Archive for the ‘Fish’ Category

Spaghetti e bottarga

April 4, 2014


It was a damp and chilly Friday night, not the kind of weather one would want to sit and watch a baseball game in. Feeling a tad guilty about forsaking the local AA team’s second home game of the season for the warmth of home, I turned my focus dinner.

Since we had skipped our normal Thursday pasta dinner because of the home opener, beloved spouse and I thought a simple spaghetti aglio olio would be perfect a dinner for this Lenten Friday meal.

I was doubly ecstatic. This would give me the opportunity to try my latest experiment in food preservation: Bottarga.

Bottarga is fairly common in the countries that border on the Mediterranean Sea. Usually made out of mullet or tuna roe, it’s used in very thin slices on bread as an appetizer with wine or grated over pasta.

Doing some online research into recipes for shad roe, I had stumbled across an interesting idea: curing the shad roe for use as Bottarga.

I was intrigued.

Much to the chagrin of one of my friends, I hit up the local fish monger for two roe sets. They were large and ripe, weighing almost a half a pound each.

Two shad roe sets, each about a half a pound.



I made up a light brine solution (1% kosher salt dissolved in water) and soaked the roe sets in it overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, I took the roe sets out of the brine, patted them dry and then coated them with a little olive oil. I prepared a small pan with a doubled over paper towel topped with a layer of kosher salt. I laid the roe sets down, covered them with a thin layer of salt and set them in the fridge.

Each day, I would check and if/when the paper towel was soaked with the fluids extracted from the roe sets, I would change it. This also gave me the opportunity to flip the sets, always setting them on a bed of salt on fresh paper towel and covered with another thin layer of salt.


Salt cured shad roe sets

Once the roe stopped giving up its moisture, I wiped off the excess salt, threaded each piece with some kitchen twine and hung them in the basement to dry for a week.

They lost a total of half their weight by time I took them down, wiped them down with a little more olive oil and put them in a plastic bag and stored them in the ice box.

Tonight, I made my usual version of spaghetti aglio olio, but after I plated my portion, I grated some of the shad roe bottarga over the pasta.



Shad roe bottarga.

Just what I was looking for! A fresh, briny aroma wafted up out of the pasta bowl. The rich and comforting oil and garlic (and peperoncino) sauce was brightened by a really nice sea shore taste.

Experiment a success!

Oh…and for the investment of less than $20 in materials and about 10 days of time, I created a delicacy that sells for about $90 per ounce. The result was about $675 worth of finished product.


It’s a spring thing

March 23, 2013

It's a spring thing

The local fish monger had shad fillets and roe sets today. Just what I wanted for dinner.

I melted a couple of tablespoons of sweet butter in a large skillet with an equal amount of olive oil. When it got hot, I placed the shad fillet in the skillet skin side down. I had already salted and peppered the fillet.

I spooned some of the butter/oil over the top of the fillet and, after two minutes on the stove top, I placed the skillet in a pre-heated, 350 degree oven.

For the roe set, I had soaked them for an hour or so in some cool water with a hit of fresh squeezed lemon juice. Then I rinsed the set and patted it dry.

I gently separated the sacks and dusted them with some flour seasoned with white pepper and salt.

I heated up some bacon fat in small skillet over medium low heat and placed the roe set into the fat.

Meanwhile, I pulled the pan with the fillet out of the over and set it back on the stove top over medium heat. I let it cook for a couple of minutes and then poured in about 3 ounces of white wine. Turning the flame up to medium high, I let the wine reduce by half. Then I added a couple more tablespoons of butter and a few ounces of heavy cream. I removed the fish to a plate and kept it warm while continuing to sitr and reduce the wine/butter/cream mixture.

The roe set I turned over just as it was crisping up…about three minutes. I let the roe continue to cook for another three minutes or so and then removed from the heat.

As the sauce thickened, I added some finely chopped parsely, tasted for seasoning and salted and peppered as needed.

I napped the fillet with the sauce and sprinkled on more chopped parsely.

The roe set I placed on the side of the plate with the fillet. I had a small sprig of bronze fennel I got out of the garden that I minced up and sprinkled over the top of the roe.

As an accompaniment, I sauteed some oyster mushrooms and put them on the plate as well.

Spring had sprung!


July 31, 2011

The real life application of the “reality television” conceit.

Years ago…before there was The Food Network; before “reality TV” took over the networks, broadcast and cable, there was real life.

Years ago, I found myself home alone on a Saturday night. The wife was away for the weekend visiting with her parents at their then full-time residence in Pennsylvania‘s Poconos (Note: “the Poconos” are often referred to as mountains but, in truth, they are just a time-worn and eroded plateau.  Or so my geologic-oriented friends tell me). As dinner time came, I started rummaging around in the kitchen and pantry to find something to prepare for my evening meal.  The result of my in-house foraging was a smoked oyster risotto.  But that is a story for another day.

Today’s installment is about a similar situation but with just a little more planning and that includes using what was on hand with one quick trip to the market.

My in laws have long since relocated to the far reaches of Montgomery County, PA.  It’s about an hour’s drive from our home in Trenton.  They’ve been dealing with some health issues and my wife went out today to stay with them for about a week.  Thinking about dinner tonight, I decided to grab some sort of seafood…a lovely 3/4 pound tuna steak.

After yesterday’s trip to the local farmers’ market I had on hand at the house some Jersey peaches, moderately hot banana peppers, tomatoes and a very interesting spanish spice mix called “pinchito” seasoning.  There was also a handful of locally grown romano beans.

This put me in mind of a meal I had on one of our trips to the Florida Keys…a kingfish steak with a mango/habanero salsa.

I fired up the grill and took one of the peaches, cut it in half and removed the pit. I washed off one of the banana peppers. Once the grill was hot, I put the peach halves…flesh side down, and the chile on the grill.

In the meantime, I rinsed the tuna steak and dried it then dusted it with some pinchitos seasoning that I bought from La Tienda.  Both sides.

When I could smell the peach caramelizing, I flipped it over.  I also turned the pepper so it would char all over. While they roasted, I diced up a tomato and tossed it into a bowl.

Once the skin of the peach was charred and the pepper roasted, I took them off the grill and put my cast iron skillet on to heat.

I skinned the peach halves and rough chopped them.  The pepper I skinned and removed the top, seeds and membranes.  That also got chopped and tossed into the bowl with the peach, tomato and a splash of “juice” left over from a container of salsa from the mexican stall at the market.  Stir and let sit.

Now the pan was smoking hot.  I added a little olive oil and then,, once the oil was hot,  laid the tuna into the pan.  Two minutes a side and dinner was ready.

I plated up the tuna steak, topped it with some of the salsa and added the beans which I had prepared earlier (boiled in salted water for 4 minutes, drained tossed with salt, pepper and peperoncino and a drizzle of garlic/rosemary infused olive oil then placed in the fridge to chill).

The wine cellar is a little light on whites right now, but I had this bottle of Nissely Classic White (2008) from a wine tour of Lancaster County we had taken last year.  Dinner was served.

It filled the belly and brought some contentment even though my beloved spouse was gone on the eve of our 24th wedding anniversary.

Salmon cakes

March 5, 2011
After college I worked for a short time for a security company, first as one of the central station operators than as an installer.
One of my first jobs in the field was to do an installation in the home of a recently widowed woman on the north side of St. Louis.  Once I got on site and started in on the work, losing track of time.  I was working up in the attic when a familiar aroma wafted up and teased my nostrils. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but something was being pan-fried in the kitchen…two floors below and it smelled better than good.  It smelled like “home.”
On my way down to get something from the truck, I stuck my head into the kitchen to tell the homeowner how wonderful whatever she was preparing smelled. Once I saw what was browning in the frying pan, it all clicked.  Salmon cakes!  
The woman told me she was preparing “salmon croquettes” for her uncle who was staying with her until things settled down a little and the alarm system was up and running.  Apparently, this was one of his favorite dishes. 
This tidbit launched me into a rambling account of how my mother would prepare salmon cakes a couple of times a month when I was growing up.  It was quick, tasty and relatively inexpensive.  And we all (my father, sister, mother and I) loved them.  I hadn’t thought about salmon cakes in years until I smelled them cooking that day.
Once I related the story…I was immediately offered one of the patties the homeowner was frying up.  I resisted at first, but she was just persistent enough to break me down.  Even though I had packed a lunch, I found myself sitting at her kitchen table, sharing the salmon cakes with her and her 70-year-old uncle.  Lovely!
Typically, installations took two, two and a half days.  When lunchtime rolled around that second day, I again smelled the wonderful aroma of the salmon cakes/croquettes frying in the kitchen.  I kept working, trying to blot out the enticing scent of lunch.  Before too long the homeowner appeared in my work area and not as much invited me as insisted I stop and join her and the uncle for lunch again.   Guess what she served? 
We’ve been living in semi-exile at Mom’s house the last couple of nights because we’ve had the steps (the bedroom is upstairs) and living room floor refinished at our house.  So Mom decided she’d make her ‘famous’ salmon cakes for us for dinner.  Yeah, Mom!

Mom's salmon cakes

Salmon Cakes
  • 1 can (15 ounces) salmon
  • 1 large egg
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • celery salt
  • flour for dredging
(The following is verbatim from Mom’s handwritten recipe card.
Separate the salmon, remove the bones.  Beat an egg just enough to mix it.  Add to salmon along with any seasonings you like — usually salt pepper & celery salt.  Roll cakes in flour & pan fry immediately in a little hot grease.
If you want a more specific, slightly healthier version…try this recipe given to my Mom by her late sister, my Aunt Tark:
Oven “Fried” Salmon Cakes

TIP:  These patties can be assembled or baked a day ahead & refrigerated. Baked patties can be reheated, covered, in the oven or microwave.

  • 1 large egg or whites from 2 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 ounces) salmon, drained & flaked
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup minced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  1. Heat oven to 400 F. Spray cookie sheet with vegetable cooking spray.
  2. Beat egg with a fork in a medium-size bowl.  Add remaining ingredients & mix until well blended.  Shape in eight 1/2 inch thick patties.
  3. Place on prepared cookie sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes, turning once, until golden on both sides.

Makes 4 servings.

Either recipe  would easily take the addition of some finely chopped fresh herbs: flat leaf parsley, thyme, or dill would work.  To dress up the presentation, a little rémoulade or tartar sauce would be nice; hollandaise, too. But don’t get carried away…this is simple, direct food that doesn’t need a lot of dressing up.


NOTE: In reviewing this post I realized that the idea of 1 can of salmon serving four people seems a little, um, skimpy.  The six cakes pictured above were made with two cans of salmon. 

The power (and taste) of suggestion

October 27, 2010

I’m back from the annual fishing trip to Montauk, Long Island, with “the guys.”

As usual, we had a grand time.  Good camaraderie, good eating, good weather. 

Last year I reported on our yearly fish-fueled cooking frenzy and two of the dishes we prepared.  During one of the many food conversations we had on that trip, a comment was made about the possibility of making a ceviche with some of the striper caught that day.  The thought stuck with me. Since I was in charge of the provisions and at least a sketch of a menu for this year’s adventure, I figured “why not?”

I did a little research and applied some common sense and came up with a plan.  I had a mixture of sour orange and lemon juice for the marinade, a red onion, some Serrano chiles and assumed we’d be landing some striped bass.

Of course, the plan went a bit astray when I realized I’d left the marinating juices here in Trenton.  No problem, I’d also taken some fresh lemons with me.

One of the gems I’d gathered while searching the internet for ceviche recipes and process was that you DO NOT want to marinate the fish too long.  There were some reports complaining that the fish, specifically striped bass, got too tough if left too long in the juices.  I didn’t want to risk that so I had to plan the timing just right.

Our usual routine on fishing days is to charter a boat for the morning.  Upon returning to our base (a home borrowed from a friend of one of the fishermen) we refresh and regroup.  Bill and Kevin, the hardcore anglers, usually head out to try their luck at surf fishing for a couple of hours.  I catch a nap and upon arising start planning out the happy hour snacks and dinner menu. 

A little bit before 1600 hours, I started to prep the ceviche.  I took the two striper filets we’d held out for that night’s dinner and trimmed about two inches off of the thick (head) end of each.  After trimming away any of the darker colored meat and removing any stray bones, I cut the flesh into between about a 3/8 inch dice.

The diced fish was placed in a ceramic bowl and lightly seasoned then almost covered with fresh squeezed lemon juice.  I tossed the mixture and put the bowl in the refrigerator. 

While the fish marinated, I took another bowl and added the sliced Serranos, thinly sliced onion, diced yellow bell pepper, minced garlic and chopped tomato.  A pinch of salt and a drizzle of lemon juice dressed the veggies. 

After 30 minutes in the fridge, I checked the fish.  It had turned opaque throughout. 

Bill and Kevin had returned from surf fishing and were ready to snack and have a cocktail.

I topped the dish of fish with some of the fresh salsa and served the ceviche with crackers.  It was well received and might become a staple of future trips.

Striper Ceviche

4 to 6* ounces of the freshest striped bass filet you can find

juice from 2 or 3* lemons…you want enough to just about cover the fish when marinating

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/4 small red onion sliced as thinly as possible

1 small yellow pepper, cut in 1/4 inch dice

3 serrano chiles, cut in rings (leave seeds and membranes intact or remove to lessen heat)

1 plum tomato coarsley chopped


black pepper

red pepper flakes

Make sure the fish is fresh, cold and trimmed of all dark colored meat.  Cut into between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch dice.  In non-reactive bowl, add fish, salt, pepper and pepper flakes.  Toss to season and mix.  Add enough lemon juice to just about cover the fish.  Place bowl in refrigerator for about 30 minutes, every 10 minutes to make sure all the fish comes in contact with the citrus juice.

To make the salsa for topping the ceviche, mix the vegetable with a scant pinch of salt, a little black pepper and a drizzle of lemon juice.  Set aside.

When the fish has turned opaque throughout, remove from fridge and serve topped with the fresh salsa and some good crackers.

Serves 4 to 6 as a light snack.


April 8, 2010

The seemingly instantaneous transition from winter to summer-like winter has been almost as confusing as welcome.  One of the sure signs of the turning of the seasons is the all too brief appearance of shad in the fish markets.

Shad print by Shermon F. Denton

While I don’t believe the annual spawning run has yet reach this stretch of the Delaware, this largest of the herrings has already found its way to area stores. 

Several days ago friend Mark mentioned they had acquired some shad from the seafood counter of a local market.  That was all it took to set my mouth watering for what John McPhee called “The Founding Fish.”

 The dilemma is finding a source that can successfully fillet the notoriously boney fish. It’s either that or purchase a whole fish and slowly roast it to dissolve the myriad tiny bones. 

On an errand to West Windsor yesterday, I popped into the local Whole Foods store on a whim.  What luck!  They had shad fillets on hand.  They had the roe sacks too, but I skipped them this trip.

Once home, I had to decide how best to honor this rare treat.

Shad, if you have not had it, possesses a rich tasting, yet delicate flesh.  You can serve it dressed with fancy sauces and such, but then you are just covering up the unique and flavorful character of the fish.

Planked: Shad and Salmon

Bearing this in mind and with a nod to tradition, I pulled a cedar cooking plank out of the cupboard and put it to soak for a couple of hours.  Once I got the grill heated to medium-high temperature, I seasoned the fish with salt and pepper, put it on the plank and placed the plank on the grill.   After plating the fish, I drizzled a mixture of lemon juice, melted butter and chopped fresh parsley over the fillet.

The fish was accompanied by a baked potato, a green salad and some Pinot

Served: shad fillet with lemon/butter/parsley and a baked potato

Grigio.  And we ate on the patio, enjoying the warm evening and the bounty of the spring shad run.

Fresh is best

November 11, 2009

Each fall, as schedules allow, a group of us guys gather in Montauk, NY for a couple of days of fishing and camaraderie.  And some excellent dining.

Even though the rendezvous was originally a tent camping trip and meals were prepared over the fire, on the grill or with the Coleman stove, the quality and sophistication of some of the meals has always been remarkable.  

The first year I went, we were treated to some fish in a puttanesca-style sauce. Another year, we decided to crush up some of the wasabi peas brought along as a snack and use them to crust a striper fillet.  And then there was the year I modified one of Emeril Lagasse’s recipes for potato crusted halibut wrapped in slices of prosciutto.

Challenging ourselves to prepare “dinner party” quality fare in a rustic setting was as much a part of the fun as the pre-dawn rides out to the fishing grounds on the charter boat or the lively conversation while imbibing pre-dinner Manhattans around the campfire. The move to more comfortable lodgings of a borrowed house and a real kitchen three years ago has neither raised nor lowered the quality of the food presented.

As with any cooking, it was the freshness of the ingredients that really made the meals spectacular.  You cannot best a properly cooked piece of fish that is just hours out of the water. Proof of this became readily apparent the first year I participated in this trip. 

While the primary quarry of our fishing trips is striped bass, there is an almost unavoidable side catch of bluefish.  I was surprised at how readily I enjoyed the bluefish caught and cooked the same day, where as a rule I would avoid that fish.

So it has become the standard that each dinner prepared on the trip features both striper and blue.  And each evening’s meal presents cook and diner alike with opportunities to expand on the repertoire of striped bass and bluefish preparation.

This year’s trip, my first since 2006 due to work conflicts, was no different.  As usual, there were at least as many ideas on how to serve the fish as there were fishermen at the table. The dinner menu after the first day’s fishing reflected the input of those present:

The first dish came from Chris Schlesinger’s book “Big Flavors of the Hot Sun” by way of fishing buddy Kevin O’Connor who couldn’t wait to get this dish on the table for our evaluation.  {Kevin’s notes — “Needless to say, the main ingredient is bluefish, caught that day, preferably by the cook!  Best if you use a sauté pan you can place in the oven. Experiment, and enjoy with a cold IPA…“}

  • Make a rub of 1 part cumin, 1 part smoked paprika, 1/2 part kosher salt, 1/2 part fresh ground black pepper.
  • Rub the bluefish fillets.
  • Sear both sides (briefly) and set aside.
  • Chop one large yellow onion and sauté in olive oil for 5-6 minutes until clear. Add minced garlic (2 or 3 cloves). Sauté for a few more minutes.
  • Coarsely chop up a tomato or two.  Add to the sauté pan. Add 3/4 or 1 cup of OJ, juice of two limes, 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, some fresh oregano if you have it (not much), a few chipotle peppers minced, and a handful of raisins. Organic golden raisins, if you have them.
  • Bring to simmer, place crusted fillets back in pan and finish in oven at 350 degrees – 10-12 minutes or until fish is just opaque.

Next, I prepared a pasta dish inspired by a lunch I had in Florence, Italy.  Bite sized pieces of nicely cooked tuna were tossed with spaghetti. For the Montauk version, I used a bluefish filet and improvised the rest:

  • Empty one can of anchovy fillets and their oil into a large skillet along with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil
  • Place pan over low heat and stir occasionally until the anchovies start to dissolve into the oil.
  • Add four finely chopped garlic cloves, some black pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional).
  • In the meantime, have your water for cooking the spaghetti started and at a boil. Add pasta to water and cook until al dente.  (NOTE: I used a multi-grain variety for a more hearty flavor and texture)
  • Cut bluefish fillet into roughly one inch cubes and add the bluefish to the skillet
  • Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and cook until fish is just cooked through.
  • Drain pasta (you can add a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta water to the skillet if you like) and place in serving bowl.  Pour contents of skillet over the pasta, toss and serve.

The last item on the menu was the simplest.

We took a large striped bass fillet and prepared it for grilling: salt, pepper, a splash of white wine.  Unfortunately, the grill ran out of propane just as we were ready to put the fish on to cook.  So we quickly fired up the oven and baked the fish at 325 degrees until it was just done. In the meantime, in a small pan on the stove top I melted 3 ounces of white truffle butter.*  The fillet was removed from the oven and placed it on a serving platter, then drizzled with the melted white truffle butter.

While we had the relative luxury of indoor accommodations and a working kitchen, any of the dishes we prepared this trip could easily have been accomplished in our make shift camp kitchens of previous years.   

Inside or outside, it doesn’t really matter as long as the fish is fresh.

*D’Artagnan produces both white and black truffle butters that can be found in many higher end grocery stores or specialty food shops.  Or you can do as I did and soften a stick of sweet butter and blend in a few drops of white truffle oil to taste. Place the flavored butter on a piece of plastic wrap, roll it into a small log shape, seal tightly and refrigerate until ready to use.