Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pistachio and Pine Nut Crusted Halibut with Parsley and Arugula Vichyssoise

Over the last week, I've thrown four dinner parties in four different kitchens. (Pith has nothing on me). Before you ask me how I've had time to cook and entertain so much with a busy work schedule, I've been on vacation in NYC this week. No, I'm not omnipresent. (And yes, I'm still employed)!

On Wednesday, I made dinner for my Hopkins besties (plus one spouse) instead of our usual "sushi with my girls" night. I wanted to really impress them, but had a few dietary restrictions to work with, including pescatarian, kosher, and gluten free.  Fish seemed to be a wise choice. Not only is fish delicious, it's also heart healthy. The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of fish at least twice per week, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fortunately, there are endless ways to cook fish, so plenty of awesome posts to come! I had been meaning to try this recipe from Ottolenghi's Nopi, so I got really excited when I found this beautiful (sustainably sourced) halibut.

The recipe is a pistachio and pine nut crusted halibut with parsley and arugula vichyssoise. My friends and I could hardly pronounce it (we just called it the "vichy-what-what" or "vichy-vichy"), but a vichyssoise (vih-she-swah) is classically a puree of leeks, onions, and potatoes. This recipe also adds spinach, parsley, and wild arugula. I unfortunately could not find wild arugula, which has a stronger flavor, so I used baby arugula with great results. It's always okay to improvise.

The vichyssoise can be made ahead of time and also makes a ridiculously tasty soup. I brought my sister home some leftovers and she needed the recipe. She couldn't believe that it was so creamy with no added dairy. It's simple to make and is basically just sautéed veggies simmered in chicken broth (or vegetable broth if making vegetarian) and then pureed. The recipe calls for butter to sauté the vegetables, but I swapped it out for olive oil at the last minute with great results. The only place butter cannot be substituted is for the nut crust (details below).

I was pressed for time, so I grabbed a block of parmesan, some garlicky olives, and plenty of wine to serve as an appetizer. It was simple, tasty, and most importantly, kept the hangry guests at bay while I plated the fish. I also made a charred corn salad with jalapeño, red onion, lime juice, cilantro and parsley which was fresh, light and perfect with this dish. 

Thank you Nikki and Geoff for volunteering your beautiful home and Danielle for being a great sous chef (I know I'm bossy in the kitchen). And Jamie... 

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Pistachio and Pine Nut Crusted Halibut:
  • Save this recipe for when you find fresh looking halibut. I have several meals planned before I go to to the market, and choose one based on which ingredients look best that day. 
  • Become friendly with your fishmonger and don't be shy.
    • "What's fresh today?" is a totally acceptable question.
    • Request a center cut of fish (aka not the tail/end which is thinner and narrower). They often have more fish in the back if what you want is not displayed.
    • Specify what you need. They have a lot more practice skinning and portioning fish.
    • Ask them to put the fish over ice so it stays happy on the drive home.
  • Leave yourself enough time. 
    • This recipe is simple, but is somewhat time consuming (took me about 3 hours).
    • Consider making the vichyssoise and butter a day ahead. Then you'll only have to cook the fish (takes less than 10 minutes) the day of your dinner.
  • If you want a completely smooth sauce, pass the vichyssoise threw a sieve. I blended mine with a Vitamix and thought it tasted perfect without the added step.
  • You will definitely be teased for using radishes just as garnish. They're beautiful and worth it. 
  • Do not cook with wax paper instead of parchment paper...Oh lawd jesus there's a fire.
    (Thank you Geoff for keeping the girls calm)

Tools You'll Need:
  • Blender or food processor
  • Sieve
  • Parchment paper
  • Medium saucepan
  • Small baking sheet (about 6 x 8 inches) or make one out of tin foil
  • Half sheet pan
Parsley and Arugula Vichyssoise Ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 ounces parsley stems and leaves, blanched and chopped (instructions below) 
  • 5 1/4 ounces wild arugula, blanched and chopped (instructions below) 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or 1 Tbsp olive oil and 3 Tbsp unsalted butter per original recipe)
  • 2 medium shallots, coarsely chopped (3 1/2 ounces)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 medium leek, green and white parts, thinly sliced (7 ounces)
  • 2 large potatoes (russet or an all-purpose), peeled and roughly diced (13 ounces)
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade, but store bought is fine)
  • 1 ounce spinach leaves

Pistachio and Pine Nut Crust Ingredients:
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, roughly diced
  • 2 ounces shelled pistachios, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces pine nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Halibut Recipe Ingredients:
  • 6 halibut fillets, skinless and boneless (6 ounces each, 2 pounds 1/4 ounces total)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 radishes, halved, leaves and tips left on
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Serves 6 as a main course

Pistachio and Pine Nut Crusted Halibut with Vichyssoise Recipe:

To Make the Nut Butter:
Place the butter for the nut crust in a medium saucepan and cook for 4 minutes over medium-high heat, until golden brown. Remove from the heat and pass through a sieve to remove any brown bits. In a bowl, add the butter, pistachios, pine nuts, sugar, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. Spread the mixture evenly on a small baking sheet (about 6 x 8 inches) lined with parchment paper and chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours (or overnight). Once firm, cut the butter into 6 equal (halibut shaped) rectangles and return to the fridge until ready to use. 

To Make the Vichyssoise:
Bring a medium saucepan with salted water to a boil. Blanch the parsley and arugula for 30 seconds and then immediately transfer to an ice water bath. Once cool, strain and squeeze with a kitchen towel to dry. Coarsely chop.

Place olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and sauté shallots for 4-5 minutes until soft, but not browned. Add the garlic and leek and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until shiny. Add the chicken or vegetable stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower temperature and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until cooked but retaining a bite. Add the blanched parsley and arugula and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the spinach, 1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Let cool slightly. In batches, transfer to blender or food processor and blitz until completely smooth. Season to taste and set aside until ready to use.

To Make the Halibut:
Gently warm the vichyssoise sauce on the stovetop. Preheat the broiler to 400 degrees or to its highest setting. Spread the halibut on a parchment-lined baking sheet and coat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Roast in the oven for 6 minutes, until almost cooked. Remove fish and immediately lay a rectangle of nut butter on top of each fillet, then return to the oven and cook for a final 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and squeeze the lemon juice evenly over the fillets.  

While the fish is cooking, spoon warmed vichyssoise into 6 shallow wide bowls. Once ready, lay a halibut fillet on top of each bowl, place a radish for garnish, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Salmon Tartare

With 80 hour work weeks and only 4 off days per month, dating while in residency is seriously tough! Certain things make dating in residency even harder...I'm guilty of all of them...
1) Dating another resident:  
2) Specifically dating a surgery resident: 
3) Long distance with said surgery resident: 

So...when it comes to date night (which only happens once per month), I do not mess around. At baseline, I have a tendency to go a little (fine, a lot) overboard with things (I blame you, Ina Garten). Needless to say, I bring it to a new level of mashugana when it comes to the whole romantic cooking thing.

I constructed this salmon tartare recipe earlier this year when planning a special Valentine's Day dinner (or more accurately, a January 23rd close-enough-day dinner). I had very limited free time that month while on a busy Cardiology rotation, so I planned the main course weeks in advanced. I actually had the butcher deliver a rack of lamb to Emory Hospital, which I stored in the staffroom fridge. I used it to made rosemary dijon crusted rack of lamb served over saffron rice with currants, pistachios and herbs.

Since the main course was on the heavy side, I aimed to make a very simple and refreshing salmon appetizer using very basic ingredients that highlighted the freshness of the fish. (I am highly offended by tartare recipes that mask the delicate salmon flavors with mustards and other pungent sauces, so I avoided any overpowering ingredients). The outcome was a light and rich dish that looked beautiful in my floating martini glasses chilled on ice. It was a memorable night, and the bar is definitely set high for next year...

The dish was so good that I replicated it just a few days later when co-hosting a dinner party with a neighbor. You know a recipe is a hit when guests fight over the last few bits of tartar-ey goodness at the bottom of the bowl. We served the appetizer in the kitchen with champagne and crackers and took turns stirring the risotto that we served with pan seared chilean sea bass as the main course. So much fun!

Four months later, I'm still hot and heavy for this dish, and so are my guests. I made the salmon tartare for my sister and her roommates this past Sunday along with Ramp Pesto and Spring Peas and it definitely got "wows."

Before we get to the recipe, just a quick word on consuming raw fish. The biggest hazard to raw fish consumption are parasites. The term "sushi-grade" gets thrown around often, but its meaning is not well regulated. There is a lot of contradictory and vague information on the internet on this topic.

I interviewed the fishmonger at Fairway Market and Whole Foods about their "sushi-grade" fish and got very different answers.  At Fairway, I was told the "organic" salmon was safe to eat raw. But when I asked about how it was different than the non-organic salmon beside it, he could not answer. The fishmonger at Whole Foods, on the other hand, would only recommend their "deep-frozen" salmon or tuna for raw consumption. He explained that the freezing process kills off parasites, but because the fish is flash frozen at such a low temperature, it preserves the texture, color, and taste of the fish.

While it's very possible that the Fairway salmon was actually "sushi-grade," I felt uncomfortable with the explanation I was given and personally would not eat it raw. It's illogical to assume that fresh or "organic" fish would equates to lower risk for infection. It's true that certain species and types of fish (fresh vs salt water or wild vs farmed) are at varying degrees of risk for infection, but as a non-expert on the topic, I prefer taking extra precautions. So please do your research prior to buying salmon for this recipe.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Salmon Tartare:
  • Mise en place! Do your prep (peel, slice, chop) before starting! It will keep you more organized and will minimize the time the raw fish is out of the refrigerator.  
  • Cutting salmon will be easier if it's still slightly frozen
  • Taste as you go and adjust the recipe accordingly. This recipe is very delicate, so I'd recommend adding in ingredients gradually until you reach the desired result. Too much sesame oil can ruin a dish. Don't be that guy.
  • I prefer generously sized chunks of salmon, but it's definitely a personal preference. The dish will be equally as awesome with smaller pieces of salmon. 
Salmon Tartare Ingredients:
  • 1.5 pounds sushi grade salmon
  • 2.5 tablespoons fresh lime juice (juice from about 2-3 limes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
  • 5 tablespoons of scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced. Plus extra for garnish (about 2-3 scallions)
  • 1 serrano pepper, minced (about 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 habañero pepper, minced (about 3/4 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 inch of whole ginger)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons of sesame seeds for garnish (preferably both white and black, if available)  
Serves 5 as an appetizer

Salmon Tartare Recipe:

If the salmon is still frozen, keep the fish in its packaging and run under cold water to partially thaw till just the middle remains slightly firm. Remove from the packaging. If salmon is not frozen, place in freezer for 15-20 minutes prior to handling.

Dice Salmon into Small Chunks (roughly 1/4'' x 1/4'' x 1/2''):
Take the (mostly) thawed salmon and slice lengthwise into 1/4'' sheets using a sharp knife.  For the salmon pieces that are rectangular (i.e have a constant width along the sheet), cut them in half lengthwise to form long strips (about 1/2'' wide). If the salmon sheets are wide at one end and taper off towards the other, start by cutting the sheet crosswise at the wide-narrow transition point. The wider piece is then cut in half lengthwise to form strips, whereas the narrow piece should already be at the desired width. Last, cut each strip crosswise into 1/4'' pieces to form bite-size chunks. Place in a glass or nonreactive bowl.

    Add the lime juice, lime zest, scallions, serrano and habañero pepper, ginger, sesame oil, and olive oil to the bowl. Toss gently. Add the salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and cilantro. Again, toss gently. Season to taste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least one hour.

    In the meantime, place the white sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat and combine with the black sesame seeds.  Set aside.

    When ready to serve, assemble the tartare as individual portions or plate in a decorative platter for sharing. Sprinkle each plate with a generous pinch of sesame seeds and a few chopped scallions for garnish.

    Monday, May 23, 2016

    Ramp Pesto with Spring Peas

    I'm crashing at my younger sister's NYC apartment this week. Apparently, her roommates only agreed to host me because they knew I would cook for them. Reasonable, I guess. After throwing them a posh dinner party last night, I'm practically an honorary roommate. I'll save the details of my first course (salmon tartare) as well as my experience grocery shopping in NYC (expensive) for a later post. Today, is all about ramps. 

    Allicum tricoccum aka ramps are the perfect spring-time ingredient to revamp classic recipes, such as pesto sauce, into the star of any dinner party. Ramps are available from late winter through spring and are all the rage in the culinary world. They can be found on any hip restaurant's menu, so naturally I'd feature them on my blog. Because, you know...I'm trendy. 

    The garlicky, oniony, and pungent flavor of ramps lend itself well to creating a rich, savory pesto sauce. Though pesto gets a bad rap for being high in calories, its main ingredients are heart-healthy olive oil and nuts. So there's definitely a place for pesto if eaten in moderation (though this recipe makes that nearly impossible). May the odds be ever in your favor. 

    To make ramp pesto, I substituted basil and garlic with the ramps from my favorite pesto recipe. Unlike classic pesto, the ramps are blanched to cut some of the sharpness, and lemon juice and zest are added for acidity. The sauce is finished with spring peas to add a sweet note.  I served the ramp pesto over fresh egg tagliolini from Little Italy, sliced garlic bread, and plenty of wine. It turned out ridiculously well. Get your hands on some ramps while you can...Seriously! 

    Tips/tricks to make the perfect ramp pesto:
    • Fresh, good quality ingredients are essential for a successful pesto sauce. Olive oil and parmesan vary greatly in quality and taste. Don't skimp on these two items.
    • When zesting a lemon, only include the yellow skin (flavedo). Avoid the white pith, which is bitter. 
    • A neutral flavor pasta is best as the ramps should be the highlight. 
      • I used tagliolini, but linguine or fettuccine would be other great options. 
      • Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al-dente. The fresh pasta I used only took 2-3 minutes. 
      • Do not rinse pasta after draining. The starch helps the sauce stick.

    Ramp Pesto with Spring Peas Ingredients:
    • 2 generous tablespoons pine nuts plus more for garnish
    • 2 generous tablespoons walnuts
    • 25 ramps, root ends trimmed
    • 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
    • 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
    • 2/3 cup olive oil
    • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) plus more to serve
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 tablespoons of frozen peas
    Yields about 2 cups

    Ramp Pesto with Spring Peas Recipe:
    • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (water should taste like the ocean) and blanch ramps in the boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Remove ramps with tongs and immediately immerse in an ice water bath. Save the boiling water for pasta. Dry ramps very well by squeezing in a kitchen towel.

    • Add the pine nuts, walnuts, lemon zest, ramps, salt, and a few grinds of pepper to a food processor. Chop for 15 seconds. Add the lemon juice. With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube. Add the parmesan and blend until combined. Transfer the sauce and frozen peas to a saute pan set over low heat. Gently heat until just warm and peas defrosted. Season to taste
      • Note: You may need slightly more or less oil to reach the desired pesto consistency
      • Optional Step: Toast a handful of pine nuts on a dry skillet for 3 minutes over medium-low heat to be used for garnish. Set aside.
    • In the meantime, cook the pasta in the salted water according to the package directions. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, remove from the boiling water with tongs and place directly into the saute pan. Toss the pasta until well coated in sauce and then transfer to a serving (or individual) bowl(s). Add grated parmesan and toasted pine nuts for garnish. Serve immediately.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2016

    Salmon in Chriameh Sauce

    To start, I'm of Libyan-Jewish background and I grew up eating a dish called chriameh, which is fish cooked in a spicy tomato sauce.  I have fond memories of my Libyan-grandmother making mass quantities for Shabbat dinner to serve her 16 children (plus their spouses, children and grandchildren). It was astonishing.

    On a whim, I tried Yotam Ottolenghi's version from his book Jerusalem. It has similar ingredients to my own family "recipe," but is different as ours is not written down anywhere and measurements are all eyeballed. I've had many friends request my chriameh recipe, but giving instructions on a dish with very imprecise quantities is challenging. But now, thanks to the brilliant Ottolenghi (you'll eventually realize I am slightly obsessed), I have found the perfect recipe to recommend to my friends, patients, and (blog readers? ha)... It's savory. It's spicy. It's the real deal!  Guaranteed to make you feel warm and happy inside. And it's also good for you!

    [Tangent] Many (but not all) my dishes focus on heart-healthy, often Mediterranean style foods. If you couldn't guess from the blog name, I'm an Internal Medicine resident at Emory University with an interest in Preventative Medicine and Cardiology. Healthy cooking (without sacrificing taste) is right up my alley, so that's sort of the direction I plan to focus my blogging. Though I have some great..uhh..less healthy recipes that are too good not to share. Life's all about moderation, right?
    Anyway, back to the chriameh...Though we usually serve this fish as an appetizer on Friday evenings, it most definitely can (and should) be made as a main course. Truthfully, it deserves all the limelight! It should be served with couscous, rice, challah bread, or even matzo on Passover. Really any vessel that allows you to enjoy every last lick of delicious red sauce is appropriate. It's traditionally served with white fish (sea bass, halibut, snapper, tilapia, etc), but I very much prefer making it with salmon. Salmon is my favorite fish (probably food in general), so many more salmon posts to come! You should cook the dish in a large, round frying pan with a lid. I used a 3 quart cast iron enamel paella pan, but any pan that distributes heat evenly is perfect.

    Below is the recipe, but first here are a few tricks/tips to make the perfect salmon chriameh. 
    1. Quality salmon is best enjoyed medium-rare (or rarer).
      •  It's okay to prepare the sauce ahead of time, but the salmon should be cooked just before serving!
      • I suggest only cooking the fish for 7 minutes as it will continue to cook in its sauce.
    2. For those making this in advanced for Shabbat and plan to use a warming plate, you should significantly cut back on the cooking time or you'll dry out the fish!
      • There are very few things worse than dry fish.
      • At least for salmon chriameh, I'd probably keep the fish close to raw in the middle as it will continue cooking on the warmer for several hours before it's served. This should result in a beautiful salmon cooked to medium rather than a well-done misery. Gross.
    3. White fish dries out quite easily.
      •  So cook times are especially important!
      • I'd still recommend salmon, though, for its superior taste as well as its "good" fats.
    4. This recipe is not complicated, but has a bunch of ingredients. I always do all the prep before starting so that I have a mise en place to keep me organized.
      1. Measure out all spices ahead of time and organize them into mini bowls or a little platter
      2. Wash, cut, peal, etc any veggies
      3. Read the recipe in its entirely at least once before starting

    Chriameh Ingredients:
    • Scant 1/2 cup sunflower oil (I prefer olive oil)
    • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour (Optional. I generally omit)
    • 1 lb salmon fillets (skin on) cut into 3-4 equal sized pieces
      • Alternatively may use white fish (sea bass, halibut, snapper, tilapia, etc)
    • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
    • 2 tsp sweet paprika
    • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, dry toasted and freshly ground (fresh pre-ground spices are ok if grinding isn't your idea of fun, but worth trying at some point)
    • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (a bit more if you want it extra spicy)
    • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 green chili, coarsely chopped
    • 2/3 cup water
    • 3 tbsp tomato paste
    • 2 tsp superfine sugar
    • 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges, plus 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Chriameh Recipe:
    • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat in a large frying pan with a lid
    • (Option 1): Place the flour in a shallow bowl seasoned generously with salt and pepper
      • Toss the fish in it
      • Shake off the excess flour
    • (Option 2): Skip the flour and just season both sides of fish with salt and pepper
    • Sear the fish for a minute or two on each side, until golden
    • Remove the fish and wipe the pan clean
    • Place garlic, spices, chili and 2 tablespoons of oil in a food processor and blitz to form a thick paste. Add a bit more oil if needed to combine the ingredients
    • Pour the remaining oil in the frying pan, heat well, and add the spice paste
    • Stir and fry for just 30 seconds, so that the spices don't burn
    • Carefully add the water and tomato paste to stop the spices from cooking further
    • Bring the sauce to a simmer and add sugar, lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and some pepper
    • Season to taste
    • Put the fish in the sauce, bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pan and cook for 7 to 11 minutes
      • Cook time will vary depending on thickness of fish, but cook till just done (or slightly under done)
    • Remove the pan from heat, take off the lid, and allow to cool slightly
    • Serve the fish just warm or at room temperature with cilantro and lemon wedges as garnish