Go Fish

When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine suggested we buy a membership to Costco, to help defray the cost of things like diapers. We snorted at the time, because we planned on using cloth. But three months of daily loads of laundry had us questioning both environmental and practical benefits of that decision.

salmon and cantaloupe

So we got a Costco membership, over Rich’s objections. He just didn’t see the point of having to pay to shop somewhere. I kept on insisting we’d find a use for it, and I like the fact that the company pays a living wage. I also like that I don’t have to make us lunch or dinner when we hit it up on a weekend because of all the free samples, and I know he likes any opportunity to eat pork, even if it’s just on the end of a toothpick. He finally relented when, after our microwave gave up the ghost, he discovered that the difference in price between a new one at Costco and elsewhere more than covered the cost of membership.

But other than the occasional small appliance, I keep going back to Costco for a relatively short list of items: bulk hazelnuts, bulk frozen fish, bulk brown rice and produce in the wintertime. I’ve never been bashful about my love of fish; that’s why I call this blog “mostly vegetarian.” And it turns out that Lilli adores salmon as much as her mommy. So I often grab a few frozen filets the night before and toss them in a bowl in the fridge to defrost during the day. I rub a little olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt on the pieces, and simply roast them in a hot toaster oven for less than 10 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner. I cook up a huge pot of brown rice in my rice cooker once a week, and enjoy that on the side.

Elton John

Fish? Did you say fish?

But when I saw this recipe for salmon with cantaloupe and fried shallots in my 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook, I knew we had a keeper. Lilli not only loves salmon, but she also eats cantaloupe at nearly every meal. And when I told Rich I found a recipe that called for both salmon and cantaloupe he noted that there is a slurry of that in her bib after almost every dinner. The fact that this had a dressing of fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice, my own favorite trinity, was icing on the cake.

I actually had everything in the house for this dish, so it is a pantry dish, at least in my world. I eliminated the horseradish from my version, simply because I despise the taste, but I’ll leave it in parenthesis in case that’s up your alley. I also left out the celery leaves because I never have celery in the house. Buttermilk seems to always linger next to the milk in our fridge.

Fried Shallots, Round 2

Fried shallots, round 2.

I would suggest zesting the lime before you juice it; I wish the printed recipe would have said that. I didn’t scoop the cantaloupe, but used the small pieces I serve Lilli, which turned out to be just about a ¼ of an inch in size.

I’d never fried shallots before and overdid the first batch. Set a timer for four minutes and don’t think they need to be any darker when the timer beeps, because they don’t.

The salmon from Costco is skinless, but I followed the directions on the recipe and it worked beautifully.

This dish is fantastic. As Rich put it, “wow, this was like eating in a fancy restaurant!” Costco, people. Costco.

Salmon with Cantaloupe and Fried Shallots from the 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

(2 Tablespoons freshly grated horseradish)

Juice of 1 fresh lime (remember to zest the lime first!)

1 Tablespoon Asian fish sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Shallots

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 large shallots, thinly sliced crosswise and separated into rings

Cornstarch, for dusting

Salt

Salmon and garnishes

Four 6-ounce salmon fillets with skin (or, four pieces of frozen salmon from Costco you will have defrosted the night before)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1/3 small cantaloupe, scooped into small balls or cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

(Freshly grated horseradish)

(1/4 cup celery leaves)

Directions

  1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the horseradish if you’re using it, lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the fried shallots: In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil. Put the shallot rings in a colander and dust heavily with cornstarch, shaking to coat them well. Add the shallots to the hot oil in an even layer and fry over moderate heat until browned and crisp, about four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried shallots to paper towels to drain. Season the shallots lightly with salt.
  3. Prepare the salmon: Preheat the oven to 400F. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the salmon skin side down and cook over high heat until the skin is browned and crisp, about three minutes. Turn the fillets and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook for about three minutes, or until the salmon fillets are just cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, divide the cantaloupe among four shallow bowls. Drizzle with the buttermilk and season lightly with salt. Lay the salmon on the cantaloupe and spoon the vinaigrette on top. Sprinkle with the lime zest and grated horseradish. Scatter the celery leaves and fried shallots over the salmon and serve right away.

The vinaigrette and fried shallots cane be kept at room temperature for up to four hours.

 

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Urban Adventure

I’m not sure if it was the aroma of Rich’s challah French toast or the furry little paw poking at my nose that woke me up last Saturday morning, but when Rich overheard the one-sided conversation I was having with the owner of said paw, he strolled in to see what was happening.  He was still holding his beloved cast-iron skillet, wiping down the remains of the morning’s meal.  “Would you like to have an urban adventure, Ms. Sleepy, Sleepy?” he asked. “There’s an exhibit at the ICA I’m interested in seeing that ends today. We can go to the exhibit, then go to Flour bakery for a bite.” I had my coat on before he had put down his skillet.

The exhibit Rich was interested in viewing was a retrospective of the expressionist artist Mark Bradford. A 2009 MacArthur Fellow, Bradford is an artist without a paint brush, utilizing found art — most often billboards he’s scavenged around his native Los Angeles — to create collages that explore race, class and gender in urban American society. Like an archaeologist digging through a site’s remains, Bradford scrapes away at the layers on billboards.

Mark Bradford -- Kryptonite (2006)

I had never been to the ICA, and there were a few things about the museum I really appreciated. The first was them waiving me through when I flashed my university ID. (Why had I never been here before?!?) I loved that they provided free audio tours on iPods for all their visitors; another option was to call the number printed on the descriptive card next to each painting. Since it was the weekend, we opted for using free minutes and left the iPods for other visitors. I also really enjoyed that throughout the exhibit were docents who would gather perplexed visitors, myself included, and walk us through some ideas that the artist was perhaps trying to convey.

After the museum, we walked a few blocks over to Flour bakery. I haven’t had a ton of stuff from Flour, but I’ve loved every bite I have had there; I still think fondly of a grilled tofu sandwich I had at their Washington Street location last October.  But it was the daily special, the salmon cakes, that caught my eye.  Full confession: Even though I’ve considered myself a vegetarian for good chunks of my life, I absolutely adore fish. As long it has fins and scales, I will eat it with relish — or make that tarter sauce. Steamed, fried, poached, pickled or baked, I love it. I remember once, when I was in high school and had been a vegetarian — er, pescatarian — for years, that I announced to my parents I was going vegan. “But Molly,” my mom pointed out, “you love fish.”

So clearly I had to have the salmon cakes. I actually got them to see how they compared to mine. During the layoff, salmon cakes had become a house favorite. It’s a total pantry recipe; I’d always have the canned salmon, the panko bread crumbs, mayo and eggs in the house. The toughest and ickiest part of the preparation was removing the bones from the canned fish. I am thrilled to report I have discovered Bumblebee now makes a package of salmon already skinned and deboned, costing less than $2. And so inspired by Flour, I revisited an old favorite, this time with sweet potato and chipotle.

Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man

Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Mayo

Ingredients

1 can or package salmon — approximately 5 oz.

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 green onions, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

In a 2-quart saucepan, boil the sweet potato in 2 cups water until tender.

Drain potato. After it cools, place the cubes in a medium-size bowl and mash well. To this, add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well-combined. I find that using my hands is the best way to get this done.

Heat oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Using 1/4 cup of fish mixture per patty, form patties and fry in skillet over medium flame, approximately 5 minutes per side, until golden on both sides. Add more oil to skillet if necessary.

While the patties are frying, make the chipotle mayo.

Chipotle Mayo

Combine in a bowl:

4 tablespoons mayo

1 chipotle pepper and its adobo sauce, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon juice

Flour served their salmon cakes with a mesclun salad on the side. Tonight we had ours resting atop a pile of garlicky chard studded with currants. It was delicious.