Month: January 2019

cod and tomatoes baked on a bed of purple potatoes; rabe

The aura of New England cod.

I think I’ve understood its emanation since at least the time I was cramming for a family trip to New England in the early 50’s, so when Glen Bickleman told me that the bucket of cod fillets he was displaying in his fish stall, caught out of eastern Long Island ports, were “whale cod”, my imagination went a little wild. I had thoughts of New England fishermen conjuring some heroic finned giant, a legend with which I was not familiar (since the mid-80’s, when I moved to New York from Rhode Island, I’ve thought of eastern Long Island as very much a part of the culture of New England).

Checking out the name on line once I was back home, I was only slightly disappointed to learn that it referred to a real phenomenon: “Old timers talk of the mythic “whale cod,” huge fish, as long as a man is tall, that [returned] every Thanksgiving for fishermen to load into trailer trucks bound for Fulton Fish Market in New York.”, reads one reference to the phrase.

More evidence of the scale of the giant real cod can be found in the entry on Wikipedia for the sculpture that hangs inside the House of Represen­ta­tives chamber of Boston’s State House‍: “The Sacred Cod is a four-foot eleven-inch carved-wood effigy of an Atlantic codfish, ‘painted to the life’…’ (it’s significance is analogous to that of the wool sack in the House of Lords).

Glen may have been exaggerating a little yesterday, but we should remember that fishermen used to be shorter.

The dinner itself began with some unusual potatoes. They weren’t chosen for their color, but for the fact they were the only ones I had that were of both a suitable size and number.

The potatoes were cooked first, but not quite all of the way; the cod fillet, divided into 2 sections, and the sliced tomatoes were then placed on top and the pan returned to the oven.

These potatoes are pretty spectacular.

Over the years these almost-local Maine tomatoes have become an occasional kitchen mainstay [sorry about that one] for me through the relative dessert of New York winters.

I’ve learned, again, over many years, just how incredibly diverse even some of the vegetables with which we’d grown up assuming they had almost no variety can be. Although I certainly didn’t grow up with it in mid-century Detroit, I’m very fond of broccoli rabe, and I know that it comes in many forms, like so many other edible plants local farmers are bringing to markets these days.

  • one ‘whale cod’ fillet (in this case meaning an almost 19-ounce fillet from a particularly large cod) from American Seafood Company in Wednesday’s Union Square Greenmarket, washed and rinsed, halved crosswise, placed inside a deep platter on a bed of coarse sea salt, with more salt added on top until the pieces were completely covered, then set aside while a bed of potatoes was prepared by slicing lengthwise (to a thickness of roughly 1/4″) 12 ounces or so of ‘magic marley’ purple fingerlings from Norwich Meadows Farm, tossing them in a large bowl with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a large section of an orange/gold home-dried habanada pepper, arranging the potatoes, slightly overlapping, inside a rectangular glazed ceramic oven pan, and cooking them for roughly 25 minutes in a 400º oven, or until they were tender when pierced, but not quite fully cooked, then, the cod fillets, having already been removed from the platter and their salt covering and thoroughly immersed in many fresh changes of water to bring down the saltiness (the soaking process also somehow gives the fish more solidity, which can be easily felt while it’s being handled it at this point; it’s pretty sexy), drained and dried, were placed inside the pan on top of the potatoes, drizzled with a little olive oil, sprinkled with some freshly-ground black pepper, partly blanketed with thin slices of 3 Backyard Farms Maine ‘Cocktail tomatoes’, the tomato seasoned lightly and the pan returned to the oven for about 15 minutes, or until just cooked through, fillets and tomato removed with a spatula (2 spatulas ae better), along with as much of the potatoes as can be brought along with each piece, everything arranged on the plates as intact as possible, the remainder of the potatoes then added and the servings garnished with micro purple radish from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • one bunch of broccoli rabe (aka rapini, among other names) from Phillips Farms wilted in a little olive oil inside a large antique high-sided tin-lined copper pot in which several medium rocambole garlic cloves from Keith’s Farm had been heated until slightly softened, the greens seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, divided between the 2 plates and drizzled with a little more olive oil
  • the wine was a great Portuguese (Vinho Verde) white, Vinho Verde Loureiro, Aphros 2016, from Astor Wines
  • the music was Verdi’s 1867/1886 grand opera, ‘Don Carlo’, Claudio Abbado conducting the Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra and the Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus, with a great – and enormous – cast

winter picnic: smoked fish salad toasts; sliced duck breast

Winter picnic.

Fried duck breast part 2.

I had bought more of Dolores Kalin’s wonderful smoked fish salad at the Greenmarket the day before, with no particular meal in mind at the time. Then, the next day, when I was looking around for something to fill out a menu in which slices of cold cooked duck breast would be featured, I drafted it into that meal almost immediately.

  • a composed smoked fish salad from P.E. & D.D.Seafood, made by Dolores Karlin using various local white fish caught by Karl, her husband, spread very thickly on soft lightly-toasted slices of 12 grain bread from Bread Alone, purchased a few days earlier, but also in the Union Square Greenmarket
  • sprays of an upland cress from Two Guys from Woodbridge, dressed with Frankies 47 olive oil, Maldon salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a squeeze of organic Chelsea Whole Foods Market lemon
  • the wine was a Spanish (Rioja) white, Real Rubio Blanco, Rioja 2017, from Astor Wines

The small meat course was even more special than the fish, since we’ve never had ‘leftover’ duck breast before, and its presentation could be almost intensely minimal.

  • one half of a cooked duck breast from Hudson River Duck Farm, that remained from the meal we had enjoyed the night before, brought to room temperature, sliced very thinly and arranged on the plates without any sauce or seasonings
  • dollops of a house apricot mustard from Dixon Farmstand
  • some absolutely delicious (January!) arugula from Philips Farms, dressed with salt, black pepper, olive oil, and drops of a good Spanish Rioja wine vinegar
  • slices of a She Wolf Bakery miche
  • the wine was a Spanish (Navarre) red, Verasol, Navarra Tinto Tempranillo-Garnacha 2014, from Flatiron Wines in Manhattan

I was prepared to set out a small third course, local cheese and fruit, but at this point or appetites had been sated.

fried duck breast; sweet potato frites; cabbage; cheeses

Practice.

I’m getting the hang of this cooking thing, even with the added complication of guests.

I had cooked everything that appears on this plate many times before, although with a little variation each time, but it still seems to me like an accomplishment that I hadn’t done anything ahead of time, that I started prep 20 minutes before our guest arrived, that I was totally relaxed throughout both the cooking and serving process, and that I had been able to engage in a 3-way conversation throughout. I think I have to credit An, our guest this time, with much of the smoothness of the process.

We started casually, with some breadsticks, roasted chick peas, and Fiori di Puglia Taralli al Peperoncino, all from Buon Italia.

We sat down to the first course less than an hour after our guest had arrived.

  • two 15-ounce duck breasts from Hudson River Duck Farm, the fatty sides scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, the entire breast rubbed, top and bottom, with a mixture of sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, then left standing, first inside the refrigerator and later for 45 minutes on the counter, pan-fried, fatty side down first inside a large round enameled cast iron pan over medium heat, turning once, draining the fat after the first few minutes and straining it to be used in cooking at another time, for a total of probably more than 10 minutes (I lost track when the 2 breasts didn’t seem to be cooking as fast as one does by itself, so I ended up using my new instant-read meat thermometer, removing the duck when the internal temperature read just over 155º, carryover cooking continuing to raise the temperature to 160° as it rested, bringing it to just under rare to medium rare when it was served), each of the breasts cut crosswise into 2 portions, one of the halves set aside, enclosed in plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator for another day, the 2 other portions left sitting on warm plates for several minutes before being finished with a drizzle of some juice of an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market, and a little Portuguese house olive oil, also from Whole Foods Market, garnished with micro red mustard from Two Guys from Woodbridge

  • twenty ounces of Japanese sweet potatoes from Race Farm, unpeeled, but scrubbed pretty thoroughly, cut as french fries, tossed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, 5 medium unpeeled Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic cloves and a couple pinches of crushed dark dried habanada pepper, roasted just above 400º in a large, well-seasoned Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan for about 35 minutes, or until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and chewy on the edges, garnished with chopped parsley from Philipps Farms

  • two beautiful small heads of purple-tinged Savoy cabbage from Norwich Meadows Farm, washed, quartered, cored, sliced into one-half-inch ribbons, sautéed in a scant tablespoon of olive oil inside a large heavy, enameled cast iron pot until wilted but still a little crunchy, stirring occasionally, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, 8 or so slightly smashed juniper berries mixed in, a few drops of balsamic vinegar added and stirred over the heat for only a moment, the cabbage arranged on the plates and finished with a drizzle of olive oil

  • the wine with the duck was a Spanish (Rioja/Rioja Alavesa) red, C.V.N.E. Rioja Crianza Vina Real 2013, from Garnet Wines

There was a cheese course.

 

  • the music throughout the meal was this playlist Barry had assembled on Spotify

hemp pasta, garlic, celery, sunflower sprouts, breadcrumbs

Our first weed pasta.

It was very good, even without the psychotropic stuff.

culotte, ramp butter; fennel seed-roasted carrots; sprouts

Size didn’t really matter.

Until the package had defrosted, there was no way to tell how many pieces of steak it contained, or, of course, how much each weighed. Those numbers aren’t all important however, at least until it’s time to put the dinner on the 2 plates, when questions of aesthetics and fair apportioning arise.

As it turned out, the package held 3 pieces of sirloin cap (aka coulotte/culotte/picanha), each a different size. We would be 2 at the table that evening, so my solution to ensure portion fairness was to cut them all into halves, and then juggle them to see that each trio weighed the same.

The steak was delicious, and we each had our (modest) fair share, so aesthetics be damned, although the presentation doesn’t look half bad in the picture above.

  • three pieces of sirloin cap steak from Sun Fed Beef in the Union Square Greenmarket, weighing approximately 13 ounces together, each divided into 2 pieces because they were all very different in weight, brought to room temperature, seasoned on all sides with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, seared for less than a minute on the top, thick, fat-covered sides inside a dry oval enameled heavy cast iron pan, the 2 long sides cooked for 2 or 3 minutes each, then removed from the pan the moment they had become perfectly medium-rare and arranged on 2 warm plates, topped with a pat of ramp butter (a leftover, frozen, from some made for a much earlier meal), the steaks allowed to rest for about 3 minutes before being served

  • a generous mix of mostly red Kyoto carrots (pictured above) and some more familiar loose orange carrots of the same size, both from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed, dried, sliced once lengthwise, rolled inside a large unglazed ceramic Pampered Chef oven pan with a little olive oil, salt, black pepper, more than half of a teaspoon of crushed Italian fennel seed, and a bit of crushed dried habanada pepper, roasted at 400º for about 30 minutes, or until tender, arranged on the plates and garnished with micro chervil from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • a few small Brussels sprouts from Migliorelli Farm, the last of a supply purchased late in December (Brussels sprouts are one more member of the terrific huge mustard family (Brassicaceae) that’s such a great boon for cooks in the winter), washed, trimmed pretty intensely by hand, and dried, tossed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, and black pepper, plus a bit of dried  peperoncino Calabresi secchi, then roasted inside a small unglazed seasoned Pampered Chef pan, a medium size this time, until the sprouts were slightly brown and crisp on the outside

There was a cheese course.

  • two cheeses, an Ardith Mae Farmstead, Columbia County, NY, camembert-style using 2 milks (goat from their own farm and cow from that of a neighbor, Liz Baldwin’s Shunpike Dairy) and an Eastern Connecticut cows milk, Cato Corner Farm Dairyere Reserve (aged one year)
  • a garnish of micro red mustard from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • slices of a nutty whole wheat She Wolf Bakery miche from the bakers’ strand in the Union Square Greenmarket
  • dried Calabrian (Amantea) figs from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market