Monday, May 25, 2015

Catfish Milanese

If you want to trace the impact of a cuisine upon the world, then all you have to do is pick a recipe.  For example, take the dish known as Milanesa (or Milanese in English). Originating in Milan, Italy, a Milanesa is a breaded veal cutlet. The original recipe required a cutlet from a milk-fed veal, bone-in, and fried in clarified butter in the manner that one would fry Weiner Schnitzel. It is known as Cotoletta alla Milanesa

During the Italian diaspora in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, many emigrants took this dish to their new homes, many of which were in the Western Hemisphere.  The breaded cutlet dish found a new home in restaurants, especially in South America.  The dish evolved over the years and decades, with cooks breading much more than veal.  They breaded chicken cutlets and beef cutlets.  Cooks in different countries also made their own mark on the dish.  For example, in Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay, cooks prepared the cutlets with potatoes, calling it Milanesa con papas frites.  Milanesa has become so common, particularly in Latin American countries, that one could think that the dish originated in the New World, as opposed to restaurants and homes half a world away.

Drawing from the New-World inspiration, I decided to make a variation of a Milanesa.  This variation did away with the meat, and relied upon fish.  In particular, I used blue catfish for this dish.  The blue catfish originated in the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio river basins; however, the fish were introduced into rivers in nearby Virginia.  The blue catfish are a very sturdy species and have made their way into the Chesapeake Bay.  The blue catfish has done so well, that it is considered an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay, threatening the Bay's iconic residents, most notably, the blue crab. 

While the blue catfish may not have many natural predators in the water, it has a very big predator outside of the water.  Given its designation as an invasive species, and its threat to native species, it is always open season to catch blue catfish and cook them around here.  Indeed, unlike the iconic rockfish (which has a 1 to 2 fish catch limit), the State of Maryland does not place any limit on catfish.

When I came across blue catfish fillets in my local grocery store, I thought that these fillets were perfect for a Milanese recipe.  The fillets were just thick enough that they could be breaded and fried like a chicken or veal cutlet.  The fillets also appeared hardy enough to serve as an adequate substitute for meat.  My initial thoughts proved accurate, as the blue catfish worked extremely well in a Milanese recipe.  The only hitch is that, unlike veal or chicken, one cannot pound catfish to get the desired thickness.  Therefore, it is very important to purchase fillets that are even in thickness and just thick enough to stand up to about six or eight minutes of cooking.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

4 catfish fillets, about 6-8 ounces each 
2 large eggs 
1 1/2 cups of panko breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons of butter
1 lemon, juiced
6 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cups of arugula, lightly packed

1.  Bread the catfish.  Place the panko bread crumbs on one dish.  Beat the eggs in a separate dish. Dip each filet in the beaten eggs and then into the bread crumbs.  Make sure the fillets are completely coated and press gently to adhere the coating the fillets.

2.  Fry the catfish. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add 2 fillets and fry until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes.  Flip the fillets and continue to cook for about 2 minutes.  Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel and place in the oven to keep warm.  Repeat the process with the remaining fillets.

3.  Prepare the arugula.  Whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the lemon juice.  Toss the oil and juice with the arugula, shallots, and tomatoes.

4.  Plate the dish.   Place the catfish in the center of the dish.  Add the arugula mixture over the catfish.  Serve immediately.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Green Fire Ribeye

It seems that chile heat is in vogue.  Turn on your television and your eyesight is burned with commercials for Wendy's Jalapeno Ghost Fries or Popeye's Ghost Pepper Wings.   The Ghost Pepper, officially known as the Bhut Jolokia, is one very spicy pepper.  The Scoville Rating for the Ghost Pepper, which is the official rating of piquancy, ranges somewhere from 855,000 units to 1,401,427 units.  By way of comparison, Tabasco sauce is approximately 10,000 units.

There is a part of me that loves the challenge of eating fiery foods.  I used to relish eating the spiciest food on the menu and my go-to dishes that I make usually involve combinations of various chiles.   However, as I have pursued cooking as a hobby, my desire to eat the fieriest food within reach has waned.  I think that, over time, it has become more about flavor than heat.  While I still love very spicy peppers and dishes, my attention has turned to ways in which I can highlight, complement or contrast the flavors of chiles.  It is very hard to pursue this goal when the chile, such as the Bhut Jolokia, could be used to simulate nuclear reactions in one's stomach.  

Consequently, I have looked to a wide range of other chiles, many of which have substantial, but not overpowering heat.  I have used Sanaam chiles, Piri Piri chiles, Scotch Bonnets, and others.   One of my most favorite chiles to experiment with is the Hatch chile.  It is definitely on the low end, with only about 1,000 to 2,500 units on the Scoville Scale. 

Sometimes less can be more.  When one uses a chile with a lower piquancy, it allows for other the flavors of other spices to shine in a rub or marinade.  This is what I tried to achieve with a recent rub that I made for a grilled steak.  I call it the "Green Fire" rub, because the backbone of the mix is ground green Hatch chiles.   I took advantage of the lower piquancy of the chiles to allow for other ingredients, such as coriander, garlic and cumin, to come through in the flavor of the rub.  The rub still packed a kick, because I made sure that a sizable amount of the ground chile was used.  About 1 teaspoon per per pound of meat.  This ensured a good amount of heat, without numbing taste buds or otherwise taking away from the dish.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 1

1 ribeye, about 1 pound
1 teaspoon ground green hatch chile
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin

1. Apply the rub.   Combine all of the spices and herbs in a small bowl.  Apply the rub to all sides of the ribeye.  Let the ribeye stand at room temperature for about ten to fifteen minutes.

2. Grill the ribeye.  Heat the grill on high heat.  Grill the ribeye for about three minutes, shift by 90 degrees, and grill for about 3 minutes more.  Flip and repeat for a total of six minutes.  Remove and let rest for 10 minutes.


Friday, May 1, 2015


Under a threatening sky, BESIEGED by rain clouds, lightening glinting in the hills, the winemaker worked alone to collect grapes destined for one of his debut wines. As he worked, the ravens cackled from above but instead of being harbingers of doom, they brought him good good fortune, becoming the totem for his winery.  The winery is Ravenswood.  And the wine.  It is Besieged.

I have to admit that the label caught my eye.  However, I do not buy wines solely on the label.  Many a bottle has stood on a shelf because I will not allow myself to be swayed by what is little more than marketing.  The one thing that led me to purchase a bottle of this wine was the blend ... Petite Sirah, Carignan, Zinfandel, Alicante Boushet, and Mourvedre.  I am a big fan of Petite Sirah, and have a great interest in both Carignan and Mourvedre.  But Alicante Boushet?  I had never heard of that varietal.  It was the prospect of having a wine made with a grape that I had never tasted.

The grape, Alicante Bouschet, is a hybrid, produced by crossing Petit Boushet and Grenache.  It was first cultivated by ... Henri Bouschet ... in 1866.  The result was a high quality grape that enticed French vineyards and winemakers throughout much of France, including Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire Valley, as well as by Portuguese vineyards in the Alentejo.  It is also a popular grape among winemakers and vineyards in California, including Joel Peterson of Ravenswood.

The Besieged pours a dark red to almost black. Something that echoes the colors of a raven's wings.  The aroma is full of fresh, ripe dark fruit, such as blackberries, black cherries and plums.  There is a slight spice or pepper in the background, but it struggles to make itself known amongst the fruit.

As for the taste, I have to say that I was truly impressed with this wine.  The elements include the fruit -- blackberry, black cherry, and plum.  The winemakers also suggest a rather peculiar spice ... cardamom.  And, I have to say, I actually picked up the cardamom in the wine.  It revealed itself for just a few moments before being wrapped in the dryness of the tannins in the wine. The finish is a little dry, but that is to be expected given the use of Zinfandel and Mourvedre.

When it comes to pairing, this wine is perfect for a grilled steak or other grilled meat, such as chicken or pork.  The fruit flavors, and the cardamom, contribute to the flavors of the grilled meat.  I paired this wine with my Green Fire Ribeye, which is a grilled steak with a rub made of green Hatch chile, coriander, cumin, onion powder and garlic powder.  Notwithstanding the use of chile powder, the wine still worked very well because the tannins are relatively tame.

I found this wine in a local grocery store.  A bottle runs from $14.99 to $16.99.