Sunday, June 7, 2015

Tomato Shrimp Scampi

So, I think my fellow dinner mates have renewed confidence in my ability to prepare an edible meal following the Fish & Chips debacle, which, of course, you didn’t read about but I told you about in my Fish Taco post.

We should admit our mistakes, right?  

But, let’s redirect our attention to scampi.  Not just any scampi but one of the easiest, most delicious recipes I’ve ever made.  I never made scampi before this recipe -- which I have made many times -- so I can't comment on how it compares to alternatives, both in terms of ease and time, although Martha Stewart's garlicky, lemony version looks scrumptious and also easy to make.

A friend from Delaware, with whom I used to work and who also likes to cook, gave me this recipe that she clipped several years ago from a magazine advertisement peddling cooking wine and RealLemon juice.  Whenever I make this dish, I also conjure up a wonderful memory...she and I would routinely share and try each other’s gems, including one for Blue Goose Cake which is a wonderful coffee-chocolate confection with a buttercream icing.  I don’t know who is originally responsible for this amazing cake recipe but I suspect it's from one of the many cafe, coffee houses or restaurants with the same moniker!  I'll make it and post the recipe this summer.  

I miss working with her every day.

Anyway, scampi are actually small lobster-like crustaceans, fished in the Mediterranean, that Italians traditionally prepare by sautéing in butter, wine, lemon, olive oil and garlic, garnished with parsley.  Lidia Bastianich tells us that when Americans began to make the dish, they substituted more readily-available shrimp but kept the scampi name (so I guess the recipe name is a bit redundant!).  

Most scampi recipes include the usual ingredients noted, but this recipe adds tomatoes.  I, of course, substitute a nice crisp white wine (typically a Sauvignon Blanc) for the cooking wine and freshly squeezed lemon juice for the RealLemon called for in the original recipe.  I use a can of San Marzano tomatoes instead of fresh plum tomatoes but I sometimes supplement with some fresh plums, particularly if they are in season and full of flavor.  You can’t beat the sweetness of San Marzano tomatoes and, since they come in a can already chopped, they are too convenient not to use. 

As this NYTimes article supports, scampi preparation is open to interpretation and I like this interpretation…very much! 

Dinner mates seemed to like it as well.

Faith restored.

Tomato Shrimp Scampi
Adapted from a recipe in an old advertisement

8 ounces of fettuccine
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (this is better than minced because you get little garlic bits with each forkful!) 
1 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, diced
3 fresh plum tomatoes, dices (but only if sweet and in season!)
1/2 cup crisp, dry white wine or vermouth
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
4 scallions, sliced
1 pound of shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinses and patted dry (I use frozen in a bag)
4 tablespoons of basil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Parsley to garnish

Cook the fettuccine until al dente.  Sauté garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for two minutes.  Add tomatoes and cook for a five minutes.  Add wine, lemon juice and sugar and simmer for few minutes more.  Add scallions, shrimp and red pepper flakes and cook until shrimp turn pink, about 3-5 minutes.  Stir in basil and parmesan cheese and immediately toss with cooked fettuccine.  Garnish with fresh parsley and serve!
This dish is delicious with a nice red wine and some crusty bread.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fish Tacos

A few turns ago when it was my turn to cook, I decided to make Fish & Chips.

What’s that you say?  You don’t recall reading about Fish & Chips?  Well, there is a good reason for that.  
It was a colossal disaster.  Apparently, you can’t bake a batter that’s meant to be fried.  For as skilled as I am with the culinary arts, that little detail evaded me.  Now I know and I will never make that mistake again. 

It appears, however, that C. was aware of this technicality because she made Fish Tacos her last turn and the batter-dipped pieces of cod not only presented beautifully, but were delicious.

We won't discuss how my attempt presented.

People in Mexico have been eating fish tacos for a very long time.  Shells, made from crushed corn and slathered with a bean paste, served as a craft for the catch of the day that was fried in cast-iron skillets over an open fire. The coastal delicacy traveled north to Baja, California around 45 years ago.  Americans gussied-up the experience to include shredded slaw, a mayonnaise-based spread, salsa and a spritz of fresh lime.  The pure simplicity of this dish, served at many roadside stands along the Baja coast and in restaurants and food trucks everywhere now, is eclipsed by the flavor punch it packs.  

Perfect Fish Tacos

2 pounds skinless red snapper or other mild white fish fillets
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white rice flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups club soda
Vegetable oil (for frying; about 8 cups)

To Assemble
16–32 small corn tortillas
Cabbage and Jicama Slaw
Fresno Chile Hot Sauce , for serving;
Sliced avocado, cilantro leaves with tender stems, Sliced pickled jalapeños, and lime wedges for serving

Remove any pin bones from fish fillets. Cut each fillet in half lengthwise. Cut each half on a diagonal into 1" strips. Work with the natural shape of the fish as you cut; this will help the pieces stay together instead of falling apart when frying.

Whisk all-purpose flour, rice flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in club soda until no lumps remain; adjust with more club soda or rice flour as needed to make it the consistency of thin pancake batter.

Fit a large pot with a deep-fry thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2". Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°.

Working in batches of 5–7 pieces at a time, coat fish in batter, letting excess drip off, then carefully place in oil (to avoid splattering, lower fish into oil pointing away from you). If you overcrowd the pot, the oil temperature will drop dramatically and the fish may stick together.
Fry fish, turning occasionally with a fish spatula or slotted spoon and maintaining oil temperature at 350°, until crust is puffed, crisp, and golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet; season immediately with salt.

While fish is frying, use tongs to heat tortillas one at a time directly over a gas burner, moving them often, until lightly charred and puffed in spots, about 1 minute per side.

Transfer to a plate; cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Top tortillas with fish, slaw, hot sauce, avocado, cilantro, and pickled jalapeños. Serve with lime wedges.

As you can see from the photo, we enjoyed a lovely Malbec from Argentina with our little fried gems.