Tag Archive: Fish

What’s sauce for the veal is sauce for the eggplant

Eggplant tonnato

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Around the world, anywhere there are Italians, you’re likely to find Vitello tonnato, that classic dish of slices of cold poached veal topped with a creamy tuna sauce. It’s one of those dishes that seems like it must go back in history to some far distant, early epoch. Different regions of Italy claim it as their own. Italian cooking authority (in English), Ada Boni, asserts it as a Lombardian dish but doesn’t delve into it. As best anyone seems to have researched it, the dish goes back to the late 19th century and although it likely graced the tables of fine restaurants in Milan, it also graced those of other regions.

Beyond the combination of veal (and traditionally, we’re talking unweaned calf, milk fed veal, not naturally raised veal) and tuna, all is fair game in both presentation and condiments. Oh, there are traditions, but they are often bent, stretched or ignored – egg yolk, capers or caper berries, lemons, chilies, and more come into play. Some insist the veal be roasted, others braised. Some cook the veal with all its condiments and then turn the juices into the sauce, others keep them separate. Some assert that the sauce be ladled over the veal well in advance to mingle the flavours, others prefer to keep them separate, even to serving them side by side.

Here in Argentina the dish is known as Vitel thoné, (also “toné or tonné”) I’ve found no history as to why it’s called this. Neither word is Spanish, neither word is Italian (where tonno would be the spelling, or tonni in plural). If anything it vaguely stretches to Latin, where “vitel” is the diminutive form the word for “yolk” and is sometimes used to refer to a very young calf; and thoné and its variations, well, your guess is as good as mine. In various languages it could refer to a unit of weight or a clap of thunder.

Having just toddled our way through the holidays, many of us have eaten our fill, not just of this particular dish, but of more meat than we probably should have, despite the carnivorous traditions of this country’s cuisine. One of the nice things about the development of cuisine is that over time, classic sauces, like a tonnato sauce, come to be used for other dishes. And, today, I’ll hit you up with a cold salad that makes a great starter to a light dinner.

If you really want to do this up right, make your own mayonnaise with olive oil, or to go more traditional, blend all the sauce ingredients together with a yolk and then slowly whisk in olive oil until you get the texture you want. It’s summertime, we want quick and easy. Use some olive oil mayo – there are some perfectly good commercial brands available.

Eggplant “Tonnato”

1 large eggplant
16 cherry tomatoes
small baguette, 1-2 days old is best
olive oil

1 170gm can tuna, drained (roughly 120 gm tuna)
100 ml olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed
2 anchovies
1-2 teaspoons of chili sauce (a sambal or sriracha would be best)
1 green lemon, cut in quarters
chives, chopped
parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Slice the eggplant into 1 cm thick slices, salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse, pat dry. In a skillet over high heat brown the lemon quarters on both exposed sides. Set aside. Add olive oil to the pan and brown the eggplant slices until cooked through.

Meanwhile, place the cherry tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in the oven and cook until they just start to burst (you can also do this on the stovetop).

Cut the crust off the baguette and cut the bread in cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake in the oven until crisp and golden brown. Let all the ingredients cool to room temperature.

Put the tuna, mayo, capers, anchovies, chili sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour to let the flavors meld.

Toss the eggplant with the chopped parsley and divide up between four serving bowls. Distribute the cherry tomatoes around to look pretty. Spoon the sauce over the top, sprinkle with chives, add in a couple of croutons for some crunch, garnish with the charred lemon wedge. Dig in!

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

1 in 7 fishes recommend

Garides Giouvetsi
Baked, Crumb-Crusted Palometa

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Having grown up in a household where Christmas was not celebrated, I had no tradition of particular holiday dishes associated with it. Oh, now and again I was invited to a friend’s house for a Christmas dinner, to be presented with, generally, either turkey, or what euphemistically we all agreed to call “pink chicken”, a classic cured ham, but a tacit agreement not to let my parents know I was eating pork.

As a teen I went to work in a neighbor’s Italian restaurant – our focus was pizza, with a secondary emphasis on pasta, and pretty much that’s what we made for the holidays – there weren’t even any special versions. But, as I continued my career and Italian restaurants figured strongly in the background, I learned about the “seven fishes” – which are sometimes nine or eleven or thirteen or three – but seven seemed a nice number to focus on. And as long as shellfish were included, it was always easy to come up with a septet to present at a Navidad dinner.

Now I suppose, if I’m going to give you a favourite or two for the upcoming Christmas holiday, I should have given you my best latkes and roast chicken with lemon sauce for recently passed Chanukah. But, I didn’t, mea culpa. We’ll have to move forward and focus on the fruits of the sea for this 2000 and something-th birthday celebration.

This dish actually is inspired from the Greek canon, but I’ve never heard anyone object that it didn’t seem Italian to them. Pretty much other than the choice of cheese in the dish, it could fit either cuisine.

Prawns with Feta & Spicy Tomato Sauce

100 ml olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 fresh red chilies
6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 medium bunch parsley, chopped
4 Italian frying peppers (ají vinagres), seeded and sliced
1 kg raw prawns or shrimp, peeled and deveined
250 grams feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a frying pan, add garlic, tomatoes, parsley, chilies and sweet peppers and simmer 10 minutes over low heat. Add the shrimp and simmer 10 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. How simple is that? Crumble the feta over the top and put it into a hot oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese and slightly brown it. Serves 4.

I regularly get asked about the whole “deveining” of prawns or shrimp. No, you don’t have to, but keep in mind that that black line running down the back of the critter is, to put it only semi-delicately, its poop-shoot. Your choice if that doesn’t bother you to eat it.
You might not know the pomfret, or, you might not know the pompano, different names for very closely related fish species, depending on which side of the Atlantic pond you live(d) on. Here, it’s called palometa, or often, supposedly as a marketing tactic, atún del mar del plata. It’s not a tuna, trust me.

Baked Pomfret

4 fillets pomfret/pompano
100 gm bacon, diced in small cubes and quickly cooked
12 green olives, chopped
6-8 stalks parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
100 gm breadcrumbs
1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (depending on if you like it spicy)
salt and pepper
olive oil

Place each fillet skin side down on an oiled baking sheet. Make a mixture of the other ingredients except the oil, coat each fillet with a layer, drizzle with olive oil. Broil in a very hot oven. Serves 4.

If you can find dried Italian peperoncino, which sometimes show up in the supermarkets or dieteticas here, they’re even better than the local red pepper flakes – but use a bit more sparingly, they’re much spicier – 3-4 of the little chilies will likely be plenty.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Just be-causa

Tuna Causa

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Apparently all the predictions are holding true. Peruvian cuisine is the “it girl” of the cuisine world and it seems like every time I turn around here there’s another spot offering either home-style Peruvian food or some version of Peruvian or Andean fusion. Most often the latter seem to be a melding of Japanese into the mix, but there are other Asian influences, Mediterranean, and no doubt any moment, something Eastern European will show up. It’s sort of surprising no one’s opened an Argentine-Peruvian fusion spot yet. It’s coming, you heard it here first.

We’re not immune from the phenomenon, though, given that my partner is Peruvian, so there tends to be a lot of experimentation going on around the house. But most of the time we tend to stick with the tried and true for our own dinners – there’s so much to play with, and, let’s face it, the food is good just the way it is.

So, everyone who remembers their mother’s tuna fish casserole, raise your hand. There were a legion of recipes for that icon of 1950s and 1960s norteamericano cuisine. Let’s face it, there was no other possible use for Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup that didn’t involve patching a hole in the drywall. The biggest variation, and cause of many a neighborhood argument, was whether or not it should be topped with crumbled potato chips or French’s fried onion rings. The same argument raged over green bean casseroles, but that was a holiday dish. Tuna casserole was weekly fare.

It turns out that similar arguments were surging throughout Peru. It may actually be that canned tuna is at the root of much evil in global society, and may bear further investigation. The addition of canned tuna to the classic Peruvian mashed potato dish, causa, was no doubt an improvement in the nutritional content of the dish, since prior to that it seems it was not much more than cold seasoned mashed potatoes, but it has also led to arguments amongst the Peruvian foodie community over authenticity and limits on creativity.

Regardless, these days, the tuna causa is ubiquitous throughout the nation, and despite the fancier versions showing up on menus here with shrimp, octopus, chicken, and other proteins, it remains about as classic as it gets without going back to a plain potato dish. Here’s our home staple these days – though we don’t make it every week. My mother might have even been proud to serve this.

Tuna Causa

Potato base:

3 large potatoes
80 ml olive oil
2 tablespoons ají amarillo powder
juice of 1 lemon
salt and white pepper
Boil, peel, and mash the potatoes. Add the olive oil a bit at a time, to taste and until it has a nice smooth consistency. Add the lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and the ají amarillo to taste – you could also use chopped or pureed fresh or reconstituted dry peppers – this is a mild yellow pepper (spicier than a bell pepper, but mild). Form it into the base of your presentation on a platter and chill in the refrigerator for ½-1 hour just to firm it up a bit. This dish is generally served cold or room temperature.

Tuna layer:

3 cans of tuna (I like to use the water packed)
1 small red onion, chopped
mayonnaise
salt and white pepper

This is pretty much just a simple tuna salad. Mash the tuna, add the onions and enough mayonnaise just to make it moist and hold together. Season to taste.

Assembly:

Potato base
Tuna salad
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
1 rocoto or other medium hot pepper
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
chopped black olives
chopped parsley and cilantro
juice of 1 lemon

You should have a nice, firm mashed potato base to build on. Top with chopped tomato and herbs. Layer the tuna salad on top of that. Next, the avocado slices sprinkled or brushed with the lemon juice so they don’t brown. Then the hard boiled egg slices (you can hard boil your eggs along with your potatoes above, just don’t leave them in the water the entire time) and the pepper rings. Scatter the chopped olives over the whole thing. Set it on the table, ooh and ahh a little, dig in.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

One fine kettle of fish

Moqueca de peixe

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

From the Kimbundu language, one of two dialects of Bantu, from the country of Angola, comes the word mu’keka, meaning, more or less, a kettle of fish. Literally, not sort of hot water that one finds oneself in after getting home late from a carousing with friends. It’s a dish that some say is reminiscent of bouillabaisse, but with local African flavors.

And, many of those flavors found their way to the shores of our neighbor to the northeast – after all, Angola was also a Portuguese colony, so it’s not a surprise that, shall we say, they imported a few folk from east to west. When the Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century, they brought many traditional recipes from their culture, but not their traditional ingredients. Corn, cassava and manioc (or yuca) replaced the classic fava beans, rice and yams in various dishes.

Some of what are now the most important ingredients in Brazilian cuisine were brought from Africa by slaves, who carried with them their own culinary traditions – the dende palm and the oil of its fruit and new species of chilies like the fiery little malagueta pepper. In particular, the northeast region of Bahia makes use of many of these African ingredients and traditions.

And, one of the region’s most famous dishes is the moqueca, the word a simple re-spelling of where we started this column. At its heart it is the traditional African stew, but it brings in a touch of that Portuguese sort of fish chowder – a dish which if you think about it is a New England derivation of the Portuguese settlers to that part of the U.S., fused with a bit of British sensibility.

Now, there are probably as many recipes for moqueca as there are Bahians, and since the dish has spread from that region to nearly become a national dish, we can guess that there are millions more versions – in fact the original that I learned came from a Sao Paolo based chef. Not surprisingly here at home, we’ve spiked up the spices a bit, adding in a bit more chili and also a touch of ginger, and bit by bit changed the proportions of ingredients to fit our personal tastes. That’s just the way we roll around here.

Our Kettle of Fish – Moqueca de Peixe

1½ kg of pollack (abadejo) or other white fish, remove bones and cut in cubes
½ kg of squid, body cut in strips, tentacles separated
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 large onion, chopped
2 tomatoes with skin and seeds removed, chopped
1 red bell pepper cut in thin strips
1 green bell pepper cut in thin strips
6 pickled malagueta peppers, chopped
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small bunch of basil, chopped
250 ml of coconut milk
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons dende oil
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a wide pot (traditionally a heat proof ceramic pot), saute the onion, garlic and ginger in the oils, mixed together. Add the cubes of fish, squid, coconut milk and lemon and then scatter the remaining ingredients over the top, herbs last. Leave to cook over low heat without stirring, letting everything sort of slowly cook down until thickened, roughly 25-30 minutes. Serve over white rice cooked with bay leaf, with hot sauce on the side.

Notes on the ingredients: Dende oil is a vividly orange oil that comes from a palm tree. It has a unique aroma, one that when it first hits the heat reminds people, strangely, of a giraffe’s cage at the zoo. That dissipates rapidly and it imbues the dish not only with a lovely earthiness, but also a bright yellow-orange color. You can find it here in dieteticas and some specialty food shops, but if you don’t encounter it you can mimic the color with a teaspoon of turmeric.

Malagueta peppers are small, medium hot chilies that are found here pickled and packed in jars – your best bet is Barrio Chino, but you may find them in some gourmet food shops as well. If not, the local small pepper known as aji lino will do in a pinch.

Finally, if you’re not a fan of squid, substitute another shellfish or leave it out entirely and just add another ½ kg of fish to the pot.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

In the salmon’s layer

Two Salmon Lasagna

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

The common definition these days of a pescetarian seems to be “a vegetarian who eats fish”. That’s not in accord with the Vegetarian Society – the coiners of the term vegetarian back in 1847, who point out quite rightly that fish are not vegetables, they are meat. They may not be red meat, they may not be poultry, but they are, quite simply and graphically, animal flesh. Still, the common definition cited in the first sentence seems to pop up more and more – at my restaurant I constantly get request from “vegetarians” who tell me that fish and shellfish are just fine.

Of course, I also get some who tell me that they’ll eat a bit of bacon, or perhaps a sausage, or even a chicken wing were it to show up on their plate. “Vegetarian” it seems, is simply a moniker many adopt to make a claim to better dietary practice, regardless of reality.

One of my favorite go-to dishes is one that I came up with many years ago for some visiting fish eating friends who also were trying to lighten up their lives and asked me to avoid pasta… and also rice, potatoes and bread. A gut-wrenching experience for someone trained by Jewish bubbes and Italian nonnas.

But I got over it and whipped up this “lasagna”, with slices of white eggplant standing in for the noodles. When you get right down to it, it’s really just more of a hot terrine of sorts, sans any kind of gelling agent to hold it together, and I’m sticking with my lasagna claim. It’s a quick and easy dish to whip up and a crowd pleaser for the pescetarian set. And of course, if you want to throw in a layer or two of noodles, some cheese, or some bechamel sauce, who am I to say no?

Salmon & Eggplant Lasagna

500 gm fresh salmon
2 large eggplants (white ones if you can find them)
1 large bunch of fresh basil
6 plum tomatoes
250 gm black olives, “Greek” style
Approximately 1 cup olive oil
4-5 sprigs of fresh oregano
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
2 cloves garlic
3 anchovies
salt and black pepper

Slice the salmon into 1 cm thick slices. Slice the eggplants into slightly thinner slices. And, slice the tomatoes into thin slices. Pit the olives. Now you’re ready to start cooking.

In a large frying pan, saute the eggplant slices in a little olive oil a few at a time (just enough to cover the bottom of the pan) with a little salt and pepper. Keep the heat fairly high as it will help prevent the eggplant slices from absorbing too much oil. When the slices are lightly golden on both sides, set them aside to drain on some paper towel.

In a blender mix the pitted olives, the leaves from the oregano, capers, garlic and anchovies and blend with just enough of the olive oil to give yourself a smooth paste – a tapenade. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper – you probably won’t need much, if any, salt.

Lightly oil a 20 x 30 cm baking dish and place a single layer of the eggplant, covering the bottom – they can slightly overlap, not a problem – aim to use a third of the slices in this layer. Top that with a layer of the sliced salmon and a layer of basil leaves. Then place a second layer of the eggplant, again using about a third of the slices. Top that with the tomato slices and coat generously with about half of the tapenade (olive puree). Finish off with the last third of the eggplant slices, sprinkle with a little fresh pepper, and then cover the baking dish with foil.

Bake in a hot oven (180°C) for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and turn the oven up to broil and cook just a few minutes more to lightly brown the top. Remove from the oven and let it sit a few minutes, then cut into portions (this should make roughly six, depending on how hungry you all are) and serve, topped with the remaining tapenade and basil leaves. Accompany it with a nice green salad and some of that fresh bread you made from last weekend’s column, and you’ve got yourself one delicious pescetarian dinner.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cook gently and carry a pink stick

Gatuzo a la Vasco

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

A couple of weeks ago I promised you a gatuzo a la vasca recipe. I try not to make idle promises, so somewhere down below we’re going to get there. But let’s start with gatuzo. It’s a fish that, if you frequent your local seafood market, you’ll see laid out in fillets, often with the spine still attached. It goes by one of two names here, gatuzo which would lead one to think something cat-like, or palo rosado, “pink stick” (and not to be confused with the pez palo, a completely different fish), which is eminently descriptive, because once you trim off the bones and fins and all that, it’s pretty much what you’re left with – a somewhat long rectangle of pink fish flesh.

So what is it? It’s a shark. A small shark belonging to the “smooth-hound”, “ground shark”, or “hound shark” family, Triakidae, just to get all scientific on you. While some species within the family can grow up to 1.5 meters long and weigh in at around 13 kilos, the particular species we see here, Mustelus schmitti, doesn’t surpass about 90 centimeters, and in casual moments in those scientific circles, is known as the narrownose smooth-hound. It was “discovered”, officially – though obviously locals were long familiar with it – in 1938 by one Stewart Springer, a norteamericano shark expert. Mustelus, by the way, means weasel – so now we’ve got local names implying cats (and there is a whole different family of catsharks), and Latin classification implying hounds (which might include the whole family of dogfish) and weasels. One could be forgiven for giving it up as a non-starter and just buying a piece of salmon, you know?

Now wait a minute – what about the whole shark thing? You know, the campaigns against fishing for sharks, the anti-finning movement, all that. It is indeed an issue – but the primary one is that of either by-catch when fishing for other species, or the practice of finning and then tossing the sharks back in the water without their fins, left to die. In fact, the former was a serious issue here in Argentina, enough so that from 2004 until 2008 fishing for gatuzo and the use of certain types of nets was completely banned (which is interesting, because I don’t recall the local shops not having the fish available, so clearly it wasn’t being enforced). Since 2008 an “artisanal fishing” system has been in place that limits the places, methods of fishing, and types of nets used, as well as size of fish allowed to be kept for consumption. This has resulted in the regrowth of a once threatened population, and the some 200 tons of the shark that are caught and sold here and overseas each year now represents a small fraction of the numbers that exist. So, one of the sharks that, at least for now, can be consumed with clear conscience.

Palo Rosado a la Vasca (Basque-style Pink Stick)

4 150-200gm palo rosado filets or other firm-fleshed white fish
1 large red bell pepper, julienned (cut in long thin strips)
1 large onion, finely julienned
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced in 1 cm cubes
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
240 ml of white wine
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
salt and white pepper

Boil the potato dice until just barely soft, drain. Meanwhile, cut the various vegetables, and make sure you removed the spine from the fish filets – one nice thing about working with sharks, they don’t have bones other than the spine. Saute the onions, garlic, and pepper strips in half the olive oil until limp. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coat the bottom of a baking pan or cast-iron skillet with the remaining oil. Place the fillets in the pan and sprinkle with half the paprika and parsley, along with a bit of salt and pepper. Cover with the cooked potatoes (you could also go with thinly sliced rather than diced if you prefer). Cover with the onion and pepper mixture. Sprinkle the remaining paprika and parsley over the top and pour the wine over the whole thing. Place in a 180°C oven and cook for 15 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the top of the “casserole” is just lightly browned. Serve and enjoy!

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Go fish

Baked whole fish

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

It’s a common refrain to hear that porteños don’t eat or like fish. And there are certainly fewer in the way of seafood restaurants in this city than those serving up the national beef. No question some of that is the long standing gaucho mystique and tradition of the open range and great hunks of meat cooked up over open flame. But part of it is based on decades or longer of a simple lack of supply of good quality fish and shellfish to the capital.

Until not that long ago a fish would find itself caught somewhere off the southern coasts, ranging from Mar del Plata down to Ushuaia. From there it was plopped unceremoniously atop a bed of ice along with a number of its brethren, a crate of iced down fish got shoved into the back of an unrefrigerated truck and a driver drove from hundreds or thousands of kilometers to BA in a manner that would make a local colectivo “pilot” jealous. Still, it could take a day or two to get here, get processed through the Mercado Central, and distributed to retail outlets – by then, the chances of freshness were dimming rapidly.

But recent years have seen the implementation of refrigerated and/or frozen transport in controlled containers and trucks, and even crates of the best of the catch showing up in the belly of aircraft arriving from points south. With that, and a general tendency towards a more varied and perhaps even healthier diet, fish is showing up more and more on menus, and in more and more homes, as a choice for dinner.

Now, you can pick up your typical fillet of one fish or another at any local fish store, and perhaps we’ll get to some interesting ways to prepare one or another of those. In fact, I feel a gatuzo a lo vasco coming on in a future column. But for the moment, I wanted to look at a classic local preparation of pescado al horno relleno – oven-baked stuffed fish. It’s a simple dish, a whole fish is butterflied open, sprinkled with sauteed onions, scallions, salt, pepper and thyme, then it’s closed back up, topped with bread crumbs and lemon juice, and classically, and, to my mind unfortunately, served up with “abundant white sauce”, along with, perhaps, a vegetable pudding of carrots or squash.

Until we get to that heavy bechamel it’s all sounding fairly delicious, but there’s something about a heavy, floury, milk based sauce ladled over a fish that sounds like we’re just trying to cover up the fact that it’s a fish on the table. Even the French are not as enamored of bechamel as the Argentines are. So here’s one of my favorite whole fish preparations – easy to make, fresh and vibrant flavors.

Baked Whole Fish

6 garlic cloves
1½ teaspoons salt
2 fresh red or green long chilies, seeded
1 large tomato, peeled and seeded
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
—–

¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 whole sea bass (approx. 6 pounds, or slightly over 2 kilos), scaled, gutted and cleaned
Cilantro for garnish

First the fish – “sea bass”. How do we find one here? There are several options in the bass family that will work well for this dish – corvina, mero or chernia would be my first choices.

Preheat oven to 180°C. In a small dry pan lightly toast the cumin seeds until they start to smell aromatic and pop a little. Remove from the pan and slightly crush them. Make a paste of the first six ingredients in a small food processor, blender, or even a mortar and pestle.

Rinse and pat the fish dry with paper towels. Cut three slits in the skin across the fish on both sides, coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay it in a baking pan and coat well with the paste mixture (on both sides). Bake for one hour, approximately, until done. Serve on a platter with a handful of cilantro leaves scattered across it. This can also be done with the fish filleted and laid side by side in the pan, though the baking time will be considerably less – just bake until the fillets are cooked through but not dried out – roughly 15-20 minutes.

And ditch the white sauce.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Spiced fish pie

Cod Empanada Gallega

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

We’re back to the world of empanadas this week, but something a bit different. When it comes down to it, “empanada” really just means “in bread”, a sort of misnomer since it’s usually pastry, not bread, but the point is made. We all know there are numerous varieties, from little teeny cocktail versions that are sometimes served at steakhouses as a nibbling appetizer or passed around at social gatherings, on up to big, fist sized sorts that are more ubiquitous. But it goes past that point – when in Santiago I was told about a local restaurant that places an entire boneless chicken inside of a giant pizza sized dough and bakes it that way, and even here in Argentina, there’s the empanada gallega, originating in Galicia.

Like many such recipes there are more versions of this dish than can be counted – but basically, it’s a pie. The Galician tradition tends towards pork – a mix of sausages and stewed meat, or, cod, often cooked similarly, and generally served up for Lenten, or in the past, Friday suppers. Here in Argentina it’s not surprising that when it’s a meat pie in the making, beef (often accompanied by pork chorizos) is the core ingredient, and when it comes to the fishy variety, the unfortunate use of canned tuna, which for me should be relegated to being mixed with mayo, celery, eggs and slapped on a sandwich (and never again used as a sushi topping, but I digress). I’ve also seen versions using tinned sardines, which delightful as they are on a pizza, are just wrong in a pie. There, I’ve said it.

I make this in one of two versions – I tend to buy the pastry crust – not that it’s hard to make, but they’re so readily available here that there’s little reason to. I either make individual sized ones using standard sized empanada doughs, or I make a pie sized one using the mid-sized doughs for pascualinas. The really big ones are great if you’re having a lot of friends over, but usually a bit much for dinner for the family.

Spiced Fish Pie

1 package of mid-sized pastry crusts or 8 individual empanada tapas
500 gm firm white fish (bass, grouper, cod are good choices), cubed
2-3 slices of serrano ham, chopped
2 white onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 chilies, chopped
1 large zucchini, sliced
leaves from several sprigs each of oregano and thyme
1 teaspoon each sweet and hot paprika
100 ml dry white wine
salt and black pepper
olive oil

Sauté the onion, garlic, pepper and chili in olive oil with a little salt and pepper until softened, roughly 5 minutes. Add in the zucchini, paprikas and herb leaves and continue cooking, stirring regularly until the zucchini are just softened, another 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and continue to cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and combine with the cubed fish (don’t precook it with the mixture or it will be overcooked after baking). Set aside to cool while you prepare the shell.

Oil a pie tin or tart pan and stretch one of the doughs to not only cover the base but also come up the sides with a slight overhang. Or, in the case of individual sized ones, just lay out four of the rounds on an oiled baking sheet. Spoon the fish and vegetable mixture into the shell – use a slotted spoon as we don’t need all the liquid that remains, there will be plenty from cooking the fish and vegetables to perfect done-ness. Pack it in well so that it forms a nice solid filling. Lay the other crust on top and fold in the overhanging edges of the first dough, pinching them together to seal nicely. Cut little vent holes in the top to let steam escape so your pie doesn’t explode in the oven. Bake in a medium hot oven (180°C) for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Remove, cut in wedges and serve. Dinner for 4.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail