Wednesday night is indoor soccer night. Whenever Lauren finishes a game of soccer, you can bet she doesn’t want to eat something heavy; the same is true if she eats before a game of soccer. Case in point: heavy foods do not make for a good meal before or after a lot of physical activity. Sometimes, it’s best to keep things light and fresh.
I’ve already written about preparing your food without a heavy hand in previous posts–less is often more. If you want to go light, fish is an easy go-to protein; but, don’t think that fish is your only option. Many proteins have deliciously light preparations. Beef? Try carpaccio with an arugula salad. Chicken? Grill up some tenders with fresh lemon and thyme. Pork? Crusted tenderloin medallions with julienne green apple and zucchini. You get the point. Our most recent Wednesday soccer night brought us butter poached halibut with lemon-dill creme fraiche, saffron infused couscous, and a cucumber-pickle salad.
Butter Poached Halibut
When my mother was reactivated from the naval reserves after September 11, the house felt a little empty. My two older brothers were gone (Ryan was living in Utah, and Randy was in Paraguay; my mother was sent to Pensacola, FL for training and deployment), which left two lonely guys in a house with nothing to do. My father has always done most of the cooking in the family, not because my mother can’t, because I think he just enjoys it more. This means no mushrooms and no fish, because Mom hates those two things. When she left, Dad decided we were going to start eating fish. Nothing too fancy mind you; simple breaded fish with a squeeze of lemon or tartar sauce goes a long way (of course, we’re going to take a step further with this recipe, but don’t think you have to eat it this way). Normally, Dad would make the standard American dinner entree: main dish with one or two sides. With Mom gone, and the house feeling a bit empty, he just kept things simple. We ate fish fairly often, which was fine by me, because I like fish quite a bit. This dish reminds me of those days. Things were quiet; things were simple; dinner for two.
2 Halibut Filets
1 Stick unsalted butter
1 Tblspn lemon zest
Pinch of salt
In a medium frying pan (preferably non-stick), melt the stick of better over medium heat. Salt the halibut and place skin side down in pan. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the halibut and let the fish cook for 2-3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and begin spooning the hot butter over the filets. Continue this process for 4-5 minutes. Carefully flip the halibut filets over and let cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Depending on the size of the fish, this should cook each filet so it is flaky and moist. Cooking times always vary, especially with varying stove-tops, so be sure to check fish while it is cooking.
Lemon-Dill Creme Fraiche
Creme fraiche is sort of like the French version of sour cream (or the French version of mascarpone). It has a firmer texture than sour cream and it’s a bit tangier. It might be hard to find in your local grocer–here in Utah, Harmon’s has it located in the deli section with the specialty cheeses and meats–but you can easily use sour cream or mascarpone for this refreshing sauce as well.
3 Tblspn Creme Fraiche
1 1/2 Tbslpn fresh dill, roughly chopped
1 Tspn lemon juice
1 Tspn lemon zest
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine. Don’t whip the cream too much, or it will lose its texture and could potentially become clumpy. If it does, add a little lemon juice to lighten it up again.
The little salad is mostly a palette cleanser, so you don’t need to make tons of it. It’s nice to have something off to the side of your main dish that you dive into every now and then just to refresh the dish and then go back for more of the main entree.
1 English Cucumber (seedless)
1 Dill Pickle
1 Tspn Champagne Vinegar
1 Tspn Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pinch of salt
You actually only need half the cucumber for this recipe, but feel free to use the whole thing if you want more. Also, you want a dill pickle that has a good crunch to it. I use Clausen’s Kosher Dills, but Vlasic dills are just as good. You don’t need to peel the cucumber. Start by cubing half the cucumber into 1/4 inch cubes. Do the same for the pickle. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine.
Couscous comes in various forms, but for this recipe we are simply using instant couscous found in most grocery stores (real couscous would require a lot of steaming and more time). I was first introduced to couscous when I was living in Trapani, a small city in western Sicily. African culture influences Sicilian culture quite a bit, which is why Sicilian cuisine often infuses more spices and bolder flavors. However, when it comes to couscous, the Sicilians like it pretty plain. Usually, Sicilians serve couscous with fried fish. They fry the fish whole, fluff their couscous, and then pour some fish broth over the couscous, for a little added flavor. It’s a meal all by itself, and it’s delicious. I wanted to marry memories of my father’s fish with memories of Sicilian couscous, so I decided that a little saffron would boost the flavor without over-complicating the dish.
A quick word about saffron: it’s expensive and bold. You don’t need to use saffron in this dish, but it adds a sweet and earthy flavor to the couscous. Use it sparingly, as it is expensive, but can easily take over a dish if used too abundantly.
1 Cup Moroccan Style Couscous
1 Cup Fish or Chicken Stock
1 Tblspn Butter
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Saffron
The directions on the couscous package usually explain fairly easily how to prepare couscous–we’re just adding an additional step with the saffron and replacing the water with stock. Melt the butter in a small pot and combine with stock. Add salt and saffron. Bring liquid to a small boil and add couscous. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Immediately cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the couscous with a fork. It should be light and fluffy.
Plating is simple for this dish. Add a spoonful of couscous on one side of the plate and drizzle some of the butter that the fish was cooked in over the couscous. Place one halibut filet over the couscous and add a dallop of creme fraiche to top. On the opposite side of the plate, add a 1/4 cup of cucumber-pickle salad.
Fresh. Simple. Tasty. Eat it after a physically exhausting day. Eat it if you’re making dinner for two. Eat it because it’s good. Enjoy.
Pogi helped with dinner the other night, by coming in to see if we needed any help.
We told him that we got this. Besides, he only likes tuna and cat food.
And marshmallows; actually, he doesn’t really eat the marshmallow–he pulls it out of the bag and tosses it around for a while. Well done cat. Well done.
Pogi is a true tuna fan. I like tuna as well–in a can or fresh–its’ all good. He won’t eat salmon, which is fine by me, because salmon is delicious–more for me. We choose to get our omega-3s in our own way. He likes his omegas it straight out of the can, no salt needed. Lauren and I prefer something a little more sophisticated.
Honey-Lemon Salmon with Bacon Panna Pasta
Cooking fish is tricky. Much like chicken, fish will easily dry out if you overcook it. The secret to cooking flaky, moist fish? Only cook one side. If you cook one side of the fish on medium-low heat, you’ll end up with a lightly crusted bottom and a buttery soft top. Fish cooks quickly enough that you won’t burn the bottom before the heat cooks the rest of the fish all the way through. Admittedly, sometimes this will leave a slightly underdone side, which may not be the preferred texture for everyone. Lauren doesn’t like raw fish, and if you only cook one side, you can see how this could be a dilemma. The solution? Carefully flip the fish over when it’s nearing completion and you won’t have to worry about any raw fishy textures or flavors.
I also find that fish is the perfect protein to learn how to tell whether or not your meat is done by using the tip of your finger. Find the thickest part of the fish, generally the center, and push down with the tip of your index finger. It should offer some resistance with a slight springiness. This will work for most proteins, especially most cuts of steak, but I would avoid using this method with very thin cuts of meat–it just doesn’t work the same. If you don’t want to use the 1-side method for fish, cook both sides and test the readiness with the tip of your finger: mild resistance, slight spring. Or just poach your fish in clarified butter. You can’t go wrong with butter.
This recipe will prepare two 6oz salmon fillets
2 Tblspn Honey
3 Tblspn Unsalted Butter
1 Tblspn Brown Sugar
2 Tspn Lemon Juice (freshly squeezed)
1 Tspn Dijon Mustard
Zest from 1 lemon
Prepare a medium frying pan on medium-high heat. Melt the butter and brown sugar. Add honey, lemon juice, and zest. Reduce to medium-low heat. Whisk in the mustard once the all the ingredients have melted together. Salt both sides of the salmon fillets generously and then place side-by-side in your prepared frying pan. Let them cook for 6-7 minutes on one side over medium-low heat. Depending on the thickness of your fillets, adjust the cooking time as required. While the fillets are cooking, with a small spoon ladle small amounts of the honey-lemon-butter over the top of the salmon (this will also aid in the cooking process). You won’t need to cook both sides of the fish as I previously stated, but if you’d like, flip the fillet over for 30 seconds to a minute to complete the cooking process. Set them aside on wax paper and briefly let them rest.
Bacon Panna Pasta:
Whenever I prepare a basic cream sauce for pasta, say a traditional Italian panna sauce (alfredo sauce in the US), I almost always start with butter and shallots or garlic. For this particular pasta, I first start with bacon fat and work from there. Who would argue with that? Your waistline maybe, but you can’t please everyone.
4 Strips thick-cut bacon, cut into thin strips (traditional or smoked, doesn’t matter)
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Pint Heavy Cream
3/4 Cup finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Pasta of your choice (recommend a long pasta such as spaghetti or fettucine)
In a medium saucepan, cook bacon strips over medium heat. When the bacon begins to shrink and crisp, remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to absorb grease. You should be left with bacon fat in your saucepan. Reduce the bacon fat by half, reduce your heat to med-low, and add the minced garlic. Work quickly, as you don’t want to burn your garlic (10-15 seconds over med-low heat). Add the heavy cream and whisk to incorporate the bacon fat. Let sit for 3-4 minutes, whisking once in between. Add a dash of salt and pepper, then add the parmiggiano. Whisk until you are left with a smooth texture. Add salt to taste (generally, I add a little more salt when I’m making a more traditional panna sauce, but since this one uses bacon fat, which is already salty, you shouldn’t need much more, if any).
Cook the pasta according to the package directions with plenty of salt in your pasta water (Thomas Keller says it should be as salty as the ocean). For this meal, I used spaghetti (number 5 thickness, but 3 or 7 is fine as well). When done, drain the pasta water, but don’t rinse your pasta. Mix 3/4 of the sauce with the pasta.
I prefer pasta bowls whenever we eat pasta, but a flat plate is fine here, especially since this sauce is not particularly runny. Using tongs, grab a portion amount of one end of the pasta and twist onto the plate, so that you create a small mound of pasta in the center of the plate or bowl. Spoon over some extra sauce. Place one salmon fillet directly over the center of the pasta. Garnish with parsley and bacon crisps. If you’d like, top your salmon with a slice of lemon.