Reconstructed Deconstructed Seafood Paella

DSCN4546Last week wasn’t a great one for Lolita.  While Nemo buried us in two feet of snow, the tumultuous passage of a delightful kidney stone began its painful descent through my bowels, knocking me out for almost 4 days.  Needless to say, I missed Valentine’s Day; it passed me by in a Percocet fueled haze.  I had promised the husband-man to make him whatever he wanted for V-Day, and he requested paella – something very difficult to make in the traditional way with the crappy electric stove I’ve got. But never one to back down from a challenge, I did – in my more lucid moments – ponder how I could create a paella -type meal for the ol’ man given my kitchen’s limitations.  By Saturday, I’d both birthed that stone and had figured out this dish: a deconstructed paella construct, replete with all the flavors we’d tasted that glorious spring in Barcelona when we ate panfuls of the stuff along the sparkling Mediterranean coast.  My creation contains all the seafood I could pack into the dish — scallops, shrimp, cod, clams, and lobster – along with deep roasted peppers, a chicken chorizo risotto, and a saffron butter-cream.  With a some toasted baguette served ala pa’ amb tomaquet, each bite transported us back to our Iberian adventures in a way only good food can do.

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Reconstructed Deconstructed Seafood Paella

1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 cup arborio rice
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 tbs tomato paste
1 quart seafood stock
1 large chicken chorizo sausage
chili powder, hungarian paprika, black pepper, sea salt, EVOO
2 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
4-5 threads of saffron
4 littleneck clams
2 lobster claws
1/3lb cod
2 large scallops
4 large shrimp

DSCN4532aBecause it takes a little while, I start by roasting my peppers.  It’s easy: roll them around in EVOO, lay them on a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper before throwing them in a 400° oven.  Roast for about 10 minutes, rolling them over every few minutes so the skins blacken.  Remove them from the heat, toss them and all the juices from the pan into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until cooled.  Then you can remove the skins very easily.  Set this aside for now.

DSCN4529I make risotto all the time — just search for it here on my blog and you’ll see several different preparations.  This one was different for me, though, since I usually aim for a white risotto and not a red one, but it still started the same: I sauté my minced garlic and onion in EVOO in a small saucepan until just translucent, then I add my rice.  I stir everything to coat well with the oil, and to toast the grains of rice a bit to make them more receptive to the liquids I’ll be adding.

DSCN4530First addition is wine: a nice glug or two of dry sherry, which I stir in well, cooking over low heat, until all the liquid is absorbed.

DSCN4531Then I start adding my seafood stock, which is simmering in another pot on the stove.  You want to use warm stock, which will keep the rice cooking instead of cooling it down with each addition.  I add about 4 ounces at a time, stirring well continually, until each batch of liquid has been absorbed by the rice.  It takes about 30 minutes to stir a good pot of risotto.

DSCN4532At about the halfway point, I decide to add a tablespoon of tomato puree.  Traditional paella always has a bit of tomato in it, and this concentrated condiment gives just the right of sweetness and acidic kick to the dish.  Oh, and I keep adding stock and stirring.

DSCN4533My risotto is almost done.  It has increased in volume significantly, and when I test a grain with my tongue and teeth it is just tender all the way through, with a slightly al dente center.  At this point, I add all the juices from my roasted peppers, which have been sweating all their delicious goodness into the bowl all this time.

DSCN4536I’ve cooked my chicken chorizo and chopped it up real good like.

DSCN4537Along with my chopped roasted peppers, the chorizo adds the unctuousness needed for a good paella – where chicken and sausage definitely belong.  I keep this warm on the back burner until I’m ready for it.

DSCN4538To prepare my seafood, I create a poaching liquid, starting with butter and saffron and the last 4 ounces of my seafood stock.

DSCN4539I whisk the contents of the pan vigorously, emulsifying the butter and stock into a rich base.

DSCN4541I then add my cream, and layer my seafood into the pan to gently poach.  My cream/butter has been tinted a thrilling yellow from the saffron threads, and the scent emanating through the kitchen is divine.  I cover the pan, shaking it from time to time to encourage the fishy stuff to swim around, before using tongs to flip each piece so it can cook through thoroughly.

DSCN4543When the clams are open, and the shrimp and scallops are opaque, everything is ready to serve.

DSCN4542Here’s where the “reconstruction” bit comes in.  I’ve been obsessing about forms these days, ‘cuz I love the idea of stacked meals.  I’m too cheap to spend the $20 or so on real cooking forms, so I have a tendency to cannibalize all sorts of stuff in my kitchen to make shapes I can work with.  This is a tea canister from some swanky over-priced tea shack, but with the bottom removed it makes a decent, entree-sized form for my purposes.  I start by laying my strips of pepper out on the plate, before spooning a layer of rice into the form, followed by bits of the cooked cod, another layer of rice, then a layer with my shrimp and scallops, before topping it off with more risotto.

DSCN4547Crowning my tower of delight is my succulent lobster claw, which is flanked by eat-me clams and standing in a rich, sweet pool of saffron butter-milk.  I’ve toasted some slices of baguette, rubbed them with garlic, and served them with a tomato half doused with EVOO, garlic, and sea salt – which is scraped across the crusty bread, leaving a swathe of tasty red yumminess to compliment the dish.  All the component parts of a paella are here: fresh, tender seafood, rich, creamy rice, roasted peppers and spicy sausage, chicken, and of course, saffron.  An elegant meal in honor of a long love affair: with both my husband, and food glorious food.

Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

DSCN4347Those of you wonderful people who follow my blog know I have a weakness for anything cooked in a cast-iron skillet.  There is something so old-timey about cast iron, and I love how they serve today as both cooking equipment and serving platter – as they do in my house.  Maybe it’s the weight of them; maybe it’s just the tradition of them — I don’t know, but everything seems to taste better in cast iron.  No wonder, then, that tonight’s offering is a one-pan meal: a mixed grill of seared scallops, shrimp, and cod filet, served with piping hot cheese grits and some quick wilted spinach.  Light, healthy, and warming — just the thing for a chilly winter’s night.

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Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

6 large shrimp, peeled
2-4 large scallops (8oz total), adductor muscles removed
1/2 lb cod filet
6 oz spinach
1 cup grits
4 tbs butter, melted and divided, plus 1 tbs butter, cold
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lemon

This meal was inspired largely by the super-huge scallops on display at Whole Foods.  They were simply enormous, and my soul ached for them at first glance, but my pocketbook was unprepared for the hefty price-tag which came along with them.  So instead of doing without entirely, I purchased the two fattest bivalves I could find (they came to almost 1/2 lb on their own!), and augmented them with some more reasonably priced seafare — some large tiger shrimp and a nice codfish loin.  The shrimp I peeled while raw, and the fish I cut into bite sized pieces.

DSCN4333This is actually a *very* quick meal, and super-easy — it’s just  the expense that sort of knocks it out of the Weeknight Wondermeal category.  I started by melting my butter, which rather cooled back to room temperature before I started cooking in earnest, while I assembled everything else.  I wash and spin dry my spinach, grate my cheese, and get my grits all measured out.

DSCN4339I divide my melted butter roughly into 6ths, placing 1 dollop into each skillet, which I then position over hot burners.  As soon as the butter has begun to brown, I layer in my seafood, starting with the scallops and fish, which I let sear on one side for about 4 minutes, before flipping each piece carefully.

DSCN4340I then add the shrimp, with a dollop more butter on top to melt over them, which I cook for 2 minutes on each side, making a total of 4 minutes for the fish and scallops.  Y’see, the shrimp doesn’t take as long as the other stuff …

DSCN4341I remove the protiens briefly to a warm plate, which I cover with plastic wrap for a few minutes.

DSCN4338The skillets remain on the heat with their butter still bubbling hot.

DSCN4342In goes my spinach, which I sort of roll around in the butter and let wilt over the heat.

DSCN4343Meanwhile, I’ve made my grits according to the package directions (1 part grits to 3 parts water is the magic ratio), and have added my cold tablespoon of butter and most of my grated cheese, reserving a bit for garnish.

DSCN4344After only a few moments, my spinach is almost completely wilted, with some bits browning and crisping nicely on the pan’s surface.  I push all this to one side, and divide my grits between the two skillets, pouring them next to the spinach.

DSCN4345The fish, scallops, and shrimp get placed back into the skillets, with my last dollops of butter placed on top, before I throw both in a very hot oven for about 8 minutes to heat completely through.

DSCN4346A dash of salt, a sprinkling of pepper, a cross-hatching of shredded cheese, and a wedge of lemon are all the compliments needed for this rich, warm, satisfying seafood dinner.  Each protein brings something different to the plate: the cod is flaky and tender, the shrimp is fresh and firm, and the scallop is sweet and seared to a crisp.  Along with the stick-to-your ribs corn grits and helping of verdant greenery, this is a complete dinner in virtually no time at all.  Dig in and enjoy, my friends.  I sure did.

Cleetus (the Cod) Piccata and Cilantro Bibb Salad

Tonight was this season’s first Harvard Square Farmer’s Market delivery of the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community Shared Fishery, and Cleetus the Cod made his way into our home, our hearts, and our stomachs scant hours after being yanked fresh from the Atlantic Ocean.  Why did I name him Cleetus?  Mainly for alliterative effect… one I worked out while walking in the gathering New England storm to the truck where he waited for me.  And Cleetus was KING SIZED; this bad boy was the biggest fish we’ve yet had over for dinner.

I wish I had a scale so I could’ve weighed him, but I can tell you that dragging his fins home from work on the subway was both surreal, and exhausting.  Thank goodness eating him fortified me so well…

This is only 1/2 of Cleetus’s sweet sweet meat; the rest is waiting patiently in the freezer for a later application of cod chowder, or maybe cod fritters, or maybe codcakes.  We’ll see.  But for now, here’s about 1-1 1/4lb roughly (read: amateurishly) harvested cod fillets (which I’m proud to say were at least perfectly boneless and skinless, if not entirely successfully cut from the, er, carcass.)

I cut my fillet into 6 mostly equally sized strips, or fingers, or cutlets, or whateveryamacallem.

Salt and pepper all sides of the fish fingers liberally, and then dredge thoroughly in flour.

In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat a few tablespoons (enough to lightly coat the surface of your entire pan) over medium high heat.  Melt one tablespoon butter into the hot oil, and swirl well.

Carefully place your cod pieces into your hot sizzling butteroil, and shake the pan gently to keep any damp spots from sticking.  Sear gently over high heat for 5-6 minutes, or until nicely browned on the bottom, with a creeping cooked level working up the sides of each piece, leaving pink only on the very top centers.

When browned, carefully flip each piece with tongs and a spatula.  Swirl the pan to distribute the remaining oils well under each piece, and gently shake the pan to keep them from sticking.  Cook for another 5-6 minutes, until crispy.

Piccata is one of my favorite sauces, but I admit I’ve only ever used it over chicken, pork, or veal cutlets.  But I had literally nothing in the pantry but a lemon, some well-salted capers, some butter and, of course,…

…some wine.  Here’s some cheap, but drinkable and delightfully cookable, chardonnay.  I rinse my capers well…

… then add about 1 cup of wine, let reduce, then add my rinsed capers, the juice of one lemon, and — at the very last minute — one tbs butter.

Fresh, buttery leaves of Bibb lettuce tossed with cilantro, pinched fresh mozzarella, blood orange EVOO and white wine vinegar compliments the briny buttery goodness of Piccata’s pan sauce over tender fresh crunchy spears of pan-seared cod.  Bright as a spring morning sun, fresh as a moonlit spring night, and tasty like a tango of flavors gracefully prancing across the palate, and as satisfying as sex on the beach.  Or so I hear.  Keep your fingers crossed for me, folks, that our Mexican Christmas holiday happens the way we hope it will.

Until then, enjoying this sumptuous supper of sublime seafood and sweet salad will give me the … aaahhhhhhh… I need to make it through the week.

Ode to Ramsay: Roasted Root Vegetables, Pan-Seared Cod, and Thyme Cream

After a delicious br/lunch at maze this weekend, I just had to try to recreate what I ate. Problem: I had chicken, and Clayton – who washed all the laundry, painted the bathroom, fixed the roof-deck, and basically slaved away for our house while I blew a huge wad on a girl’s trip to NYC – wanted and deserved fish. Cod is, in my opinion, the ocean’s chicken-fish, and luckily Whole Foods had some lovely filets for a lovely price. But the roasted diced root vegetables and the thyme cream was all Gordon Ramsay’s idea (although his was a veloute as opposed to a cream sauce, but I had no white stock to work with…)

Start with:

4 parsnips
2-3 medium carrots
2 turnips
1 lemon (ignore his friend)

1 large sweet potato (or yam)
2 medium onions

10-14 brussel sprouts

Peel all your roots, and trim your brussel sprouts.

Dice the carrots, turnips, parsnips, and sweet potato.  Toss into a large ceramic baking dish with your largely diced onion, brussell sprouts, and some salt and pepper. Coat all the veggies well with EVOO, and throw into a 400° oven for at least 40 minutes. Stir occasionally, just to keep all the surfaces moist and to sear in the heat.

Cod. It’s good.

Slice your cod into manageable pieces, and dredge with flour, salt, and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat…

… until it’s bubbling hot.

Set your fish into your hot fat, and sear well… for about 5 minutes…

… on each side.

Watercress. Gordon didn’t have this, but I wanted a bit of snap and fresh to offset the rich and rooty. I wash it well, and dress it simply with EVOO, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper.

Thyme…

… and heavy cream: the ingredients for my substitution for Gordon’s thyme veloute. Remove the cooked fish from the pan, and set aside in two portions, each on a warmed plate. Scrape any fish stuck to the pan out onto a plate for your husband to pick at, and then melt another tablespoon of butter, deglazing the surface. Add ½ cup of heavy cream and simmer for 3-5 minutes over medium high heat to thicken. Strip the leaves off several twigs of fresh thyme, and dump half of them into the simmering sauce to savor it, reserving the other half for a fresh garnish.

Meanwhile, your veggies should be perfectly cooked. Each bite is easily pierced with a small fork, and the outer leaves of the sprouts should be crisp and caramelized.

Plate your perfectly seared fish fingers like two needles of a compass, and spoon your sweet roasted diced roots over the pivot point like a blanket draped across a sleeper’s hips. Pinch a nosegay of watercress salad into a corner of the plate, and spoon the sweet thickened thyme cream around each savory bite.

Firm but flaky pan-seared cod filets served with diced caramelized root vegetables, and lovingly layered with a buttery thyme cream. Inspired by a my new celebrity crush, but (I dare say) perfected by me. If you’d like to disagree, Gordon, come on over and I’ll make you dinner in MY HAUS (said with gangsta-like conviction)!