Archive for the ‘Fish and Seafood’ Category

Scallops from the MRKT

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Joseanweb

Josean Jimenez discovered that he loved food and cooking when he was a child. “Pretty early on when my parents would throw parties, I realized I’d rather be in the kitchen than anywhere else. The kitchen is usually where everybody gathers,” he told me in a recent interview.

Jimenez and I were sitting at a table near the large front windows of his MRKT Restaurant on Elm Street in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Photographer Paul Franz and I nibbled on one of Jimenez’s beloved small plates while the chef told us about his life and his passion for cooking. (Unfortunately, Paul’s lovely photos ended up in the local newspaper; blog readers are stuck with mine!)

Born in Puerto Rico, Jiminez grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts. Cooking classes he took in junior high school “sparked” his culinary abilities. He went on to study culinary arts at Smith Vocational High School and the Connecticut Culinary Institute.

He worked his way up from dishwashing and prepping ingredients to chef at a number of Pioneer Valley Restaurants. The young chef ventured east to Martha’s Vineyard and Boston, but found that our valley in Western Massachusetts called him back.

During his early years working for others Jimenez expanded his early interest in “multi-Spanish/Puerto-Rican/Creole food” to embrace a wide variety of cuisines. He also learned to manage restaurants as well as cook in them.

Last year he decided he was ready to set out on his own and began looking for a restaurant in the Pioneer Valley. The location in South Deerfield, which had been a restaurant for many years and needed few alterations, suited him perfectly. It was manageable in size and attractive.

More importantly, it represented only a 15-minute drive from the home in Chicopee he shares with his wife and their lively three-year-old twin sons, whom Jimenez obviously adores—although he also obviously finds them a handful.

Each boy has a name tattooed on one of the proud papa’s arms. I asked him what he would do if he had more children since he didn’t have any more arms. Jimenez looked alarmed. “This is all we’re planning,” he said. “Some days when they come in to the restaurant, we have a lot of cleaning up to do!”

MRKT Restaurant opened in November. The winter months were long in the new restaurant, but business is brisk now that spring has arrived. Jimenez hopes to expand his hours (currently Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.) to include lunch very soon. He is also planning international nights with guest chefs.

Jimenez’s own cooking philosophy at MRKT reflects the value he has come to place on the contributions of area farms and their produce. “It’s farm to table with international flare,” Jimenez said of his menu. “I’m trying to support local agriculture. The food tastes better when it’s not coming in a truck from California.”

Jimenez noted that the farm-to-table emphasis also suits his culinary temperament since he likes to alter his menu frequently. Responding to the growing season makes changes inevitable.

“We’ve had the current menu for maybe four weeks and I’m ready to change it,” he said with a smile.

However much the menu may vary, it will probably always feature small plates, which Jimenez likes to offer so that diners can share and taste as many food combinations as possible.

The small plates on the menu when I visited included Hadley asparagus with goat-cheese fondue and a fried egg (the chef is very fond of eggs); chicken liver mousse with homemade jam, pickled mustard seed, and grilled toast; and the dish Jimenez served Paul Franz and me, sea scallops with a vegetable ragout and a carrot-cardamom reduction.

The orange of the carrot reduction and the green of the peas and beans shouted “spring,” and the dish provided contrasting consistencies to the palate: creamy sauce, tenderly chewy scallops, crunchy chives.

We forked the scallops and vegetables down quickly and then asked Josean Jimenez for a spoon so we could savor every drop of the carrot reduction.

I plan to make this dish soon. It’s quick, easy, flavorful, and just a bit showy. (I do love showy!)

scallopsweb

MRKT Restaurant’s Pan-Seared New Bedford Scallops with Fava Bean/English Pea Ragout and Carrot-Cardamom Reduction

Ingredients:

for the reduction:

1 cup carrot juice (Josean Jimenez makes this with a juicer, but it may also be purchased)
1 cardamom pod, lightly crushed by hand
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

for the scallops:

salt and pepper to taste
4 large scallops
a splash of canola oil
1 teaspoon butter

for the ragout:

a splash of canola oil
1 tiny red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fava beans, blanched
1/4 cup English peas, blanched
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon butter
sea salt and pepper to taste (Josean Jimenez prefers the French “piment d’espelette,” available in gourmet stores, but other ground pepper may be substituted)
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives plus additional chives for garnish

Instructions:

First, prepare the reduction. In a saucepan combine the carrot juice and cardamom pod. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until it reduces by half (about 5 to 10 minutes). Stir in the cream, and again reduce by about half, or until slightly thick (about 5 minutes more).

Remove the reduction from the heat, add salt and pepper, and set aside. Move on to the scallops.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the scallops. In a small sauté pan heat a splash of canola oil. Sear the scallops over medium high heat until they are golden brown on both sides (around 2 to 5 minutes, depending on your stove). Add the teaspoon of butter just as they are about to finish cooking.

In another small sauté pan heat another splash of canola oil for the ragout. Sauté the red onion pieces briefly; then add the beans and peas. Sauté over medium heat for 1 minute.

Add the vegetable stock, and cook for another minute. Toss in the butter when the stock is almost finished cooking. Season the ragout with the salt and pepper, and add the tablespoon of chives.

To serve the dish, ladle 1 ounce of the carrot sauce into a flat bowl. (You will have enough leftover sauce for several future servings.) Pour the vegetable ragout on top of the sauce, and place the scallops on top. Sprinkle chives on top and serve.

Makes 1 serving.

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Maple-Soy Glazed Salmon

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

We still have a week to go in maple month—and I’m doing a maple-cooking demonstration in Virginia on April 1—so I’m in a maple mood.

Years ago I tasted a fabulous salmon dish at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts. When I asked creative chef Michael Collins about it, he explained that he had cooked the fish with equal parts of maple syrup and soy sauce.

This is not precisely his recipe, which I don’t have, but it was inspired by Michael. The flavor of the marinade is subtle but definitely perceptible.

I had never baked salmon before, but one of my dinner guests, Lot Cooke (thank you, Lot!), got me through this recipe with no worries. Of course, it helped that the recipe was really, REALLY easy.

The Salmon

Ingredients:

2 pounds salmon fillets
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup soy sauce (I used low-sodium, which was still salty enough)

Instructions:

In a saucepan combine the syrup and soy sauce. Heat until the mixture until it boils. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.

Place the salmon fillets in little pouches of foil inside a large baking dish. Pour the maple-soy mixture over them and spread it on top. Close the foil up so that the marinade will stay on the fish and not bleed into the pan. Marinate the fish for 1 hour, basting the marinade over it again every 20 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the fish and baste once more. Bake the fish on a high oven rack, uncovered, until it flakes (about 20 minutes), basting after 10 minutes. For the last 2 to 3 minutes you may turn your broiler on to brown the salmon.

Serves 6.

Eating a little leftover salmon EXHAUSTED Rhubarb.

 

Oscar Banquets

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Oscar night looms. Commentators are dusting off their pre-show red-carpet patter, craftsmen are fashioning gold-plated statuettes, Price Waterhouse officials are counting ballots in secret sessions, and Hollywood is preparing to dazzle its colleagues and the general public with its annual orgy of self-congratulation.

Today Wolfgang Puck and his minions are working on the food for the Governor’s Ball. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this year’s menu will feature my favorite edible for ANY occasion—lots and lots of finger food, served buffet style. I would LOVE to taste Puck’s lobster tacos, not to mention the gold-dusted chocolate Oscars now being fashioned.

The first Academy-Awards banquet was less elaborate than the one planned for tomorrow evening. Held in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel in May of 1929, it fed about 270 people instead of the 1500-odd nominees, presenters, and guests expected this year.

The overall ambiance, according to later recollections, was one of a small community celebration. First best-actress winner Janet Gaynor said decades after the fact, “It was just a small group getting together for a pat on the back…. Hollywood was just one big family then, and [the award] was a bouquet—thrown to me, I think, because I was new and because they thought I had certain freshness. It was nothing then like it is now.”

Janet Gaynor in "Sunrise," one of the three films for which she won the best-actress trophy in 1929.

The food was less sophisticated than that being planned for this year. Hollywood and the American public were a little simpler then. I think it sounds pretty tasty, however.

According to the official Awards Librarian at the Academy, the menu consisted of:

Assorted Nibbles (rolls, olives, etc.)
Consommé Celestine
Fillet of Sole Sauté au Beurre
Half-Broiled Chicken on Toast
(The librarian noted that she hoped this meant “broiled half-chicken” rather than underdone poultry.)
New String Beans
Long-Branch Potatoes
Lettuce and Tomatoes with French Dressing
Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Cream
Cakes
Demitasse

Nostalgia is always on the menu at the Academy Awards, so I am supplying a version of one of the dishes consumed in 1929. Happy viewing … and eating. Enjoy Billy Crystal’s return!

Billy Crystal and Friend. Courtesy of AMPAS. Photo credit : Bob D'Amico/ABC

Original Oscar Night Fillet of Sole

I love sole—and so, apparently, did diners in Hollywood in 1929. This is my favorite way to pan fry this fish in butter. If you want to make the fillets look more beautiful, dredge them in flour before cooking them.

I haven’t made this recipe lately so I don’t have a photo to share with you. But I do remember that it was delicious.

Ingredients:

1 small juice glass almost filled with sprigs of parsley
about 1/4 cup clarified butter
1-1/2 pounds sole fillets
salt and white pepper to taste
the juice of 1/2 large lemon

Instructions:

With kitchen scissors cut the parsley into small pieces in the glass. In a large frying pan, melt about half of the butter over medium heat. Put in a few sole fillets; they should not touch each other.

Fry the fillets gently for a minute or two on each side, until they become flaky, adding salt and pepper as you cook. As each fillet is done, place it on a platter in a 250-degree oven so that it stays warm until its relatives have finished cooking. Add butter to the pan as needed for sautéing.

When the fillets are all cooked and on the platter, throw the parsley and lemon juice into the frying pan, and stir to allow them to mingle with the pan drippings. Ladle the parsley-lemon-butter mixture onto the fish fillets, and serve.

Serves 4.

This postcard of the Roosevelt Hotel, currently for sale on ebay, was postmarked in 1929.

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A Little Mardi Gras in New England

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Nan Parati in Mardi Gras Regalia (Courtesy of Nan Parati)

Western Massachusetts has a lot of character—and characters.

One of the characters who have given our hilltowns a lot of character in recent years is Nan Parati. Originally from New Orleans, the artist-turned-storekeeper lives in Ashfield, where she is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store.

She was visiting a friend in Ashfield in August 2005.

“I was heading back to New Orleans,” she told me recently, “when a friend of mine called from New Orleans and said, ‘Hey, we’re about to get a big hurricane. Maybe wait until after the weekend to come back. Everyone’s evacuating.’

“So I came back to wait out the hurricane, which turned out to be Katrina, which took out my house and my studio and I said, ‘I reckon I live in Massachusetts now!’

“I had some investment money from a house I had just sold in North Carolina and used that to build Elmer’s instead of going back to rebuild in New Orleans. (I had just spent 25 years building a design business in NO and decided I didn’t want to start that all over again—I wanted to do something new!)”

Elmer’s is a general store, as it has been since 1937, but under Nan’s direction it has become a restaurant, a gallery for artists and local products, and a hub for musical events—particularly those highlighting Louisiana music.

This weekend Elmer’s is hosting its first annual Winklepicker Festival. (If you want to know what a Winklepicker is in this context, just visit its web site!) The festival’s theme, for this year at any rate, is Mardi Gras. After all, this signature holiday of Nan’s native state falls next week.

The festival will feature lots of Louisiana-style music, a gospel brunch, a kids’ music camp, and Cajun and Creole cooking classes given by Nan’s New Orleans chum Michelle Nugent.

“Since I’m from New Orleans, people ALWAYS ask me about Louisiana cooking,” Nan told me. She met Chef Michelle Nugent two decades ago at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. A passionate advocate for Louisiana food, Michelle is the food coordinator for this annual April event; Nan creates the festival’s signs and serves as art co-coordinator.

I called Michelle Nugent to interview her for one of our local papers. She told me she was enthusiastic about coming to New England. “I lived in Massachusetts when I was a little bitty girl,” said the chef. “I love snow!”

She plans to offer three classes. Friday’s session will present a classic Creole dinner party, from Oysters Rockefeller to Bananas Foster. Saturday’s class will focus on a classic New Orleans-style brunch. On Sunday Michelle will explore Cajun Country cuisine.

Michelle noted that she isn’t sure what to expect in terms of an audience for her classes. “It might just be people who go to the festival to hear the music and come on a whim,” she said. “I’ve traveled enough around the country to know that people are fascinated with New Orleans and fascinated with our foodways.”

Chef Michelle (Courtesy of Michelle Nugent)

She explained that the classes are structured to help people learn more about the different types of food in Louisiana. “It seems to me that when I talk to people that aren’t from New Orleans they’re often confused about what’s Cajun, what’s Creole, what’s authentic, what’s nouvelle. And they think everything’s too hot, which isn’t usually the case.”

I asked her to elaborate a bit on the origins of Creole versus Cajun cuisine.

“Creole comes from the Spanish criollo, which means ‘born here in this place,’” she said. “In New Orleans after the Native Americans we had French and then Spanish and then French and then Spanish. And then New Orleans was a large port city and of course we had Africans come over with the slave trade, but we also had a lot of free people of color from what is now Haiti.

“So Creole could really mean a little bit of everything. It was encouraged for the French aristocrats to take Black mistresses. So we got pretty mixed up pretty fast!

“The Creole food has French aristocratic traditions and some traditions from Africa such as okra and then the use of hot pepper and things like that, which is not nearly as severe as people think it is.”

In contrast, she explained, the Cajuns were the Acadians—French refugees from Canada, with a little German blood mixed in for good measure. Michelle described their cuisine as “more countrified food.”

“It reflects the fact that these people make their living off the land with fish and shrimp and crawfish and rice,” she said.

Asked what she likes to make and eat on a daily basis, Michelle thought for a minute. “At home I just ‘pot cook,’” she noted. “I love to pot cook whether it’s beans and rice or gumbo. I find that things like that, especially gumbo, always taste better the next day. I will break my rule for these classes, but normally I make gumbo the day before and put it in the refrigerator overnight.”

It was a little harder for Michelle to identify her favorite Louisiana food in general.

“Hmm,” she mused. “Probably boiled crabs. I eat them plain. Some people eat them with saltines or cocktail sauce. I loved all boiled seafood, but crabs are my favorite.”

She sighed.

“And then there’s nothing better than an oyster po’ boy.”

Since I had only met Michelle over the phone, I asked Nan to describe her to me.

“Michelle … is wild, determined, strong, serious about what she does, fun to work with on my part and fun to stand back and watch when vendors [at the New Orleans Jazz Fest] sneak out of line,” enthused Nan.

“She loves a good time, she’s extremely smart and talented, has great taste in clothes and belt-buckles, is a wonderful, wonderful cook—and I am looking forward to spending a week with her up here!

“It’s always fun to me when New Orleanians come up here to visit because if you put New Orleans on one end of a stick and were trying to figure out where Ashfield went on that stick in relation to New Orleans, you’d have to go all the way to the very opposite end of that stick to find Ashfield. They couldn’t be further apart in way of life!”

If you’d like to enroll in this weekend’s cooking classes, call Elmer’s Store at 413-628-4003. For those who can’t make it to Ashfield Michelle has given me her recipe for a classic Louisiana dish. I made it for my family recently, and we adored it.

Modern Times Shrimp Etouffée
Courtesy of Michelle Nugent

Michelle Nugent uses the words “modern times” because, she notes, “local lore suggests that the original Acadian settlers would not have had flour or tomatoes when they first arrived in Southwest Louisiana.” She adds, “You may also substitute crawfish tails or chicken for the shrimp.”

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (Michelle likes red for its sweetness)
4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves (fresh if possible)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked off the stem
2-1/2 to 3-1/2 cups shrimp stock (see recipe below)
1 cup tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (optional)
1-1/2 to 2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled (save the shells for the stock recipe)
Worcestershire sauce to taste
kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste (I used 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, 8 twists of the pepper grinder, and about 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
liquid pepper sauce (Michelle prefers Crystal®, but I used what I had in the house; I put in only 7 drops so it wouldn’t overwhelm my diners)
lemon juice to taste (I used the juice of half a large lemon)
1 bunch whole scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
hot, cooked white rice

Instructions:

In a large heavy saucepan or cast-iron skillet heat 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium high heat and whisk in the flour. Cook this roux, stirring frequently, until it is the color of peanut butter. This is the trickiest part of the recipe since one has to watch and stir A LOT to keep the roux from burning.

Add the onions to the roux; they will darken the roux a bit further as the sugars caramelize. Stir in the celery and peppers and cook until the vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes. Again, stir to keep everything from burning.

Add the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Whisk in 2-1/2 cups stock and the tomatoes if desired, and bring the mixture just to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and add more shrimp stock if the stew looks too thick. (Be careful: I added a bit too much, and the final product was a little wet although delicious.)

Add Worcestershire sauce, salt, peppers, and pepper sauce to taste. Cook for 30 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Add the shrimp to the stew and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add lemon juice to taste. Adjust other seasonings to taste. Stir in half of the scallions and the parsley and cook for 5 more minutes or until the shrimp is just cooked through and flavors have melded.

Finish by gently stirring in the last bit of cold butter for richness and shine. Serve with hot cooked rice. Garnish with the reserved scallions (and a little more parsley if you like), and put a bottle of pepper sauce on the table for individual adjustment.

Serves 4 to 6.

Shrimp Stock

Ingredients:

the heads and shells from 1 to 2 pounds fresh shrimp
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons brandy
1 carrot, chopped
1 yellow onion with peel, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1-1/2 quarts water
1 to 2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
a few whole peppercorns

Instructions:

Heat the butter over a medium-high flame in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the shrimp shells and sauté until they start to brown; then add the tomato paste and the vegetables and sauté until brown. Carefully add the brandy and then add the water and the seasonings. Bring the liquid to a boil and then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Strain the stock, discarding the solids, and set it aside to cool.

Oysters of Elegance

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

oysters of el web

 
I was thrilled to find oysters a couple of days ago in the meat case at A.L. Avery & Son, my local general store.
 
Avery’s only stocks oysters between late November and early January, and I make a point of buying these expensive treats at least once during the holiday season.
 
My mother, our neighbor Alice Parker, and I threw them together into a simple New Year’s Eve supper at our home before going off to enjoy music and the company of good friends elsewhere.
 
I am not known for my modesty so I don’t hesitate to mention that Alice and I brought the house down with our rendition of “Santa Baby” and other songs at the Charlemont Inn that evening!
 
But back to oysters: I’m always amazed to recall that oysters remained plentiful and cheap as late as the early 20th century.
 
When my grandmother was a freshman at Mount Holyoke College, she used to walk into the center of town and bring back inexpensive oysters for secret feasts in her dorm. (Eating in one’s room was emphatically NOT allowed at the college in 1908!)
 
In her old age she chuckled as she recalled encountering a faculty member on the main street of town as she returned from an oyster-fetching errand.
 
The professor engaged her in conversation for several minutes. Both the faculty member and young Clara studiously ignored the oyster liquor dripping from the paper bag my grandmother was clutching.
 
Oyster suppers were common occurrences in former days in my hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts, where voters often enjoyed them after Annual Town Meeting in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
 
In a scrapbook from the Civil War era preserved by my late neighbor Ethel White’s family, a newspaper clipping describes an oyster-filled surprise party held for J.G. Longley, one of the town’s “old bachelor citizens.” According to the clipping Mr. Longley returned home from shopping to find
 
to his surprise and consternation that forty or fifty of his neighbors, whom he had never suspected of any ill before had taken possession of his house and were practically converting the old mansion into a saloon for cooking oysters, melting sugar, &c. At first he was somewhat disconcerted, being hardly able to decide whether he was himself or somebody else. He very soon recovered his sense, however, and satisfying himself that their motives were not of an incendiary nature, went in and rendered very efficient aid in disposing of the oysters and other delicacies with which the tables were spread, and joined quite freely in the “laugh and song that floated along” as the wheel of time went round.
 
By the mid-20th century overfishing rendered an oyster feast for 40 to 50 people unaffordable for most Americans. It also did damage to the environment as both oysters and their reefs fulfill important ecological functions.
 
I support the efforts of state and national groups to create new habitats for oysters—and I treasure the few oysters I eat each year!
 
I prepared this year’s ration with a simple recipe supplied by Alice. It came from her mother Mary Parker, known to neighborhood children as Gam. Gam called the dish “Oysters of Elegance.”
 
The recipe definitely dates from the early-to-mid-20th century, using as it does a now underappreciated condiment, chili sauce.
 
The combination of ingredients sounded a bit odd, but it the flavors melded wonderfully, producing a stew-like concoction that was divine sopped up with the homemade bread Alice brought to the supper.
 
I prepared it in a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish, but I think another time I’ll try using individual serving crocks. Alice remembers that Gam served the dish this way.
 
I may also try cutting back on the chili sauce (maybe reducing the quantity to 1 cup) and adding a little more oyster liquor, which I love. Alice says that the measurements she has on paper weren’t exact because her mother didn’t actually measure!
 
It was pretty darn tasty as transcribed below, however.
Here's what the oysters looked like before we sprinkled cheese on top.

Here's what the oysters looked like before we sprinkled cheese on top.

 
Gam’s Oysters of Elegance
 
Ingredients:
 
12 ounces chili sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pint oysters
1/4 cup oyster liquor
2 tablespoons butter
grated cheddar cheese as needed (we used about 2/3 cup)
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
 
In the bottom of a small casserole dish (or four crocks) combine the chili sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Sprinkle the chopped onion pieces on top.
 
Arrange the oysters on top of this mixture, and toss on the liquor as well.
 
Dot the top of the oysters with the butter, and sprinkle grated cheese on top so that the oysters are covered (but not blanketed!).
 
Bake the oysters for about 25 minutes, until the cheese browns a bit around the edges. (The crocks should take less time–perhaps 15 minutes or so.)
 
Eat the casserole with spoons. Make sure you have plenty of homemade bread to soak up the yummy sauce.
 
Serves 4.
 
Coming next to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens: NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS for this blog!
 
ny2web

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