A dangerous-eating road trip to New Orleans

As much as I love to cook, sometimes it’s great not to cook. While I get excited to try something new in the kitchen, I also love my restaurants, or nice dinners at a friend’s place who may also be culinarily inclined. Of course when you have kids, these nights away from home are few and far between, because you usually need to be house-bound for tuck-in duty. So when your husband is good enough to watch the kids and encourage a bucket-list trip with your foodie girlfriend who you’ve been hanging out with since grade nine, you don’t pause for a second to ask, “are you sure?” You book a bunch of reservations at either 5:30 or 9:30 (who knew?), throw on your finest lobster bib,

 

Lobster bib

and eat the city of New Orleans with reckless abandon. Yes, the actual city. Godzilla style. (Apologies for those damn freckles. They lost our luggage, so I had to eat seafood in the face-nude for a day. More apologies for obviously cropping my friend out of the lobster bib picture. She fears the World Wide Web, and I’m totally going to hide out with her when Google builds its army and uses every detail of our waking lives to enslave us.)

Anyway. Facing this trip, I only had two big worries:

1. How quickly could I digest each meal so that I was ready for the next one?

2. Should I take advantage of this away mission to taste weird foods I wouldn’t normally have access to, or should I stick with comfortable standbys to get NOLA’s take on what I already knew I loved?

Oh, the pressure. Luckily, by carefully managing point #1, I was able to stuff my stomach with enough NOLA diversity to satisfy both options in #2. So, without further ado, here is my top ten list of interesting foodie experiences from The Big Easy.

10. Go-cups

This is when I realized that Toronto is kind of dumb when it comes to liquor. In New Orleans, if you haven’t finished your drink or if you’d rather wander than sit, you can ask for your drink in a “go-cup” and you can drink it on the street. Awesome. I’m old! If I’d rather have a beer outside, I should be old enough to decide that I’m allowed to! Of course, go-cups could be partially responsible for the puke smell that’s hard to miss each time you cross Bourbon Street. Ugh.

9. Beignets

Beignets

Beignets are square doughnuts that are completely covered in icing sugar. You eat them warm, and a famous place to get them is at Cafe du Monde, which is an open-air cafe on the Mississippi river. I’m not a huge doughnut person, but these were squishy and un-greasy. And eating them in 30 degree sunshine with a “cafe au lait,” ain’t half bad.

8. Grits

Ew. I don’t really get it. But I tried, like, a bite-and-a-half at our shoddy hotel breakfast to know what Joe Pesci was talking about in My Cousin Vinny.

7. Po-boys

A po-boy would be known here as a “sub,” although in NOLA its bread is crustier. Apparently it was traditionally made with bits of roast beef and gravy, given to striking streetcar drivers in 1929 from the back door of Clovis and Benjamin Martin’s restaurant, when they’d yell something along the lines of, “We’ve got another po-boy [poor boy] out here!” Now you can get them with just about anything on. My sandwich from Johnny’s Po-boys was ham — the only animal I ate on the whole trip that didn’t swim, I think.

Po-boys IMG_2120

6. Ooey gooey cake

So all of a sudden we found ourselves in a parade. Somehow I think that might happen in New Orleans randomly, right when you least expect it. The “first line” in a parade through the streets is the band, and then everyone follows the band in the “second line,” buying beers and snacks from folks pulling them along in coolers and carts. We felt pretty lucky to be dancing along in a second line. When we looked down at what the snack lady was pulling we noticed that some of her wares were labelled “ooey gooey cake.”

Ooey gooey cake

We were too full to snack at the time (see problem #1, above) but I just found this recipe for cake that might be similar. I need to give it a try.

5. Crawfish and oysters

There were t-shirts and kitchen paraphernalia everywhere that said “The four seasons of New Orleans: oyster, crawfish, crab, and shrimp.” I think we hit oyster season because they were dirt cheap, and they showed up in some of my nicer meals too, like in a soup. I adore oysters. If you have an oyster bar at your wedding, don’t invite me, because the gift I buy you will never cover all that I’ll consume. We were disappointed not to find fresh crawfish anywhere, but we did wolf down a crawfish po-boy that must have been prepared from frozen. Next time! And/or I’ve got to get to work at changing the seasons. Maybe global warming will do it for me?

Oysters IMG_2089

4. Snapping turtle soup

Turtle soup has been on my list to try since I missed out on it a few years ago in Washington DC. This time, I tried it right. We ate at Restaurant R’evolution, which was our fanciest dinner. That was where I learned about presentation. For this soup, they started by spooning three tiny devilled quail’s eggs into my bowl. Then they poured my soup around the eggs using a gravy boat until they were drowned. They did the same for my friend with her “death by gumbo,” although they poured hers around a full quail. Craziness. (But now that they’ve shown me how to serve up soup, you can bet I’m going to do it that impressively for guests at my own darn table!). This dish also introduced me to something else different about New Orleans cooking. They use a LOT of spices. Not so that it’s spicy-hot, but so that everything is very fully flavoured. This soup tasted strongly of clove. The turtle didn’t taste too different — just like meaty seafood. I didn’t take a picture because it was a posh place and it felt odd. But it was delicious!

3. Absinthe

A funny story about friends and trust. I knew that there was something illicit about absinthe, but I didn’t quite know what. I knew it involved chasing something — turns out it was “chasing the green fairy,” or the swirls that appear in the bottom of the glass, but I confused it with “chasing the dragon,” with images of strung-out addicts from movies nervously flitting about in my head. Of course, I tried it anyway (my friend said she served it to friends at home, so how bad could it be?). Now I know that the illicit part was that it was banned because people were afraid that the wormwood derivative in it would poison people or make them crazy, but this might have only been a smear campaign by market-protecting wine growers a hundred years ago. Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, and Van Gogh all liked it, and they seemed to do okay (I could use some “manic creativity!”). It’s served in a glass with a sugar cube on a slotted spoon over it, which is dissolved slowly by drips of cold water. Tastes delicious, if you like liquorice.

Absinthe

I also enjoyed that I drank it from a pub that was right beside a church and sign that says “Church quiet zone.” God bless New Orleans.

Quiet - church zone

2. Cobia Collar

Another incredible restaurant we tried was Peche, which was named “Best New Restaurant” at the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards, and was listed as one of the top 50 best new restaurants by Bon Appetit. Now. You might remember when I cooked fish heads? When I saw “Cobia Collar,” aka cobia jaw on the menu, I just had to ignore my yearnings for more traditional meals and give it a go. I mean, what would a real chef do with a fish head? He’d serve it so that it looked like a bird, that’s what. (Sorry for the light, iPhone shot in the dark)

Cobia collar

That’s just crazy food creativity, is what that is. The meat was tender, dense, white meat, and of course, it was done in a perfectly herby and buttery salsa verde.

And now, last, but very far from least…

1. Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico

I’m including the whole restaurant here, because everything I ate was my favourite. The service was incredibly friendly too — waiter escorted me to the “restroom” on his arm which made me laugh (they also filled your water glass each time you took a sip, which was slightly annoying. Sometimes service should be a little more invisible, you know? But this was a small distraction from greatness). Anyway. My friend and I felt a bit cliche choosing a celebrity chef’s restaurant as our hands-down fav, but what can you do — he might just be good for a reason. We’re talking lobster ravioli with shrimp in buttery-herbed sauce (wish I could describe it properly but it was a special and I didn’t write it down!). Every bite a delight. For dessert — sweet potato bread pudding with toasted marshmallow ice cream, brown sugar tuille, and praline sauce. I didn’t take a picture of it, but saveur.com took one that looks pretty darn similar by Emeril’s pastry chef Amy Lemon…

7-travels-pecan-pie-bread-pudding-full-width650x433

And on that note, I’ll say only one more thing. Eat the city of New Orleans. Here’s hoping the voodoo money chestnut I’m now carrying around in my purse actually does bring vast fortunes, because then I’ll go back every single year.

Chicken jellyfish slaw

Have you ever been overcome with jealousy while at the library? Happened to me just this week. I was sitting at a study table, innocently leafing through my gigantic dictionaries (copyediting course), when I looked across at the next table and saw a woman taking notes from this:

The food of Vietnam cookbook

A hugely gorgeous Vietnamese cookbook. I wasn’t even able to see any of the pages, but I just knew that that cookbook was chock full of deliciously dangerous recipes.

I completely forgot about copyediting and stared that woman down. I psychically (psycho-ly?) tried to connect with her mind, sending her this message: You will not sign out that cookbook and will leave it for me. That is my cookbook, woman! I repeated this message over and over again, and gave her the best stink-eye I could.

And it worked.

Vietnamese cookbook

I exercised my tired ol’ library card and lugged that monster book home (before I made my daughter lug it for the picture) and eagerly flipped through to find something with odd ingredients to cook, which is a different process from usual – generally I find the odd food first, and then figure out how to cook it. But my new process wasn’t disappointing except that I had to journey to a further grocery store to ensure I found my ingredient, which happened to be jellyfish…

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

…or “jellies,” as my very particular BC coastal friend calls them. He says that jellyfish is a misnomer. They’re not fish, he says. True. But the name “jellyfish,” is much more melodic and commonplace, in my opinion, so let’s just stick with popular opinion on this one. Sorry, Cam. I’m sure people listen to your other opinions. Like, if I was going to scale a tall building using only my fingers and toes, I’d totally call you.

I had tried jellyfish once before, and I’m not gonna lie, the experience was not a good one. It was probably ten years ago at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, and it appeared as a side dish, almost in place of rice or noodles. I slurped them up, eager to try them, but … they sucked. They were extremely rubbery, greasy, and flavourless. But I had faith in my big fat book. When you catch someone going to the trouble of schlepping themselves to the library so that they can get a hand cramp writing out recipes, it’s a safe bet that they’re on to something.

And that woman was right! Thank goodness my mind meld with her was successful, or I would have continued to believe that jellyfish’s only usefulness is to lure a hot lifeguard to pee on your leg. (Not going to Google for an image of that, although I’ll bet it exists.)

Here’s what I did to prepare Nguyen’s recipe – slightly simpler than how he created it because I couldn’t find all herbs his called for.

Chicken Salad with Jellyfish (why he didn’t call it Jellyfish Slaw I don’t know)

  • 1 single chicken breast, skin removed
  • 500mL chicken stock
  • 2 handfuls salted jellyfish strips

Jellyfish strips

  • 1C finely shredded white cabbage
  • a healthy handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • 1tsp toasted rice powder (pan fry dry glutenous rice grains over med heat 15 mins, then grind w mortar and pestle)
  • 6 cloves garlic turned into chips (heat 1/2C olive oil, then add sliced garlic until browned)
  • 1Tbsp garlic oil (use olive oil from previous bullet point)
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into thin rings
  • 3 or more Tbsp Nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (3Tbsp fish sauce, 3Tbsp rice vinegar, 2Tbsp  sugar, 1tsp chili flakes, 2Tbsp lime juice)
  • small handful of lightly fried chives
  • top with peanuts (but we didn’t due to an allergy)

Directions: Boil chicken breast in chicken stock 15 minutes, then pull apart into strips and allow to cool. Use stock again another day. Rinse salt from jellyfish and then boil for 30 seconds. Soak in a bowl of cold water 30 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients with drained jellyfish.

I served this dish to my camera-shy friend Krishna.

Kish

She’s a very dangerous eater – you may remember meeting her last time she was over, when I served her up some curried goat. Right now you’re thinking, “I’m kind of glad I don’t get invited to dinner parties at yours, Ann,” but honest, she likes trying my stuff. Plus we’ve been friends a long time, so I just threaten I’ll expose her dirt if she doesn’t eat and like what I make for her. That chick has a lot of dirt. (Like, under her fingernails. Okay, so that’s not even true either.)

Results:

Jellyfish salad

We ate the salad with a delectable pork moo shu lettuce wrap main — here’s a hot pic of the thinly sliced pork loin prior to cooking:

Pork loin

We nibbled directly from the bowls long after our first plates were clean. I even ate jellyfish slaw leftovers for lunch today, and it was just as good. My husband ate tons too, and he would have been the first one to say he was ordering pizza if it was blah.

And what did the jellyfish taste like? It was chewy for sure, but it didn’t taste fishy or have much flavour at all, really. My husband said that it took on the flavour of the sauce. I think the salad definitely would have been missing something if it had been cooked without the jellyfish. I’m going to call it an important textural assistant. Rating: 3 Yums. If you live near a coastline and a jellyfish stings you, make sure you teach it a lesson and throw it in a pot after the whole leg-peeing rigamarole.

Super delicious baby bug shrimp, and a winner!

Now this post is going to look a lot like a love-in. I love you too, I promise. But a while ago, I won the opportunity to name a chicken who lives with my blog buds Mike and Joanna at midwesternbite.com. I named her Mistress Billington, because she’s a Plymouth Rock chicken and Mistress Billington was a famous pilgrim. I nearly named her Hayley Wickenheiser after the best women’s hockey player in the world (truth, says it in Wikipedia) mostly because she happens to be Canadian and Mike and Joanna happen to be American and I was hoping to make them say Wickenheiser a lot. And after this most recent Olympics I kind of wish I had named Mistress Billington Wickenheiser because our hockey “chicks” kicked some serious ass coming from behind to win the gold medal in a game that nearly made me pee my pants with excitement (Americans are thinking wait a minute, this just stopped being a love-in. Sorry, couldn’t resist!).

Back to the love-in. So I named their chicken. Then Joanna read my book and wrote an awesome review on her blog and did a giveaway of my book. Then I announced a cookbook giveaway for my 100th blog post, where entrants had to guess what this mysterious veggie was:

Weird food

Joanna guessed that it was a bamboo shoot which gave her two entries, and her husband Mike replied with tons of great information about them. Then Aly at fudgingahead threw Joanna a virtual baby shower, and I contributed a bunch of weird baby foods (although if you found me by Googling and hoped to find “baby foods,” you may have come to the wrong place). And today I cooked one of those weird baby foods, and it was surprisingly delicious, so stay tuned.

But. Considering all this, you would think that one of the MidwesternBite dream team couldn’t possibly win my giveaway of a gorgeous textbook for weird foodies like me…

odd_bits_cover_l

Because it would look like favouritism. But you’d be wrong. Because tonight, it was Mike’s name that was ceremoniously chosen by my kids from the head of the At-at:

Draw winnerMike winnerSo congratulations Mike! And sorry to everyone else if you’re feeling left out. There’s some goat in my freezer with your name on it if you happen to be in the neighbourhood. I have to admit that I’m glad Mike won, not only because I am confident he will use this book to shock poor pregnant Joanna with odd bits of animals that he won’t fully explain until she has consumed them, but also because my daughter said, “I know it will be the prettiest one who wins,” and I knew Mike would enjoy being the prettiest competitor. Thanks to all who entered, but clearly it’s the Noxema girls who get noticed.

And now for the continuation of Joanna’s baby shower post… (love in). Some of those baby foods that I bought happened to be wee dried crustaceans that were pretty much insects. Mosquitoes that swim. In my last post I called them sea monkeys.

Dried shrimp

That’s a lot of sea monkeys. There has been quite a delay since my last post because I was procrastinating these wee aqua insects specifically. They had that smell, and I didn’t know how I would ever overcome it. You know the smell? Have you ever been to a Chinatown and walked past bins of dried fish, and it smells like a mixture of ancient Captain Highliner and mothballs? Yeah. When you soak them for an hour and try one or two, they taste like they smell. I had to swish my mouth with beer very quickly, and I was already quite hung over. I told myself I needed to disinfect my tongue with the alcohol. The sacrifices I make for this blog…

My friend had mentioned that eating small dried shrimp whole was a good texture thing, though, and I found a cool Malaysian recipe that talked about banana leaves and sticky rice – looky looky, three dangerous foods in one! I even found black “glutinous” rice – it doesn’t have gluten in it, but it’s sticky and so “glue”-like.

Black glutenous rice

Glutinous rice

As I surfed around, many of the recipes urged not to substitute the banana leaves because they give great flavour. I was lucky to have found them in the freezer section of my sketchy Asian grocery store. And they don’t come small.

Banana leaves

Should be more than enough for a few sticky rice rolls, no? I was still chicken about the dried shrimp, so I made half the batch with fresh shrimp and the other half with the dried. If you can believe it, beyond a little extra crunch with the dried shelled shrimp, there wasn’t much of a difference. And despite my skepticism, the whole thing tasted fantastic. Here’s how it went down:

Rempah Udang (Spicy glutinous rice rolls with dried shrimp)

(makes about 10 hearty rolls. Make sure you have time to soak everything ahead)

  • 400g (2C) glutinous rice
  • 375mL coconut milk
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp sugar (coconut sugar is ideal)
  • knotted pandan leaves (I had to omit because I couldn’t find them)

filling:

  • 100g (1/2C) dried shrimps (or same of fresh)
  • 70g dried coconut
  • 1C coconut milk

seasoning:

  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp coconut sugar
  • dash of pepper
  • splash of fish sauce

ground flavourings:

  • 4 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, sliced fine
  • 2 candlenuts (pine nuts can be substituted. I omitted it all)
  • 1tsp chili powder

banana leaves. You’ll have more than enough.

Directions: 

1. Rinse the dried shrimp and rice (separately) until the water runs clear. Let the shrimp soak for at least 1/2 hour, and the rice soak for 4 hours.

2. Mix the rice, coconut milk, salt and sugar together and steam it on high 30 minutes and low 30 more minutes. Sprinkle with water if liquids evaporate too quickly and keep going.

3. Lightly fry the shrimps until aromatic and set aside. Fry the ground flavourings and add the shrimp back. Add the dried coconut and coconut milk and cook until dry.

4. Rinse the banana leaves. Lay a wee handful of cooked rice in line along the end of the banana leaf. Add shrimp filling.

Rempah udang

Roll the leaf over to cover it into a lengthwise roll, and then tuck the ends under and secure with a toothpick.

5. Fry (or grill) the banana leaf packet. C’est tout!

Grilled spicy glutinous rice rolls

Results: I never would have believed that something that smelled rank fishy would wind up being delicious. Those Malaysians know what they’re doing! Give it a try. I bet the coconut is even half healthy, but it tastes decadent. The banana leaves do give a beautiful floral flavour. This dish takes time, but it’s fancy-tasty. Rating: 4 Yums  You might even put down your entrails cookbook to go for this recipe, and I’d serve it to either of the two Canadian gold medal winning hockey teams any day.

Hey, as an aside, I just did this post on my new Macbook! Despite having to Google “how to scroll,” the whole thing went quite well!

Mr. Burns thinks sea urchin is excellent

There are two big associations I have with this next dangerous food, one from long ago, the other more recent.

Long ago: My first job after university was working at a telecommunications consulting firm as a report writer. The president of the firm, the guy who hired me, was quite a character. He was a bit like Mr. Burns at times, but not as old and more fun-loving (can we tell I’m taming this description down a bit in case he should happen to stumble across my blog?).

Thanks greytheblog.com

Thanks greytheblog.com

He was smart, driven, and occasionally slightly crazy, but in a mostly good way. Once he freaked out because I had decided to take the subway instead of a cab, so he couldn’t reach me underground. “I. have. been. trying. to. reach. you. for. ONE. HALF. HOUR!!!” he said, very uncalmly. After I explained that I had taken the subway because it was a short trip and I wanted to save the company money, he said, “Do you realize that I bill out at $350 an hour? Trust me, a cab is more reasonable than the time I’ve wasted trying to get you.” He would call me in on a Sunday night because he needed something immediately and keep me until 12am. One line I still laugh about with friends was when another young 20-something made a smart remark to him, and he said, “Make no mistake my friend, if anyone in this conversation is going to be clever it will be me.” Ah, Cliffy. Miss him.

Anyway, a big benefit to working closely with Cliff was that he liked to go out for lunch, and he lived large, always filling the table with more than you could eat. The sushi days were my favourites, because you got to try everything on the menu, all at once. I always left mourning the half-full table of food we couldn’t possibly eat.

But one of the first things he always ordered at a sushi place was uni. And not just uni, but uni with a quail’s egg. And he generously ordered enough for everyone. Without asking them.

Uni

Now I firmly believe, and maybe he even told me after I got to know him, that because Cliff was Cliff, he did this to watch people squirm. He was quite an intimidating character, and he was a president, and when you’re eating with a person like that you’re not going to say no to anything at a meal. As mentioned, he wasn’t dumb – he understood these dynamics, and uni was a good time for him. You can’t even bite these into two pieces, you just have to suck it back. Even for me, it was pretty fun to watch every time a new person came along.

I always refused the quail egg (yay me for not giving in to the Cliff) but even the uni itself was a force to be reckoned with. Uni is sea urchin. Let’s imagine me sucking back my first one, and finding my mouth completely full of the fishiest, squishiest food I’d ever tasted. At first I thought it was wretched and that I might puke all over Cliff – then I found myself craving it in the middle of the night weeks afterward. Like blue cheese, coffee, pate and beer, sea urchin is an acquired taste, but once you have a taste for it, there’s no going back.

This brings me to my second sea urchin association. One of my Twitter BFFs (yes, that’s a thing, and it’s cool), @justlovefood from Scotland (taught me how to cook haggis, coordinated the egg award that I participated in), posted a picture and recipe of sea urchin that they prepared over an open fire.

sea-urchin-photo-for-blog

It was so gorgeous that I knew I had to give it a try, and although I thought I would find urchins at my favourite multicultural superstore, I didn’t have any luck. Until last week, when I found these

Sea urchin

Not quite the gorgeous shells that were included in @justlovefood’s preparation, but they would have to do. Plus, theirs were cooked over an open fire, and … well … backyard fires are kind of frowned upon when your yard is a teensy square where two nearby houses have burned down semi recently. So I went with a BBQ and little clay pots my mom the potter made. To quote a tweet from @justlovefood: “Go with your instinct and palate, recipe is there just as a guide, cross fingers, will be delicious!”

And she was right! Here’s how it went down. It’s basically grilled crab and sea urchin, topped with your favourite mini version of cucumber salad.

Grilled sea urchin with crab, ginger and cucumber (serves 4 as appetizer or first course)

  • 4 heatproof (or possibly expendable) mini clay pots
  • 1.5 Tbsp crab meat per person
  • Sea urchins, three per pot
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • 1/2 english cucumber, finely diced (serving 4)
  • 1 inch ginger, finely diced
  • 8 Mint leaves, finely shredded
  • Solid pinch of chives, shredded
  • Good glug of white wine vinegar. @justlovefood used lime juice, but I mistakenly thought I had some and then was trapped in solitary confinement with my children and so had to use what was on hand, which worked fine

Directions: Preheat BBQ to 400. Add crab meat to each pot. Layer three sea urchins overtop, and pour olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Sea urchin

Put pots on grill over indirect heat and cook 10 minutes, until urchin is slightly less squishy to the touch.

BBQ crab

Meanwhile, prepare the cucumber topping with remaining ingredients

Cucumber salad

Add topping to pots, and you’re good to go

Sea urchin and crab

Results: Cliff would have enjoyed this urchin thoroughly while barking at someone out of the other side of his mouth. What was most shocking to me was that it wasn’t at all fishy – coincidentally, last week at the Food & Wine Expo we tasted something with sea urchin in it, and it was fishy. With an aftertaste. Make sure your uni is fresh. This dish tasted creamy and rich, and the ginger and mint complemented the dish beautifully. It certainly wasn’t @justlovefood’s “Sea Urchin and Velvet swimmer crab & rhubarb and cucumber” over open fire, but it was a very acceptable variation on what I can imagine was a stellar recipe. Rating: 4 Yums

Challenge: In the comments, briefly describe the best story you have of a memorable boss

Be a piggy and try conch fritters – how to cook conch

Piggy.

Piggy – NIN

Okay, I’m kind of misleading you from the beginning, because this post does not involve a single bacon bit. Or Nine Inch Nails, other than that wee video clip. Patience, grasshopper. If you keep reading for a few months, I’m sure I’ll eventually make bacon rain over weird foods like octopus eyes and it will be a dish worthy of Trent Reznor.

Anyway. Who’s read Lord of the Flies? I bet most of you have, but probably complained about it at the time because you were a lowly high schooler who had more important things than reading on your mind, like whether or not the coverup actually looked worse than the zit, or whether your parents were going to find out that the Croatian dances you were going to every Friday night were serving underage. Just me? For the record, I did learn how to polka so that everything looked legit.

Those Croatians know how to party. Thanks croatia.org

Those Croatians know how to party. Thanks croatia.org

Anyway. Again. You might not have loved reading Lord of the Flies, but the fact that the images and story have stayed with you for most of your life probably proves it wasn’t a bad read. Remember the conch? They passed the shell back and forth when they held the “floor,” for speaking. Well, today we’re going to cook up some conch that I found in the frozen food section of my favourite exotic grocery store, T&T. And it will be my turn to talk and my family had better listen. At all times. PS:  Never, ever forget the entire point of Lord of the Flies, which is to ensure that you should never allow yourself to become Piggy in any situation or scenario. A secondary take-home message is that bacon on a stick is always a good thing, no matter what form it may take.

Mmm, bacon. Thanks thereturnofabookgirl.blogspot.ca

Mmm, bacon. Thanks thereturnofabookgirl.blogspot.ca

So now I hold the conch.

Conch

 

1-IMG_5035

Here is how to pronounce it, according to a youtube video that made me laugh for some reason, but maybe I’m just in that kind of a mood. Funny what you can put on youtube and get hits for, eh? I was the 21,013 person to play that enthralling video. Hope you enjoyed being number 21,014.

Hey, sorry for the rambling nature of this post. I’m not usually this verbose, am I? Must be the conch. I guess if you eat it, you get to talk as much as you want? That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Here is the recipe. It was based on this one, and for once I made it mostly as written, although I reduced it down to 1/4 the size and added my own directions (as below).

Conch Fritters (Makes about 12 chicken ball sized fritters. Shrimp can be used in place of conch)

  • 2 Conch, all coloured bits sliced off and discarded (you nearly have to peel them with your knife), tenderized with a hammer, and diced (see instructions below)
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Celery
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Peppers (Green and Yellow Mixed)
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Onion
  • 2 Tbsp Ketchup
  • 3 tbsp. Oil
  • 1 Egg
  • dash of salt and pepper
  • dash of Tabasco
  • 2 tsp Lime Juice
  • 1 tsp. Rosemary (Crush Before Adding)
  • 1 cloves Crushed Garlic
  • 1 tbs Chopped Parsley
  • 1 cups Pancake Mix

1. Prepare the conch by slicing off and discarding any coloured parts of it and hammering it in a strong ziplock. While looking for recipes, lots of locals who had the luxury of being able to pluck one from a nearby ocean recommended the tenderizing part, and my kids were happy to take participate. Dice it after tenderizing.

tenderizing conch

2. Prepare and mix remaining ingredients in a bowl. Consistency should be goopy like pancake batter – mobile enough to slowly glop off of a spoon. If it’s too dry, add lime juice. Too wet, add more pancake mix.

3. Heat oil in frying pan about 1.5 inches deep. Heat over medium high heat until oil begins to shimmer.

4. Glop large tablespoonfuls into oil,

Frying conch fritterand wait a minute or so until it browns, flipping once to do the other side. If it starts to spit at you, turn down the heat slightly.

5. Dry on paper towels…

Conch fritters

…and gobble them up with your favourite dip.

Results:

Conch fritters

The pancake mix made them slightly sweet, but light, and the conch had a chewy consistency but only in small doses, which was nice. The conch reminded me of calamari. Next time I might even try a variation on a pakora, adding more spice to the mix. Piggy and Trent Reznor would have eaten these in one sitting. On a stick. Rating: 3 Yums

 

Salt of the earth – Sea asparagus

I have an unapologetic love of salt. I smother my eggs in it, I add it to McDonald’s already salty fries… can’t get enough. Luckily I have low blood pressure, so when my husband is after me saying, “that can’t be healthy,” I tell him I’d basically pass out if I didn’t keep my salt levels high. Whenever we’re near a blood pressure monitor he’s convinced he’s going to be proven right with a skyrocketing result, but I always come in on the barely-functioning scale. Yay me.

Anyway, the point is that I love finding new sources of salty goodness. I’ve tried and liked different seaweeds before, but I can’t eat too much of them because I find them fishy. Enter the “sea asparagus”

IMG_3837Apparently these little fresh juicy morsels of salty goodness are harvested when the tide goes out. The sign on them said they were from Israel, but they’re also regularly available in BC. Oddly, they have a floral scent, but they taste kind of like the fresh version of a caper.

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And they’re healthy too! They’re packed with B vitamins, especially B2 which is great for energy, and they also have vitamin A and folic acid. They’re good for the liver, skin, and stomach. They also have “TMG” (note: not TMZ – Lyndsay Lohan doesn’t need to avoid them) which fights stroke and liver disease. So if you drink a lot of wine with them, your liver comes out even in the end (okay, I made this up, but it’s possible??). They’re also called “sea beans,” salicornia, glasswort, pickleweed, or marsh samphire.

Because they were caperish, I decided to serve em up raw with a smoked salmon pasta (you can also steam them, but since I liked them raw I don’t know what this would do to the taste). I cheated and bought prepared alfredo sauce, but you could always find a recipe and make that yourself if you’re a purist. Here’s what I did – quick, easy, and tasty.

Smoked salmon sea bean alfredo (serves 4)

  • 250mL prepared (or scratch) alfredo sauce
  • 1 package smoked salmon
  • 1 good handful sea asparagus
  • Dried pasta shells

Directions: Boil water for pasta, and cook according to package directions. Heat alfredo sauce. Chop smoked salmon and sea asparagus. Drain pasta and add sauce and sea goodies.

Results

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This pic was taken before I fully chopped and incorporated everything, but you get the idea. Delicious! This pasta was a hit with everyone who gobbled it up. If you should happen to come across sea beans, don’t be shy to nab them. It’s always nice to find something that’s healthy and tasty. Rating: 4 Yums

Note: This is not the Canadian post where I’ll be preparing the delicacy I hinted about last time, but that is coming right up. Next hint: think igloos…

Toothless Sunshine loves dragon fruit

Our house is all about dragons right now.

The dragon connection started in an odd way. My jeans fell apart, because I’m cheap, and I don’t enjoy buying expensive jeans, but I enjoy wearing them (see frugal article here). So while my jeans had become unwearable due to air conditioning in the nether regions, I wasn’t able to let them go. So I made a pocket purse for my daughter.

In the name of fairness, I offered my son a homemade gift of his choice. His confident request – “A dragon.” I did myself some googling, and found this pattern for a dragon. I was disappointed that the creators of the pattern hadn’t managed to find the perfect dragon fabric that I did – green velour with green sequins – so I smugly walked away from Fabricland and made the very first object of my son’s affection, Toothless Sunshine.

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Let me just take a time out to say that I’m a giant feminist, and that I proudly own my love for cooking, sewing, and parenting as a personal choice afforded to a liberated woman. Let’s move on.

Toothless Sunshine

Anyway, as we were in the spirit of dragons, I picked up this fruit

Dragon fruit

at our beloved No Frills grocery store and told my son it was a dragon fruit (pitaya). He begged to try it.

Sliced dragon fruitI searched for dragon fruit recipes in an attempt to make something interesting, but didn’t find much beyond sexy fruit plates. I was glad I hadn’t chosen those, because it turns out dragon fruit is quite bland. It looks very cool – fuschia with seedy pulp – but it’s less sweet and tart than a kiwi, which it’s often compared to due to its consistency, even though the dragon fruit is actually the fruit of a cactus.

I finally found a recipe for dragon fruit salsa over scallops, which I won’t even credit because their creation had so few ingredients it was basically dragon fruit and lemon juice (and we’ve already established that dragon fruit has a super boring flavour). I used their scallop/salsa idea, though, and created this:

Seared Scallops and Dragon Fruit Salsa (serves 2)

  • 6 large scallops
  • A few Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ripe dragon fruit (gives slightly to touch, like a ripe mango or avocado), diced
  • 1 small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 small handful dried cranberries
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • One chopped chili if desired

Directions: Heat oil over med high heat, approx. 2 mins. Add scallops and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

ScallopsCook 2-3mins per side, until white and firm on the exterior (scored and slightly darkened if barbequing, but it’s winter and I was cold, so I chose the pan). Meanwhile, combine salsa ingredients. Serve scallops topped with salsa.

Scallops and dragon fruit salsa

Results: Nice! My husband said, “Let’s keep this in mind for when we’re entertaining.” (Or something like that, I wasn’t totally listening). I included the dried cranberries to add a touch of sweetness where the dragon fruit was lacking, and the onions and cilantro answered that salsa freshness expectation. The dragon fruit made the whole thing pretty, and added a cool, crisp texture. Exotic, fresh, and tasty. Rating: 3 Yums

Toothless Sunshine will serve this recipe to his fire breathing friends for sure.

Wine Pairing: Winealign.com suggests that scallops pair well with pinot gris, so I’ll suggest Bestheim Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace, selling for $15.95 in Ontario.

Pinot Gris

Pretty Pakoras

I feel slightly embarrassed by the “new” ingredient I’ve chosen to showcase with this post.  I always experiment with foods I’ve never prepared here, hoping that others will read about my concoctions and also become more experimental (or will at the very least laugh at my adventures).  But last night I cooked with something new to me, but that might make the rest of the world turn away accusing me of being a lame loser of a chef.  I used gram flour, which is made from chickpeas.  I know what you’re thinking – before you know it I’ll be introducing you a new ingredient some people call “wheat.”

I had been sifting through recipes online to find an appetizer to bring to a Christmas party at my friend Jackie’s.  At first I told her I would bring a veggie tray because she had been describing what last minute tedious tasks she still had to accomplish, and picking up veggies was one of them.  But when she said, “Sure you can bring veg, but you’re capable of so much more,” I knew I had to live up to my culinary potential of weirdness.  I have a reputation of oddity to live up to, after all.

The Shining 031So I was swiping my way through my iPhone drooling at food porn when I happened upon a potato latke topped with crème fraiche and caviar.  Bingo.  Except that despite being plugged into the rare food community I had no idea where to find crème fraiche in my neighborhood, and I thought that a latke might be kind of bland.  So I switched it to a spicy pakora with sour cream, and bang – cool creation.

Funny how I wasn’t even going to write about this appetizer because I thought it was too boring, even though it includes both gram flour and caviar, neither of which I had ever used.  I think camel meatballs and fish heads have made my standards of weirdness kind of high lately.

But back to the flour, which is also called garbanzo flour or besan.  It’s high in carbohydrates, but also in protein, which is a bonus.  It’s also gluten free.  As I mentioned, most cultures other than mine eat it – it’s a staple in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but it’s also eaten in France, Spain, and Italy.  I was shocked to have bought 3 cups worth and paid about $1. Loving it.

I also hadn’t considered the caviar very interesting, because everyone has heard of caviar.  Especially after the movie Big.

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But how much did I really know about the types of caviar?  Nothing, truth be told.  And I’m not so sure I would care about the difference in taste or price, since I even enjoy those crackly roe they put on top of sushi at the mall.  I picked up this “caviar,”

IMG_2717from our local fishmonger for the bargain price of $10.  And then I read this article about real caviar, now from farmed sturgeon rather than wild, ranging (in the article) between $75 and $275 for 30g.  The wild stuff is rare because it was overfarmed and so is heavily regulated.  It goes for $750.  Mine came from smoked herring and mullet in Spain and I’m totally good with that.

Looked like the guests were good with that too, because the appys didn’t last long!  They were a pakora-rific pleasure.  Here’s the recipe – the straightforward pakora directions stolen from here:

Pakora with caviar (makes about 20 small pakoras)

  • 2C Besan (chickpea flour, gram flour)
  • 1Tbsp crushed red pepper
  • 3/4tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp baking powder
  • 2 small red chiles, chopped (or other hot peppers.  This amount gave low-medium heat)
  • 1/2C cilantro leaves, chopped (plus more for garnishing)
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly into half-moons
  • 1C luke warm water
  • 1/2C sour cream
  • 30g container of caviar (only about three-quarters will be used)
  • Oil for frying (canola or other light-tasting oil)

Directions:  Fill skillet half-way with oil.  Heat to 360-375 degrees (med-high heat for about 6 minutes, will sizzle when dough is dropped in).  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, chili flakes, salt, baking powder, chili pepper, cilantro and sliced onion.  Slowly add in the water, mixing well.  The batter should be thick but still mobile (would drip from a spoon) with air bubbles throughout.  When oil has heated, carefully drop tablespoons of batter into the hot oil.  Allow them to brown, flipping once (about one minute per side).  Drain on a cooling rack or paper towels.  Repeat with remainder of batter.

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Top each with sour cream, a few cilantro sprigs, and a dollop of caviar.  This can be done after pakoras have cooled.  Enjoy!

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Results:  Delicious, with a tidy, pretty presentation.  Four yums for this one.  I’ll make them again!

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Wine Pairing:  Sparkling wine.  A budget knock-off caviar deserves a budget knock-off Champagne!  Winealign.com says the Kiwi Walk Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is a good one priced at $17.95 in Ontario.

Kiwi_Walk_Spakling_Sauvignon_Blanc_web

Swimming with the fishes

Ever walk past a tank of swimming fish in a grocery store’s seafood department and think to yourself, “Who the heck actually buys one of those?”  Well, this week, for the benefit of my gazillions of weird food fans, the answer was, “I do!”

There’s something about asking for live food that seems both indulgent and disgusting. As I pointed at the ugly grey fish making sweet little kissy faces and ordered the poor grocery guy to chase him with the big net, I felt a pang of guilt that I would be responsible for taking him/her from a swimming state to a dinner plate, but I had to tell those sucky inner voices of mine to shut up.  I am a meat-eater after all, at almost every single meal, and it’s hypocritical if I get turned off just because I have to watch the inevitable dirty work go down in person.  I just saw someone’s Twitter description say, “If slaughterhouses had clear walls everyone would be vegetarian,” and although I’m sure this wasn’t intended to encourage me to watch my food getting killed, it did make me try to own the fact that I eat meat.  If I continue to do it.  Maybe the conclusion to this blog will be that I eventually become veggie.  But not just yet.

Because I am a food journalist, I’ll describe one more disturbing experience that I had in eating a live fish.  If you’re vegetarian, please turn away and wait for my next post.  Grocery guy took out my flopping fish…

…and put it on the back counter beside a big rubber mallet.  I was horrified, worried that I was about to see the fish get a violent whack on the head, but then I didn’t see it.  Grocery guy lopped off all the fins and gutted and scaled the fish with robot-like efficiency, handing it to me after only about fifteen seconds in a plastic bag with the head on and the rest of the body intact.  So I’m still left wondering – did I just miss the death blow, or did it not happen?  Closer and closer to veganism every day. But why does meat have to taste so good?

And my day just got better and better.  Now I had to prepare a whole fish for dinner that day (to take advantage of the “fresh meat”) and I was having friends over in the afternoon followed by piano lessons for my daughter which meant I wouldn’t be able to prep everything until after seven.  Let me tell you, I wouldn’t recommend lopping off a fish’s head…

…while entertaining three moms and their kids, and I didn’t – I hacked it off with a dull knife feeling like an axe murderer before they arrived, wrapping the rest in foil, stuffing it with garlic, and baking it incognito while we all sipped coffee (aka wine).

I chose a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes because I was so pressed for time.  Despite my adoration of Jamie Oliver, this cookbook kind of bugs me because the instructions are jumbled together to help home chefs with efficiency, popping out an entire meal at the end – I find this makes recipes difficult to modify and track at a glance. In this case, though, I needed Jamie’s help to throw a dinner together as quickly as possible, and I loved how it worked out.  I’ll copy the entire recipe below so that you can see how the book works, and then I’ll describe how I modified it to prep as much as possible ahead, throwing the rest together post-piano.  He includes a dessert and drink too, but I didn’t make those so I’ve omitted them.

Branzino (Recently Live Tilapia, for me) & Crispy Pancetta, Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Asian Greens

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 ½ pounds sweet potatoes
  • 2 limes
  • A small bunch of cilantro
  • 2Tbsp mango chutney
  • Soy sauce

Greens

  • 1 fresh red chile
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Soy sauce
  • 1 lime
  • Sesame oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 head of broccoli

Branzino

  • 8 slices pancetta
  • 4 x 6-ounce branzino fillets, skin on, scaled and pin-boned (for me this was one tilapia fish plus a few supplemental fillets of whitefish)
  • 1Tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 lemon

Seasonings

  • Olive oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt & black pepper

To Start Get all your ingredients and equipment ready.  Fill and boil the kettle.  Put a large saucepan with a lid and a large frying pan  on a medium heat.

Potatoes  Wash the sweet potatoes, trim off any gnarly bits, then stab them a few times with a knife.  Put in a large microwave-safe bowl, halve oneo f the limes and add to the bowl, then cover with a double layer of plastic wrap and microwave on full power for 12 minutes, or until cooked through.

Greens  Seed and finely chop the chile, adding half to a large serving bowl and add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and ¼ to 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime and add a splash of sesame oil.  Mix, taste, and adjust the soy sauce if needed.  Trim the asparagus stalks.  Quarter the head of the broccoli lengthways from the head to the base of the stalk.

Branzino  Put the pancetta into the frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil.  Keep an eye on it, turning when crispy.  [When the pancetta has become golden] remove it to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan.  Add the fish to the pan, skin side down.  Shake the pan and use a spatula to press the fillets flat for a few seconds.  Pound 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds in a pestle & mortar and scatter over the fish from a height with a pinch of salt & pepper.  Finely grate over the zest of 1 lemon, then cut the lemon into quarters and set aside.

Potatoes  Finely chop the cilantro on a large wooden cutting board, setting a few leaves aside for the garnish.  Add the mango chutney, a good splash of soy sauce, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, the juice from ½ lime, and the reserved chopped chile.  Chop and mix everything together on the board.

Greens  Fill the large saucepan with boiling water and add a large pinch of salt.  Add the broccoli and asparagus, making sure they are completely submerged.  Put the lid on and turn the heat to high.

Branzino  Check the fish – once the skin is golden and crispy, turn the heat down to low – but have confidence to let the skin become good and crispy before reducing the heat.

Potatoes  Get the sweet potatoes out of the microwave and check they are cooked through, then use tongs to squeeze over the juice from the hot lime halves and discard them.  Carefully tip the sweet potatoes on top of the mango chutney mixture and use a knife or masher to chop and mash everything together, including the skins.  Season to taste, adding more fresh lime juice if needed.

Branzino  Take the pan of fish off the heat and flip the fillets over so they gently finish cooking on the flesh side.  Return the pancetta to the pan to warm through, then serve the fish and pancetta on top of the board of mashed potatoes.  Pop the lemon sedges on the side for squeezing and sprinkle over the reserved cilantro.  Take to the table.

Greens  Drain the broccoli and asparagus in a colander, then tip into the serving bowl with the dressing, quickly toss, and take to the table.

 

Results:  These were the best sweet potatoes I’ve had in my life!  They were spicy, though, so if you don’t like spice maybe substitute a sweet red pepper – I can never find red and green chiles, so I substituted a scotch bonnet pepper, and my hands were still burning through the night.  Also, I don’t like cooking in the microwave, especially with plastic wrap, so if you have enough time, be sure to boil or steam your potatoes instead.  But I’m definitely going to make a version of these sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner.  Delish.

But this post was about the fish.  So what I did differently from Jamie…  I wrapped my whole fish (bloody and slimy, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, stuffed with sliced garlic) in foil and baked it on a baking sheet at 400 for 35 minutes.  Doing this made it easy to pick apart for meat, which I added to the pancetta fat in the pan…

…sprinkling with crushed fennel seeds and lemon zest as Jamie suggests.  And this got me about 4 bites of meat!  I think if you buy tilapia fillets they probably come from monsters, not grocery store fish like mine.  I learned from this experience that swimming fish are mostly there for decoration.  Sorry fishy.  Anyway, I fried my pre-baked meat to crisp it up a little and followed the rest of the recipe, frying the pancetta and washing and cutting veg before my friends came, re-warming the pancetta and cooking everything else post-piano.

Phil loved it.  Jamie Oliver never disappoints.  But I can’t even tell you if there was a difference in taste due to fishy freshness because I had to mix it with more meat.  I won’t ask for a live fish again, but it was definitely “an experience” to cook one.  Rating:  5 Yums for Jamie’s recipe and cookbook, 2 Gags for cooking a live grocery store fish.

Wine Pairing

In honour of the NHL strike, I’ll choose one of winealign.com’s top chardonnay suggestions (which the site says pairs well with pan fried whitefish), Wayne Gretzky’s 2008 unoaked chardonnay, selling for $13.95 in Ontario.

Fish heads eat them up yum

There’s a mysterious freezer section of my No Frills discount grocery store that I always rubber-neck.  It’s the section that often has chicken feet, and usually has a generous assortment of animal guts.  One time I saw beef face in there, but I haven’t seen it since, which might mean that it’s seasonal (smiles for spring?).  Something that’s in there every time I visit though, are fish heads.

For some reason, since the day I first saw them, fish heads have always struck me as intriguing.  Sometimes I stare at them for a while, wondering if I should bring them home and figure them out, but I can’t help but be suspicious of their arrow-shaped bony nature.  My argument with myself goes a little like this, mouth moving silently through the words as my kids beg to keep rolling past the weirdness:

First me:  There couldn’t be anything edible in there, right?  And how do you get past the brains and the eyes?

The other me:  But people obviously buy them for some reason.  Their brains can’t be that big, they’re just fish.  They could actually be good.

Maybe fish heads have always kept me mesmerized because of this awesome song.  Please persevere through the insanely long preamble.  I wish I was web-savvy enough to figure out how to play the song the entire time you’re reading this entry, but so it goes.

Fish heads song

Well, for some reason, today was the day.  I even phoned ahead to my local fishmonger, asking if they had any before I showed up asking strange questions.  They said they did – Grouper, which I soon learned is a huge fish.  I took two, each one about the size and weight of a cabbage, which they gave me for free (is that a bad sign?).  They were gigantic, big lipped, and googly-eyed.

The monger was thoroughly entertained.  I was silently grateful that my husband was away (when I told him what I had done over the phone afterward, his predictable response was EWWWW).

When we got home I made my 5-year-old daughter hold one up with her skinny little arms covered in grocery bags while she whined about the smell for the express purpose of trying to capture this photo and caption. Grouper heads will serve as an example of my mothering skills for her therapist one day for sure, so be proud that you’re witnessing that moment in my daughter’s history.

Peek-a-boo

I let her off the fish holding hook and made her hold the beer while I made a long arm to get this shot, which did make it kind of blurry, sorry.

I procrastinated cooking the fishy noggins for the rest of the day (and tried to explain their presence in the sink to the afternoon babysitter nonchalantly) before I finally steeled myself by drinking that beer you saw before and threw them into a pot of boiling water according to these instructions.  I tried to clip off the fins and gills as they suggest before I did this, but they were too strong even for my best kitchen snips, so I left them on, not being too worried because some people said they used the fins for stock.

I boiled them for about an hour, worrying the whole time that I might have to hack at the intact cooked heads with a melon baller or something to dig the meat out.  It turned out that when they’re cooked, the heads fall apart and then you just have to pick through sorting bone from meat.  Example:  “Toothy jaw mandible – nope.”

I did have to avoid touching the eyes, but otherwise the sorting process was surprisingly guts-free.  It reminded me of picking over a can of salmon to get rid of bones and dark meat bits, which brought me to the realization that fish heads is probably where a lot of that meat actually comes from.

I wasn’t into saving the boiling water for fish stock, because it smelled hugely fishy and..just ugh, so instead I just used the surprisingly large bowl of meat I had just collected…

…to make these (even had to double the recipe).  Cooking trick – give a recipe a French name and it magically begins to look appetizing.

Fish (Head) Croquettes (makes 6-8 patties) with roasted garlic aioli

Based on this recipe

Aioli:

  • 1 head garlic
  • 1Tbsp olive oil
  • 6Tbsp prepared mayonnaise

Croquettes:

  • 1.5 cups fish, shredded with your fingers
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2C red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4C red onion, finely chopped
  • 1Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped, more reserved for garnish
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2tsp mustard
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • 3/4C bread crumbs, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed greens

Directions:  Aioli:  Preheat oven to 400, covering garlic head with tin foil and olive oil.  Roast garlic for 1 hour, and then after it has cooled, squeeze garlic into small dish.  Combine 1Tbsp of it with mayo and set aside.  Croquettes:  Combine all in a bowl with wooden spoon, adding only 1/4C of the bread crumbs to the mix.  Make patties and place on tray covered in parchment.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Heat generous glug of olive oil in pan until shimmering.  Put remaining bread crumbs on a plate and coat each patty.  Cook patties in oil 2-3 minutes per side until brown.

Serve patties over mixed greens with aioli and cilantro garnish.

Results:  This was the first time in my life that I have felt like a true magician in the kitchen.  I transformed two big ugly fish heads into a delicious meal that no one would ever be able to tell had come from such base beginnings, and now I’m pretty darn proud of myself for having done it.  I wouldn’t say that fish heads will become part of my repertoire, though – too weird and smelly.  But I do feel that I’ve acquired a valuable skill in case of a future food foraging Armageddon-type situation.  Time well spent.  And I’d make the croquettes again using fish filets without hesitation.

Rating:  3 gags for the fish heads, although I feel bad for judging them based solely on their gross appearance, because they tasted just fine and they were free, so what more do you want, really.  2 yums for the croquettes.