Pan-seared cod with arugula vinaigrette

Skip the “sticks” with fresh fish

Originally appeared in the July 26, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

If you’ve noticed the trend that I gravitate more toward fish dishes during the summer months, then good for you.  But to be honest, this compulsion often goes uncalculated.  Most people are aware about the benefits of fish as a good-oil, good-fat protein; but—all gastronomic pedagogy aside—sometimes fresh fish just feels right.

Unfortunately, the Hoosier state is far from being a seafood “hub,” it would be equally unfortunate if the culinarily inclined chose to shrug their shoulders and settle for freezer-burned fish sticks.  (I don’t care how sagely the Gorton’s Fisherman carries himself.)

Decent cod is not only widely available in most chain markets and grocery stores, but it’s relatively accessible for a cook who’s unsure of their fish skills.  You’ll notice that this portion of cod is quite hearty, coming in at eight ounces—that’s half of a pound.  But for me, I’ll opt for a few extra ounces of fresh, flavorful, and keenly-cooked fish in lieu of starch any day.  I think asparagus goes well with this dish, but I think asparagus goes well with just about all fish.

So march up to the fish monger’s glass counter at your grocery store—ask incisive questions.  Don’t settle for something “fishy,” and I don’t mean the “sticks.”

Pan-seared cod with arugula vinaigrette

Serves 2

  • 2, 8-ounce cod fillets
  • As needed, all-purpose flour
  • 1 ounce fresh arugula
  • 1 tablespoon white or sherry vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch sugar, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper
  • 4 ounces tomato sauce (prepared or canned)

1.  Heat a small amount of olive oil in a sauté pan over moderate to high heat.  Season cod with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and lightly dust with flour.  Gently settled the cod into the sauté pan; allow fish to sear on all sides before placing it in a 425° F. oven to finish cooking through.

2.  Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, add arugula, vinegar, sugar, salt, and cracked black pepper, and puree, slowly drizzling in the oil as you blend ingredients together.  When vinaigrette has emulsified, reserve in a bowl.  Once fish is cooked through, allow to rest for a few minutes before serving with arugula vinaigrette, tomato sauce, and vegetable of choice.

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Published in: on July 26, 2012 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pad Thai

Pad Thai: an inclusive noodle

Originally appeared in the July 19, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Most cultures have a mind-numbing variety of noodle or pasta dishes, but one of the most versatile and flavorfully complex is the popular Pad Thai.

Pad Thai is composed of, well…it depends.  Like many stir-fry specimens, the profile for pad Thai will have requisite variations, but it is the homogenous arrangement of often numerous individual ingredients that contribute to its singular personality.  What you can be certain of is the presence of rice noodles, sautéed onion, perhaps some for form of protein (pork, chicken, tofu, eggs), with hints of citrus and sweetness along with a nuttiness from the oil and crushed peanuts.  And then there’s the issue of heat.  If you’re dining out, you can often request a heat level for many stir-fry dishes; but if you’re cooking at home, you won’t have that problem, will you?  All it takes is a little Pad Thai tinkering and crushed pepper experimentation.

My suggestion is that you take advantage of the season’s fruits and vegetables by incorporating generous amounts of citrus and fresh herbs (pad Thai is known for fresh scallion).  Stir-fries are inclusive and unpretentious dishes, so approach this with a friendly attitude, because you should be prepared to share.

Pad Thai

Serves 4 – 6

  • 1 pound dried, rice-stick noodles
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • ½ rice wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 ounces garlic, mashed to paste
  • 10 ounces chicken, cut into thin strips
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons or to taste Thai chili powder or cayenne
  • 4 ounces scallion, bias-cut into thin rings
  • 4 ounces unsalted peanuts, fine chop
  • 3 cups mung bean sprouts
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro

Condiments­

  • Bean sprouts
  • Fine chop unsalted peanuts
  • Lime wedges
  • Thai chiles, thin slice
  • Minced cilantro

1.  Soak rice sticks in bowl of warm water until soft (about 15 minutes).  Meanwhile, combine fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and ketchup in a small bowl.  Stir until sugar has dissolved.  Drain noodles—reserve until needed.

2.  Heat oil in wok or wide-bottomed sauté pan; add chicken and sauté until meat begins to turn white; add garlic and cook briefly (don’t burn).  Add fish sauce mixture, and bring to a boil; add noodles and gently toss with sauce.  Continue to cook until noodles have absorbed sauce (about 2 minutes).

3.  Pour eggs into the pad Thai mixture, and mix thoroughly until egg is set.  Add chili powder or cayenne, along with scallions; cook until scallions are softened.  Stir in peanuts and bean sprouts until incorporated well.  Sprinkle pad Thai with cilantro, and serve with condiments.

Grilled steak with watermelon-pistachio salad

Something chilled, and something from the grill

Originally appeared in the July 12, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

If you haven’t had the chance to do so, there’s still plenty of time to celebrate the edible hallmarks of summer.  Today, I’m sharing a recipe that offers something from the grill, but includes an accompaniment with a personality all its own—think of it as a chilled and sweet response to the heat of the grill.

I suggest using the grill for this method because of the signature flavor it imparts to the meat; and while I used strip steak for this particular recipe, I encourage you (as always) to make your own riffs and select whatever cut you’re comfortable with.  As I’ve mentioned before, when your purchasing watermelon check to make sure the fruit is heavy and slightly waxy.  A pale area on one side of the oblong melon suggests the fruit has rested on the ground long enough to ripen.  And with the dressing, the balsamic accents the melon’s sweetness, and the savory gorgonzola adds a salty bit of bitterness.

I used our 7-year-old, Jack, as a guinea pig for this recipe.  Sitting at the kitchen table, with a mouth full of food, Jack (my most forgiving critic), forking another piece of fruit, said something which I’ll translate for you here: “Tell the people in the paper that this is darn good steak.”  Thanks, pal.

Grilled steak with watermelon-pistachio salad

Serves 2

  • 16 ounces of strip steak
  • 14 – 16 ounces of melon-balled watermelon
  • 3 fluid ounces olive oil
  • 1 fluid ounce balsamic vinegar
  • 8 – 10 leaves of fresh mint, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 tablespoon crushed pistachios
  • To taste, granulated sugar, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper

1.  Season your steak with salt and pepper, and grill to desired doneness (you may need to use and oven to finish cooking process).  Remove steak from grill, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare salad:  place melon-balled watermelon in a bowl; in a separate bowl, add balsamic vinegar and slowly whisk in olive oil to form and emulsion.  Add a pinch of sugar, pinch of salt and pepper, and add fresh mint.  Pour desired amount of dressing over watermelon, and gently toss to coat.  Gently incorporate gorgonzola and pistachios.

3.  Slice steak into thin pieces and serve with watermelon salad.  Garnish plates with gorgonzola, pistachios, and fresh mints leaves.

 

Published in: on July 13, 2012 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Phớ bò (Vietnamese beef and noodle soup)

Phớ sure

Originally appeared in the July 5, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Okay, sure—as our region continues coping with comically high temperatures, you may think the heat has addled my mind when sharing a recipe for steamy Vietnamese soup.  But don’t jump to conclusions.  Phớ is more about celebrating humble summer ingredients than flirting with an uncomfortable burn.

The backbone of phớ (pronounced “fah”) is a distinctive, savory broth (usually served with rice noodles); but the main attraction is not the soup, but rather the accompaniments: fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, among others), tart lime, crisp onion, fish sauce, hoisin, and spicy jalapeno.  Of course there are interpretations, as Vietnamese tradition holds that each vendor would encourage diners to tinker with the quantity and combination of their desired garnishes.

To experience a knock-out phớ, my wife and I typically made a trip to either Lafayette Road or the indelible Sandra Rice and Noodles on Pendleton Pike.  But as luck has it, Beech Grove is home to Egg Roll #1 Phớ #1 (4576 South Emerson), which boasts a wonderful Vietnamese menu along with a host of phớ variations.

If you can’t make phớ at home, stop by Phớ #1.  You’ll understand that the heat is not getting to me.  Not yet.

Phớ bò (Vietnamese beef and noodle soup)

Serves 2 – 3

  • 64 ounces beef bones
  • As needed, water
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 3-inch piece of ginger
  • To taste, kosher salt
  • 3 fluid ounces fish sauce
  • 6 whole star anise
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 16 ounces cooked rice noodles
  • 8 ounces raw beef tenderloin, sliced very thin

1.  Place beef bones in a stockpot and add enough water to just cover the bones.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and skim impurities from time to time.  Meanwhile, cut onion in half and slice ginger lengthwise; place both ingredients on a sheetpan and place under a 500° F. broiler until flesh is charred.  Using a piece of cheesecloth and strand of kitchen twine, combine star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves, and secure with length of twine (this is called a sachet).  Add charred onion and ginger, along with salt, fish sauce, and sachet to beef stock.  Gently simmer for roughly 4 hours, until stock has reduced and flavors have concentrated.  Afterwards, remove sachet and strain the liquid.  Return stock to low heat and adjust seasonings.

2.  Suggestions for garnishes (all amounts are as desired): thinly sliced onion; bean sprouts; fresh herbs: cilantro, basil, mint; lime wedges; fish sauce; fresh jalapenos; and chile sauce.  In preparation for service, place garnishes in separate bowls and reserve.

3.  Reheat cooked rice noodles in simmering beef soup.  Portion soup and noodles into extra-large bowls.  Add sliced beef tenderloin to each bowl and allow the hot liquid to cook the beef.  Place desired amount of garnishes into soup at service.

 

Published in: on July 5, 2012 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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