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: Shrimp time!

With summer comes wild-caught North Carolina shrimp season, and since shrimp is by far the most popular seafood, I know y’all have been looking forward to it.

Many people don’t realize that fish and shellfish have seasons, just like fruits and vegetables do. Certain kinds are more prevalent at certain times of year, and I offer a guide to seafood seasonality in “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast.” If you familiarize yourself with seasonality, you’ll get the best-tasting, freshest fish and shellfish, and maybe save a little money, because at the height of a season, prices may come down.

Great local shrimp don’t need much fuss and bother, I say. On a hot day, cooked shrimp tossed on a newspaper-covered table to peel and eat is perfect. Here’s how I boil shrimp: pour a beer into a large pot (and open one for myself), add water to cover the shrimp, toss in three or four slices of lemon, maybe a garlic clove, and generous shakes of a seafood seasoning (such as Old Bay). When the combination comes to a boil, add the shrimp and cook just three or four minutes, until they turn bright pink and give off their shrimpy perfume.

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!

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!

Fish Fridays: A grunt by any other name would taste as good

Flounder, snapper grouper – these are the perky cheerleaders of the fish world. Everybody loves them But give some love to less familiar fish, such as the grunt.

Maybe we should start by getting this fish a new name, because that’s a terrible one to hang on a delicious flaky, white fish. But as I learned working on “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press), there are a lot of good fish in the sea (and the ponds).

Less familiar kinds of North Carolina fish are just as good to cook and eat as what I call the Big Three (see above) and seeking them out lessens overfishing pressures on popular fish. Also, you’ll find new and delightful things to eat. In “Carolina Catch,” I offer information on substituting different kinds of fish in recipes, and how to find fish you might like based on what you currently enjoy. For example, if you want to substitute something for flounder, look for another thin and flaky fish (not a thick and steak-like one, such as mahi). An important piece of advice: Find a fishmonger who knows North Carolina fish and shellfish to guide you in selections.

Here are a few of my don’t-miss fish. Try them!

– Tilefish cooks up with a beautiful white color and tender, flaky texture. Its delicate, sweet flavor requires little more than a squeeze of lemon and a bit of butter. You’ll never look at flounder again.

– Sheepshead offers texture and flavor that stand up to being simmered or baked in sauces.

– Trout, whether farmed or wild-caught, can be used any way you’d cook snapper or flounder, and it’s especially tasty fried (although, what isn’t?)

Now, go fish!

To learn even more – and get recipes from appetizers to sides – take at a look at the book. And visit the Events list at debbiemoose.com to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Salt in the blood

“Fishing has built courthouses, schools, homes, communities. That’s what meant by having salt in the blood,” said Karen Willis Amspacher as she clearly and bluntly laid out the significance of North Carolina’s coastal fishing business in a voice still touched by the vanishing Ocracoke accent.

She spoke on the first day of State of the Plate, an excellent two days of exploring food issues in the state and the larger world. It was organized by Marcie Cohen Ferris, of the Department of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and presented by the university’s Center for Global Initiatives, Center for the Study of the American South, Department of American Studies and Global Research Institute.

As a seafood lover, the articulate and forceful Amspacher – she’s involved in virtually everything about helping her home of Harkers Island, fishing communities and fishermen, including being on the board of NC Catch – and her fellow panelist fisherman Morty Gaskill of Ocracoke, spoke to me. One disturbing statistic: 90 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported. And only a fraction of that amount undergoes any safety inspection.  Add to that issue the recent Associated Press article revealing that some imported seafood was caught by slaves.

When I moved to Raleigh and began writing about food around 25 years ago, I was shocked that it was next to impossible to find seafood from North Carolina in this area. Fortunately, that has changed, as the “eat local” movement has begun to branch out from farms, but more needs to be done.

“‘Know your fisherman’ should be as important as ‘know your farmer’,” Amspacher said. “We are part of the local food movement. You must demand local seafood.”

Gaskill and Amspacher are part of a coastal success story: saving Ocracoke’s fish processing house for local fishermen and making it part of a cooperative. Fish houses have been disappearing, forcing fishermen to either travel farther and spend more to have their catch made ready for sale, or give up fishing altogether.

When the Ocracoke house closed, “there was nowhere on the island to sell. We had to go on the ferry to Hatteras or over to Cedar Island, taking up time that could be spent preparing our boats or doing more fishing,” Gaskill said.

Now the Ocracoke fish house operates as a 501 (c) (3), and they hope to reproduce its success elsewhere.

What can you do to help North Carolina fishermen and their communities? Insist on local seafood.

And, guess what? It tastes better, too.

A taste of the coast

In the mail today, The Hub and I received the confirmation letter from the place on the Outer Banks where we spend a much-anticipated week each spring. Every year, that letter and Girl Scout cookies keep us going through the messy end of a North Carolina winter.

Now I have something else to help me hold on: “The Outer Banks Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from North Carolina’s Barrier Islands” by Elizabeth Wiegand. It’s a heartfelt book for those who love that little strip of shifting sand and the good things served there.

There are recipes for everything that comes from the water, from traditional dishes like Hatteras-style clam chowder (no cream) to more modern contributions such as Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Carolina Shrimp or Soft-Shell BLT using soft-shell crabs. There’s information on traditions including Old Christmas and Outer Banks windmills, even a few things I didn’t know about (mullet roe as “Ocracoke caviar”?) Weigand also offers step-by-step instructions for doing your own oyster roast.

Weigand is a veteran food writer who provides clear instructions in her recipes. The book has a nice mix of simple recipes and more complicated ones from coastal restaurants. My only gripe is that the fractions are a little small for my bifocaled eyes.

There are a number of recipes that I’m looking forward to trying, but this one tapped my urge for salty breezes and nothing to worry about but which book I’ll read. I’ll tuck that confirmation letter in my pocket while I’m making it.

Wasabi Sesame Tuna

1 tablespoon wasabi paste (mix equal parts wasabi powder and water) or to taste

1/3 cup soy sauce

4 tuna steaks, 1 1/4 inches thick

1/2 cup black and white sesame seeds

1/4 cup olive oil

An additional mixture of 1 tablespoon wasabi paste as a condiment

Cucumber Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Mix together the wasabi and soy sauce in a nonmetallic bowl.

Place tuna in a shallow baking casserole and pour wasabi-soy marinade over. Allow to marinate for 5 to 6 minutes.

Place sesame seeds in a small, shallow dish. Place each tuna steak on top, pressing to coat each with seeds on one side only.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. when hot, add tuna, seed-side down; sear until seeds are browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn tuna over and cook for just another minute, until tuna is still soft and red in center. (It will continue to cook when off the heat.)

Serve immediately with Cucumber Vinaigrette and additional wasabi paste.

Cucumber Vinaigrette

1 cup peeled, seeded and cubed cucumber

1/2 red onion, diced

1/4 each sweet red and yellow pepper, diced

1 red tomato, diced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Allow flavors to meld at room temperature for about an hour. Refrigerate any leftovers.

 

 

What I ate on my summer vacation

pan-frying tilefish

Despite having books that we had not yet read, The Hub and I reluctantly returned recently from Buxton on the Outer Banks. We do three things while we’re there: Read, walk on the beach, and eat seafood until we threaten to grow fins and shells.

We dug into enough steamed clams to pave a driveway. Grilled sea scallops were sweet enough to consider them dessert (until we dug into the bag of Oreos in our condo pantry). The mackerel must have been running that week, because it was the catch of the day at most restaurants we hit, along with some sea trout and bluefish. Mackerel and bluefish are the rare finny creatures that are not to my liking. But my patience was rewarded when we visited a seafood market with a mind to cook dinner. There it was: tilefish.

When I gush to people about this fish, they usually look baffled. Few people have heard of it. (I was delighted to see it at Chef & the Farmer in Kinston the week it reopened after a fire.) The white fish has a sweet flavor reminiscent of shellfish, because that’s what it likes to eat. It’s moist, and difficult to mess up when cooking. I kept things simple. I sprinkled the fillets with a little salt and Barrier Reef Seasoning from Savory Spice Shop, then pan-fried them in olive oil.

We also toted back some spiced shrimp that had been steamed at the market, and added some penne pasta and steamed broccoli.

Add beer on the side. Listen to the waves.