Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spiced Sablefish over Pearl Couscous

Life can be hard, if you are a fish.   It is bad enough that you could end up being someone's lunch while you are looking for your own lunch.  If you are unfortunate enough to be tricked into going after someone's bait and you are caught, then you have to endure the indignity of being called different names.  Take, for example, the sablefish.   Or is it "black cod."   It is really bad if you happen to get snagged by a British fisherman (or fisherwoman), because they might call you by four different names ... "black cod," "bluefish," "candlefish," or "coal cod."  (Don't get me started about what actual bluefish might think about a sablefish being called a bluefish.)  Canadian fishermen (or fisherwomen) are almost as bad, calling you "coalfish," "beshow" or "skilfish."  Really, "beshow" or "skillfish"?  At what point does it appear that people are just making up names for you?  And, what if your real name was just Hal?  Or Nancy? 

If you were a sablefish, you might just ignore the multitude of other names by which you are called.  I accept that people may call me Kevin, Ken, or Eric (long story, perhaps as long as the story behind a sablefish being called beshow).  If only sablefish could think as we do.  What would they think about the fact that the people who will soon eat them can't even settle on a name.

For me, there is a lot about the sablefish that I don't know.  I have never seen one in the wild and, until recently, I never cooked the fish.  Yet, as I stood at the seafood counter of my local grocery store, I stared at the long fillets of sablefish.  I sensed a sort of challenge developing in my mind.  It was not only about how about I would prepare the fillets, but what I could learn about the fish itself.  

Let's start with the basics.  The sablefish is a deep sea fish that inhabits primarily the northern Pacific Ocean.  Their diet appears to be varied, ranging from other fish -- such as pollock, herring, capelin and Pacific cod -- to squid and jellyfish.  They eat and eat, for a very long time.  Some sablefish have been reported to have lived for as long as 94 years.  Given the potentially long lifespan of this fish, sustainability is important.  Fortunately, the fishing of sablefish is highly regulated, helping to maintain the populations so that more people like me can be introduced to this amazing creature.

The most surprising thing about this fish is the flesh.  The fish is known for its rich, buttery flesh.  Comparisons are often drawn to Chilean sea bass (also known as the Patagonian toothfish).  The meat is soft and mild.  After being cooked, it flakes very easily.  With these attributes, it is easy to see why sablefish is popular with chefs and restaurants.  

It should also be popular with health-conscious eaters.  While fillets of sablefish may have a high fat content, it is the good stuff ... Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, almost as much as wild salmon.  Sablefish are also low in the bad stuff, such as toxins and mercury.  It would seem to be the ideal fish.  The only question is how to prepare it.

I decided to use a spice rub.  Rich, mild and buttery flesh meant that I could add some flavor on outside while the large flaky meat would still enable one to taste the fish itself.  The spice mixture takes a page or two out of recipes from North Africa.  The combination of coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, paprika and cumin really appeals to me.  It packs a lot of flavor without a lot of heat.   I decided that the fish would be best served over pearl couscous, something that could complement the texture of the fish.  Overall, this dish was delicious and I have become a fan of sablefish.  Now, only if the store would stock it again....

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 3-4

1 pound of sablefish fish, cut into even sized portions
1 cup of pearl couscous
1/2 orange bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 large tomato, seeded, peeled and finely diced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil 
1 cup of water

1.  Prepare the fish fillets.   Add the coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, paprika, ginger, allspice and salt in a small bowl.  Stir to combine all of the rub ingredients.  Apply the rub to all sides of the fish, cover, and place in the refrigerator.

2.  Prepare the couscous.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Add the bell pepper and tomato, saute until the pepper is soft, about five minutes.  Add the couscous and toss.  Add the water, bring to a boil and then cover.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the couscous until the liquid is absorbed.  Add additional water if the couscous is not cooked.

3.  Cook the fish.  Heat the broiler.  Cook the fish under the broiler for about eight minutes or until the fish reaches about 145 degrees Fahrenheit.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lone Star Ribeye

In some respects, more is better, at least in my opinion.  If I find a marinade or rub recipe, I will often look at the number of ingredients.  There are certainly some great recipes that incorporate only two or three ingredients.  A steak that is marinated in oil, garlic and sea salt will definitely be a tasty dinner.

However, I look for recipes that may incorporate six or more ingredients.  Those recipes can present much more of a challenge.  Each ingredient has to take in account all of the other ingredients.  You have to take into account the flavors, the "intensity" and proportions.  A rub with three ingredients is fairly easy to develop and manage.  A rub with nine or ten ingredients becomes much harder.  The goal is to make sure each ingredient can be ascertained as much in the final product.  If one is not careful, then he or she can "lose" an ingredient in the mix.  In that case, it is as if you never used it in the first place.  A spice mix of six ingredients may only taste like there were three.  The whole effort results in a loss.

Recently, I found a recipe for a "Lone Star" rub on a blog called "Grogs4Blogs."  Along with the recipe, there was a very good discussion of what makes for a good dry rub.  A good rub, just like a good wet marinade, can be reduced to a very simple and straightforward equation, which was described by Adam Perry Long, the author of Serious Barbecue.  The equation is as follows: Color Base + Salt + Sugar + Flavor + Heat.  

The ingredients of the Lone Star rub can be organized according to this equation.  The color base is paprika, which serves as a common base for many rubs used in grilling and smoking.  The salt and sugar are self-explanatory.  The flavor comes from the use of onion powder, garlic powder, cumin and cinnamon.  Onion and garlic powder are about as common of flavor elements as paprika is a color base.  Cumin is also used frequently in spice mixes. By contrast, cinnamon is much less common in spice mixes, especially those destined to be applied to large steaks that will end upon the grill.  Yet, the sweet and "spice" of the cinnamon was clearly detectable in both the rub and the finished product.  Finally, the heat was the chile spice.  The recipe did not identify any particular chile, which I usually take to mean that generic "Mexican chile" or "chile" spice you find in the spice section of most grocery stores.  When I made this recipe, I decided to use some ground New Mexican hatch chiles, which provided just enough heat to balance the flavor elements in the rub.

Although I found the recipe on the Grogs4Blogs website, the blogger relied upon a rub recipe from Jamie Purviance, who is a chef and cookbook writer.  Chef Purviance has his own website,which is associated with Weber Grills. 

I managed to find a couple of other websites that had Chef Purviance's Lone Star rub.  Those recipes tracked the one on Grogs4Blogs with one exception.  The other recipes included dried majoram.  This raised a question in my mind.  Why did the blogger at Grogs4Blogs leave out one of the ingredients in the mix.  Majoram is used in many herb and spice mixes such as Herbes aux Provence and Za'atar. It pairs well with onions and garlic, and other herbs like rosemary.  However, majoram does not pair as well with the other flavor and heat ingredients of the Lone Star rub, such as chile, cumin and cinnamon.  That may have been the reason why it was left out of the recipe.  

In any event, the next time I try this recipe, I might just add back in that 1/2 teaspoon of dried majoram to see if it adds to the flavor of the rub or just gets lost in the mix.

Adapted from recipe published by Grogs4Blogs
Serves 4

2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 dry-aged, bone-in rib eyes, 12 to 16 ounces and 1 2/3 inches thick
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 limes, cut into wedges (optional)

1.  Prepare the steaks.   Combine all of the rub ingredients.  Brush the steaks with the olive oil and then apply the rub to all sides of the steak, massaging the rub into the meat.  Allow the steaks to stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before grilling.
2.  Grill or cook the steaks.   Heat the grill on high or the heat the broiler in the oven.  Grill or broil the steak for about six minutes and then flip the steak.  Grill or broil for about 4 minutes more.  

3.  Finish the dish.  Remove the steaks from the grill or broiler and tent with foil.  Let the steaks rest for five minutes and serve with the lime wedges.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kebab-e Kubideh

Kubideh or Koobideh.  The word is defined as a ground meat kebab (usually beef, but could be lamb) with the characteristic dimples that run down its length. For some, Kebab e-Kubideh (or Kebab e-Koobideh) is the signature kebab of Persian cuisine.  That says a lot.  Persian cuisine is well known for its kebabs.  Many of those kebabs, like  Kebab-e Jojeh (chicken) or Kebab-e Chenjeh (lamb) grace the menus of Persian restaurants across the United States (and this blog).   There are many, many more kebabs prepared by cooks and chefs in Iran, like Kebab Torsh, which originates in the Gilan province in northeastern Iran.  That kebab is made with sirloin meat marinated in a paste made with crushed walnuts, pomegranate juice, parsley olive oil and garlic.  To me, all of those kebabs could equally be the signature kebab of Persian cuisine. Yet, the title appears to have already been given to Kebab e-Kubideh.

At first glance, one could question whether the Kubideh deserves such status. After all, the preparation of today's Kubideh hardly resembles the methods used to create its predecessors.  The traditional preparation of the kebab was something like a mathematical equation: wooden mallet + meat + black stone = Kebab-e Kubideh.  In other words, a cook used a wood mallet to smash meat on a flat stone.  More precisely, a black, flat stone.  I admit that I have not been in many kitchens in Persian restaurants or in Persian homes, but I think I can say that the preparation of Kebab-e Kubideh today -- at least outside of Iran -- does not involve wooden mallets or flat, black stones.  How do I know that?  One answer may lie in the fact that, at least in the United States, neither Williams & Sonoma nor Sur La Table has sought to entice foodie cooks and chefs with Kubideh mallets or Kubideh stones.  (I should say, at least not yet.)  Another answer may in the fact that every recipe for Kebab-e Kubideh on the Internet calls for the use of ground meat.  80/20 or 85/15, ground beef.  This makes me 100% certain that -- once again, at least outside of Iran -- most Kubideh is not prepared in the traditional way.

I will freely admit that I join the ranks of those who prepare Kubideh without wooden mallets or flat, black stones.  However, I did purchase a set of flat, metal skewers.  One can prepare Kubideh without the wooden mallet and without the stone.  The flat metal skewers are indispensable.  The flatter, the better.  Flat skewers serve two purposes.  First, they help when it comes to shaping the kebabs in advance of the grilling.  Second, they provide more strength and support when it comes to flipping the kebabs during the grilling.  I purchased a set of flat kebabs on Amazon and prepared myself for my first attempt at making Kebab-e Kubideh.

That attempt was fairly difficult.  I struggled to the kebabs to remain on the skewers before grilling. One reason may be that I did not work the ground meat enough during the preparation.  I was working off of a video (the link is provided below) and the video did not specify how long one should work the meat.  In the end, I decided that I would place the kebabs in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes in advance of grilling.  This helped to make the kebabs firmer (without freezing them) to aid in the grilling process.  However, my difficulties can still be seen in the picture, as the kebabs are of differing length without clear, well defined dimples. 

I debated whether to post this recipe, because the end product did not resemble what I have eaten countless times in Persian restaurants.  I decided that, for the fact that I do not cook in Persian restaurants (and with its flaws it nevertheless represents a solid, good faith effort to create the dish), I would post this dish.  Hopefully, as I continue to make Kebab-e Kubideh, I will be able to replace the pictures with better looking kebabs. 

Recipe from Aashpazi
Serves 8

2 small onions
3 pounds lean beef (80/20 or 85/15)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon saffron

1.  Grate the onions.  Grate the onions using the fine side of a grater.  Pour off the excess water.  

2.  Prepare the meat mixture.  Place the meat in a large working bowl with the grated onions.  Work the onions into the meat.  Add salt and black pepper.  Work the salt, pepper, and turmeric into the mixture.  Add the sumac and work that into the mixture and continue to work the mixture.  Rehydrate the saffron with boiling water in a small vessel, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of the rehydrated saffron to the meat mixture and work it into the meat.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

3.  Prepare the kebabs.  Use flat metal skewers to make the kebabs.  Grab a handful of the meat mixture and begin to form the kebab around the flat metal skewer.  Do not cover the entire skewer, leaving both ends of the skewer open.  Pinch the edges of the kebabs.  Using your index and middle fingers, make ridges along the top and bottom lengths of the kebab.

4.  Grill the kebabs.  Heat a grill over high heat.  Place the kebabs over the grill.  Cook for a few minutes and then turn the kebabs.  Continue to cook for a few minutes and turn onto their sides. Continue to cook for about 1 minute more and turn to the other side for another minute.  Repeat this process until the kebabs are slightly charred and cooked throughout.