Fish Friday: A cure for Fear of Fish

Those of you who have Fear of Fish, don’t be ashamed to admit it. Every chef and seafood expert I talked to when writing “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” said that people have it – you are not alone. But….it’s just a little fish. Follow the book’s tips on buying it and picking the flavor you like, things will go swimmingly. (I wrote a fish book, people, I have the right to make seafood puns and I won’t be shellfish about them.)

IMG_2270For this final Fish Friday, I offer this recipe from the book, a good one for the recovering fish-frightened. The sauce is easy to make, and gives some wiggle room by keeping the fish moist and insulating it from the oven’t heat.

Now, go fish! To learn more and find more recipes, take a look at the book. And the Moose is on the loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com. to find a cooking class or signing I’m doing near you.

Greek Baked Sea Trout (or sheepshead, grunt, flounder, snapper)

Makes 6 servings

2 cups cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion

2 medium cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the baking pan

1 tablespoon dried oregano or marjoram

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons capers or chopped black olives

2 large sea trout fillets (about 2 pounds)

Italian bread (optional)

Place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely. Do not puree.

Place 1/3 cup olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to give up their juice and the onions are soft. Add the oregano or marjoram, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley and capers or olives.  Taste and add salt if needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a little olive oil. Place the fish in the dish, skin side down, and spoon the sauce over the fish, making sure to cover it completely. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the fish flakes and is done.

Serve with Italian bread for sopping up the sauce, if desired.

Fish Friday: The fish, the whole fish and nothing but the fish

Decades ago, my husband purchased a whole smoked whitefish for breakfast. It was the first time I’d seen an entire fish in such close proximity, and first thing in the morning, too.

So I understand those with Fear of Fish, and even some experienced cooks, who shy away from cooking an entire fish. I had never cooked a whole fish until I was working on “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast.” I knew I had to include something on cooking whole fish, and many people – from chefs to adventurous friends – had told me that it was easy and I’d love the results. Also, Thai and other Asian cuisines routinely cook whole fish in various ways, so it’s an important skill for exploring those styles of cooking.

I did it, and all I have to say is: I shouldn’t have waited so long. Neither should you. It was indeed easy and produced some of the most moist, flavorful fish I’ve ever eaten. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because chefs always say that meat cooked with the bone – bone-in chicken, for example, rather than boneless chicken breast – has much more flavor. And that’s true. Why shouldn’t it be true for fish as well?

Fish markets typically sell cleaned whole fish, which means anything inside that you don’t want has been conveniently removed for your cooking pleasure. Look for whole fish that appear moist, not dried out, and with firm flesh.

When you get the fish home, you can follow instructions in “Carolina Catch” for simple roasted whole fish stuffed with herbs and ginger. All the equipment you need is a baking sheet and oven. There’s also a recipe for Thai-style whole fried fish that uses a wok. Whole sea bass, snapper and flounder are good choices.

Carving the cooked fish for serving is easy. With a knife and spatula, the top filet will lift right off, then the bones can be pulled out of the lower half of the fish. I have detailed instructions in the “Best Basics” section of the book.

So, go whole fish! To learn more and find more recipes, take a look at the book. And the Moose is on the loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Fish Friday: Use summer’s best

We’re in the thick of summer now. Fresh corn, peppers and beautiful North Carolina shrimp. I combine them all whenever I have a chance – and sometimes throw in some okra, too.

Shrimp makes a great substitute for the smoked trout that I used in the original recipe in “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast.”  In fact, most of the recipes in the book offer alternative seafood suggestions so that you can use whatever’s available at different times of year.

To learn more, and find more recipes, take a look at the book. And the Moose is on the loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Fresh Corn and Shrimp Fritters

From “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” by Debbie Moose

Makes 8-10 servings

2 cups fresh corn kernels

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped green onion

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Vegetable oil for frying

Place the corn, bell peppers, green onions, flour, chili powder, paprika, salt and shrimp in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Stir in the eggs.

Put enough oil in a frying pan to come about 1 inch up the sides. Heat over medium until the oil shimmers. (See frying tips in “Best Basics” in “Carolina Catch”) Use 2 large spoons to scoop out the batter into patties and place them in the hot oil. Lightly press each patty to flatten it. Cook the patties, turning once, until they are brown on both sides. Drain them on paper towels or on a cooling rack placed over a plate. Keep the cooked patties warm in an oven on low heat until all the patties are cooked.

Fish Friday: Get out the grill

smoked swordfish

smoked swordfish

It’s summertime and the smell of charcoal smoke again covers the land. (If you’re a gas griller, fine, but I am a charcoal girl to the core and the daughter of one, too.) Slide those burgers over and make room for fish – it’s easy to cook fish on the grill if you keep a few simple things in mind.

You can grill any kind of fish (whole or filleted), but if you’re just starting out, you may have better success by using thicker or steak-ier kinds of North Carolina-caught fish fillets. Try swordfish, mahi, drum, cobia, amberjack or yellowfin.

Place a slotted grill pan (the kind for grilling vegetables) on top of the grate to prevent losing the fish through the widely spaced grate. Get a nonstick pan, or spray it with nonstick spray before placing it on the grate to heat up.

To ensure against drying out and add flavor, give the fish a quick soak in a simple marinade before cooking. Citrus juices and olive oil are a nice combination. Let the fish marinate about 15 minutes, but not much longer – acids will “cook” the meat and make it rubbery after grilling.

Direct heat is fine, or if you’re uncertain, use indirect (it will take longer). Monitor the cooking, turning the fish only once, and use your trusty instant-read thermometer or a sharp knife to determine when the fish is done.

Keep things easy and summery by topping the cooked fish with a quick fruit salsa or sauce. You’ll find recipes for those in “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast.”

By the way, smoking fish at home isn’t difficult, even if you don’t have a smoker. I have detailed instructions in “Carolina Catch.” To learn more, and find more recipes, take a look at the book. And the Moose is on the loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Fish Friday: Cool summer appetizer

No heating up the kitchen to make this spread from “Carolina Catch,” which is great for summer parties.

Smoked Trout Cheese Spread

from “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” by Debbie Moose copyright 2018

Makes 10 to 12 servings

16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

3/4 cup coarsely chopped smoked trout

1/4 cup coarsely chopped red onion

Black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons capers

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Put the cream cheese, mayonnaise and smoked trout in the bowl of a food processor. Process until combined. Add the red onions, pepper and capers, and pulse a few times until they are just mixed in.

Scrape the mixture into a container and sprinkle with the parsley. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. The spread can be made up to 2 days ahead. Serve with crackers.

To learn more – and get more recipes – take a look at the book. And the Moose is on the loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you!

You know you still want ‘em…

Wings. They’re the only things people are talking about more than Cam Newton’s pants. (Hey, he’s not the first football fashion plate. Anyone remember Broadway Joe?)

There are as many ways to make wings as there are feathers on a Rhode Island Red. Previously, I offered y’all a flavorful but not hot recipe for the Super Bowl spread. Today, it’s one of my favorites for medium heat. These wings have a rub, which means you don’t have to marinate them for hours. The Mexican-inspired flavors are definitely something different. This recipe is from my book “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack.”

Mole Ole

1/2 cup chili powder

2 teaspoons cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

12 wings, cut in half at joints, wing tips removed and discarded

1/4 cup olive oil

In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, cumin and garlic powder. Place the wings in a resealable plastic bag. Pour in the olive oil and shake to coat the wings. Pour in the rub mixture and shake again to coat the wings. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. Place the wings on the baking sheet and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until done, turning the wings about halfway through the cooking time.

Makes 24 wing pieces

From “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” by Debbie Moose

Inspiration and memory

A smart editor once told me: “If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.” That’s what I’m going to do today, from one of the best, Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis. After reading her column today – which, as a food writer, I can say is absolutely true about the never-ending search for the new – I thought about how I recharge and what I would relive. Here are a few, with thanks to Kathi.

– The first time I ate a soft-shell crab, which was the beginning of a lifelong affair. It looked like the inspiration for a ’50s drive-in movie, “Invasion of the Giant Crunchy Spiders.” I had to be persuaded that ALL of the crustacean was edible in this state. Oh, the little legs, how crispy; the center, how moist…. It was truly a new thing.

– Driving around Normandy with The Hub. We armed ourselves with an extremely poor map, minimal French, a Swiss Army knife and a baguette from the corner baker, and set out from Bayeux for two things: cheese and Calvados, an apple brandy. We stopped at a roadside stand for the most sensually fragrant melon I’d ever experienced, then roamed, mostly lost, through the rolling hills that reminded me of Piedmont North Carolina, where I grew up. We found cheese and ate it with the knife while sitting on the trunk of the rental car, with the baguette and lovely melon.  We ended the day tasting Calvados and its aperitif sister, Pommeau.

– Walking through the backyard vegetable garden with my father when I was knee high, watching him pull two green onions from the red clay, brush them off on his pants leg, cut off the roots with a super-sharp pocket knife, and hand me one. We ate them on the spot, in the sun. Truly fresh vegetables don’t need a lot of messing with.

What’s your list?

Three flavors for spring

The fun and popular Savor the South series by the University of North Carolina Press usually brings out two books in the spring, but this year, there’s a threefer: “Gumbo” by Dale Curry, “Shrimp” by Jay Pierce and “Catfish” by Paul and Angela Knipple.

GUMBO Cover imageIf anyone knows gumbo, it’s Dale Curry, who was food editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 20 years and lives in New Orleans. (Full disclosure: I have known Dale for years through the Association of Food Journalists, and I’m the author of two Savor the South cookbooks.)

I have made gumbo as best as a non-Louisianan can, but the book offers regional takes that I never imagined. Catfish Gumbo or Quail Gumbo, anyone? There is a roux-less gumbo for those who find making roux challenging, as I once did. Curry’s directions for making roux, an essential part of traditional gumbo, are simple but useful. To tell the truth, it’s one of those things that you just have to do a few times and you eventually get it, like riding a bicycle or following knitting directions. But believe Curry when she says do not use a burned roux.

The book includes recipes for some of gumbo’s relations, such as jambalaya – including a recipe for a slow-cooker jambalaya that I’m looking forward to trying out. This is a book of classics from another area of the South that is a good addition to the series.

SHRIMP Cover ImagePierce, author of “Shrimp,” recently became chef at ROCKSALT in Charlotte after years with Lucky 32 in Greensboro and Cary. (More full disclosure: I have met Pierce and welcomed him to the Savor the South sisterhood’s men’s auxiliary; he and Paul Knipple are the first men to enter the fold.) Whenever I encounter a chef-written cookbook, I get concerned that it will have miles-long directions involving hours of prep for those of us without a kitchen full of hired help. Not here. The recipes are creative and accessible, and the stories Pierce tells along with them make you feel like you’ve popped a beer and sat down next to a shrimp-loving buddy.

How to select quality shrimp and freeze it offers great information, as well as reassurance that frozen shrimp is OK, depending on where it’s from. He also clearly explains why buying American-caught shrimp is so important.

Soups, noodle dishes, pick-up goodies like Fire-Roasted Shrimp Tacos, rice dishes like Shrimp Risotto – there’s a lot of variety here. This is a great book to carry to the beach, or make you feel like you’re there.

CATFISH Cover ImageCatfish is a staple in the Deep South, but I wondered how the Knipples, experienced food writers who live in Memphis, would handle an entire book on the ingredient.

On the surface, catfish seems limited to crispy fried plates at fish camps. But they show that catfish can play a role in unexpected places, including Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Coriander Catfish Rolls bring the ingredient to Asian spring rolls. It’s paired with Indian spices in Dodson Lake Samosas. And Delta Paella brings catfish to the Mediterranean classic. Catfish, I barely knew ye before now.

Of course, the book includes precise directions for producing perfect deep- fried catfish, and some traditional sides to go with it such as hushpuppies and slaw.

Bye, bye brunch

OK now, ACC. I have tried my best to accept that you have added teams who can’t see the Atlantic Coast from their houses. And that the tournament will now last  longer than a midseason replacement series.

But this is too much. What in the world am I supposed to serve for a Saturday night final?

All of my ACC Tournament recipes are for brunch. For years, I had a civilized gathering of like-minded sports fans, a time to sip of morning nectars and enjoy quiche and seven-layer salad before the battle began. Something that a dowager countess might not be embarrassed to attend, provided she was wearing the correct shade of light blue.

Now what? I can’t possibly serve bloody marys after 5 p.m.

Blazing chicken wings, tubs of salsa, cold beers, these are the foods of nighttime game viewing. Less elegant, but welcome to the new ACC.

However, I refuse to give up without a fight. This recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” published by Harvard Common Press, will bring a touch of a Southern brunch to a munchie-central experience.

Marylynn’s Okra Roll-Ups

1 (16-ounce) jar pickled okra, well drained

10 ounces thinly sliced deli ham

1 (9-ounce) tub soft spreadable cream cheese

Pat the okra pods dry. Trim the stems and tips from the pods.

On a cutting board, spread 1 ham slice flat without tearing it. Gently spread a thin layer of cream cheese on the ham. Place 1 trimmed okra pod at one end of the slice and roll the ham up around it, pressing gently to make a tight roll. Trim any overhanging ham to fit the pod, the slice the roll into approximately 1/2-inch slices. Repeat with remaining okra pods. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Note: These can be made the night before and refrigerated. Store in airtight containers in a single layer or in multiple layers separated by waxed paper to prevent sticking.

It’s all about the food, of course

Some teams from somewhere are playing football someplace this Sunday. It doesn’t matter who or where – or how inflated their balls are – because Sunday actually is the Super Bowl of food.

A rainbow of chips and dips festoons supermarket aisles in a glowing display unseen since Christmas. The price of wings usually spikes like gas on Memorial Day weekend, and for the same reason: supply and demand.

If you do care about the game, you are aware that the quality of the food affects the outcome, right? In the course of writing my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” (Harvard Common Press), I developed a couple of approaches to planning for the Super Bowl feed.

First of all, prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Fans will be there for many hours (I think the pregame hoopla started this morning).

One approach is what I call Continuous Grazing. Think of your guests as ravenous animals prowling the African savannah. For this, put out a variety of finger foods and snacks. Chips and dips are OK, but you also need more hearty offerings. During the lengthy halftime, bring out some wings, baby quiches or roast beef sliders.

Another way to organize the food is Big Bowls. Chili is always a hit, especially since it’s usually cold in early February and spicy chili offers that obligatory macho component to the day. Set up a slow-cooker or two with chili or soup, and let fans help themselves. Provide crackers or cornbread on the side; a salad if you feel vegetables are really necessary.

Yes, you could resort to the prepared food cases at your megamart. But would your team take the easy way out? Do you want to take the risk that your inadequate party spread could doom your squad? Just asking….

This recipe from “Fan Fare” makes wings with lots of flavor but no fiery heat. I picked the name because I also serve them during basketball season.

Teriyaki Tip-Off Wings

8 whole chicken wings, split at joints and wing tips discarded

3/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place the wings in a large zipper-top plastic bag. In a medium-size bowl, combine the pomegranate juice, orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar and vegetable oil. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour the marinade into the bag. Seal and shake gently to coat. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Drain the wings well (discard the marinade) and place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until done. Serve warm.

Makes 16 pieces

Note: These wings could also be grilled, but watch them carefully to avoid burning.

From “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” by Debbie Moose, published by Harvard Common Press.