Monday, August 25, 2014

Poached Fish with Tomato and Saffron

A few weeks ago I was talking with the fish guy at Whole Foods, as has become my habit.  I don't know all that much about cooking fish and have been reluctant to tackle it at home.  In the past, when I ate out more often, I would make a point of ordering fish whenever possible partly to avoid having to prepare it at home but still be able to enjoy it on a somewhat regular basis.

It is no surprise that I have so little experience with fish.  The only fish we had at home when I was growing up was canned salmon, canned tuna, and some solid frozen block of tasteless mush that seemed common in the '70s - halibut or haddock or something like that.  The canned tuna went into a pretty decent salad but the salmon went into an especially dreadful dinnertime nemesis of mine:  the dreaded salmon croquette.  And the block of fish ice went into the oven as is and then was splashed with lemon juice (bottled) just before serving.  It was pretty disgusting.  Like most children in America, the only fish I truly liked was fish sticks, and that was mainly as a vehicle for tartar sauce.  As an adult, that morphed into a love for breaded fried fish and that was pretty much it for me.

These days I eat all kinds of fish - fried, grilled, broiled, poached; even raw.  It took some getting used to, but I love sushi and tuna tartare.  Basically, if someone else is preparing it for me, I love all fish.

Sadly, however, these days the only way I'm likely to have fish is if I prepare it myself.  The first technique I learned was how to broil it; mostly salmon and the occasional tilapia.  To my mind, there is little finer in the world than a nice piece of salmon seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and dill and broiled just to the barest hint of doneness.  Whenever I wanted fish I would hope that the salmon or tilapia looked good and if it didn't I would change my dinner plans.

I've been looking to expand my repertoire, both with techniques and with kinds of fish, and I found a recipe I had pulled out of Bon Appetit a while ago for poached cod with tomato and saffron.  I decided to try it on some cod I had finally mustered the courage to purchase, and was pleased with the results.  So pleased that I started looking for opportunities to purchase firm white-fleshed fish so I could practice some more, and fiddle with the recipe as is my wont, and poaching has become a staple in my repertoire.

There have been a few occasions when I was browsing the fish department when I ran across paiche .  I had never heard of it before, so I asked what it was.  Turns out it is a large white-fleshed fish native to the Amazon that has barely changed from the Miocene epoch thousands of years ago.  All I knew was that it looked good so I brought some home with me.  It made for a most flavorful dish.

This recipe is quick and easy, and only takes about half an hour from start to finish.  It is a perfect dinner for those nights when you want something special but don't have a lot of time or energy for anything complicated.
Home Cookin 8.58 Chapter: Meat Fish and Eggs
2 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced - OR - 1/4 medium onion, thinly sliced - OR - both
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper, or to taste (or red chili flakes)
1 to 2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
pinch of saffron threads
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 5-oz. skinless firm-fleshed fish fillets

Drop the saffron threads in 1/4 cup of warm water and let steep while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and/or onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is just translucent. Do not let it color.

Add the Aleppo pepper and cook for 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the saffron water, wine and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper,

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Season the fish and place it in the skillet. Cover the skillet and let the fish simmer until it is opaque and starting to flake, 10 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the pieces.

Serve the fish in shallow bowls with the poaching liquid spponed over it.

Adapted from

exported from Home Cooking 8.58 (

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweet and Sour Lentils

I can't believe how much time has passed since my last post.  I wish I could say it's because I've been whipping up a storm in the kitchen, but that is not the case.  I am cooking, just not a whole lot that's new.  For some reason I am not feeling too inspired.

Although part of the reason is that I have become thoroughly and totally obsessed with sourdough.  I hope to start sharing what I have discovered soon, but it has been six months and I feel like I've just barely broken the surface of what is possible, and have barely come up for air to work on other things.

But as always, there have been moments when I have felt the need to try something new.  And that is just what I did a few weeks ago.  I have been fascinated by a recipe for Sweet and Sour Lentils in one of my favorite cookbooks for years now.  I could not imagine a successful integration between the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant entree and the earthly legume.  I would pass over it as I thumbed through the book looking for ideas, but then invariably I would turn the page back, look over the recipe, and wonder how it would taste.

My curiosity finally got the better of me, and pineapples were on sale at the grocery store, so it seemed like a good time to give it a try.  But I also had a glut of apricots from the Green City Market that were in serious danger of going bad before I could use them so I thought why not use apricots instead of pineapple?  Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of pineapple and I figured apricots have a similar flavor profile of sweet and tart so I might as well go for it.

The result?  A surprisingly delicious blend of flavors that should not necessarily work together but do.  In addition to substituting apricots for the pineapple I did a little tweaking here and there and came up with something truly delicious.

I have always had trouble making lentils look good, so I don't know how appealing this looks but I can tell you, it is quite tasty and I will definitely be making it again.  It is perfect for a workday lunch.

Home Cooking Chapter: My Recipes
6 servings

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and soaked in water to cover for 1 to 2 hours
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 to 5 fresh apricots, diced
2 Tbsp garlic ginger paste (or 1 Tbsp each minced ginger and minced garlic)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sherry
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp ketchup
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp warm water
1 tsp toasted sesame oil, or to taste

Drain the soaked lentils, then place them in water to cover and cook until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic paste and cook for a few seconds, then add the apricots. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, stirring frequently. Add the lentils, vinegar, sherry, soy sauce, sugar, Tabasco sauce and ketchup and bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine the cornstarch and warm water in a small bowl, then whisk the mixture into the lentils. Lower the heat and cook for 5 to 10 minutes more, until the mixture has thickened.

Remove from the heat and add the sesame oil and give it one last stir. Serve over rice.

adapted from Jessica's Sweet and Sour Lentils recipe in Lean Bean Cuisine: Over 100 Tasty Meatless Recipes from Around the World, by Jay Solomon (Prima, 1994)

Exported from Home Cookin 8.58 (
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...