White Wine Braised Mahi Mahi with Fennel, Mushrooms and Carrots

Last Saturday and Sunday was one of those weekends where I was around town, running errands and never got around to going to the grocery store. I had also forgotten to place a Fresh Direct order that Thursday. So this is a post based on what I scraped together from my fridge, freezer and pantry.

I always have some staple ingredients that I buy seconds of when the first is running low So what do I keep on hand?

In the pantry: chicken broth (boxed liquid and bouillon form), dried herbs, spices, basic baking ingredients (sugars, all-purpose flour baking soda/powder, and yeast), canned ingredients (tomatoes, beans, tuna, anchovies, sardines), oils, vinegars, Asian sauces (like fish sauce and soy sauce), light coconut milk, onions, garlic, rice, oats (rolled and steel cut), dried pasta and ginger.

In the fridge: eggs, mushrooms, carrots, soy milk, butter, white miso pasta, Asian sauces (like sriracha, chili oil, and hoisin), lemons, limes and (almost always) white wine.

In the freezer: frozen peas, corn kernels, dumplings, blueberries, edamame, meats, and fish fillets.

I usually buy a family pack of chicken thighs and freeze them. You can usually find a deal on the price per pound for family packs. I also get frozen fish fillets from Trader Joe’s. They’re very fresh (don’t smell fishy after defrosting) and affordable. They have the common fishes: salmon, mahi mahi, tuna, swordfish, cod, tilapia, and catfish.

Frozen foods are in general cheaper than their fresh counterparts. And they usually have equal, if not higher, levels of nutrients. For fruits and vegetables, they’re flash frozen when harvested so they’re at their nutrient level peak. By the time you purchase the fresh kind in the store, they might have already passed the peak and are in nutrient decline. Seafood is usually flash frozen right after the catch so they’re also really fresh.

If you can’t make it to the store, you can still cook up delicious dishes if you have these staples on hand. For example, with defrosted chicken thighs. You can marinade them in olive oil+balsamic vinegar+dried rosemary or sriracha+lime juice+lime zest+ginger and then broil them. It’s always nice to have items in reserve.

Directions

  1. Rinse the fillet under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. In a pan over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoon olive oil.
  4. Add fennel and carrots to the pan. Cook on medium heat until starting to soften, 3 – 5 minutes.
  5. Add in mushrooms. Add in more oil, if necessary. Cook 1 -2 minutes.
  6. Add in thyme, coriander and garlic. Cook 1 -2 minutes.
  7. Add in lemon juice and white wine.
  8. Place fillet in pan, on top of the vegetable mixture.
  9. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook until done, about 6 minutes.
  10. Serve fillet with vegetables and top with some of the braising liquid.

Thai Roasted Black Sea Bass with Lemongrass-Coconut Rice

Much more time than anticipated was spent today at the farmer’s market in Union Square. We went around noon before we had lunch. Bad idea. We were starving by the time we got home and had dinner at 4PM. I’ll probably be hungry again by the time I finish this post.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Union Square is filled with lively stands boasting local produce, meats, wines, bread, cheese and honey. In regular grocery stores, I often feel disconnected from the produce that I buy. Often times they’re imported from other countries. However, at the farmer’s market you experience a different relationship with produce. You interact with the individuals who shaped and created the food. You understand they story behind the food and how it came to be. There is a new appreciation you gain for food. The produce we got for this post, with the exception of the lemongrass and jasmine rice, was locally sourced.

Directions

-For the Fish-

  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Place fish in a roasting pan.
  4. In a bowl, mix together the oil, coconut milk, lime zest, lime juice, chili flakes, ground coriander, and garlic clove.
  5. Spoon about 2/3 of the mixture over the fish and bake, basting frequently with the reserved mixture, for 25-30 minutes.
  6. To test if the fish is cooked through, a metal skewer should be easily inserted into the fish and, after left in for 5 seconds, should feel warm.
  7. Garnish with chopped cilantro, basil and a squeeze of lime.

-For the Lemongrass-Coconut Rice-

  1. Place the rice in a rice cooker insert or in a pot if cooking on the stove. Add the coconut milk and water.
  2. Using the side of a knife, lightly crush the lemongrass stalks. Cut into 3″ pieces.
  3. Spread the lemongrass throughout the rice.
  4. Cook in the rice cooker. If using the stove, bring the rice to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes until done.
  5. Season the rice with lime juice and chopped cilantro.

Cook’s Notes

If the cooked rice is dry for your taste, mix in a bit of coconut milk (or water). The unsweetened lite coconut milk from Trader Joe’s is a steal at 99 cents per can!

Lemongrass is not common in regular grocery stores but they can be found in Whole Foods. It’s sold for about $10 per pound. While that’s expensive, we only need one stalk, which ended up being 30 cents.

Pan-Seared Turbot with Jasmine Rice and Fennel-Cardamom Broth

Ok, I promise – I definitely cook more than just seafood. I try to eat it a few days per week; so after this, you probably won’t see seafood for a week or so. Whew. But we need to get through this post first…

So another white-fleshed fish – filleted and cooked, they all look about the same. But this one is Turbot a.k.a. Greenland Halibut, which is a flatfish that is wild caught.  The meat is delicate in flavor and flaky. The fish yields good fillets that can be baked, poached or pan-seared. I wanted to keep the integrity of the fish but to also bring in flavor without heavy battering and seasoning. So I pan-seared the fish with salt and pepper and used broth to bring in indirect flavors. I actually had left-over fennel from the mussels dish and used it with mushroom, ground cardamom and star anise seed to infuse chicken stock.

Cardamom is very aromatic and a spice regularly used in Indian cuisine. It has a slightly gingery taste and is an ingredient in Masala chai for tea. Star anise is a spice that resembles anise (licorice-y)  in flavor and is an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder. I’m using star anise to complement the licorice-y flavor of fennel. Lastly, the mushroom adds depth and meatiness to the broth.

Directions

  1. On the stove-top or in a rice cooker, cook the jasmine rice in the water. Set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan on medium heat, drizzle olive oil and heat. Add fennel and cook until beginning to soften, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms and cook about 2 minutes.
  4. Add ground cardamom and star anise seed. Cook for about 30 seconds.
  5. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  7. In a large skillet on medium heat, drizzle olive oil and heat.
  8. Pat dry the Turbot fillets and season both sides with sea salt and black pepper.
  9. Pan-sear the fillets, turning only once. The fillets will cook and turn white from the bottom-up. Flip the fillets when it’s cooked 75% of the way up, about 3-4 minutes. To get a nice sear on the other side, drizzle olive oil on top before flipping.
  10. Sear the other side for about 3 minutes.
  11. To serve, place a mound of rice in a shallow bowl. Place the fillet on top of the rice and ladle broth into the bowl. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Curry Battered Barramundi Sandwiches with Garlic Aioli

I came across Barramundi a.k.a. Asian Sea Bass in a search to find new types of fish to try. Apparently it’s very popular in Australia and Thailand, I assume since it’s native to that region. This fish is also starting to become popular in the US. In the US, Barramundi is farmed in fully recirculating systems that are eco-friendly and sustainable. Barramundi that are imported should be avoided since they are usually farmed in open net pens or cages that risk disease and pollution. When purchasing seafood, I try (and recommend) to buy from sustainable sources and purchase seafood that are not overfished or farmed in ways that damage the ecosystem and environment. So the next time you’re craving Atlantic Halibut or Chilean Seabass, try Barramundi! It has slightly buttery and very flaky white flesh. High in omega-3s, it’s a great alternative to other types of white-fleshed fish. It’s also versatile in terms of cooking technique. It’s able to be grilled, pan-fried, baked, steamed and poached. We topped our sandwiches off with pickled cucumbers and radishes to give a tang and crunch to the taste and texture.

Directions

  1. In a non-stick frying pan or cast iron skillet, heat the canola oil.
  2. Rinse the Barramundi fillet under cold water and pat dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Slice lengthwise into two.
  3. Pour the beaten egg into one large dish. Into another large dish, stir together the flour, cumin and turmeric.
  4. Dip the fillets into the beaten egg and then dredge with the flour mixture.
  5. Pan-fry the fillets, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
  6. For the garlic aioli, mix together the minced garlic and mayonnaise.
  7. Slice open the baguettes and spread the garlic mixture.
  8. Place one pan-fried fillet into each sandwich.
  9. Add in the pickled cucumbers and radishes (optional).
  10. Add in sliced tomato and cilantro (optional).
  11. Squeeze lime juice over each sandwich.

Mediterranean Mussels

After a week of rain, it seems like summer is finally starting in New York City. Summer for me has always been associated with trips to the beach, especially Outer Banks, and of course fresh seafood. Oceans, sand, that fresh seawater smell, a pot of mussels and a beer…mmm. But actually, it’s more like mussels and beer sans the ocean and breeze.

To get my mussels fix in New York City, I’ve always gone to Cafe de Bruxelles. That is, until it closed last year. I haven’t been able to find a great alternative since then. Petite Abeille is OK, La Sirene is good – but only has a few types of mussels as appetizers. I bought the Bloomspot deal for The Mussel Pot, but haven’t gone yet. Is it any good? Until I try it out, I get my mussels fix at home. It’s pretty hard to mess up mussels.

As I’ve been cooking more fish and shellfish, I’ve come to realize that cooking seafood is not as difficult as it seems. To keep the integrity of the main ingredient, all that is needed is really just a squeeze of a lemon wedge. Usually only a handful of additional ingredients are needed to lift the taste of the dish. While the delicate meat can be intimidating, timing is key in order to keep fish from becoming overcooked. Since the fish is the star, it’s important to get fresh, high quality seafood. This can definitely get expensive, especially in New York City. However, I’ve just discovered that seafood from Fresh Direct is very good in quality, assortment and also reasonably priced as compared to the products from Whole Foods and Wild Edibles. The ingredients from this and the next post are all from the order I received this morning!

And remember, as with all savory cooking the amount of ingredients can be adjusted depending on how garlicky, spicy, sweet etc. you’d like the dish to taste.

Directions

  1. In a soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat, warm the olive oil.
  2. Add the fennel and cook about 5 minutes until soft.
  3. Add the shallot and garlic, cook 2-3 minutes until soft.
  4. Add the jamon serrano and olives, cook 1-2 minutes for the flavors to blend.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Pour in the white wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Reduce heat to low and add mussels. Cover and let cook for 5 minutes, until all mussels are open. Discard any mussels that do not open.
  8. Pour mussels and sauce into a large bowl and enjoy with crusty bread!