Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flirting With Disaster

Seafood Stew with Bacon, Mushroom Risotto

Sometimes I have an idea, and then halfway through I throw caution to the wind and start tossing in things I think will taste good. Inspired by the Basil Queen's "Pesce Alla Acqua Pazza", I set out to make a fish dish of my own. However, I lack her subtlety, and Adele's light and graceful preparation soon gave way to a rich tomato stew flavored with bacon. I also added a whole bunch of onions, a shallot or two, and then said what the hell and threw in some shrimp. I did follow her suggestion in using tilapia, though, which worked nicely and held together in tender morsels. Adele is the true chef among us; my variation is probably more suited to dockside dining. But have you ever had a hot chowder on a cool seashore in September? That's the stuff.

I accompanied this with my first attempt at risotto. Both of these dishes, I realize, could have ended in disaster. Luckily, though, the risotto came out creamy and infused with mushroomy goodness, the stew was flavorful and the fish not overcooked. I served this up with some steamed broccoli, and called it a meal.

Seafood Stew with Bacon

2 strips bacon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cups onion, sliced thin
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, seeded & diced
1 cup white wine
1 lb tilapia filet, in 1" chunks
10-12 large shrimp, peeled & veined
3 cups chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp dried parsley, crushed
1 tsp dried basil, crushed
2 tbsp fresh basil, shredded
Black pepper to taste
*Salt (if desired)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In deep pot, using a small amount of oil, cook the bacon until crisp; remove and set aside. In the bacon-infused oil, sautee the garlic, shallot and onion until browned. Add the tomatoes and sautee until liquid is released and oil acquires a reddish tint. Add the white wine and cook briefly, then add the chicken stock and stir. Add the tilapia and shrimp and bring to a boil, then season to taste with lemon juice, salt, pepper, and dry herbs. Save the fresh basil for the end, and toss in at the end of cooking along with a drizzle of olive oil. Shut the gas and allow to sit for a minute before serving. Top with bacon and more fresh basil for presentation.

Mushroom Risotto
(This recipe came straight off the box of arborio rice)

2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
3 cups chicken stock
Black pepper to taste

Sautee the onion in butter until lightly browned, then add the mushrooms. Add the rice and stir together to incorporate flavors before adding liquid. Add 1 cup of stock, stirring until it comes to a light boil. Add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring in between, adding the next cup when the rice absorbs the last and begins to thicken again. When the last cup is added, continue to cook and stir until a creamy consistency is reached. The rice should be cooked at the center but still firm. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Season with black pepper if desired.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Squid Vicious

Thai Squid Salad

Squid is kind of like the Sex Pistols; many find it offputting, but those who love it feel there is no substitute. It has a bad reputation for being sort of fishy and can be tough if overcooked, but fresh, well-prepared squid is tender and mild, and goes well with a range of flavorings.

You can get squid in a variety of styles; I used fairly large squid with bodies about 6-8 inches long, cut them in strips and then scored them with a cris-cross pattern on the inside. Squid is also readily available frozen in little rings (which come from smaller squid), and you can get the legs, too. I like the legs best, but many people skeeve tentacles. This salad is seasoned Thai style, with ginger and lime juice and a serious dose of spice. It's brazen and in-your-face, it might make you cry, and it wants to do unnatural things to the Queen. Enjoy.

Ingredient of the Day: Sambal Oelek
This Indonesian chili-pepper paste is indispensible in much Southeast Asian cooking. You can find it at nearly any Asian market and, more recently, in many grocery stores.

Thai-Style Squid Salad

1 lb of fresh squid
2 tbsp lime juice*
1 tbsp fresh cilantro
1 tbsp fresh basil
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp sambal oelek
1/2 tsp lemongrass (either fresh or powdered)
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/3 cup carrot, shredded
1 head romaine lettuce, shredded

*You can use 1 tbsp of Rose's Lime Juice, or 2 tbsp fresh with 2 tsp of added sugar.

Prepare your sauce, adding the lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, lemongrass, sambal oelek, fish sauce, basil and brown sugar together. Slice and score your squid, then cook in boiling water for 3 minutes, removing promptly. Stir the squid and sauce together, and pour over lettuce and carrot, and top it with the cilantro and any extra basil. I like to eat this alongside some rice.