grilled herring fillets, mustard-oregano sauce; boiled potato

oiled and seasoned

grilled and plated

 

We both really like herring in virtually any form. This disposition, grilled fresh fillets, is probably less familiar to most fans of clupea harengus (Atlantic Herring) but it’s one of the most satisfying – and it makes a wonderful entrée.

The dinner we enjoyed this past Saturday almost duplicated this one from three years ago, where I wrote:

Barry and I are very lucky to live in a part of the world where there are an extraordinary number of varieties of seafood in local waters, where most are judged plentiful enough to be harvested by smaller operators, where those fishers want to make them available fresh for retail purchase by ordinary people in a central public market within a short but healthy walking distance, and where I enjoy the time needed to seek them out and prepare them using the best of my skills and some good kitchen tools.

It still works, even during a pandemic, which of course is when it becomes even more important, for everyone engaged in these pleasures and rewards.

  • eight small Atlantic herring fillets (a total of 12 ounces) from P.E. & D.D. Seafood in the Union Square Greenmarket, rinsed under running cold water, drained, dried, brushed with a little olive oil and seasoned lightly with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, arranged on a double cast iron grill pan which had gotten very hot over 2 high burner flames, grilled, skin side down, for l to 2 minutes, turned over and cooked for 1 to 2 minutes more, drizzled with a little olive oil, arranged on 2 plates and served with a sauce which had just been mixed in a small bowl, of mustard (half whole-grain Maille ‘Old Style’ whole grain Dijon, and half Domaines des Vignes ‘extra forte‘ Dijon), the leaves, chopped, of a bunch of fresh oregano from Stokes Farm, a teaspoon of pine blossom honey from Tremblay Apiaries in the Union Square Greenmarket, the zest and juice from one lemon, and a bit of olive oil, garnished with micro red sorrel from Two Guys from Woodbridge one pound of red potatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm, boiled with a generous amount of salt until barely cooked through, drained, halved, dried while still inside the large still-warm vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot in which they had cooked, tossed with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and garnished with bronze fennel from Windfall Farms, arranged on a small bed of leaves from a small head of purple bibb Rosaine lettuce from Norwich Meadows Farm that had been lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice
  • the wine was a South African (Western Cape) white, Babylonstoren Chenin Blanc 2020, from Bottlerocket 
  • the music was Beethoven’s ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’, performed by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam

feta; pasta with smoked steelhead, shallot, capers, cream

Friday night dinner.

Barry found the recipe. I do the cooking, but he’s very, very good at ordering. I don’t mean ordering me, but ordering food in restaurants or at take out, where I, on the other hand, usually freeze up. It turns out he’s also good at spotting recipes. This was a really good one.

I halved the recipe on the delish site, and I made a few changes, substituting mint for the dill I didn’t have; red onion for “onion”, because I love red onion; vesuvio pasta for spaghetti (same); smoked steelhead trout for salmon, because we’ve recently come to love our local steelhead, also because it’s what I had on hand that day; and finally, since I can’t usually leave good enough alone, and to enhance the visuals, I added a garnish, chervil here, one of my favorites.

  • a tablespoon or so of olive oil heated inside a large antique copper pot over medium heat,
    one medium/large chopped shallot cooked until softened, one clove of chopped garlic added and heated until fragrant, 2 tablespoons of white wine [poured in and stirred until it had almost completely, 3 ounces of heavy cream and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice added and stirred until thickened, the sauce seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground  black pepper before 4 ounces of smoked local steelhead trout (farmed by Hudson Valley Fisheries, in Hudson, NY), a few tablespoons of rinsed large Sicilian salted capers and a generous amount of a mint hybrid (spearmint and Peppermint) mixed in and heated briefly, or just only until the salmon had warmed through, then 8 ounces of a Gragnano Campania pasta (Afeltra Vesuvio) cooked al dente added to the pot, along with almost a cup of the pasta cooking water, and tossed together with the sauce, adding more water if desired, before the dish was  arranged inside shallow bowls, scattered with a little more mint, and garnished with chervil from Eckerton Hill Farm

There was a first course.

  • a few ounces of ‘Bulgarian feta” from Moxie Ridge Farm & Creamery sprinkled with a bit of crushed dried aji dulce pepper from Ekerton Hill Farm and some torn basil taken from a live plant purchased from Stokes Farm, drizzled with a bit of Palagio Tuscan olive oil
  • slices of Runner & Stone ‘Bolzano’ whole wheat and rye sourdough miche

 

guanciale, shallot, squash, grenada pepper, sage carbonara

I had some very good winter squash on the window sill, with no plan to use it soon. I was expecting Thursday to be a pasta day. I looked on line for ideas on how to combine both interestingly.

I quickly found three or four promising recipes. None of them seemed quite right however. I composed one myself, using elements from each of them.

  • a tablespoon and a half of olive oil heated inside a large antique tin-lined copper pot over medium-high heat, roughly 3 ounces of medium (half inch) cubed guanciale added and the flame reduced to medium, the pork cooked, stirring occasionally, only until it had softened slightly and colored, then one small chopped green/yellow (that is, not fully ripened) Grenada seasoning pepper from Eckerton Hill farm tossed in and heated only until it had softened and become even more pungent than it already is when raw, a tablespoon or more of roughly chopped fresh sage added and stirred to coat, then, using a slotted wooden spoon, guanciale and sage transferred to a small bowl and set aside while, and ideally kept warm, then 10 or more ounces of cubed winter squash (Jester squash from Bauma’s Market in Bordentown, NJ, and purchased in the Union Square Greenmarket), added to the pot, along with one medium chopped shallot and one clove of chopped garlic, the vegetables seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, cooked, stirring occasionally, until the onion was translucent, when it was joined by 8 ounces of Setaro Campania penne rigate from Buon Italia in Chelsea Market, cooked al dente, and everything tossed together well, some reserved pasta cooking water added to the mix and stirred over a medium to high flame until the sauce had coated the pasta well, several tablespoons of shredded Pecorino cheese stirred in and the pasta seasoned to taste with salt and pepper, served in shallow bowls topped with the previously reserved guanciale and sage, topped with some shaved Pecorino, and more pepper
  • the wine was an Italian (Piedmont), Dolcetto d’Alba 2019 
  • the music was the album, ‘Dai Fujikura; by ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), a 2004 release on the label Kairos

creamy pasta, crispy mushrooms

I literally tripped over this Epicurious recipe recently while I was looking for something not even food related. I literally stopped in my tracks, because the picture accompanying it was very appetizing.

Tuesday evening I happened to have some excellent mushrooms in the apartment – and some heavy cream, which is somewhat more untypical. Both were critical for proceeding with the recipe, which I halved for the two of us.

The dish was even more satisfying than I’d expected. Also, as with most well-conceived pasta dishes, with good ingredients, it only got better the longer it sat on the table (or inside the pot, available for seconds). We tend to talk a lot during meals, and we eat very slowly, so we have a definite advantage there.

 

  • half of an 8-ounce bag of superb small-ish Piopini mushrooms from Gail’s Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, first separated from each other, tossed into a large antique tin-lined copper pot with one tablespoon of olive oil already heated over a medium-high flame, the fungi immediately sprinkled with sea salt, sautéed in a single layer, undisturbed, until their edges were brown and starting to crisp, or for about 2 minutes, then tossed and cooked further, stirring or tossing occasionally, until all sides were brown and crisp, or about 4 minutes more, then, using a slotted wooden spoon, transferred to a bowl, the other 4 ounces of mushrooms sautéed in the same manner, the process repeated with another tablespoon of oil, afterwards the heat reduced to medium-low and, with all of the mushrooms returned to the pot, one finely chopped medium shallot and one small astonishingly delicious chopped Grenada seasoning pepper added and cooked, stirring often, until the shallots were translucent and softened, or for little over a minute, then 8 ounces of really good artisanal Neapolitan spaghetti, boiled until not quite al dente and then drained, were added to the pot with a quarter cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid, the heat increased to medium-high and the mixture cooked, tossing constantly, until the liquids had thickened, at which time the pot was removed from the heat and some lemon zest and juice (each the product of less than half of one lemon), chopped parsley, several tablespoons of butter, about a third of a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and lots of freshly ground black pepper were tossed in and combined with the mix, more salt added if needed, the finished pasta divided between bowls and topped with more Parmesan cheese
  • the wine was a wonderful Puglian red, Dominic Hentall Sangiovese Negroamaro IGT Puglia 2019, from Naked Wines
  • the music was Ernst Krenek’s 1923 Schauspiel, ‘Orpheus und Eurydike’, with a libretto by Oskar Kokoschka, a 1990 performance by the RSO Wien and the ORF-Chor, conducted by Pinchas Steinberg

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