May 27, 2012

Miso Halibut Cheeks

I know this looks like yet another pasta recipe, but really it's about the lovely bit of fish perched on top of the gingered noodles. The noodles could easily have been a bowl of Japanese rice, and possibly will be, next time.

You may have noticed that I do not tend to post a lot of fish or seafood recipes, and when I do they are usually for prawns, which is hands-down the most common type of seafood cookery for me. There is a reason for this: When I was a child, I had an allergic/food sensitivity reaction to finned fish. Shellfish were fine, but rare in our household, so I learned to like them without any adverse effects intruding. For finned fish, however, I grew to hate even the smell in the air, raw or cooked, however fresh. I would try to hold my breath in disgust, as I angrily ate my fried egg while the rest of the family had fish. When I eventually grew out of the physiological reaction to fish, I had no idea how to cook it, and little desire to learn, because the smell was so off-putting.

Sushi was the thing that broke the barrier for me, in the late 1980s. I started with the predictable California rolls, and eventually worked up my courage to try the others. The Japanese preparations tended to control the objectionable fishiness quite excellently. From there, I found myself eating fish as part of elaborate tasting menus at places like (the now-defunct) Lumiere, where elegant little morsels of sablefish might be cooked with sake and maple foam, for example. Tiny portions just right for sampling and exploring, which opened the door to other cooked fish preparations. When I started ordering fish in fine dining restaurants during departmental lunches for work, it was a real eye-opener in terms of how skilled preparation and bright flavours can make all of the difference. I even learned to like fish and chips (although I am particular about what fish it is, preferring mild, creamy white fish).

So, finally, when I saw the Miso Cod recipe in Cook This Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide, I was intrigued. I prefer halibut to cod, so that's what I hand in mind when I went to my local fish monger, The Daily Catch. They had halibut fillet, no surprise, but they also had halibut cheeks, and I knew in a blazing flash that they would be perfect for this dish. Halibut cheeks are boneless, which is part of the appeal, but they also possess a sort of delicacy of texture that appeals to me.

The recipe also included the marinated cucumbers shown to the side of the fish, which were a simple preparation of salt, sugar, rice vinegar and chile flakes that I enjoyed, but found overly salty. The spinach and sesame salad (goma ae) was thrown together to use up some spinach.

Miso Halibut Cheeks
Adapted from Cook This Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide
Serves 4

4 medium halibut cheeks (about 4 oz. each)
1/2 cup white miso (shiro miso)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Combine the miso, mirin, sake, and sugar in a non-reactive bowl that is large enough to also hold the fish. Rinse and pat dry the halibut cheeks, and add them to the miso mixture, turning gently to ensure that each piece is well coated. Cover well, and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.

Preheat your broiler with a rack set at 15 cm (6 inches) below the flame, and prepare an edged baking sheet by lining it with foil and misting with cooking oil. Remove the halibut cheeks from the miso, and place, evenly spaced, on the prepared sheet. Brush a little extra miso mixture over the top of each cheek, to ensure it is evenly coated. Broil, watching carefully, for about 8 - 12 minutes, depending on your broiler, removing when the miso glaze begins to caramelize, and the fish begins to flake under gentle pressure. Garnish with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.

Halibut cheeks may be a little pricy, depending on where you live, but fillet, such as in the original recipe, or any other mild, creamy white fish should work nicely - check out Ocean Wise for any other fishies you might want to use. My fish monger is an Ocean Wise partner, and only uses sustainable seafood, which is reassuring because I don't need to do in-shop analysis before I pick my fish.

May 21, 2012

Meatball Macaroni with Chipotle

This dish brings together two things I adore: meatballs, and pasta. I did not grow up with spaghetti and meatballs, although I was aware of the dish as a matter of cultural immersion. Our spaghetti was always a baked affair, made in a deep pot (using soy noodles, although I didn't learn that was abnormal until I was older), and slabbed with cheese for the last few minutes in the oven. That dish is one of the first things that I learned how to cook, in fact, and I still have the laboriously written out recipe card from noting down each step as I watched my mother in the kitchen. There was plenty of beef in the recipe, but no meatballs.

Most of the pasta dishes I make these days are not baked (although there are certainly some exceptions). My macaroni and cheese is strictly stovetop, and I'm a big fan of vegetable-strewn fresh pasta using raw (or barely cooked) ingredients as an ad hoc sauce. Meatballs, on the other hand, are almost always baked. It frees you up to do other things (make a salad, drink some wine, whatever you want to do) and it guarantees beautifully round shape to the finished meatballs. So, if I am going to have meatballs with my pasta, I suppose it was a no-brainer to combine cooking methods, eventually.

Essentially, it's a two stage process. Mix up the meatballs of your choice, such as the always-popular-at-our-house Pork & Turkey Meatballs (also used to make meatloaf) and space them out in a larger-than necessary casserole dish to bake. While the meatballs are baking, mix up the pasta. In this case, I went with a Chipotle Macaroni Casserole dish that I hadn't made in a while, although I've tinkered with the settings thusly:

Chipotle Macaroni

Serves 4-6 (with meatballs)
Total Prep & Cooking time: 60 minutes

1 onion, finely minced
2 roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1-2 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves
398 mL canned diced tomatoes
1 cup milk (1% is fine)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
3 cups grated tasty cheese
2 cups uncooked macaroni, small shells, ditali, or similarly sized pasta

Sautee an onion with a couple of roasted red peppers (rinsed, seeded, and diced), until the onion is softened slightly. Sprinkle with chipotle powder and a little flour (about a tablespoon or two) and stir in some minced garlic, and minced or pureed chipotle in adobo sauce, along with some cumin and oregano.

When the mixture starts to stick, add a 398 ml / 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice, and stir well until thick and bubbly. Add a little water if it's sticking, to loosen it up. Next, combine a cup of milk with a cup of ricotta mixed well with a beaten egg, and beat until smooth. Add to the tomato mixture and stir well. Add the tomato paste and stir again. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir until everything is well integrated. Mix in a couple of handfuls of cheese - Pepper Jack and edam went in here - and turn off heat. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper, and hot sauce (chipotle or ancho are best here).

Stir in hot, cooked pasta - approximately 4 cups of cooked macaroni or its equivalent, such as the ditali shown here. Spoon the pasta over the cooked meatballs in the casserole dish. Top with a little more cheese and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes to half an hour, or until bubbling and browned.

May 03, 2012

Horiataki, Horiatiki, or Greek Salad

If you've ever had one, you don't need me to provide a recipe for a Greek salad (unless you're from Toronto, where I understand they add lettuce, of all things!).

It's a pretty simply process, essentially being a large-particle chopped salad, generally constructed from cucumber, bell pepper, red onion (or white), tomato, kalamata olives, and feta. The quantities of the foregoing are up to you, but I like a nice balance of the vegetables, perhaps leaning slightly light on the onions if they are particularly fierce.

A sprinkle of oregano is lovely, and if you need a salad dressing, I recommend either a lemony or a red wine vinaigrette. Even just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a glug of good olive oil will do it, and in some places in Greece, this salad is not dressed at all. If you are cheese-free, a pinch of coarse salt to finish the dish will tie everything together nicely. On the other hand, if you are seriously pro-cheese, you might consider serving the feta in a magnificent slab across the top of the vegetables, and drizzling the olive oil over that. I had it served that way in a taverna in Greece, and was suitably impressed.

So, consider this not so much a recipe, as reminder of an excellent way to get your vegetables, round out a meal, and have a really fantastic salad.