Category: Meals at home

fried needlefish; marinated swordfish, heirloom tomatoes

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the incredibly huge variety of local seafood available through the seasons from the fishers in New York’s Union Square Greenmarket four days of the week. It’s just that I’m an obsessive for anything new.

Yesterday, long after I made it home with a ‘catch’ that I had never come across anywhere, at least on the eastern seaboard, I began to doubt whether I would be able to bring it to the table in an edible form.

Needlefish.

It was labelled, ‘billed eel” at the Seatuck Fish stand, but I was more than skeptical of the appellation. I know a little about eel, and I’ve prepared it both fresh and smoked, but these teethy silver pencils did not look at all like they belonged to the order Anguilliformes, and there was noting snaky about them.

I had already bought swordfish steaks for our dinner, so I deliberated with myself for a while about whether to go for these absolutely beautiful creatures in addition, I didn’t know what they were, they were so very small, and there were only four left (today I’m wondering who had bought the others, and what they had one with them). Eventually, deciding to take a chance, and thinking they might make an interesting small appetizer, I scooped them up.

Once home I began to do some research, first to determine what they were. A quick search for “long narrow small ocean fish” gave me the answer: I had four small Atlantic needlefish on my hands.  The second thing? Eating them wouldn’t kill you. Then I learned that they belong to an entire group of fish described as perfectly edible, even delicious, but, because of the bones, almost impossible to eat.

I spent an inordinate amount of time checking what that would mean if applied to my tiny quartet. Try searching, “how small a needlefish must you have before you can eat the bones?” Not surprising, I never found anything definitive.

So I cooked them.

In the end we were easily able to remove the backbones after the fish had been fried, and the ribs turned out to be so small that we never noticed them. Yay for optimal size! Thank you Catherine, Everett, and all the Seatuck folks!

They were delicious.

We’d both recommend needlefish to any cook or diner with the considerations mentioned above, and the cleaning process was really sort of fun.

Many thanks to the people responsible for this reassuring video, in particular for the  portion showing the fish being cleaned, recorded in extraordinarily clear overhead images. Those needlefish are a little larger than the ones I had, and of course there were a lot more.

 

ADDENDUM:

I want to repeat that the flesh was really, really tasty, and the prep made it possible.

For the guidance of anyone reading this, I should make it clear that we were very lucky in the size of the fish we were presented with. They were neither too small nor too large. Smaller might have made the gutting more difficult, and would probably have complicated the removal of the back bones; larger would have meant the zillions of rib bones would have made eating the flesh impossible, or certainly not an experience you would want to remember.

I write that with the qualification that really small would mean they could be fried without gutting them like any really small fish, as smelts, or whitebait (a collective term for the immature fry of fish), and the much smaller backbones might have gone down with the flesh; really large would have made it practicable to cut them into fillets, eliminating all the bones, as described in this video.

 

This site provides some simple, accessible information about Needlefish, including a simple cooking suggestion that became the basis for my preparation last night.

  • four small cleaned needlefish were splashed with fresh lemon juice and sprinkled with some local Long Island salt, from fisherman Phil Karlin of his family’s P.E. & D.D. Seafood Company, then dredged in lightly seasoned whole wheat flour from The Blew family of Oak Grove Plantation in Pittstown, N.J., the excess shaken off and the fish placed on a paper plate, while a shallow layer of sunflower oil inside a large, heavy antique very well seasoned Wagner Ware frying pan was heated until hot but not smoking, at which point the needlefish were placed inside, not touching, for a total of about 2 minutes, turning once, or until cooked and nicely crisped, removed and arranged on the plates, along with a salad of baby romaine lettuce from Quarton Farm and one sliced baby red onion from Hoeffner Farms, dressed with Whole Foods house Portuguese olive oil, lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper, and P.E. & D.D. Seafood salt, accompanied with slices from a She Wolf Bakery sourdough Bâtard

The main course was one we’re pretty familiar with, with elements that show up here frequently, always welcomed.

  • two large, 9-ounce swordfish steaks, also from Seatuck Fish in the Union Square Greenmarket, marinated for more than half an hour in a mixture of a little chopped scallion from Willow Wisp Farm, a heaping teaspoon of pungent dried wild Sicilian oregano from Buon Italia, little more than a pinch of dried peperoncini Calabresi secchi from Buon Italia, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil, after which the steaks were drained, covered on both sides with a coating of homemade dried breadcrumbs (to help retain the moisture, and keep them from drying out), pan-grilled over medium-high heat for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, or until barely cooked all of the way through, removed, arranged on the plates, seasoned with a small amount of P.E. & D.D. salt, a good amount of lemon juice squeezed on top, drizzled with olive oil, and garnished with flowering fennel from Quarton Farm
  • a nine or ten ounce mix of small tomatoes from Eckerton Hill Farm, halved, sprinkled on the cut side with sea salt and black pepper, heated gently on both sides inside a small copper skillet, arranged on the plates scattered with chopped leaves of pericón (Mexican tarragon) from Quarton Farm, garnished with micro cressida from Windfall Farms

 

bacon and eggs and pretzel rolls

On Saturday I learned that our very local (less than one block away) Chelsea Saturday greenmarket has several new local vendors, one of which, Breadivore, offers, among other delicacies, pretzel rolls, in a choice of plain, black pepper, or grainy mustard.

Pretzel rolls! From a stall just down the street! And made in Long Island City!

I picked a pepper pretzel pack, and today we had [every one of them] with our more usual bacon and eggs; I sliced them horizontally and dry-toasted each on the surface of a seasoned steel pan above a medium flame.

They were wonderful.

  • the elements of this little feast, aside from the pretzel rolls, were: a few rashers of some quite thick Dickson’s Farmstand sugar cured house-made bacon; 6 fresh eggs from Old Mother Hubbert Dairy, sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper, Baden seasoning salt (the gift of a friend who had been given the recipe while visiting the Upper Rhine), whose ingredients included sea salt, 5 different seasoning peppers, dehydrated vanilla, lemon and lime, by a chef in Baden-Baden itself), a crushed section of a bight red dried Ají dulce pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm, and garnished with some trimmed wood sorrel from Willow Wisp Organic Farm; some whole milk (dear to this midwestern son of a long line of Wisconsin and Rhineland dairy farmers), specifically, an outstanding, close-to-raw milk-taste product processed with a remarkable low-input low-impact pasteurizer, also from Mother Hubbert; a small salad of torn frisée from Willow Wisp Farm warmed in a bit of Whole Foods house Portuguese olive oil with some chopped spring red onion from Norwich Meadows Farm, tossed with chopped dill, also from Norwich Meadows Farm, dressed with more olive oil and drops of a Columela Rioja 30 Year Reserva sherry vinegar

After, there was coffee.

 

aged steak; oven fries; agretti; super tuscan; Hanson

It was the 4th of July.

We were about to enter the fourth month of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

It wasn’t a cookout (it wouldn’t have been a cookout even without the virus), but it was a great steak and there were some luscious oven fries, very very good steak and very very good oven fries. Also some lovely friar’s beard.

I almost always buy locally-farmed meat, whatever the species, but there was good a reason for making an exception this week.

It was a Kansas steak (which seems to have a certain caché). That is, it was a steak from Kansas, specifically, a cut of eastern Kansas Black Angus beef, a prime strip steak, dry-aged. It would normally have been very expensive, but this particular steak, purchased from Eataly, was, at 19 ounces, enough for 2 generous portions, and it was hugely discounted. It cost us only $20, or less than half the conventional price.

I don’t think I had ever cooked a true dry-aged steak, or even eaten one. This may have been my first, but it’s unlikely to be my last.

It was wonderful, from first to last, from the scent that began almost the moment it began to warm in the oven, until the tastiness of the very last bite.

  • two 9 1/2-ounce Creekstone Farms Prime Dry Aged New York strip steaks from Eataly, brought to room temperature, seasoned on both sides with local P.E. & D.D. Seafood Company sea salt and some very good freshly-ground black pepper, reverse seared, meaning they were placed on a small metal rack inside an oval La Chamba pan and placed, this time, inside a 275º oven for only about 25 minutes, or until an instant thermometer poked into the center read only 90º to 95º, for an ultimate medium rare, or a bit beyond that, noting that the steaks finish cooking inside a skillet and continue to increase in temperature [I would normally prefer a still lower oven temperature, but I was going to have to juggle the requirement of the steak with that of the potatoes, which would need a 450º oven for about half an hour; in any event I was surprised the steaks cooked so quickly, but the explanation, I now realize, was that they had been dry aged], the steaks then removed, allowed to wait on a warm plate, covered with tin foil, for, say, up to about 45 minutes, which helps in juggling the cooking of the accompanying vegetables, their preparation finished by being placed over high heat on the surface of a very well seasoned small antique cast iron pan that had been coated with a very small amount of cooking oil, an oil with a higher smoke point than olive oil (alternatively a bit of ghee, or a combination of butter and olive oil),  (I used Mac Nut macademia nut oil, from Whole Foods Market, by itself), and remembering that the steak was already fully cooked, and only needed to be inside the pan long enough to acquire some color, seared briefly (a minute and a half or 2 minutes on each side), removed from the heat, allowed to rest for up to 10 minutes on 2 warm plates, covered loosely with foil, some lemon juice squeezed on top, the steaks sprinkled with chopped epazote from Windfall Farms and drizzled with a Whole Foods Market Portuguese house olive oil
  • three large “red potatoes” from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, scrubbed, cut into wedges, tossed with a small amount of olive oil, roasted, once the steaks had been removed and the oven temperature increased to 450º, for about 30 or 35 minutes along with some crushed dried aji dulce pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm and several unpeeled mature garlic cloves from Westside Market, finished with a combination of chopped lovage and chopped parsley, both from Norwich Meadows Farm
  • 8 ounces of agretti from Willow Wisp Farm, parboiled in a pot of salted water for 7 or 8 minutes, or until the thicker stems had softened, drained, then either heated in a pan with a little olive oil, adding most of the juice from half of a medium lemon, or, once parboiled, merely combined with the olive oil and lemon (in either case, it can be served warm or room temperature, and with the option of a small washed, rinsed, and filleted anchovy)
  • the wine was a phenomenal Italian (Tuscany) red, Fattoria Montellori Salamartano Toscana IGT 1998, purchased from the mailing list of New York Vintners 

Gladys Swarthout, as Plentiful Tewke

 

 

[the second image is from the Hanson opera’s Wikipedia entry]

swordfish au poivre, scapes; new potato, tarragon; cheese

Piece of cake.

I have been neglecting this blog for months, first because I just got distracted by other stuff, and because I didn’t want to spend as much time on it as it demands. Then it was because of the additional perturbations that arrived early in March, those related to the pandemic, whose distractions were especially severe for those of us in New York.

And then near the end of May I burnt my left hand very seriously (2nd and 3rd degree, but now almost fully healed), and my calendar was suddenly even more full.

But it was a cooking accident, so at least I stayed on subject.

And I did keep cooking.

I quickly learned that preparing an ambitious meal with one hand requires a certain amount of kitchen experience, a bit of planning, some dexterity, and occasionally the opportunity of borrowing one or more of your partner’s limbs (I’m recalling me carving some sturdy, crusty bread while he was holding the loaf itself).

I’ve been making proper dinners for Barry and myself virtually every night, with the heroic assistance of the people working with GrowNY, everyone who made the Union Square Greenmarket safe and more vital than ever, and the many stores that were making home deliveries of goods I was unable to access in person. Our equally valorous doormen were lifesavers.

We are both extremely vulnerable to the virus, so my now one visit a week to the local open-air greenmarket was our only direct access to food supplies.

I think we only ordered pizza 3, maybe 4 times, in these 3 months, and some of the argument included wanting to support out wonderful local people.

We enjoyed a particularly enjoyable home-cooked meal last night, and it was also the first time the entrée, swordfish au poivre, had appeared on the blog, so it seems to be a good candidate for re-engagement [the recipe came from Florence Fabrikant, in the New York Times]

It was also a celebratory meal, as it marked the return to service of the hand that had been decommissioned over 3 weeks earlier and which had been wrapped in gauze until yesterday, but the recipe wasn’t complicated, and it might even have been accomplished with one hand.

  • eleven ounces of swordfish steak, one inch thick, from Pura Vida Seafood in the Union Square Greenmarket, halved, dusted lightly with sea salt on both sides, and sprinkled with nearly a tablespoon of crushed black the pepper, also on both sides, pressing salt and pepper into the fish, seared in a little olive oil inside a heavy tin-lined copper skillet over a medium flame until barely cooked through and still a bit pink in the center (about 2-3 minutes on each side), transferred to a platter or an oven dish just large enough to fit the fish (I used an oval Barro negro pottery dish I’ve had for years, from Oaxaca, Mexico), transferred to an oven that had been preheated, set at its lowest temperature (which might be 150-200 degrees, depending upon the appliance), its door immediately closed and the oven turned off, then half a tablespoon of butter added to the skillet, and, when it had melted, one modest portion, chopped, of a fresh spring shallot from from Lani’s Farm added and sautéed, stirring briefly, until translucent, for perhaps one minute, one fourth of a cup of cognac (I have a small bottle of Courvoisier V.S.) added, swirled in the pan a minute or so until somewhat reduced and a little syrupy, followed by one third of a cup of local Organic Valley heavy cream and a modest amount of chopped parsley from Norwich Meadows Farm, the liquid allowed to continue cooking, while being stirred, until it had thickened somewhat, removed from the heat, the swordfish removed from the oven and arranged on 2 plates, the sauce spooned on top
  • a colorful mix of 9 or 10 ounces of a variety of new potatoes (various sizes as well so the larger first quartered or halved) from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed, boiled, unpeeled, in generously-salted water until barely cooked through, drained, inside the still-warm vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot in which they had cooked, tossed there with a little butter, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, sprinkled with chopped tarragon from Rise & Root Farm, and arranged on the plates
  • a handful of garlic scapes (6 or 8) from Lucky Dog Organic Farm, trimmed at each end, rolled in olive oil, salt, and pepper, pan grilled, arranged curled on the plates
  • the wine was a French (Loire/Touraine) red, Chinon ‘Les Terrasses’ Lambert 2017, from Astor Wines 

There was a cheese course, 2 terrific goat cheeses I had bought that Wednesday from a new Greenmarket vendor, and I will definitely be seeking them out regularly

 

 

penne, radish (3x), chili, green garlic, lemon, breadcrumbs

I love radishes. This bowl of pasta boasts 3 forms of radish.

  • two tablespoons of homemade breadcrumbs (a stash that had been set aside separately because it they had come from some darker, pretty sturdy bread) added to a cast iron skillet in which a tablespoon of olive oil had been heated over a medium flame, toasted, stirring frequently, until golden and crisp (only a minute or two), transferred to a small bowl and mixed with a little lemon zest, then set aside while the pasta was prepared: eight ounces of really good Setaro Penne Rigate from Buon Italiacooked al dente inside a large pot of boiling salted water and drained, with one cup of pasta cooking liquid reserved, added to a sauce which had begun with a few ounces of oblong French Breakfast radishes from Alewife Farm, sliced lengthwise into 4 sections, sautéed in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat inside a large antique copper high-sided pan until they were tender and beginning to brown in spots (about 2 minutes), the radishes removed to a small bowl and a little more oil added to the pan together with one sliced stem of spring, or green, garlic from Lani’s Farm, the allium stirred until fragrant, which was basically a matter of seconds, followed by the addition of the fresh radish greens, removed from the roots when purchased, washed earlier in several changes of water then roughly chopped, along with almost a cup of the reserved pasta cooking water, the leaves stirred for a few seconds, until only beginning to wilt, the cooked pasta itself now added and mixed in with the greens, stirring, the reserved pasta water poured over it, and the mix stirred until the liquid had emulsified, the reserved radishes themselves now tossed in, followed by a half tablespoon or so of lemon juice and some sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a pinch of dried smoked serrano pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm, the sauced pasta arranged in 2 shallow bowls, sprinkled with the bread crumb mixture prepared earlier, the edges drizzled with a little olive oil, garnished with purple micro radish from Windfall Farms

 

 

April 16