Cod Almondine, Spinach in Almond Cream and Lemon Sauce

Fish Almondine is a classic dish. Usually made with trout. The fish is floured and sauteed in brown butter with almonds. The sauce is finished in the pan with lemon juice and parsley. It’s delicious and that’s what was for dinner tonight…sort of. This dish loosely based on one from the Rich Table restaurant book has all the elements and flavors of the classic Almondine with a few really nice twists.

The book recipe makes a pureed sorrel sauce as a sharp contrast to the fish. Instead of that I made a lemon sauce based on Italian lemon Marmellata that is awesome with any fish dish. I wanted it refined rather that rustic and chunky (usually it is like a relish). So, I pureed whole lemons in my Vitamix with olive oil, a pinch of salt a pinch of chile flakes and some sugar along with some water to get a smooth sauce with the texture of a loose mayonnaise.

Sauteed spinach is a pretty good light accompaniment to fish. Toasted almonds are frequently added to it. To make it more interesting and special (this was a birthday dinner after all) it is amped up with more almond flavor in the form of almond cream. To make the cream I simmered 3 cups of almond milk and a 1/4 cup heavy cream together until they were reduced to about 2/3 of a cup and became thick. Interesting thing, store bought almond milk has some salt in it. So by the time the whole thing is reduced the cream was pretty well seasoned. Good thing I tasted and noticed before adding any salt!

I sauteed shallots and garlic in butter and added fresh spinach leaves. The spinach cooked in the pan for only a couple of minutes until wilted. Then I chopped it coarsly and added it to the almond cream. This was re-heated when ready to serve.

With the sauce done and the spinach good to go the dinner was easy to finish. As usual, I had brined the fish in a 10% salt water solution for 15 minutes, rinsed it and patted it dry. Even though the original recipe called for trout and the store had some very nice steelhead trout I really wanted a thick white flaky fish today. They had fantastic cod. So I went with that.

Cooking the fish is more or less a classic method for this type of dish. I dredged the fish in flour and cooked it in olive oil till very well browned on one side. I flipped the fish, added some brown butter to the pan and slipped the whole thing into a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes. I basted the fish with the butter and juices about half way through. When I took the fish out of the oven I threw in sliced almonds (these were toasted in butter earlier as the butter was browning), fresh parsley and a good squeeze of lemon juice. The sauce is wonderful and with in a minute or two it gets emulsified into a nice consistency.

To plate it, I had the kids do the whole thing with some direction. They did a good job smearing the lemon sauce on the fancy plates, putting a clump of the spinach. Then a drizzle of the almond cream around the spinach and a piece of fish on top followed by the pan almond-lemon sauce. Everyone one really loved this dish and it will be worth a repeat, probably with trout next time around.

Beets with Tahini

I had dinner at Zahav in Philadelphia recently. It’s a very popular Israeli restaurant with tons of acclaim and awards. It was a fantastic meal with lots of small vegetable appetizers, some delicious hummus tahini, and very good lamb shoulder and chicken (the dessert on the other hand was not exactly my cup of tea). What really stood out for me, way more than the meat courses, where all the awesome vegetable dishes. These included spicy roasted eggplant, tart napa cabbage salad, pickled persimmon salad, roasted cauliflower and this excellent beet dish (I am sure I am forgetting a few too).

Since I already had the Zahav cookbook on my shelve I took a look in it to see if the beet dish is there and sure enough it was. Beets are definitely a dividing line dish. So many people hate them. Others love them. I’m certainly in the second camp of people. I’ll eat them almost any which way. I even like those canned ones in salads. Back to this simple recipe. I learned the value of salt roasting the beets here.

Usually I would wrap the beets in foil and just roast them. This works great but the shredded beets in this dish had a totally different texture. They were perfectly cooked, a bit dry but also had a nice mild crunch. Salt roasting is the answer. Solomonov (the chef/owner of Zahav) buries the beets in kosher salt and roasts them. This wicks away moisture, concentrates the flavor and of course cooks the beets. They can be then peeled and grated to shreds without getting mushy or losing their texture.

Sure it takes some time to get the beets cooked, but after that the rest is very quick. The shredded beets are tossed with tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, mint, cumin and dill. I served it initially with some more dishes from the Zahav book including the onion marinated chicken skewers and the kale apple salad. The best part is that this stuff keeps pretty well and tastes amazing for days with crispy pita chips.

A Salad of Radicchio, Lardons, Green Goddess Dressing and 6-Minute Egg

Radicchio Salad

I crave this salad so much. Finally I managed to replicate it at home. Let me back out a bit. I travel a bit for my work and a few years ago I had a project in Portland, Oregon. A lovely city with amazing food scene and tons of restaurants. One of my regular places was a place called Tasty and Alder. I loved sitting at the bar, getting a cocktail or beer and try something new. I almost always ordered their Radicchio salad. It’s a delightful combination of flavors and textures that I never got tired of. When i figured out that the guys from the Tasty restaurants have a book out, I immediately got a copy.

This puppy is definitely inspired by the classic French bistro salad of chicory and thick bacon pieces (Frisee au lardons). Yet, it is very different. It takes the bitter green and uses red radicchio instead, switches the dressing from a vinaigrette to a rich green goddess dressing and adds some grated Manchego for more salty savory punch. With chunks of soft cooked eggs it is damn near perfection in my book.

Green Goddess

Green goddess dressing is an emulsified dressing that is rich and pungent with herbs. This one is based on a whole raw egg, a couple of hard-cooked egg yolks, avocados, vinegar, green onions and tarragon. These get blended well. Then, as if making a mayonnaise, oil (canola in this case) is added slowly until the whole thing is a creamy thick luxurious sauce. The recipe in the book, Hello! My Name is Tasty makes more than I would need for one or two salad bowls. Good thing too. I used it for all kinds of stuff over the next few days. It’s delicious as a dip for raw vegetables, mixed into a chicken salad instead of mayo or as a sandwich spread.

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I always have homemade bacon on in the freezer. If you do not, a good quality store-bought thick cut smoked bacon would work. For this one I actually used home-cured smoked pork jowl bacon.  I sliced it slightly thick, cut it into 1 inch pieces and slowly crisped it on the outside and kept it a bit chewy.

Soft cooked eggs are the best but peeling them always was a pain. That was until I learned the method of pricking a tiny hole in the “rounded” end of the egg before cooking it. I don’t much care what the science is (I think it has to do with the air pocket the egg has there or something) but this works pretty much all the time. I do not remember mangling an egg since I started doing that. It’s very easy. I use a thumbtack or small pin and gently poke a hole in the bottom rounded end of the egg and then gently drop it into simmering water. 6 minutes will give you nice soft-runny yolks, 8 minutes are more like a hard cooked yolks. These times are for large size eggs. Then chill the eggs in an ice bath and peel. For this salad, I cooked up 6-minute eggs.

Radicchio

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To prepare the radicchio I cut it into bite size pieces. Then I soaked it in ice water for a bit. It helps it retain a lot of crispness and removes some of the bitterness. Still, it remains plenty sharp and bitter as it should be. So, if you do not like the taste of radicchio, this is not going to help much.

To serve it I tossed the leaves with some of the dressing, black pepper and added shredded Manchego cheese (I also tried it with Parmesan and that works great too). Towards the end of the tossing I added pieces of the tender eggs, the lardons and a handful of more cheese on top. This can make for a wonderful hearty side to steak or chop, but I enjoyed a large bowl as a dinner on its own and satisfied my craving. The rest of the book has a ton of amazing sounding recipe as well. I would love to dig into some more dishes.

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Salmon, Cauliflower and Citronette

Salmon-Cauliflower

This is a rare post for me. I cooked this for dinner tonight. Typically it takes me weeks or even months before getting back to something I want to blog about. This dish was simple, delicious and looked great that I figured I’ll get off my lazy behind and post it here.

I picked up some lovely Alaskan Sockeye salmon and treated it to a salty brine for 15 minutes. This is my go-to method for treating most fish before cooking. A 10% salt solution seasons, firms up and rinses off any impurities on the fish. The fish went into Ziploc bags with olive oil ready to cook sous vide. I use these bags and the water displacement method to bag meats for sous vide a lot. It is simple and works very well removing almost all air from the bags. The fish cooks for about 20 minutes at 50 C then the skin gets seared till crispy.

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For the cauliflower, I tossed it with olive oil and pepper and heated my oven to 400 F. I put the sliced cauliflower cut side down on a baking sheet and cooked on top of the baking steel for about 25 minutes while the salmon cooked in the water. I love the dark almost-burnt sides so I did not bother turning them over giving me a nice contrast.

Cauliflower

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The citronette is a cute name for a vinaigrette made with citrus juice instead of vinegar. So, this one is nothing more than lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard and salt. I added a few minced celery leaves for flavor. To get some freshness and crunch, I very very thinly sliced celery and cauliflower stem. Not bad as far as knife skills go! I tossed those in the sauce and used them to garnish the fish.

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Oven-Roasted Cod, White Bean Relish and Cabbage

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Cod is a bit tricky to cook unless one wants to batter it and deep fry it. We love the mild flavor and large tender flakes of a well cooked piece of cod. Cod has very little connective tissue and large meat “flakes”. So it tends to fall apart if you handle it too much trying to flip it a couple of times in a pan. I tried cooking it sous vide a couple of times and was not crazy about the result either. This method of starting it in a pan and finishing it in the oven following a short salt cure is the ideal way to get it done.

I sprinkled the fillets with a good layer of kosher salt and let them cure in the fridge for 20 minutes. This seasons and firms the fish up. I rinsed them in cold water, patted them dry and let them sit in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dish.

Cod

The fish is the star of this plate but I wanted something sharp to offset it and a couple of different textures. I went with vaguely Spanish flavors here. I roasted red peppers, peeled them and sliced them into thin ribbons. I sauteed some diced Pancetta with onions and garlic. Then I tossed in the peppers and cooked white beans. I finished the ragout with sherry vinegar, maple vinegar, olive oil and parsley.

The cabbage was even simpler. Just thinly sliced savoy cabbage sauteed gently in butter with a little salt and pepper. Since this was part of a four-course dinner I wanted the cod’s accompaniments to function as tasty and substantial garnishes and not as filling “sides” as they might’ve been if this was a one plate dinner.

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To cook the fish I heated the oven to 375 F and got a pan going on the stove top. I seared the fish in clarified butter in the pan over medium heat for about 8 minutes. I turned it over and transferred it to the oven to finish cooking for another 8-10 minutes. The fish fillets got a very small squeeze of lemon, some thyme leaves on top and went in the center of the plate with the beans and cabbage around it.

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Brunch Gazpacho

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Two “Spanish” dishes in a row? well, actually my favorite go-to gazpacho recipe is not from a Spanish book. It’s from David Leite’s lovely The New Portuguese table cookbook. So, let’s say this is Portuguese. As a blueprint it is very much like a typical Spanish gazpacho; tomato based with supporting summer vegetables, herbs and plenty of olive oil. It is all held together and made velvety with a few chunks of bread.

Egg

I like this recipe even though it is similar to many others because of the balance it shows. For example it does not use raw onions in the mix like many others do. Onions, even in small amounts, always seem to stick out for my taste and leave an unpleasant after taste. I like that it uses fresh oregano in the mix, it’s lovely. The proportions of everything is just right too. So, I add all ingredients into my Vitamix blender -tomatoes, water-soaked bread, cucumbers, red bell peppers, oregano, little bit of garlic- and let it rip until it is all nice and smooth.

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Poached Egg-Garnishes

Towards the end I drizzle in olive oil and vinegar and let is blend some more. I also love this recipe because it gives you permission to use canned tomatoes! Yes, most gazpacho recipes ask for peak summer tomatoes preferably of an heirloom variety. Truth be told these things are amazing fruit, but they are almost like unicorns where I live and with my schedule. Sighting one and acquiring it is very difficult out there. Once you find them they are usually pretty expensive and because they are not bred for travel the quality is not great. All that is to say that it really is OK to use canned good quality canned tomatoes. The key here is the good quality stuff like the San Marzano imported tomatoes. So, cheap here will not work.

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I make a pitcher and enjoy it over a couple of days since no one in my household enjoys “cold tomato soup”. For a lazy Sunday I dressed it up a bit and made it a brunch course of sorts. I poached an egg perfectly and cleanly placed it in the bowl along with bacon pieces, bacon-fat crisped croutons and pickled onions. I poured the gazpacho around it, drizzled it with good olive oil, garnished it with more croutons and thyme and dug in. The simple refreshing soup, the contrast of textures and temperatures transformed the humble cold soup to an elegant satisfying meal.

Brunch Gazpacho

Pork Shoulder, Grits, Roasted Carrots and Garlic

Pork-Grits-Garlic

Work has been really crazy these last couple months or so. I’ve had several posts I wanted to get up here but have not had the time. So, it’s really nice to take a short break and get this posted. It’s a very nice and great looking dish of pork cooked slow and portioned into various pieces. It’s served with grits, roasted carrots and green garlic carrot-top sauce.

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What to do with a head of garlic that starts sprouting? Well, let is sprout some more. I put it in a shallow bowl of water and left it by the window sill for a week. I got nice very sharp tasting green garlic. I figured it will make a nice garnish and maybe a good component in a sauce.

Yonder Way Farm pork is stellar and one of my favorite cuts that I get is the pork shoulder roast. Every so often the pork shoulder cut is from lower on the primal, closer to the back and the chops. This piece is amazing and has various different muscles from the tender eye/chop on one end to the slightly tougher shoulder end. I wanted to cook the whole thing and portion it out.

It’s a long process I took to cook this one but pretty simple. The talented couple from Ideas in Food frequently post about seasoning and salting meat and letting it dry uncovered in the fridge for days before roasting or CVaping. So, I followed one of their processes, salted the pork and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. I then added seasoning to it, a basic rub of paprika (smoked and sweet), pepper, a touch of garlic powder, dried thyme,.. and sent it back to the fridge for another 24 hours or so.

Pork Shoulder4

To cook the pork I packaged it with garlic and spring onion greens. I cooked it sous vide at 59 C for about 6 hours until dinner time. When it was done I divided the roast up into tender inside loin, the ribs and the outside skin side. I got each one of those pieces properly crisped and browned as needed to get some awesome varying textures for service.

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Grits can be one of the most insipid foods if you are unlucky enough to eat the instant glop. Using good quality coarsely ground grits like the ones from Anson Mills makes a dish that is light years apart from the instant stuff. I cooked them in water and stirred in a healthy dose of butter towards the end plus a handful of chopped chives. Other than the grits I picked up a couple of bunches of colorful carrots. I roasted these with a  bit of honey, salt and pepper.

Carrots

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The carrot greens were very nice and i did not want to waste them. So, along with some spring onion and garlic greens they got blanched in boiling water and shocked in ice water. Then I blended them with a bit of water, maple vinegar and butter. It was a bit on the thin side so i blended in a bit of Ultratex-3 to give it some body and texture. It’s a product that thickens at cool temperatures, does not mask any flavors and does not produce the snotty mouth-feel that too much Xanthan gum would impart.

I love using spring onion bulbs as i do here and I frequently do that. I cut them in half through the root and bag them with butter and salt. After cooking them sous vide at 85 C for about 45 minutes they are good to go. All I do to them is give them a good sear in a hot pan before plating.

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On each dish I centered a dollop of the grits and a small pile of the carrots. I put a rib on one end followed by the “skin” and the tender loin. I garnished with the spring onions, the carrot top sauce and garlic greens

The final dish turned out really well and met my expectations. Recently we had dinner at a high-end Spanish restaurant in Houston and, while it was good, it was not at the same level as the prices they were charging. One specific dish we got was an Iberico pork plate that cost a pretty penny and sounded awesome on the menu. Again, it tasted fine but it looked like there was very little effort to “make it nice”. A slab of pork, some potatoes and a little else. What I would’ve expected is something more like this dish that I am very proud of. It is elegant, delicious, involved thought and work and everything in it works to make a great whole.

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