This week’s show is about seafood. For most of us growing up, our fish options were square, breaded, and fried. Now, finally, you can find fresh seafood in your neighborhood and it’s the perfect candidate for a quick, healthy, and delicious weeknight meal.
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Tips. It is essential to use seafood that is not on the endangered species list. The list changes periodically but you can keep up to date by visiting the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch list on line at mbbayaq.org.
Wild vs. cultivated mussels: Most of the mussels we find in restaurants, fish stores and supermarkets are blue mussels from North Atlantic waters. They probably came from Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia or Maine. You can tell right away whether they are wild or cultivated. Wild mussels have larger rougher looking shells, often with beards (a hairy string from the side of the shell) and barnacles attached. Cultivated mussels have small smooth dark shells and negligible beards, if any at all. The wild mussels are stronger in flavor, almost gamey. They also contain more grit than the cultivated. I prefer the more delicate taste and tender texture of the cultivated.
You should store your mussels in a bowl in the fridge with a damp towel on top and try to cook them in a few days, although they will last for up to a week. If they are of the wild variety, you need to scrub them; knock off any barnacles, and pull off the beard. If they are cultivated you should wash them and pull off any beard you find.
Do not soak mussels in fresh water or you will kill them and don’t clean them until right before you throw them in the pot to cook. If the shell is open, give the mussel a little tap on the counter. It should close within 30 seconds or so if it is alive. If it doesn’t close, toss it. Likewise if it doesn’t open when you cook it, toss it.
If mussels are of different sizes, remove them from the cooking liquid as they open so the smaller ones don’t over cook and get tough.
Every cook knows that fish needs to be perked up with a little acid. Although lemon and lime are the traditional choices, other high acid fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes will do the trick and add variety to the menu.
Fish is extremely perishable which is why you have to be careful where you buy it and how you store it. The best scenario is to buy it at a fish store where you know the fishmonger. All fish should be displayed on ice. If you buy it in a supermarket, get to know the people at the fish counter. Pick up the fish just before checking out and hurry home. Place the fish in a plastic bag on ice, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, and use it the day you purchase it.
If a fillet has a row of bones down the center, you can either pull them out with a pair of tweezers or needle nose pliers or you can cut down each side of them and discard the bony strip that you remove.
To get the smell of fish off your hands, rub your hands with toothpaste (yep, toothpaste!) and rinse them well.
The buttery flavor of Chardonnay pairs well with the richness of salmon.
Tools. The generous stovetop casserole that I used to cook the mussels is made by le Creuset and comes in a variety of colors. It’s wide cooking surface and high sides make it perfect for this dish and it is so attractive that it can go right to the table. It is available wherever le Creuset cookware is sold and can be found on line at Williams-Sonoma.
This is the ideal show to reach for my favorite Fish Spatula or Slotted Turner, this versatile tool does a lot more than handle fish efficiently and you will see it often on Sara’s Weeknight Meals. While it is available in gourmet cookware stores nationwide, those of you have not been able to find it will be happy to know that it is available by mail from both Broadway Panhandler and Sur le Table.
Ingredients. Kaffir Lime Leaves are produced in Southeast Asia and Hawaii. They have an intense citrus flavor with floral touches, are a shiny dark green, and seem to be attached in pairs. They are available fresh, frozen, and dried and can be found in gourmet and natural foods markets as well as in local Asian markets. Grated lime or lemon rind can be used as a substitute if they can not be found.
Lemongrass is a long, thin, woody, light green stalk with a small bulb at the root end. It has a bitter lemony flavor, can be found fresh or dried in Asian markets and is used in Southeast Asian cuisines.
The Thai-style Curry Paste that I use in the mussel recipe is a jarred seasoning that is available in gourmet or Asian markets. It comes in red, green, or yellow versions all hot and each slightly different in flavor. If you can’t find it locally, it can be ordered on line at Kalustyan’s.
Black Cod is not a cod at all. It is sablefish and is a good substitute for Chilean sea bass which is on the endangered list. Black cod has a high fat content which is what makes it and Chilean sea bass very moist and flavorful.
Pancetta is Italian bacon that has been cured with salt and spices but not smoked. It is available at specialty food shops.
French lentils, lentilles du Puy, are tiny green lentils that cook in no time and have a wonderful texture and flavor. To learn more about them, visit their official site La Lentille Verte du Puy. They are available at gourmet food shops and by mail from Kalustyan’s (212-685-3451).
Most Atlantic salmon are farm raised while most Pacific salmon are wild caught. Although farmed salmon outnumber wild salmon 85 to 1 in US markets, only wild-caught salmon from Alaska is certified as sustainable by The Marine Stewardship Council and is considered the best choice when purchasing salmon. Wild-caught salmon from California, Washington, and Oregon are just considered a good choice, better than farm-raised salmon, but some species have been placed on the Endangered Species list due to (but not limited to) loss of habitat and over fishing. It is important to keep an eye on current information on the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Marine Stewardship Council web sites.