Thursday, January 31, 2013

Roast Chicken Grand-Mère with Celeriac & Thyme

Roast Chicken Grand-Mère is a classic French fricassée. Warm and filling, this braised chicken casserole is prepared the old-fashioned way: everything is simmered together in one pot. Any dish termed 'Grand-Mère' has the same 4 ingredients: glazed pearl onions, bacon lardons, sautéed mushrooms and small new potatoes. French cuisine is filled with lots of comforting cottage-style gems, known as 'recettes de Grand-Mère', or 'grandmother's recipes'. A classic in French cuisine, Chicken Grand-Mère was a specialty in Chef Daniel Boulud's family too, and a favourite of his Grandmother Francine who cooked at the original Café Boulud outside Lyon. 

Chicken Grand-Mère was a specialty of Daniel Bolud's Grandmother Francine

"The best thing my grandmother made, appropriately enough, was the French classic Poulet Grand-Mère. You can make it with a whole chicken, but she did it as a fricassée, with the chicken cut into portions. You simply brown the meat in a sauté pan then add shallots, garlic, potatoes, mushrooms and chicken stock and bake it in the oven. We picked the mushrooms, raised the chickens, grew the onions. All of the elements were perfect together because of their freshness, and no time was it better to make this dish than at mushroom harvest time, when my grandmother would add rose des pres, pink field mushrooms, newly dug potatoes, and new garlic." 

Chicken breasts dressed in vegetable oil, seasoned with coarse sea salt, 
fresh ground black pepper and baked at 375°F for about 30-40 minutes

When I make Chicken Grand-Mère, I generally use chicken breasts rather than cutting up a whole chicken, simply because it's easier to control the cooking time of the meat. The breasts are coated in vegetable oil then seasoned with salt and pepper and baked along with some new potatoes for about 30 to 40 minutes. When they're all nice and golden brown, it's time to remove them from the oven and start on the vegetables.

The breasts are nicely browned and cooked through

Lovely and crispy golden brown new potatoes

Pearl onions are blanched, peeled and added to an oven-proof casserole along with 2 tablespoons of butter, 4 chopped shallots and 3 cloves of garlic, and sautéed on the stove top until they become soft and fragrant. Cremini mushrooms, a diced bulb of celeriac and 4 or 5 slices of chopped thick bacon are then added the the mixture and cooked until the bacon starts rendering its fat. The casserole then is covered over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes to stop the ingredients from sticking.

Sliced shallots, garlic and blanched pearl onions sautéed in butter

Cremini mushrooms - large ones are halved and the smaller are left whole

Peeled and diced celeriac

Bacon, celeriac and mushrooms are added to the casserole

The cooked chicken breasts and 2 cups of chicken broth are added to the cooked vegetables and the casserole is baked uncovered in the oven for about half an hour or so, until all of the lovely flavours have melded and the chicken is cooked through.

The cooked chicken breasts are added with 2 cups of chicken broth

This dish is wonderfully soothing and satisfying whether you’re making it simply with cremini mushrooms and new potatoes, or dressed up with exotic wild mushrooms or any of the small fingerling or organic potatoes that many local markets now offer. Simple, savoury and delicious, Roast Chicken Grand-Mère is the ultimate classic comfort food on a cold winter day, especially when served with a warm crusty baguette to sop up all of the flavourful juices — bon appetit!

Roast Chicken Grand-Mère
Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
12 pearl onions, skin on
4 shallots, peeled and sliced finely
4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
6 sprigs thyme
16 small Yukon Gold potatoes
1 celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
6 oz bacon, cut into short thin strips
16 small cremini mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and halved
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 crusty Baguette, to serve with chicken

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 375°F.

Blanch the pearl onions in a small pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes, and when they're cool enough to handle, peel off the outer skin, trim off the root end, cover and set aside.

In a large bowl, coat the chicken breasts and small potatoes all over with canola oil, then place the chicken and potatoes in two separate foil-lined baking pans. Season them both generously with salt and pepper and roast together in the oven until the chicken breasts are well browned on top, about 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, remember to stir the potatoes every 10-15 minutes to ensure they become golden all over. When the chicken and potatoes are deeply golden, remove them from the oven and transfer to a platter and keep warm while you work on the vegetables.

Pour off 2 tablespoons of the cooking fat from the baking pan and place into an oven-proof casserole over medium heat, on the stove top. Add the butter and sliced shallots and cook, stirring frequently, about 5-6 minutes. Then add the cipollini onions, garlic and thyme and cook just until the vegetables start to take on a little color, about 5 minutes. Add the celery root and bacon and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the bacon starts rendering its fat. Then cover the pan and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and return the chicken to the pan. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and slide the pan into the oven. Bake, uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Spoon everything onto a warm serving platter or serve from the casserole, and garnish with extra sprigs of thyme. To serve, bring the chicken to the table with plenty of crusty baguette to sop up the sauce.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Murgh Makhani: Luscious Indian Butter Chicken

Murgh Makhani, also known as Butter Chicken, is my absolute favourite Indian dish, and one I always order when dining out at Indian restaurants anywhere in the world. Rich, buttery and creamy, the recipe is actually a dual recipe: one of Tandoori Chicken and Makhani Gravywhich comes from the word 'makhan' - Punjabi for butter. Called Murg Makhani in Hindi, Butter Chicken was invented by Kundan lal Gujral, the founder of Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi. 

Kundan Lal Gujral with Indira Ghandi. Gujral was an innovator in Indian cuisine, 
and his Moti Mahal restaurant became a legend in its own lifetime

Famed for creating Tandoori Chicken — he was the first to bake chicken in a tandoor he also invented Makhani gravy, "the mother of North Indian gravies", thus transforming Tandoori Chicken into delicious Butter Chicken, the unwavering star of the Moti Mahal repertoire. Legend has it that the cooks used leftover chicken juices in the marinade trays by adding butter and tomato. This sauce was then mixed with the tandoor-cooked chicken pieces, and the rest is culinary history, for Kundan not only changed the face of Indian cooking but also put Indian food on the international gourmet map. 

"The real deal" — Butter Chicken from Moti Mahal in Delhi

The Moti Mahal Cookbook, written by Monish Gujral, Kundan Lal's grandson.

Although there are many variations of making Butter Chicken, the basic principles are marinating the chicken overnight in a yogurt and spice mixture, usually garam masala, ginger-garlic paste, lemon or lime juice, coriander, cumin, turmeric and chili. The chicken, traditionally cooked in a tandoor, can also be grilled, roasted or pan fried. The sauce is made by heating and mixing ghee or butter, tomato purée, and various spices, very often including cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, pepper, fenugreek and fresh cream.

A traditional Indian copper-plated serving bowl - a kadhai -
available at Kohinoor Kitchenware, 1443 Gerrard East, Toronto

Cashew paste can also be added, and will make the gravy thicker and more luscious. Of all the spices added to the dish it is dried fenugreek leaves, or kasuri methi, that makes the greatest contribution to the characteristic flavour of the dish. Once the sauce is prepared, the chicken is added to the gravy warmed through until it has all blended, and then garnished with ghee, fresh cream, cilantro or kasuri methi, for an authentic Murgh Makhani. Yum-yum.

Murgh Makhani: Indian Butter Chicken
Serves 4

1 lb chicken thighs, boned and skinless

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cardamom powder

1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves - kasuri methi
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
1-1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1 tbsp gram flour (chickpea flour)
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp melted ghee or butter

Makhani Masala Sauce:
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp fresh garlic, finely minced 

1 tsp fenugreek seeds - methi
15 cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
1 tsp chili powder
1 cup tomato purée 
2 tbsp ghee or butter, or to taste
3 tbsp heavy cream, or to taste
salt to taste
1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed and chopped for garnish

Cut the boneless chicken thighs into large bite-size pieces and pat dry. In a large bowl, combine the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, cardamom, fenugreek leaves, chili powder, garam masala, oil, gram flour, lemon juice and salt, and mix well to form a thick consistency. Add the chicken pieces to the mixture and let marinate, covered and refrigerated overnight, or for at least 4-5 hours.

Meanwhile, soak the coarsely chopped cashews in some warm water to cover, for about 45 minutes. Then drain and process in a blender, adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time as needed, to make a smooth paste; cover and set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place the chicken pieces on a foil lined baking tray and cook 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and baste with melted ghee, cooking an additional 10 minutes until chicken is nicely browned.

In a large skillet, add the chopped onions and fry 30 - 40 minutes, until they're golden brown and well caramelized. Add the fenugreek seeds, and when they start to sizzle, add the ginger-garlic paste and fry, sprinkling a little water now and then as necessary, until the oil separates. Add the cashew paste, chili powder, tomato purée and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. I often purée the mixture at this point, to make an extra silky and smooth sauce, but it's not absolutely necessary.

To finish, add the butter, cream and chicken. Mix well and cook over low heat until warmed through. The Butter Chicken can now sit covered over low heat for a while, or taken off the heat and gently re-warmed when ready to serve. Spoon the Butter Chicken into a large bowl, preferably a 'Kadhai', a traditional Indian copper-plated bowl, and garnish with a splash of cream and fresh cilantro or Kasari Methi. Serve over basmati rice with lovely warm Naan bread or crispy pappadam on the side.

Aged basmati rice garnished with lemon zest and cilantro

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Red Snapper with Tomatoes, Olives & Swiss Chard

Red Snapper is a lovely robust fish and this simple preparation using BC Wild Snapper showcases its wonderful flavour and texture. A simple tomato sauce with olives and onion sauce and some steamd swiss chard are all that's needed to make this bright and flavourful dish. A specialty of the Tuscan port of Leghorn in Livorno, this recipe reflects the ingredients of the region: fresh seafood, olives and wine. Its rich and tangy flavour is ideal for serving with fish. In keeping with with the Italian roots of this recipe, I used Taggiasche Snocciolate olives, which are very small black pitted nicoise-style olives with a distinctive, earthy taste — the pride and joy of Liguria. The region produces only a small amount of these lovely little gems, and so they're a rarity even in Liguria. I was thrilled to have found some on our last trip to Italy.

Small pitted black Ligurian olives - Olive Taggiasche Snocciolate in olio extra vergine

Liguria’s finest Taggiasche olives, noted for their small size and impressive flavour, are nestled in a warm bed of olive oil. They bring a new dimension to bruschetta, homemade pasta and pizza, and they don't have any pips inside — and definitely worth trying when cooking fish 'the ligurian way!'

Puréed Cauliflower Mash

Wild BC Red Snapper with Tomatoes & Taggiasche Olives is delicious served over a bed of steamed swiss chard and a pillow of Cauliflower mash. Low in carbs and high in nutrients, puréed or mashed cauliflower is a delicious substitute for mashed potatoes. I discovered this fabulous guilt-free recipe in the South Beach Diet Cookbook, which is my 'go-to' resource when trying to shed a few unwanted pounds. Wonderfully flavourful in it's own right, Cauliflower Mash is also great used as a silky smooth purée nestled under grilled scallops, sautéed Red Snapper or any kind of fresh seafood. Buono!

Wild BC Red Snapper with Tomatoes, Taggiasche Olives & Swiss Chard
Serves 2

2 tbsp olive oil
2  8-oz BC red snapper filets, skin removed
1⁄4 cup dry white wine
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, or homemade Tomato Sauce
1⁄4 cup black Taggiasche pitted olives, whole
1⁄2 bunch parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Optional sides:
Steamed Swiss Chard
Cauliflower Mash

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season with snapper with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Cook until lightly golden, about 2 minutes,  then turn the fish and cook other side another 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, wine and half the parsley and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until fish is just cooked through, about 10–15 minutes, spooning the sauce over fish as it cooks. Serve the snapper on a warm plate, over a layer of Cauliflower Mash, Steamed Swiss Chard with the sauce spooned overtop. Sprinkle with remaining parsley for garnish and enjoy.

Cauliflower Mash
Serves 2

2 cups cauliflower florets
1 oz butter or Olivina
1 oz whole milk or light cream
pinch of salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

Steam the cauliflower until soft. Purée in a food processor, adding the butter and milk to taste. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pan Seared Scallops with White Bean Purée & Rapini

There are few main courses as elegant or simple, as a dish of Seared Sea Scallops. Sweet, tender, mild and delectable, the less you fuss with scallops, the better they taste. The best way to cook these plump, meaty scallops is to sear them quickly in a hot pan so that the outsides get a lovely crisp, brown crust and the insides remain tender and moist. The crowning glory of this dish is nestling the little darlings on a creamy pillow of homemade White Bean Purée, which compliments the subtle richness of the seared scallops perfectly. 

White Italian kidney beans, or cannellini, have the ability to carry the simple, bold flavours of the lemon, garlic and olive oil effortlessly. Whipped into a beautiful silky lemony White Bean Purée, this dish is a wonderful and simple accompaniment to the luscious butteriness of the seared sea scallops. A garnish of chopped olives add a rich fruity note to the dish, and although pitted olives are often easier to use, I recommend using unpitted olives in this recipe, as they have more flavour and texture. For such simple ingredients, the flavours of this dish mingle incredibly well, with a bright and assertive character that makes this recipe a true modern classic.

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with White Bean Purée & Sautéed Rapini
Serves 2

6 sea scallops
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

White Bean Purée:
2 cups canned white beans, drained
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Sautéed Rapini:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch rapini, rinsed well and chopped coarsely
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the white bean purée, place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until silky smooth, If you wish to use less oil but still want a smooth texture, replace some of the oil with the cooking liquid from the canned beans. I like to make the purée shortly before grilling the scallops, so it's still slightly warm from the food processor. However, the purée should be refrigerated if it's made ahead of time, and returned to room temperature prior to serving.

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add big handfuls of rapini along with a pinch each of salt and pepper, stirring well. When greens are wilted, add 2 tablespoons of water, cover the pot, and steam for about 10 minutes, until the greens are tender. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired.

To serve, pat the scallops dry and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the foam subsides, then sear the scallops, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through, while still being translucent in the centre, about 2 minutes per side, until they are caramelized and cooked to your desired doneness. Transfer to a platter and keep warm until all of the scallops have been cooked. Serve the scallops immediately, three per guest, nestled on a puddle of white bean purée. Garnish with sliced olives, sautéed rapini and a few leafy greens.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Irish Salmon with Ponzu, Sesame Seeds & Arugula

Simple, healthy and delicious, this low-fat no-carb dish takes only minutes to prepare and less than 15 minutes in the oven, or on the grill, to cook. Ponzu is a citrus-based soy sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine. Ideal on seafood, grilled meats, vegetables and cold noodles, it has the perfect balance of salty, tangy and sweet to enhance the flavour of a wide variety of foods, without the stronger fermented flavour of pure soy sauce. Marinated in Ponzu and sprinkled with sesame seeds, this fillet of Irish Organic Salmon is simply baked in the oven for 13-15 minutes, for medium-rare, and slightly longer for more well done flakier salmon. Garnished with some fresh chopped dill and served on a bed of wild arugula, this simple dish is one of my favourite heart-smart meals.

Irish Salmon with Ponzu, Sesame Seeds & Arugula
Serves 2

2 8-oz Irish Organic Salmon fillets
2 tbsp Kikkoman Lemon Ponzu sauce
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
6 cups wild arugula
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 sprinkle of Maldon salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F. Marinated salmon in Ponzu sauce and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 13-15 minutes for medium-rare and longer for a more well done, flakier piece of salmon. Meanwhile, toss the arugula and olive oil together in a salad bowl and toss well to combine. Add a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt and a grind of fresh ground black pepper. To serve, place a mound of arugula in the middle of 2 dinner plates, and top with a fillet of salmon garnished with a flurry of dill.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Whole Salmon Trout with Ginger, Lemon & Dill

It’s easy to find farmed rainbow trout these days. They’re usually boned and 'butterflied' — opened up, with the halves still attached. Low fat, easy and delicious, they can be simply baked in foil packets with chopped ginger, lemon and fresh dill and served with the savoury juice that accumulates inside the pouches as they bake. Served with a simple green salad, this is an easy, light and low fat dinner anytime of the year.

Whole Salmon Trout with Ginger, Lemon & Dill
Serves 2

2 tbsp canola oil
2 small rainbow trout, cleaned and scaled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lemon, sliced
1 bunch dill
1-inch piece ginger, thinly sliced
4 tbsp Japanese Sake

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut two sheets of aluminum foil that are three inches longer than your fish. Oil one side of the foil with oil and place a trout, skin side down, on each square. Season both sides with salt and pepper, and open them out flat. Place some ginger, dill and lemon slices down the middle of each, drizzle some sake over top and fold the two sides together. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of oil over each fish.

Making sure that the trout are in the middle of each square, fold up the foil loosely, grabbing at the edges and crimping together tightly to make a packet. Place on a baking sheet, and bake for 25 minutes, or until the flesh is opaque and can be pulled apart easily when tested with a fork.

Using a large spatula, gently remove the fish from the foil packet and serve on a warmed dinner plate. Sprinkle with fresh dill and pour some juices over top.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grilled Steak with Mushroom Marsala Cream Sauce

The perfect meal for a cold wintery evening, Grilled New York Steak bathed in a silky sauce, brimming with fresh sliced mushrooms and flavoured with a splash of cream and Marsala wine or Brandy, turns this carnivore's delight into an extra special treat. Served with fresh spinach and Horseradish and Thyme Mashed Potatoes — all that's missing is a lovely glass of good red wine.

A tablespoon of butter and olive oil heated in a skillet over medium-high

Preparing the Horseradish and Thyme Mashed Potatoes ahead of time, or simply revitalizing leftover mash with some butter, cream, fresh thyme and bottled horseradish, makes for an easy and delicious addition to any beef dish. All that remains is making the Mushroom Marsala Cream Sauce, which takes less than 20 minutes. Any combination of wild and exotic mushrooms can be used: shiitake, chanterelles, morels, enoki, crimini or button mushrooms. Sautéed with a tablespoon of butter and olive oil in a large skillet, seasoned with salt and pepper, and finished with a dash of cream, marsala wine and fresh thyme — the sauce is complete.

Crimini, button or even shiitake mushrooms with fresh thyme

The mushrooms sautéed in a little butter and olive oil

Then a little light cream is added along with a splash of Marsala or Brandy and fresh thyme

Although I selected a thick New York Strip for this dish, a leaner tenderloin or fattier rib-eye are all an equally delicious options — it's really a question of taste. Generally I like to buy steak at least 1-inch thick, as it makes for a more handsome presentation, especially when carved into generous slices and bathed in generous lashings of Mushroom Marsala Cream Sauce. Spinach, steamed or sautéed, is a natural with this dish, and when combined with a dollop of Thyme and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, this decadent combination makes for a hearty, luxurious and delicious dinner. Or steam the spinach and skip the mash for a leaner, cleaner culinary version — they're all 'steak-extraordinary'!

One large New York strip steak can be easily shared for two

Grilled in a ribbed skillet with a little vegetable oil ensures nice grill marks

Grilled New York Strip Steak with Mushroom Marsala Cream Sauce
Serves 4

4 8oz New York strip steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bunch fresh chives, chopped

Marsala Mushroom Cream Sauce:

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8 oz sliced crimini mushrooms
8 oz sliced white button or shiitake mushrooms
3/4 cup Marsala or Brandy
1/2 cup heavy or light cream
3 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper

For the Marsala cream sauce, heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the mushrooms and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mushrooms are barely cooked through. Add the Marsala wine and cook for 5 minutes allowing the wine to slightly reduce. Stir in the heavy cream and thyme, reduce the heat to medium and cook the mushroom sauce for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat a grill pan to medium-high. Season the steaks with salt and black pepper then sear on each side until the internal temperature reaches 130°F for medium-rare. Remove the steaks from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve on warmed dinner plates with Marsala Mushroom Cream Sauce spooned over top, a garnish of chopped chives and sprig of thyme.

Horseradish & Thyme Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4

2lb Yukon gold or russet potatoes
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp whole milk
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, crumbled
2 tbsp fresh or prepared horseradish

Peel the potatoes and boil for 30-40 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the heat and mash the potatoes with the butter until no lumps are left, then warm the cream and the milk together in a small saucepan and add that to the mashed potatoes. Stir in the horseradish and thyme, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sautéed Mahi-Mahi with Spinach & Gorgonzola Mash

Mahi-Mahi is the Hawaiian name for this tropical, warm water fish, sometimes referred to as Dorado or Dolphinfish, not because they have any relation to 'Flipper', but because they're often found swimming among Dolphins. Mahi-Mahi, like Swordfish, ranges in colour from white to dark pinkish-brown and has a mild sweet flavour with firm white flesh: white to light beige fillets are mild flavoured, while light pink to pinkish-brown are more heavily flavoured. Mahi-Mahi is very versatile and adapts amazingly well to a range of flavours and cooking methods. It's delicious baked, broiled, grilled, pan-fried, deep-fried, pan-seared, poached or sautéed, like this fabulous Sautéed Mahi-Mahi with Spinach, Gorgonzola Chive Mash and Lemon Dill Beurre Blanc Sauce.

Fresh oysters from Cotuit Bay, Cape Cod

The perfect start to any meal, we enjoyed half a dozen fresh oysters from Cotuit Bay in Cape Cod. A luscious quality oyster with a sweet briny flavour, they were enormous — almost as big as my hand! Garnished with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dollop of fresh grated horseradish, they were almost a meal on their own. Fortified with oysters, a Gin Martini and a game of cribbage in front of the fire, I was reluctantly ready to embark on dinner.

These enormous oysters — almost as big as my hand — have a bright 
and briny flavour, for which they're famous

Preparing the Gorgonzola and Chive Potato Mash earlier in the day is a great time saver, so all that remains is whipping up the Lemon Dill Beurre Blanc, wilting the spinach and quickly sautéeing the Mahi-Mahi in a little olive oil for about 3 to 4 minutes per side, starting with the skin down. 

Mahi mahi seasoned with salt and pepper and sautéed in a tablespoon of olive oil

Mahi Mahi sautéed over medium-high, about 3 minutes each side

Rewarming the Gorgonzola and chive potato mash

Sautéed spinach

The presentation is everything with this dish. To serve, place a mound of spinach in the center of warmed dinner plates, top with a scoop of Gorgonzola Chive Mashed Potato, and top with a fillet of Mahi-Mahi. Finish with a drizzle of Lemon Dill Beurre Blanc around the perimeter of the plate and garnish with some finely chopped red and green baby frillice lettuce, and a flurry of chives.

Sautéed Mahi Mahi with Spinach, Gorgonzola Mash and Lemon Dill Beurre Blanc
Serves 2

2 6 oz Mahi Mahi fillets, with skin on
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed and washed
1 bunch chives, chopped for garnish
2 tbsp red and green baby frillice lettuce, chopped for garnish
Salt and pepper, to taste

Lemon Dill Beurre Blanc Sauce:
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lemon juice, more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gorgonzola & Chive Mashed Potatoes:
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, washed
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tbsp Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped

Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the butter, whipping cream, Gorgonzola, salt and white pepper over low to medium heat until warm, stirring frequently. When potatoes are cooked to fork tender, drain well and return them to the pot. Slowly add the warm cream mixture to the potatoes, mashing and blending well to your desired consistency, then stir in the chives. Taste and re-season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm until needed.

To make the sauce, cook the wine and shallot in a saucepan over high heat, stirring until the wine almost evaporates and looks glazy, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter a couple of cubes at a time until it's melted and the sauce becomes thick and creamy, briefly returning the pan to low heat if the butter is slow to melt. Off the heat, stir in the dill, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp salt, and several grinds of pepper. Cover and set aside on low heat to keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat another saucepan over a medium to high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and the spinach to the pan and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, until the spinach begins to wilt. Season the spinach to taste with salt and pepper, cover and set side on low heat.

Heat a large nonstick sauté pan over a moderate to high heat until it is hot, then add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan then add the fish, skin side down. Cook the fish for 4 minutes until the skin is crisp and golden. Turn the fish over and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add a squeeze the lemon juice over the fish, and cook for another minute or two, basting the fish with the juices in the pan, or until the fish is just cooked through but still moist.

To serve, place a mound of spinach in the center of 2 warm dinner plates, top with a scoop of gorgonzola mashed potato, and finish with a Mahi-Mahi fillet on top. Drizzle the lemon beurre blanc around the plate and garnish with finely chopped red and green baby frillice lettuce, some chopped chives and serve.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mussel and Leek Soup with Saffron & White Wine

Rich, creamy and velvety, this luscious Mussel and Leek Soup makes a sexy little starter. In fact, Craig Claiborne wrote "it may well by the most elegant and delicious soup ever created". Suffused with the rich colour and smell of saffron, often called "edible gold," this fabulous soup, was inspired by the great classic Parisian mussel soup called Billi Bi, a potage made with mussels, onions, wine, cream and various aromatic seasonings.

A traditional favourite from the Brittany coast, there are several stories surrounding the origin of this suave soup, the most popular being that French chef Louis Barthe, of famed Parisian restaurant Maxim’s, named the soup after American tin tycoon, William B. Leeds - Billy B - who was a favoured customer. Chef Barthe developed this soup to please his patron who loved the flavour of mussel broth but didn’t care for eating the mussels themselves so Barthe strained the mussels out, leaving a smooth, silky soup with an essence of the sea. These days Mussel and Leek Soup is often served with the mussels, but whatever the soups origin, it's become a true classic of French cuisine. Served with thick warm slices of buttered French baguette, it needs nothing more.

Mussel & Leek Soup with Saffron and White Wine
Serves 4

3 lb mussels, cleaned
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 bunch of leeks, about 1 lb, cleaned
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups fish stock
1 large pinch of saffron strands
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch of chives or tarragon, chopped for garnish (optional)

Put the mussels and 2 tablespoons of the wine into a large pan. Cover and cook over a high heat, shaking the pan every now and then, until the mussels have opened. Tip them into a colander set over a bowl to collect all of the liquid and let cool slightly. Once their easier to handle, remove the mussels from their shells and select 18-24 perfect looking mussels for garnish and set aside in a small bowl; place the remaining mussels in another bowl — these will later be puréed in the soup.

Cut a 2-inch piece of leek into matchsticks, and mince the rest. Melt the butter in a pan, add the minced leeks and onion, and cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes, until soft but not browned. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the mussel liquid, the remaining wine and fish stock, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the saffron and let simmer for 25 minutes. Select 18 to 24 perfect mussels for garnish and add the rest to the soup.

Meanwhile, drop the leek matchsticks into a pan of boiling salted water. Bring back to a boil, then drain and refresh under running cold water. Blend the soup, in batches if necessary, until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the cream and reheat very gently over very low heat, about 5 minutes, then stir in the mussels and leek matchsticks. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Garnish with the reserved whole mussels, some chopped chives and serve immediately.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Skate Meunière with Lemon, Brown Butter & Capers

Meunière has long been a classic of French cuisine, proof that elegance can be found in the simplicity of a few fine ingredients: flour, butter, lemons, capers, salt, pepper, parsley. Those common ingredients and 10 minutes of your time are all it takes to create this simple, and simply divine dish. Sole Meunière, from which this dish was inspired, was undoubtedly immortalized by Julia Child who recalled her first meal in Rouen of oysters and sole meunière as a culinary revelation and life changing moment. 

Julia Child during one of her televised cooking shows

As she described in her Memoir, 'My Life in France', it was “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley… I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter… It was a morsel of perfection… It was the most exciting meal of my life.”

Considered a trash fish for a long time, skate has grown in popularity in recent years. An unusual looking flat kite-shaped fish with large wings, skate are related to rays — which they closely resemble — and are cartilaginous, which means that their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. The meat is lean, delicate and sweet due to their diet of clams and mussels. Skate is also enormously versatile, as it can be poached, steamed, pan-fried, broiled and grilled, however only the wings are edible — but when plated, makes for a beautiful and exotic presentation.

At $4.99/lb, skate is a relatively expensive fish - I bought 2 wings for just over $5!

The skate is seasoned with salt and pepper then dredged in flour, shaking off the excess

A tablespoon of butter and olive oil is warmed in a non-stick skillet, into which the skate is sautéed for about 3 minutes per side until golden and cooked through

Pan-seared skate resting in the oven while making the Sauce Meunière

Skate Meunière is a simple dish. Indeed, it simply means fish prepared in the style of the miller’s wife — that is, dredged in flour. The fish is then pan fried and sauced with a classic combination of pungent capers, fresh squeezed lemon juice, mellow browned butter and bright accents of fresh parsley. A deceptively quick and elegant dish, easily prepared in under fifteen minutes, I love pairing Skate Meunière with a pillow of creamy mashed Yukon gold potatoes, sautéed brussels sprouts and a peppery arugula salad, garnished with olive oil, Maldon sea salt and a grind of fresh cracked black pepper. As Julia said, "You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients." She also said "with enough butter, anything is good!" 

The simplicity of a few fine ingredients: capers, caper berries, 
fresh lemon, parsley and butter

Capers and caper berries

Juice and zest of one lemon

Two tablespoons of butter cooked until it becomes nutty brown, 
known as beurre noisette

Capers, parsley and the juice and zest of a lemon are added to make the Sauce Meunière

Potato purée with cream, butter and nutmeg, seasoned with salt and white pepper

Brussels sprouts halved...

...then sautéed in a little butter to brown them

Arugula finished with a little olive oil, Maldon salt and fresh ground black pepper

Skate Meunière with Butter, Lemon and Capers
Serves 2

2 skate wings, about 1/2 pound each
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
6 caper berries, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp finely chopped flat parsley, plus more for garnish
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 200ºF. Pat the skate wings dry, season with salt and pepper then dredge in flour, shaking off the excess.

Warm a tablespoon of oil and butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, swirling to mix as the butter melts. When the oil is hot and starts to shimmer, place the skate fillets in the pan and sauté for about 3 minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. Using a large spatula, remove the wings from the pan and place on a foil lined baking tray, and place in the oven to keep warm.

Wipe the skillet clean and turn the heat to medium. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan, and cook while stirring, until the butter browns to a nutty colour (beurre noisette), about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, capers, caper berries, parsley and continue to cook, stirring constantly until they're warmed through. Turn off the heat, transfer the skate to warmed dinner plates and spoon the sauce over the fillets. Garnish with some fresh parsley and serve with immediately with potato purée, sautéed brussels sprouts, arugula salad and a wedge of lemon. Bon appétit!

SUGGESTED WINE PAIRING: A medium-bodied flavourful white wine, such as a Gavi from Italy or a Pinot Blanc from Alsace in France.

Potato Purée
Serves 2

1 lb Yukon gold or russet potatoes
1/4 cup butter
1/8 cup warm milk
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Peel and wash the potatoes and cut into evenly sized pieces. Cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Strain and return to the warm empty pan and set over a gentle heat to dry off any moisture. Remove from the heat and carefully pass all the potatoes through a ricer back into the pan and add the butter. Over a gentle heat stir the butter into the potato until smooth. Add the warm milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and beat well until it's nice and creamy.