Basic Seafood Cooking Rules
Keep your fish or shellfish in the refrigerator until right before you cook it to keep it as fresh as possible. Don’t leave it siting on the counter while you prepare the rest of the meal.
Don’t work in the same area with raw seafood and cooked seafood. There is too much danger of cross contamination.
Cook seafood with the skin on whenever possible and appropriate. It helps fillets and steaks hold their shape and keeps moisture in whole fish. Make two or three shallow slashes across the skin of the fillet or whole fish to prevent the fish from curling while cooking.
If you are baking fish that is of different thicknesses, as in fillets that taper to very thin ends, fold the thin ends under so they won’t overcook.
Try to turn fish just once, if at all, during the cooking process so there is less risk of it falling apart.
If cooking fish in a coating or batter, use small or thin pieces so both batter and fish cook at the same rate.
“Work With What You Got!”
© Victoria Hart Glavin Tiny New York Kitchen All Rights Reserved
New Year’s Eve is about celebration, which most definitely calls for caviar and champagne. If you’re having a party or small get-together here are a few important tips about caviar.
Keep it simple! When serving caviar, keep it simple. You certainly don’t want to spring for something so speak jut to cover up the flavor with a lot of overkill. Caviar is intensely flavorful, and it goes well with crème fraiche or sour cream and blini. Try it with small boiled potatoes, seafood, soft or hard boiled eggs, or buttered pasta. Caviar can be used almost like a precious garnish, which can also be a great way to stretch out a small amount of it.
Keep it cool! When you bring caviar home, place in the refrigerator immediately in its tin. Place in the coldest part of your fridge, which is usually in the back of the deli drawer. If you’re making hors d’oeuvres, make sure to work quickly and serve immediately or place the completed snacks back in the fridge so that the eggs are sitting out on the table or counter. If you plan on serving the caviar straight up, place the tin or place in another bowl over crushed ice. The caviar doesn’t need to be freezing cold, but should be kept cool so the eggs hold their shape and freshness.
No metal please! Probably the most important rule with caviar is making sure it doesn’t come into contact with reactive metal. You certainly don’t want your precious caviar tasking like metal. This also goes for that beautiful tiny metal spoon you’ve been dying to use. Traditionally, a mother-of-pearl spoon is used to serve caviar. If you don’t have a mother-of-pearl spoon then don’t fret. Wood, ceramic, and glass utensils all work. Just make sure whatever non-metal spoon you use is a dainty little thing.
Leftovers you say? Holy moly, if you’re lucky enough to have leftover caviar please don’t throw it out or freeze it. Eat some more the next day and go out and buy yourself a lottery ticket. Leftover caviar is like seeing a unicorn. There are a number of ways to enjoy it by tossing it with buttered pasta or top your scrambled eggs with it. The good news is that your leftover caviar should last in your refrigerator for about a week.
Happy New Year’s Eve!
"Work With What You Got!"
© Victoria Hart Glavin Tiny New York Kitchen
Constitution Week – Foods of Our Forefathers Part V
In her food preparation and preservation, the early American housewife was tied tightly to the calendar and the clock – much more tightly than today’s homemaker is. Local availability of foodstuffs and the limitations of existing food preservation techniques meant that nature largely called the shots on timing. Fruits and vegetables had to be picked at the right moment and processed quickly. Animals had to be slaughtered at their peak to keep best, and the peak varied from animal to animal. Even cheese and butter had a better likelihood of successful preservation depending on the season of the year in which they were processed.
Weather conditions played a major role: herbs had to be picked on a dry day to retain color and flavor; slaughter had to be done in cold weather to allow the carcass to cool rapidly; milk winters produced little ice for the following summer.
Also, once begun, preservation techniques sometimes had to be carried uninterruptedly through a long and tedious series of steps. There was no turning back – or time for vacations. Hams being cured had to be turned regularly, fish being dried had to be restacked four times a day, pickles had to have their brine skimmed and changed – or the product would be lost.
The labor involved in such food preservation was frequently heavy, but the routine of the rest of the house went on as usual. Organizational ability and endurance were essential, and woe betide the housewife who didn’t “keep up appearances” with her neighbors.
Just as the make-up of the early American’s diet varied with his geographic location, so did his needs – and abilities – in food preservation.
For example, the southern areas had access to a more varied food supply over the course of the year and consequently had less need to provide stores for the hard winter. At the same time, it was more difficult and expensive to get ice for short-term protection against the warmer climate. Ice was actually shipped from Massachusetts to the Southern states and to Cuba and Jamaica in the early 19th century, but it was obviously only available to the wealthier residents. The ice-box itself didn’t become popular until the mid 1800’s.
The shorter growing season in the North reduced the variety of produce available, but it also made cold storage in root cellars practical in small towns and rural areas. Above-ground ice houses and ice-saws, invented in the mid-nineteenth century, drastically reduced the cost of storing ice into the summer, and simplified storage of dairy products, fish and meat.
In many respects, the northern colonies had the greatest difficulty in providing a nutritious, varied diet throughout the year. Although fruits, berries, and summer vegetables were plentiful from the midsummer to early fall, proving vitamin-rich foodstuffs, during the winter and spring took special care. Many food items, of course, could be stored in relatively simple root cellars – where winter temperatures hovered between 30 and 40 degrees. In especially cold weather, a large tub of water was placed on the floor. This water gave off heat as it froze, which kept the vegetables safe. Turnips, beets and squash were kept in the driest areas. Carrots would keep anywhere. Cabbages and celery were buried in sand, cauliflower was set in holes and covered with straw, while cranberries were floated in water in a tub. Other crops were arranged loosely on slatted shelves for free air circulation, sometimes lying on straw.
Some vegetables, such as summer squash and potatoes, kept better at somewhat higher temperatures, and these were usually stored in the dark basement of the home. Temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees were ideal.
Eggs could also be stored in the root cellar, or in the basement of the house. Two methods were common. In one, the eggs (which the housewife was instructed to collect “in fine weather”) were dipped in boiling water for 20 seconds, then coated all over with butter or “sweet oil” (glycerin) and packed in sawdust. They would keep this way for some two to three weeks. Other housewives kept their eggs in crocks, submerged in “water glass” (sodium silicate). In this technique, it was important not to wash the eggs first, since their shells possess a natural coating which prevented the water glass from penetrating through the shell and ruining the egg. Even stored at room temperature, such eggs would keep for several months, while the hens sulked through the dark winter days.
If a family didn’t have room for a root cellar, it could accomplish somewhat the same effect with a pit, with the vegetables in layers separated by straw, and the whole covered with earth. Obviously, retrieving vegetables thus buried was a messy chore, and needed careful planning.
Under either type of storage, frequent examination was necessary, in order to detect spoilage and eliminate those items of fruit or vegetables which had gone rotten. The proverb about “one rotten apple spoiling the barrel” was not taken lightly! In fact, many housewives wouldn’t put apples in barrels, but spread them out, in order to “pick them over” more easily as the winter progressed. Spoiling apples were cut up, and the good parts made into applesauce as the winter progressed. Early cookbooks instructed the housewife to add a teaspoon of tartaric acid to the apples when making sauce late in the winter, as the apples lost their flavor. New Englanders even had a name for the period after the vegetables had spoiled or been used up, but before the dandelion greens appeared. They called it “the six weeks want.”
In the South, storage of this sort was less necessary, and the typical New England vegetables such as Hubbard squash and turnips were rarely seen on Southern menus.
To Be Continued…
The abundance of meat in America was a major change in the diet of the early settlers. Rabbits and squirrels were available year-round nearly everywhere, plus deer and other large game in many regions. As settlers moved west, buffalo gained importance in the diet. Fish, shellfish and wild fowl became common food, and they were all essentially “free.” The existence of these various forms of game was a literal life saver in times of uncertain crops and unbroken land. The game gradually diminished, of course, as the population expanded and settlers pushed west, but it provided a large share of the diet in early and frontier days.
Ham, of course, appeared on almost every settler’s table, rich or poor. It might be the only meat served at a meal or it might appear in company with more exotic roasts and fowl, but it was always there – breakfast, dinner and supper.
Corn was also a staple of the colonists, either fresh in summer, or as hominy or corn meal all year. Corn was also put to another use by an early Virginian, Captain George Thorpe, who may have been the first food technologist in America as he invented Bourbon whiskey shortly before he was massacred by the Indians in 1622.
Meal patterns for working people in rural early America were very different from those common today. Breakfast was usually early and light which consisted of bread, hominy grits, and sometimes fruit in season. Coffee, which was a new beverage at the time, was popular that is if it was available. A drink made from caramelized grain was sometimes substituted. Chicory was popular in the South, either alone or used to stretch the coffee. Tea was often made from local leaves such as sage, raspberry or dittany. Alcohol in some form was often served.
Breakfast in more elegant homes or large plantations might be later in the morning, and include thinly sliced roast and ham.
Dinner was served somewhere between midday and midafternoon, depending on the family’s circumstances, and was the big meal of the day. There was almost always ham, as well as greens (called sallat), cabbage and other vegetables. In the proper season, special dainties would appear – fresh fruits and berries, or fresh meat at appropriate butchering times.
Desserts could be simple such as a scooped out pumpkin, baked until done and then filled with milk, to be eaten right out of the shell. Or dessert could be more complex such as ice cream or other fruit flavored frozen pudding or a blanc mange. Blanc mange was prepared from milk and loaf sugar, flavored with a tablespoon or two of rosewater, thickened with a solution of isinglass (derived from fish bladder, soaked overnight in boiling water). This mixture was boiled for 15 to 20 minutes, then poured into molds to set.
If isinglass was not available (most was imported from England), homemade calves foot jelly could be substituted, but eh dessert was not as fine.
Various alcoholic beverages, including wines, applejack, “perry” (hard cider made from pears), or beer were commonly consumed.
In winter, peaches and other fruit disappeared from the dinner table, to be replaced by dishes made from stored apples and dried fruit of various sorts. Soups or broths also took their place. Milk grew scarce as cows “dried up” in the short days. Vegetables gradually decreased in variety as stored crops wilted.
Apples quickly became a staple in early America. Orchards were easy to start, required a minimum of care, and apples stored well. Housewives devised a multitude of “receipts,” including sauces and butters for off-season, as well as many using dried apples.
Supper was late and a light bread and butter, some of the left-over roast from dinner, fruit (fresh if in season, pickled and spiced otherwise), and coffee or tea.
To Be Continued…
I love radishes and am always drawn to the pretty color of a pile of radishes. Most of us just slice them into a green salad and the left-over radishes die a fateful death in the fridge. Here are some non-salad ideas that will expand your radish repertoire.
Radish Sauté – It doesn’t really occur to many people that you can cook radishes (as with cucumbers). It’s so simple to sauté radishes in olive oil or butter. They are delicious and make you appreciate radishes in a while new way.
Kimchi – Sprinkle the radishes with a bit of kosher salt and a little chili paste. Toss together and then pack them into a glass jar. Place in the back of the fridge for two weeks. Excellent on top of a burger.
Butter & Sea Salt – A fine butter and a pinch of sea salt on top of a radish slice make the perfect summer bite.
Radish “Sauerkraut” – Slice 1 pound of radishes and toss with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Pack tightly into a glass jar. Weigh down with a wrapped can and place on a shelf for two weeks. Makes a great addition to a sandwich.
Shaved & Lightly Poached In A Tasty Liquid – Slivers of radish dropped in a simmering stock and/or wine for 10 seconds are a great compliment to fresh fish. They let go of their bite, but retain some of their unique crunch we all know and love.
Braised – Sauté a little onion and garlic. Add in some radish quarters and a healthy splash of red wine. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Finish with a squeeze of lemon or dash of vinegar. Excellent draped over a grilled steak or pork chop.
Pickled – Slice some 1/4 inch coins and throw them into a jar. Pour brine over them (1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 cup water and 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar). You may want to throw in a few dried chilis if you want a bit of spice. Let sit in your fridge for a week.
Soup – Simmered for 30 minutes in a soup. The radishes will take on a sweet and velvety character.
Grated – Grate the radishes along with some freshly grated ginger and use as a condiment with any oily fish such as trout or mackerel.
Roasted – Quarter and toss with a little olive oil. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast in an oven at 425º F for 20 minutes. They should be a little brown and will become sweet. Toss them with some toasted nuts. They are a great side dish at any potluck picnic.
I hate to throw food away. I really do. Here are some ideas that will transform one night’s extras into a fresh meal.
Toss up a salad. Add leftover roasted meat or fish to fresh lettuces and vegetables. Sprinkle an assortment of cheeses and add your favorite dressing.
Stir up a soup. Cook leftover meats and vegetables in a chicken or vegetable broth. Add fresh or frozen vegetables and cook through. Season as you like. If you have leftover cooked pasta you may want to add as well. Let's not forget tofu.
If you cooked too much pasta don’t worry about it. You can add sausage and spinach to the next night’s leftover pasta. Add a little olive oil and grated cheese and you’re set.
Make some French bread sandwiches. Slice the French bread lengthwise. The long loaves are great for piling with leftover meat and topped with cheeses. Place under the broiler for tasty open-faced sandwiches.
Be creative. I have come up with some good recipes out of a fridge full of leftovers.
Use these amounts as a guideline for how much fish or shellfish to purchase per person.
Whole Fish 12 Ounces to 1 Pound
Drawn or Dressed Fish 8 Ounces
Steaks or Fillets 4 to 5 Ounces
Shelled Shrimp 3 to 4 Ounces
Live Crabs 1 Pound
Whole Lobster 1 to 1 1/2 Pounds
Lobster Tail 8 Ounces
Cooked Lobster Meat 4 to 5 Ounces
I happened to be in the Lower East Side today and had to go through China Town. I always find it interesting to see the fruit & vegetable stands, the fish stands and the chickens hanging in the storefront windows. Those are live crabs that the fishmonger kept picking up with giant tongs and throwing them in the baskets.