How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Landlubber Arrives

I have been cooking for forty years -- starting with basics at home, then old-school home economics (at my old school), then years of experimentation, travel, and reading. After all that, I have a few definite areas of weakness. One is that I never cook anything with the moldy cheeses, because I will not eat them. The other is that even though I love seafood, I am generally intimidated by its preparation. I have been reluctant to overcome the combination of expensive, unfamiliar, easy to overcook but nasty (in my view) if undercooked.

These have been my excuses, plus, seafood is easy enough to find in restaurants or at our friend Rob's house. In fact, we have an annual Christmas Eve lobster feast in which my main chore is to drive for the lobster run and keep the beer stocked.

After 14 years as a New Englandah, though, it seems past time to embrace this culinary arena. The first thing was to decide, as I did a few years ago, that a variety of fish could be managed by the 10-minute rule, which is that cooking at medium-high temperatures, fish should not be cooked for more than 10 minutes per inch of thickness. This has worked out pretty well. A bit of trial and error has led to some success with a variety of fishes.

Recently we have gotten  bit more adventurous, as a fish monger has been among the regulars at the weekly Bridgewater Farmers Market, just a short walk from our house. (We can feed our minds there, too, as our church has a book sale at the market each week. I recently found a fun coffee book there.) Having had mussels last weekend -- from the very same market -- prepared by the aforementioned Rob and his wife Lisa -- we decided we were ready to try it for ourselves, and picked up a two-pound net bag of the bivalves, along with two modest salmon steaks.

For the mussels, actually, I hate to admit that it was not just the preparation that was a stretch for me. Even though I have been to Bertha's on several occasions -- THE Bertha's in Fell's Point, that is -- I had rarely consumed mussels. When I was a student visiting Bertha's, it seemed that the beer (including my first Anchor Steam) was priced more efficiently than the seafood. And after I could afford restaurant seafood, if I was in Maryland, I always defaulted to Callinectes sapidus.

Be that as it may, on Sunday I was ready to prepare the mussels, following as closely as we could the example Rob and Lisa had set the previous week. I sauteed some green onion tops and garlic, then added water and wine. The local grocery did not have vermouth, but rather than make a separate stop, I purchased some Sauvignon Blanc, pouring half of it in the pot and half of it in our glasses for a perfect pairing. I sprinkled cilantro over the whole lot, brought the broth to a boil and covered the pot. After 2-3 minutes, the mussels started to pop open, and they were indeed delicious. I think I was a bit impatient, though. Next time -- and there will be a next time -- I will give the critters another minute or so, because we ultimately discarded those few that did not open on their own. 

Image: Cornell Fish
For the wild salmon, we turned again to Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, a standard in our home that Pam mentioned in her Fish is not a Vegetable post back in March. As with the previous seafood endeavor in this book, I used Worcestershire in place of soy in the creation of "teriyaki broiled or grilled fish." I whisked it together with ground ginger (we were out of ginger root, so this step was actually easier than the recipe suggested), sugar, minced garlic, and Japanese cooking wine (which we had on hand and substituted for the Chinese cooking wine). I simply marinated the salmon in this mixture and then pan-fried it for about five minutes -- with the pan covered. The result was succulent, sweet, and tart. The sauce mildly caramelized, so that this dish was actually quite amazing!

For both of these dishes, we had starchy sides -- rice and potatoes, respectively -- with beans for protein for our vegetarian daughter. Both meals were healthy, tasty, and satisfying. We cannot wait to see what the fishmonger has next time we are at the market!

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