Sunday, June 7, 2009

Crabs From The Source - My Backyard Canal. And Tilefish And Mahi Mahi For Dinner.

Here's the money shot:
And that would be tilefish and mahi mahi
in a very delicate sweet/sour sauce,
with fresh-picked crabmeat on top,
and steamed vegetables.
And I thank my dear friend, Martie,
for sending me this recipe,
which I slightly tweaked,
because I have to and I can.

June 3, 2009

Dear Friends,

This is my idea of a quick summer fish dish with all kinds of bright, contrasts going on. Almost any fish can take this treatment; keep the seasonings around so you are set up and ready to go.

This is so typical of the fast and piquant dishes you find all over the southern Italian seacoast regions, especially Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily. Cooks there understand the flavor mix of sweet-tart and mint as no others do. I think this goes back to the Arab occupations that began in the 800's. They left their mark in pastry traditions, couscous, and fruit and sweet flavors mixed with savories. You don't find these elements as you move north; in fact, they are often scorned as "foreign."

Sicilian Sweet-Sour Seafood Sauté

Serves 2 and multiplies easily

Cook's Note: Honey can replace the sugar, and hot red pepper flakes could stand in for the fresh chile.

  • Good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 ounces firm fish fillets (see Tips below for suggested choices)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced thin
  • 3 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 5 fresh spearmint leaves, torn
  • 1 fresh Italian hot pepperoncino, or jalapeño chile, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1. Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over medium high. Generously film the pan with oil. Once hot, add fish seasoned with salt and pepper. Quickly brown the fish on both sides, turning with a spatula. Remove from pan, pour off fat.

2. Add remaining ingredients to pan. Stir 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Put fish back in pan, cover and cook over medium low 5 minutes, or until firm when pressed. Serve fillets moistened with pan juices and the onion mixture.


Suggested fish for this recipe include catfish, black sea bass, farmed arctic char, opah, pollock, Pacific white sea bass, Atlantic wreckfish, striped mullet, porgy, Alaska and Washington State wild salmon, and United States farmed tilapia, rainbow trout, and yellowtail. These species are not currently threatened by overfishing or affected by health alerts.

One of the nicest things about living where we do,
besides the ever-changing spectacular views, of course,
is that we can bait our own crab pots,
throw them right off our pier,
and come back in a few hours
and harvest our own little catch of hard shell blue crabs.
What did we use for bait?
Crabs will eat anything and everything. They are true scavengers of the sea. Whenever we trim fat off our meats, we save it in a freezer bag for occasions such as this. If you look closely in the crab pot, you'll also see a deer leg bone, saved from November 2008, when a friend brought us deer meat.
Now I'll go out on a tangent, or as Mr. Hawthorne calls it, a tantrum, or as Donna, of MyTastyTreasures blogdom probably would say, a tantra, which takes me to a disturbing place: When I was watching
Oprah one time and she had Sting, of the Police, (Is there any other Sting?) and wifey,Trudie Styler, and O was grilling them on their sex life
because that's what Oprah does
and they were totally sharing and it's Too.Much.Information.
OK. Back to my tangent: It's about people who call themselves vegetarians. Twenty or so years ago, I invited several friends and their significant and insignificant others, to share Thanksgiving Dinner with us (And yes, Dinner should be capitalized.). One friend, after accepting the invitation, called me back, telling me his girlfriend was a vegetarian. I replied, somewhat icily, if I recall correctly, "I will have vegetables," (clenched teeth were involved), wondering if she expected me to make a tofu turkey.
I decided right then and there to go out and buy, besides the turkey I already had, a huge offensive ham, hoping I would be as politically and ungraciously incorrect as possible. Now, if any of you have read my blog long enough, you know what Thanksgivings are like Chez Hawthorne. I always have variety,
of each and every food group. Trust me on this. As soon as the "vegetarian" walked in the house, she exclaimed, "Oh, it smells delicious in here. Is that ham? I don't eat ham." I smiled politely. And, with a wide sweep of my arm, and jaunty cock to my head, I ushered her to the hors d'oeuvres buffet on my counter. I had a hollowed-out boule with a crab meat/cream cheese/brie mixture with come citrus, minced multi-colored peppers, some chives, parsley, a splash of sherry just kissing the top, and some sliced scallions and paprika, all surrounded by the toasted bread I'd scraped out. I had steamed jumbo shrimp, deveined, peeled to the tail, served with a sinus-cleansing horseradish/ketchup/ Lea & Perrins Worstershire cocktail sauce with lots of lemon. I had nuts, and fruits, and cheeses. I had another wonderful shrimp spread/dip with chopped shrimp/mayo/ketchup/ lemon juice/ dill seeds/fresh dill. Assorted crackers. And a terrific little something I've never made for you, but have been meaning to, and will as soon as my basil plants are big enough, because it's a great appetizer/treat. It involves layers of blue cheese/cream cheese, pesto, and sun dried tomatoes. And a wonderful 'nother lil sumpin' I've been meaning to do for you too, and haven't yet: It's a Triscuit, with cream cheese, thin slice of cucumber, slice of Salmolux, chopped red onions, some chopped scallions, some fresh dill, some capers,
and some caviar for Mr. Hawthorne. Oh, what else did I have? Potato chips and dip. Vegetables and dips. A platter of deviled eggs. It was unending.
And remember, these are just the appetizers. Back to my "vegetarian." She immediately helped herself to the crabmeat, shrimp, and eggs. "EXCYOOOOOOOSE ME????" "I thought you were a vegetarian?" "I am." "But you have MEAT on your plate." "No. This is seafood." "If it has parents and eyes and it bleeds, it's MEAT." "Whaaaa???? Huhhhhh???" "And you're eating EGGS. That is a MEAT by-product. You're eating what came out of a chicken's ASS." "Well, it's all very good."" "Uhhhmmm, thank you." "You're welcome." Now, another tangent: People are what they eat. What about animals and my "vegetarian" acquaintance. Now, a cow is a true vegetarian. The cow eats nothing but grass and grains - the ultimate diet, to the "vegetarian." But the cow is verboten, even with his clean, green diet. A crab, on the other hand, like I said before (and the whole thing that brought me here ), is a scavenger. A crab will eat anything. A crab will eat everything. A crab does not discriminate. The crabs we ate tonight, might have feasted recently on a human body. That is entirely possible. Yet my "vegetarian" acquaintance embraces the crab and curses the cow.
Now, off on another tangent. ORGANS. What is it with organs? Mr. H.: "I'm not eatin' those damn sweetbreads! They're ... They're ... They're ORGANS!" Rosie: "But you eat the skin on chicken. The skin is the biggest organ of the body." Mr. H.: "That's different." Rosie: "And you eat oysters too. And an oyster is nothing but one big-ass organ that filters all the impurities so you just got one impurity-laden ORGAN That.You.Love."
Mr. H. : "Well, that's different." And the last tangent/rant I'll go off on (I promise.) is the restaurant reviewer/non-critic for the weekend edition of the local flyer that comes in the Virginian Pilot. She reviews an Outer Banks restaurant every week. And she's NEVER met a restaurant she didn't like. They should really hire me as a restaurant reviewer down here.
Upside, I would be truthful.
Downside, the newspaper would quickly lose all their restaurant advertisers.
But back to the local Restaurant Reviewer. She is a self-professed VEGETARIAN! WHAT?????!!!!??? You get a Freakin' VEGETARIAN to critique restaurants??? So, do you have a blind man to be your art reviewer? I have read numerous of this woman's reviews
which start out like this:
"I ordered the mushroom <...insert dish here..>, because I'm a vegetarian and I don't eat meat,
and mushrooms have the texture of meat and kinda taste like meat." Then JUST EAT THE MEAT, BITCH! Damn hypocrites.
Oh. Sorry. Off my tangents now. Back to where I was. The blue crab.
The Atlantic blue crab, or Callinectus sapidus,
from the Greek calli meaning beautiful,
nectes meaning swimmer,
and the Latin sapidus, meaning savory,
is a crustacean found in the western Atlantic,
from Nova Scotia to Argentina,
and the Gulf of Mexico.
And it's some seriously good eats.
Here are the live crabs in my pot,
awaiting their "sauna."
We put maybe a 1/2 inch of water in,
covered the pot,
turned on the heat,
and cooked for about 5 minutes,
then turned off the heat
and left covered.
(We only had 5 crabs.
If you have more in the pot, cook longer.)
And here are our beautiful little crabbies.
And that would be a male crab, or Jimmy, at the top left.
Anatomy lesson:
The crab on the right is a male, or Jimmy.
If you go to different web sites,
they sometimes euphemistically
describe that phallic extension on the apron,
as looking like "The Washington Monument."
So that's what the kids are calling it these days.
And there's no way in the males
to tell the sexual maturity.
The crab on the left is a mature female,
or sook.
Notice the apron is rounded like a dome.
On an immature female, or Sally or She-Crab,
the apron is shaped more like a triangle.
Once again,
Mr. Hawthorne gets the "shit detail,"
and picks the crabs.
These five crabs gave us about
a cup of meat.
And if you didn't know how to pick
one of these buggers,
you could easily starve before you got to the meat.
While Mr. Hawthorne picked the crabs,
I prepared the rest of the fixin's.
Our vegetable dish tonight
will be broccoli, carrots, and celery.
My ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce for my fish:
3 TB cider vinegar
2 TB sugar
1/2 jalapeno
10 basil leaves
sprig of mint (maybe 10 leaves)
1/2 red onion
I chopped my onion, mint, and basil,
and minced my jalapeno.
We stopped at Billy's Seafood
to pick up our fillets:
The 2 thicker cuts in the middle
and the one smaller cut at the top
We got that smaller cut at the top
when we cut out the strong, oily blood line
and that little piece fell off.
The other two thinner cuts are tilefish.
When Mr. Hawthorne and I took our cooking classes
at the NC Aquarium,
we were given these seafood watch pocket guides.
The pocket guides help you make seafood choices
that support and sustain healthy and abundant oceans,
protecting both the fisherman's way of life
and the impact on the fisheries.
Here's the guide for my area.
And crap, I now see that both Mahi Mahi and Tilefish
are on the AVOID list.
The seafood watch guides
have three columns:
A Best Choice column lists seafoods
that are abundant, well-managed,
and fished or farmed in environmentally-friendly ways.
The Good Alternatives column
lists seafood that there are some concerns about,
whether the concerns are about how the fish is caught or farmed
or concerns about the health of their habitats.
The Avoid column lists seafood that for now
should be avoided because of the way they're caught or farmed
which might harm the environment or other marine life,
or because there are concerns about mercury or other contaminants.
is all about raising consumer awareness
about the importance of buying environmentally-friendly
seafood from sustainable sources.
By sustainable,
we're talking about seafood, whether fished or farmed,
that can continue to exist without compromising the
survival of the species or damaging the surrounding ecosystem.
Rosie steps down from her green soapbox.
Then I had to take a break for a while
since Dixie's best friend, Buster,
her next door neighbor,
came to visit.
That's Buster on the leash.
Dixie and Buster love to play together
and their favorite game is tag.
Back to dinner.
I put the crabmeat in a little pan
with melted butter and lemon juice
and just heated it through.
I like to rinse my fillets off,
then pat them dry with paper towels,
and add salt and pepper.
The fish then went into a hot pan
with olive oil and butter.
Both these fishes are very delicately flavored,
so I used an Extra Light Olive Oil
(Bertolli is my choice.).
An Extra Virgin Olive Oil
would probably impart more of its flavor than
I'd like and overpower the fish.
I use the butter to get the flavor
of a slightly browned butter.
The olive oil serves to raise the smoke point.
The butter will brown, but not burn.
I seared on both sides just for a couple of minutes,
then I removed the (not yet cooked through) fillets from the pan
and prepared my sauce.
First, I deglazed my pan with a little white wine.
I added a tablespoon of butter to the pan.
Then added the chopped red onions.
And the minced jalapeno.
And the mint and basil.
Added in the sugar.
And the vinegar.
Then I put the fillets back in for a few minutes to finish cooking. Do NOT overcook fish. (Or any meat, for that matter.)
It will become dry and tough. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, it's ready.
I steamed my veggies until just crisp/tender. Please don't overcook your vegetables either. Overcooking takes all the color, flavor, taste, nutrients, and fun out of vegetables.
Here's our dinner. I added just a bit of butter and lemon juice to the vegetables. And I spooned some of the herbed-flavored, barely-there sweet and sour sauce over the tilefish and mahi mahi, and topped with the crab meat which I'd heated in butter and lemon juice.
I thought this was a terrific meal. The sweet and sour sauce was a very low-key complement to the fish, the hint of mint was a fresh, welcomed flavor, and the buttery sweetness of the crab meat was just a little bite of heaven. That said, I couldn't taste the basil or the jalapeno. I will most certainly make this again, but next time I'll double up on the basil and the jalapeno.
Now, on to the most frustrating part of this meal: my tete-a-tete with Monseiur Hawthorne. Lots of times, in the interests of journalism and cuisine, I confront Mr. Hawthorne about his immediate impressions and opinions about whatever dish I've served. And, as I want him to be, he can be painfully, brutally honest.
I record these Question and Answer sessions as best I can, with pen and paper. Please follow along with me as I extrapolate my conversation with Mr. H., as scribbled, above.
First, I quote Mr. Hawthorne as saying, "It's an excellent dish, but it doesn't snap." SNAP?? And he went on to say, he "didn't taste the jalapeno." But he "liked the vinegar." And "the shellfish was wasted on the dish." "I was expecting capers and more jalapenos. That would be good." And, "Vegetables were perfect. Vegetables should be borderline raw and these vegetable were. They SNAPPED!"
And he goes on to say: "Fish is so mild. It didn't SNAP."
At the second non- snap, I apparently lost it, and dug and tore into my paper.
Well, Mr. Hawthorne.
All I have to say is if you want SNAP,
I'll give you SNAP!
And I mean that in the most loving way possible.


Hairball T. Hairball said...

I was snickering at your story about the vegetarian guest who enjoyed the seafood.

It reminded me of the time my MIL went out of her way to cook a meal that would please one extremely particular guest. The guest in question arrived for dinner with.....

wait for it...

a bag of Chicken McNuggets and fries from McDonalds!

If I had not been there I never would have believed it.

Marilyn said...

I always say that I didn't climb all the way to the top of the food chain just to be a vegetarian.

I'm a proud meat-atarian.