Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer = Crab: Crab and Sweet Corn Risotto

Remembering the great bassist Charlie Haden (1937-2014)

There’s a restaurant expression, which I will cleanup that goes, “You can sell shoe leather if you put crab on top.” And it’s true. Well, not about the shoe leather part but about the appeal of crab selling an entrée.
Crab is a great summer food. If you don’t believe me, try avoiding all of the chain restaurant ads extolling their crab fests/feasts/follies.
While crab can be expensive, watch for it on sale and stretch it over several dinners. I used it in a risotto one night, Singapore noodles on another, and lastly for crab cakes.
For the risotto, I also added some local corn, off the cob. I used the cobs for stock that went to making the risotto, but you don’t have to. In a restaurant-style twist, I also made a corn/ basil butter. Stirred into the risotto at the end, it elevates the flavor. You can skip this step but it’s not difficult.

Crab and Sweet Corn Risotto
Even though I have made risotto for a long time, I still set a timer (for 18 minutes after the wine is added) and cook the risotto while eyeing the timer.
As I said, I used corn stock for this. You could also use bottled clam juice, vegetable stock or a combination of the two. As for the crab, I added it to the risotto without measuring, eyeballing what “looked” like the correct amount. The recipe measurement is a guideline. Hey, who am I to stop you from using more or less?
If you are making the corn stock, begin with that using the corncobs left from the first step of the recipe.
For two servings:

2 ears of corn (3 ears, if making the corn/basil butter)
1 cup crab meat
2/3 cup Arborio rice
3 cups stock (vegetable or clam juice)
2 spring onions (scallions) chopped
½ cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, optional
olive oil, for cooking
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Husk the corn and remove the corn silk. Hold the ear of corn upright in a bowl and carefully slice down the length of the ear to remove the kernels. Repeat with the second ear of corn. Reserve cobs for the stock. Recipe is below. Set aside the corn kernels for the risotto.
2. Place the broth into a saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Keep it at a low simmer as you cook the risotto.
3. Place a second saucepan for the risotto over medium heat. When hot, swirl in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the spring onions and sweat for 2 to 3 minutes, until tender; adjust heat if necessary. Add the rice and stir to coat it in the olive oil. Pour in the white wine and stir. Stir until the wine is almost absorbed. Ladle about ¼ cup of the hot broth into the rice. Now begins the process of stirring the rice and adding the broth, about ¼ cup at a time. Adjust the heat to keep the risotto at a gentle simmer. Add broth when the liquid is almost absorbed into the rice; stir throughout at this point of the cooking.
4. Continue cooking the risotto by adding more broth as needed. After about 10 minutes cooking time, you won’t need to stir constantly but watch that there is enough broth in the pot and the risotto isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot. At this point, add the corn to the risotto. You may need to add additional stock. Season with some salt and continue cooking.
5. After about 18 minutes total cooking time, taste the risotto. The rice should be firm but it shouldn’t have any undercooked crunch to it. If it does, continue cooking for a few more minutes.
6. When the risotto is al dente, remove risotto from heat. Stir in the crabmeat and the reserved crab/basil butter, if using; if not add the unsalted butter. Add the Parmesan cheese, if using. Check the seasoning for salt and add freshly ground black pepper and stir. Cover the pot and set it aside for two minutes. After two minutes, check the risotto. Add a little extra broth if you like your risotto a little loose.
Portion the risotto into two bowls. Drizzle each with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Corn Stock
Corncobs from the corn
¼ onion, chopped (or the green parts from the spring onion)
1 carrot, sliced
2 stalks celery
½ teaspoon salt
5 to 6 cups cold water
1. Place all of the vegetables into a pot large enough to hold them. Fill with water to cover; season with salt. Place the pot over hot water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until reduced by 1/3.  The stock should have a good corn flavor; if not, cook a little longer. Remove from heat and strain through a colander, reserving the liquid; discard the solids. Taste and add additional salt if necessary.

Corn/Basil Butter
This can be made ahead of time and set aside until needed.
For two servings:
Corn kernels from one ear of corn
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon chopped chives
2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1. Place the cold water and salt into a saucepan and place the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, add the corn and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the corn until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the heat. Let it stand for a minute or two then puree it in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the herbs and continue to blend until smooth. Add the cold butter at the end and blend until the butter is emulsified into the sauce. Set the butter aside until needed.

A recipe for Singapore Noodles with Crab will follow in the future.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer = Corn Grilled Chicken with Corn Salsa

The first of our local corn is arriving. Used as a key ingredient of a salsa along with some other flavors of season, this will put summer smack dab onto your plate.
This was largely improvised but the measurements are fairly close to what I used. Don’t get hung up on exact amounts in a recipe like this one. What is a medium-sized tomato anyway? If yours is bigger than mine and you have more tomato in your salsa, it will still taste great. Free yourself and allow your judgment and taste inform you.
Instead of a raw corn salsa, I cooked the corn first. When I drained the corn after it was done, I didn’t rinse it opting instead to spread in out onto a paper towel-lined baking tray to cool, then transferred it to a bowl and then to the refrigerator.
This recipe is for two servings. It might seem like a lot but it wasn’t just used as salsa but also as our “vegetable” as well. I grilled chicken for this but it would work with just about anything. And like all things should be in the summer, this is easy.

Grilled Chicken with Corn Salsa
For two servings

2 ears corn
1 medium tomato
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
2 to 3 Tablespoons minced onion
juice of one lime
hot sauce, to taste
salt and ground black pepper
6 to 8 basil leaves, cut into ribbons (about ¼ cup fresh basil)
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Husk the corn and remove the silk. Hold an ear of corn in a bowl as you carefully slice the corn off the cob. Repeat with the second ear of corn. Place a sauté pan filled with ½ cup lightly salted water onto the stove over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the corn, reduce the corn and cook the corn for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drain the corn into a strainer, shaking excess water from the corm. Spread the corn out onto a paper towel-lined baking tray and allow to cool. Transfer the cooled corn to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
2. Remove the stem from the tomato. Slice the tomato in half lengthwise, and cut each half into thirds or quarters, depending on the size of your tomato. Remove the center part with the seeds and discard. (You can place the discarded bits into a strainer and let the juices drip into a bowl and add them to the salsa.)  Slice the remaining tomato pieces into strips then cut them crosswise. Place the diced tomato pieces into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, along with the corn. Season with salt and black pepper and mix until combined. Cover and let the salsa stand allowing the flavors to combine.

Grilled Chicken
This marinade for the chicken is my “go to” marinade suitable with any meat. Sometimes I will include some lemon juice and a chopped fresh herb, such as thyme but since the salsa has basil and lime juice, I omitted them this time. I prefer to salt the chicken as it cooks instead of including salt in the marinade. Again, this is improvised based on experience but the amounts should get you started. Feel free to improvise with in the future. Just don’t reach for the bottled dressing as a marinade anymore. Have you read the ingredient label?
For two servings
8 to 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast
2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon minced shallot (you can substitute with onion)
ground black pepper
red pepper flakes, optional, to taste

1. Trim the chicken breasts, if necessary. Carefully slice the chicken breast into cutlets, depending on the size and thickness of the breast. Place the chicken into the bowl with the marinade and mix to cover the chicken with the marinade. Wash hands. Cover the bowl and set aside. If you are not going to cook the chicken in 20 minutes or so, refrigerate the chicken.
2. Heat grill and when it’s hot remove the chicken from the marinade. Place the chicken on grill, season with salt, and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, then turn and finish cooking on the other side. Since the chicken has been sliced into thinner pieces, it will cook faster. Remove chicken from grill.
3. Spoon salsa onto the bottom of two plates. Top with the chicken and top the chicken with additional salsa. Summer is served.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sockeye Salmon with English Peas, Chanterelles, and Spring Onions

                  “You can’t always get what you want…”

With wild sockeye salmon on sale, I planned out this recipe in my head before hitting the farmers market on Saturday morning. I knew I could find chanterelle mushrooms and spring onions (scallions) and the first English (or shelling) peas should just be coming in, but upon inspection, I found no English peas so I settled upon sugar snap peas and made this with the substitution. I also found garlic scapes (also called green garlic). These are the shoots from the garlic growing underground.
And herein lies a lesson. Sometimes you can’t always find the exact ingredient called for in a recipe so you have to rethink and substitute.
                        “But if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”

Several days later I found myself in Philadelphia and before coming home I made a swing through the Reading Terminal Market. Checking the Fair Food Farm Stand, I found them- fresh, local English peas. With peas in hand, a dinner with friends was in order.
This recipe has some extra steps you can ignore if you wish. I used the pods from the peas to make a stock with which I cooked the peas. In a restaurant-like twist, I cooked and pureed some peas to add at the end to enrich the sauce.
If you’re buying English peas at a farmers market, you’ll find that they’re sold in pint containers. Shell enough peas to make ½ cup (which will be about half the container), plus a few tablespoons more if you are doing the pea puree option. And yes, you can substitute with frozen peas, but then my wife wouldn’t eat them. (It has been a personal triumph to get her to eat peas at all, after the bad pea nightmares of her childhood). 

Sockeye Salmon with English Peas, Chanterelles, and Spring Onions
Sockeye salmon often has pin bones that you can feel if you run your finger down the length of the fillet. They can be removed using needle nose pliers.
For two servings

Two 4 to 6 ounce fillets of sockeye (or other) salmon
½ cup (shelled) English peas
¼ pound chanterelle (or other) mushrooms
2 to 4 spring onions, depending on size, sliced
2 to 3 Tablespoons thinly sliced garlic scapes or 1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil, for cooking
¼ to ½ cup white wine
salt and ground black pepper
juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
pea stock (recipe below) or cold water
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

If you are planning to make the pea puree to stir into the sauce, begin with the recipe below the main recipe.

1. Trim the bottoms off the mushrooms. If you are using chanterelles, tear the larger ones lengthwise in half.
Place a medium-sized sauté pan onto the stove over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the thyme leaves to the pan to flavor the oil then add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes. Add some white wine to the pan and continue cooking until the mushrooms are softened and cooked through. Transfer the mushrooms and their liquid to a bowl.
2. Return the pan to the stove and place over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the green onions and garlic scapes. (If you are using garlic, add it after the spring onions have cooked for a few minutes). Stir and sauté until they begin to soften; do not brown, lowering the heat if necessary. Add the peas, season with salt and pepper. Add some stock or water to the pan, about ½ cup). Cover and lower the heat. Cook the peas for 3 to 4 minutes, until tender. Add additional stock/water as needed. When the peas are tender, remove pan from the heat. Stir in the reserved mushrooms with their liquid. Set aside while you cook the salmon.
3. Place a non-stick sauté onto the stove over high heat. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, swirl in about a tablespoon olive oil into the pan. Place the salmon into the pan skin side up and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the salmon and continue cooking for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness if the salmon. Remove the salmon from the pan and transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Peel the skin off the salmon, if necessary.
4. Return the pan of vegetables to the stove. Bring the vegetables up to a simmer. Add the pea puree to the pan, if using; if not add a little more wine. Stir and simmer to slightly reduce the sauce. Stir in the lemon juice; add the butter and taste, adjusting the seasoning if needed.
5. Place the salmon fillets onto a plate. Spoon the vegetables and sauce over the salmon and serve.
You get what you need.

Pea Stock
Pods from the peas
1 carrot, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
¼ of an onion, or some spring onion tops, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
4 to 5 cups cold water
1. Rinse the pea pods under cold water. Place them into a saucepan along with the other vegetables; cover with cold water, add the salt. Place the pan onto the stove over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, skimming off any foam that may appear on the surface. Remove pan from the heat and strain, reserving the liquid. Discard the vegetables. The stock may not have a lot of color but it will be flavorful from all of the vegetables. Set aside the finished pea stock. (This can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator until needed).

Pea Puree
This is a thin, but flavorful puree to add to the vegetables before serving. Make this in advance.
1. Place ½ cup pea stock or lightly salted water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of peas to the pan and cook the peas until completely tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly. Puree the mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Set aside until needed.