Monday, January 14, 2013

Fishy business

I'm constantly surprised by how many people around just don't like seafood. I'm in the South, so it's not exactly Kansas. Catfish, shrimp, and day-fresh catches from the gulf are kind of a common thing. Still, I run into lots of folks who just can't be bothered with seafood, or if they do, they only indulge if it's paired with that other southern past time - deep frying. I would never want to disparage a good piece of fried fish, especially some catfish fried in cornmeal with the tail fin included (it's the best part we keep from Yankees). With that said, let's level. Eat some fish. Get crazy. Live a little. It won't kill you, it's easier than you probably think it is, and the worst part is that you'll probably like it.

When I'm confronted by someone who claims they "don't like fish" and I eliminate vegetarianism/veganism from the possible reasons, the next one up is that "it's fishy". The smell, or the taste, it's just a tell-tale funk. The problem isn't the fish. Well it is, but it's not an unavoidable one. "Fishy" fish isn't fresh fish. That smell and taste is from fish that is either off or in the process of going off. Fish has a much shorter fuse than beef, poultry, pork, etc. You can't park it in a fridge on Monday with aspirations of a weekend menu. Just doesn't work the same way. Believe me, I thought I could get cute with a piece of sea bass a few years ago and bought two days before I was ready to use. What was a nice piece of fish then (and it was, paid out my nose for it from Whole Foods) was rank trash when I was ready to put it on a bed of risotto. Disaster!

Assume I'm talking nonsense. Go ahead. Do this if you're skeptical. Go to a Japanese restaurant with a friend who's into sushi. I assume if we're having this conversation you'll be having something else, but before you do, get a good whiff of their sushi. Whatever you smell, it's not going to be that low tide funk you're dreading. That's fresh. Sushi places can't fake it, and they can't push crap to you. Now ask yourself why you're afraid of that stink? Because there's a bunch of people who do push dodgy seafood on people, and too many people don't send it back, they just assume they don't like seafood.

There's a counter at the seafood section of your grocer for a reason. You need to be having some face time with the person who you're buying this stuff from. Ask them questions. When did they get their fish? From where? Most probably won't know the second question and unless you're really into locavore stuff you probably won't care, but you can certainly look at and smell the wares. If they won't let you or you can't get that kind of access, take your business elsewhere.

But seriously, eat some fish. Hell, I'll even give you an easy one:

When you find that honest fishmonger, look at their salmon. I'm gonna throw you a curveball now. Get the one with the skin. Fine, get all the "ewwwws" out of your system. It's silver and shiny and weird I know. Trust me. Get the skin-on salmon because that skin is fish bacon, and I'm gonna show you why you want it.

So make sure you have all this stuff:
  • Salmon, skin on, about a pound.
  • a dozen stalks of asparagus
  • Juice from a lemon
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • rice, couscous, pasta, quinoa, or whatever grain you want, I don't care go nuts here.
Preheat your oven to 350. Cut your salmon into meat cubes and lay them in a pyrex baking dish, skin-side up. Melt your butter and mix with the lemon juice, parsley, scallions, and garlic. Now lay your asparagus stalks between your fish and pour the butter mixture over that. This part's important here - don't pour the mixture over the skin. In fact, once you pour that over, blot the salmon skin dry with a paper towel and brush the olive oil on top, then apply salt and pepper to it. You don't want any water on that skin, because it's gonna get crispy. Bake that salmon about 8 minutes or so. When it's done, pop the dish under the broiler for another three or four.

Mix the pan juices and butter with your grains, then add your asparagus and fish to the plate. The skin will snap under your fork and crackle, like bacon or a perfect baked chicken skin. The meat under that skin will be absolutely tender and cleave along the grain with no effort at all.

That's about 30 minutes of work, if that. Best of all, you don't have to fuss with it to make it something it's not. It's exactly what it is, a perfectly cooked piece of fish. If you've sourced a good one, you'll knock this meal out of the park. While you can serve this to pretty much anybody with a pulse, I suggest making it a romantic dinner. I am a huge fan of impressing my wife without having to actually make any significant effort, and she was a big fan of this. It also pairs with chardonnay and I almost never drink that crap since I never have a good excuse, so go nuts.

I'll be putting up a few other seafood ideas here in the next few weeks, including stuff a little more casual than this. All I ask is that if you're on the fence and picky when it comes to fish and such, you give me the benefit of the doubt for at least one of 'em.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Since I didn't die in the Mayan Apocalypse I should probably blog more.

(Blows a thick layer of dust off my blog.)

Hello there!

So yeah, it's been a really really damn long time since I've actually blogged. Part of it is because the word blog sounds funny. Part of it is because I'm extremely lazy and its easier to photo-dump and food chat in facebook's echo chamber. That's made for a year of fairly low-content and high velocity food blurbs, and nothing particularly in depth. So I'm aiming to change all that. It's not going to be easy, man. Not at all. I'm fighting against a powerful lazy urge that is genetically written into my bones. Now, you might say "But Chuck, you do all of this cooking, surely you can't be lazy!"

You would be silly and wrong. I have to eat to live. I do not have to blog to live. So no matter how lazy I am, I do enjoy to eat food and be alive, so they're slightly different things, cooking and blogging about cooking.

But like I said, change is in the air. The Mayans didn't kill us with an ancient alien mecha doomsday whatever, so I feel a new lease on life, and as I've already established, that necessary life process that is cooking and eating food. So since I both love contradictions and abhor new year's resolutions, let me say with confidence that:

In the year 2013, I will blog no less than 52 entries, at least one blog entry per week!

If I succeed, I will buy myself a bottle of single malt scotch as a reward in 2014. If I lose, I will buy myself a bottle of single malt scotch to console my broken heart in 2014. I love a hedged bet.

And because not every week can be a journey into homemade charcuterie or doing a DIY food crawl of Indonesian street food, I'd also like to spend a portion of that time visiting, eating at, and writing about some of the fairly badass eating establishments in and around my home city of Birmingham, Alabama. Before my readers in NYC scoff (yes, I can feel you judging me) we may not have a food scene like that, but you take a city + metro of 1.5 million or less and compare it to us. We do pretty dadgum good down here, and I intend to spread the love around. Whether you like Lebanese chain gyro shops or chefs that make Bobby Flay look stupid on national TV (always a good thing), you'll find both in the 2-0-5.

And just to make sure I'm not no-content posting, here's what I made to ring in the New Year. I forgot to buy the usual traditional stuff like collards and black-eyed peas, but I did at least have a greasy breakfast on hand to offset any new years festivities.

Toast, some garlic rosemary and cheddar hash browns, and home-cured applewood rosemary bacon. My wife did the honors with the poached egg to make it all perfect.