Month: July 2015

Tuna by Another Name . . . Two Ways

The inspiration for the dishes I am sharing in this post presented themselves to me while I was looking to satisfy a taste for some roasted yellowtail “collar.”

My search began after reading a recent article in the New York Times titled “Every Last Bit,” by Mark Bittman. I began by exploring various ways of roasting fish frames and fish heads that the fishmongers I use were all too willing to give away.

That was kind of fun and made for some interesting dining. However, it led me to continue to seek out that collar portion of the fish—the area just behind the head and pectoral fin—which I first sampled in a Japanese restaurant many years ago. Roasted yellowtail collar was served as a special offering provided you knew to ask for it. With this approach I learned that both yellowtail collar and wild salmon collar, although different tastes and textures, are equally good.

Yellowtail is more challenging to source, although I was able to connect with a local fishmonger who sold a 5-pound Japanese farmed filet with the collar attached. Thus I had plenty of yellowtail to use for other dishes once the collar was simply roasted, sprinkled with sea salt, doused with fresh lemon juice, and then quickly dispatched.

Yellowtail is often mistaken for tuna as the name can be and often is confused with yellowfin tuna, yellowtail flounder, and/or ahi, which is the name used for yellowfin tuna in Hawaii. Yellowtail, or hamachi as it is known in Japan, is a member of an Atlantic and Pacific ocean species known as amberjacks or simply jacks. Wildly popular in Japan and found in almost all sushi bars, hamachi is a rich, fatty, buttery, mild-tasting fish equally good served raw as in sushi, sashimi, or crudo, or cooked similar to tuna or swordfish, especially the collar as mentioned above. Hamachi is extensively farmed in Japan.

In the first recipe, using the trim and the tail section from the 5-pound yellowtail filet, I adapted a Sicilian preparation which included the fish in a sauce served over pasta. In the second recipe, I seasoned two thick filets cut from the larger 5-pound piece, which were then grilled and served over a mix of confetti-size summer vegetables.


Pasta with Yellowtail Sauce

In the province of Trapani, an important port on the west coast of Sicily, this recipe was adapted from one prepared in Favignana, an island commune, often using either tuna or swordfish. In the traditional recipe, the fish is quickly sautéed, then when cooled it is immersed in a marinade emphasizing a mix of fresh herbs which will include all or most of the following: basil, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage. The fish is then marinated for an hour or more and served slightly chilled with some of the marinade and herb mix drizzled over.

In this adaptation, after trimming away the blood line and skinning the fish, it was seasoned and then infused only in the herb mix (not a marinade), for several hours. The herb mix was then removed, the fish cubed, and incorporated into the final sauce served over the pasta.

1/2 pound linguini (in this recipe, squid ink pasta was used), allow 1/4 pound per person
1 to 1-1/2 pounds yellowtail filet, skinned, and blood line removed
1 medium sweet onion, minced
2 to 3 garlic cloves, split
3 to 4 fennel stalks, minced
8 oz chopped tomato and juice
Herb mix chopped (basil, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage)
Basil leaves and fennel fronds for garnish
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Hot chili pepper flakes

Yellowtail and fresh herb mix

Yellowtail and fresh herb mix

Season the prepared fish with salt and pepper and then cover with the chopped herb mix to infuse for 2 hours. Once fish is done, remove the chopped herbs and cube the fish, setting aside to combine with the sauce to finish.

In a large sauté pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add the onion, garlic, and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until the soffritto begins to soften and lightly color, mixing to combine.

Once the soffritto has softened, pour in the tomatoes and add the chili flakes, again mixing to combine. When the tomatoes are completely incorporated and heated through, add the fish, again mixing to combine and lower the heat to barely a simmer.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions and then drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Raise the heat under the sauce and if it’s too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin it. Ladle some sauce on the bottom of each plate, place the pasta over the sauce and again ladle a small amount of sauce atop the pasta. Drizzle some olive oil over and garnish with basil leaves and minced fennel fronds.

Sauce assembled

Sauce assembled



Grilled Yellowtail with Summer Vegetable Confetti

For the Summer Vegetable Confetti I used the following vegetable mix: carrot, 1 hot red chili pepper, spring onion, white and some green top, sweet white corn removed from the cob, green summer string beans, yellow summer squash, and zucchini. Other vegetables can be added or substituted but the corn and the squash should be part of any mix.

All of the vegetables except the corn were minced finely and mixed together. Just a simple chiffonade of fresh basil leaves and a sprinkle of salt and pepper was all that was needed to punctuate the flavors of the vegetable mix.

Summer vegetable confetti

Summer vegetable confetti


2 center cut filets, skin on
Spice rub (in this recipe the spice rub consisted of finely ground fennel seed, black pepper, and a dry roasted chipotle chili) plus a sprinkle of sea salt
Olive oil

After the vegetable confetti is prepared and mixed together, set aside. Rub the filets generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and then dust liberally with the spice rub on all sides.

Prepare the grill, or if not using, heat a grill pan on a high temperature. When the flames are down on the grill and a good coal bed is established, or when the grill pan is hot, place the filets skin side down and begin to sear. Turn the filets frequently until all sides are cooked, the skin is crisp, but the flesh not burned.

Place several spoonfuls of the vegetable confetti in the center of a plate, place the cooked filet on top and garnish with a chiffonade of one or more fresh herbs. In this dish basil and shiso were used.

Plated atop vegetable confetti

Plated atop vegetable confetti

So here you have two ways to prepare a delicious fish beyond the sushi bar. Yellowtail or hamachi is available all year; however, these two recipes make good use of the abundance of the summer season’s fresh produce and herbs. Let me know how your yellowtail meal turns out.


On a Raft

Small plates, a phrase which has been as overdone as the phrase farm-to-table, is an expression and a manner of dining that made its way into our culinary scene in the early 2000s.

Before the moniker of small plates, the French called them hors-d’oeuvres; the Spanish, tapas; the Italians, antipasti; the Greeks, Jews, Turks, and others in the Middle Eastern countries that rim the Mediterranean, mezze; and the Japanese call them izakaya. Whatever the name, they have been enjoyed for a long time.

They are essentially appetizers, or small courses served as part of a larger meal. Or, when assembled together they can be a complete meal similar to, for example, what the Venetians do with their cicchetti. In Venice, bars (bacari) are devoted to serving only cicchetti—generally, full-course dishes served in smaller portions on top of toasted bread or grilled polenta.

For me, these small servings are blank canvases because the possibilities and combinations are endless—often driven by what is in season, looks freshest at the market, and supplemented by what may be hidden in the pantry. The challenge is to keep these offerings small, however they are one of the best ways to introduce dinner guests to something they may never have tasted before.

From an Italian perspective, the purpose of the antipasti is to set a mood or tone and prepare one’s appetite for what is to follow. The chef and cookbook author, Cindy Pawlcyn, of Fog City Diner and Mustards Grill fame, was quoted as saying “in old diner lingo, if something came on-a-raft, it meant the food was served up on toast.”

In keeping with that perspective, the preferred way for me to present an antipasti course would either be on plain toasted bread slices as in crostini, or on grilled, garlic-rubbed bread slices, as in bruschetta.

So with that as the premise I will now share the recipes for a quintet of crostini we served at the beginning of a recent meal we hosted. The antipasti were:

White bean and artichoke puree
English sweet pea puree
Onion and fig confitura
Beet tartare
Wild mushroom “caviar”

They all were served on various toasted artisan breads and were garnished with fresh herbs from the garden to punctuate the overall flavor. I encouraged guests to eat them in a specific order—lightest to most robust in terms of flavor—and they were complemented by a flute or two of a sparkling libation.

The quintet

The quintet

White Bean and Artichoke Puree

This offering can be completely assembled by using items from the pantry.
15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz jar of artichokes or artichoke hearts packed in water (or can be frozen) either drained or thawed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon garlic jam (puree of roasted garlic)
Zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
Olive oil
Pinch of chili pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Sprinkle minced oregano and mint before serving

Place all the ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor except the olive oil. Pulse several times to combine and begin the puree while wiping down the sides. Begin to process while slowly adding the olive oil through the feed tube until a smooth puree is formed. Wipe down the sides, check the seasoning and smoothness of the puree, and turn out into a bowl. Spread on the toasted bread slices and sprinkle the minced herbs over to serve.


English Sweet Pea Puree

2 cups either fresh or frozen peas
1 garlic clove, smashed
Approximately 1/4 cup of parsley leaves and minced stems
1/4 minced preserved lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced chives
Pinch of chili pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Approximately 3 tablespoons olive oil
Sprinkle either minced lemon balm or shiso leaf before serving

Combine the peas, garlic, and parsley with a cup of water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes for fresh peas or 2 minutes for frozen peas. Drain, reserving the cooking water, and add the vegetable mix to the work bowl of a food processor.

Add the other ingredients and pulse several times to combine and begin the puree while wiping down the sides. Begin to process while slowly adding just enough of the reserved cooking water through the feed tube until a smooth puree is formed. Wipe down the sides, check the seasoning and smoothness of the puree, and turn out into a bowl.

Spread on the toasted bread slices and sprinkle the minced herbs over to serve.


Onion and Fig Confitura

Note: This offering was the subject of an email titled A Jam by Another Name, dated May 29, 2015. For those who did not see that post, send me a note and I would be happy to send it to you.

Fresh rosemary was the herb that was minced and sprinkled over the confitura spread on the toast.


Beet Tartare

This is a recipe I first learned about while reading the 1998 groundbreaking book Jean-Georges Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef. I have prepared it countless times over the years and have since read about many different variations. Here is the approach I take to prepare the dish.

5 to 6 medium beets
1 large shallot, rough chopped
5 to 6 cornichons, rough chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed, rough chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves and stems
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or other hot sauce
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Whole milk ricotta, drained
Sprinkle minced chives before serving

The beets can either be roasted in a 350-degree oven for 90 minutes until tender, or cooked in water for 60 minutes until tender. My preference is to cook the beets in water by removing the green tops (do not peel), bringing the saucepan to a boil and then cooking until tender. Once the beets are cooked, drain and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, they can easily be peeled, however I recommend using gloves to avoid staining your fingertips. Once peeled, rough chop and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, add the shallots, cornichons, capers, and parsley. Pulse several times to combine and chop more finely. Add the prepared beets and pulse again to mix all of the ingredients together. Continue pulsing until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and minced but not pureed smooth.

Turn out the beet mixture into a large work bowl and add the other ingredients except the ricotta and minced chives. Mix by hand using a spatula until the tartare is well combined. Check and correct the seasoning as needed.

Spread a generous teaspoon of the ricotta onto the toasted bread slices. Top with a serving of the beet tartare and sprinkle the minced chives over to serve.


Wild Mushroom “Caviar”

I used Black Trumpet Royale mushrooms and dried morels in this offering, both of which were soaked in warm water restore and refresh them for cooking. The “caviar” piece is simply a reference to the way the finished dish looks on the toasted bread slice . . . but you already knew that!

2-1/2 cups dried mushrooms
2 cups water or stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 sweet onion, chopped fine
2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced fine
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 preserved lemon rind, chopped fine
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Truffle puree or truffle oil (optional)
Whole milk ricotta, drained
Sprinkle minced fresh parsley and basil before serving

Pour the warm water or stock over the dried mushrooms and allow them to steep for an hour or until soft. Squeeze all the liquid from the refreshed mushrooms back into the bowl, rough chop the mushrooms, and set the mix aside. Strain the soaking liquid to remove and dirt and grit and set aside.

Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium heat. Begin by sautéing the onion and garlic until they begin to soften and lightly color. Add the mushrooms, preserved lemon, tomato paste, and salt and pepper, mixing to coat and combine. Slowly pour the strained soaking liquid over and stir to combine. Sauté and stir occasionally until all the liquid has been absorbed and evaporated.

Once the sauté has cooled, add it to the work bowl of a food processor along with a teaspoon of the truffle puree to 1/2 teaspoon of the truffle oil, if using. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides and continue pulsing until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and minced but not pureed smooth.

Spread a generous teaspoon of the ricotta onto the toasted bread slices. Top with a serving of the mushroom caviar and sprinkle the minced parsley and basil over to serve.