Friday, June 19, 2020

Monkfish with Ratatouille

Imagine a lazy predator who lies underwater covered in muck and mud.  When it gets hungry, it dangles a lure to attact small fish and crustaceans.  When those small prey get close enough, the predator opens its cavernous mouth to swallow the unsuspecting fish or shrimp.  

That lazy predator goes by many names: anglerfish, goosefish, frog fish, molligut, and sea devil.  Most people know it as the monkfish. 

For a very long time, the monkfish was considered a trash fish.  Fishermen who caught the fish often threw it back, because, at one point, it would only garner about twenty cents per pound. For those who kept the fish, they often got an unexpected treat. The meat of the monkfish -- which comes from its tail -- had a special consistency, one that resembled the texture of lobsters.  That special texture is how the fish got another nickname, the poor mans's lobster.  

That nickname has become a misnomer in recent years. A pound of monkfish goes for much more today than twenty cents per pound. If you were to go to a grocery store, or a seafood market, you would most likely find monkfish for anywhere between $8.99 to $18.99 per pound.  The poor'man's lobster is now a delicacy that graces the plates of fancy restaurants.  As it grew in popularity, the demand put stress on the monkfish populations.  That has led some countries, such as Norway, to place restrictions on the fishing of monkfish to ensure the stability of its population.   The United States also places restrictions on the commercial fishing of monkfish. 

I guess this dish is my attempt to create a fancy dish using monkfish.  The fish is baked in the oven, and served with a rater simply prepared ratatouille.  Perhaps this dish is a nod to French cuisine, whose chefs and cooks have prepared the fish in a varety of ways.  This simple preparation was very tasty and a great waty to enjoy the fish and get your daily requirement of vegetables.  

Recipe from Epicurious
Serves 4

1 eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium-lrge zucchini, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon dried
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
Tomato sauce (14 ounces)
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons drained capers (optional)

1.  Roast the vegetables.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Toss eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper and onion with 2 teaspoons of oil in a bowl.  Add the thyem, season with salt and pepper and toss again.  Coat a shallow baking pan with cooking spray.  Arrange the vegetables on pan and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.  Stir in garlic and tomatoe sauce. Cover loosely with foil and roast for 10 minutes more.  Remove pan from oven.  Stir in chopped basil.

2.  Bake the fish.  Rub the fillets with the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Nestle the fish in the vegetables cover loosley with foil.  Bake until the fish is just cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Top with basil leaves and capers. Serve immediately.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Serrage Poulet

They were once known as Folhavahi or Hollhavai. The names given to atolls and islands located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Atolls and islands in which Maldivian sailors found themselves stranded. Apart from providing some safety for endangered sailors, no one had any other interest in these little specks of brown that dotted an ocean of blue. 

Portuguese explorers eventually "found" the atolls and islands in the early 16th century. They gave the archipelago the name of Bassas de Chagas, but they never claimed any of the atolls or islands.  The first claim was made about one hundred years later, after the French settled Reunion in 1665 and Ile de France (now known as Mauritius) in 1715. The French began to issue permits to companies to establish coconut plantations in the 1770s. The French also established the first colony on the largest island, Diego Garcia in 1793. With the colony and the plantations, slaves were forcibly brought to the archipelago from Madagascar and Mozambique.

The British gained control over the atolls and islands, as well as Mauritius and the Seychelles, with the Treaty of 1814. Despite the change in control, the work on the coconut plantations continued. In addition to coconuts, Diego Garcia also became a stop on the slave trade. This brought Malay slaves to the archipelago. The British eventually freed the slaves in 1835, and, many continued to work on the plantations.  Those workers were joined by Indian laborers from the subcontinent.

Clement Saitous, Scene de la viequotidienne a la ville de
Perhos Banhos, 1950
 Photograph: Simon Preston Gallery
The different peoples -- Africans, Indians, Malay, as well as Europeans -- developed their own Creole culture.  They became known as the Creole des Iles or the Ilois; and, they spoke Chagossian Creole, a variant of French Creole. For more than a century, the Ilios grew in number and began to settle some of the outlying islands.

This post is about those people, the Ilios.  Despite living under European control for more than three centuries, the Ilios maintained their own identity. An identity in which, according to one thesis, women were viewed as equals to men, Women are often the heads of the households, because the population on the islands were predominantly female. The Ilios developed their own creole language, with its own vocabulary.  They created their own traditions, their own music, and their own way of life.

When it comes to their cuisine, some say their cusine draws from Mauritian cuisine or Seychellois cuisine, groups of islands that are "neighbors" to the Chagos Islands. However, it may be just as likely that the cuisine of the Chagos Islands drew upon the influences that make up the the Ilois people.  Those influences come from the slaves and laborers who were brought from Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as came from India.  That is perhaps the reason why a dish such as Serrage Poulet makes sense.  The use of turmeric is a hint of South African cuisine; and, the use of garam masala underscores the cuisine of the subcontinent. The use of these spices, along with coconut milk evokes curries across southern and southeast Asia. It all comes together in this one dish.

Recipe from Travel by Stove and
Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, cubed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch of ginger, grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 can of coconut milk (14 ounces)
2 cinnamon sticks
Fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Prepare the chicken.  Combine the ginger, turmeric, garam masala, and cayenne pepper.  Mix the spices well.

2.  Saute the chicken.  Heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the chicken and saute until browned and evenly cooked. 

3.  Finish the dish. Add the coconut milk and the cinnamon sticks.  Bring to a boil and the reduce to a simmer.  Continue to cook until the chicken is completely cooked.  Remove from the heat and serve immediately with white rice. 

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What is amazing to me is how the Ilios they maintained their culture and identity over decades and, indeed, centuries. That culture thrived despite the exploitative systems imposed under colonialism and the post-colonial period. It thrive despite the fact that the Ilios did not own their homes.  It thrived despite the fact that they relied upon corporations and governments for much of what they needed. It lives on today, despite injustices at the hands of the governments of both the United Kingdom and the United States. It is an injustice that robbed them of their homeland. That injustice will be the subject of the next post about the Chagossian people and their cuisine. Please stay tuned....