in Pittsburgh, while attending law school. One of the menu staples at Poli’s — and one of Dan’s favorite things to eat there — was “Boston Scrod,” a white fish (cod or haddock usually) prepared simply with breadcrumbs and butter. While not particularly fond of his time waiting tables at Poli’s, he loved the Boston Scrod and recently found a recipe that is close enough to Poli’s version to conjure images of the unfriendly, elderly clientele who refused to leave a tip one penny over five percent. The dish is ridiculously easy to prepare — melt some butter, add crushed Ritz crackers, top the fish with the butter mixture and bake for about 20 minutes — and is so buttery delicious that even I (a serial fish-avoider) loved it. Although Poli’s shut down before Dan could make it back there for a nostalgic helping of Boston Scrod, now he can take the same trip down memory lane with this homemade version, without ever having to leave the house.
Cooking (and eating) seafood in a broth sounds a little, um, crazy. But if you like delicate, perfectly cooked fish in a rich, slightly spicy yet sweet tomato sauce, then it’s actually very, very sane. Add a couple slices of grilled or toasted crusty bread to soak up the excess broth, and it couldn’t make more sense. We came across the recipe in a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine and were intrigued to try it, especially when we discovered that “fish in crazy water” is a translation of the Italian “pesce all’acqua pazza.” If you know us, you’re familiar with our motto that “Everything is better in (or from) Italy.” So we couldn’t NOT try this dish. And we weren’t disappointed. Not only was it delicious, but the recipe is also easy to make (provided you have the time required to simmer the broth — about 45 minutes) for a light and healthy Mediterranean-style dinner. Continue reading “Fish in Crazy Water”
The Steelers played the Baltimore Ravens this week, and I’m told that there is a huge rivalry between these two teams, although no one seems to articulate precisely why they are rivals. Dan gave me a few reasons — they’re in the same division and have knocked each other out of playoffs in previous seasons, each team plays a really physical defense, blah blah blah. I guess I was looking for a more juicy, soap opera-esque, “you killed my father, prepare to die” reason. But alas, apparently it is just a plain old football rivalry. I suppose there are some aspects of football I’ll just never quite understand. Like ugly throw-back uniforms. Or why Mike Wallace can’t seem to hold on to the football. Or the onside kick (I actually had to look up whether it was “onside, ” or “onsite” — the latter of which kind of makes sense to me, since the person kicking is there, on the field or “site.” But what do I know? Clearly, very little about football.)
I may lack knowledge of football, but I do know what I like in a crab cake (and a good segue): just the right crab-to-breading ratio; crispy outer layer; nice crab flavor (no fishy taste); and seasoning reminiscent of a crab or crawfish boil. The most perfect crab cake I’ve ever had can be found, strangely enough, at a little family-owned Italian restaurant in Altoona, PA called Lena’s. Our prior attempts to recreate the Lena’s crab cake at home have been largely unsuccessful. We decided to give it another shot for the Steeler Opponent-City Challenge this week, since Baltimore and the entire state of Maryland are known for crab, especially blue crab. We weren’t able to find blue crab, but we bought the best (most expensive) fresh crab we could find, adapted this recipe, and ended up with crab cakes almost as good as the perfect ones we get from Lena’s. Using panko instead of traditional breadcrumbs helps keep the breading light, while the flavor combination of Dijon mustard, Old Bay Seasoning, lemon juice, parsley, jalapeno and chives complements the crab flavor really well. Crab cakes so good that you don’t even need cocktail sauce equals a win in our book. Unfortunately, the Steelers weren’t so lucky against the Ravens, which brings the current S.O.C.C. record to: Steelers 6-4, Foodie Lawyer 9-1. And watch out Ravens — you beat us once this season, prepare to lose when we play you again in two weeks.