Friday, August 26, 2016

Fish Fillets with Mushroom Ragout

I didn't discover this concept of ragout (pronounced "ragoo") until my early manhood. I went to a restaurant on the west side of Manhattan and asked what is this "rag-out" thing. My friends corrected me as to the pronunciation, and we ordered the thing. Subsequently, I learned that "ragout" comes from the French verb ragoûter, which roughly translates "to stimulate the appetite." It's mainly a seasoned, thick stew of meat, poultry or fish which may or may not contain vegetables. To confuse you more, ragu, also derived from ragout, is a popular dish in Italy's Bologna region and is served with pasta. It's main ingredients are ground beef and tomatoes, with some onions, carrots and wine wine thrown in.

The dish given below is a traditional ragout made with fish fillets and mushrooms. In the recipe I use perch fillets. But you can substitute cod, haddock, turbot, or any light firm-fleshed fillets. For the mushrooms, I use the oyster variety; but you can use cremini, shiitake, chanterelle, or a mix of mushrooms. Now, some people may add cream to their ragout. I'm told by a diehard, utterly traditional chef that never may you add cream to the ragout. It is "sacrilege,  sacré bleu!" I'm not fascistic in my cooking, so, if you want to add cream, or anything else you think will improve the flavor, go right ahead. The subject of good cuisine is to constantly experiment. That's the real joy of cooking. Also, and this will drive the traditionalists nuts, this is my Latino version of the dish. Muchas gracias.


5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound oyster mushrooms, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 small shallot, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped dill
4 6-ounce fish fillets
Salt and black ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup hot water

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or fry pan (I prefer cast-iron). Add mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 4-5 minutes.
2. Add garlic, shallot, and 1 tablespoon butter. Cook until garlic and shallot are softened, about 1 minute.
3. Add chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half and slightly viscous, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in vinegar and cook another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in dill. Cover, and keep warm.
4. Wash fillets under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano, patting seasonings into the fish.
Place fish in a roasting pan. Add water and 1 tablespoon butter. Bake until fish is tender, about 10 minutes.
5. Place fillets in a serving dish, spoon mushroom ragout over fish, and serve.
   Yield: 4 servings.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Caribbean Grilled Steak

Grilling steaks can be the easiest or the most difficult thing depending upon how you go at it. The result can be a charred-burnt out piece of leather, or a raw, bleeding mess. The trick is to watch it carefully as it grills. The recipe given below is the Boricua way of grilling meat. That is, it uses all the herbs associated with Caribbean cuisine. Of course, you can add other spices as you desire. It's all in the taste buds.

The recipe can be termed a peppercorn steak, or as they say in fancy-dan argot, "au poivre." This consists of steak, normally filet mignon, cooked with cracked pepper, usually green peppercorns. In our cooking its black whole peppercorns.

Here we go again: in traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, we crush the spices in a mortar and pestle, to give it that extra zing. In you don't own or have a mortar, then substitute ground pepper and salt to taste along with 1 tablespoon oregano, add 1 teaspoon garlic powder---and you're set to go.

In terms of what meat to use, if you can afford filet mignon, go right ahead, and more power to you. Those of us who are less well-heeled can use other variety meats like strip steaks, cut about 1 1/2-inch thick. I use porterhouse steaks---believe it or not, I got them on sale.


4 porterhouse steaks,  1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds
3/4 cup whole peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teasppoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 cups beef broth
1 (3 1/2-ounce) jar capers, rinsed

1. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano, and salt. Mix in olive oil and vinegar. Brush steaks on both sides with this mixture.
2. Place steaks on grill, cover with lid, and cook on each side 4-5 minutes or until desired doneness.
3. Melt butter in a skillet or fry pan. Add scallions and sauté about 1 minute. Add broth and capers, and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 10-15 minutes. Serve over grilled steaks.
   Yield: 4 servings. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dressing Up Potato Salad

 Potato salad is everywhere during the summer---in Church socials, picnics, barbecues, outdoor grilling, you name it. And usually it's always the same: boiled and cubed potatoes drenched in mayonnaise with some salt and pepper. But there are ways to dress up this favorite so it doesn't get boring.

Basic potato salad involves placing 1-2 pounds potatoes (could be either new potatoes, russets, or specialty potatoes) in cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender (10-15 minutes, depending on size). Drain under cold running water, cut in half, quarter or slice, and gently toss with the desired dressing. My preference is for the potatoes not be peeled. They should be cooked with their skins on. Nothing could be easier. It's how you dress them up that counts. Following are some ways to dress up the spuds and give this common dish some new zing.

Basic Salad Dressing

In a bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried), and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with the potatoes and serve.

Chimichurri Potato Salad

To the basic Salad Dressing above, add 1 small red or green chili; 1 clove minced garlic; 1/4 cup chopped scallions; and 4 strips of lemon zest, thinly sliced.

Potato Egg Salad

In a large bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons sour cream; 2 tablespoons mayonnaise; 1 teaspoon white vinegar; 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped. Stir in 4 large hard-boiled eggs, chopped; and 2 half-sour pickles, cut into 1/4-inch pieces. Toss with the potatoes, and serve.

German Potato Salad (an Old World favorite)

In a large bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Toss lightly with the potatoes and serve.
Note: In some recipes, 1 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber is added to the potatoes. Then paprika is sprinkle over the dish and served. 

Waldorf  Potato Salad

(Presumably created by chef Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf  Astoria Hotel in New York sometime in the 1890s)

In a large bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons sour cream; 2 tablespoons mayonnaise; 1 tablespoon white vinegar; 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard. Toss with the potatoes and add 1 cup small red grapes (cut in half); 4 stalks thinly sliced celery; and 1/2 cup toasted and chopped walnuts.

There you have it. Go at it, and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fish Rubs for Grilling

Grilling season again. Temperatures rise and so does the need for al fresco cooking. In my circle I'm the oddball since I prefer grilling seafood. The usual burgers, hotdogs, chicken is alright, but to me, the height of ecstasy is a good grilled fish steak, or fillet. It's amazing what one can do grilling-wise with something from the sea.

A great method of grilling fish is via seafood rubs. Simply rub the herbs and condiments into the fish, let the mixture stand 5-15 minutes, and cook. In every case, it's always best to cut large steaks or fillets into meal-size portions so that they will be easy to turn when grilling. Brush the fish very lightly with olive oil before cooking; and always start grilling with the skin side up. Turn the fish once during cooking. It's easiest to slide a metal spatula under the fish and turn. And most important, cook fish about 5-8 minutes per inch of thickness. Of course, if it's a thin fillet, use less time. Cook until it's sightly opaque in color. To be sure, jab the fish with a fork in the thickest part to check for doneness. Always remove from heat soon as it turns translucent.

For the grilling itself, common sense always applies. Seafood cooks best over a medium-hot fire. Also, make sure the grill is hot before cooking; and brush some vegetable oil on the grill prior to cooking.

Below are given four rubs for seafood. The seafood can be either 4 fish steaks (about 6 ounces each; fish fillets (about 1 1/2 pounds); or a whole fish, cleaned and scaled (2-3 pounds). If you need more condiments or herbs, adjust accordingly. Still, it's up to you. Don't go by what I say. If you're adventurous, try to create your own blend. Almost every culture has a seafood rub. Experiment and enjoy.

Basic Caribbean Rub

Squeeze juice of half lemon over fish. Rub fish with 2 tablespoons fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried) ; 3 cloves garlic, finely minced; salt and ground black pepper to taste. Brush with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and grill.

Indian Rub

Blend 1 tablespoon garam masala; 1 teaspoon brown sugar; 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder; 1/4 teaspoon paprika; and salt to taste. Run onto fish; sprinkle with olive oil and cook.

Chipotle Rub (For those who like it hot)

Blend 1 tablespoon chipotle chilies (can use canned chilies, if desired, and remove seeds if you want reduced heat); 2 tablespoons brown sugar; 3 cloves minced garlic. Rub into fish. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons white vinegar, and grill.

Asian Rub

Combine 2 tablespoons honey; 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger; juice of half a lime; 2 teaspoons soy sauce; 1 clove finely minced garlic; and 1/2 cup sliced scallions. Rub into fish and grill.