Capered Salmon en Papillote

We’ve all heard the stereotype that French recipes are notorious for being highly complex – requiring hours and hours of preparation, expert-level tempering and knife techniques. But so much of their cooking is incredibly simple and so damn elegant.

It’s why France is arguably the global mecca for foodies. With an added emphasis on the word arguably.

One preparation they use for fish encloses it in parchment paper with aromatics and seasonings, and bakes it in the oven, often with in-season vegetables.

It makes for a beautiful presentation, and because it’s fish, there’s not much actual cooking time involved.

I had been wanting to try this technique for a while and finally got around to it. I wasn’t sure how achieve the moon-shaped package with a square piece of parchment paper, so I sourced a technique from the New York Times.

There’s an undeniable wow element when you’re served the fish enclosed in the package and opening it up to see what’s inside.

Just human nature I guess. Must be why wrapping paper exists. Or in my case, newspaper.

Because brine is life, I went hard on the capers. I mixed together a simple sauce to accompany the salmon with capers and thyme, to mirror the flavors used with the fish.

I remember to tell myself – simple can be incredibly elegant. The French taught us that much. I hope you enjoy this. Let me know what your other go-to herbs, vegetables and seasonings you like to use on salmon –  I bet they’d be great here.

I’m thinking an Asian-inspired version? Soy sauce, chili oil, scallions & sesame seeds?

Bon Appetit!

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 2 6 – 8 oz. filets salmon, silver skin removed
  • I small shallot, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small bunch thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

F o r  t h e  C a p e r  S a u c e

  • 3 oz. crème fraiche
  • 1 teaspoon capers, minced
  • 1 / 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon minced thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to *400.
  2. Cut two pieces of parchment paper, about 1 1 / 2 foot long, into large heart-shaped pieces.
  3. Place the salmon filets on one half of the parchment paper, folding over to ensure there’s enough paper to completely enclose the fish.
  4. Once it’s correctly placed, sprinkle the filets with salt and pepper.
  5. Top with slices of shallot, capers, several springs of thyme, and 1 tablespoon of butter per filet.
  6. Fold over the edges of the parchment paper starting at the bottom of the heart shape, until the fish is completely enclosed. It’s a similar technique you would use to crimp the edges of a pie so that the filling doesn’t escape while baking.
  7. Cook the fish for 12 minutes for medium-rarish, 15 minutes for well-done.
  8. In the meantime, combine the caper sauce ingredients. Serve in small ramekins.
  9. Remove the salmon from the oven & serve it immediately plating it, parchment and all, with sauce on the side.
  10. IMPORTANT: Stick your nose in and inhale that first whiff when you tear open the package.

Deconstructed Salmon Ceviche with Mango & Avocado-Lime Crema

Salmon not only tastes great, but I hear it’s good for you too. Not that I care about the good for you part.

Raw fish – raw food in general – must feel so satisfying because you’re eating visceral protein in its most primal form.

In spite of my debilitating motion sickness while I’m on any small sea vessel, I’d spend a summer fishing every day in a heartbeat given the opportunity.

As a self-identified part-time resident of southwest Florida, our family has taken some deep sea fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico.

A few years back on a rickety, 20-foot fishing boat, we reeled in what Captain Vince estimated to be a two to three hundred pound “goliath grouper.” It took 45 minutes to bring it up, and four of us had to take turns reeling it in using your average, run-of-the-mill fishing rod.

I still don’t understand how that pole didn’t snap in half.

When it emerged, it was like pulling a prehistoric whale out of the water. It was covered in barnacles and its eyes were the size of golf balls. It was staring right at us. I knew it was a fish, but it had the gaze of a human who’d been through hell and back.

When you catch a fish that size, and I assume that uncommon, you always cut the line and let them go.  It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

I love raw salmon, and smoked salmon, so I included both in this “ceviche.” I wanted to make this more of a meal as opposed to a bite-sized amuse-bouche, which is typically the serving size I get when ordering at restaurants here in D.C. I’m always left wanting more of it.

Avocados are the perfect counterpoint to salmon, according to everyone. And I agree. I was in Oahu when this recipe sprung into my head, thus the added mango component. Pineapple would’ve been more Hawaiian-y, I know.

Adding sweet to my savory is usually against my religion, but mango just felt right here.

And if you have a round mold, which I didn’t have, these ingredients would present gorgeously stacked over one another.

Now go forth, and eat your seafood the way it’s meant to be eaten – raw!

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 1.

  • 6 oz. smoked salmon
  • 6 oz. wild salmon filet, sliced thin
  • 1 mango, sliced thin
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced thin
  • 2 avocados (ripe, but firm – you will only need 1 and 1 / 2 avocado for this recipe, so snack on the other half!)
  • 2 limes, 1 zested & juiced
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 stalk scallions, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

O p t i o n a l

To go along with the fish, make a super-simple dipping sauce for added flavor – simply mix 3 parts soy sauce to 1 part sesame oil, adding a teaspoon or so of finely minced scallions.

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Cut 1 avocado in half, carefully removing the core with a knife. Remove the outer peel, and slice the meat 1 / 4 to 1 / 2 inch thin. Drizzle the slices with lime juice to prevent browning & set aside.
  2. With a knife, cut the smoked salmon into 2 – 3 inch diameter circles. You could use a ramekin as well for a more uniform size.
  3. Slice the wild salmon filet thinly longways. If you put the salmon in the freezer for 10 minutes, it will make it easier to slice. Once sliced, cut the fresh salmon in a similar circular shape & size to the smoked salmon.
  4. Peel a mango, slicing the meat of the fruit from the tough core. With the pieces you have, cut them in a similar shape to the fish.
  5. Slice one jalapeno thinly, and mince the scallion.
  6. In the meantime, put the sour cream, juice and zest of one lime, half of the avocado, salt and pepper in a blender until finely pureed.
  7. To serve, spread a dollop of the avocado crema across the plate, arrange the avocados and then the smoked and fresh salmon. Top with sliced jalapenos and sprinkle with minced scallions.
  8. Serve alongside the optional soy dipping sauce & lime wedges for extra oomph.

Hack-&-Eat Crabs (Done the Maryland Way)

The state of Maryland should open a crab-themed theme park, funded by taxpayers. That’s how much we like crabs. I’m thinking a crab rollercoaster where riders sit sideways. Crab-flavored cotton candy.  A ball pit filled with live crabs for children.

My sister’s boyfriend’s family has a bay house where they pig out on crabs as often as possible, with obligatory pitchers of Bud Light.

For my birthday he gave me a big freezer bag full of crabs with…

Happy Bday

-Billy

…written in pen on the bag. My boyfriend and I sat there destroying these guys with mallets, eating them ice cold from the fridge, doused with copious amounts of Old Bay-seasoned melted butter. We were also probably a little drunk at that point.

In my all white, pristine apartment. Don’t do what I did.

Summer is coming up. And to that end, here are some recommendations for a crabby extravaganza!

That yellow bile you get when you break the crab in half is godly. Suck the juice out every claw (leg?) you pull off at the joint. You can eat the shell of some of these softer appendages, if you’re also a fan of eating the tails off of shrimp (a-la shrimp cocktail).

Here’s a short video showing how to correctly dismantle the body.

Serve these with beers poured from pitchers into pre-chilled beer mugs. List of Maryland-based brews here.

Eat outside because, please. If you live in a city like I do, I would probably find a wooden table at a nearby park.

You only really need mallets and tiny forks for meat retrieval. I never end up using the shellfish crackers. Put newspaper or some kind of durable paper down before you heave them across the table steaming hot out of the pot.

Put lots of melted butter, lemon wedges (for masking post-crab eating finger smells), malt vinegar, hot sauce, cocktail sauce and old bay on the table. Don’t forget the paper towel rolls either, or the big bowl for shells and carcasses.

And then, prepare to get flecks of crab shell in your hair, folks.

To quote a scene from Wedding Crashers, a ground-breaking motion picture that forever redefined film in America –

*bro catches touchdown pass*

Crabcakes and football, that’s what Maryland DOES!

I N G R E D I E N T S

The recommended amount of crabs to serve per person is anywhere from 8 to 12. A bushel is 7 to 8 dozen blue crabs. The recipe below would serve 4 people, so adjust accordingly when you order the crabs.

  • 1 / 2 bushel live Maryland blue crabs (approximately 48 crabs)
  • 3 lemons, halved
  • 4 -7 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning, plus additional for sprinkling after being boiled
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 sticks melted, clarified butter*
  • Enough water to fill the pot 2 / 3 of the way full

*To clarify butter, put the desired amount of butter in a shallow saucepan and melt until the solids separate from the golden liquid beneath, and with a large shallow spoon, remove the fat solids from the top. Reserve the remaining liquid.

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Fill a 6 quart pot with water 2 / 3 of the way full. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, the lemon halves, and 4 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning to the pot, adding an additional 1 tablespoon with each new batch of 12 crabs that’s added.
  2. Submerge the 12 live crabs in the water, one by one, making sure to keep the claws intact.
  3. Cook each batch for 10 minutes.
  4. Once cooked, carefully remove the crabs with tongs to a very big bowl or several large bowls (whatever you have on hand), sprinkling with additional Old Bay seasoning as you finish each batch.
  5. Serve immediately with the clarified butter and optional Old Bay seasoning, malt vinegar, hot sauce and cocktail sauce, as desired.

O P T I O N A L

  • Old Bay seasoning
  • Malt vinegar
  • Tabasco Hot Sauce
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • Bottled cocktail sauce*

*If you prefer to make your own cocktail sauce, mix 2 parts ketchup to 1 part prepared horseradish. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or Tabasco sauce for an extra kick.

 

 

 

Pearl Diver’s Oysters

There are few food-related experiences more blissful than slurping a clean, ice-cold oyster.

Oysters have that mysterious, pearl-producing, hand-collected by island-dwelling natives who dive to the ocean floor holding their breath for 1 hour underwater-thing going on. All the best foods are the ones that play hard-to-get, or make you wait literally years for them. Think about it.

This led me to confirm whether or not there are people who still pearl dive, and yes there are, but it’s less risky nowadays. Lame. I guess not everyone can be as badass as that guy Kino from The Pearl.  Remember that book?

Speaking of badass, let’s learn how to properly shuck an oyster together, which you will need to do for this recipe. I found this video helpful as a shucking amateur. You will need to buy an oyster knife too, so add one to your cart in your next Amazon order.

In terms of sourcing the oysters, you either 1) have a dedicated fish market that you know supplies superbly fresh oysters on a regular basis 2) only have access to a hit-or-miss market that may or may not stock satisfactory shellfish 3) are willing, financially or otherwise, to order oysters online.

I fall somewhere between camps 1 and 2 – so I elected to buy them at a good local seafood market. One note on ordering oysters online. It’s unexpectedly highly recommended over taking a risk of purchasing or storing the sub-par stuff.

I will not pretend to preach expertise on different varietals of oysters, ever.

There are upwards of 150 distinct types harvested in North America alone distinguished by where they are sourced on a highly local level. This recipe calls for the variety or varieties you prefer, with a huge emphasis on whatever is freshest available to you.

And of course, get a bunch of types too, if you’d like. If you’re limited to U.S. varieties, on average, West coast oysters tend to be smaller and sweeter, while East coast oysters tend to be larger and slightly brinier (and dare I say, funkier).

So here’s a homage to the sinisterly delicious oyster.

Us devotees thank you for existing.

I N G R E D I E N T S

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Always mise en place, folks!

Serves 2 – 4 as an appetizer, depending on appetites.

  • 1 – 2 dozen fresh oysters in their shell, variety of your choosing *
  • 3 fresh sea scallops, or 6 fresh bay scallops
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized shallot, minced
  • 10-12 sprigs of fresh dill, minced
  • 2-3 large lemons (enough to produce 4 tablespoons of juice, saving enough lemon fruit to squeeze 1 – 2 tablespoons of juice for finishing)
  • 1 / 4 cup high-quality, very dry Champagne or Pinot Grigio
  • 1 / 4 tsp sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red, white wine or champagne vinegar
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • Pinch of Maldon salt or another good-quality finishing salt

*Adjust according to the size of the oysters – the oyster estimate is based off of a “medium” sized oyster, or an oyster with a shell approximately 2 and ½ inches in diameter.

O p t i o n a l

  • 1 / 2 lb cup uncooked pearl couscous
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted or salted butter

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Shuck the oysters carefully, and place the meat in a small bowl. Pour any excess liquid from the oysters into a separate small bowl. Reserve half the oyster shells for plating the final dish.
  2. Cut each oyster in half crosswise. Small dice the fresh scallops in a similar size to the fresh oysters and add to the bowl with the oysters. Put the shellfish meat in the fridge.
  3. In a small sauté pan, heat the oil, and add the minced shallot, sautéing on medium-low heat for 5 or so minutes until heavily reduced and the shallot is transparent, making sure that the shallot does not brown.
  4. Add 4 tablespoons of the lemon juice to the pan, the 1 / 4 cup Champagne or Pinot Grigio, the reserved liquid from the oysters, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1 / 4 teaspoon of sugar.
  5. Simmer for 7-9 minutes longer on low heat, allowing the liquid to reduce by about half.
  6. Off the heat, take half of the minced dill and add it to the vinaigrette.
  7. Allow the vinaigrette to cool, about 10 minutes.
  8. Once cooled, pour the vinaigrette over the raw oysters and scallops. Mix well.
  9. Place the mixture in the fridge for 10 minutes to chill. After ten minutes, remove the shellfish mixture, stir, and return to the fridge to chill for an additional 10 minutes.
  10. In the meantime, take the reserved oyster shells and place them on a bed of crushed ice, preferably in a wide, shallow metal pan, such as a paella serving dish.
  11. Take 1 tablespoon of the combined shellfish mixture and place in each of the reserved oyster shells. Sprinkle the shells with the remaining dill, lemon juice, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  12. Serve with cooked pearl couscous mixed with melted butter on the side, if desired as a palate cleanser.