Showing posts with label tuna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tuna. Show all posts

Monday, May 16, 2011

Passport Spain: The Diversity of Spanish Seafood

Central Market stores are once again offering a Passport event with the focus this time on Spain. For two weeks, from May 11 until May 24, special Spanish products including olive oils, wines, canned seafood, rice, and chocolate are available. During this event, the Cooking School classes fit the Spanish theme as well. Last Thursday, I was invited to attend The Diversity of Spanish Seafood class with a media pass. Our instructors for the evening were Chef Daniel Olivella of B44 in San Francisco and Barlata in Oakland and Chef Quim Marques of Suquet de l'Almirall in Barcelona. Chef Olivella let us know that he's hoping to open another tapas restaurant much like Barlata in Austin as soon as next year. The two chefs informed and entertained as they showed the class how to prepare five different seafood dishes.

Up first, we were to have been shown a grilled salt cod dish. When the two chefs arrived and saw what was available locally in the way of salt cod, they changed their plan. They explained that in Spain, shops selling salt cod offer a vast range of options from heads and tails to small cuts to larger, thicker pieces. Since what they found upon arrival was smaller pieces of salt cod, they changed their plan and chose not to grill it. Instead, they prepared a xato or Catalonian salad. The salt cod had been soaked, rinsed, and dried and was cut into small segments. A dressing was prepared from a classic romesco sauce and was tossed with frissee leaves. The salad was built from the dressed frissee, chopped black olives, cherry tomatoes, and salt cod pieces. I've used romesco sauce as a salad dressing before, and it works perfectly. The briny fish and olives matched well with the flavors of pureed tomato and chiles in the sauce/dressing.

Next, a simple snack, something to serve with cocktails before a dinner party, or a tapa was presented. Coca is an easy to prepare, cracker-like flatbread. Chef Olivella explained that coca is made with flour, water, and leftover food. It's a casual thing to make that's topped with whatever is on hand. Ordinarily, it would be made in a large circle like a pizza, but for this dish, it was cut into small rectangles to make it finger food. The coca base was topped with sliced tomato that had been skinned and seeded and dressed with olive oil, some roasted onion and red bell pepper, a piece of sardine, a sliver of Iberico ham, and some grated Idiazabal cheese. This all made a very flavorful bite.

Our next seafood dish was made with octopus. Because cooking octopus can take up to two hours, it had been prepared in advance, and the technique was just explained without an actual demonstration. The suggested technique was to bring a large pot of water with peppercorns and a bay leaf to a boil. Once boiling, you should hold the octopus at the top and slowly dip its legs into the boiling water, then lift it out, dunk again, and repeat three times before placing the entire octopus into the water. Chef Olivella told us he didn't know why it worked, but it does, so that's how he boils octopus. For this dish, potatoes were also boiled, and that involved an interesting technique as well. The potatoes were placed in a pot and just covered with water. Then, as much as two cups of salt was added to the water, and the water was boiled until it evaporated. When the water evaporated, the potatoes were cooked and well-seasoned. The octopus legs were chopped into small pieces which were tossed with the potatoes and olive oil, and all was sprinkled with pimenton.

The next dish was very simple to prepare, but its fresh flavors jumped off the plate. It was a simply seared piece of tuna that had been crusted with a mix of crushed black, red, Jamaican, and Sichuan peppercorns. Both cherry tomatoes and roma tomatoes that had been skinned, seeded, and diced were sauteed in olive oil with basil leaves, and that mixture garnished the sliced tuna. The basil was intensified by the brief cooking and combined with the tomatoes for a bright, herbal note on top of the pepper seared tuna.

Our last dish of the evening, which was also the crowd favorite, was seafood paella. There were ooh's and aah's as the rice began to cook in the paella pan and the seafood was added. Chef Olivella spoke about the various rice dishes from Spain and how paella is traditional to Valencia but all regions of Spain have come to adopt the dish. There are many versions of paella and many other rice dishes that are similar but might not be called paella. The most important thing about the dish is the rice. Chef Olivella said, "Paella is all about the rice. Don't make paella with bad rice. You can't make paella with Uncle Sam rice." We all got a good laugh and realized he meant to say "Uncle Ben's rice." The point was clear. Arborio is a good alternative, but if you can find a Spanish rice, you should use it. I remember the last time I was planning to make paella, I searched all over town for Spanish bomba rice with no luck. For this special event, Central Market has a couple of special Spanish rices for sale in the stores, and right after class I ran downstairs to grab a bag of bomba. Hopefully, this will become a very popular product, and they'll continue to carry it. To make the paella, first a sofrito of onion, bell pepper, garlic, and some chopped fish was cooked slowly for several minutes to develop a flavor base. More olive oil was added, and then the rice was stirred into the mixture and cooked. Fish stock was added and allowed to cook down and be absorbed by the rice a bit. Shrimp, mussels, scallops, and chopped fish were added on top. Last, the paella pan was placed in the oven for a few minutes to dry the rice. It was a delightful, seafood-filled dish, and the flavors had permeated each grain of rice.

I left the class having learned some new things about Spanish cuisine, having enjoyed a few Spanish wines, and having a new sense of jealousy for the fabulous seafood both fresh and preserved that's available in Spain. Now, I'm hoping I'll one day have more options here when I go shopping for salt cod.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Prosciutto-wrapped Tuna Muffuletta

In honor of Mardi Gras, I pulled Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer off the shelf again. I’ve been thrilled with dishes from this book in the past, and it did not disappoint this time either. I chose a couple of dishes for our weekend indulging, and the first one up is the prosciutto-wrapped tuna muffuletta. Spicer explains that the muffuletta is related to the Nicoise pan bagnat which received its name because of the oils that bathe the bread. She created this muffuletta with that concept in mind. It is a richly dressed, unapologetically but deliciously untidy sandwich.

This is a very simple preparation as is and would be even simpler if you chose to use a pre-made olive salad. Since it was a weekend, the weekend before Mardi Gras at that, I was feeling all go for it and set about chopping olives, vegetables giardinera, pepperoncini, garlic, parsley, and celery hearts to make my own olive salad. I’m glad I did because I got to chop the olives just the way I wanted and add extra pickled cauliflower. I also have lots of leftover olive salad as a bonus.

Ordinarily, I’m the pickiest eater I know, but sometimes Kurt has specific opinions about food as well. This time, we tied. Fresh tuna was to be marinated with crushed fennel seeds, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, garlic, and olive oil. We were both fine with that. Then, each tuna portion was to be wrapped with prosciutto. No thank you for mine. The tuna was seared while the sliced ciabatta rolls were toasted under the broiler. Then, the tuna was to be placed on each roll with olive salad and provolone cheese. Kurt does not allow cheese near his fish under any circumstances. So, we ended up with two customized muffulettas, but both were fantastic.

When they came out from under the broiler, arugula was added just before serving. Crunchy and chewy bread, nicely seasoned, marinated and just briefly seared tuna with briny, fruity, peppery olive salad, and a little gooey, melted cheese made a decadent meal. These big, stuffed sandwiches were drippy, messy, and couldn’t have been better. Fortunately, I thought to buy a few extra ciabatta rolls and some good canned tuna in olive oil which made fantastic open-faced tuna melts with olive salad the next day.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Spaghettini Con Sugo di Tonno

Clearly, I’ve been busy lately because it’s been quite a while since I posted anything labor-intensive that requires multiple days of preparation. And, that’s definitely not what you’ll find here today either. When quick and easy cooking is also enormously delicious, I’m on board. This dish is classically Italian in that six simple ingredients come together to make something unbelievably pleasing. It’s from the September, I think, issue of Saveur. There was an article about canning your own tuna, and this was a suggested way to use that canned tuna. See above statement about quick and easy, because I did not can my own tuna. However, I did place an order with Market Hall Foods which included an exceptional can of Ortiz tuna. It was so delicious that now I’m very curious about the Ventresca. If anyone has tried this, I’d love to hear your opinion of it.

This meal was made for multi-tasking. While the pasta water came to a boil, there was ample time to slice garlic, chop parsley, open the can of tuna, heat the olive oil with crushed red pepper and sliced garlic, add the tuna, and dress a couple of small plates of arugula with oil and vinegar. Al dente spaghettini was tossed with the oil, garlic, pepper, tuna, parsley, and some reserved pasta boiling water. Devouring ensued. At the risk of fawning, I have to say again that this was really, really good tuna. It breaks apart and swirls into the olive oil and twists its way among the strands of pasta. With the hit of crushed red pepper and the garlic, the flavors are sculpted into a situation of give me more because my plate is already empty. Use homemade canned tuna, or get something great like the Ortiz, and try this soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Le Migliori Polpette di Tonno

Or, 'the best tuna meatballs.' In the last couple of weeks, pasta with tuna kept coming to my attention, and I developed a craving for it. This dish comes from Jamie's Italy which is a great book. He writes that he saw these made in Sicily with a combination of swordfish and tuna. The Sicilian influence is evident, I suppose, with the addition of cinnamon.

Fresh tuna is used rather than canned, but it is cooked first with pine nuts and cinnamon and then mixed with lemon juice, zest, breadcrumbs, grated parmigiana, oregano, parsley, and eggs. The mixture is formed into meatballs just smaller than a golf ball. Then, they are browned in olive oil and added to the tomato sauce.

It smelled delicious as it cooked, and I tasted crumbled bits of the meatballs as I removed them from the olive oil. The flavor of those little pieces was very good. However, when we sat down to full plates, we quickly realized that the lemon was slightly too present and the tuna was somewhat lost. I would make a few changes next time around. First, I always use homemade breadcrumbs which come from whole grain breads. In this case simple, white breadcrumbs would be better. Second, I would cut back on the lemon zest by about half. And, last, some crushed red pepper or cayenne added to the meatball mixture might be nice. I should have thought about the breadcrumbs being too wheaty, maybe the lemon I used was bigger than usual, and adding crushed red pepper might only have occurred to me because the flavor was off due to the first two issues. So, what do I know?

The tuna meatballs were much less heavy than even ground turkey or chicken ones tend to be, and the basic tomato sauce was very good. I would make this again with changes. But, I’m still interested in trying some other takes on pasta with tuna.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tuna Tostadas and Beer Tasting

Every once in a rare while, Kurt will make a suggestion as to a type of food or a particular dish that I should attempt. Once, it was a request for potato leek soup. Another time, it was something Argentinean. Often, it’s mac and cheese. Last week, perhaps inspired by Tony’s visit to Colombia given that it came up while watching that episode, he issued a Latin American cooking challenge. There were no specifics; the meal was not required to be Colombian. This was just a general hankering for Latin American or Mexican flavors. I, of course, was delighted to comply.

In an effort to further complicate the meal, we also conducted a beer tasting during the hors d'oeurves course. To explain, we have become enamored with wheat beers (or weisse, wit, white, hefeweissen, etc.). We taste, take notes, compare, and contrast, and we have our favorites. This week, the tasting included
Allagash White and Schneider Weisse. The Allagash White was light and refreshing although low on carbonation. The mild flavor was mostly of yeast, and it was the better pairing with the tostadas. The Schneider Weisse was on the darker end of the wheat beer spectrum but also mildly flavored. Both were good but neither changed the top three slots on our scorecard. Our current top three continue to be:

1. Mothership Wit by New Belgium
Nothing touches it. This is hands down our favorite wheat beer with its crispness and slight citrus flavor.
2. White Rascal by Avery Brewing Co.
An excellent summer beer with a unique but subtle acidity.
3. Dog in Heat Hefeweissen by Flying Dog
This is also darker than most wheat beers and therefore more full-flavored and pleasantly so.

I should note that Live Oak HefeWeizen is a favorite of ours, but it is not sold bottled. We’re always pleased when we find it on tap.
Now, back to the food. I noticed these tostadas on Epicurious and thought they would be perfect for an antojito/beer tasting. I wasn’t able to purchase fresh corn tortillas on Saturday, so I used fresh whole wheat tortillas. Other than that, and skipping the scant amount of sugar listed, I followed the recipe exactly. And, wow, these were good. They were exciting to eat because they were so right. When a bit of chipotle was noticed while chewing, it was a happy moment. More chipotle would be welcome. However, the pumpkin seeds left us a little ambivalent. They were fine but didn’t really bring anything noteworthy to the mix. Definitely skippable. Everything else about these tostadas was excellent. Get the best tuna you can find, compose these quick little bites, and enjoy them as much as we did.

Monday, May 12, 2008


On Saturday evening, I tried a couple of recipes from Mario’s latest, Italian Grill, with mixed results.

The Calamari Spiedini in Lemon Leaves looked delicious on the page, and I had Meyer lemons and leaves at the ready. In real life, it looked good, smelled good, tasted good, but the texture wasn’t perfect throughout. The problem could have been that some of the calamari tubes I purchased were thicker than others. Also, I may have packed too much onto each skewer thereby preventing good heat transfer to all the pieces stacked together. Some of the tube pieces could have used one more minute on the grill. The flavor was fantastic, and the texture of the thinner tubes and that of the tentacles was fine. I served this dish with a garden fresh arugula salad, and the peppery greens were a nice complement to the marinated squid.

Up next was Charred Tuna Spiedini with Spicy Peppers. The spicy peppers included red and yellow bell peppers and jalapenos which were sautéed and then served as a bed for the tuna spiedini. Turns out the jalapenos were both large and piquant this weekend and managed to completely overpower all other flavors. The tuna was to have been dusted with a combination of fennel pollen and dried oregano and then seared briefly on the grill. First, Austin has no fennel pollen. Huge oversight, Austin! Second, to get a good char on the tuna, I really should have turned it in oil rather than just drizzling. While delicious itself, the tuna suffered from the very spicy, jalapeno-forward pepper mélange.

Our conclusions were that while I quite enjoyed the marinated calamari and had less chewy pieces than Kurt did, Kurt was happier with the tuna but wished the pepper pile hadn’t disappointed so.

Blogging tips