If there ever is a meal that makes everyone around the dinner table happy, it’s tacos. I don’t believe this just pertains to families with young children, adults love tacos too. Say, “Come and get it. Tacos for dinner”, friends young and old will pick up their step and chassé over to the dinner table. Yippee-yi-yay, it’s taco night. Grab your partner and do-si-do, it’s taco time.
One of my favorite types of tacos are fish tacos. I love the light and fresh flavor of fish paired with a spicy salsa, avocado, fresh lime juice and cilantro. Soft and sweet corn tortillas make the meal even brighter. One bite of these fish tacos reveals the composed flavors of delicate fish, tangy crunchy slaw, and sweet and spicy salsa. It is a very refreshing and flavor packed meal.
Most importantly, I believe a taco isn’t a taco unless avocados are part of the meal. Either in a salsa, guacamole, or an added slice for a topping, my tacos must include an avocado. For these fish tacos, I wanted the avocado paired with fruit for a sweet contrast to the smooth avocado. Honestly, I designed the whole fish taco recipe around the mango avocado salsa.
Avocados are my desert island food. I miss avocados when a day goes by without eating one. I also love avocados combined with sweet and spicy ingredients. Both mangoes and avocados have soft and creamy textures, but the mangoes add a nice burst of sweetness that pairs well with avocados. In this salsa, the sweetness of the mangoes and creaminess of avocados offsets the heat from the chili peppers. Each ingredient creates a balance, nothing is either too sweet or too spicy. Just how I like it.
I designed this fish taco recipe so all three parts compliment each other and create one perfect taco. The cabbage slaw is made with fresh herb and buttermilk dressing for a little tang and brighter flavor. Corn tortillas are on the small side, so either serve the slaw in the taco, or on the side as a salad. Either way, it tastes great with the fish and the salsa. I added jalapeño pepper to the slaw, but kept it mild by removing the white pith and seeds. I believe it is always good to have one part of the meal without a lot of heat and spiciness. All the recipes are on the mild side of spicy, and are easily adaptable to your desired heat tolerance.
What is great about all these recipes is you can easily make them for a great dinner of fish tacos, or serve them separately for a plated dinner. You can also make each item separately and pair with other recipes. The fish is a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Mango avocado salsa makes a great dip for chips, and the cole slaw is a perfect side salad with grilled fish or meats. You have three recipes in one, and multiple options for many dinners ahead.
Please don't be daunted by all these steps. A great taco has 2-3 layers, with each layer requiring its own recipe. On their own, each recipe is not difficult to make or take a lot of time. If you want to pare the recipe down, choose either the slaw or the salsa to serve with the fish in the taco. I love tacos with lots of fillings so I tend to pile them on.
The mango avocado salsa is best eaten immediately after it is made. Both mangoes and avocados don't age well after they are cut open and exposed to air.
Buttermilk yogurt dressing for the Citrus Slaw
3 tsp cider vinegar
3 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, grated or crushed
1-2 TB minced cilantro
1-2 TB minced dill
1 garlic clove minced
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
2-3 TBS Greek yogurt
Citrus Buttermilk Slaw*
1/4 head of purple cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
1/4 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
1 large 4 oz carrot, julienne or grated
2 ears of fresh corn, sliced of the cob
4 small scallions, minced light green and white parts
1-2 jalapeno peppers**, minced
Buttermilk Yogurt dressing to taste
2 TB fresh lime juice
Zest from half a lime
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Fish for Tacos
1 1/2 pounds fresh fish, like tilapia
Sprinkle of Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil Kosher Salt
Mango Avocado Salsa
One mango, peeled and chopped
1 avocado chopped
Juice of 1 Lime, divided
1/4 tsp pinch of Flaky sea salt
1 TB Extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 TB minced red onion
2 jalapeno peppers**, minced
8 grape tomatoes, quartered
10 sprigs cilantro, minced
Zest of half a lime
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of Kosher Salt if needed
Assemble the tacos
8 Corn tortillas
Buttermilk Citrus Slaw
Mango Avocado Salsa
Side of crema Mexicana, or creme fraiche (optional)
Side of Salsa Verde (optional)
Citrus Slaw with Buttermilk and Yogurt Dressing
Make the Buttermilk dressing
Whisk together the cider vinegar, lemon juice, Kosher salt, lemon zest, garlic, and fresh herbs. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk until incorporated then whisk in the yogurt. Taste the dressing and add more salt or lemon juice if needed. Cover and set aside until the slaw is ready to finish.
Make the Slaw
Thinly slice or shred the red and green cabbage and place in a large mixing bowl. Grate the carrot with a box grater and add to the cabbage. Add the fresh corn kernels, minced scallions and minced jalapenos. Mix together then add the buttermilk dressing. Add about half the dressing at first, mix together, then add more dressing if needed. Add the lime zest and juice and give it a final stir. Taste and adjust any seasoning if needed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make the fish.
Sprinkle kosher salt, cayenne and sweet paprika over each side of the fish. Before you turn the fish over to season the other side, rub about 1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil over the seasoned fish. Turn over the fish and repeat on the other side. Let rest for about 15 minutes.
Pre-heat a skillet or non-stick electric griddle to 350F. Spread about 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil or canola oil across the pan. Place the fish on the skillet or griddle and sear for 2-4 minutes per side. The thicker pieces will need longer then the thin ones. Time it to turn the fish over only once. The fish is done when the meat is opaque and will separate when you press down on the top of the fish. Keep the fish warm in a 200F oven.
Make the Mango Avocado Salsa
Peel and chop the mango into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a medium bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Peel and chop the avocado into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the avocado to a small bowl and squirt about 2 teaspoons of lime juice over the avocados and a very small pinch of flaky sea salt. Toss to coat. Add the avocados to the mangoes along with the remaining ingredients. Gently stir to combine. Taste and add salt or other seasoning if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until ready to serve.
Prepare the Tacos
Warm up the tortillas, either by heating them in a skillet over medium heat for about a minute per side. Keep the heated tortillas on a covered plate in a warm oven, or an insulated tortilla warmer.
To assemble the tacos decide if you are using the Citrus Slaw as a side dish or as a part of the taco.
If using the slaw for the taco, place the slaw down on the tortilla then add the fish, divided into manageable size pieces for each taco. Add the mango avocado salsa on top of the fish and serve with crema Mexicana or creme fraiche, and/or citrus slaw on the side.
* If you are serving the Citrus Buttermilk Slaw as a side salad, you may want to add more shredded cabbage. I originally made this recipe using a 1/2 of cabbage each of the purple and green cabbages. I found I had a lot of slaw, enough for at least 8 servings for salad. I pared the recipe down for tacos, where a small amount of slaw is required.
** The heat source in chili peppers is found in the white pith inside the peppers. This is where the seeds are attached. The seeds hold heat as well, but not as much as the pith. You control the level of heat from chilies by slicing out the pith. Wear latex gloves when working with chili peppers, or wash your hands thoroughly after holding them. The oils from the peppers get on your hands and if you touch your eyes it will burn.
As the days get warmer and the garden blooms more steadily, my attention wanders outside. I so want to play hooky. Work and chores be damned, the sunshine is calling and I want to answer. My food and meal focus shifts to a less is more attitude, and prefer meals that are easy to prepare. One perfect dinner solution to help my wandering attention span is a dinner salad. And, it is even better when someone makes it for you.
My husband gets the credit for creating this dinner salad. Several years ago, Joe announced he is making dinner then left for the grocery store. Upon his return, he presented a bag full of vegetables and sea scallops. Joe informed me he was making a dinner salad with seared scallops and asked me to make the dressing. I am always a willing helper for any task. Since that time, Joe often makes this dinner salad of seared sea scallops and salad greens. It is one of the dishes he really likes to cook. Seared scallops with leafy greens is also a perfect meal for two.
A leafy green foundation is the canvas for seared sea scallops, boiled potatoes, asparagus, goat cheese and fruit. Along with the finishing touches of a simple vinaigrette and fresh herbs, this dinner salad comes together like a work of art. It is a polite salad, as no ingredient demands attention, but each one plays an important role presenting a delicious gift of prized sea scallops.
We use delicate greens like Boston Bibb lettuce, arugula or young greens as the salad base. They are not the typical composed salad greens, like romaine. Yet, these lighter lettuces work because each serving is plated, not tossed together in a bowl. This way the greens don’t get crushed under the weight of the ingredients. Also, included in the leafy foundation is another green vegetable, like blanched asparagus or green beans. They add crunch and structure to the delicate green lettuces.
There are so many elements in this salad, I am not sure which ones I like best. First, the sea scallops are lightly seasoned then seared for a crispy contrast to the rich briny center. Then there are the potatoes. They absorb a lot of flavor from the salad, especially the vinaigrette. I like to have a piece of goat cheese with each bite of potato. The blend of potato, creamy goat cheese and vinaigrette is one of my favorite flavor combinations. It is like having two salads in one, tangy and creamy potato salad and a green salad.
The fruit is the biggest surprise. There is nothing like a bit of sweetness and acid to cut any rich and fatty foods like the goat cheese and salad dressing. You only need a few scattered pieces, but it makes a big difference. Add in some fresh herbs and salad becomes exceptional and comforting, like the warmth of sunshine on your back.
There is one downside, putting the whole thing together takes some planning. The vinaigrette needs to sit for 30 minutes so all the flavors can blend and infuse. Fortunately, the vinaigrette rests while the potatoes and other ingredients cook. Like a lot of vegetable meals, each ingredient is prepared or cooked separately. The potatoes and salad dressing will take the longest, everything else is just a matter of a few minutes. The good news is, nothing needs to be served hot off the skillet. Although, time the scallops to finish cooking just before you are ready to plate the salad.
Enjoy this composed dinner salad on the days when the sunshine is calling you outside. It is a great dinner for your next date night in.
Dinner Salad is easily adaptable any season
Use the greens available in each season, like Boston Bib, arugula, baby greens, and leafy red and green lettuces.
Add fresh herbs like tarragon, basil, chervil, dill, chives, or fennel.
Strawberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines are great fruit during spring and summer. Pears, grapes, or oranges are perfect in the fall and winter months.
Additional vegetables like fennel, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, or spicy radishes are great in this salad.
Use a delicately smoked fish or tuna instead of the sea scallops. You may want to eliminate the goat cheese depending on the fish you use. Or add grilled steak or chicken.
Make with a light vinaigrette, not a heavy or creamy salad dressing
This is a delicious dinner salad with seared sea scallops, summer lettuce, potatoes, goat cheese and fruit. There is just enough of salt, acid, fat, and sweet for a truly composed and healthy meal. A perfect dinner for date night in.
Vinaigrette - Makes about 1 cup
1/4 cup / 60 ml good quality white wine vinegar*, champagne vinegar, or sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp minced shallot
1 tsp minced fresh herb like tarragon, lemon thyme, or basil
1 small clove garlic
3/4 cup / 185 ml olive oil
1 head Boston bib lettuce, cleaned and dried
4-6 baby new potatoes or fingerings
8 spears asparagus, or small handful of green beans cleaned and trimmed
1/2 apricot or peach*, thinly sliced
1 1/2 oz / 46 g soft goat cheese like Montrachet
1 TB fresh herb, the same one you used in the vinaigrette
8-10 large sea scallops
Kosher Salt for seasoning
1 TB Olive Oil
Cook the potatoes
Fill a medium sauce pan with salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the washed, whole potatoes to the boiling water and cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Start checking at 10 minutes and every 5 minutes or so thereafter. When the potatoes are done, remove them from the water and let cool. Once they are cool, cut into wedges and lightly drizzle, about a teaspoon or so, the potatoes with the vinaigrette.
While you are waiting for the water to boil start the vinaigrette.
Make the vinaigrette
Peel the garlic clove and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the green germ, then smash the clove with the side of your knife. Add the vinegar, minced shallots, smashed garlic, mustard, salt, and minced herbs to a small bowl and whisk together until the salt is dissolved. Continue to whisk the dressing and slowly pour the olive oil in a steady stream. Whisk the vinaigrette until it is well combined. Let rest on the counter for 30 minutes.
You will have more vinaigrette then you need. See notes on how to store the vinaigrette for later use.
Make the Salad
Blanch the prepared asparagus or green beans in salted boiling water. Boil the asparagus for 2 minutes, or if using the green beans for one minute. Drain the water from the vegetable and rinse with cold water. Set on a clean kitchen towel or back in the sauce pan, (off heat) to dry.
Just before the potatoes are finished cooking tear the lettuce into large bite size pieces and add to a bowl. Toss the lettuce with one tablespoon of the vinaigrette until evenly coated. This is just a light coating to season the lettuce. Set aside.
Place the sea scallops on a plate and carefully remove the muscle from its side. This is very tough when cooked. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel on both sides. Season the scallops with a pinch of Kosher salt on both sides.
Heat a heavy duty 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil and swirl it to evenly coat the pan. When the pan is hot, but not smoking, add the sea scallops to the pan flat side down. Sear the scallops for 2-3 minutes without touching or moving them. Adjust the heat if the pan is getting too hot. Turn the scallops over and sear for 1-2 minutes until the scallops are done. Scallops about an inch in size will be done very quickly about 3 to 4 minutes. They are done when the center is opaque in the middle, and feel firm when pressed with your finger. When in doubt, cut a scallop down the center and check. The scallop won't go to waste, just add it to the salad. The scallops will continue to cook from the residual heat, but you want to remove them when they are just done.
Plate the salad
On each plate, place half of the seasoned lettuce. Arrange the seasoned potatoes, asparagus, scallops, and fruit on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle small clumps of goat cheese over the salad and fresh herbs.
Remove the garlic from the vinaigrette and give it a good whisk. Pour into a spouted serving dish. Add additional dressing as needed to each salad. You will have plenty of salad dressing leftover to use for another salad.
* This is a light vinaigrette and not one to use balsamic vinegar. If you have a good quality red wine vinegar it is OK to use. I just have not found one I like, so I usually don't cook with red wine vinegar.
The vinaigrette makes about 1 cup / 250 ml so you will have plenty leftover. Store the vinaigrette in an air tight container in the refrigerator. The vinaigrette will taste better, and last longer, if you remove the shallots from the vinaigrette. Pour the vinaigrette over a fine mesh strainer into a container to catch all the shallots.
Discard the shallots and refrigerate the vinaigrette.
If you want to thoroughly emulsify the vinaigrette, it is easy to do with an immersion blender. The vinaigrette made with a blender will be thicker and heavier. I like this salad with a lighter dressing so I mix it by hand and not worry about the dressing being emulsified. It is your choice. Make the salad dressing as you prefer.
Scattered across my wooded hillside, a native wildflower called Trout Lily is now in bloom. Their yellow bell shape flowers gaze down upon their mottled green leaves, like a swan gazing at its reflection upon the water’s surface. Trout Lilies are the best alarm clock around. A silent wake-up call with a blooming declaration, “No more hibernating. Spring is continuing as planned.” As soon as the trout lilies are up, even sudden changes in temperature or snowfall, won’t deter the season’s purpose.
Every year, larger patches of trout lilies emerge, scattered about my yard like a ragged crazy quilt disguising the dried leaves, fallen sticks and emerging grasses. My wildflowers did not choose a hospitable home, and it’s a wonder to me that they return and mature every year. The hillside is steep and the colossal deciduous trees suck away any nutrients the soil provides. Yet, these trout lilies like it here and that makes me happy. They give me my own little piece of wilderness, camouflaged in Suburbia.
Rumor has it, Trout Lily, got its name because the mottled leaves resemble the speckled coloring of Brook Trout. Another theory is, they bloom at the beginning of trout fishing season. Regardless of the origin of its name, I wanted to honor “my” trout lilies and this blossoming season. Featured today is a recipe for a Spring dinner with Rainbow trout as the main attraction. Unfortunately, where I live in the Northeast I cannot get Brook trout because they are diminishing in population. Fortunately, farm raised Rainbow trout is easily available and a best choice selection according to Seafood Watch.
A Spring dinner of Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill, served with herbed couscous and asparagus, is one of those dinners you don’t have to fuss over or plan for. Just assemble, and put in the oven. There is very little chopping and you don’t have to worry about being precise, (except for the couscous). As always, be careful not to add too much salt, and this dinner will turn out perfect every time you make it.
Substitutions are hassle free as well. If you prefer, change the dill with tarragon, fennel fronds, parsley, or add all the above. Additionally, you can replace dry vermouth with dry white wine or lemon juice. Though, I hope you try vermouth in this recipe. It nicely rounds out the flavors and tones down the acid from the lemon. Most importantly, make sure you use dry Vermouth.
My favorite way to prepare trout is to enclose each fish, or filet, in foil packets and bake in the oven. The fish steams in the packets and produces delicate flaky meat with herb infused juices. I stuff each trout cavity with lemon and dill, then add vermouth for some moisture. This is the same method I used for Salmon with Spinach Butter Sauce. Also, you can make Arctic Char with Basil Sauce using this same technique. Trout, salmon and char belong to the same family and most of the recipes for them are interchangeable with minor adjustments.
Farm-raised rainbow trout is usually sold whole, cleaned, butterflied, and each weighing near one pound (453 g). Depending on the size, one whole fish equals one portion. To me, that seems like a lot of fish. Therefore, I select rainbow trout about one pound in size and consider it enough for two portions. Honestly, they are not large portions, but served with fulfilling side dishes, like couscous and asparagus, a light, healthy and satisfying dinner is at hand.
For a light starch side dish, Couscous is perfect with rainbow trout. It has a slightly nutty taste with a light and fluffy texture. Fortunately, couscous falls in the top 10 list of easiest foods to make. Simply add boiling water to dried couscous, cover and let it steam for 5 minutes. Luckily, I just discovered a simple technique that makes fluffy couscous from Herbivoracious.com. It works better than the directions on the back of the box of couscous. Instead of steaming the couscous in a sauce pan on the stove, it uses a shallow baking dish, large enough for the couscous to cover it in a thin layer. This brilliant idea gives the couscous more surface area and prevents the miniature pasta from getting sticky. It is my experience cooking couscous in sauce pans, that it gets very gummy towards the bottom of the pot.
Another perfect side dish with rainbow trout is, my recipe for asparagus with orange mayonnaise. It has delicate citrus flavor and easy to prepare. For an extra bonus, make the mayonnaise ahead of time for you to enjoy throughout the week. If you wish, you can keep the asparagus hot, and not add it to the ice bath, as directed in my recipe. Additionally, add a little more lemon zest or juice with the orange mayonnaise for more citrus flavor. I also love saffron aioli with asparagus, and it pairs well with the rainbow trout as well.
Fortunately, it does not take a lot of effort to create an elegant and healthy Spring dinner. With little effort, all portions of the meal can be prepared at the same time. For its ease of preparation and flexibility, rainbow trout with lemon and dill, couscous, and asparagus with orange mayonnaise is an excellent choice for the days when you want to spend your time outside. You can get your day in the sun and later enjoy a meal reminiscent of your playtime. The air is so refreshing now, and lots of earthy wonders to discover. I hope you have a chance and enjoy the blooming Spring days ahead.
2- Shy one pound / 453 g Rainbow Trout, cleaned and butterflied*
1-2 lemons, sliced thin across the width
6-8 springs of fresh dill
2 Tbs dry vermouth
2 tsp butter
Extra Virgin olive oil
Heavy duty aluminum foil for making the packets
Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
1 cup / 190 g dried couscous
1 cup/ 250 ml boiling water
¼ tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp butter (optional)
Lemon zest from half a lemon
1-2 tsp of minced fresh dill or another herb
Pre-heat the oven to 400˚F / 200˚C / Gas Mark 6 and place the oven rack in the center.
If you wish you can cut the heads and tails off the rainbow trout, (or have your fish monger do it).
Cut 4 pieces of foil, at least 6 inches / 16 cm larger than each fish. Set aside.
Open the trout so both sides are lying flat with flesh side up, then lightly sprinkle the fish with Kosher salt. Scatter small pieces of butter across the flesh, about 1 teaspoon per fish. Lay two or three slices of lemon on one side of the trout. Scatter a few sprigs of fresh dill and top off with another lemon slice. Enclose the lemon and dill filling by moving the unadorned filet over the herbs, like closing a book. Repeat with the other trout.
Take two pieces of foil and place one on top of the other with the dull side up. Drizzle about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil across the center of the foil and smear with your hand to create a nice even coating of olive oil. Place two lemon slices in the center on the foil, then place the seasoned trout on top of the lemon slices. The trout should be centered on the foil. Add a sprig of dill to the fish and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of vermouth. Sprinkle the trout with a pinch of kosher salt and a drizzle of olive oil, about 2 teaspoons.
Bring the long sides of the foil together and fold over into itself, to create a sealed seam. Twist each end tightly to seal the pockets. Set on a rimmed baking sheet.
Repeat with the other rainbow trout.
Place the baking sheet with the trout in the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The timing will depend on how big the trout is and how much stuffing there is. I start checking at the 15-minute mark and check every 5 minutes thereafter. To check, carefully unfold one of the foil packets, being careful to keep your face away from the escaping steam. Lift the top filet of trout with a fork or fish spatula and peer inside. Look near the spine and where the flesh is the thickest to see if the flesh is cooked through. The fish is done when the flesh looks whiter than it is pink, and is flaky. The meat springs back when you touch it, and no longer looks translucent.
To serve, carefully open the foil packets and gently lift the fish onto a plate. Open the trout up and cut down along the spine with a sharp knife. Place one filet on a plate and drizzle the rainbow trout with some of the accumulated juices. Serve with couscous and Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise.
Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
Pour the dry couscous in a baking dish large enough for the couscous to cover in one layer less than ½ inch / 1.5 cm. (My dish was oval shape 7" x 10", 18 cm x 25 cm. Any dish will work just be careful it is neither too big or too small).
Sprinkle the couscous with Kosher salt, butter, minced dill and lemon zest. Gently mix together with a spoon or your clean hands.
Boil the water and pour it over the couscous. Stir with a spoon, then tightly cover the dish with plastic wrap. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Once the time is up, unwrap the dish and fluff the couscous with a fork, scrapping the couscous across the dish until it is evenly loosened and fluffy. Keep covered until ready to serve.
You can have the fish monger cut of the heads and tails if you prefer. Or you can leave the fish whole. You can also prepare trout filet with this technique as well. The cooking time will be less, so start checking them around 10 minutes.
It won’t take long to muscle your way through a big bowl of these spicy mussels. Chances are, your bowl will be empty before you realized you started. Eating this shellfish can consume ones’ attention, especially when they are steamed in wine, garlic, and spices. No one wants to miss out of getting every drop and morsel of the flavorful broth. It is a fun and messy affair, but well worth it.
I have grown to realize people either love mussels, or refuse to eat them. In the past, clams and oysters had a better reputation, because eating mussels was considered risky behavior. Only Gods like Hercules should eat them, for they were invincible to everything. For the longest time, I was a member of that camp. They just did not appeal to me. Fortunately, I have grown-up and changed my attitude.
When I was a child, I saw mussels everywhere anchored to pillars, rocks and boats throughout the intertidal zone. I believed they were the strangest creatures around. At low tide, I would play under the docks, looking for the perfect skipping rock and other hidden treasures. I saw colonies of mussels tightly glued on pillars, like bunches of grapes ready to be picked. Purposefully, I would attempt to pull one off, and always fail. How they managed to cling so tightly to every surface along the shoreline intrigued me. Their beards were thin and stringy, and I was dumbfounded at the holding strength of the tiny fibrous strands. If someone told me back then, mussels were alien creatures from another galaxy, I would have believed them. The thought of eating these sea creatures never crossed my mind.
Several years ago, I was researching healthy foods and mussels kept showing up as a superfood. Based on my research I became more open-minded to try them. After all, how can I have an opinion on something I know nothing about? Fortunately, I did change my mind, because now I love them. Unlike clams, they are very tender and slightly sweet with lots of protein, low in fat, and tons of beneficial nutrients.
There are many ways I like to prepare mussels, and this recipe with chorizo sausage is just one in a collection. One of the best aspects of cooking with mussels, is you do not really need a recipe to create a delicious meal. Exact amounts are not necessary. Put them in a pot with a little liquid and garlic and you have an easy dinner. My recipe is a little more involved than that, but still simple to execute. I have written this recipe as a guideline for you to learn the process and hopefully inspire you.
Tips for Success Cleaning and Eating Mussels
Where to get mussels? If you are lucky enough to know a secret spot along the coast where you live, this will be your freshest option. Please only take what you need and be aware of the health of the waters you harvest in.
The most available option is to buy mussels at the store. The ones that are most common are from, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Mussels from PEI are farm raised, reliable and sustainable. They are also a great bargain with a 2 lb bag costing around $7.00. Harvesting date and best used by dates are provided on the label of each bag. Ask the fishmonger to pack them in ice, if they have not already done so.
Care and cooking: As soon as you get home, take the mussels out of the plastic bag and store loosely in a bowl covered with a kitchen towel. Put the bowl immediately in the refrigerator. No plastic wrap, and not submerged in water. If you are keeping them in the refrigerator for a couple of days, pour out any accumulated water from the bottom of the bowl.
When you are planning to cook the mussels, inspect each one and clean them. Most farm raised mussels come cleaned, but they still need a once over for stray grit and beards. Run cold water over the mussels and inspect for broken shells, grit and the beard along the straight edge of the shell. Slice off any stray beards with a sharp paring knife. Throw out any mussels with broken shells.
If a mussel shell opens, tap the top of the shell with your finger. If the shell does not close, throw it away. Store the clean mussels in the refrigerator in a bowl loosely covered with a towel until you are ready to cook them.
4 large main course servings, or 8 first course servings
Mussels steamed in wine, tomatoes, garlic and spices creates a delicious broth that will have you licking your fingers. The chorizo adds some warmth and kick to the mussels, providing more depth of flavor. If you are cooking for non pork eaters, this meal is just as delicious without the sausage.
Serve with a salad and lots of crusty bread to soak up all the sauce. You will need extra napkins.
2 lbs / 1k mussels
2 Tbs olive oil divided
1/2 lb / 225g chorizo sausage
1 shallot, minced
6 medium size garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1-1 1/2 cups / 250 - 375ml dry white wine like sauvignon blanc
8 tomatoes from a 28oz can of whole tomatoes (or 8 fresh plum tomatoes)*
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Small pinch of saffron
1/2 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
two sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
Finely grated zest from one lemon, and juice from half a lemon
1 long strip of orange zest (optional)
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
4 oz / 125g watercress, or arugula, or swiss chard, thick stems removed and rouch chopped
Before cooking, clean and inspect the mussels. Check for grit and stray beards. Discard any mussels that have broken shells and the ones that the shells remain open after tapping them with a finger. Put the cleaned mussels in a bowl loosely covered with a cloth, no plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until you are about to cook them.
Remove the casings from the sausage. Pour 1 Tbs of olive oil in a Dutch oven and turn the heat up to medium high. Add the chorizo sausage and cook, stirring often to break the sausage up. Continue to break up the chorizo while the sausage cooks to get different size pieces that resemble cooked ground beef. Remove the chorizo from the pot and reserve for later. Taste the cooked chorizo to see how spicy the sausage is so you will know how to adjust the seasoning for your broth.
Add the remaining olive oil and turn down the heat to medium. Add the minced shallots and cook, stirring occasionally so the onions don't brown. Cook the sausage until they soften and look translucent, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until the garlic begins to release its scent, about one minute.
Pour in 1 cup / 250 ml of white wine and deglaze the pan. Allow the wine to boil down slightly for a couple of minutes. Add the bay leaf, thyme bundle, pinch of saffron, orange zest, and lemon zest.
Cut the tomatoes into irregular bite size pieces, then add the tomatoes to the pot with the wine and onions. Reserve the juices from the can to thin the broth if necessary.
Bring the tomatoes to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Simmer the tomato sauce for 15 minutes so all the flavors blend. Half way through the simmering, taste the tomato sauce and adjust the seasoning as needed. You may need a small pinch of granulated sugar, (1/2 tsp) if the tomato sauce tastes to sharp. Add more salt, paprika and red pepper flakes if more punch is needed, or based on how spicy the chorizo is.
After the tomato sauce has simmered taste for the balance of flavors. Add more wine if the sauce need to be a little thinner. The mussels will also emit their own juices so don't make the sauce thin. Add the cooked sausage and turn the heat up to medium high. Bring the sauce to a full boil then add the mussels. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened. No peeking under the lid for the first 5 minutes.
Serve immediately in bowls with crusty bread and a spoon, and lots of napkins. Mussels are best eaten the same day it is made.
If you want to cook with fresh tomatoes, cut plum tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Rough chop the tomatoes for irregular shaped pieces.
The meal can be made ahead of time up to the point of adding the mussels. Keep the tomato sauce in the pot covered in the refrigerator if you will be saving it for longer than one hour. Keep the mussels in the refrigerator up to the minute you are ready to add them into the pot to cook.
Have you ever heard of wild sea spinach? I hadn’t until I read about it in, The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Henry. Wild sea spinach grows along the coastline of Ireland, and other countries in the UK. Another species of wild spinach grows in New Zealand and parts of Asia. Sea spinach is related to most cultivated beets. However, casting family lines aside, prepare sea spinach the same way as cultivated spinach. Darina has made me so curious about wild sea plants. I wonder how they taste and if they are salty from being bathed by the sea.
Anyway, I saw a recipe of hers where she prepares wild sea spinach in a butter sauce and serves it spooned over oven poached sea trout. Maybe I am a romantic at heart, but the idea of cooking vegetables and fish from the local coastal area made me want to jump into the cookbook and be there. If you read my post about crispy potato skins, you know about my fantasy wanting to forage wild plants with Darina. It is very possible this recipe could have been the one that got my fantasy in full gear.
In Darina recipe, she poaches a whole sea trout “en papillote”. This is a technique where you wrap fish in foil or parchment paper and bake it in the oven. I love to prepare fish using this technique. The fish is very moist and the natural juices accumulate in the pouches. I have never poached a whole fish en papillote before. My visual of a whole salmon wrapped in foil is rather massive and would be hard to handle. For my purposes, I decided to scale the recipe down.
Salmon filets are a great substitute for sea trout. I also believe arctic char or small rainbow trout would work too. Perhaps, I may have to go to the UK to get sea spinach, but now and then sea trout is available in our stores in the Northeast US. I substituted baby spinach to replace the sea spinach. It may not have the ocean saltiness, but the baby spinach has a wonderful smoothness and flavor in a butter sauce.
The spinach butter sauce is an adaptation of a beurre blanc, a French white butter sauce, and is traditionally served with fish. It is not difficult to make, but you must be patient and not let the butter get too hot. While I am whisking in the butter, I usually move the pan on and off the heat to control the temperature. It is important to keep whisking away until the butter is all incorporated. Your whisking, and keeping the temperature low, are the keys to get the butter emulsified in the sauce.
Baked salmon with spinach butter sauce is a delicate and rich dish. Because the spinach sauce must stay warm, and is not easily reheated, it is not a meal that can easily be made ahead. It is possible to cook the fish ahead and serve at room temperature. However, the spinach butter sauce must be warm. I have read that a thermos will help keep the butter sauce warm, or placed in a double boiler on very low heat. Ultimately, it is best to eat salmon with spinach butter sauce as soon as it is done.
This is an elegant meal, and I believe a treat to be served on occasion. Serve along with baby potatoes boiled in salted water then drizzled with olive oil and herbs. You need the boiled potatoes because whatever amount of sauce the salmon does not soak up, the potatoes will. You should not serve this meal with anything else that is rich and fancy. The spinach butter sauce is all the embellishment you need.
A delicious dinner of oven poached salmon with spinach butter sauce, boiled baby potatoes with parsley and chives, green salad with a light dressing, white wine, and good company. Your special dinner is ready.
Serving Size: 4- 8 oz servings or 6- 5 oz servings
Fish wrapped in foil or parchment paper packets, en papillote, then baked in the oven is a great way to cook fish. The fish stays moist and the natural juices accumulate in the pouches. The spinach butter sauce adds a luxurious element and compliments the fish nicely. Perfect with boiled baby potatoes.
This recipe is slightly adapted from The Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
5 oz / 150g baby spinach
2 lbs / 1 kilo salmon filet, or one side of arctic char
4 tarragon sprigs, divided
Fennel Fronds (optional)
¼ cup/ 60 ml dry vermouth or dry white wine (optional)
5 Tbs butter plus 1 Tbs
1/2 cup / 125 ml heavy cream
1 lb / 455 g fingerling potatoes
1 – 2 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil
About 1 Tbs minced chives
About 2 Tbs chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 375˚F / 190˚ C / Gas Mark 5
Wash and remove the stems from the spinach. Blanch the spinach in salted boiling water for one minute after the pot returns to a boil. Drain the spinach then shock in ice water. Place the blanched spinach on a clean flour sack towel, or thin kitchen towel, to dry, then squeeze out all the water from the spinach. Finely mince the spinach and set aside.
Cut a piece of aluminum foil that is at least 6-8 inches (20 cm) longer in length, and wider, than your piece of fish. Lay the aluminum foil on a sheet pan, large enough to hold your piece of fish, and smear half a tablespoon of butter across the center part of the foil. Place the salmon on the buttered surface and smear, or dot, the surface of the salmon with a half tablespoon of butter. (If your piece of fish is larger or your a cooking a whole fish, you will need more butter). Sprinkle the salmon with salt and scatter half of the tarragon leaves over the salmon and some fennel fronds. (If you are cooking a whole fish, add the herbs and salt in the cavity of the fish). Add the vermouth or wine if using.
Cover with another piece of aluminum foil and fold in and crimp the 4 sides of the foil to create a tight seal.
Place the fish in the preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of your fish. Start checking to see if your fish is done at 20 minutes. Press down on the top of the salmon at it thickest part. If it feels tender but firm with some give, then the salmon is done. Once the salmon is done cooking, take it out of the oven and let it rest in the foil for 10 minutes. You can take the salmon out of the oven slightly before it is done, as it will continue to cook while it rests.
In the meantime, mince the remaining tarragon and set aside.
Boil some salted water in a saucepan large enough to hold all your potatoes. Add the fingerling potatoes, whole, to the salted boiling water and cook until done. Depending on the size of the potatoes, they could be done between 10 and 20 minutes. The potatoes are done when you pierce them with a knife, and the knife slides easily in and out of a potato without resistance. Check several potatoes to determine if they are all cooked. Drain the potatoes, and when cool enough to handle but still hot, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, chopped parsley and minced chives.
While the salmon and the potatoes are cooking, make the spinach sauce. Add the heavy cream to a wide mouth saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Carefully bring the cream to a boil. Once the cream starts to boil turn the heat slightly down, simmer until the cram is reduced by half its volume, ¼ cup. Once reduced, add the minced spinach and remaining tarragon and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low then add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, to the sauce and whisk in completely. Once the butter is thoroughly whisked in, add another knob of butter then whisk and repeat whisking it in. Repeat until all the butter is emulsified in the sauce. While you are making the sauce, watch the heat carefully and whisk constantly, you do not want the butter to get too hot or it will separate or brown. Once the fish is rested, carefully pour out some of the juices from the fish into the sauce, then whisk until combined.
Place the fish on a platter and spoon the spinach butter sauce over the fish. Put any leftover sauce in a bowl for your guests to help themselves. Serve with the boiled potatoes.